Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Talking Training Stilwell
Q: We recently added a puppy to our household, and our five-year-old Aussie is definitely not amused. He’s lived with another dog, albeit one who was older; when the older dog died, he became “big dog on campus,” and seems to like the position. Though he hasn’t hurt the puppy, he’ll pin her to the ground and won’t let her up, even when she squeals. How can we help our BDOC come to terms with his new packmate?
A: Introducing a new dog into a household with a resident dog can be problematic, and the resulting stress and tension can have serious consequences. Puppies have a lot of energy, and even highly social dogs may find them frustrating. However, I am concerned that the older dog does not appear to be responding appropriately to the puppy’s distress signals; the resulting conflict could cause both dogs to display more aggressive behavior in an effort to increase social distance. As you work with the older dog, it is important that all interactions between the two are supervised and that you intervene if things get out of hand.
Peaceful coexistence is the obvious goal and can be achieved in a number of ways, including monitoring the dogs’ interactions and reducing situational and environmental stress. Removing tension-inducing triggers, such as food, bones or toys, reduces their need to compete, and potential fights can be avoided by being vigilant about the location-guarding that commonly occurs in multidog households. Toys and chews should be given to the dogs only when they are separated, and they will also need to be fed separately if there is conflict at feeding time. Identifying triggers and minimizing stress for both dogs will help them develop a better relationship.
The adult dog needs to learn that the new puppy’s presence means good things for him. Stand in a room with your older dog and have a friend or family member walk in with the puppy. There should be no physical interaction between the dogs, but as the puppy is brought into the room, the adult dog should be praised and given high-value treats. The puppy should then be taken out of the room, at which point, treats are withdrawn. This exercise can be repeated until the older dog becomes more comfortable around the puppy. When you see relaxed, fluid body language and a willingness by the adult dog to engage in social contact with the puppy, you’ll know that the technique has been successful.
Walking the dogs together is another way to give them positive experiences in one another’s presence. The puppy will require less exercise than the older dog to begin with, but a small walk every day will help increase that bond. Also, start basic training with the pup while giving the adult dog a refresher course, so that when they are together, they know to focus on you and be guided by your cues.
Management is equally important to maintain calm; baby gates are a highly effective way to give the dogs their individual space. Occasionally, however, they can have the reverse effect and exacerbate tensions. In this case, the dogs should be put in separate rooms and only allowed to interact under active supervision. Other stress-relieving tools such as dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) can be used to stimulate a sense of calm when they are around each other.
As with humans, even the best of dog friends occasionally quarrel. What is essential, however, is that you do not subject either dog to any situation that could cause them to react negatively to one another. If tension continues to escalate, rehoming options may need to be explored, but this can be avoided if you are diligent in applying training and management procedures so that both dogs can live peacefully together in a stress-free environment.
Dog's Life: Humane
How Andrea Horikawa coaxed the wonder from a one tough mutt
Almost immediately after Andrea Horikawa adopted Vinny Love from a shelter in southern California, she had doubts. The Chihuahua mix with a dizzying tail challenged every dog to cross his path. She contemplated returning him to the pound, but realizing his days would be numbered if she did, she redoubled her commitment. As a result of three years of diligent, consistent and positive training, Vinny is now a well-mannered pup with an impressive arsenal of more than 20 tricks, including a handstand that would make a yogi jealous. (See the video at the end of this article)
We often hear stories about shelter and rescue dogs who shed serious baggage—neglect, abandonment, abuse—to rise above expectations. We decided to feature some of these special pups—and by extension their faithful people—as Bark Rescue Wonder Dogs because they make us rethink what’s possible. We begin with Vinny and Andrea. We asked the 22-year-old Laguna Hills resident how Vinny landed on his paws with such poise.
Bark: Are you a trainer?
How did you have this kind of success with Vinny?
What kinds of things were a good fit for you?
Do you use treats? A clicker?
So you’d be walking him on leash and he’d lunge and bark at other dogs?
Now when you see another dog, what happens?
How much time do you spend working with Vinny?
Does that include exercise time?
What have been the most challenging tricks to teach him?
How long did it take?
Have you considered a future in movies for Vinny?
Why did you post Vinny’s tricks on YouTube?
What do you think is ahead for him?
What would you say to any Bark readers who might be struggling with a dog’s behavior?
