Dog's Life: Humane
Wolfdog Woes
Sanctuaries are stressed and animals are in danger.

The direwolves who bound through HBO’s Game of Thrones sprang from the imagination of author George R. R. Martin, who wrote the bestselling books on which the popular program is based. (Real-world dire wolves —Canis dirus, or “fearsome dog”—became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene and are not considered to be the direct ancestor of any modern canine species.)

In early 2015, media sources began to blame Game of Thrones for nurturing wolfdog ownership. Apparently, people trying to replicate a fictional experience at home were seeking out dogs with wolf content. Too late, many of these people learned that caring for a wolfdog, as the type is called, is nothing like living with a domesticated dog.

A wolfdog is defi ned as the result of the mating of any domestic dog with one of the four wolf subspecies: gray, eastern timber, red, and Ethiopian; gray wolf is the most common. While many states, such as California, have banned fi rst-generation wolfdog ownership, others, such as Maine, allow it as long as the owner obtains proper wildlife permits. Regardless of its legality, many new owners are finding wolfdogs to be Allison Kern/Courtesy of Howling Woods Farm too much work and responsibility to handle. As a result, the number of wolfdogs being abandoned or forced into shelters and sanctuaries is on the rise.

Nicole Wilde, who holds Certified Professional Dog Trainer credentials, has been working with and caring for wolves and wolfdogs for nearly 20 years. Author of Living with Wolfdogs and several other helpful texts detailing dog ownership and training, Wilde says she understands the enthusiast’s attraction to these animals. “For some, it’s a pure love of wolves; they simply want to be close to these magnificent animals. For others, it’s the lure of owning something wild or exotic,” Wilde said.

Christie Guidry, manager of Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary in Montgomery, Texas, said she hesitates to believe that wolfdog adopters are simply seeking a family animal. “We find that the idea of having exotic wild animals as pets is usually about someone wanting to be able to claim that they have tamed the wild, or because a domestic dog is too mainstream for them. It is often about ego, status or because it’s cool,” said Guidry.

In reality, caring for a wolfdog often has little to do with building family relationships. Cindy Matthews of Virginia has owned wolfdogs for nearly 10 years and knows the toll this responsibility can take on a family. “My sons, who were raised with them, will never [have] a wolfdog when they get older, as they’ve seen how much hard work it is to care for one,” Matthews said. “These are not the type of animals that can be kept like an indoor dog.”

Unlike a domestic dog, a wolfdog cannot simply be taken to a kennel. Few kennels have the capacity to contain them, since they require eight-foot-high fences as well as dig guards along the base of their enclosures to prevent escape. And because they’re naturally wary of strangers, it’s unlikely that friends or neighbors would be able to look after the animal in the owner’s absence. “Don’t plan on taking any vacations,” said Matthews.

With the rise in popularity of wolfdog ownership comes the inevitable rise in abandonment and returns as those who buy them realize that they either cannot or do not want to provide the resources and attention the canines require.

While breeding facilities profit from mating and selling wolfdogs, sanctuaries suffer from a lack of resources, which prevents them from accepting the large number of hybrids who are surrendered. Most sanctuaries, which are usually operated as nonprofits, are almost entirely funded by private donations. Guidry works tirelessly to ensure care for all of the abandoned wolfdogs who come to Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary, but there is only so much space available.

“On average, we get about three requests a week to rescue wolves and wolfdogs from pet situations,” Guidry said. “Since wolves are born in the spring, we do not get as many requests that time of year. People keep them when they are cute, cuddly pups [but] as soon as they reach adulthood, they can no longer handle them.”

Michael Hodanish, president of the Howling Woods Farm sanctuary, has noticed the same upward trend at his facility, which is located in Jackson, N.J. He cites funding as the reason he cannot accept all the animals for whom he receives rescue requests, and says it’s the biggest challenge facing Howling Woods Farm today.

Hodanish, who is devoted to helping animals and owners get out of bad living situations, has had to go beyond relying on donations to find ways to fund his services. “I have a full-time job that pays for a significant amount of rescue costs,” he said.

