Culture: DogPatch
The Future of Dogs
Q&A with Ted Kerasote, author of Merle’s Door

In 1991, while rafting Utah’s San Juan River, award-winning writer Ted Kerasote came upon the dog he would later immortalize in Merle’s Door. According to Kerasote, Merle, an adolescent stray who had been surviving on his own in the high desert, told him, You need a dog, and I’m it. It didn’t take Kerasote long to agree with him. Heartbroken after Merle died in 2004, Kerasote vowed to do all he could to ensure that his next dog— Pukka—would enjoy a long and healthy life from the very beginning. His quest began before Pukka was born— researching genetics and how to choose healthy parents, finding a breeder willing to rethink standard early vaccinations—and continued after Pukka came home, delving into quality-of-life concerns for all dogs, such as food, birth control and routine health care. Pukka’s Promise is the culmination of Kerasote’s extensive research. Bark contributing editor Rebecca Wallick recently spoke with Kerasote about some of his experiences and observations.

Bark: On your quest for longer-lived dogs, what were some of the more encouraging things you learned?
Ted Kerasote: In the United States, Wayne Cavanaugh at the United Kennel Club is making an effort to change breed standards, encouraging breeders to select for function. He has taken to heart the efforts of the Swedish and Finnish Kennel Clubs —hip and genetic testing, and standards that highlight function over form—and has begun to apply them in the U.S. Next, the American Veterinary Medical Association has started recommending triennial vaccinations. That’s still too often, but a move in the right direction. I also hope the Rabies Challenge Fund is successful; its researchers are working to prove that duration of immunity for the rabies vaccine is at least five and possibly seven years. Finally, pet food manufacturers are starting to offer grain-free dog food in response to consumer demand.

B: What did you find that disturbed you?
TK: One, breeders continue to breed for looks, despite a great deal of evidence that many of their dogs are unhealthy. Two, many breeders do not use genetic tests—for example, in Labrador Retrievers, they do not test parent dogs for PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), centronuclear myopathy (a muscle-wasting disease) and exercise-induced collapse. Three, some vets, when confronted with a lump on a dog, still say, “Let’s just watch this,” instead of doing a low-cost aspiration or biopsy, or at least recommending one and letting the client decide. Four, no one has yet conducted long-term tests on genetically similar dogs to assess the health benefits of grain-based kibble versus raw food. Such a study would show us which group of dogs has more chronic diseases, and the time of their onset. It would also tell us which group lives longer. Without such a study, there’s no way to say, definitively, whether grain-based kibble or raw food is better for our dogs. It’s not a difficult test to create, which should tell us that the pet food industry probably doesn’t want to know the answer.
But the most disturbing thing I saw was dogs being killed in a Los Angeles shelter. It was particularly hard because I could have saved any one of those dogs. But which one to save? It was my own “Sophie’s choice.” I did get one dog out—Chance—but I still think of the ones I didn’t choose. That was the hardest single day of the five years I spent researching the book, and my saddest memory.

B: If someone wants a dog of a particular breed, what should they think about?
TK: If looking for a puppy from a breeder, don’t buy one whose parents have not been genetically tested, or one who’s been bred with little thought to function. For example, many breeders of short-muzzled dogs are creating dysfunctional dogs who cannot breathe. I wouldn’t say don’t buy such a dog, but instead, look for those who retain their historical appearance; at the end of the 19th century, many of these dogs actually had snouts.

B: Of all aspects of canine care and companionship, are there things you feel are happening too slowly?
TK: What I wish would change faster is the amount of freedom dogs enjoy. In most places in the U.S., dogs can no longer roam because of leash laws or traffic or both. Off-leash dog parks are nice, but most are too small. We accept them in lieu of giving dogs true freedom. In many European countries, on the other hand, dogs can go into restaurants, they can ride on buses and subways, and they have more freedom in big urban parks.

B: You spent a lot of time at shelters, investigating what makes some successful in becoming no-kill, while others can’t seem to reach that goal. What do you think makes the difference?
TK: A proactive, compassionate director who can change how a shelter operates. There are roughly 3,500 shelters in the U.S.; approximately 200 are no-kill and quite a few more have not yet reached the goal of having 90 percent of the dogs going back out into the community, but are close. A good fostering system connected with the shelter helps, as does outreach to the community—taking dogs off-site to be adopted. A really simple thing that can be done is to keep the shelter open at night and at least one day on the weekend so working people can get to the shelter and adopt a dog.

B: In Pukka’s Promise, you take on some big players in the dog world—breeders, veterinarians, dog-food and toy manufacturers. Are you concerned about their reactions?
TK: I tried very hard to not trounce people, but to gently point out how we can improve the health of dogs. Those I took to task most are breeders who continue to breed for extreme form even though we all know this leads to unhealthy dogs. I also described pet-food manufacturers who wouldn’t have an honest conversation with me. I hope the weight of the evidence helps people make healthier choices.

B: What is the big take-away you want readers to get from Pukka’s Promise?
TK: Pay more attention to your dog. Get on the ground with your dog, see what it’s doing and what it’s telling you with its body language, its eyes and its facial expressions. I’m often disturbed by how unobservant many people are when it comes to their dogs. Their dogs are asking them a question, but they’re talking on their cell phones. More and more people also treat their dogs like children, giving them a gazillion toys instead of exercise, which is far more important than a bunch of rubber bones and stuffed animals. Dogs need to run, they need to smell, they need to meet other dogs. And it’s important that they get to do that almost every day. For a dog, toys can’t replace running, or reading the world through its nose or having canine company.