Culture: Readers Write
Unpublished writer sees ink as a finalist in Bark’s 1st Fiction Contest
“Street Dog,” about a homeless man and a stray dog, is Shawn Kobb’s first published story (Bark, Sep/Oct 2010). Kobb, 33, was one of three finalists in our first fiction contest earlier this year. In his non-writing hours, Kobb is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, currently living in The Bahamas with his wife and their adopted Doberman puppy, which they adopted during a two-year stint in Ukraine. Kobb recently shared with TheBark.com a little about the real man and dogs who inspired his story.TheBark.com: What inspired your story? Shawn Kobb: The story was inspired in part by a homeless man that lived in the neighborhood in Washington, DC that I stayed at last summer while training for my current assignment. I used to see this man almost daily, always sitting in the same spot on the same street as tourists and locals walked by him. He never asked for money, just watched people walk by. At the same time, we have just finished living for two years in Ukraine and stray dogs were a constant problem there. I decided to join up two groups that seemed like they could use each other. This is my first published piece of fiction and I’ve never entered any other contests. I’ve always been interested in writing and have written several pieces, but I’ve never published any of them before. Do you have a favorite dog character in a novel, story, movie or painting? I would say one of my favorite dogs in literature is Laika from the graphic novel of the same name. It is the true story of a homeless dog taken from the streets of the former Soviet Union who later became the first dog in space. To be honest, I’ve only ever skimmed the piece, because although it is beautifully illustrated and written, it is too sad for me to make it through. My wife and I adopted a female Doberman puppy while living in Ukraine and she is named Laika in honor of this dog. Who is your favorite writer? Like many people, I have many favorite writers. Right now, I would go with Dan Simmons. He’s a terrific writer that refuses to stick to one genre. He has great books that are science fiction, historical fiction, horror, suspense, and even non-fiction. His historical fiction The Terror is one of my favorites.
Dog's Life: Humane
Q&A with documentary’s director Rebecca Ormond
On July 18, Gateway Guardians, a documentary about a handful of scrappy volunteers feeding and rescuing stray dogs in a blighted East St. Louis neighborhood, premieres. Filmed almost entirely by flipcam-wielding rescue and foster volunteers and Webster University film students, the documentary provides a moving, dog’s-eye-view of street packs and loners and their unorthodox saviors. We spoke with the film’s director, professor and independent filmmaker, Rebecca Ormond during the final days of editing to learn how this story reached the screen.► See details about the premiere and future screenings below. ► Look for our story about Gateway Pet Guardians in the September issue of Bark. ► Watch video trailer on page 2. TheBark.com: How did you sign on for the documentary? Rebecca Ormond: I am a film professor at Webster University and also an independent filmmaker. [The film’s producers Amie Simmons, Gateway Pet Guardians’ president, and Jamie Case, executive director] approached me not to make the film but to recommend cameras. In talking with them it was pretty clear that they really didn’t know what was involved so I thought it would be a really neat combination, since I’d volunteered [for about five years] with them anyway, to volunteer my services. My role was basically to handle all the technical stuff and just figure out how to use cinematic language to say what they wanted to say. [Another Webster University professor, Steve Schenkel, composed the score.] How did you make the documentary? We had a very loose plan. We bought these little high-definition flipcams. PJ Hightower [GPG’s founder and lead rescuer, who has been feeding the strays since 1995 and hasn’t missed a day since 2001] wore one and whoever rode with her carried one, and I gave them some basic instruction in how to film and not get in the way. The whole idea was to get a lot of footage with the animals the way they really act with PJ. The way we wouldn’t be able to get with a film crew. The basic idea was to see these animals the way she sees them, which is very personal. She has names for all of them. It’s like she has 200 pets. So the goal was to be as unobtrusive as possible. As fosters came forward, we would then hand a camera to the foster, and follow that dog through the foster system into their forever home. For almost a year, they would run these cameras. They’d turn in over six hours of footage to me a week. We just kept trimming it down, trimming it down, trimming it down. Very early on we followed Ghandi’s quote that you can tell a society by how it treats its animals as a really rough working guide. Beyond the foster folks and the volunteers is there anyone else in the film? In the longer film, there are people from East St. Louis—both who live there and who work there. My favorite person of all is a wonderful woman, Ethel May Taylor. She tells the story of her dog Tyler, who she was feeding as a stray, and PJ rescued and had neutered and then returned to Ethel. She talks about the joy that Tyler brings to her life. How were your students involved? We never sent them out on the streets of East St. Louis. We brought people from East St. Louis and the organization to my house to film. They filmed the interviews. They also logged footage. It was an enormous amount of logging, 10 solid months of six hours a pop with six different cameras running constantly. I would tell them… we want, at most, to log 10 percent of what comes in, so it’s your job to search through all six hours and decide what hour or even maybe what 10 minutes gets put in the log that I’ll eventually start editing. What did your