Rikke Jorgensen is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Volunteers teach young dogs new tricks
July 21 2014
Picture your dog in a high school cafeteria at lunchtime. A food fight breaks out. Muffins fly, meatballs roll. Would your dog watch with stoic composure? Silvia Lange, of Nicasio, Calif., tells the story of a teenage puppy raiser in her local Canine Companions for Independence group who found herself in this situation. “I doubt many other service dogs are socialized to food fights. It was a lucky break.” The puppy in question reportedly handled both the temptation and the bedlam with aplomb. And Lange, an eight-year veteran of puppy raising, knows that a wide range of experiences is key to preparing a puppy for life as a service dog.
The subject of service dogs—whom the ADA defines as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability”—triggers predictable reactions in dog lovers. Tribute is paid to the good-naturedness of the dogs. Admiration is expressed for the ingenuity of the trainers. All very true, of course. Service dogs often spring from marvelously mellow-tempered parents and have gone through intensive and complex training, carried out by gifted animal trainers. But if the first step on the journey to a great service dog is careful breeding, and if the last mile is training at the highest level, the considerable distance between the two is socialization.
According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, socialization is “the developmental process whereby puppies and adolescent dogs familiarize themselves with their infinitely varied and ever-changing social and physical environment.” In layman’s terms: Anything you want a dog to calmly accept as an adult, you must introduce him to repeatedly and in a positive manner during the first 18 months of his life.
Consider what that means for puppies in service dog programs: They have to ride in cars, buses and trains; perhaps do some sailing; and ideally, become familiar with an airplane cabin or two. They must visit restaurants and hotels as well as libraries, movie theaters, shops and supermarkets. They need to be utterly comfortable with crowds, escalators, fountains, skateboards, strollers, toddlers, and construction noise. They have to go to school, go to the office, go to the basketball game. And naturally, the home environment must be as mundane to them as their own noses. The vacuum cleaner? So what? The next-door neighbor’s cat? Couldn’t care less. But most service dogs are born on the campuses of the organizations that train and place them. They first open their eyes inside a kennel, not a living room.
That’s where puppy raisers enter the equation. They are volunteers—school-age children or retirees or anyone in between—who give puppies loving temporary homes. What’s more, they teach their young charges basic manners and arrange for a steady stream of educational experiences. When you see an adolescent dog wearing the telltale service dog jacket, there’s likely to be a puppy raiser at the other end of the leash.
A puppy raiser’s responsibilities differ from one program to another, but some requirements are practically universal. For example, most organizations ask their puppy raisers to feed a particular brand of food, use only an approved style of training, have the puppy sleep indoors and agree to provide daily exercise and socialization. Costs for food, transport to and from training classes, and veterinary checkups rest with the puppy raiser, too. The duration varies, but 12 to 18 months is common, and the work usually begins when the puppy is eight weeks old. In return for all this, the organization provides ongoing support, training and community.
Silvia Lange, who began raising puppies as a retirement project, was unsure at first about taking on such a big commitment. What if she wanted to travel, or even move? “That was before I realized what a great network of people Canine Companions have nationwide,” she said. “I could move anywhere in the U.S. and find fellow puppy raisers to connect with. And we all dog sit for one another.”
Smaller service dog organizations also tend vigorously to their volunteer flock. “We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” says Jorjan Powers, communications director at the Assistance Dog Institute at the Bergin University of Canine Studies, whose program depends on a handful of dedicated puppy raisers. “We want them to feel supported.”
Unsurprisingly, the question most often asked of puppy raisers by the general public is, “How can you give up this gorgeous puppy?” According to Blancett Reynolds of San Francisco, Calif., a puppy group leader who has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, it’s never easy. “How do I deal with it? I don’t. I cry. Actually, I can’t even say goodbye to the dog. Someone at the kennel has to take the leash from my hand because I don’t want the dog to see me lose it.”
