The Bark had a chance to speak with Ken Ramirez about his experience with clicker training and what the future holds for him in his new role as Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer for KPCT.
The Bark: Why is it important that people successfully train their companion dogs?
Ken Ramirez: There are so many reasons that training is important. It is a critical part of good animal care, just like veterinary care, nutrition and a safe environment. You cannot give animals all they need unless it includes a training program. Good training helps teach animals how to live successfully in our world, and helps to build a strong lasting relationship between people and their pets.
Bark: Tell us about your professional experience with operant conditioning or clicker training.
Ramirez: I began my training career working with guide dogs in a very traditional training environment. However, right out of college I had the opportunity to work with a variety of marine mammals, birds, and big cats in several zoological facilities. That is where I was introduced to the world of positive reinforcement and marker-based training. That experience changed my life as I experienced how powerful this type of training is. Not only is it force-free and fun for the animals, but it assists in developing strong relationships with each animal partner. I went back and re-read all my animal behavior text books, made contact with my professors, and began trying to understand why this type of training was not more wide-spread, except perhaps in the world of marine mammal training. My quest for knowledge exposed me to Karen Pryor and some of her early works. I read every positive reinforcement training article I could find, sought out conferences and training organizations that could forward my knowledge and understanding of effective positive reinforcement training. I had the good fortune to travel to many corners of the world and work with a wide variety of species of animals, and discovered just how universal this technology really is. In 1989 I was hired by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to oversee the development of their animal training program. Since joining Shedd, I have had the good fortune to oversee the care and training of more than 32,000 animals representing over 1500 species. I continued to consult with many zoo and aquarium programs worldwide. Then, in 1997, Western Illinois University asked me to develop a graduate course on animal training, which I still teach today. In 1998, I returned to dog training as a consultant to several search and rescue dog teams, which led to my involvement in many other working dog programs including service dogs, law enforcement, and a return to guide dog work. When Karen Pryor decided to start ClickerExpo, she chose Chicago as her inaugural location. She invited me to that Expo as a guest speaker, which led to an invitation to join the faculty the following year, and I have been on the faculty ever since.
Bark: What has been the biggest revelation about this method of training animals?
Ramirez: The biggest revelation for me every time I train an animal is how much they enjoy the process and how it assists in relationship building. Additionally, as someone who began my career more than 35 years ago using more traditional training methods, I always marvel at how well positive reinforcement works and how much stronger and precise behavior is trained in a fun force-free environment.
Bark: Is it your experience that most animals enjoy learning and training exercises?
Ramirez: Absolutely. That’s what makes positive reinforcement so effective—the animal is a willing partner in the process and it is so much fun for them.
Bark: What has you most excited about working with Karen Pryor's clicker training programs?
Ramirez: I am excited about everything that Karen Pryor Clicker Training represents. Karen was an inspiration to me personally as I was seeking good information about the use of positive reinforcement training during the early stages of my career. I am passionate about educating people about the power of positive reinforcement and the beneficial impacts it has on the welfare of the animals in our lives. Each program, whether it be the ClickerExpos, the Karen Pryor Academy, or the production of positive reinforcement books and training tools furthers the education of the public about marker-based positive reinforcement training. I am excited about helping to continue and further the amazing body of work that Karen has produced over the years.
Bark: Do you currently have a dog, cat or other pet?
Ramirez: I have had dogs my entire life. Sadly, my 12-year-old Spaniel that I adopted from a shelter after my first Clicker Expo 11 years ago, recently passed away. I will probably look for my next dog at one of the local Chicago shelters sometime later in the year. However, I established a dog training program with dogs adopted from local shelters at the Shedd Aquarium several years ago, and I consider the four dogs in that program close companions and training partners. These four dogs include a Pit Bull, an Airedale, a Shepherd, and a Lab.
Ken Ramirez is a regular consultant for zoos, oceanariums, and parks around the world. He has held top leadership positions in most of the profession’s associations, including as past president of IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association). As part of his leadership, Ken has been involved in the creation of a certification process for animal trainers in zoological settings. He has been featured on television and in the media numerous times, including as host of a popular Australian television series Talk to the Animals. Ken has been on the faculty of KPCT’s ClickerExpo conference since 2005; he also teaches graduate-level courses at Western Illinois University.
Ken began his training career working with guide dogs for the visually impaired and has maintained a close connection to dog training ever since. At the Shedd Aquarium, Ken spearheaded the development of a program to rescue dogs from animal shelters and to train and care for them in order to show the public the transformative power of marker-based positive-reinforcement training. Outside of Shedd, Ken’s canine work includes training for search and rescue, guide and service work, scent detection, animal husbandry, and more.
Author of The Good Boy
What could be better than a novel that combines a strong sense of place, a fast-moving story and a dog as a primary character? Theresa Schwegel’s newest book, The Good Boy (Minotaur), fulfills all these requirements and then some; Butch, a Chicago PD K9, races through its pages in a most authentic way. Despite a busy book-tour schedule, Schwegel kindly took time to answer a few questions—like all dedicated dog people, she enjoys talking about her co-pilots.
Bark: In the acknowledgments, you thank the dogs who inspired you, Wynne and Wiley and CPD K9 Brix. Tell us more about the first two, and how you came to know Brix.
Theresa Schwegel: Wynne is my wonderfully neurotic Australian cattle dog mix; Wiley is my stomach-brained Ridgeback-Lab. They’re rescues and they’re my best friends. My husband trained them when they were puppies, and they’re easier off-leash (especially since Wynne’s herding instinct only tangles us). They both exist in Butch— his yin and yang, I suppose—as does Brix, the German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix I met when I asked a detective friend to find me a working K9. And yes—Brix is Butch’s physical model; I’d seen Bloodhounds work as well, but I needed a dog who could track and trail and detect and protect.
Bark: Your portrayal of the world of the working police dog has a lot of authenticity. Were you already tapped into it, or did it require research?
Schwegel: Research, of course. I need to see what I write, whether it’s a place or person or procedure. I was fortunate to spend time with some German Shepherds; both a trainer and a former K9 officer were kind enough to let me peek into their homes to see how a working dog lives off the clock. And Brix’s handler, Tara Poremba (now a trainer for the Chicago Police Department), was instrumental in teaching me how a dog team works; at one point, we staged a mock drug search at a neighborhood bar. Truthfully, though, I think Butch’s authenticity comes from living with my two dogs. I think Wiley would be a great K9 if I put bacon in the Kong.
Bark: Butch has a brief foray into dog fighting. What made you decide to add that element?