students think of the group and making the documentary? Everybody is moved by the footage. Liz Pekunka (a graduating senior, film logger and second assistant editor) kept saying if I weren’t a student, I’d absolutely foster a dog now. From a technical perspective, this kind of shooting is quite novel right now because these little cameras are using a codec called H.264. It’s really amazing. We bought the pink cameras that went on sale on Mother’s Day for $99. They are just pinhole cameras; you can’t focus them or anything, which was important for the rescue workers because they’d just point and shoot. But these tiny cameras, the size of cell phones could hold six hours of high-definition 720p, 60 frames per second video. The quality is phenomenal. For my students this was one of the big things because filmmaking is so expensive … and here are these little cell phones generating a pretty amazing image. Sounds like a great thing for such a lean organization. Would they have been able to make the film otherwise? No. It was great because it was cheap and it was also great because it was so easy for them to do. The whole philosophy was if we go in there with a crew we’re not going to be able to get what happens. Only when PJ stands there by herself can she get this. After all your experience volunteering and fostering with Gateway Pet Guardians, did you learn anything new in putting the film together? Probably the thing that surprised me most is how much we were able to see in these packs of dogs the individual personalities of the dogs and how well PJ knew them. Even though I knew she had a really strong rapport with all the dogs it was shocking to see because she had the camera right on her hip. In the footage, the dog comes right up and bumps noses into the camera, and these are the stray, feral dogs that everyone’s afraid of. I can’t imagine that people aren’t going to be all over this film. As the director and someone who has been on it 16 hours a day for the past 6 weeks, I’m a little bleary. I don’t know. It might be great and it might be terrible. I can’t say. I heard a dog in the background. Is that a Gateway rescue? No. She is a rescue but I had her before I met PJ. I met PJ through her oddly enough. I had just bought my house and I was walking my dog. My dog was about a year old and she’s skittish with people she doesn’t know. So as PJ approached I started my whole spiel that I do with everybody, ‘She’s not aggressive, she won’t bite, but she’s probably going to hide behind me, she’s slow to warm up.’ PJ pulled one of her biscuits out of her pockets, and my dog took it out of her hand. When you started as a Gateway volunteer, did you ever think to yourself, this would make a great film? No, really I didn’t. The funny thing is, I’m not a documentary filmmaker. I’ve made a few and I’ve worked on a lot. But I’m principally a narrative filmmaker. It was one of those things where I’m the only filmmaker they knew.
Author of Marcus of Umbria
We talk with Justine van der Leun about her new book Marcus of Umbria—a Bark Summer Reads pick. Deciding to leave the big city and a good magazine job, she packs it all in to live in a very small Italian village and a chance at love. What she finds instead, and where she finds it, makes for charming storytelling.
Bark: What compelled you to leave your NY city life and venture out to a (very) small village in Italy? And why that particular village?
Justine van der Leun: For love, of course! Or perhaps lust is more accurate. I had gone to Collelungo, on vacation, and while I was there, I fell helplessly for a local gardener named Emanuele. The stereotype of the seductive Italian exists for a reason. After just three weeks, I wanted to live with him in his tiny, rural town. I was working with a businessman on a memoir about Italian wine, so it was convenient for me to settle there. I returned to New York, sublet out my place, and booked a one-way ticket back.
B: What was the one thing that surprised you the most about the villagers’ attitudes towards animals? Had you expected that?
J: Collelungo was an ancient farming culture and the people had endured centuries of dire poverty. Though this generation is relatively comfortable, the people of Collelungo, like most farming cultures, have an old-world approach to animals. For them, animals are a means of survival. They raise everything by hand—the opposite of factory farming. Because of this, farm animals like sheep, cows, and pigs roam free on untouched land. On the other hand, horses were for casual sport, and the training techniques were, to say the least, not progressive; and cats were feral and expected to fend for themselves. Dogs were caged out back and used to hunt. The idea of having a dog inside disgusted people. In Collelungo, there was little concept of an animal’s emotional life; the mere idea was absurd to them. But even in that society, there were exceptions: People who adored their dogs; who spoiled their horses; who fed and coddled kittens.
B: Marcus is a English Pointer, a dog with an “intense” connection to everything around her, how did she redefine or refocus your own connection to nature?
J: Marcus changed everything. I’ve been watching her stalk and chase birds and bunnies and squirrels for four years now, and it never gets old. Before I met Marcus, I had no relationship with the outside world. I grew up in rural Connecticut, surrounded by natural beauty, but all I wanted was to read indoors and move to New York City. But once I found Marcus in Italy, I began to walk in the woods, to look at the trees, to climb hills and ride horses. At first, I did it to see her joy, but soon I was able to feel my own joy. Now, even though we’re back in the states, I am nearly unrecognizable to myself: I run with Marcus in the morning, hike with her through parks and forests, take long strolls down the beach. We just spent a day canoeing on the Delaware Water Gap. I see nature from her perspective, as something right and necessary.
