Julia Kamysz Lane
Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.
If the sight of plastic bottle and cereal boxes makes you gleefully run for the recycling bin, please resist the urge to deconstruct Eco Dog’s cardboard cover. Tempting though it may be, you’ll find the pulpy contents well worth saving and reusing. Co-authors Jim Deskevich and Corbett Marshall enthusiastically share their favorite all-natural options for your dog’s diet, grooming, health care and home environment.
During the hot summer months, most dog owners rely on a chemical flea preventative. Deskevich and Marshall remind us that our dogs are surrounded by potentially dangerous chemicals from home cleaning products, cars and the air outdoors. So does it make sense to put more chemicals directly on their fur? They suggest nontoxic alternatives for shampoo and flea repellents. I made the herbal flea powder and it proved effective for my five dogs. Plus, the smell was more pleasant than commercial flea repellents and it cost far less.
Dogs like to explore with their mouths, so we buy toys to keep them busy and save our furniture. Tragically, some toys are made with toxic materials and can cause liver and kidney damage, or possibly cancer. Thanks to Eco Dog, you can make your own nontoxic toys at a fraction of the price of most commercial dog toys. The Braided T-Shirt Bone won me over with its sheer simplicity and its smart way to get rid of old T-shirts. My dogs enjoy carrying their “bones”around or tucking them into a couch corner as a pillow.
What I find most appealing about Eco Dog is the way it’s organized into easy, budget-friendly projects.Wanting to do right by our dogs, ourselves and the environment as a whole can be overwhelming. But Eco Dog breaks it down into simple steps that anyone can follow. It also makes you feel good about making natural choices for your dog that will boost his health and longevity, and perhaps that of your human family as well.
Dog's Life: Humane
The pet food recalls over the past few years have taught us a few things. When you buy commercial dog food, your money goes to a corporation that’s likely far away from your community. You simply have to trust that the package label doesn’t lie and what’s in there is safe for your dog to eat.
But if you buy meat, milk or eggs from your local farmer, you can stop by the farm to see for yourself if the animals are treated humanely and whether you’re purchasing a quality whole food product. Liz Cunninghame of Clark Summit Farm in Tomales, Calif. offers a monthly farm tour so visitors can see the difference. She offers natural grass-fed beef, pastured organically fed pork, organic pastured eggs, sheep, goats, Jersey cows, geese, turkeys, meat chickens and guinea hens.
“If you care how the animals are raised, find a local farmer,” says Stacy Martin, owner of Yellow Wolf Farm in Lansing, N.C. “If they’re doing what they say they’re doing, they won’t cringe when you take out your camera. Talk to them about where your food and your pet’s food comes from.” Through a small farmers’ co-op, Martin sells natural grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs and organs to raw feeders. She is now moving to a larger property to meet the increased demand for sustainable whole foods for both people and pets.
Both Cunninghame and Martin have had pet owners specifically request grass-fed beef to help a pet with illness, such as cancer, or allergies to commercial foods or meat purchased in a traditional grocery store. “Seek the best quality you can find or afford,” advises Cunninghame. “Once you switch yourself, and understand how the animal you are eating is raised, you will never go back to conventional meats for you or your pet.
To find sustainable and organic local farmers, go to localharvest.org.
Dog's Life: Humane
Breed rescuers meet the challenge head on
In all her years of rescue work, the one dog Carolyn Janak will never forget is Spade, a Giant Schnauzer who’d been kept in a small crate for up to 21 hours a day for much of her young life. When Spade was relinquished to Janak’s Denver, Colo., nonprofit HT-Z Giant Schnauzer Rescue and released into the yard, “she ran like a Greyhound for about 20 minutes … it was the most freedom she had ever had,” recalls Janak, who for two decades has dedicated herself to rescuing (and living with) Giant Schnauzers. Spade, then about four years old and suffering from chronic ear infections, initially wanted little to do with people. But over time, with medical care, patience and love, she was successfully rehabilitated, and Janak placed her in a home with a couple who had a huge back yard and a male Wheaten Terrier to be her companion.
All neglected, abused and abandoned animals deserve such a happy ending, and thanks to the hard work of animal rescuers nationwide, many are given the chance to find loving homes for life. A subset of the animal rescue movement, breed rescues devote all of their resources to a particular type of dog. Depending on the group’s size, it might also take in related breeds, as does Illinois Birddog Rescue, which is devoted to both Pointers and Setters; if resources allow, many breed rescue groups will also take in mixes of their breed.
According to the HSUS , one in four shelter dogs is purebred, and many shelters have developed official in-house purebred rescue programs. For example, at the Louisiana SPCA , rescue coordinator Laurie Weisberg keeps track of purebred dogs who come into the shelter and contacts breed rescue groups immediately. This gives the group precious time to find a foster home, raise funds needed for temporary boarding or make travel plans for the rescue representative. If the dog is a stray and not claimed after the mandatory hold period, a breed rescue volunteer will pull him from the shelter.
When a purebred dog comes into the Roscommon County Animal Shelter in Prudenville, Mich., animal control officer DeeDee Mendyk and a volunteer contact the appropriate breed rescue. She believes this gives the dog a better chance of being matched with the right home, because the rescue understands its breed’s particular traits and needs. It also frees up space for another dog; when a group pulls a purebred from a shelter, it is potentially saving two lives.
The Roscommon shelter often takes in abandoned purebred dogs such as Beagles and German Shorthaired Pointers after their respective rabbit- and bird-hunting seasons are over and the hunters no longer have a use for them. Mendyk has seen an increase in Labrador Retrievers since the release of the Marley & Me book and movie, and shelters across the country are expecting to see more Great Danes when the Marmaduke movie comes out later this year. Unfortunately, not all shelters are willing to coordinate with breed rescue groups. “Some are just dog pounds— it’s a misnomer to call them shelters,” says Mary DuPont, a Texas rancher and founder of the national nonprofit rescue group Catahoula Rescue. “They’re run by a sheriff, or deputies run them. They give the animals the legal amount of time and don’t want to fool around with rescue. People need to realize that calling it an animal shelter doesn’t necessarily make it a safe haven.”