But she adds that people often imagine the surrender of the dog to be much worse than it actually is because they don’t know how the program works. “It doesn’t involve someone handing you a puppy and then showing up at your house 15 months later to rip the dog from your arms. It’s a collaborative project with a lot of support.”
When asked for her advice to people thinking about becoming a puppy raiser, Reynolds doesn’t hesitate. “Do it!” she says. “Pick up the phone. Puppy raising isn’t always easy, but it’s fun and very rewarding. The experience is valuable for anyone. It’s all about doing something for someone else and having a great time while doing it.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Resources for parents & teachers
October 1 2012
Across the country, groups both large and small provide information and services in support of humane education. Here are a few places to start, and others may be available in your community. If not, give some thought to helping your humane society start a local program. The world—and its children and animals—can always use more kindness!
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Best Friends Animal Society
Dumb Friends League
HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers)
Humane Education Programs
Humane Society of the United States
Institute for Humane Education
The National Humane Education Society
Progressive Animal Welfare Society
Sharon Hunt Gerardo realizes her original dream
April 16 2012
A mid-life career change is not uncommon. Nor is going back to school to get a second degree. Going back for a fourth degree, however, is more of a rarity, and graduating side by side with your daughter—well, that’s downright extraordinary. This is Sharon Hunt Gerardo’s story. In June, at the age of 51, she received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from UC Davis alongside her 27-year-old daughter, Angelina.
Both women had harbored dreams of becoming veterinarians since childhood. Angelina Gerardo, for her part, never considered another profession. Her father, Mike Gerardo, was a vet with a small animal practice—pocket pets, as he called them—and Angelina grew up steeped in the everyday drama and routine of caring for animals. But Sharon, who in Mike married her high school sweetheart, wasn’t accepted to veterinary school back in the 1980s; instead, she embarked on a career in microbiology. Following her husband’s untimely death in 2000, she started thinking about switching vocations.
By the time Angelina applied to college in 2003, Sharon’s decision was made, and she, too, sent out applications. Angelina thought it was a terrific idea for her mother to become a vet … right up to the day it became clear they’d both been accepted to the prestigious, all-consuming veterinary program at UC Davis. “I was not thrilled at first,” says Angelina. “I didn’t look forward to having classes with my mom every day.” In practice, though, things worked out very well. The two agreed to cultivate different sets of friends, and made arrangements to be in different lab groups. Their similar work habits and pace of learning made them ideal study partners, and in the end, they wound up cramming for many exams together, often over glasses of wine.
Today, Angelina’s veterinary career is well on its way. After joining the Army Veterinary Corps and finishing basic training, she is stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where she spends her days looking after hard-working military dogs and the pets of service members. Sharon, on the other hand, is back at UC Davis pursuing a master’s degree in Preventive Veterinary Medicine (MPVM). A fifth degree, if anyone’s counting, may seem excessive until seen in the context of her past education—she holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Davis and a PhD in immunology from UCLA—and her years in medical research. Sharon’s career change was less an about-turn and more of a course correction. Sure, in her youthful fancies she was always the hands-on vet, rinsing ears, setting broken limbs, palpating claws and paws, and removing ingested chew toys, but for decades, her passion has been for big-picture stuff. Things like disease control and prevention in whole animal populations—large-scale projects for which the MPVM program is a direct ticket.
The MPVM program is to veterinary medicine what public health is to human medicine. Graduates might work with food safety, livestock health, or wildlife and disease ecology. One current student is investigating a mysterious neurological disease that kills horses and cattle on Easter Island, and a recent graduate has just returned to her native Uganda to work on wildlife conservation. Sharon wants to focus on epidemiology and infectious diseases. Computer modeling particularly appeals to her; this is a technique that allows scientists to calculate the impact of potential outbreaks on ecology and economy, and aids them in the preparation of a response should the worst happen.