B: Since you rehabilitated a dog who was kept (if you can call it that) just for sport and had little human contact outside of the hunt, what affect did this have on you? Did it change how you viewed the human/dog bond? Did it alter your view of different cultures and how they treated their animals?
J: I rehabilitated Marcus with the help of a very generous behavioral therapist named Nikki Wood, whom I called crying when I returned to the States. I was at a loss for how to live with Marcus, who, because she lacked socialization and had been mistreated, trembled and ran whenever she saw a stranger or heard a loud noise. Nikki sensed that Marcus and I had a special connection and agreed to work with us as long as I would put in the effort. Did I ever! Training Marcus for nearly two years, I got a crash course in dog-human interaction. We think we know about our dogs, but we’re really so uninformed. I read all of Patricia McConnell’s books and really delved into the brain and heart of the dog, which was fascinating. I still have much to learn, but my new, more intricate understanding of her has really bonded us. I’ve seen such tremendous improvement in Marcus, who has overcome most of her fears. She will never be that super-confident dog with a great puppyhood, but she can now accomplish nearly anything. She’s more resilient than I could have imagined.
B: You weren’t expecting to meet up with the dog-of-your-heart when you went to Italy. If Marcus hadn’t come along, how differently do you think your experience there would have been? Would you have come home sooner or later? Do you think you could have settled there permanently?
J: I would have been home in two months, and that would have been a shame. I was wildly lonely and unfocused at first, living in such a remote foreign place. My relationship with Emanuele wouldn’t have been strong enough to keep me there. But when I found Marcus, I couldn’t leave her. Her existence also made me wonder what other surprises lay in store for me—and there were many! Marcus acted as my unwitting anchor and my little spotted tour guide. Because of her, I had the most illuminating year of my life so far.
Culture: Readers Write
Finalist in The Bark’s 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest talks furry muses
A fictional haven called Dog Island is the setting for Don Katnik’s story, “The Stepping-Off Place” (Bark, Summer 2010), which was one of three finalists in our first-ever fiction contest. A wildlife biologist, Katnik shares his 200-year-old home in Maine with his wife Misty and dogs Copper “The Rocket” and Jedzia Dax. Katnik, 44, took a break from writing, home-improvement projects and dancing (ballroom with Misty, free-style with the Jedzia and Copper) to answer a few questions about Dog Island and fictional canines.TheBark.com: How did you get the idea for Dog Island? Don Katnik: So often now places advertised as “dog friendly” are really just “dog tolerant.” It is becoming harder to find places where they are truly welcome. Dog Island was inspired by a real island (pictured in the photo) near us that is one of the few places our dogs can be off-leash. Sadly, there are plans to put a marina there, which will ruin it for the dogs. I wish I could buy it and make it a real Dog Island, but I can’t so I wrote a story about the idea instead. Have dogs shown up in any of your other stories? Yes, usually as characters with roles rather than just props for the humans. In a novel I’m working on, Edge (based on a real-life search and rescue dog) plays a pivotal part in solving a quadruple homicide. One of the first stories I ever wrote was about an elderly man who crashes into a steep, forested ravine. He lingers for three days, then succumbs to his injuries and isn’t found until his canine companion—who refused to leave while his old friend was still alive—goes back up to the road alone. It’s called “Temporary Road” and is based on something that really happened in northeastern Washington. Have you had your fiction published before? Yes, but I fear short fiction is a dying art. What sort of dogs are Jedzia and Copper? Spoiled! Jedzia is a Shepherd-Boxer-something mix. She came from an animal shelter in Washington State. Copper is a Golden Retriever, but a little guy. We got him from a rescue organization in Massachussetts. Do you have a favorite dog character in a novel, story, movie or painting? I love the dog in Andrew Wyeth’s “Master Bedroom” painting (and was even inspired to have a local artist do a knock-off sketch substituting Jedzia on the bed). It’s a pretty fair representation of how she spends much of her time! Who is your favorite writer? Have to go with Stephen King. I love how he captures life’s little truisms, like in The Body: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?” Simple words, but profound in making you recognize one of the biggest differences between being a grown up versus a kid. Have you ever entered a fiction contest before? A few, but they were literary contests more interested in prose than plot. I didn’t do well.