For the full interview, see The Bark, Issue 73, Feb–Apr 2013.

Culture: DogPatch
Petfinder.com Founder Betsy Saul
Making lifelong love of animals an international success

Almost every neighborhood has one—a young girl or boy who’s constantly bringing home all sorts of stray animals. While the responsibilities of school, sports and jobs lead many kids to put aside this selfless kindness, others make it their life’s calling. Betsy Saul is one of the latter. As a child, Saul rescued kittens, puppies, birds, squirrels and even an ailing snake. Today, as founder of Petfinder.com, Saul’s rescue efforts have gained international recognition and praise.

As Petfinder.com celebrated its 10th anniversary, Saul recalled that her original intent had been to harness the power of the Internet to reduce euthanasia rates; her initial goal was to save a few animals each month. Fast-forward 10 years, and it’s clear that Saul has achieved more than she ever imagined. As of June 2006, Petfinder.com had helped facilitate over 10,000,000 adoptions.

Rising to the Occasion
In September 2005, as the nation watched, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast, resulting in widespread flooding, destruction and disease. Tragically, many were forced to leave their beloved pets behind to fend for themselves; others were unable to locate their pets, and feared for their well-being.

In the midst of this natural disaster, Petfinder.com became an integral part of one of the largest animal rescue efforts ever undertaken in this country when the Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA approached it for assistance. Already in the process of building a universal database, Petfinder.com—with input from these agencies—began one of the most successful collaborations in animal disaster-response history.

In just a few days, with Petfinder.com’s programmers working 20-hour shifts, the Animal Emergency Response Network (AERN) web-based system went live. Information from more than eight databases—including those of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and United Animal Nations (UAN)—was made available to people who were frantically searching for missing animals, or those who wanted to help rescue animals left homeless by the storms. Thanks to the AERN database, 3,200 companion animals and their owners were reunited.

Cause for Pride 
As the one-year anniversary of the Gulf Coast disaster approached, Saul reflected on Petfinder.com’s involvement with the previous year’s rescue effort. As she recalled, “Approximately 17,000 pets out of perhaps as many as 150,000 animals that lived in the affected region went through the rescue system. Given the magnitude of the disaster, the length of time it took for folks to get to a point when they could begin searching for their pet, and the huge number of pets that had no identification, the fact that we achieved 3,200 reunions is nothing short of miraculous.” 

Saul was also proud of Petfinder.com’s response to Hurricane Rita. “Before [Rita] hit," she said, "we trained a 24-hour call center to use AERN. We issued ongoing radio news releases as people were evacuating, urging listeners to call a toll-free number to find temporary lodging [foster homes] for their pets along their evacuation route.

“The response was awesome. This system allowed people to take care of their own pets rather than give them up to a shelter. Imagine driving up a highway in Texas, not knowing if you would find a hotel that accepted pets, and being able to find a caring family who would help out. It was very cool and I’m really proud of that.”

When I asked her for some final thoughts on the rescue efforts after both hurricanes, her response was clear: “With the help of shelter staff, the rescuers who responded and Stealth Volunteers [a grassroots group who worked tirelessly on reuniting animals]… what a dream! I couldn’t have conceived of a more inspirational response. I’m so proud of everyone. I think tragedies like Katrina might shake the foundation of one’s faith in some things ... but my faith in people after that response is huge.”

From the beginning, Petfinder.com has been both an industry leader and a maverick. Saul herself considers it a “social profit” organization. She believes that Petfinder.com’s success proves that companies can be both profitable and successful in making social change a reality. Corporate sponsors including Purina, PETCO, Merial, Bissell and the Animal Rescue Site support the business through advertising, which allows shelters and rescuers to participate at no cost.

Betsy Saul has come a long way from the young girl who rescued neighborhood strays. Today, she is a dedicated woman who skillfully combines technology, caring people and socially responsible business practices to help improve the lives of animals, day after day. Her faith, vision and commitment are an inspiration to animal-lovers everywhere.

For more information, contact Petfinder.com.


Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Victoria Stilwell: How to Deal with Out-of-Control Barking
You have questions, she has answers

You’ve no doubt seen Victoria Stilwell in action on It’s Me or the Dog, where, using positive reinforcement, she shows wayward pups and their sometimes equally wayward guardians how to get along. Now, Victoria joins our roster of training experts in offering sound and practical advice on a variety of, shall we say, behavior faux pas. Please join us in welcoming Victoria to The Bark.


Q: My dog’s barking is driving me (and my neighbors) crazy. He’s a healthy, two-year-old Sheltie mix, and I’ve been told that it’s impossible to train him not to bark—that I should have him surgically debarked, something I find completely appalling. Please tell me there’s a way to teach my dog to control his noisy self.

A: Dogs who bark excessively can cause big problems for owners, but even though it may seem completely out of control, this behavior can be modified to a bearable level. Sometimes barking dogs can cause such distress that people resort to having the dog’s vocal chords surgically removed, but I’m glad that you find that idea appalling, because most trainers and veterinarians would advise against taking such a drastic measure. Debarking can cause immense anxiety, as it takes away an important part of the dog’s ability to communicate. I do recommend, however, that you take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough medical check up, since any extreme behavior can be exacerbated by a medical condition. 


Shelties are working dogs and are known to be vocal. These days, most dogs who were once bred to do a certain job find domestic life boring, and barking relieves that boredom. If this is the case, increased exercise and mental stimulation will refocus your dog’s mind onto something more positive and help tire him out.