Hodanish also remarked that an increase in breeding practices is the main reason for the increasing numbers of rescue requests. “We do not support wolfdog breeding [at Howling Woods Farm],” Hodanish said.

Wilde agreed. “Wolfdog rescue centers are perpetually full, and an unwanted wolfdog’s options are extremely limited.”

Howling Woods Farm attempts to rehome its rescued wolfdogs whenever possible, but the adoption application process is rigorous. Hodanish said the sanctuary hopes that more vigorous screening and stricter home requirements will help prevent the cycle of animals being surrendered to shelters.

“We have rehomed approximately 150 animals over the last 10 years. Some have taken over a year to place,” Hodanish said.

With rescue requests increasing and rehoming processes taking as long as they do, not every wolfdog will be given a second chance.

“Wolfdog rescues all over this country are full most of the time, so we see countless wolfdogs euthanized in shelters. Shelters will not adopt them out due to liability issues. It’s a heartbreaking problem,” Guidry said.

Besides taking in abandoned wolfdogs, sanctuaries also play a large role in providing education to the public. “We feel there are no benefits to ‘owning’ a wolfdog over a conventional dog breed,” Guidry said. “The most rewarding part of my job is educating the public on the challenges of exotic pet ownership.”

Sanctuaries often provide facility tours as well as off-site visits to schools and other organizations so that individuals can learn how wolves differ from domestic dogs.

“Wild wolves are the epitome of what it means to be wild and free. They have a right to live that life. The fact that people try to numb out their wild instincts by breeding dog into them just to make them pets is terribly sad,” Guidry said. Wilde said it is not the wolves, but rather, the owners who are the most challenging aspect in her role as an educator and trainer. “So many people have unrealistic expectations of what living with a wolfdog will be like …Wolf lovers would do well to support organizations that are helping wolves in the wild,” she said.

In providing information, sanctuaries hope to convince those who love wolves that the best way to respect and show dedication to these animals is to let them remain wild and decrease the number of wolfdogs being bred for profit. Only then can these animals live out the lives that they were meant to have, free from containment.

Dog's Life: Humane
Rescue Mission: Stopping The Brutal Dog Meat Trade
Saving Dogs Who Live in Darkness

In August 2015, social media shed light on the infamous Yulin Dog Meat festival, an annual celebration held in Yulin, Guangxi, China, during the summer solstice during which festival goers eat dog meat. The festival spans about 10 days, and it’s estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are abused—it is believed that adrenaline released in response to pain makes their meat more tender—killed and consumed.

After learning about this situation, I travelled to China to see if the things I had read and the images I saw on the Internet were real. I knew the dog meat trade in Asia was a long-held practice, but wasn’t aware that abuse and torture were key components. I felt like I had to do something to make a difference. I left my family, my business and my life here to try to help these dogs who live in darkness. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t speak the language.

I went to China to save as many dogs as I could. It wasn’t about changing the system. While I was there, people asked me what I had come for. I told them, to save dogs. I told them, to make whatever change I could with these hands. You cannot tell a country that does not have the same value system as we do to love dogs. The only way is to plant a seed.

In total, I’ve made four trips to Asia —to China, South Korea and North Vietnam—to save dogs from slaughterhouses; in total, I’ve rescued 249 dogs on these trips. I go undercover as a dog meat buyer, then work to expose the brutal practices embedded in this generational tradition of torturing and eating dogs. I secretly photograph and take videos, then post them on Instagram and Facebook, documenting my journey in real time.

I believe the key to stopping the brutal dog meat trade is awareness, that as people throughout the world become more aware of the abuse linked to dog meat, hearts will turn and laws will change. Because as people learn, and become conscious of what is really happening, a million united hearts become a movement. A million souls become a voice so strong that you can change laws, and pull from darkness lives that only know suffering.

Every rescue organization has its focus. At Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, we specialize in abuse. We save all the abused dogs we can, both locally and in Asia. We rehab them, and find them amazing homes. The transformation and the lives these abused souls go on to live … it’s amazingly beautiful.