Schwegel: I felt Butch needed to fight his own fight, too. To be the real “good boy.” What limited research I did with regard to dogfighting was mortifying. The culture, the language, the cruelty. Despite the tough bullying scenes in the book, I could only bring myself to allude to the dogfight.
Bark: Butch really is a central character, one who in some ways drives the action, or at least inspires a lot of it. Did you start with that intent, or did it develop as you wrote?
Schwegel: I knew Butch would cause Joel’s journey, and I knew he had to go along (Joel would need someone to talk to). He became a central character as I realized he was the only one who couldn’t tell a lie (and everybody else in the book was buried under them). His “personality”—if I may anthropomorphize, because I always do— developed as a result of his interactions with Joel.
Bark: We were also interested in your choice to give Jack London’s book White Fang a role in the story; what inspired that? Are you a reader of dog books, or other mysteries with dogs in them? Any favorites or recommendations?
Schwegel: I wanted Joel to have a city map and a moral compass on his journey. White Fang is one of my favorite soul-searching books, and so it was an obvious choice. I don’t really seek out “dog” books, though two favorites that both feature dog-as-narrator are Timbuktu by Paul Auster and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
Bark: Are there any more “Murphy and Butch” books in the works?
Schwegel: I don’t have plans for a series, though I had a writer-friend recently comment that Joel would be a “pretty interesting dude” if I let him grow up. The novel I’m working on now jumps to the other end of the spectrum, as it deals with financial exploitation and elder abuse. (I must admit, though, that I’m partial to the idea of giving the detective a dog.)
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog trainer Denise Fenzi talks about methods and perceptions with
On engagement and relationship building:
However, in the switch to food-based training, we seem to have lost some of our basic positive interactions and expressions of joy with our dogs. Instead of learning to joyfully work together, we “pay” our dogs with cookies—and once they’ve paid, many owners forget to tell their dogs how proud they are of whatever [the dogs] accomplished. I think this is a terrible loss. Humans can be so much more than Pez dispensers!
Great training should not be about substituting cookies for approval. Great training should be about getting needed behaviors (often through food), then taking it further. That next step —relationship—is what fascinates me about dog training.
Building a relationship with a dog is much the same as building a relationship with another person. While sharing food is a fundamental pleasure, no one would say that the meals “create” the relationship. Food simply supports one aspect of it.
What’s really being developed (quite possibly over a meal) is an understanding and an awareness of that other person; the thing that develops, which we call relationship, is incredibly hard to explain or put into words. It is sympathy for their circumstances —both what goes right and what goes wrong. It’s about knowing what makes them happy or sad. It takes a relationship to know that, since each person has unique needs. The stronger your relationship with another, the more likely you’ll make the right choices.
We can have exactly the same type of relationship with a dog, but I think very few people are aware of that. When I think about the time I spend with my dogs, most of it [involves] trying to build that underlying foundation. I study my dogs carefully to understand what matters to each of them. I pet them and play with them, and soon I learn what does or does not work for each one. I know what frightens them, and I support them as needed. I also know when to back off and let them solve their own problems. And each dog is completely different!
I do use lots of food and toys to train. But at the end of the day, my goal is much bigger than acquiring behaviors. It is finding out what we can become together. Since this is a unique process (just like it is a unique process to develop a relationship with another person), it never gets tiresome, boring or “rote.” It’s fascinating. And it can take you places that most people have no idea were possible with a dog.
On what her peers in IPO and competitive obedience think of her use of positive reinforcement:
At the lower levels, I think most competitors like what I am doing and are interested in learning how to train with more positive methods. At the middle levels, I think there is curiosity mixed with a good dose of doubt. They have been raised on the idea that dogs must learn that they have no choice about training, and they struggle to believe that this might not be correct. This level of trainer is already using mostly positive methods to train new behaviors, but they don’t understand the final steps that are important if you want to compete and still not use compulsion.
At the middle/high levels, I am an irritation. They want to believe that they have the most current and best methods, and it irritates them that I am succeeding without compulsion, because they are convinced that it is not possible. This group often speaks very poorly about me, but they know nothing about my methods nor do they show any interest in learning. They have already decided that what I am doing is not possible. The high level trainers mostly ignore me. They are successful however they are training, and they neither know nor particularly care what else might work.
Of course, those are generalities. I have supporters and detractors in all camps, but those are my basic observations.
Dog's Life: Travel
On the road with Kelly E. Carter and Lucy
Kelly E. Carter, who’s visited more than 40 countries on six continents, has serious travel cred. She also loves dogs, especially her long-time companion, Lucy. Lucky for her, she’s able to indulge both passions. Lucky for us, she writes about them in her newest book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel. Recently, she took time to answer a few questions—actually, a lot of questions!
Q: What kinds of changes in dog-friendly travel have you seen in the past 10 years?
A: It has gotten easier! The quarantine rules in the United Kingdom and Hawaii are among the biggest changes. Two years ago, the UK brought its procedures into line with the European Union, thus allowing pets to enter or re-enter the UK from any country in the world without quarantine as long as they meet certain requirements. Hawaii, the only rabies-free state in the U.S., still has a 120-day quarantine but several years ago, implemented a five-day-or-less release program that allows people to take their pets with them after they arrive. But you must start the process more than four months in advance, and it isn’t cheap. Australia also just reduced its quarantine from 30 days to 10 days, which is still long, but it’s a start.
Another difference is the level of amenities lavished on pets at hotels. Doggie room-service menus, massages and canine concierges are just some of the perks for four-legged guests. Guest-room phones at the Hotel Palomar, a Kimpton hotel in Dallas, even have a “pet concierge” button for pet-related requests. While it used to be very hard to find a dog-friendly hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas, now, you have quite a selection—the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Four Seasons, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, Vdara and six hotels under the Caesars Entertainment umbrella boast pet-friendly status. All have designated outdoor areas for dogs, which is a necessity in a place like Las Vegas, where the Strip is often crowded (plus, dogs are only allowed there between 5 a.m. and noon) and there isn’t an abundance of grass.
Q: What do you look for when you fly with Lucy?
A: I always check seatguru.com before I purchase my ticket to find out if a particular aircraft has reduced legroom. If I’m flying business or first class, I make sure Lucy is allowed as well. Many airlines with lie-flat beds in their premium cabins only allow pets in coach because of rules that require all carry-on bags to be stowed for takeoff and landing. Some airlines, such as American Airlines and Swiss Air, will put pet carriers elsewhere for takeoff and landing, which is great.
I haven’t put Lucy in the cargo hold and would try to avoid doing so, but I know many people have no choice but to transport their pets this way. While it helps that the Department of Transportation requires airlines to file monthly reports on incidents involving the loss, injury or death of animals, the reports don’t prevent uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations. I always advise people who want to take their pets with them to research all their options.