Who Does Breed Rescue?
Typically, individuals partial to a particular breed stumble into rescue work. A friend or family member knows they have a soft spot for a breed and brings a dog to their attention, or they happen to learn that a dog of “their” breed is at the local shelter. Sometimes they’re shelter volunteers who recognize that certain purebreds are not popular adoption candidates due to their size or reputed temperament. They help just one purebred dog; then a second one shows up. Before they know it, they’re breed rescuers.
Often, that one rescuer finds fellow lovers of the breed, and together they pursue nonprofit 501(c)(3) status as an official group. Funds are raised, and volunteers are assigned specific administrative roles and also serve as foster parents, transport coordinators, transport drivers, adoption day coordinators and more.
The American Kennel Club recognizes more than 150 dog breeds, each of which is represented by a “parent club,” or national breed club made up of people who favor that breed and participate in AKC sanctioned events such as conformation, agility and obedience. For many parent clubs, rescue is an important part of their mission. But regrettably, not all breeders are willing to admit that their dogs could be abandoned or end up in a shelter. According to Edith “Benji” Brackman, longtime breed rescuer and member of the Dalmatian Club of America (DCA ), supposedly responsible breeders have been known to deny any connection with dogs that come into rescue. For example, on four separate occasions, Brackman contacted the breeders of dogs who ultimately ended up in her care. “Since I have been a member of DCA for nearly 25 years and have kept all my membership and ethics booklets, I did what I was trained to do: went back and checked membership records. I was terribly disturbed to find two of the four were actually DCA members. The records do not lie, nor do the vets I consulted with.”
Michelle McMullen Salyers, a longtime volunteer with National German Shorthaired Pointer Rescue, which is supported by the AKC parent club, German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America, offers another perspective. “Breeders do not have to be the enemy of rescue,” she says. “In the early days of breed rescue, rescuers used to be affiliated through those parent club connections, and many of those volunteers are breeders.” She says the rescue arm also educates breeders about taking lifetime responsibility for the dogs they bring into the world, and some breeders serve as foster homes or help in other ways. “I have a GSP in Missouri going to a breeder in Arkansas for foster,” says McMullen Salyers. “It’s an important connection when you’re doing breed rescue.”
Where Do the Dogs Come From?
Fortunately, groups like HSUS have made progress shutting down puppy mills and educating the public about the real cost of patronizing a pet shop. For Bekye Eckert, a volunteer with New Beginnings Shih Tzu Rescue—which also occasionally takes in other “small friends”—rehabilitating puppy mill dogs is her most rewarding experience as a rescuer. “Most of them come in totally unsocialized, shy, shut down,” says Eckert. “When you first see one, you’re thinking, How am I going to reach this poor soul? They’re terrified, they run from you, and it just breaks your heart because all you want to do is hold them and love them. Progress is slow, and the older they are, the longer it takes. But watching a shut-down little lump on the floor learn how to be a dog is just the greatest high in the world.”
Like all animal rescuers, those focusing on a specific breed spend time with prospective adopters, helping them decide if they are ready for a dog and if their particular breed suits their family and lifestyle.
“We definitely try and educate the public,” says Toby Burroughs, president of New Orleans German Shepherd Rescue. “There are a lot of misconceptions about German Shepherds—like Pit Bulls, they are misunderstood. It’s important to know that the German Shepherd is a working breed and needs lots of exercise, mental stimulation and socialization with people and other dogs. They’re not for everyone. I think people are attracted to their beauty, but often don’t realize that these dogs require more than a bowl of food, water and a backyard.”
Paula Nowak of New Rattitude, a Georgia-based Rat Terrier rescue group, finds that on-site events are also great opportunities to advocate for proper care of all dogs. “One big thing we educate on is the need to keep your dog on monthly heartworm preventative and get tested once a year. The one heartworm pill a month is much cheaper than treating them after the fact.”
How Does Breed Rescue Work?
“Shelters from all over the country contact us for help,” says Diane Sacripanti, founder of North Carolina Rottweiler Rescue. “They email the rescue with the information about the dogs they have needing help. We have never had to go to a shelter to look for our breed. The need for Rottweiler rescue is overwhelming. Due to lack of funds and foster homes, we turn away approximately 15 dogs per week.”
In some states, by law, a dog found as a stray must be held for five business days to allow the owner a chance to claim him, and when possible, shelters allow the rescue group a little extra time to find a foster home or temporary boarding facility. Most breed rescues rely on private individuals for temporary care of a rescue dog. The dog will stay in his foster home for a few weeks to give him a chance to show his true personality and to address any behavioral, medical or training issues he may have. He will also receive appropriate health care, including vaccinations, deworming, flea/tick and heartworm preventative and spay/ neuter if necessary.
“The most rewarding part of the job is watching your foster dog blossom under your care,” says Becky Orr, an experienced foster parent for Lab Rescue of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac. “You take in a broken, scared, confused dog, and in several weeks you have a happier and healthier dog, ready to be adopted because of you!”
Prospective adopters fill out an application, provide references and allow a home visit, during which a volunteer from the breed rescue visits the home to ensure that it offers a safe environment for the dog. Once the prospective adopters have been approved and matched with a dog, they sign an adoption contract that requires the dog be returned to the rescue in the event they are unable to keep him for his lifetime.