Dogs bark for many reasons—to get attention, as a warning, in response to other barking dogs, out of anxiety or when excited—and it is important to identify the triggers before training.


If your Sheltie barks to get attention, don’t reward his demands. Telling your dog off is inadvertently rewarding him for barking even if the communication is negative. In this case, it is best to ignore the barking, wait for five seconds of quiet and then reward him with attention. This way, the dog learns that he gets nothing from you when he barks but gets everything when he’s quiet.


A dog who barks when excited (i.e., before going for a walk or being fed) is harder to work with because an owner’s pre-departure or pre-food cues are usually highly ritualized. Again, do not reward your dog with the things he wants until he is calm. For example, if the barking happens as soon as you go for the leash, drop the leash and sit down. Keep repeating this until your dog is quiet. If you successfully attach the leash but he barks as soon as he gets outside, immediately go back inside. This technique requires patience, but if you are diligent, your dog will quickly learn that quiet equals a walk.& Dogs who suffer anxiety when left alone will often bark a lot during the first 30 minutes after departure, while others continue until their person comes home. If this is the case, you must get a trainer in to help, as separation anxiety can be a very difficult behavior to modify.


Shelties tend to be particularly sound-sensitive, responding to noises that the human ear cannot hear. Also, because they were bred for herding, some Shelties have a high chase and/or prey drive and are easily stimulated by fast-moving objects such as squirrels or birds. If your dog barks excitedly in the back yard, for example, immediately take him back into the house and only allow him out again when he is quiet. Keep repeating if necessary and never leave him in the back yard unattended. If your Sheltie reacts and barks at other dogs or people in or outside of the home, it might be because he hasn’t received adequate socialization and feels uncomfortable. In this case, he needs to go on a desensitization program so he can gain the confidence he needs to cope in a social situation.


As you can see, there are many reasons why dogs bark, but please don’t listen to those who say that extreme barking can’t be modified, because there are lots of ways to reduce what is a very normal but sometimes annoying behavior.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Teaching Your Dog to Take Treats Gently
What to do when a dog is part alligator

Question: My dog takes treats so hard that she’s hurt my hands on occasion. I’ve had the same thing happen to me to varying degrees at the dog park or in classes when I give a treat to another dog. I dread training sessions with my own dog, and I’ve become hesitant to give treats to other dogs. Is there a solution to this problem?

Answer: I sympathize! Your experiences with dogs who chomp enthusiastically are universal among those who spend time with dogs. Many dogs regularly grab treats without taking the care required when dealing with delicate human skin. (On the other hand, some dogs are only “chompy” when revved up, so this can be a good assessment tool; in these cases, the intensity of the alligator-like behavior can indicate a dog’s arousal level.)

Some dogs are naturally gentle with their mouths, but most need lessons to achieve this skill. Dogs should be taught the cue “Gentle,” which simply means to take the treat nicely. Having a dog who takes treats gently can relieve much of the conflict-induced frustration that occurs when you want to reinforce your dog’s good behavior but also want your fingers to remain intact and connected to your body.

Avoid confusion by teaching the cue “Gentle” as its own behavior rather than during a training session for some other behavior. Commit to the idea that your dog needs to take the treats gently or she doesn’t get them at all. In other words, don’t allow the snapping behavior to work for her. Until now, she has been getting the treat no matter what she does, but we want her to only get it when she takes it gently.

To teach your dog what “Gentle” means, hold a treat in your hand, close your fist around it and offer it to your dog. If your dog bites at your hand, keep it closed; this means either toughing it out or wearing gloves, depending on your dog’s behavior and your tolerance. When she stops biting and licks your hand (or even nibbles gently and painlessly), say “Gentle” and open your hand completely to give her the treat.

Keep saying “Gentle” each time you offer her a treat to help her associate the word with the behavior. If she has a relapse and returns to her former finger-gnawing ways, pull your hand away and then offer the treat again, using the cue “Gentle” to remind her of what you want. This will keep you from dropping the treat in response to her snapping.

Until your dog knows how to take treats gently, there are a couple of ways to protect your fingers when giving treats outside of training sessions. At home, put cream cheese or peanut butter on a wooden spoon and offer your dog a chance to lick this food a few times. This is a way to reinforce your dog without putting your hands near her mouth.

In a dog park or class setting, offer the treat on your flat palm. Many dogs who will snap at treats held in the fingertips are able to take them properly when they are presented on an open hand. A final option is to drop the treats on the ground rather than giving them directly to the dog. It takes a lot of repetition for most dogs to learn to take treats gently, and the occasional effort to teach someone else’s dog by, for example, holding them in your closed hand is unlikely to be effective. Unless a dog’s guardian is teaching this at home, save your fingers by either flat-palming the treats or tossing them on the ground. These techniques won’t teach your dog or her dog park friends to take the treats politely, but they do keep your fingers safe!

Culture: DogPatch
Learning by Walking Around
Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz

In her new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz—author of the wildly popular Inside of a Dog—enlists the attention and insights of others to discover more about the neighborhood in which she lives. But when it comes to really getting the inside scoop, who better to turn to than dogs, those “creatures of the nose”?

Bark: What was the inspiration for your new work, On Looking?
Alexandra Horowitz: Dogs, naturally. The book relates a series of walks I took “around the block” in Manhattan with various people whose expertise allows them to see aspects of the ordinary landscape that I might have missed—a geologist, a naturalist, an artist, a sound engineer. I got the idea from taking so, so many walks with my dogs over the years and starting to see what it was that they saw (smelled). Their aesthetic, their way of experiencing the block, rubbed off on me, and eventually, I found a block without trees or fireplugs boring (even if I couldn’t smell their trunks or bases like the dogs did). I was interested in all the different things there are to see on an ordinary walk, so these walks helped me look at a familiar scene with new eyes.