What’s the worst? Take the looming specter of mad cow disease. Britain’s mid-1990s epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy devastated the country’s beef industry, from farmers to food manufacturers to restaurants. At least 140 people lost their lives to Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from eating infected beef, and 4.5 million cattle were destroyed—of those, less than 200,000 were confirmed as infected. The rest were simply old enough to possibly carry the disease agent.
Nothing quite so ruinous has yet befallen the U.S., but outbreaks of one kind or another happen more and more often. Think of recalls of hot dogs or beef patties or frozen chicken pizzas. Of “species jumpers” like bird flu and bovine tuberculosis, or the pet food recall of 2007, still fresh in our memories. As the world grows ever more interconnected, ever more interdependent, anything that ails another country may soon show up in our back yard. People and animals everywhere face the challenges presented by industrialized farming and food processing. So there could hardly a better time for a scientist and researcher like Sharon to return to her original career choice.
To others with dreams of new beginnings she says, “Find a way to make it happen. If it means going back to school, do it. It may not be easy, but it’ll be well worth the time and effort.” Of course, she also recommends enlisting your friends and family for support—as she did so fruitfully herself. Consider this: If one day, in the midst of Sharon’s world-saving efforts, her dogs Annie and Black-Jack or her cats Deco, Prissy and Gracie should need complicated surgery, she can simply call her daughter.
Dog's Life: Humane
Finding fulfillment, saving lives
Attraction is often a mystery to the unaffected. Take Amy Weeden and her daughter Shelby. Earlier this year, they met and fell in love with an 11-year-old, one-eyed, blind and nearly deaf Chihuahua with a back end shriveled up from lack of use. Her name was Estella. She could barely stand, let alone go outside to potty. She had chronic renal failure. She ate little and only when fed by hand. She would not have lasted long in a shelter; she certainly would not have been easy to find a home for. The Weedens, however, were not deterred by Estella's condition. They had three other senior rescue dogs at home—a pair of graying Dachshunds named Otto and Kisses, and El Capitan, another Chihuahua roughly the same age as Estella—and knew what was possible with love and patient care.
It was a one-in-a-million match.
The Weedens had found Estella through a search on Petfinder.com and traveled 100 miles to meet the tan charmer in the Lafayette, Calif., living room of the Goldlist family. As part of a school community-service project, Jay and Maureen and daughters Ashley, Haley and Shayla were fostering Estella and Estella's seven-year-old son Pip for Muttville, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to senior dog rescue.
Unlike their Great Expectations namesakes, our Pip and Estella both found happiness. Nowadays, Estella takes regular two-mile strolls. She is playful and well nourished, and her kidney problem is under control. She snores at night. Pip, for his part, is now a permanent member of the Goldlist household. After he ran away from an adopter twice, presumably to find his way back to the Goldlists, the family decided resistance was futile. And they still foster; their current Muttville charge is another elderly Chihuahua, an amiable gentleman named Clyde.
This Dickensian happy ending would have been implausible if the people involved had subscribed to the prevailing notion about fostering: It is too painful. In this respect, fostering animals is a lot like mountain climbing. Everyone agrees it is a noble pursuit—just not something to consider doing oneself. Surely it takes extraordinary courage and strength of character? Yes, opening your home and your heart to a dog only to part with him again weeks or months later can be emotionally bruising. But the willingness of foster volunteers to love and let go brings about an awful lot of good. Without foster homes, Muttville and thousands of similar organizations could not function.
In fact, some in the rescue world see fostering as the way to a future where shelters are largely redundant. Eileen Bouressa is the executive director of Animal Compassion Network (ACN), an animal welfare organization in western North Carolina that has adopted out over 10,000 animals since its inception in 1997. ACN's rescue activities are built around a network of foster volunteers.
"Fostering keeps animals out of shelters where communicable diseases can be common, especially for stressed pets," Bouressa says. "And housing dogs in private homes makes for happy, well-adjusted animals who make an easier transition into an adoptive home than they would coming straight out of a facility."