News: Editors
Cesar Millan Crosses the Line
Prompting Investigation for Animal Cruelty

Our colleague, Mark Derr’s “Dog’s Best Friend” blog looks at an alarming program from Cesar 911 (National Geographic Wild). Seems as if the controversy surrounding Cesar Millan lives on, but this time his total disregard of how his misguided and irresponsible “beliefs” about animal behavior and dog training have resulted in other animals being harmed. It is truly unconscionable that National Geographic, that purports to be a family oriented network, would allow this animal abuse to happen and then to actually televise it. Trying to get a dog to be a “friend” to pet pigs by leashing them together and then the dog running amuck injuring the pigs certainly should not be considered to be suitable or entertaining programming. As for Millan, as dog lovers should be aware of by now, just about every animal behaviorist and veterinarians worldwide have denounced his methods and teachings. National Geographic needs to hear from us about this latest abusive behavior. There is a Change petition that is being circulated. 

LATEST NEWS: Cesar Millan is now being investigated for possible animal abuse on this matter. 

Here is Mark Derr's post:

[Note: The video clip of the Cesar 911 episode to which this posting refers appears to have been removed from public viewing on YouTube.  A partial clip and commentary can be found here(link is external).]

On March 7, staff writer Christian Cotroneo reported for The Dodo, the website devoted to “the love of animals” on Cesar Millan’s “worst dog-training idea, ever,”  that is, a particularly demented plan to reform a pig-killing French bulldog by giving him a “positivememory” with pigs upon which he can build a less lethal relationship with all other life forms.  Millan, the self-proclaimed dog whisperer who has attained cult status by showing hapless dog owners how to become “pack leaders” by giving their animals “discipline” before “affection,” has raised the hackles of serious animal behaviorists and dog trainers even before his program first aired on the National Geographic channel in 2003.  Since then he has become a one-man conglomerate, with spin-off television programs, a magazine, best-selling books, and a hugely successful website. 

But all along, he has had his critics, including me, as most readers of this blog know.  In 2006, I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times criticizing Millan’s approach to training and his antiquated view of dominance hierarchies.  Other critiques have followed, including a number of essays by my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff and protests from the leading animal behaviorists in the country. Criticism of Millan routinely draws vitriolic, sometimes threatening, responses from his followers.

The current controversy surrounding Milllan focuses on an episode from his new program Cesar 911, in which he addresses problem cases. The clip was posted on You Tube on February 25 and has raised a ruckus in social media said Cotroneo in his response to the show. (A noted above, the clips have largely been removed from public view.) In the episode, Millan puts a pig-killing French bulldog into a fenced training area stocked with pigs with the intent that he will learn not to attack but to love pigs.  While on a long line—an extended lead—held by Millan, the dog seems fine, but when his human companion unlooses him on Millan’s order, Simon turns demonic.  He rips one pig’s ear.  He escapes Millan’s desperate lunges—“I’ve got it,” the dog whisperer says at one point.  At another, as Millan tumbles to the ground gasping for air, he mutters, “This is teaching.”

But what is taught and what is learned?  Certainly the best learning outcome would be for National Geographic to take a stand for dogs, pigs, and other animals and remove Cesar Millan from the air until he reforms his act.

Used with permission of Mark Derr.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Raising Malachi the Wolfdog
Happy 1st Birthday!

Malachi just turned a year old. I didn’t want a hairy wild wolfdog, least of all a feral one. I’ve seen so many wolfdogs on my job as an Animal Control Officer. Wolfdogs that people run out and buy as puppies thinking it would be cool and then fast realize are way too strong, escape prone, destructive or whatever. Although I think he’s beautiful, and I love him, Malachi is not a dog I would have gone out and chosen even if he wasn’t feral, but sometimes we end up with the one who needs us most.

Born in what has been described as a wolfdog puppy mill, Malachi was born with some genetic wildness and then likely received little or no human contact for his first critical months of life. He was basically feral when he was purchased at 3 months of age by a person who was completely unprepared and unable to handle him. Within a few months he escaped from his home and ran wild in the rural countryside for some time. The owner moved away without ever being able to touch him again. I heard about him through our animal control department but was working a different area and he was too wild and too intelligent to be trapped or cornered.