B: In one of the chapters, you “look” as you see your dog does, more by smell than by vision. How were you able to get into a dog’s “nosescape”?
AH: We naturally view dogs’ behaviors as being about what they see: if a dog faces us, we assume that she is looking at us. But if you look closely at dogs’ noses, what they are mostly doing is smelling. Watch a dog sit face into the windwith a boring landscape but her nose is twitching wildly and you’ll see what I mean. All I did on the walk with my dog, Finnegan, was let him lead—and I followed where his nose took us.

B: What did that tell you about a dog’s experience of the walk?
AH: The dog’s perception of a “walk” is radically different than ours! For a dog, the street is not the same each time you step out of the house—it has “evidence” (odors) of all the people, dogs, other animals, passing cars and trash and rainstorms that have happened since you last left the house. And, of course, the elements of the scene that are interesting to a creature of the nose are going to be quite different than those we visual creatures like to look at.

B: Did you observe other differences in the ways a dog perceives the landscape/environment? For example, in the time it took to do the walk?
AH: We humans tend to walk straight from A to B, not loitering much. For a dog, I think, the ideal walk is non-linear—it is pursuing that scent underfoot into the breeze and around the corner. It’s not an even pace: dogs will walk with us, at our plodding rate, but most would rather rush ahead and then hang back. The interesting things don’t pop up at our pace.

B: Did your dog linger at landmarks, and if so, why do you think he did that?
AH: He did, but the landmarks for him were things like a stoop where (we discovered later) another local dog and his person live; the many, many balusters along a building at our corner, all of which held, presumably, odor-prints of past canid visitors; and an unusual commotion in one building entrance. He didn’t seem that interested in a local Fireman’s Memorial, which is sometimes visited by clutches of tourists, guidebooks in hand.

B: Do you think we can refine our sense of smell by watching our dogs? Perhaps using our sense of smell differently, or doing more sniffing?
AH: I love this question, as it assumes that we might want to smell more. I sense that most people don’t want to, given that, unlike to dogs, we tend to find so many smells unpleasant in various ways. But I have gotten more interested in smelling as information: I walked with a doctor who talked about how many diseases can be diagnosed by smell, though this practice is no longer common. But simply by bringing attention to smell—by bothering to inhale through your nose and think about it—when you’re walking, you can take advantage of the considerable olfactory ability that we already have. There is a surprising lot there. If you don’t want to do this, just watch your dog carefully, and enjoy knowing that she is seeing the world through her nose.

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A Rickie Lee Jones
The singer and her, dog, Juliette — rock on.
Rickie Lee Jones

Say the name “Rickie Lee Jones” and a swooping, sailing, raw and tender voice comes immediately to mind. This singer-songwriter has been on the cover of Rolling Stone, won two Grammys and a bucket-full of nominations, and otherwise entertained and surprised us for more than three decades. (Her most recent album, The Devil You Know, was recently released by Fantasy Records.) Rickie Lee and her dog, Juliette, are regulars on LA’s Los Feliz Boulevard, where she knows all the best places for coffee and corn muffi ns with raspberry jam. Her take on her dog is much like the artist herself: a little unpredictable, irreverent and, in the end, poetic.

You know, the joy of the dog’s life is in the normalcy, the strangers’ footsteps they warn you of, the way they know you’re tired or sad, or when you’re on the phone and your voice changes and they start poking you with their nose and wagging their tail extra loud to remind you not to take things seriously. The respect — my dog insists I eat before she does, or at least be cooking. She does not want to be pack leader.

My dog tries to teach me her language (even though she has not had consistent luck), and I see her eyes, or the way her head is raised, and I know she feels ill. She knows about 100 words and 50 more phrases; she knows when I’m leaving for long or short. She knows “scoot over,” “give it back” and “drink some water.” She knows the names of places and people in her life. She loves the recording studios, and the live shows make her crazy excited.

She is not a “licker”; she doesn’t see the point, and neither do I, but once in a while, a small kiss. Maybe a second small lick. She’s a lady and her name suits her. She has pain, but she insists on walking with the horse, running near the beach. She is present every day, and I have learned a lot from sharing my home with her. When I contemplate the nature of dreams, she runs and barks in her sleep. When I feel besieged, she wants to comfort me.

The story of Juliette is in her kind, kind spirit; her motherlove wakefulness; her baby dreams. I care for her, little pains and big. And she is a companion to me every day of my life now.

Culture: DogPatch
Muse: Robin and Linda Williams Song To Their Dog
Bluegrass Tribute
Robin and Linda Williams, and Tessie Mae.

Robin and Linda Williams have been making music together for almost 40 years. Their new CD, These Dark Old Hills (Red House Records), is a vibrant collection of original folk and bluegrass tunes, one of which especially caught our fancy. The couple praises the charms of their rescue dog, Tessie Mae, in a song.

What surprised the couple most about this sweet stray, whom they adopted from the Charlottesville, Va., SPCA, was her independent streak. As they told us, “We couldn’t leave any door open or else she would take off, and no amount of calling would make her stop. Just like we say in the fi rst verse of the song. ‘You’re an angel and a little sneak/A sweetheart with a stubborn streak/Good at following your nose/Out any door that wasn’t closed.’”