Q: What do you look for in a dog-friendly hotel?
A: While cute dog dishes and plush beds are very much appreciated, what I really value is printed information on local pet services, such as veterinarians and groomers, dog boutiques, dog-friendly restaurants, and dog parks. I’m also grateful when hotels have a designated area for dogs to take care of their business, with pick-up bags and a trash receptacle. Some hotels pride themselves on not having trashcans throughout the common areas, and I’ve ended up taking a poop bag back to my room.
Q: What’s been your most memorable stay?
A: Domestically, it was at Palm Springs’ La Quinta Resort & Club, where Lucy and I enjoyed a “Me & My Best Buddy” massage, a side-by-side treatment in the Canine Suite. What a terrific bonding experience that was. We were there during the holidays a couple of years ago, and there must have been at least 20 other dogs staying at the hotel. There were dogs everywhere, and I had a ball playing with pooches of all sizes. It warmed my heart to see so many dogs included in families’ holiday travels.
Internationally, it was at the Palais Hansen Kempinski in Vienna. I was blown away by the attention showered on Lucy. The staff found her photo online before we arrived. When we checked into our suite, there was a brochure with Lucy on the cover, listing an array of local dog services, boutiques and an in-room doggie-dining menu. She had turndown service, which included fresh bottled water in her bowl and a personalized note card with pink hearts wishing her sweet dreams. When we checked out, the hotel surprised me with a framed gallery of photos that included Lucy and several of Vienna’s top attractions, as well as a note thanking Lucy for her stay. These perks are standard for all pet-toting travelers.
Q: What separates a four-star from a one-star stay?
A: Although one-star hotels can’t offer the pet amenities and services that four-star hotels do, they can offer the same love to canines. Pats on my dog’s head from the housekeeping staff and a smile from the front desk clerk when I take Lucy out for a walk go a long way in brightening my stay at budget hotels.
These days, travelers can expect a lot at four-star hotels. Pick-up bags should be at the front desk or bell stand. The concierge should know where the closest dog park is, be able to tell me the name of the closest pet boutique without looking it up and suggest a few dog-friendly restaurants and pet sitters. Bonus points for sharing info on dog-walking and dog-sitting services.
Q: What was one of your most important lessons about traveling with dogs?
A: Know the law before you go. As just a small example, if you’re accustomed to feeding your dog from the table, you may be surprised to find that some cities require dogs to be on the outside of a railing of a dog-friendly restaurant, not at your feet, and that feeding dogs at some pet-friendly restaurants is a no-no.
Q: When you’re in another country, does having a dog make it easier or more difficult to navigate?
A: Carrying an American passport may not endear you to foreigners worldwide, but walking a dog often does. Assuming you’re able to communicate in some form, a dog gives you an excuse to strike up a conversation with a local pet person by asking about dog parks or where to buy food.
Not long after Lucy and I moved to Italy in 2003, I met a British woman who had moved into my apartment building in Florence a couple of days before I arrived. A few weeks after getting settled, she and I went out to lunch. Everybody on the street stopped to say hi to me, which shocked my new neighbor. She hadn’t met any locals and couldn’t understand how I had become so popular in such a short time. I told her it was Lucy’s doing. People stopped me so they could play with her. I’ve gotten in good with hotel management because of Lucy as well. Hotels in Nice, Martinique and Amsterdam offered to keep her at the front desk while I left the hotel to work for extended hours.
Q: Have you always had a dog?
A: When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was never a time when our family didn’t have at least one dog. Over the years, we had a couple of Poodles, a German Shepherd, a St. Bernard, a Husky/German Shepherd mix and three Pit Bulls. Because dogs have always been part of my life, I’ve been keenly aware of their loyalty and companionship for as long as I can remember. I always knew that I would have a dog and would name her Lucy (a family name); “have kids” was never on my to-do list. Timing was the big issue. Ironically, I traveled too much to get a pet when I began my journalism career. I was a sportswriter and on the road all the time, including four years as a beat writer covering the Lakers, every game, home and away.
When I switched to entertainment writing, my travel slowed down just enough that I could get a small dog to accompany me. Though I didn’t plan on it, Lucy served as the icebreaker when I interviewed Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. To this day, every time I see Denzel Washington, he looks inside my purse for Lucy though it’s been 12 years since he first met her. I’ve been in a relationship for the last three years, but before that, I was a die-hard singleton who came home to an empty house and was always alone in hotel rooms until I brought Lucy into my life. Although she’s as aloof as a cat, she’s such a hoot—her tiny stature is paired with a big personality and a high opinion of herself. Sometimes I think I’m going to squeeze her to death because I hug her so hard.
Q: Have you ever had a larger dog?
A: Four years before getting Lucy, I had a Sheltie named Deena for a couple of months. A friend gave her to me, then took her back. That’s another story! I didn’t have her long enough to take any trips with her, but she accompanied me plenty around LA. She was so sweet and beautiful. I’m still partial to Shelties. Maybe I’ll get one at some point! But for now, I get my fix as a volunteer at Pets Unlimited’s animal shelter in San Francisco. Every so often, there’s a big dog at the shelter and even if I’m not scheduled to walk it, I find time to socialize with the pooch.
I’m so jealous of people whose four-legged friends can keep up with them during outdoor activities. I know some small dogs can do it, but my Lucy is not one of them, especially at 13. I take her to Alta Plaza Park in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights almost every morning just so I can gaze at the big dogs playing fetch. Then I power walk at Crissy Field, where I smile at the big dogs running in the water and playing on the beach with their guardians. One day, that will be me, I think to myself.
Kelly’s (Off-the-Beaten Track) Picks
If you travel with your co-pilot, you know that Carmel, Provincetown and Taos are among the top go-to destinations. We asked Kelly for tips on places with charms that were perhaps not quite so well known, and she shared a few of her discoveries.
Savannah, which has grown in popularity in recent years, has dog fountains in some of its squares and welcomes dogs in some museums. And a few of its pedicab drivers will double as dog sitters so their people can sightsee. (More here.)
Colorado Springs has an unbelievable number of dog-friendly attractions, not to mention Bear Creek Dog Park, one of the best.
Washington’s Yakima Valley has a slew of dog-friendly wineries. Lake Placid is heavenly for dogs all year long. A dog will never grow bored in Banff. And I was surprised to find what a terrific place Huntington Beach is for dogs.
Pick up or download a copy of Kelly’s new book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, for more places to explore. To learn more about Kelly visit kellyecarter.com or go to TheJetSetPets.com for a host of great travel tips and resources.
Behind the scenes with the artist, his family and the dogs.