ACN has two types of foster homes, Emergency Fosters and Public Partners. The first are ACN volunteers who take in animals pulled from shelters and other desperate situations (death of an owner, abuse) until a new home can be found. The Public Partner Program is for people who need to re-home their own pet or a stray they have rescued so they can avoid surrendering the dog to a shelter. ACN pays for spay/neuter, testing, vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, flea and heartworm prevention, and food and supplies, and offers help to find a new home.
"We have room for 70 dogs in the network," says Bouressa. "Of those, 20 are Emergency Fosters, the rest Public Partners. Though in a crisis situation, we remove the limits from our Emergency Foster Program. We took in 113 cats and dogs after Hurricane Katrina, and they all became Emergency Fosters in addition to the 40 already in the program."
ACN also runs a foster-to-adopt program. Some people, Bouressa explains, badly want a pet, yet find it hard to actually take the plunge. Others lose a beloved dog and feel they are betraying him or her by adopting again so soon. But when given the opportunity to temporarily foster the dog who has caught their eye, almost all jump at the chance. Frequently, the foster turns into an adoption.
Critics say foster-to-adopt programs turn dogs into returnable goods. Bouressa strongly disagrees. "It is a way to save more animals. Adopters get to know the dog and avoid the surprises that often lead to returns. If it isn't the right fit, we simply adopt the dog into another home and the foster-to-adopt volunteer can try another dog. Many continue to foster after they adopt because they see the difference they can make."
The program has also proven to be the answer when one family member wants to adopt and another family member is unsure. This is what happened with Amber and Katie Beane. They had a full house already, to be sure: two daughters (a teenager and a baby), four cats and two dogs. A third dog, Buddy, the youngest of the pack, had recently died. When the family stopped by Pet Harmony, ACN's store for rescued pets, to buy some supplies, bringing home another dog was not on Amber Beane's agenda.
"We saw this shy, sweet, Walker Coonhound mix, around six months old. And Katie said, 'We need another dog!' Amber laughs. "I just rolled my eyes. I thought it was the last thing we needed." But the dog, Miles, did strike her as too shy for his own good. So Amber consented to foster him long enough to give him a chance to come out of his shell, to become more adoptable. It worked. Within days, Miles was prancing around the Beane property as though he owned it, opening doors by himself, cozying up to the cats, and entertaining his dignified elders—13-year-old Samantha, a Border Collie mix, and 11-year-old Bella, a Springer Spaniel/Lab mix. A week into the foster, Amber could no longer remember why she had thought Miles ought to be someone else's dog.
Bouressa understands why people cite heartbreak as a reason not to foster. She has fostered more than 100 animals herself and knows firsthand the feeling that no one could ever provide for the pet as well as she could. "People become foster volunteers out of compassion for abused and abandoned animals. The same compassion, however, often derails the situation. For me, the only way to give up a pet is to meet and interview the adopters. Then—and this is what I urge everyone to do—I think about the next dog I can save. My role is to be a temporary safe haven."
It is this willingness to nurture, however briefly, that saves thousands of dogs like Estella, Pip and Miles—so that they can love and be loved for life. Animal rescue professionals dearly hope more people will embrace that outlook. After all, we do dogs a serious disservice if we love them so much we cannot bear to help save them.
Dog's Life: Humane
How children learn to become animal advocates
During a recent afternoon in San Francisco, a veterinarian shepherded a group of seven- and eight-year-olds through the SPCA facility. She paused at kennels filled with anybody’s-best-guesses and talked about how cities and citizens can work together to manage animal populations.
A little girl raised her hand. “I know,” she said with expert authority. “It’s when two animals get married and decide not to have babies.”
The girl’s reply illustrates one of the most common and happy side effects of humane education: empathy. In its after-school program “Animal Awareness,” the San Francisco SPCA seeks to enhance children’s compassion, respect and responsibility for animals through firsthand encounters.