Culture: Readers Write
Winner of The Bark’s 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest
A brindle-furred Pit Bull is one point of a complex, mid-life love triangle in Bim Angst’s contest-winning story “Village Dogs” (The Bark, April/May 2010). In the piece, a man and a woman stutter-step toward one another, in large part, through their feelings about the dog. The result is an authentic and poignant look at how people—often aided by their canine co-pilots—come together. On the eve of her debut in The Bark, Angst, who lives in Saint Clair, Penn., and teaches at Penn State Schuykill, answered a few questions about writing, dogs and writing about dogs.TheBark.com: Where did “Village Dogs” begin—with the relationship or with the dog? Bim Angst: Actually it started with a place and a gesture—a walk along a river with my dog and a friend who pointed something out. An image stuck in my head and felt rich with possibilities. I tend to think visually first. Then I have to work and re-work words to match and then build on what I see in my head. There are many revisions until something feels right, but usually the initial image is clear and constant—as it was for “Village Dogs.” It sounds like the character of Anya Graceen is based on your dog Graciella, has she shown up in other stories?What about your other dogs? Why write about dogs? Grahtzi is a particularly pleasant and expressive dog, and because she’s mostly Pit Bull and yet very sweet-tempered, she attracts attention. It helps that she’s pretty comical too. Grahtzi really does get “petting drunk” and falls over when her butt is scratched. Everybody smiles when she does that! How could I not use that? My other dogs—the two yellow boys currently with me and beloved earlier dogs, too—show up often in my stories. I hope they become characters in their own right, but since most of my fiction is realistic, they remain, I hope, real dogs doing real dog things. I write about dogs because they are so much with me. My senior boy, Beau, has quite literally spent more time with me than any other creature on earth—and that includes my children. The dogs are with me almost every moment I’m not out working or riding my bike. How could I not write about dogs? Dogs are naturally engaging, and they’re such lovely counterpoints to the weaknesses and foibles of human characters. Do you have a favorite dog character in a novel, story, or movie? Rich Bass’ Colter springs to mind pretty quickly. And one of my easy pleasures is looking at the Smiling Dogs pages in The Bark. Who is your favorite writer? My son, Charlie Manis, is the best writer I read frequently. I feel honored when he lets me read his work in progress. He’s a tremendously talented writer, very sensitive to language, gesture, context, nuance. He’s also the hardest working writer I’ve ever met. I’m working very hard in a friendly family competition to beat him to book publication! Have you ever entered a fiction contest before? I’m 54 years old now and have been writing seriously since the age of 15, when I got my first job writing newspaper features (although I wrote radio ad copy before that). Yes, I’ve sent stories to many contests—and poems and essays. Rejection is part of writing; one can’t take it personally or let repeated rejection lead to despair. Send it out, forget it, and keep writing. It’s very rare in a writing career, in a writing life, to have a story as warmly received as “Village Dogs” has been at The Bark.
Q&A with Karsten Heuer
On a sunny June day in 1998, a man and his dog took the first steps on a walk that would, by the time they finished it, cover 2,200 miles through some of North America’s most thinly populated landscape. Following the path of the grizzly, they and their team tested a dream against reality. In Walking the Big Wild, Karsten Heuer and Webster, his Border Collie, shared a grand—and sometimes terrifying—adventure.
Bark: You mention in the book that Webster was your “model for resolve.” Aside from bears, bugs, and burrs, what sorts hazards did he contend with? Did you find that you’d anticipated and prepared for most of them, or did you have to improvise as you traveled?
Karsten Heuer: The rivers in northern British Columbia were tough. No trails meant no bridges, and the water tumbling through the rapids was usually glacial melt. But Webster swam them with great courage. He got tangled up with a porcupine one day (which wasn’t pretty), and his paws got sore during a particularly rough section of sharp limestone (we protected his feet with makeshift booties until the going got softer), but other than that, he was self-sustaining. Oh, except for the time I felt sorry for him shivering in a cold rainstorm (sleet was more like it). I cut a piece of red nylon into a temporary raincoat for him. It worked but he looked ridiculous and he knew it. A sheepish sheepdog. And then sure enough, a few corners later, we ran into a pack of wolves! Talk about having your wild ancestors look down their noses at you. He was pretty embarrassed.
Bark: Had you and Webster done any sort of endurance hiking together before you started your walk to the Yukon?
KH: No, but once you added up all the things his co-owner (whom I’ve always shared him with) and I had put him through, I knew if he hadn’t abandoned me by then, he never would: being tipped out of a canoe and swimming whitewater rapids … strapped to my chest as we rappelled down a 1,500-foot cliff. The list goes on.
Bark: Did this trek affect your relationship with Webster?
KH: Well, 2,200 miles is a long way to travel with companion. We had our trying moments (Webster loved the goose-down sleeping bag and was reluctant to give it up if he got in the tent first). We were very close before leaving, but the trip certainly deepened that bond. We shared some pretty special moments and some pretty scary ones as well—everything from swimming rivers and staving off a charging bear to just drinking in the view from a mountaintop while he lay looking in the same direction with his chin on my knee. And although I probably didn’t show him much he wouldn’t have otherwise seen, he certainly pointed out a lot of things to me. When he froze in that I-see-a-cat crouch, there was always something looking back at us through the trees: a moose, a deer, even a couple of bears.