If you’re a dog and you’re waiting for the Director of Fun to wake up, you’d best find a suitable distraction, because William Wegman is still in bed. Early on a morning shrouded by a dense Maine fog, two-year-old Flo and one-year-old Topper make their way to the kitchen to scarf down healthy servings of oatmeal, freshly cooked for them by the artist’s wife, Christine Burgin.
The dogs are Burgin’s regular breakfast companions, until the pair return to bed, to snuggle up to Wegman and the family’s two older dogs, Candy and Bobbin, 13, and 14, respectively. Before the day gets underway in earnest, these extra few minutes of sleep are a sweet luxury. The dogs had already awakened once before dawn, with Wegman corralling the whole pack for a quick pee and a sniff, then back up to bed.
How the commotion of four large dogs and one regular-sized human arranging themselves on the bed doesn’t wake Burgin is a bit of a mystery. But then, so much of what goes on at the Wegman household seems like some kind of unusual ballet. There’s a gentle flow to the movements here, and the lake’s broad, shimmering expanses of water and the sparkling light lend it all a distinctly idyllic feel.
It’s no wonder that Wegman and his family spend a considerable chunk of both summer and winter at their rustic retreat in the Rangeley Lakes Region of western Maine. Built in 1889 almost entirely of pine, the 10,000-square-foot lodge hosted overnight visitors until 1961. The place still exudes a kitschy charm, but the dominant feeling now is one of ease and warmth. It’s the perfect counterpoint to life back in New York City, which is home base for Wegman and Burgin, their daughter Lola, 16, and son Atlas, 19 (when he’s home on break from college), as well as the dogs and Wegman’s city-studio and office.
In Maine, every day starts fresh, with opportunities for offleash dashes through the woods; endless stick-chasing and forest-sniffing; dips in the lake; meandering bike or canoe rides; napping (mostly by the dogs); reading; more napping; visits with nearby friends and family; jaunts into town to the library, barber or ice cream shop; and countless homecooked meals.
“It’s just easier with the dogs here than in New York,” says Wegman. “I don’t have to have them on a leash. It’s fun to see them being dogs. Really dogs. My kids like it here. My sister’s nearby. The air, the birds ... the whole thing is quite peaceful.”
With the array of amusements at Wegman’s disposal, you might wonder how he gets any work done at all. But it’s precisely this combination of play, fresh air, family and exploration that makes Maine appealing to this constantly evolving artist. “When I’m working outside of New York, I might do some really unusual, unexpected things, but when I get back to New York, I can put them up and compare them with some other work. It’s important to me to have that leveling.”
Born in 1943, in Holyoke, Mass., William Wegman certainly has nothing to prove, and yet he seems to be on an endless quest to find new forms of expression. Though he’s best known by the general public as the artist who photographs dogs, he is also recognized as one of the world’s most successful contemporary artists, masterfully mixing high art with pop culture.Still from Spelling Lesson, 1974, video
Wegman’s films, videos, paintings, drawings and photographs have appeared in exhibits and retrospectives mounted at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Minneapolis’ Walker Arts Center, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Coming of age in the late ’60s in Los Angeles, Wegman quickly established himself as a leader in the conceptual art movement. Droll, original and offbeat, his videos made him a star before he turned 30.
By 1973, he had moved to New York City with his beloved Weimaraner Man Ray, where their iconic video and photo collaborations further burnished Wegman’s status as an influential and original artist. His popularity soared in America and abroad. Man Ray, with his intelligent looks and astonishing self-possession, provided both a perfect foil and partner for Wegman’s imagination and unique sense of humor.
“The first time I met him was when he was six weeks. He really looked like a little man, and he was standing in a ray of light, and that’s why I named him Man Ray,” says Wegman. It still amuses him to think that their work together was the result of a happy accident. “I was just starting to take photographs. I was photographing the things that I would be setting up, and Man Ray would always get in the way and start chewing on [them]. He was interested in what I was doing. He became different when I pointed the camera at him, and what I noticed was how non-cute he looked, but more strange and intense. I was really interested in how he kind of modulated the space around me. Not just the space he was in.”
After 12 years of living and working together, Man Ray left an indelible mark on Wegman. When his beloved friend and constant companion developed cancer and died, it didn’t seem possible that another dog could, or should, become a focus of Wegman’s work.
In the wake of this loss, the artist retreated to Maine—as he had many times before with his canine buddy—to fish, hike and explore the woods. It was there, in 1985, that he rediscovered his passion for painting and drawing.
“I gave up painting in 1967 as a grad student and started again up here away from people. I didn’t really want people to know I was painting. I was kind of sheepish about it.” He began creating works based on imagery culled from encyclopedias and obsolete information—“faded culture,” as he calls it.
At the time, Wegman wasn’t actively seeking a new dog, but a chance encounter with an admirer of his work who also bred Weimaraners led to the discovery of Cinnamon Girl, a gorgeous puppy with round, yellow eyes whom he later renamed Fay Ray. “There was something about her look that really spoke to me. I was kind of obsessed. Almost like a man in love. It was like a boy and his dog with Man Ray, and then an artist and his model or muse with Fay.”
Wegman shot countless large-format photos of Fay using the unwieldy and complex 20 x 24 Polaroid camera, which he had employed earlier to great effect with Man Ray. Wholly different in her approach to the camera, Fay offered Wegman an electric energy and a willingness to take on what must have seemed, to a dog, like curious challenges. The unforgettable image of the Weimaraner standing tall on old-school roller-skates? That was the inimitable Fay. Her work ethic, combined with Wegman’s imagination, led to other unexpected and idiosyncratic works, such as his videos and films for “Sesame Street” and “Saturday Night Live.” Dog Baseball, shot for the latter on film in 1986 and featuring Wegman’s deadpan narration as well as Fay and a collection of canine friends, further expanded his devoted following.Dog Walker, 1990, color Polaroid
Fay and her offspring—Battina, Crooky and Chundo— and their progeny—Bobbin, Candy and Penny—starred in a number of books and videos, many of which were based on re-imagined classic children’s stories, among them Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Mother Goose. Those works, with their lush sets, ornate costumes and more than a few crewmembers, were complex affairs and yielded some of Wegman’s most popular and memorable images.
In recent years, Wegman has moved away from elaborate, production-heavy projects, gravitating toward more streamlined, painting-centric work. Though his approach to his artistic endeavors is mutable, he currently spends 75 percent of his time painting and the remainder behind the camera.