For those with a specific type of dog in mind, several benefits come with adopting from a breed rescue. The foster caregivers will be able to share detailed information about the dog’s temperament, health, likes and dislikes. As mentioned, volunteers can also answer breed-specific questions and help ease the transition from foster care to the new home. Adopters also become part of a larger community comprising fellow adopters and rescue volunteers, and it’s not unusual for adopters to become dedicated volunteers.
In the dark ages of rescue, before personal computers and cell phones, 30-year Dalmatian rescuer Benji Brackman was not shy about using everything at her disposal to save one more spotted dog. “When I started a 501(c)(3) years ago, I begged all my Dal friends, employees, neighbors and other rescuers to help me out,” says Brackman, who founded Chocolate Chip Dalmatian Assistance League. Now, the Internet has completely changed the way rescue operates, allowing everyone involved to coordinate efforts to move a dog to safety within a matter of days instead of weeks, and reducing the risk of the dog being euthanized before the logistics can be worked out.
Wide-reaching websites like Petfinder. com and Petharbor.com have revolutionized rescue. Reaching out to a national audience, they allow shelters and rescue groups to post photos and bios of adoptable animals at no charge. This significantly improves adoption rates and increases the pool of volunteers.
“If you use tools available electronically, that’s the key to successful rescue,” says McMullen Salyers. “Look at it like a business, market it like a business, find like-minded people, and there’s no way you can’t succeed.”
Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have given rescue groups another way to reach the public, spotlight adoptable dogs, announce special events and raise funds for dogs with special needs.
Catherine Hedges, president of Don’t Bully My Breed, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Pit Bull advocacy and rescue group based in Chicago, says, “The three most helpful aspects of social networking are finding fosters, raising funds, and sending out info on pending breed-specific legislation and petitions. Our Facebook group has almost 11,000 members, so I can get urgent info out quickly to a huge number of people. As for individual dogs needing help, we can post a plea asking for donations for boarding an urgent dog and generally reach our goal or find a foster. I would say we do this maybe once a week.”
The second is a society that views everything (including animals) as disposable. New Beginnings volunteer Bekye Eckert recalls just such a situation involving a Lhasa Apso named Macey. “She used to be a beautiful blonde, but was dumped at a shelter because her family ‘couldn’t stand to look at her anymore,’” says Eckert. “She had severe allergies that caused hair loss on her underside and legs. Her skin was flaming red and itchy, and her eyes were pretty crusty, too. The shelter was told she was 10 years old. Obviously, in that condition she wasn’t adoptable, and she was depressed to boot.” Eckert later learned that Macey was 13, not 10, and that her former family had recently bought a new puppy.
Miraculously, Macey healed both physically and emotionally and, at 13 years of age, found a loving forever family. “It’s the happy endings that keep me going through the frustration and despair,” says Eckert. “One more little dog in a loving home, and especially one who might have otherwise been overlooked. That’s why I do this work.”
That’s why they all do.
Finding a balance
Whether the dogs are purebred or not, in rescue work, learning to say “no” is a must; otherwise a group will quickly run out of money, foster homes and volunteers. Nonetheless, it’s never easy to recognize and abide by the fact that no one person or group can save every dog.
Teamwork is key to any rescue’s long-term effectiveness and survival. Sadly, the stress and strong emotions that come with rescue work can lead to internal power struggles and political factions that seem to prize egos over the raison d’etre: the dogs. Good volunteers will walk away from a group that loses sight of its mission or is pressured to take any and all dogs no matter the financial or emotional cost.
Good PR is especially important to rescue groups, but it can go both ways. Recently, a prospective adopter wrote a scathing letter to the editor published in my local daily newspaper. He described shelter and breed rescue organizations’ adoption procedures as too strict, and the adoption fees too high.
There’s a reason why rescues have detailed adoption procedures—why they interview prospective adoption candidates as though they’re running for office. Their dogs have already been through enough; why risk adopting them out to just anyone, only to have them returned? Volunteers care deeply about their rescue dogs and have invested time and energy in helping them learn to trust people again. How can you put a price on that? The adoption fees—which can range from $150 to $350, depending on the dog’s age, type, region and other factors—usually include all vaccinations, spay/neuter, heartworm testing, flea/tick and heartworm preventative and, in some cases, basic training and housebreaking.
The in-depth adoption process and adoption fee also dissuade less serious prospective adopters, who can waste a lot of precious volunteer time. I have fielded calls from people who are outraged that an adoption fee even exists. “They don’t have papers,” people will say. “No one else wants them. You should just give them away.”
Clearly, rescue groups still have their work cut out for them when it comes to educating the public about responsible dog ownership and viewing our canine companions as part of the family rather than disposable possessions.
Dog's Life: Travel
In Illinois & Indiana
Midwestern folks are often friendly (even in the big cities!) and love to talk about dogs. Don’t hesitate to ask people where they like to take their pups. With their help, you’ll discover new places to visit and make new friends on the way.
In Chicago. Start your day with a walk through Grant Park, located downtown and nicknamed Chicago’s “Front Lawn” for its lovely lakeside view. If it’s hot and humid, circle around famous Buckingham Fountain and enjoy its cool, refreshing mist.
For off-leash fun, head to Grant Park’s Bark Park. The 18,000-square-foot area is fully fenced and runs alongside Lake Michigan for more fantastic views; you must purchase a $5 permit and show proof of vaccinations in order to use this public dog park.
After all that running around, you’ll both want to cool off. Follow the Lakefront Trail, which offers 18 miles of paved pathways along the lake, to the Montrose Harbor Dog Beach. There your dog can frolic on the sand or splash in the fresh water off leash while you dip your feet. (This area also requires a $5 permit and proof of vaccinations in advance.)
Next up, take your dog through the Riverwalk Gateway, a walking history museum and public art gallery. A lighted tunnel features narration on Chicago’s history and scenic panels of the city and Chicago River. If you need a snack, grab a seat at nearby Crane’s, a French bistro where dogs may sit at outdoor tables and have a much-need drink of water.