“The understanding that all living beings have needs and can suffer when treated cruelly is not innate to any of us,” says Laurie Routhier, SF/SPCA’s Humane Education Manager. “It has to be taught and made real through personal experience, especially in a world where the vast majority of children spend little, if any, time near animals or in nature.”
Animals have an almost magical hold on children (and many adults). Learning anything becomes fun when it involves a rabbit, a guinea pig, a puppy or a kitten, which probably explains why humane societies’ education programs are so popular. Across the country, humane societies are adding programs or expanding existing ones to meet a demand that seems to grow and grow.
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Educating children about kindness and compassion is not virgin territory for humane societies. Humane education began with the humane movement, which took root in this country in the late 1800s. George Thorndyke Angell, the founder of Boston’s MSPCAAngell, started the Bands of Mercy clubs in 1882, inspiring schoolchildren across the nation to take a pledge to be kind to animals. A few years later, Angell founded the American Humane Education Society, and published Anna Sewell’s classic of humane animal treatment, Black Beauty. By 1923,more than four million children belonged to a Band of Mercy club.
The turbulent first half of the 20th century, however, saw humane societies turn their focus more to the plight of animals than the education of children and the public. Not until the late 1960s—as the country left behind the effects of the Great Depression and two world wars and embraced civil rights and the environment—did humane education experience a brief renaissance, this time in American schools. A number of states incorporated the subject into public school curricula. Films about humane behavior and values were shown during science classes or at assemblies. Field trips to humane societies became common. Through the 1970s, the number of books on animal welfare available to schools grew dramatically.
Unfortunately, the next two decades brought budget cuts and dwindling funds for public education, and in many communities, humane education did not survive. Today, its presence in schools is sporadic at best, usually depending entirely upon the enterprise of individual teachers. Recognizing this, humane societies are resuming a more active role in education—through school visits; camps; after-school and junior volunteer programs; and as resource centers for teachers and youth group leaders looking for lesson plans, reading materials and inspiration.
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“Children and animals are the most vulnerable members of society,” says Routhier. “For both groups, abuse is on the rise. Our job is to help reverse that trend, to foster kindness and respect for all living creatures. We want to build a generation of animal advocates, one child at a time.”
With this goal in mind, the San Francisco SPCA last year reached 2,900 students through 13 camp sessions, 72 weekend workshops and after-school classes, and 91 school visits and shelter tours. The curriculum spans animal welfare issues and all aspects of animal behavior, training and care. Everything from cruelty-free shopping to responsible pet guardianship is taught through interactive games and hands-on practice.
Good poop-scooping technique, for example, is developed through the crowd-pleasing Poop Scoop Relay Race, which involves an ample supply of Snickers bars, Tootsie Rolls and bio bags. The trick to winning is not to let any stray bits (the Tootsie Rolls) escape. Sponge Puppy, an exercise on early socialization, uses plastic cups, water, a variety of food colors and animal sponge capsules. The food colors represent different experiences: baseball games; crowded sidewalks; visits to the vet; and living with cats, sirens, garage doors and so on. The children imagine what their hypothetical puppy might encounter in his life, and then make up a colorful liquid recipe that, once soaked up by the sponge, will result in a happy, well-adjusted adult dog.
Julie Haggerty’s 10-year-old daughter, Bridget Kraus, spent two weeks at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s Camp Muddy Paws last summer—and she was lucky to get in.
As one of the lucky students who secured a spot in the program, Bridget still raves about her experiences: the dog training; the grooming; the real-life surgical procedure she got to watch, even though she had to lean against a tiled wall when she became slightly dizzy. Months later, she wrote stories for school about Bullseye, a kitten named for his fondness for jumping onto shoulders or into arms from high places. Her time at camp made Bridget appreciate animals’ individual needs and personalities, adding a new level of understanding to her existing love for them.