It’s quiet in Wegman’s studio, which you reach by making your way through the lodge’s living room, where Lola is stretched out on the couch, deeply immersed in a book. Go past the kitchen, where Burgin, a Yale-educated publisher and former gallery owner who produces books with artists and writers, sits editing at a small table. Then cross the rec-room, still adorned with the kids’ childhood drawings and art projects, and through the double doors of the studio.
When it storms, raindrops dance on the metal roof. Otherwise, as Wegman paints—which he does every day here—the only apparent noises are the occasional snurfle and steady breathing of the four dogs arrayed around him.
“As a kid, I always loved rainy days like this,” says Wegman. “I was painting and drawing and hanging out in the woods. It was probably the most dreamy, wonderful counterpoint to my life as a fisherman/athlete, which was the other thing I liked to do as a child … play hockey, baseball, go fishing, build huts, that kind of stuff. So that’s what I’ve been doing in Maine, kind of recreating my childhood in a way.”
Like a spirited marching band, the dogs follow Wegman wherever he goes, watching his face intently, looking for cues. They jockey for the closest position, happy to soak up his praise and nestle by his side while he reads, paints or sleeps. The feeling is clearly mutual. “Don’t they look beautiful when they’re sleeping? I could never keep them off the furniture. Why would I do that? I just love looking at them. Having them near, in close contact … it feels good.”
The dogs thrive on direction and novel activities, and are always eager to be part of the action. All it takes for Topper and Flo to perk up is for Wegman to restack some magazines or randomly reshuffle the stools; suddenly, the dogs are racing to find a perch and posing as though a shoot is about to begin. Referring to the breed’s active and sporting nature, Wegman says, “They’re working dogs. And they love to work!”
Wegman’s devotion to the dogs and their care is made obvious by how his life and that of the family’s is built around an awareness of the dogs’ needs. “It’d be hard for me to have one dog, because I like to just stand back and watch the show, like I do with my two kids: you watch them interact. So, now I have these two gray sets. I have Bobbin and Candy, who were mates. They had a litter, and then there’s Flo and Topper. I had to get Topper to give Flo a companion, somebody to play with.”
The dogs are most content when Wegman is around to keep them well exercised and entertained, so long trips away from home are rare. “I’ve spent my whole life watching and caring for them and trying to figure out what works for them. The reason I’m good at taking their picture is that I’m good at taking care of them, and I respect what they want. I’m always trying to learn what makes them individually happy.”
Wegman’s good-natured approach to raising dogs also reflects his child-raising philosophy. When Atlas and Lola were young, he recalls building towering cardboard structures together.
“When things fell apart, and failed, that’s when we had the most fun.” Exploration, not the pursuit of perfection, was the lesson, and watching Wegman paint, there’s little doubt that he adopted the same mindset regarding his own work long ago.Sandy Beach, 2007, oil and postcards on wood panel
Wegman is currently working on a new series of children’s books. The first, Flo & Wendell, debuted in September 2013 and tells the story of a sister and brother and their adventures. This new series—and the paintings that illustrate each book—hews closely to techniques the artist employs in his postcard paintings, which begin with vintage postcards selected from his vast collection. They provide a physical starting point for the larger work, which is painted around the postcard like a sprout that blooms into an exuberant forest. His book Hello Nature (2012) features many of these postcard paintings, along with drawings, collages and prose —paeans to his love of the outdoors.
Similarly, the illustrations for Flo & Wendell begin with photographs that Wegman shoots of the dogs in his NY C studio. He’ll begin with a simple image of a puppy’s head juxtaposed against a large, blank, white page. The germ of the idea for these new books was born out of a moment of experimentation.
“I started to make this hilarious character out of Flo’s baby photo when she was eight weeks old, when she looked like a sad, little naughty eight-year-old child, and it was so funny. And I think if I hadn’t been doing that with the postcards, I wouldn’t have thought of doing that with these paintings. So I knew that this character could be developed, and I made some more characters. And then I thought, well, maybe this should be about this little girl. And what if she had a younger brother? Interestingly, the younger puppies I photographed— younger than eight weeks—they look older. So I would turn the ‘older’ ones into parents.”
Most often, Wegman sits down to work without a specific idea of what will come together on the page. “I almost never lie awake at night thinking about what I’m going to paint or write. Usually [it happens] just in the act of doing it. That’s why I have to keep busy, because if I’m not, I don’t think of anything!”
Once he’s chosen a color with which to start, his brush touches the page, and a playful scene quickly emerges. He smiles while he paints, chuckling to himself at the silliness and bravado of these pups who have come alive through deft strokes of his brush. This lighthearted, lively tone is evident on every page of Flo & Wendell, both in the illustrations and in the text.
As Wegman works, the dogs hear a curious rustling outside and wake with a start. Sixteen legs go racing through the studio, then the rec room, through the living room, and out onto the porch. There is barking—lots of it—and then a dashing-about to see what might be lurking in the surrounding woods. With a stern word, Wegman calms the pack and the dogs slip back inside. Topper and Flo trot around, wondering what might happen next, while Candy and Bobbin resume their naps.
Peace restored, Wegman cuts a path to the kitchen, where Burgin has spread out for review galleys of the early-reader counting books to be released in the spring. Burgin keeps Wegman’s projects organized and on schedule, and he values her strong editorial eye. The two work easily and productively together, and the artist clearly adores his wife of 18 years. “I’m lucky she didn’t go for tall, dark and handsome types,” he says with a wry smile.
As the sun finally begins to break through the clouds, Burgin decides that it’s a perfect time to wind down from the workday with a late afternoon bike ride. In a flash, she and Wegman are cruising down the gravel path, the four dogs running ahead like the most intrepid woodland scouts. By the time night falls, the family has gathered for dinner, each dog choosing a lap to rest a heavy head upon. It’s the perfect time for telling stories and catching up on the day’s events.
Just beyond the veranda, a moose and her calf stand in a sliver of moonlight, licking salt from the gravel road. Unnoticed by the dogs inside, the two take their time meandering past the house and up the road, while laughter pours out of the kitchen and into the night, mixing with the calls of the lake’s resident loons.
If there is such a thing as a perfect day in the country, this must be it.Creative Collaboration
When Randy Rubin, co-founder of Crypton, launched the company’s line of pet products back in 2004, one name topped her list of potential collaborators … William Wegman. The laconic artist, renown for his photographic portraits of Weimaraners has had phenomenal success in a variety of mediums—photography, video, painting, children’s books but fabric design would be a new challenge.
Randy was a seasoned pro at collaborating on creative ventures, having co-founded Crypton fabrics with husband Craig Rubin in 1993 from the basement of their Michigan home. The company has since revolutionized commercial fabric with the introduction of a patented process that produces a virtually-indestructible, stain/odorresistant material appropriately named Crypton Super Fabric. Designing and manufacturing products for the home would be an exciting new endeavor, and the playful imagery of Wegman seemed a perfect match for the new pet line.