Want to explore the city even farther, but too tired to walk? Both Antique Coach & Carriage Company and Step in Time Carriages offer a variety of dog-friendly tours, including Lincoln Park, the Loop and the “Miracle Mile.”
If you’re visiting on a rainy day, take your pup to Chicago’s Of Mutts and Men, an indoor, off-leash dog park that boasts room to run and socialize, plus pool tables, chess boards, TV and free coffee for the people. Day pass is $3/dog.
In Batavia, Ill. Prefer some room to roam? Head to the 6,800-acre campus of particle physics laboratory FermiLab, located 45 miles from Chicago in the western suburb of Batavia, Ill. Your dog can romp across 35 unfenced acres of restored prairie, then cool off in the ponds. Shade trees and restrooms are available if you plan to stay awhile.
In Porter, Ind. For the pup who loves car rides, take a short day trip around the southern tip of Lake Michigan to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Leashed dogs are welcome to explore the sandy dunes and nature center and hike the trails. The campground even offers a special dog-walk area.
Cadmos, 128 pp., 2006; $32.95
Do your pups suffer from Winteritis? Four of my five dogs would rather not leave the house until spring if at all possible. (The fifth one is impervious to all extremes, weather or otherwise.) Their cabin fever requires creative ways to keep them active that don’t destroy the house in the process! Playtime for Your Dog, by Christina Sondermann, is my new winter dog bible. (And, since it also has outdoors games for milder weather, it will come in handy throughout the year.)
Sondermann is a German positive-reinforcement dog trainer who emphasizes building a bond with your dog through fun, stress-free training methods and games. In 2001, she and her partner, Christoph Henke, developed a website, fun-for-dogs.com, that encouraged people to share ideas for dog games. Playtime for Your Dog is the inspiring end result.
Before you begin, Sondermann suggests that you choose games appropriate for your dog’s age and personality. A senior dog does not need to jump over tall obstacles. Nervous dogs will enjoy games that do not involve other people or kids, at least initially. As they successfully complete one game after another, however, you might be surprised at what even nervous dogs can accomplish.
My pack particularly enjoyed the chapter on sniffing games—what dog doesn’t like to use his nose? While they were downstairs, I hid a small ball on a rope under a rug and then invited them, one at a time, to come find it. My mixed breed, Shelby, prefers to find things visually, so this exercise kept her busy searching; when she eventually found it, she was very proud of her prize. The Dalmatian, Darby, on the other hand, immediately tracked the scent, made a beeline for the rug and flipped it over to reveal the toy.
Everyone enjoyed the “shell game,” in which you hide a treat under one of three bowls set upside down. My youngest dog, Ginger Peach, got a little too excited and sent the bowls skidding across the kitchen floor, so my advice is to try this one on carpet. People whose dogs only come when they feel like it will especially appreciate the “Sit, Down, Come” chapter. One of my agility students has a tough time in class because her dog is easily distracted and doesn’t consistently come back. I introduced my classes to some of the games, including “Treat Lane,” in which the dog must pass by several bowls of boring dry kibble on his way to his owner, who has something super-delicious, like a piece of juicy steak or stinky cheese. Both my student and her dog are now having so much more fun learning this life-saving command through games.
A couple of quick notes: Since the English version is a translation, there are some awkward turns of phrase and minor grammatical errors or typos. Also, the price is a bit steep, even though the information is worthwhile. (If it had been published in the U.S., I’d suggest you wait until a more reasonably priced paperback came out, but I’m not sure the book will be available in that format.) Nonetheless, Playtime for Your Dog offers some excellent options to get your dog moving, thinking and staying out of trouble without emptying your wallet.
Clean Run, 164 pp., 2008; $29.95
Backyard agility can be a fun activity for you and your dog, but if you price heavy-duty aluminum equipment like dog-walks and A-frames, you’ll find that it’s not exactly budget friendly. Which is why Jim Hutchins’ second edition of Do-It-Yourself Agility Equipment: Constructing Agility Equipment for Training or Competition couldn’t be more timely; like the first, it offers clear, concise instructions and helpful illustrations from start to finish for 27 agility obstacles and related training accessories.
Hutchins is practically an agility pioneer, having participated in the sport since 1994. As agility has evolved, so too has Hutchins’ tinkering. When the first edition came out several years ago, I had just started taking agility classes with my Dalmatian and was eager to practice at home without breaking the bank. (Hutchins estimates that it costs as much as $6K to buy brand-new equipment.) Better yet, between my husband, brother and father, all the tools needed to make everything from a simple PVC bar jump to a wooden adjustable seesaw were available.
I’m not a handy person by nature, so back then, I relied heavily on the knowledge and experience of the aforementioned family members. This was by no means a reflection of Hutchins’ instructions but rather of my general indifference toward power tools and trips to the hardware store.
In the years since, I have immersed myself further in agility through competition and teaching classes, which boosted my confidence enough to try building some of the equipment on my own. I managed to make the PVC bar jumps, broad jump and a basic tire jump just fine. The cutting and measuring reminded me of baking, which is something I love to do, although it was disappointing not to have a finished edible product or a bowl to lick. (The dogs agreed.)
This book is as useful as you want it to be. In some cases, Hutchins says, it’s a good idea to consider buying a particular piece of equipment, such as a tunnel, if it’s a more complex project than you want to take on.
For safety reasons, I recommend that you take an agility class or two if possible before attempting to put your dogs on more tricky equipment like the seesaw or weave poles. Also, be sure to test obstacles for strength before urging your dog to try them. It’s equally important to gauge your dog’s reaction to the equipment; some of my students learned the hard way that if they just plopped their dogs on a piece of equipment without taking the dog’s confidence level, experience and physical health into consideration, they could turn their dog off agility in an instant. It’s always smart to go slow and let your dog set the pace.