“She handles animals much better since Camp Muddy Paws,” Haggerty says. “We have three cats at home, and I’ve been telling the kids for a long time not to just pick them up. At camp, Bridget really took that in for the first time. Now she lets the cats come to her.”
Bridget’s new understanding highlights a point humane educators often make: These lessons teach kids not only to watch for and recognize body language cues; they also instill respect and impulse control. Brushing a dog’s coat cultivates grooming skills, but also a sense of responsibility. Matted coats are uncomfortable and can lead to disease—and your pet’s health and comfort are yours to protect. The list of positive qualities fostered by interactions with animals goes on: patience, cooperation, gentleness, perseverance, a caring attitude, initiative.
The effect can be downright transformative. Just ask Carol Rathmann. She has spent 17 years building the Forget-Me- Not Farm at the Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County, Calif., into a haven for at-risk children and rescued animals. The Farm welcomes around 350 children a year, partnering with county agencies that care for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, or because their parents are incarcerated or in treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. Vulnerable and traumatized, these children have not participated in Scouts or Little League or afterschool programs. They’ve had few chances to learn humane values, or even basic life skills, like asking for what they want or working with others to solve a problem. In the peaceful setting of the Forget-Me-Not Farm, all that changes.
Rathmann, a registered vet tech with a graduate degree in psychology, says the children absorb lessons in many ways; the Farm’s volunteers are well aware that they serve as role models, for example. But the true teachers at the Farm are the animals and the garden.
Mother Nature dictates the list of chores. In the winter, the children are in the barn, grooming and caring for the animals. Or they dress in donated rain boots and ponchos and walk the llamas and the miniature donkey outside. Springtime means frantic planting, sowing the vegetable garden and the year’s corn maze. Summer is for bottle-feeding puppies and kittens and bathing hot animals. The children collect eggs from rescued hens and harvest zucchinis, sunflower seeds, tomatoes and strawberries. Come autumn, there are apples to pick and pumpkins to carve for Halloween.
The animals offer constant lessons in boundary setting, and the children learn those lessons, sometimes without even realizing it. Rathmann carefully chooses animals for the sanctuary based on which ones will be good boundary teachers, one way or the other, because nearly all the children in the program have suffered violations that have damaged their own sense of what is and is not okay to do to others. Nico and Buddy, the LaMancha goats, are nosy, obnoxious, in-your-face creatures. If you don’t want a muzzle in your pocket, you have to communicate it clearly or walk away. The llamas, on the other hand, are reserved. Developing the kind of relationship that makes a llama come up and greet you takes time and commitment. You can’t force your affection on them either. Llamas brook no nonsense.
With every visit, the children take away lessons about personal space. It is not acceptable to invade someone else’s space, nor do you have to allow anyone to trample yours—everyone is entitled to be approached in a manner with which they are comfortable. The animals also teach many other things by example. Raymond the scaredy calf demonstrates daily how good it feels to be comforted when you are frightened. Carmen the miniature donkey always seeks out the kids who feel down and gently pesters them for a cuddle, almost as though she understands that scratching her withers for half an hour can make a person feel better about the world.
“They get to be children here and that in itself is a magical experience for them,” Rathmann says. “The program helps them heal. The kids connect intensely with the rescued animals— they too have been abused or neglected. At its core, humane education is about how we treat living beings, and as a therapeutic method, it’s very effective at helping children break free from patterns of violence.”
In other words, if you can imagine another’s pain, it becomes harder to ignore or inflict it. Empathy curbs cruelty. Seen in this context, humane education is some of the most important work humane societies do. Initiatives around animal population control, shelter adoptions and responsible breeding can only take root in a public that understands and cares about animal welfare. And where better to start the work of changing cultural value systems than with children? After all, someone who thinks animals have the right to marry and decide the size of their own family is more likely to treat any animal, including a person, with respect and not as disposable property.
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