We continued to get reports of Malachi running loose on busy roads and near livestock where he could be shot. Worried for his safety, I finally went on my day off and using every trick at my disposal and with the help of neighbors and my sweet flirty female dog, was able to capture him. I took him home with the idea that we would find a suitable wolfdog rescue or sanctuary for him. We found a fabulous wolfdog-experienced home to take him but he was returned within days and no rescues or sanctuaries had room for him. Of the 500 or so dogs and puppies we have fostered over the last 30 years, he’s the most challenging. He flees from any human approach and the slightest stress has him voiding his bladder and bowels.

We used targeting and positive reinforcement to help shape Malachi’s behavior while we continued to look for a place for him. Sadly there are many wolfdogs in need and very few rescues with the resources to handle them and we’ve been unable to find a home for him. Malachi has made progress in his months here but it is still impossible to walk up and touch him. He allows, and at times enjoys, some limited contact but it is strictly on his terms.

Our other dogs have been instrumental in helping Malachi learn the ropes. He watches them and imitates some of their behavior but he often acts like a wild animal and his fear of humans is still very strong in many situations. Overall he’s finally become happy and playful with us. He bounces into the house with the other dogs and is comfortable hanging out as long as we don’t initiate contact and with occasional exceptions he avoids human touch. We had him neutered, vaccinated, wormed, microchipped, heartworm tested and treated for fleas but even that involved extensive planning and sedation to ensure that all went smoothly.

We love Malachi and want him to be happy but we run a small non-profit rescue with the goal of rescuing and rehoming dogs in need. We fix them up and find them wonderful homes and that makes room for the next one. We have to be careful how much we take on, with time, space and finances being limiting factors. We do keep a small number of sanctuary animals here. Animals that due to age, health or temperament, are not considered adoptable and who can live out their lives here. Taking on a large, feral wolfdog who has the potential to live 10-15 years or more and cannot be handled like a normal dog is a huge commitment and expense and not to be taken lightly. But after much thought and discussion and with very few other options, we have decided Malachi will stay here with us. We continue to learn from each other and work hard to give him the best life we can.

Readers can follow his progress on Facebook at The Secret Life of Dog Catchers.

Happy Birthday Malachi. You’ve been given the one thing you need the most. A home. 

News: Editors
Shelter Hero: Lisa Prince Fishler
Capturing the Essence of Shelter Dogs in Pictures

Lisa Prince Fishler is an artist who has always connected deeply with animals. A professional photographer who lives in the Hudson Valley, N.Y., Lisa was inspired to volunteer her services by her rescue dog Iggy whom she calls her “soul dog.” Iggy introduced Lisa to the plight of medium and large shelter dogs, especially those labeled “Pit Bull,” who are sometimes overlooked or passed by due to tragic amounts of misinformation and mythology. 

One of the first organizations Lisa volunteered with was the Animal Farm Foundation, a group dedicated to securing equal opportunity for Pit Bull dogs in New York. Lisa was tasked with photographing dogs up for adoption—capturing their personalities, their individualism and endearing qualities in a single portrait. The challenge was to catch the eye (and heart) of potential adopters as they clicked through online galleries or caught sight of adoptable dogs in flyers or ads. Few shelters have the time, resources or talent pool to capture their animals to best effect.

It was through this work that Lisa discovered a clear way to combine her passions—animals, art and activism—to offer a solution. A natural collaborator, she wanted to cultivate a united community of artists who could shine a light on pets in need and be a voice for animals all over the world. Lisa soon discovered many people with the same passion, and thus, HeARTs Speak was born. 

Today, HeARTs Speak is home to nearly 600 professional artist members in 47 states and 19 countries, all providing their services pro bono to animal welfare organizations. In addition, HeARTs Speak is expanding the reach of its network to more shelters around the country via the Perfect Exposure Project, a comprehensive, 2-day photography and marketing workshop. The project equips shelter staff and volunteers with fresh marketing knowledge and creative inspiration, covering everything from photography techniques to bio writing and social media.