If you’re looking for something to keep you and your dog active this summer (and maybe give your neighbors a conversation starter), construct your own backyard agility oasis with detailed instructions and invaluable resources from Do-It-Yourself Agility Equipment.
Dog's Life: Humane
More than one year after hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, humane organizations, shelters and resident dog-lovers struggle to survive.
On September 4, 2005, Trixie Levins and her family—husband Erin, 13-year-old daughter Erin (aka Spanky), Siberian Huskies Mirabeau and Meeko, and cat Johnny Rotten, Jr.—were airlifted out of New Orleans to escape the floodwaters. An army ground crew refused to allow them to take their dogs, but a navy helicopter crew offered to make room on board for the entire family, so none of their pets were left behind.
“I finally managed to get the names of the four guys crewing our rescue ’copter, and I'm in the process of contacting them,” says Levins. “They were the ones who told us we could bring the dogs, and chased them down in City Park after the ground crew made us release them. We’re inviting them to be our guests for Mardi Gras 2007.”
When I spoke to Levins more than a year ago for Bark’s special Katrina feature (Winter ’05), she did not know how badly their house had flooded because, like me and my husband, residents were not allowed to return to flooded neighborhoods for weeks—in some cases, months—after the storm. The Levins family returned to New Orleans in mid-October 2005 and found that their Bancroft Park home had stewed in five feet of brackish water for weeks, plus suffered roof damage. Living in a cramped rental apartment nearby, the Levins gutted and repaired the home, and were able to move back in mid-July 2006, 10 months after Katrina.
“I still have a ‘fake’ kitchen—appliances but no cabinets for at least four more months—but even that hardly matters,” says Levins, who like most locals, feels that all of the hard work is worth it in order to live in a city as unique as New Orleans. “Meeko, Mirabeau and J.R. are all doing great. The dogs are eagerly awaiting cold weather, and J.R. is doing his part to keep the rodent population in check. Of course, the added benefit of two large dogs in a neighborhood that is barely 40 percent reoccupied is worth having to administer frequent baths [following] their duck-hunting forays in Bayou St. John. Because even in today’s New Orleans, not much smells worse that ‘Bayou Doggy.’”
Rats and weeds are indeed flourishing in semi-abandoned neighborhoods, where only pockets of rebuilding pioneers can keep them at bay, but the stray animal population is lower than it was before Katrina. Charlotte Bass Lilly, executive director of Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), an organization created in response to Katrina, says that thousands of animals died in the flood and those who survived were in poor physical condition, which limited their ability to reproduce. ARNO is dedicated to trapping stray animals, especially if they are pregnant; require urgent medical care; or are still in devastated areas, some of which are likely to be bulldozed en masse.
“You don’t see dog packs like you used to,” says Louisiana SPCA Executive Director Laura Maloney, who helped oversee the largest animal shelter and animal-rescue operation in the country at Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., with the support of dedicated staff and colleagues nationwide. “There are a few packs, but nothing like it was. For New Orleanians, it was not a surprise when you were going to work to see a pack. For people from somewhere with a higher animal ethic… they’re not accustomed to that. It’s all perspective.”
Maloney says that the tens of thousands of people rescuing animals off the street post-Katrina helped remove animals who were strays before the storm, a task that had always strained the LA/SPCA’s limited resources. For years, the City of New Orleans contracted with the private, nonprofit organization for animal control, but did not follow through with sufficient financial support, leaving it up to the LA/SPCA to raise the necessary funds on its own through donations and grants.
“We have an opportunity to maintain a low stray population,” says Maloney, “but there are several challenges. As a community, residents are in the bad habit of allowing animals to roam and leaving them intact. So if they’re allowed to roam and they’re breeding, we’re quickly going to get back to where we were.
“Another challenge is achieving a balance between well-meaning people feeding the strays who remain and [the LA/SPCA] capturing them. The only reason animals generally enter a trap is because there’s food and they’re hungry. If they have easy access to food, they’re difficult to capture. There really needs to be a coordinated effort, and we’re trying to coordinate with some of the feeders here.”
Katrina exposed many of New Orleans’ problems, all of which existed before the storm, animal welfare certainly being one of them. But despite many setbacks, including the loss of its 9th Ward shelter and veterinary clinic, and making do with fewer, less-experienced staff and an old, leaky warehouse, LA/SPCA is back on track with its adoption, volunteer and education programs. Discount microchipping events and low-cost spay/neuter events —such as hosting the “Big FIX Rig,” a 53-foot-long, mobile, high-volume spay/neuter clinic—have all generated enthusiastic crowds.
Different Regions, Different Attitudes
Rescuers and animal lovers outside the Gulf Coast were shocked at the number of intact animals in Louisiana and Mississippi, a circumstance that presented an ongoing challenge for animal welfare organizations in the region long before Katrina. Virginia Rankin, media director for St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown, Miss., says, “My dad, who is 88, will spay his female but will not [neuter] his boy. There’s no way to argue with him, he’s not going to do it. He’s 88. I’m not going to bang my head on that brick wall.”
However, Rankin will not hesitate to raise the issue with others if she thinks she can get through. “In Lakeview [a neighborhood in New Orleans], an intact dog came running up to me. There shouldn’t be an intact animal for a thousand miles!” The dog had a collar and tags so she was able to find the owners and ask why he wasn’t neutered. When they said they hadn’t had a chance to do it, she offered to make the appointment.
Spay Louisiana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making high-quality sterilization more accessible for all, estimates that there are more than 425,000 intact pets in the state, and of those, more than 88,000 live in low-income homes. These numbers do not include stray dogs and cats. Thanks to generous grants from larger national humane organizations, such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, Spay Louisiana is offering spay/neuter vouchers, which are available at distribution partners such as the LA/SPCA. Residents of the four parishes most severely affected by the hurricane can take these vouchers to participating area veterinarians and have their animals altered for only $20 per dog and $10 per cat. In addition, Spay Louisiana plans to open a Southeast Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic in late 2006 or early 2007 to further its mission over the long haul.