The creative collaboration between the innovative fabric manufacturer and the downtown visual artist has since proven to be hugely successful— producing a visual style that is once recognizable and inspired, combining the ultimate in function and aesthetics. The resulting beds, pillows, throws (christened Throvers) are elegant, bold and sturdy … fulfilling the must-have checklist for discriminating and stylish dog lovers. The essential components to good product design are exemplified in this union of art and science—and thanks to the unique partnership of William Wegman and Crypton—better living through imagination.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Six leading canine researchers talk about their work.
I think you would have fun playing Mad Libs with your dog’s life, filling in the blanks to match Siena or Diego’s unique personality and interests. After all, your intimate knowledge of your dog is unparalleled. You know what he thinks of the neighbor’s dog, and whether he prefers balls to sticks or carrots to apples. But our canine experts also know your dog, albeit in a different way. Scholars who focus on canine behavior, cognition and wellbeing, they collectively have more than a century of experience in the fields of veterinary medicine, animal behavior, animal welfare, zoology, anthrozoology and psychology under their belts. Read on to find out what they think about dogs, and what they want you to know.
What common misconceptions do people have about dogs?
McConnell: Often it seems that we get things backwards with dogs. Sometimes it seems like people think of dogs as furry people, when they’re not. The flip side is that there are similarities between dogs and humans, and people need to be compassionate and understanding of what a dog is going through; those are often the times people dismiss the similarities.
For example, dogs need social contact and social approval, and a lot of what they do is motivated by fear. These are all very human ways of being, and I think people forget to extend these attributions to dogs; instead, they ascribe other motivations, like wanting to be dominant or trying to beat the system. On the other hand, dogs can be less like us than people tend to think. We use hugging to communicate love, approval and maybe support, whereas dogs often see that as threatening.
Otto: That dogs are perfectly happy to sit on a couch all the time. I think they learn to adjust to that, but are they reaching their potential? And is the relationship reaching its potential? I love teaching tricks because you can spend five minutes a day with a dog or a cat and do things that stretch their brains and change your relationship. I think that is such an important piece of the relationship, and it’s something we’re not routinely giving our dogs.
McGreevy: That dogs want to please humans—almost as though dogs are hard-wired to makes us happy. This beguiling notion paradoxically excuses all sorts of abuse when people interpret training failures as willful disobedience. Dogs want to have fun with us, for sure, but that doesn’t mean they get their kicks from being slaves to our needs, wants, desires and foibles.
Horowitz: That dogs understand right away what’s going on in a household. In other words, if you say something once, it’s somehow clear to them how they are supposed to behave, what you’d like them to do and how the day is going to go. Dogs are pretty flexible, and they adapt fairly well, but a lot of what we call misbehavior is just lack of mutual understanding: ours of the dog’s needs and abilities and theirs of what we expect of them. I find that a bit disheartening.
Another misconception is the alpha dog concept. For some reason, the concept of the hierarchy of the pack was a compelling idea that stuck and was popularized. It’s not only really damaging and simplifying, it’s wrong by analogy.
Miklósi: That the dog is a wolf and also that the dog is a child. I like to say that dogs are dogs, and that’s the most difficult way to try and conceptualize dogs!
Bradshaw: That dogs are reconstructed wolves. I keep coming across journalists who interview me and still believe the old stuff about keeping a dog in its place—that the dog wants to dominate you and take over your house. They’ve read this stuff, taken it in and believe it to be true. Ultimately, it’s bad for dogs. When I speak with people, they seem interested to learn that the UK military trains dogs, whether patrol or sniffer dogs, with play as the reward; punishment-based training has been phased out. When people hear that marines know they can train a dog better by playing a game than by hitting, they take note.
What’s your framework for thinking about the dog?
Horowitz: My consideration of the dog is for his umwelt—his perspective. I’m interested in the way the story of domestication and selective breeding combines with the dog’s particular sensory and cognitive abilities to produce the behaviors we see. I’m particularly interested in how we easily interpret those behaviors from an anthropocentric standpoint. Behaviors almost always look different when interpreted from an evolutionary and cognitive standpoint.
Miklósi: When thinking about any species other than ourselves—whether dog, fish or mice—we always have a third-person view. With this in mind, we view the animal based on how it fits into its niche. In our case, the dog’s niche isn’t a rain forest or an ocean but rather, the environment offered by humans. Even if dogs are feral, they are not in the middle of the forest; dogs remain close to humans.
From there, we think about how dogs achieve and maintain relationships with humans. I think this is what makes dogs unique compared to other animals—their relationship with humans is very special.
Bradshaw: I first think about the dog as an emotional animal for whom the primary motivation is to attach to humans. Somehow, through the course of domestication, we have built this into the vast majority of dogs.
The second framework is the dog’s olfactory sense, which we make use of and often take for granted. Dogs’ subjective world is defined, to a large extent, by smell rather than by what something looks like, which is how we define our world. Everybody knows that there are so many uses for the dog’s nose—that when you put your luggage on the conveyer belt in the airport, a dog might sniff it before it’s loaded on the plane—but we don’t readily incorporate their olfaction into our everyday lives with them.
McGreevy: I think of the normal dog as a social athlete and a fun-loving opportunist.
McConnell: Instead of talking about the dog, I find myself wanting to talk about a dog. Dogs are enormously variable, and I see so much frustration and so much suffering because people expect their dog to be one way and the dog behaves in another way.
Just as people are individuals, dogs are individuals. I think it’s critical we understand that we’re not looking at a Golden Retriever or a Border Collie— although I don’t want to dismiss breedrelated traits—but that we’re looking at Frank or Willie or Spot or Martha.
What contributions to the field of dog science are you most proud of?
Bradshaw: When my colleagues and I at Bristol first started exploring separation disorders in dogs, they were thought to be rare—some kind of pathology. All the work we’ve done finds that separation disorders in dogs are not pathologies; they can be a reflection of something normal in dog behavior, which is attachment to people.
Also, my colleagues and I have done a lot of work for sniffer-dog welfare, improving not only the way that detection dogs operate in the field but also the way they are looked after, so they are not just efficient dogs but are happy dogs as well.
McGreevy: My contributions primarily relate to my team’s discoveries in dog behavior, physiology and welfare. We’ve shown how left- and righthandedness in dogs affect a dog’s ability to guide the visually impaired, how dogs’ retinae and brains depend on their skull shapes, and how many breeds’ body shapes predispose them to hip dysplasia. We’ve also developed and validated a scoring system for doggy dementia. On an international level, I helped tackle inherited disorders in dogs—the most preventable form of cruelty—by establishing national surveillance systems, such as VetCompass in the UK and Australia, for veterinarians to report inherited disorders.