HeARTs Speak’s mission is to harness the power of creativity and collaboration in order to increase the number of animals saved through adoption. Lisa and her fellow artists are working hard to capture homeless animals in the best possible light and show the world the beauty, loyalty and unconditional love that exists in shelters across the globe.

For some tips on taking good shelter dog photographs, click here.


Dog's Life: Humane
Mutual Rescue™ — What a Concept
Initiative calls for inspiring stories

When it comes to supporting charities, many people believe there are “people causes” and there are “animal causes.” Of the $358 billion given to charities in the U.S. in 2014, less than 1% was given to animal-related causes. Mutual Rescue™ is an initiative to change the national conversation from “people OR animals” to “people AND animals.” When you connect millions of animals with millions of people, you help build a foundation that enriches entire communities across the country.

With this mission in mind, Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) is excited to announce a call for Mutual Rescue™ Stories, a national program celebrating the extraordinary transformation of animals and people through adoption and rescue. From February 14 through April 30, animal lovers across the country can help change the dialogue regarding animal welfare and philanthropy by sharing their Mutual Rescue™ stories—how they rescued their animal and how he or she rescued them in return. “Every day, we witness the transformative and profound impact of connecting an animal with a person,” says HSSV President Carol Novello.

Mutual Rescue™ aims to change the way people see animal welfare. By sharing stories about connecting a person with an animal, Mutual Rescue™ hopes to demonstrate that when you support your local animal shelter, you’re not just enhancing an animal’s life—you’re also transforming a person’s life as well. The stories shared by everyday people through Mutual Rescue™ are testaments to the incredible impact that an animal and a person have on each other, and that “rescuing” isn’t in just one direction

Visitors to www.mutualrescue.org are encouraged to submit a story in which they can become the subjects of short films produced by an award-winning agency. A celebrity panel of judges, like actor Maggie Lawson and Animal Care Specialist Jude McVay from The Tiger Frances Foundation, will select the best stories to be filmed. These films will be shared with the world during a Fall 2016 virtual event. Watch the heartfelt sample film, “Eric & Peety” at www.mutualrescue.org.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cream of the Crop: Shelter dogs frolic at the beach

Every week finds us out at the off leash beach with a group of friends and dogs. There might be as few as 4 or 5 dogs or as many as several dozen in our group. Almost all of them are formerly unwanted shelter dogs now living the lives they deserve as beloved and adored family members. On a recent beach day we passed a woman walking alone. She stopped to gaze at our joyful group playing in the surf and said to me, “My, what a lot of beautiful, well behaved dogs you have.” I thanked her and explained that I worked at a shelter and they were almost all former shelter dogs. She looked at them in surprise and said, “Well you sure picked the cream of the crop.”

I was taken aback for a moment. I glanced at beautiful Tyra, the Great Dane who came to the shelter as a scrawny, terrified stray. She had been frantic, trying to bite, and without even the faintest idea how to walk on a leash. I looked at dear old Pit Bull Patty, her chocolate brown coat glistening in the sun as she ambled happily in the sand and thought back to my first sight of her. She had been positively skeletal, nearly hairless and with tumors hanging from her enflamed, thickened skin. Sweet, adorable mixed breed Evie was wading nearby. She had been on a euthanasia list in an over-crowded shelter and arrived scared to death and reeking of filth. My gaze traveled from dog to dog as I thought of where they had come from. Formerly dirty, thin, unwanted, untrained, sick and more. For a moment I was a bit offended but I realized that the woman really didn’t know. I turned back to her and said, “Actually, I take the ones that need me the most, and I make them the cream of the crop.”

Of course it has taken some work to get these dogs where they are now. Some rescue dogs are super easy but I’m drawn to the ones that need some extra help. Bathing, grooming, veterinary care, a quality diet and lots of training and exercise has brought them to this point. But even a new puppy in perfect condition needs those things. All dogs are individuals and some dogs, due to genetics, lack of early socialization etc may not ever reach the point of fabulous health and being stable and off leash reliable.  But most dogs, given what they need to succeed, can become wonderful, happy companions. The rewards of bringing out the best in discarded dogs are endless.

