New Orleans lost one of her favorite sons, artists George Rodrigue, on December 14, of cancer. He was 69. Rodrigue, the son of a bricklayer, drew upon his Cajun heritage for his work, most notably for his Blue Dog paintings, which were inspired by his deceased pet named Tiffany. The Spaniel-Terrier mix, painted with a white nose, yellow eyes and a cobalt blue body, first appeared in 1984. Rodrigue’s Blue Dog image became a New Orleans icon, appearing in advertising campaigns for Absolute Vodka and Neiman Marcus, posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, coffee table books and the collections of celebrity collectors. The paintings were beloved for their pop sensibility and folk art style mixed with regional folklore—the Blue Dog is a gentle, friendly version of the loup-garou, the werewolf or ghost dog that hides in sugarcane fields and haunts mischievous children.
In addition to his creative accomplishments, Rodrigue is being lauded for his numerous charitable acts. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the subsequent flooding laid waste to much of south Louisiana, the Blue Dog appeared with an American flag, both partly submerged, to raise money for storm relief. The Blue Dog Relief drive raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid rebuilding, including $100,000 to help the New Orleans Museum of Art reopen. In 2009, he founded the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, which advocates the importance of the visual arts in education.
When asked to explain the popularity of his Blue Dog paintings, the artist offered this appraisal—“The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog. He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.” The paintings, he said in the interview, “are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you, and you’re looking at him, looking for some answers … The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”
Survivors include his wife, Wendy Rodrigue, and two sons, Jacques Rodrigue of New Orleans and André Rodrigue of Lafayette.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping vulnerable people feed their dogs
Low income means tough choices. Should I buy medications or heat my home? Do I pay my rent or buy shoes? Who gets to eat—me or my pets?
It’s this last question that inspired volunteers with Meals on Wheels to add pet food to deliveries for seniors and disabled individuals who are at risk of hunger. People who were taking food to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities noticed that many of them were doing without the food they desperately need in order to make sure their pets had something to eat.
As dog lovers, this is no surprise to most of us. Many of us have a “my dog eats before I do” mentality in the event of economic stress, but not all of us have had to act on it. Once volunteers became aware of this new threat to adequate nutrition for the people they serve, they became enthusiastic partners with a program called AniMeals on Wheels.
This program allows volunteers to deliver pet food along with the meals they bring to human clients. It relies on donations and volunteers for all pet food and deliveries and involves collaborations with a number of pet programs in multiple states. Despite the popularity of the program and the huge amount of food donated, the need is even bigger. They are never in a position where they don’t need more donations of pet food.
AniMeals on Wheels is one of many programs nationwide that seek to address the problem of hunger in both people and dogs. It’s important to understand that until there is enough food for their pets, the problem of hunger in low-income seniors and the disabled will not be solvable.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Georgia woman offers to spay all of the Macon's female dogs
Earlier this month, dog lover and pet foster parent Kerry Hatcher Fickling was inspired by what seemed like a particularly overwhelming week of strays and abandoned litters in Macon, Georgia. Kerry regularly donates time and money to local rescue groups, but this time she wanted to do something that would really get to the root cause of the city's overpopulation problem. So she posted a "Christmas gift for Macon" on Facebook, offering to pay for any female dog to be spayed. Kerry is even willing to pick up the dogs in the morning, bring them to the vet, and return the pups in the evening after their surgery.
So far she's paid for almost 50 spay procedures and has been fielding hundreds of calls from other interested people.
Kerry is hoping to eventually reach a goal of 2,000 spayed dogs. Even at the discounted rate of $55 offered by the Gordon Animal Clinic, 2,000 dogs will run her a $110,000 tab. Kerry credits her real estate business and healthy savings with being able to fund this initiative.
In order to achieve her goal, Kerry is planning to start canvasing neighborhoods to reach people who don't have computer access and don't know about her spay offer. Kerry also realizes that part of her mission is now education. Making a difference can be as simple as letting people know that dogs don't need to have a litter or two to have enriched lives, a common misconception around Macon.
Perhaps this will inspire others to think about starting similar programs in other cities. Most people wouldn't be able to afford 2,000 spay procedures, but multiple people sponsoring one $55 operation each could be a possibility. It could be the start of a great holiday tradition!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Her own qualities helped her survive
A few days ago, Crosby the Golden Retriever was rescued from the Charles River by officers in the Wellesley Police Department. Crosby had fallen through the ice and was unable to return to shore. The ice was too thick for her to break through and swim for safety. It was too thin to support her weight and allow her to walk to shore, even if she had been able to climb onto the ice from the water.