Otto: I’m most proud of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the research to come. The center evolved out of my work following the health and behavior of the dogs who assisted after 9/11. It’s quite a landmark study; we are now in the 12th year of monitoring and evaluating the health and behavior of these dogs, and we are also working with a human psychologist to explore the ongoing relationship between the dogs and their handlers. This is the foundation for so much more research in the future.
Horowitz: I think that through our research, and the ideas that I developed in Inside of a Dog, I reminded people of the huge interest in understanding the dog’s point of view. In other words, looking at dog behavior from the dog’s side as opposed to from an owner’s perspective or the perspective of a comparative psychologist, who is interested primarily in mapping nonhuman animals to human animals.
So I think for many people, I helped re-spark the interest in the dog qua dog, and I’m very pleased and happy about that.
McConnell: I would say it’s my focus on the natural history of both humans as primates and dogs as canines, and using these evolutionary heritages to explain and enhance our interactions. My two favorite species have always been people and dogs, and I’m as fascinated by our own behavior as I am of canine behavior.
What needs more research or remains unresolved about the dog?
Otto: I have a sense that working dogs, dogs with a purpose and dogs who have things to do live longer and happier lives. Many pet dogs are frustrated, bored, inactive and fat; it kind of amazes me that a lot of dogs’ lives don’t even meet the environmental- stimulation standards required for rodents living in research labs. We need to think about how stimulation, or the lack thereof, affects dogs’ quality of life.
Miklósi: A better understanding of what makes for good social relationships between dogs and humans, particularly cooperation. For example, “working together” might be quite selfish for dogs in that they are working for a reward, like play or food. Alternatively, research could investigate whether cooperation can be organized such that dogs are cooperating for the sake it.
McGreevy: What I call “dogmanship”— the science of how the best dog folk interact with their dogs. I’m also interested in understanding how our behavior frustrates and confuses our dogs.
McConnell: We still need lots of research on communication: how dogs interpret our behavior, how we interpret their behavior and how accurate our perceptions and interpretations really are. I think that’s most important for companion dogs. Nutrition, diet, physiology and behavior need to be researched as well. I think there is so much in these areas that we haven’t explored yet and need to. Also, research could look specifically at aggression and investigate precipitating factors, putting it all on the table: nature, nurture, genetics, physiology and diet, experience, and learning.
Bradshaw: The whole area of the dog’s olfactory abilities is waiting to be properly understood. We use those abilities, but I don’t think we fully understand them. We know very little about the dog’s vomeronasal organ, and we don’t even agree as scientists on when dogs are using it. I don’t know what the implications of this knowledge would be for companion dogs, but sometimes the most exciting findings arise when doing research for the sake of it; practical value is a byproduct.
What do you wish the average dog owner knew about dogs?
Miklósi: You get out what you put in. If you want a dog as a social partner, that doesn’t mean lying in bed together and watching TV, but going out together actively. That could include learning, teaching, talking or solving problems together. I wish people understood that if they do this, they both would have happier lives.
A great example is olfaction. People think that dogs have fantastic abilities when it comes to smell, but that’s an oversimplification. Dogs have a fantastic potential for smelling, but if the dog spends its whole life in an apartment and never uses its nose, then I would assume that dog would have poor smelling abilities.
The same goes for social interactions. If the dog has no experience meeting other dogs or people, or has never had a task, then that dog will not function properly. And I think this is also a welfare issue. In some cases, street dogs who are rescued and taken to Western countries are worse off because they are alone, have no experiences and sleep all day.
Otto: Dogs are smart and their brains need exercise as much as their bodies. People get that they need to take their dog for a walk, but they don’t always think about needing to exercise the dog’s brain.
McGreevy: Most dogs are better communicators than most people. They are our guides; if we want to master dogmanship, we need to know how to read them. Horowitz: The dog deserves a lot more attention and scrutiny by owners and researchers alike. Particularly, attention to what life is like for this animal who has so cooperatively waltzed into our homes. McConnell: As social animals, one of the things we share with dogs is the duality of wanting to be connected to a group and also wanting to be individuals who can pursue their own desires and wishes as best they can. I think the more we can see dogs in this light, the more respectful we will be of dogs— and they of us. I think we’d get along better, and we’d see fewer behavior problems.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, lead researcher in the MRI-based Dog Project at Emory University, and author of the must-read book, How Dogs Love Us. He explains the significance of this research and its importance to dog lovers. His findings have convinced him that dogs are people too and deserving of more rights than what society gives them now. See his reasoning behind this conviction, and how it might change the status of all dogs.
I am curious about the much-popularized “pack leader” thesis and why your study findings point to it being a mistake. Why is that?
Dogs have great observational skills when it comes to watching us. And there are some who believe that dogs have perfected this when it comes to food, and actually go so far as to contend that dogs “love” us for the food we provide. As Stephen Budiansky says, “they are great con artists.” I take it that you disagree with this, but can you tell us why your research proves otherwise?
How do you know that dogs, such as your Callie, regard human family members differently from other humans?
Is there any way to convince other researchers who are employing fMRIs with dogs to only do in the approach you have taken? Do you think it is necessary in science at all to have dogs who have been bred simply for this purpose?
You cast a big vote for the personhood of dogs, can you explain how your research shows that dogs deserve this status?
Why did you decide to only use positive training techniques with Callie and the other dogs?
Where is the Dog Project now? What more do you hope to achieve with it?
If there is only one “take away” readers can take from your work, what would you hope that to be?
Manhattan’s Vet On the Go.
Jeffrey Levy, a Manhattan-based DVM and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, is one of only a handful of veterinarians who makes house calls in New York City. And, as the lead singer and founder of Pet Rox, an animalcentric band, he’s also one of the more unusual. A specialist in canine rehabilitation, Dr. Jeff (as he likes to be called) offers both conventional and alternative medical treatments, including acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Reiki. Plus, he can sing.
Bark: We’ve noticed a rising trend in the number of house-call veterinary services available in the United States. Why did you choose to specialize in this approach rather than a more traditional office setting?
BK: What kind of canine patients do you typically see?
BK: I should point out here for our readers that travel in New York City is never easy; a lot of people walk their dogs to the vet or hire a car service. Many taxi drivers will not even stop if they see that you have a dog with you. So it can be challenging. And expensive.
BK: How do you get to your house calls?
BK: What’s in your medical bag?