Tell us how you brought out the best in your dog. 

Dog's Life: Humane
Shelter Play Groups
Enriching lives and reducing stress for dogs in shelters

Jimmy didn’t know it, but he had a death sentence hanging over his head. The barrel-chested, squat stray, ears cut to look fighting fierce, had failed a dog-to-dog temperament test at Rochester Animal Services, a city shelter with a high intake rate. But this sunny morning in upstate New York, Jimmy got a second chance. He was escorted to the shelter play yard, where about 20 dogs tore around, chasing and jumping on one another, taking breaks to cool off in a plastic kiddy pool.

Jimmy leaned over and licked the volunteer trying to fit a muzzle over his broad head. Then, the Pit Bull mix was released into a pen, where he was reunited with his sister.

Firefighters had found the pair roaming the city streets and brought them to the shelter. The siblings sniffed one another, tails a-blur. A volunteer released an unneutered male into the pen. Jimmy showed no signs of aggression. Muzzle removed, he stood calmly while the dog playfully jumped on his back. After romping in the larger yard with the rest of the dogs, Jimmy was deemed a sweet boy. A few days later, he was adopted.

“Many dogs in shelters are misdiagnosed as dog-aggressive,” says Aimee Sadler, founder of Dogs Playing for Life (DPFL), a program that uses playgroups to exercise, socialize, evaluate, train and save as many dogs as possible. “My number-one goal is to train dogs effectively, and then get them out of the shelter as quickly as possible,” says Sadler bluntly. “Dogs behaviorally deteriorate when they have been in a shelter too long.”

There is a reform movement underway to improve the quality of life for animals in shelters, and playgroups are pivotal to this effort, says Natalie DiGiacomo, shelter director of the Humane Society of the United States. “Play enriches dogs’ lives and reduces stress so their true personalities show,” she says.

Whether it’s an anxious giraffe in a zoo or a stressed-out dog or cat in a shelter, providing some type of enrichment is essential to the well-being of animals in captivity, says Vint Virga, DVM, author of The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human (Crown, 2013.) “The whole idea of Dogs Playing for Life is wonderful,” says Virga, who has worked with dogs and cats with behavioral issues and is currently a behavioral consultant to zoos and wild animal parks. “It gives dogs an opportunity to have more social interaction as well as to practice appropriate play behavior in a controlled setting.”

Dogs need both dog-dog play and dog-human play, observes Virga. The two serve different purposes. “If you try to make the enrichment one-onone with the keeper, you are not coming close to offering what dogs can offer one another. As much as we try, we still don’t understand the nuances of dogs’ cues, signals and behaviors, whether they are running, tumbling or dashing.” And while many dogs will happily fetch a Frisbee for us, dog-dog play is less object-focused, more rough and tumble, Virga says.

Sadler, too, has extensive experience working with domestic and wild animals, including a job monitoring the training of animal actors for the American Humane Association and training animals for television and music videos. Sadler says she has applied those 25-plus years spent interacting with dogs, horses, marine mammals and wild animals to developing Dogs Playing for Life.

Yet, Sadler didn’t set out to become a shelter playgroup guru. She was working as a private dog trainer when a client hired her to train dogs at the Southampton Animal Shelter in Hampton Bays, N.Y. She had three hours to work with 25 dogs.

“I thought, What is the most efficient way to help them get all their ya-yas out so they will be better prepared for their learning session?” Sadler recalls. She decided to first let them play together in the shelter yard. Not only was the training successful, but the dogs were quieter and calmer when they returned to the shelter.

Sadler moved to Longmont, Colo., in 2005 and continued running playgroups at a much larger shelter, the Longmont Humane Society. It wasn’t until she began receiving enthusiastic feedback from shelter staff that she fully realized the program’s potential. “People were inspired. That was invaluable in stimulating change. It allowed them to see for themselves, instead of [me] trying to convince them that what I was doing was correct.”