On August 31, 2006, the LA/SPCA broke ground on its new 11-acre campus in Algiers, on New Orleans’ West Bank. It will be built in three phases, starting with the Phase I, state-of-the-art animal control facility in January 2007. Phase II will feature an adoption and education center, and Phase III will offer community programs as well as obedience classes and competitive agility trials.
While the LA/SPCA is starting to look toward the future, some animal welfare organizations, such as the St. Bernard Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Louisiana, are still scraping by with emergency facilities. Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, says the society’s rehabilitation center for abused animals was ruined by wind and rain, forcing the modest group to work out of “Camp Katrina,” a temporary rescue center in Tylertown, Miss., two hours north of New Orleans. A generous $50,000 grant from the North Shore Animal League has helped, but HSLA needs far exceed it.
Prior to Katrina, the Humane Society of Louisiana, which is a private, licensed investigation agency, already faced many challenges, including cracking down on the state’s thriving dog-fighting culture, monitoring substandard animal control facilities, and investigating animal cruelty cases and ushering them through the legal system.
“Louisiana is known as a safe haven for some of the premier dog fighters in the country,” says Dorson. “Dog-fighters have been here a long time without facing prosecution, [and] there is some corruption involved. Central Louisiana is also known for cock-fighting which is still legal, and a lot of the participants are crossovers [to dog-fighting]. We are slowly starting to chip away at that activity by passing state laws.” Some of the laws include making it illegal to be a spectator at a dog fight and making it a felony to own a dog for purposes of fighting.
“Katrina stopped every type of investigation,” says Dorson. “We got a lot of the fighting dogs during the rescues after Katrina, but the urban fighting continues. As we regroup and recover, we will be able to refocus on that. Unfortunately, we have to cover a lot of ground, because few agencies will apply pressure on law enforcement. We have trouble on almost every level of law enforcement when it comes to responding adequately to animal cruelty. They don’t want to deal with it or they don’t feel it’s their job. We try to educate them that animal cruelty is a symptom of other problems—it can lead to child abuse, spousal abuse or elderly abuse—so don’t discount the fact that the dog is being beaten, because all sorts of problems are probably associated with it.
“It’s been a very difficult situation for the smaller groups,” says Dorson. “Enormous support from the public went to large national groups and trickled down with less-than-equal distribution. There has been no distribution fund, even though $50 million was raised. We, and the public who gave so generously, are concerned, and asking, ‘Why are some groups not getting sufficient funds to replace and build what they lost?’ The criteria are that every animal needs to be properly cared for. Why did you pick some groups so their animals are comfortable and ours aren’t?”
According to the LA/SPCA’s “Year In Review” report, it is estimated that 8,500 animals arrived at the Lamar Dixon emergency shelter. However, many so-called “rogue rescuers,” working independently of official animal relief efforts, saved the lives of thousands more. It is believed that more than 15,000 animals total were rescued. An exact count of animals who perished in the months after the storm will never be known for sure, although rescuers agree it is well into the thousands.
“Of the thousands of animals rescued during Hurricane Katrina, only 15 to 20 percent were ever reunited with their owners,” reads the LA/SPCA report. “Although it appears to be a low percentage, it fares better than the national average of 10 percent; but for the owners searching for their pets, percentages hardly matter. … Unfortunately, clear documentation identifying where animals were found and ultimately transported was sorely lacking, a casualty of both the chaos of Lamar Dixon and the rescue groups working outside the system.”
A year later, many owners diligently continue to search for their pets. In some cases, the animal was found, but the newly adoptive family refused to relinquish the dog or cat they had grown to love. Often, the person who rescued the animal from the devastated area led the adoptive family to believe that the pet was deliberately abandoned by the original owner. Though that might have been true in some cases, it seems that anyone still searching for their animal more than a year after being separated would likely have done what they could to save their pets under horrible circumstances.
Stealth Volunteers, an Internet-based organization whose members are renowned “reunion specialists,” has played an important role in locating pets and owners, and helping them find each other. When I first spoke to Stealth Volunteer Cindi Nicotera in August 2006, she and fellow Stealther Sandra Bauer were eagerly awaiting news that after a year apart, 86-year-old Malvin Cavalier of New Orleans and his 12-year-old Poodle mix, Bandit, would be together again.
Cavalier had stayed for the storm, but as waters rose, he knew he needed to get to higher ground. Planning to return for Bandit, he left food and water, wedged the door open so the dog could go on the porch, and waded to the Superdome. Animal rescuers saved Bandit, and members of another group, Voices for Animals, transported him to Pennsylvania. But Cavalier, who ended up at the Houston Astrodome, didn’t even know where to start looking for his best friend. That’s where Nicotera and Bauer came in. (If you’d like to read more about Cavalier and Bandit’s saga, please go to a blog created by Bauer.)
“Malvin was married for 54 years and his wife passed away four years ago,” says Nicotera. “They had the dog together. He lost his wife and then it was just him and Bandit. You know what that bond is like. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain. His dog has been his life for a really long time. He loves this dog, the dog loves him. Bandit had appropriate identification as Malvin’s dog. That should’ve been reason enough to return him. I do in all sincerity feel very badly for the people who adopted the dog, because they adopted [him] with terrible misinformation. That is the biggest problem with rescue and return.”
Duane Greilich and Lisa Fox thought they were doing a good thing. The husband and wife, who live near Pittsburgh, often foster dogs for Animal Friends, a local no-kill shelter. In late September 2005, they received a call asking if they would temporarily take in a Katrina dog. The couple, who have two dogs of their own, were happy to help, and agreed to foster Bandit. About one month later, they were told that Cavalier, the owner, did not want Bandit back. Fox’s boss offered to informally adopt him, and in December 2005, Bandit went to his new home.