Bark: Is it possible to make any overall observations about the behavior of a domestic dog (or at least, about a Border Collie) in the wilderness?
KH: I’m always cautious answering these sorts of questions because, as we all know, no two dogs are alike. Having said that, I think it’s extremely important to have a very well-trained dog if you’re thinking of having them off-leash in wild areas. Otherwise they can do a lot of damage (disturbing or even killing ground-nesting birds, for example), or get you into problems (like chasing a bear and then having that bear turn and chase your dog right back to you). When Webster wasn’t on the leash he was always on a heel.
Bark: The encounters with wolves were particularly interesting. At the time, did you have an emotional, or a purely pragmatic, response?
KH: That’s the wonderful thing about meeting wild animals: it’s ALWAYS emotional. We can’t help it; those emotions are hardwired into us from our days of roaming the savannah and interacting with animals every waking moment of every day. It wasn’t that long ago that we were living in caves, chasing after and running from wild animals in great acts of survival. And come to think of it, it wasn’t that long ago that all the Websters of the world branched off from wolves. I’m convinced this is why we love—even need—to have pets. They reintroduce what was such a big part of our behavioral history into our everyday, modern lives.
Bark: As you made your way north, to what degree were you surprised by what you found—literally—on the ground, as opposed to what you saw on maps?
KH: Well, as you know, the intent of the 2,200-mile-long walk was to assess the plausibility of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), which proposes to connect existing reserves along the Rockies with wildlife corridors. I was literally trying to look at the proposal from the perspective of a wolf or grizzly bear or any of the other wide-ranging animals it’s meant to benefit. So I left with questions like: How pristine or developed are these proposed corridors? How many barriers already exist (busy highways, urban development, clearcut areas, open pit mines, etc)? How much restoration would be required?
To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical about what I would find. I expected bad news. But fortunately, by the end, I was more hopeful for the proposed reserve network than when I left. I used fresh grizzly bear sign—their tracks, scat, rub trees and, in some cases the animals themselves—as a measure of the wildness of the areas I was walking through. I assumed if there was recent sign of grizzlies, the area was intact. Well, the walk took 188 days to complete and by the time I tallied up my notes, I realized I’d seen fresh signs of grizz 160 days. That’s 85 percent of the time!
Bark: And how did the trek change your internal landscape (or did it)?
KH: It gave me hope for wildness in this part of North America, and it gave me confidence in myself. There were a lot of doubts at the beginning, and the scope of the trip was overwhelming, but bit by bit, day by day, I covered 2,200 very mountainous miles, hundreds of which without the benefit of trails.
Bark: In the ’70s, one of the iconic aphorisms of the woman’s movement was “the personal is political.” Could it also be appropriate to environmental issues?
KH: I like to think so. Again, this trip proved very empowering on a personal level. And not just in terms of increasing my confidence. By the end I had proved to myself that one person (and his dog) can make a difference. Very few people had heard about Y2Y or the principles behind it before we left. We reached millions of people during the trip—thousands directly via presentations in communities, and the masses through National Geographic, Backpacker Magazine, NBC, ABC, NPR and hundreds of other media outlets during the trip. And if you’ve read the book, you’ll know we stirred up a good dose of opposition from industry interests too!
Bark: Humans seem to have a tendency to either demonize or romanticize what some call “charismatic megafauna” and others call “sexy beasts”—bears, wolves, mountain lions. What kind of impact do you think that has on the way we react to them, and the energy we put into protecting/supporting them and their habitat requirements?
KH: All the animals you list are powerful symbols that remind us we aren’t in control of everything—that we could, hypothetically, be killed and eaten. It’s a humbling sensation to be standing in front of a bear that’s popping its jaws and thrashing the ground and you have no idea what it’s going to do next. You feel helpless. Some people demonize them because of that threat. But I think having that threat in our lives is a good thing. We should celebrate it. It brings humility and balance to a modern society that is pretty devoid of both those qualities.
Bark: In one of your journal entries, you said “fear engages.” Has that sense stayed with you, or have you been back long enough for it to have faded?
KH: Fear does engage. It dusts off the senses that have been buried—that we’ve had to turn off—in our cities, towns and on our billboard-lined highways. We can’t possibly be perceptive anymore—if we absorbed every sight, smell and sound in our ad-induced, white-noise culture, we’d be overwhelmed all the time. So we quickly learn to shut off our wild senses.