Officers in cold-water survival suits swam out to her and hauled her 50 yards back to shore. Without their help, she is unlikely to have survived. She was swimming back and forth in the freezing water when rescuers arrived and without help, she would have been at great risk of drowning due to hypothermia, exhaustion, or a combination of the two.
When I watch the video of her rescue, I see many factors that helped Crosby to survive. The rapid response, skills, and equipment of the police department obviously played a critical role. The technology that allowed the guardian’s location to be pinpointed from her 911 call was also important.
As a canine behaviorist, what I notice most is how the dog’s own qualities played an important part in her survival. Specifically, I observed that this dog was fit, emotionally stable, and social, all of which contributed to the success of a challenging rescue.
Fitness. Swimming in freezing water is exhausting. We don’t know how long Crosby was in the river. It wasn’t long enough for her to freeze, but it was long enough for her guardian to call for help, for police officers to arrive, to prepare for the rescue and to reach her 50 yards from shore. Some dogs would not have had the physical abilities required to stay above the surface that long, so Crosby’s fitness was a huge asset in this emergency situation.
Emotional stability. Nobody could watch the video and claim that Crosby looked happy at any point, but she did not seem panicked either. She was calm in the water before she was rescued, while the officers pulled her to shore and afterwards as she was dried off and entered the vehicle. It’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t frightened, but she held it together. If she had freaked out, it would have been entirely understandable, but it would have made her rescue less likely. A dog (or a person) who is too emotionally distressed is less able to cope with immediate dangers. Because she was able to stay calm, she helped herself stay afloat until she was rescued.
Social. By social, I’m not referring to dogs who are wag-the-back-end-off-during-greetings friendly. I just mean dogs who are comfortable around strangers. Dogs who are not social enough in this way may shy away from rescuers. Tragically, this is a real issue for dogs in water catastrophes and in fires and also for those who flee after car accidents. Crosby was clearly at ease with the strangers helping her in the water, and the one on land drying her off so she could begin to warm up. Even a dog who is frightened of people may be scared enough in an emergency situation to allow them to help. However, a dog like Crosby who is social will almost surely be able to accept the help of people working to rescue her.
I’m not taking anything away from the skills of the police officers who rescued Crosby. They performed an exemplary rescue of a dog who was in real danger. It’s just that I can’t help but observe that Crosby made the rescue just a little bit easier than it might have been with a dog who was not so fit, emotionally stable or social.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lawsuit questions the abilities of drug and bomb pups
A new lawsuit is questioning the abilities of drug and bomb sniffing dogs. The claim against Nevada's Metropolitan Police Department says that dogs were trained to respond to handler cues instead of freely searching for drugs. If the accusations are true, this would be a huge constitutional violation of the right to a lawful search.
The lawsuit also accuses the Department of animal abuse and racketeering, so they're obviously a potentially troubled group. However, the claims related to the working dogs could impact the use of drug and bomb sniffing pups, and the legal latitude that they are given. To date there are no mandatory training standards and little research that backs up their skill level.
In 2010, the University of California Davis tested the reliability of drug and bomb sniffing dogs by putting them in a clean room, without drugs or explosives. To pass successfully, they needed to go through the room and detect nothing. The 18 subjects tested had a 85 percent failure rate, which the researchers believed was because the dogs are so heavily influenced by their handlers.
We know the canine nose holds extraordinary ability. There have been studies showing a high success rate detecting cancer and countless stories of explosive detecting dogs saving soldiers' lives overseas. I have no doubt that dogs have the ability to detect drugs and bombs if trained and handled correctly, but there must be a standard of training and testing for both dogs and handlers.
In the sport of K9 Nosework, dogs go through a course to detect scents or, equally importantly, not detect anything if the course is clean (the handler does not know if there is a scent on the course, and if there is one, where the scent is located). It seems like a no brainer to have a more complex version of that test for all law enforcement dogs. Certainly you can never duplicate real life, and there is always room for canine error, but training and testing standards would be a good baseline.
And this isn't just about the dogs. The U.S. Supreme Court gives police "probable cause" to search your vehicle if a police dog detects drugs, whereas officers without a dog need "a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime" for the same search or the evidence can be thrown out in court. Because of this, some have called the pups a "search warrant on a leash." Having a sniffing dog provides a lot of power that can potentially be abused.
After the Nevada Highway Patrol created its K9 program in 2008, the dogs helped troopers seize more than $5.3 million in cash and over 1,000 pounds of marijuana in the first three years. But the lawsuit cites numerous abuses, such as stopping people out of jurisdiction, profiling Hispanic motorists, and poking holes in FedEx boxes so dogs could better sniff for drugs inside.