While we found this song to be a real toe-tapping, paw-thumping delight, Tessie has another idea about what the couple should be doing. “She doesn’t particularly seem interested in our music other than in the fact that it takes our attention away from her. When we’re rehearsing, she’ll come in the room wagging her tail and look at us as if to say, ‘Okay, it’s time for you guys to focus on me.’” Hard to not to do that with a chorus that goes, “Hey, Hey your straying days/Are over Tessie Mae/ Hey, Hey sit and stay/Don’t turn your head away …”

Listen to it on YouTube.

Culture: DogPatch
Call to Action
Q&A with Kim Kavin, author of Little Boy Blue
Kavin & Blue Portrait

When journalist Kim Kavin decided to adopt an adorable pup on Petfinder.com, she didn’t realize that her good deed would lead to a book exposing shelter practices as well as reporting on the amazing canine rescue network responsible for saving that pup. We talk with the author about her book, Little Boy Blue: A puppy’s rescue from death row and his owner’s journey for truth about what she learned on that “journey.”

Bark: Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been seeing more purebreds especially with first-time dog people, than I have in the past (historically, mixed-breeds have been the city’s top dogs), and it’s a trend that concerns me. What’s your take on the best way to get the word out about shelter adoption?
Kim Kavin: That’s interesting, because in New Jersey, as well as all the way up the corridor to Boston, the trend is the opposite. Dog parks are filling with rescues, most of them from southern states. I interviewed the town clerk in New Canaan, Conn., a very upscale town, who told me that the trend toward adopting has been noticeable in terms of the new dogs who are being licensed. Rescuing a shelter dog has become the educated “thing to do” in more affluent areas.

Everyone I interviewed for Little Boy Blue told me that education is the answer. They were thrilled to hear about the book; they said they’ve been screaming like banshees about adoption for years, and finally, people are starting to take notice. We need to keep that level of education going, and growing. If people simply understand the options—what they’re buying into when they acquire a purebred from a breeder versus what they’re supporting when they adopt a rescued dog—most do the right thing. Education is the key.

B: What five things can shelters do to improve their adoption rates?
KK: From what I saw during my visits to the best shelters, as well as from reviewing research on this subject by experts, the top five are as follows:

  • Make adoption a priority. At the shelter where Blue was found, unless a rescue group intervenes, the annual kill rate is about 95 percent. It is accepted as policy that the majority of dogs will die. Shelter managers need to make it a policy that rescue and adoption are a big part of the job. Nationwide, this attitude is the first thing to change in shelters that improve their adoption rates.
  • Hire people who embody the philosophy of rescue. Sometimes personnel changes are necessary, but sometimes people can grow through education. Either way, you need people on-site every day who care about adoption, and you need to give them the resources and job flexibility they need to succeed.
  • Give the dogs names. At the shelter where Blue was found in Person County, N.C., the dogs don’t have names; they are given numbers and expiration dates. The adoption coordinator at Robeson County Shelter in Saint Pauls, N.C., told me that when she began working to turn their program around, the first thing she did was name the dogs, because a name shows that someone cares about them as individuals. It affects the entire staff’s attitude toward what happens there day in and day out. It is harder to kill a dog who has a name. It makes people want to do more to help the dogs.
  • Tap into the nationwide rescue community via sites like Petfinder.com (full disclosure: Barron’s is donating a portion of the proceeds from Little Boy Blue to the Petfinder Foundation). Even if you’re in an economically depressed area and can’t find local adopters, you can find responsible rescue groups in other areas—even in other states—that are willing to transport and foster the dogs while marketing them for adoption. The pipeline exists. Use it.
  • Take photos of the dogs outside of the shelter environment. With my own foster dogs, the photos I take of them just a few hours after they’ve had a chance to calm down and play in my back yard are far superior to those I get at the shelter. Anything you can do to help them relax will make them look happier and healthier in their adoption photos, and thus increase their chances of finding a home.
  • B: How does a dog benefit by being fostered?
    KK: When I wrote Little Boy Blue, I’d had just two foster dogs, Izzy and Summer. I now have fosters number 16 and 17, Ginger and Sally, staying here at the house with Blue and me. So I’ve gained a good deal of experience in this area.
    The shelter environment itself is stressful for dogs. On top of that, they’ve been abandoned by the only humans they’ve ever known, or perhaps they’ve been starved or intentionally harmed. Then they come to my home, and while they’re friendly and curious, they’re still stressed.

    When they see how calm Blue is, they begin to understand that they are somewhere happy and good. In a very short time, each one turns into a completely different dog. Sometimes it takes a few days, or a week with the shy puppies or those who need medical care, but it happens every time. They know they will get their own bowl of food at mealtimes. They have a sunny, grassy back yard to run and play in. They have me hugging them and giving them toys. They have a big, clean crate where they feel safe and can take a nap in peace and quiet. They ride in the car, they go with us for walks at the park. They learn basic commands like “sit” and realize they can do things to earn treats.

    That’s when their real personalities come out—the personalities that we can tell potential adopters about. We have a much better chance of matching people with the right dogs if the dogs come out of foster care, because we have a better sense of who the dogs actually are compared with what they were like in the shelter.

    B: What tips would you offer those who might be interested in a shelter dog?
    KK: I think the best way to adopt is through a rescue that uses a network of foster homes. As previously mentioned, you’re far more likely to know what kind of dog you’re getting.
    It’s also good to work with rescues that ask you a lot of questions. They should check your references. They should thoroughly interview you and maybe even do a home inspection before approving you. This isn’t about being suspicious but rather, a sign that they are trying to be professional—that they want what is best for the particular dog, instead of just giving you a dog who may or may not be right for your family or your lifestyle.