I’ve tried to retain that “sharp” frame of mind—call it “wildness” if you want—as much as possible since being back. I do it by making sure I have plenty of quiet time in places where I can just sit and absorb every detail around me. It’s usually somewhere in nature, anything from remote wilderness to an overgrown vacant lot in a city neighborhood. Anywhere you can watch butterflies drift in an afternoon breeze.
Bark: What’s the current status of Y2Y?
KH: The 180 conservation groups, scientists, professors and others that make up the Y2Y network have been busy over the past few years mapping the 1.5-million-square-mile region in three layers: terrestrial, aquatic and avian habitats (land, water and birds). Then they superimposed all three layers, and the areas that came out the “darkest” (where overlap was greatest) became the priorities for conservation for the next 5 years.
Tools such as private land conservation easements, highway crossing structures, road removal and public land designation as wildlife movement/conservation areas are now being employed to make this a reality. Piece by piece, the puzzle is getting put together. I only hope it happens soon enough. There are a lot of human activities that threaten to cut off many of the corridors, and those threats are only intensifying each day we continue down this crazy economic path, whose ideology mimics the cancer cell (infinite growth).
Bark: Y2Y is a very big and “out of the box” vision. Are you hopeful that vast and entrenched bureaucracies of all stripes can work together to do what needs to be done?
KH: One thing that I see time and time again is how inspired people get when they hear about Y2Y. Just think: we can choose to keep all the native mammals in this vast sweep of mountains that were here when Lewis and Clark made their legendary expedition across the US. How many places in the world have that kind of opportunity?
I think when people—no matter their position in a bureaucracy or government—realize that what we’re talking about is keeping what already exists and not restoring a massive area, they get comfortable with the idea. And when they realize it isn’t a huge national park proposal but, instead, a way for wildlife and human communities to coexist into the future, they warm up to it even more. Who doesn’t want wildlife?
The challenge is to embrace that four-letter word we humans love to shy away from: P-L-A-N. Without good planning, we’re going to lose every existing wildlife corridor. Death by a thousand cuts is how it will happen. A highway gets widened. A gas station gets built. A mill opens up and the loggers go into the woods in all directions. I’m not saying we can’t develop. What I’m saying is we need to develop with a roadmap of how we’re going to do it AND keep wildlife. Otherwise we won’t.
For the whole story, read Walking the Big Wild: From Yellowstone to the Yukon on the Grizzly Bear’s Trail by Karsten Heuer, published by The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA.
Originally published as “Incredible Journey.”
Extended Q&A with Geralyn Pezanoski, Director & Producer
Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. It not only displaced thousands of people, it also left thousands of dogs and cats homeless. Too many to be cared for locally, many of these companion animals were transported across the nation to be fostered—and often, adopted—by others. As time passed and their original guardians tried to reclaim them, the stage was set for emotional confrontations between the people who had been forced to leave their beloved pets behind and the people who had taken them in. Mine records some of these dramatic and often heart-wrenching stories.
Co-founder of Smush Media, Geralyn Pezanoski makes her feature directorial debut with Mine. In the midst of getting ready for the film’s January premiere, the woman behind the camera took time to talk to us about this important new documentary.
Bark: What inspired you to create Mine?
B: Tell us about Nola; did she play a part in your decision to make the film?
B: How did you deal with the emotions this subject evokes?
B: Which film moment do you feel speaks most to its theme?
B: What message would you like viewers to take away from your film?
Mine can be seen in selected theaters, or rented/purchased through iTunes. Find out more at mine-the-movie.blogspot.com and watch a video clip here.
Dog's Life: Humane
Finding fulfillment, saving lives
Attraction is often a mystery to the unaffected. Take Amy Weeden and her daughter Shelby. Earlier this year, they met and fell in love with an 11-year-old, one-eyed, blind and nearly deaf Chihuahua with a back end shriveled up from lack of use. Her name was Estella. She could barely stand, let alone go outside to potty. She had chronic renal failure. She ate little and only when fed by hand. She would not have lasted long in a shelter; she certainly would not have been easy to find a home for. The Weedens, however, were not deterred by Estella's condition. They had three other senior rescue dogs at home—a pair of graying Dachshunds named Otto and Kisses, and El Capitan, another Chihuahua roughly the same age as Estella—and knew what was possible with love and patient care.
It was a one-in-a-million match.
The Weedens had found Estella through a search on Petfinder.com and traveled 100 miles to meet the tan charmer in the Lafayette, Calif., living room of the Goldlist family. As part of a school community-service project, Jay and Maureen and daughters Ashley, Haley and Shayla were fostering Estella and Estella's seven-year-old son Pip for Muttville, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to senior dog rescue.