Says Greilich, “When we got him, he looked bad. He had skin disease, but that could’ve been from the water. He had really bad fleas, but that could’ve come from being around other pets. So I guess [the initial rescuer], when he picked up Bandit, thought he was abandoned, that it was animal cruelty, and he got the ball rolling that Malvin didn’t want the dog back.”
Bandit was also intact. As a rule, Animal Friends spays or neuters all animals who enter their system. Unfortunately, the fact that many Katrina animals were not spayed or neutered was often pointed to as “proof” that these pets were neglected and that they should not be returned.
“No one is accepting the difference in the culture for what it is,” says Nicotera. “If the pet is not spayed or neutered, that translates into, ‘You don’t know how animals should be treated and you shouldn’t have one.’ Even now, I’m involved with animal-response teams, and [when] I talk about my experience down there, they are so judgmental. They have the notion that every pet in New Orleans was chained on a porch and the owners went away and said, ‘Die!’ That’s exactly what they think.”
When asked why she thought Cavalier should get his dog back, Nicotera says, “Simply, Bandit is his dog. It’s the last thing he wants before he leaves this earth. At 86 years old, he should have it.”
In June 2006, Cavalier filed a lawsuit, personally financed by Bauer, against Lisa Fox, the last person known to have Bandit, for his return. Soon thereafter, Greilich and Fox requested an opportunity to speak to Cavalier directly. Greilich says the attorney for Voices for Animals, concerned about liability, told them no.
“She said that if we gave the dog back and he died, that Malvin could sue us,” says Greilich. “I was like, ‘This is ridiculous!’ This is just about a man and his dog. I decided to find this Malvin Cavalier myself.” Within 15 minutes, he says, he had Cavalier’s phone number. Once Greilich and Fox learned the truth, that Cavalier wanted the dog back and always had, they agreed to send Bandit home. On August 31, 2006, Cavalier’s wish came true.
Nicotera, who lives in Pennsylvania, flew with Bandit to New Orleans, where they were picked up at the airport by Bauer, who is from Canada. The threesome traveled to Cavalier’s FEMA trailer in front of his 9th Ward home, where Cavalier and Bandit saw each other for the first time in over a year.
“He’s very happy!” says Cavalier, a few days after the long-awaited reunion. “He was so glad to see me. Anytime I’d go to the supermarket or church, when I’d get back, he’d run up and down the house, jump up, stand up, do a little dance. He’s back at his clowning. He had a habit of lying flat on his stomach and he’d put his face right on top of my slipper and just sleep right there. He did that before Katrina and he’s doing it now.”
Cavalier feels indebted to Nicotera and Bauer, without whom he says he would’ve never recovered his dog. Both women stayed several days after the reunion to help gut Cavalier’s house, for which he is also most grateful.
“I never did give up,” says Cavalier. “I asked God, ‘Before I reach the end of my age, could I please see Bandit again?’ And my prayers were answered. A lot of people don’t believe in prayers, but I do. I’ve been through so much in my life,” says Cavalier. “My first wife died after childbirth, left me with children five, six and seven years old and a baby. I didn’t know what to do. Bad enough when the man dies. But when the lady die, and leave children with a man … I had a lot of help. Have courage and don’t give up.
Lisa Downs is taking Cavalier’s advice to heart. Lisa, who lived in Meraux, La.—a suburb east of New Orleans destroyed by storm surge—hopes to be reunited with her dog, too. She and her fiancé Robert Carter, their two-year-old son Devin, three dogs and two birds attempted to ride out the storm because their only car was not reliable for a long evacuation trip, despite having been seen by a mechanic earlier in the week. Someone offered them the use of a pick-up truck, but the couple refused because the small cab would not allow them to bring their beloved pets.
The storm surge was so strong that it forced open their front and back doors simultaneously, and Downs was pinned by the sofa. Carter grabbed Devin off the kitchen table and took him up to the attic, then freed Downs, who joined Devin in the attic. Carter then spent the next frantic few minutes in the water, trying to save all of their animals and get them up to the attic as well. A boat came to rescue them, and after insisting that they would only go if their animals could go too, the entire family was taken to a temporary shelter, albeit one still surrounded by water.
During the week following Katrina, the Downs–Carter family struggled to survive but with each step they took toward safety, they were forced by authorities to leave one more animal behind. They went from one temporary shelter to another. After days spent enduring the horrible conditions of the “Field from Hell,” a grassy area off the interstate where thousands of people were dumped without adequate food, water or sanitation, the only animal they had left was their smallest dog, a Shih Tzu mix named Lil Bit.
“When the buses came that Saturday [September 3, 2005] morning, I had Devon in one arm and Lil Bit in the other,” says Downs. “The bus driver said, ‘You can’t bring that dirty dog on this bus.’ My son was starting to cry. I said, ‘Please let us bring him, we’ve already lost everything, four animals, this is all we have.’ He actually looked at me and said, ‘You can always wait for the next bus,’ and he knew that wasn’t an option for us— we were all dehydrated and sunburned.”
Despite their pleading and begging, and their son’s tears, the driver would not back down. They set Lil Bit down in the grass and boarded the bus.
“We had Devin unexpectedly,” says Downs. “Prior to that we thought our animals were the only children we would ever have. We risked our own lives to save these animals, so to have [people] say, ‘Too bad, they don’t mean anything to us, you’re going to have to leave them behind,’ that was ….” Voice fading, she was unable to continue.