I should point out that some things are not appropriate for house calls: Broken bones require an X-ray machine. A breathing problem might necessitate an oxygen cage. This is why I spend time on phone consultations.
BK: I understand that you also work with a lot of cancer patients.
This leads to another category of patients: nervous or aggressive pets. They’re not going to enjoy trips to the vet’s office; they’re much more cooperative and comfortable on their own turf. Another advantage of seeing an animal at home is that it’s a more healing environment. With acupuncture patients, I get a much better sense of what we call in Chinese medicine their “constitution.” That helps with TCM diagnoses.
Home visits also help me develop a relationship with the animals. Dogs especially like routine, so I try to keep my appointments consistent in terms of days and times. I also remain consistent with treatment location. A dog might have a special bed or blanket that we use just for acupuncture treatments. Pretty soon, when I walk in the door, the dog will walk over to that bed and lie down. Ultimately, I let the dogs choose their environment. If they want to get upside down on the couch to receive their acupuncture treatment, I’ll get upside down on the couch with them. They know what to do. Most of them fall asleep as soon as I put the needles in.
BK: I’ve witnessed that myself. My dog receives regular acupuncture treatments for arthritis and takes Chinese herbs to help heal an ACL injury. While I can’t say she loves the needles, she seems to know it’s good for her. She falls asleep within minutes.
BK: How do you suggest your clients prepare for a home visit?
BK: I understand that you’re involved with a band called Pet Rox, a familyfriendly musical group dedicated to animal welfare. Tell us about that.
BK: Who else is in the band?
BK: You’re the force behind “Just Sniffing Around,” a Pet Rox CD. Do any animals sing on it?
A conversation with Cat Warren, author of the new book, What the Dogs Knows.
In the fall issue of The Bark, I gave a very positive review to Warren’s book, a story of “how she discovered what the canine worldview really is, and how she and her dog, Solo, learned to navigate it.” The following is a conversation with her and interviewer, Whitney Peeling.
Whitney Peeling: On the way to pick up your new German Shepherd puppy, you envisioned obedience rings and calm companionship, but this changed quickly.
You’re a professor, but you also do some rather unusual work outside of the university.
What made you take such a different route with Solo, training him to be a cadaver dog?
Some of your time with Solo is spent with others in the working dog world, including other handlers, trainers, breeders and police units. How have these relationships been important to you?
Death is an inescapable part of your work, and you address it matter-of-factly, yet with great respect. But is it sometimes difficult when your search leads to a body?
A handler and a working dog’s training is ongoing. What are you and Solo working on now?
Working dog training appears to be very much “a man's world.” What was it like for you, starting to train in that world?
As the years go by, it’s less difficult. The handlers and trainers like Solo. I try to be true to who I am: I'm a woman who likes working dogs and likes to train. I don’t want to be a law enforcement dog handler. It’s not a job I could do. And while I have some close professional relationships and real mentors in that world, boundaries are still important. I work hard to stay out of the way during aggression training, to not get in the middle of work conversations. If it’s a regular training and not a seminar, I don’t follow handlers to lunch or dinner break. Their world is unrelentingly 24/7.
Any group—whether it’s K9 handlers, or cops, or college faculty, or AKC confirmation breeders—is going to have its rituals and its special language. It’s going to have people who welcome you in and mentor you, and those who prefer to keep you at a distance, or even eye you with suspicion. I understand all those reactions, and I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve had several great mentors in law enforcement K9. It’s more work, no matter what, to have an outsider around when you are training law enforcement dogs. It can be challenging work, especially if you are doing it right, and really working the handlers and dogs so they are learning new skills. It doesn’t even matter whether that person is from another agency or a volunteer female handler like me. I have the same reaction when someone sits in on a class I’m teaching. I have to think more about what I’m doing.
Now, I have two K9 law enforcement units that I train with regularly. I’m fortunate. They are very different from each other, and I learn different things from each of them. It’s been more than seven years now since I started training regularly with law enforcement teams and watching at seminars. But it always feels new. I still get a thrill from watching the joy of a new handler who realizes for the first time what his dog’s nose can do.
For nearly 30 years, Best Friends has helped pioneer the no-kill movement. Perhaps, best known for operating the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals, over the years they have branched out to include a diverse program of outreach and education that ranges from a popular television show to Strut Your Mutt events, and one of their most valuable projects—the No More Homeless Pets® conference. Each fall, Best Friends brings together experts in the no-kill movement, experts in animal care and behavior, marketing and fundraising, animal welfare professionals, rescue groups and volunteers to share knowledge, strategize and work together to save animals. This year’s conference is October 10–13 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Bark spoke to Barbara Williamson, Best Friends media relations manager, about this important event.
How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about? It’s a collaborative approach to a big problem … which is great to see.
Can you talk about the kinds of people and organizations that attend, and what kind of impact this shared knowledge is having?
Denise, founder of BWAR, has been involved in animal rescue for years. She’s been to three No More Homeless Pets Conferences and intends to be at the conference in Jacksonville. What she hadn’t planned on at last year’s conference was meeting the person whose organization would help her move 25 dogs, many of them seniors, out of the South up North, where forever homes have been waiting in the wings. “It’s been amazing working with Emma and Friends of Homeless Animals,” shares Denise. “We’re saving so many more dogs. FOHA really takes the time to match the dogs with the right adopters, and they start to promote them before they even get on the road. FOHA also shares the amazing updates from their new adoptive families, which continue to inspire our volunteers.”
FOHA is able to take so many dogs, in part, because they are helping the market meet the supply and demand. While they regularly pull from local shelters and accept owner-surrendered animals, they have found that those dogs alone do not fill the need for smaller dogs in their region.
Both groups are looking forward to attending No More Homeless Pets Conference in Jacksonville. As Denise puts it, “I think the conference is an invaluable resource for anyone in animal rescue, from volunteers to staff that share the Best Friends mission, and this conference has so many opportunities to network and really grow your organization.”
If there is a major trend that is shaping animal rescue and sheltering what would it be? This fall Best Friends is unveiling the call-to-action “Save Them All™.” In many ways this program crystallizes what Best Friends has believed all along and was a strong impetus for the No More Homeless Pets Conference in the first place: Alone you can save many, but together, we can Save Them All. More than 9,000 animals are killed every day in America’s shelters—that’s about 4 million a year. It doesn’t have to happen. We know that by increasing the number of people who adopt animals, and implementing more spay/neuter programs to reduce the number of animals who enter shelters, we can SAVE THEM ALL.
What speakers, topics or workshops are you most excited about this year?
Can your share some good news with our readers about the impact that the No Kill Movement is having?
For more information on the No More Homeless Pets National Conference go to: conference.bestfriends.org
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