Unlike their Great Expectations namesakes, our Pip and Estella both found happiness. Nowadays, Estella takes regular two-mile strolls. She is playful and well nourished, and her kidney problem is under control. She snores at night. Pip, for his part, is now a permanent member of the Goldlist household. After he ran away from an adopter twice, presumably to find his way back to the Goldlists, the family decided resistance was futile. And they still foster; their current Muttville charge is another elderly Chihuahua, an amiable gentleman named Clyde.
This Dickensian happy ending would have been implausible if the people involved had subscribed to the prevailing notion about fostering: It is too painful. In this respect, fostering animals is a lot like mountain climbing. Everyone agrees it is a noble pursuit—just not something to consider doing oneself. Surely it takes extraordinary courage and strength of character? Yes, opening your home and your heart to a dog only to part with him again weeks or months later can be emotionally bruising. But the willingness of foster volunteers to love and let go brings about an awful lot of good. Without foster homes, Muttville and thousands of similar organizations could not function.
In fact, some in the rescue world see fostering as the way to a future where shelters are largely redundant. Eileen Bouressa is the executive director of Animal Compassion Network (ACN), an animal welfare organization in western North Carolina that has adopted out over 10,000 animals since its inception in 1997. ACN's rescue activities are built around a network of foster volunteers.
"Fostering keeps animals out of shelters where communicable diseases can be common, especially for stressed pets," Bouressa says. "And housing dogs in private homes makes for happy, well-adjusted animals who make an easier transition into an adoptive home than they would coming straight out of a facility."
ACN has two types of foster homes, Emergency Fosters and Public Partners. The first are ACN volunteers who take in animals pulled from shelters and other desperate situations (death of an owner, abuse) until a new home can be found. The Public Partner Program is for people who need to re-home their own pet or a stray they have rescued so they can avoid surrendering the dog to a shelter. ACN pays for spay/neuter, testing, vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, flea and heartworm prevention, and food and supplies, and offers help to find a new home.
"We have room for 70 dogs in the network," says Bouressa. "Of those, 20 are Emergency Fosters, the rest Public Partners. Though in a crisis situation, we remove the limits from our Emergency Foster Program. We took in 113 cats and dogs after Hurricane Katrina, and they all became Emergency Fosters in addition to the 40 already in the program."
ACN also runs a foster-to-adopt program. Some people, Bouressa explains, badly want a pet, yet find it hard to actually take the plunge. Others lose a beloved dog and feel they are betraying him or her by adopting again so soon. But when given the opportunity to temporarily foster the dog who has caught their eye, almost all jump at the chance. Frequently, the foster turns into an adoption.
Critics say foster-to-adopt programs turn dogs into returnable goods. Bouressa strongly disagrees. "It is a way to save more animals. Adopters get to know the dog and avoid the surprises that often lead to returns. If it isn't the right fit, we simply adopt the dog into another home and the foster-to-adopt volunteer can try another dog. Many continue to foster after they adopt because they see the difference they can make."
The program has also proven to be the answer when one family member wants to adopt and another family member is unsure. This is what happened with Amber and Katie Beane. They had a full house already, to be sure: two daughters (a teenager and a baby), four cats and two dogs. A third dog, Buddy, the youngest of the pack, had recently died. When the family stopped by Pet Harmony, ACN's store for rescued pets, to buy some supplies, bringing home another dog was not on Amber Beane's agenda.
"We saw this shy, sweet, Walker Coonhound mix, around six months old. And Katie said, 'We need another dog!' Amber laughs. "I just rolled my eyes. I thought it was the last thing we needed." But the dog, Miles, did strike her as too shy for his own good. So Amber consented to foster him long enough to give him a chance to come out of his shell, to become more adoptable. It worked. Within days, Miles was prancing around the Beane property as though he owned it, opening doors by himself, cozying up to the cats, and entertaining his dignified elders—13-year-old Samantha, a Border Collie mix, and 11-year-old Bella, a Springer Spaniel/Lab mix. A week into the foster, Amber could no longer remember why she had thought Miles ought to be someone else's dog.
Bouressa understands why people cite heartbreak as a reason not to foster. She has fostered more than 100 animals herself and knows firsthand the feeling that no one could ever provide for the pet as well as she could. "People become foster volunteers out of compassion for abused and abandoned animals. The same compassion, however, often derails the situation. For me, the only way to give up a pet is to meet and interview the adopters. Then—and this is what I urge everyone to do—I think about the next dog I can save. My role is to be a temporary safe haven."
It is this willingness to nurture, however briefly, that saves thousands of dogs like Estella, Pip and Miles—so that they can love and be loved for life. Animal rescue professionals dearly hope more people will embrace that outlook. After all, we do dogs a serious disservice if we love them so much we cannot bear to help save them.
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