Having concrete standards and protocols seem like a clear solution to many of the problems, but the idea faces a lot of backlash. Lawrence Myers, an Auburn University professor who has studied police dogs for 30 years, says that his research on the effectiveness of drug-sniffing dogs has been shunned by most in the industry. Many K9 handlers don't speak out because they are afraid of being blacklisted.
Perhaps the outcome of this lawsuit will spark the standards in training and testing that is necessary to restore faith in these dogs' abilities.
Suleika Jaouad is a 25-year-old woman who has been battling leukemia and chronicling this in a blog, “Life, Interrupted,” for the New York Times. In the most recent installment she introduces her puppy, Oscar. Having been wooed by a therapy dog as she during her first rounds of chemo, she had longed for her own dog. As she writes about the effects of the therapy dog visits:
“For the first time since I had fallen ill, I didn’t feel like I was being treated as if I were made of porcelain. The therapy dog made me feel like a human first, and a cancer patient second.”
She had to wait some time after her bone marrow transplant before the doctors gave her the ok to get a dog, but she finally did. At first little Oscar (a shelter adoptee) was a little more “work” than she had expected—as puppies can be:
“Oscar, unlike my caregivers, doesn’t care that I’m tired, feeling nauseous after my chemotherapy treatments. Every morning between 6 and 7, Oscar scoots over to my side of the bed and begins the process of baptizing me with his tongue until I wake up.”
But it didn’t take long for him to open up new worlds for her and help in her recovery.
“Although I was the one who rescued Oscar from an animal shelter, it has become clear that he’s done most of the rescuing in our relationship. … When we leave my apartment, Oscar bounds ahead of me, tugging at his leash as he guides me toward the dog park. For the first time in a very long time, it’s not the cancer that leads. It’s Oscar.”
Do read her whole column here.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A lost pup found a new home before his family could find him
Imagine coming home to find your home destroyed by a tornado and your beloved dog missing. That is the reality that the Robinson family went through in Mellott, Indiana last month. Except when they finally found their pup Rosco, he had been adopted by a new family who refused to give him back.
After the twister, Rosco ended up at the Clinton County Humane Society, about 45 miles from home. The Robinsons' neighbor posted the 3-year old Boxer's photo online, but by the time a shelter volunteer recognized Rosco's photo on Facebook, the pup had been adopted.
Clinton County Humane Society director, Jim Tate, contacted the Robinsons to explain that Rosco was fine, but had found a new home after the shelter's five day waiting period. According to Jim, once an adoption takes place, the shelter has no authority to return the animal to the original family.
Shelter officials did serve as mediators to try and get both parties to reach an agreement, but the new family bonded with Rosco and did not want to return him. The Robinsons ended up hiring a lawyer, but fortunately the adoptive family caved into media and social pressure and returned Rosco.
"I could have dealt with my house being gone 100 percent," says Rosco's mom, Kyla Robinson, "but having a family member be gone when we got back was the hardest." The Robinsons are thrilled to have Rosco home.
I can't imagine being in this situation, but am glad that Rosco is back home with the Robinsons. I do hope they've learned that leaving Rosco tied outside while they're not home isn't a good idea. This story also highlights the importance of microchipping your pet, a small step that will go a long way in an emergency.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Let the adventures begin
Lucy and Baxter, a pair of Border Collie mixes, will not be traveling across the country with their guardians over the holidays. Instead, they traveled across town to stay with us, starting two days ago. As I write this, they are lying on the floor—one under the table and one next to me—and I am enjoying their peaceful company. (Earlier in the day, I was enjoying their energetic playfulness, but I’m pleased they are having a snooze now.)
Lucy and Baxter will stay with us a little over a week, and during that time, we will be among the many households whose dog population has grown. Just as people move around and go visiting at this time of year, so do dogs.
Some dogs go with their guardians during holiday visits, and others go to dog sitters. Either way, many dogs find themselves in new situations with unfamiliar surroundings. These changes sometimes lead to unexpected little incidents.
Many families have stories of dogs who have eaten holiday dinners either before they were served or right off the dining room table. Others tell of a dog shooting out the front door and going on a little jaunt through the neighborhood when a niece or nephew left the door wide open. There are dogs who have unwrapped all the presents while the humans were attending church, and dogs who ate the treats that were intended for Santa and his reindeer.