    B: Any ideas on how to improve spay/neuter rates? Groups around the country have promoted low-cost, accessible services but still, many people won’t neuter their pets.
    KK: This was the experts’ biggest frustration. In North Carolina, where Blue is from, you can have a dog neutered for $20 at a mobile clinic that comes to your town. In New York City, where I interviewed an ASPCA vice president about their mobile clinics, you can have your dog neutered and spayed for free if you meet the eligibility criteria. And still people don’t do it.

    There are a number of reasons why. First and foremost is a lack of education. People don’t realize that they are contributing to a massive national shelter crisis when they allow their dogs to produce unwanted puppies. This can be overcome. Education takes time, but it does work. As the founder of Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass., told me, education has gotten through in the Northeast, where spay/neuter has become as routine as daily tooth-brushing—and where shelters typically have far lower kill rates than in some other parts of the country.

    Another reason I’ve heard more than once has to do with religion. I’ve had people tell me that encouraging spay/neuter is akin to “playing God.” They feel that it’s just as immoral to spay or neuter a dog as it is for a human to take birth-control pills or have an abortion, because God and God alone should decide which puppies are born. This is much harder to address, and I don’t know that anything will ever change those opinions. It’s like trying to convince pro-life and pro-choice activists to see eye-to-eye. It’s just not likely to happen.
    One thing I think will help going forward is the research being done right now into how spay/neuter rates affect intake levels at shelters. The ASPCA is doing some great work on this in New York City, for example. I hope that sometime soon, researchers will be able to tell shelter directors that if they invest X amount of their budget in local spay/neuter initiatives, it will bring down the number of dogs in their shelter by Y amount. That will make spay/neuter a budgetary and policy priority in places where personal attitudes or lack of education may be getting in the way of solving the problem.

    B: Beyond spaying and neutering, what more can be done to control pet population in shelters?
    KK: One thing that we see in rescue is people giving their dogs back after a year or two. It’s more common than you might think. Sometimes it’s because people never really wanted a dog in the first place, but instead thought of the animal as a fun accessory who later becomes an inconvenience in their life. They say something like, “I am moving and I don’t want to be limited to apartments that only take dogs, even though my dog is really great and loves my kids a lot.” I have no idea what to do about those people, except maybe to ask their mothers why they never taught them proper respect for dogs who are members of their families.

    The other main reason that people give dogs back to rescues or shelters, is that they say the dogs “turned out” bad. This tends to happen when the dogs are two or three years old—and almost always a result of the human failing to train the dog when he was a puppy. If a dog doesn’t know how to sit or where to go to the bathroom after you’ve had him for two or three years, it’s because you failed to teach him. The dog isn’t bad. It’s a lousy dog owner. If more people took advantage of training classes, which are usually just one hour a week, then far fewer people would be complaining they had “bad dogs.”

    B: Did you gain any insights into why the AKC pushes back so vigorously on spay/neuter laws and puppy-mill legislation?
    KK: I didn’t interview anyone from the AKC for Little Boy Blue, and I don’t want to speak for them or distort their position in any way. But what I can say from my personal perspective is that it appears to be a simple matter of business. If you force spay/neuter by law, or try to define a puppy mill versus what the AKC calls “responsible breeders,” you’re impinging on America’s very successful purebred-puppy industry.
    The AKC has long been at the forefront of promoting that industry. So if the AKC is in fact pushing back against spay/neuter laws, to me that’s no different than big banks pushing back against credit protection for consumers, or health insurers pushing back against laws that force them to care for people with pre-existing conditions. It is to be expected as a matter of business. Spay/neuter laws would make it difficult for the AKC and breeders to do business as usual.

    My suggestion to people who find this situation untenable is to adopt rescue dogs and mixed-breeds like Blue instead of buying purebreds. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. There will then be a point at which demand slows for the product that the purebred industry has marketed and sold for such a long time. Without customers, breeders will go out of business. We don’t need to pass laws to effect this change. We just need to educate more people about what they are buying into when they acquire a purebred dog from a breeder.

    B: What are the most important things people can do to help their local shelters (along with adopting from them, of course)?
    KK: Donate. And it doesn’t have to be money. Donate time. Go down there and take a dog out for a walk in the sunshine. Give a dog a bath so he will look better for his adoption photo. Volunteer to help write dog bios on Petfinder.com. Clean up your old leashes and dog bowls and give them to the shelter. None of these things will cost you in terms of dollars but they will help the shelter greatly.

    B: What do you hope to achieve with your book?
    KK: I hope that more people will adopt. I hope that more people will foster. I hope that more people will spay and neuter their dogs. I hope that more people will spread the message of what all the very hardworking volunteers in the rescue community are trying to achieve every single day.
    And I hope that people will actually enjoy reading the book. That’s been one of the problems for rescue as a movement, in my opinion; the message of what these dogs face can be so depressing that people tune out. I intentionally wrote Little Boy Blue in a non-depressing way. A few parts are shocking, yes, but it’s not like those television commercials with the sad music and the sad faces that make you want to change the channel. One of the early reviewers said Little Boy Blue read like a mystery unfolding. My editor, after reading the first draft, said, “I laughed, I cried and I wanted to punch some people in the face.” I hope I have written a book that people will read all the way to the end, and that moves them to take action—not because they feel sorry for dogs like Blue, but because they learn how important it is to stand up and champion them.