They eventually found refuge at Downs’ parents’ home in Memphis, Tenn. While visiting a Red Cross shelter there to fill out forms and request help, Downs first learned about Petfinder.com’s massive database for Katrina animals. Sadly, they learned that while their two large, senior dogs, Jordan and Ce-Ce, had been rescued from the location where the distraught family was forced to leave them, they were in such ill health that they were euthanized. Their two birds also did not survive.
“My heart broke every time I went online and saw how many dogs had been misplaced. These dogs belonged to old people, babies. Not everyone in New Orleans was a dog-fighter. Since Katrina [we’ve] gotten a very bad reputation, and people say these dogs were sick with heartworms or were maimed because they were fighting. Yeah, some people took very bad care of their dogs, but others did take good care of them. I did.”
With the help of Stealth Volunteers, Downs has located a dog whom she believes to be Lil Bit, but the woman in Illinois who adopted him is not being cooperative. During a phone conversation with Downs, she questioned how Downs, whose house was destroyed, could take care of him properly. When a Stealth Volunteer spoke with her, the woman suggested that the family focus on rebuilding their lives, with the knowledge that the dog is well cared for and loved.
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” says Downs. “He is the only thing I may have left in the world from my prior life. He’s not a thing I can go buy in the mall. This is a dog we love and cared for and bonded with. My son still cries and begs for his dog. Try explaining this to a three-year-old—‘Jordan and Ce-Ce went to live with Jesus to watch over us. Mama is still trying to get Lil Bit to come home.’”
Around the one-year anniversary of Katrina, a lawyer with Best Friends Animal Society contacted Downs and offered to help her pursue legal action to determine if this dog is in fact Lil Bit. If he is, Best Friends will help Downs bring him home.
Planning and Prevention
A poll by the Fritz Institute showed that 44 percent of people who did not evacuate stayed out of concern for their pets, versus 18 percent who stayed because of relatives. These numbers clearly show that allowing people to take their animals with them would save human lives as well.
In order to prevent the pain and suffering of pet separation and loss, Downs was one of many pet owners who shared her story in support of the Louisiana Pet Evacuation Bill, which passed both the state Senate and House and was signed by Governor Kathleen Blanco in June 2006. The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act passed both houses of Congress and awaits President Bush’s signature. Under terms of the act, government at both local and state levels will be required to create emergency preparedness and disaster plans that include provisions for companion animals. In the future, this will save the lives of both people and animals, as many victims of Katrina died because they refused to leave their pets.
In the meantime, affordable, long-term housing continues to be an issue for many New Orleanians, and a special challenge for dog owners. While the LA/SPCA has not seen a higher percentage of owner-surrenders compared to the past, Maloney thinks that for some, the reasons are Katrina-related. “I think what we’re seeing is more dogs turned in who have been members of a family for a number of years [but] people can’t have them in their FEMA trailer, or they’re living where pets are not permitted. I’m surprised that people … are not more compassionate.”
ARNO takes Katrina-evacuee surrenders from outlying shelters directly into its foster homes. “We take in surrenders [from] Katrina victims still living in their vehicles, or who can no longer afford to keep their pets,” says Lilly. “This is a very sad situation. Many middle-income families with no housing, and no out-of-town relatives or friends, have been forced to live in their vehicles, waiting for 2006 to end so they qualify for food stamps or other government aid. This is the unknown truth about Katrina and her unpublicized victims.... The poor have social services that can help them with food, clothing and even housing. The middle income has no one.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
In 2005, we presented “In Their Own Voices,” and asked people to share their stories with us. Recently, we caught up with three of our earlier contributors.
Melissa Seymour and Mark Jackson took in Sparkle, a senior German Shepherd, soon after Katrina. They found her owner, Delford Thomas of New Orleans, but having lost his house and job, he told them he could not support her. The couple adopted Sparkle and made plans for her to undergo hip replacement surgery. Unfortunately, her bad hips were a symptom of degenerative myelopathy, and her condition has since deteriorated. Sparkle doesn’t like her special mobility cart, so Jackson, whom she adores, carries the 85-pound dog wherever she needs to go. Seymour says that as long as Sparkle is alert and “full of spunk,” they will continue to make her as comfortable as possible.
When Katrina hit, Tina Reynolds and Andrew Kenworthy were out of town. Their house-sitter evacuated, leaving behind their Dalmatians Pearl and Bones and foster Dalmatian-mix, Spec. Fifteen days later, the entire family was miraculously reunited, and everyone moved to an apartment in Houston. Their Uptown home did not flood, so Reynolds returned with the dogs in mid-October 2005 (Kenworthy stayed in Houston for his relocated job). In January 2006, Spec was adopted by a family in Gretna, La., who adored him and appreciated everything Reynolds and Kenworthy went through to save his life. Sadly, one month later, the couple’s beloved six-year-old Pearl, their first foster for Crescent City Rescue, was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect; she passed away in July 2006. Just before Pearl died, Reynolds and Kenworthy took in a young foster Dalmatian, Oliver. He and Bones bonded so strongly that the couple wound up adopting Oliver and have since opened their arms to another foster Dalmatian, Chase. They’re happy to have a three-dog household again.
James Mercadel, who is blind, rode out the storm in the attic of his 7th Ward home with his leader dog, Jake, and mixed-breed Gressive. A neighbor rescued him by boat and promised to return for the dogs, but didn’t. Mercadel ended up at the Astrodome and asked for help saving his dogs. More than a week later, Jake was found at the house and reunited with Mercadel. In October 2005, a Michigan humane society called to say they had Gressive, and arranged for her to come back to Mercadel. Soon thereafter, his Texas hosts, Shelly and Allen Thornton, helped him move to Independence Hall, a home for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the stress of being in a new environment and the trauma of Katrina greatly affected Gressive, and she was not getting along with Jake. Mercadel made a difficult decision and gave Gressive to a good friend. Now, she and Jake are both much happier. He plans to stay in Houston, where he has made many new friends.
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