A client told me about the time her dog locked himself in the bathroom at her grandma’s house, which was a real problem since it was the only one in the house and 7 people were staying there for the weekend. One friend can hardly speak for laughing when she tells how her dog uncharacteristically lifted his leg on a very mean uncle who nobody had ever stood up to. He left in a huff and everyone was really appreciative.
I love stories of visiting dogs and the things they do. Of course I am mindful that eating many holiday offerings or escaping the house are among the dangers facing dogs at this time of year, and it’s important to do our best to protect dogs. A combination of training dogs and managing situations to prevent trouble are essential, but things have a way of happening over the holidays.
We have yet to have an incident with Lucy and Baxter worthy of a story, unless you count me taking a truly spectacular (but non-injurious) fall when I tripped over their dog bed in the dark. Thankfully they were not on it at the time.
If you are you caring for extra dogs this holiday season or hosting people with dogs, has anything memorable happened yet?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Their story uncovers the many challenges of having a service dog
UPDATE: Orlando will be staying with Cecil! Andrew Piera, a New Jersey businessman and dog lover, volunteered to pay for all of Orlando's expenses for the rest of his life. I've also heard that Orlando's puppy raiser is willing to adopt the Labrador if having two dogs in Orlando's apartment doesn't work out.
Cecil, who is still recovering at St. Luke's Hospital, urges those moved by his story to give directly to Guiding Dogs for the Blind, the organization that paired him with Orlando. "There are other people out there with disabilities and they need dogs, do if you can find it in your heart, you can send a donation to Guiding Eyes."
Yesterday Cecil Williams and his guide dog, Orlando, fell onto a New York City subway track just as a train was pulling into the station. The 61-year old man was on his way to a dentist appointment when he fainted on the platform. Orlando tried to hold Cecil back, but they both ended up going over onto the track.
Fellow passengers alerted the oncoming train, but the conductor couldn't immediately stop. Fortunately a transit worker instructed Cecil to lie down in the trough between the rails and miraculously both Cecil and Orlando survived even though they ended up under the train. Orlando stood by Cecil through the entire ordeal, even when both of their lives were in danger.
Cecil has been blind since 1995 and Orlando is his second guide dog. The Labrador will be 11 on January 5th and will be retiring soon. Cecil has said that he will be unable to keep Orlando once he retires because his health insurance will not cover the cost of a non-working dog. His story has brought up two interesting issues relating to service dogs--financing guide dog care and rehoming pups when they retire.
Fellow Bark writer and guide dog user, Beth Finke (who actually blogged years ago about her fear of navigating the subways), explains that although seeing eye dog schools cover the cost of the dog and training, the recipient is responsible for the the cost of ongoing care, such as food and veterinary bills. Health insurance doesn't cover these expenses, so Cecil may be referring to his social security disability, a fixed income which will not support two guide dogs.
Beth notes that "some people who'd like a guide dog opt to use a white cane instead because they know that they don't have the money to keep the dog fed and healthy."
After writing about the funding guide dog organizations require to provide trained dogs free of charge, I didn't realize that many people are still unable to afford one because of the ongoing care costs.
Steve Kuusisto, who also has a guide dog, says that in addition to financial limitations, not being able to keep Orlando may also have to do with Cecil's lifestyle. "For instance, if Cecil lives alone, leaving the retired guide dog alone while he goes out with the new one isn't so easy." I've also been told that since seeing eye dogs are generally raised alone, they may have trouble adjusting to living with a second dog, especially since they are used to working exclusively with their person.
Steve notes that guide dog schools have amazing resources for placing retired dogs with new families. However, it's not easy to give up an animal you have a very special relationship with.
When I first read about Cecil and Orlando, I couldn't believe that the two would be separated due to the Labrador's retirement. But this is the norm for service dogs and I can see how financial and lifestyle considerations would prevent people from keeping their past pups. However, it's heartbreaking to think about being separated from any one of my dogs, let alone one I relied on for my freedom.
If you're interested in helping Cecil, an indiegogo online fundraiser has been started to allow him to keep Orlando. The fund has already raised over $50,000.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine vanity plates
People tend to express what matters most to them on their license plates, so for many people, the choice is obvious—identify yourself as a dog lover to anyone who sees your car. It costs extra to have a personalized license plate, but it’s clear that for many of us, it’s worth the extra expense to be able to proclaim a love for dogs to the world.
With so few letters to work with, it’s pretty incredible how many dog-related vanity plates are out there. The space limitations do little to deter people from having plates with a dog theme. Among the ones I’ve seen or been alerted to by dog-loving friends and colleagues are the following:
Can you add others that you’ve seen or that you’d like to have?
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