    Culture: DogPatch
    Interview Michelle Obama
    First Lady Michelle Obama talks with us about two of her favorite subjects—healthy children and a happy dog.
    Michelle Obama & Bo Obama

    Bark: Have you discussed walking or playing with dogs as a part of “Let’s Move” and the fight against childhood obesity in the United States? Do you see children’s relationships with their dogs as playing a role in this aspect of their health?

    Michelle Obama: Through Let’s Move! we encourage families to find creative ways to stay active whether it’s through riding their bikes, walking together or dancing to music at home. For our family, having Bo has taught our girls about being responsible because Malia and Sasha are charge of taking care of him when they get home from school. And since Bo is an energetic dog, I know that when the girls take him out for his nightly walk they also run around and play outside with him.

    B: Many studies have looked at the health and social benefits to dog ownership, including that walking with a dog increases the time spent in that activity and the degree of commitment to it, have you seen evidence of this in your own family?

    MO: Bo has been such a positive addition for our family. I think of him as my third child because we all love him so much. Whether we’re teaching him how to roll over, swimming with him in the summer, or watching him greet kids who are visiting the White House, he constantly keeps us smiling.

    B: Where does Bo sleep? Does he have a favorite trick/ behavior that your family finds especially endearing?

    MO: Most nights Bo can be found sleeping in one of the girls’ rooms. I’m proud to say he is a really smart dog and is known for his tricks, but it is the simple things he does like climbing up in our laps to cuddle that we love the most.

    Dog's Life: Humane
    No More Homeless Pets
    No More Homeless Pets Conf. Two Dogs

    We talk with organizers of the Best Friend’s Society 2012 No More Homeless Pets conference to be held in Las Vegas, Oct. 25 to 28. Learn how to part of the solution— attend this important and informative conference.

    Q. How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about?

    A. The No More Homeless Pets Conference is legendary in its ability to bring together like-minded people who want to make a proactive, sustainable change for companion animals. Its sponsor, Best Friends Animal Society was founded on this premise. In the beginning, their origins were as grassroots as they could get. They saw the problem—stray, abandoned, neglected and abused animals—and created a sanctuary. They provided the local animal care and control around Kanab, including Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. When we say they built the Sanctuary, they did everything from creating the blueprints for the specialized buildings to physically constructing the buildings.

    While building the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary, they also started sharing the information on how they were able to work better and smarter for the animals People from different countries, socioeconomic and education backgrounds came together and dove headfirst into working to realize a time of No More Homeless Pets. The conference was a next logical step in bringing these like-minded people together. The conference started more than 10 years ago with about 250 attendees. Last year’s had more than 1,300 attendees.

    Q. How important is sharing success stories at the conference? Does it help to build a sense of community?

    A. Sharing success stories is very important. From the very beginning the emphasis on hope and solutions is what attracted supporters to Best Friends and shaped the editorial content of its magazine and website.

    From its start, No More Homeless Pets Conference has carried the message that ending the killing of adoptable, treatable animals is absolutely a goal that can be achieved. The sharing of the successes and innovations from across the U.S., Canada and other countries is one of the hallmarks of the conference and what keeps people coming back.

    Q. Is there a long-term strategy or a multi-tiered plan to solving the problem—addressing key links in the process, such as, transportation, fostering, training—to reduce the number of pets who enter shelters?

    A. All of these are important components. Each community has its own unique needs list so community-based solutions that look at the local needs and how to devise strategies that address those needs are best.

    For instance consider the success of the city of Calgary in Alberta. Bill Bruce, director of Animal Services there, has approached ending the killing of shelter animals with a top-down, integrated community-policy approach. The department is funded entirely by pet-licensing fees and animal-regulation enforcement fines. A pet license is $30 for a fixed dog and $52 for an unaltered canine, and registration can be done online, in person and even at the bank. To encourage compliance, a fine for not licensing a dog is $250.They focus on public education about responsible pet ownership, pet-licensing compliance and addressing as many animal issues as possible out in the community before the animals become shelter problems. Bill has turned the “dog catcher” into a genuinely helpful community animal care resource.

    The return-to-owner rate for cats in the U.S. is a miserable 2 percent. In Calgary, 49 percent of cats are returned to their owners and 29 percent are adopted. That’s a 78 percent save rate. An amazing 90 percent of dogs are returned to their owners in Calgary, 9 percent of impounded dogs are adopted and only 5 percent are put down.

    More impressive still is the fact that Calgary accomplishes this with no taxpayer dollars at all, which protects animal services and the animals from political wrangling over budget cuts and economic trends.

    Q. What changes have you seen in public awareness of adoption and rescue, spaying and neutering and are you seeing an impact?

    A. When the No-Kill Movement first started about 17 million animals were being killed in the nation's shelters. That number is still about 4 million, a number that is not acceptable.

    Best Friends started the first statewide coalition of rescue groups and shelters in Utah in 2000. Over 46,000 animals were euthanized in shelters throughout the state (1999 baseline). Today, that number has decreased by 49%. This year twelve communities achieved a 90% or higher “save rate” for the first 6 months of 2012. And slightly more than ten other communities were in the 80-89% range for the same period. In New Hampshire, Peter Marsh was a founder of Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, the group that spearheaded the establishment of publicly funded pet-sterilization programs in that state. During the first six years after the programs were established, shelter euthanasia rates dropped by 75 percent and have been maintained at that level since that time. For more than 15 years, Peter has helped animal care and control agencies, humane organizations and advocacy groups establish effective shelter overpopulation programs in their communities. Marsh’s analysis of the impact of targeted spay/neuter services states that spaying or neutering five animals per 1,000 people in low-income areas will reduce shelter intake by as much as 33 percent over a five-year period. Jacksonville, Florida, reduced shelter intake by 23 percent in four years, and New Hampshire reduced shelter intake by 33.6 percent in six years. In Los Angeles the NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles) imitative is a coalition close to 50 local rescue groups Through the first five months of 2012, there has been a 15.7 percent reduction in the number of animals euthanized at LA city animal shelters—that’s 1,080 less in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2011. On top of that, the Coalition partners alone (separate of Best Friends or Los Angele Animal Services) placed 426 more animals than last year so far from January through June

    Q. What are some of the success stories and evolutions of no-kill communities?

    A. Here are four success stories, among the very many, that we are proud of.

    1. Cheryl Wicks, founder of Sammie's Friends in Grass Valley, California, in 2000, Cheryl moved to the foothill area after living for decades in the fast-paced corporate world. She went to her local animal shelter to begin volunteering and found that not only were they killing 68 percent of the animals, she was also their only volunteer. In ’02, she attended the No More Homeless Pets Conference and received important information to help take her work to the next level. So she set about putting together a volunteer program and then things started going in the right direction. With the help of social networking, she was able to rally 100 people who wanted to end the killing of healthy pets in her community.

    To help raise money for the sick and injured animals, Cheryl started a 501(c)(3). She was looking to change the overriding mentality toward animals from being “killable” to being “adoptable.” The organization she named Sammie’s Friends, after her very special Shar-Pei, Sammie, was on a roll. In ’07, she approached the city to run the shelter. It took two years, but in ’09, Sammie’s Friends officially took over the animal control contract.

    Sammie’s Friends, now running the municipal animal control shelter, euthanizes less than one percent of the animals.

    Cheryl explains, "After I attended my first No More Homeless Pets Conference, it made me start thinking, ‘What can I do to get animals out of the shelter?’ It made me realize the animals are the clients, and we’ve got to do everything we can on their behalf."

    2. Zach Skow, founder of Marley’s Mutts in Kern County, California, had been a volunteer with Best Friends’ Los Angeles programs for a few years when he went to his first No More Homeless Pets Conference in ’09. He went because he wanted to learn how to do more for the animals.

    “Going to the conference is like going to spring training for sports teams. You hone your skills by learning from the best. We learned how to expand our foster network to save more lives,” shares Zach.

    While Zach has attended other animal welfare conferences, he said none has come close to this conference in terms of the quality and accessibility of the speakers and the feeling of camaraderie the event cultivates. He went back to California with “a renewed vigor and (motivation) to take lifesaving to the next level.”

    3. Denise Bitz, founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, North Carolina, is coming to this year’s conference, which features sessions that are divided into seven main tracks: building a no-kill community, marketing, keeping pets out of shelters, adoption and fostering, fundraising, animal care and behavior, and new solutions to old problems. She says, “The tracks allow you to take exactly what you need in areas that can use the most improvement.”

    Denise cites shelter enrichment (creating a mentally stimulating environment for her charges) as something she was able to put into practice after attending a previous year’s conference. Lessons she learned continue to pay off as well, including mailing and marketing techniques.

    4. The Fetch Foundation’s founder, Marie Peck, had an epiphany: “The first time I was at the conference, it was overwhelming. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be with your people. I learned the best lesson: Be nice. It sounds simple, but it changed everything. From the quality of volunteers to the quality of donations, when we changed our attitude, our ability to do more just opened up.”

    The Fetch Foundation is a “boutique rescue,” pulling dogs who are good candidates for search and rescue from shelters. But sometimes they get hit with an unexpected situation, like a hoarding case, and the information they learned at the conference is invaluable in helping them place multiple animals.

    Q. What are the top things that people who support the cause can do on their own?

    A. Become a supporter of Best Friends Animal Society and your donations support innovative grassroots programs including spay/neuter and TNR (trap/neuter/return) programs, promoting shelter adoptons, fighitng breed-discrimnatory laws and puppy mills, educate the public, holding major adoption events, and conducting large and small- scale animal rescues.

    • Donate to their local rescue groups or humane societies.
    • Volunteer even one day a month at the local shelter or to help transport animals, to low- cost spay/neuter clinic, etc. - Always adopt, never buy pets and encourage your family and friends to do likewise
    • Always spay/neuter your pets and help educate others on the importance of this. (see Best Friends' “Fix at Four” educational campaign).

    Q. Can you give us a preview of this year’s conference, what are you most excited about?

    A. We’re excited for the sessions geared toward people who aren’t necessarily deeply involved in animal welfare but who want to make a difference in their communities. We’re featuring some unique success stories of individuals who have taken the initiative in their communities to help animals and have made a big impact—from creating multi- group adoption events, to helping promote spay/neuter programs, to starting programs that help lost pets find their homes, to programs that provide temporary foster to keep pets out of shelters when their people are in temporary crisis. Leading a community to no-kill often seems like a daunting task, but it can start with one individual, one program or one idea. Often these are ordinary individuals who have achieved extraordinary results for the animals, and we're excited to be showcasing many of these individuals at our conference.

    We would love to hear from Bark readers about success stories on how their shelter, rescue group, spay/neuter program etc. is helping to move the needle toward no-kill. We would love to hear all the ideas and successes that other have had. (You can add your comments below.)