Sadler’s reputation grew, and she began speaking at major animal welfare conferences. She met shelter directors who were trying to reduce their euthanasia rates and hired DPFL to train their staff and volunteers to run playgroups. Many shelters that could not afford either Sadler’s services or the cost of a play yard received grants from Animal Farm Foundation in Bangall, N.Y., a nonprofit that has advocated for the humane treatment of Pit Bull-type dogs for nearly 30 years.

A typical Dogs Playing for Life training begins with a classroom presentation on the theory behind the play. Next, it’s out to the play yard for a hands-on training session. Runners bring the dogs from the kennel to the yard and, at the instruction of the DPFL lead handler, move dogs from one pen to another if the chemistry isn’t working.

Deciding which dogs will play well together is an art, not a science. “We make decisions based on their body language and how dogs already in the yard are reacting to them,” Sadler says. “I look for dogs to tell me a lot about each other. Any dogs who need smoothing out, we send away and then circle back to them.” Because many shelters receive new dogs every day, staff will muzzle a dog if there is a concern that the dog might behave aggressively in playgroup.

The two pillars of any effective playgroup, says Sadler, are a human group leader who is calm, confident and willing to be assertive with the dogs, and canine helpers who Sadler refers to as “rock stars,” dogs who are good communicators, confident and super friendly. They teach the fearful or aggressive ones how to play—how to pick up cues that other dogs are feeding them.

The group leader closely observes the play, while allowing dogs to be dogs —in other words, to work out minor squabbles for themselves. Mounting, bared teeth and raised hackles are all appropr iate ways for dogs to communicate, says Sadler. The leader should intervene only if there are clear signs of aggression. “You are looking to see if there are stimulus control issues preventing dogs from responding well to one another,” she explains. “You are watching how they respond to the other dogs’ social cues.” Should play turn ugly, the group leader is well prepared. He or she wears a handyman’s belt stocked with a filled spray bottle, a can of coins and an air horn, all devices to distract an errant dog.

Not all animal welfare professionals embrace this approach, but Sadler is steadfast that corrections are as necessary as positive reinforcement. “I think there is an irrational fear of the use of correction—that it will do damage to the animals. When I watch animals communicate, they are correcting one another all the time, effectively, without damage being done. We use reward for behaviors we want to happen more, aversion for things we want to happen less.”

Some shelter administrators are terrified there will be dog fights. Sadler straightforwardly addresses the issue: “If you do playgroup on a daily basis, you will have altercations. That’s part of working with animals.” She stresses that over a seven-year period at Longmont, injuries to dogs and people have been minimal. Once a shelter is holding daily playgroups, Sadler and her team can be hired back for more advanced training.

Mike Fry, executive director of Animal Ark Shelter, a no-kill shelter in Hastings, Minn., was ahead of the playgroup curve—his staff had been exercising small numbers of dogs in its play yard for years. But after hearing Sadler speak multiple times and watching her videos, he decided he needed to “think bigger.” For two years, Animal Ark has been running large playgroups, and the results have been dramatic, says Fry.

“Dogs who showed barrier aggression in the shelter, barking when people or dogs passed their cage, were not aggressive when playing in a natural environment. Dogs who are not well socialized to people learn by watching other dogs interact with people in the playgroup. Dogs learn better from other dogs.”

Playgroups also save money and limited manpower. Instead of one person walking one dog, you have a few people, often volunteers, exercising many dogs. “A dog going for a walk on a leash is very restrained,” Fry says. “Compare that to 12 dogs ripping, running, rolling around and doing circles over each other. You are using fewer resources and getting better results, which is what all nonprofits should strive to do.”

Playgroups have resulted in an increase in live release rates (adoptions and dogs taken into foster homes), a trend that benefits animal welfare overall, says Kristen Auerbach, director of communications and outreach of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Va. Thanks to its playgroup, which Sadler helped them start last year, Fairfax was able to move more dogs in a shorter space of time and had room to take in several hundred dogs from area shelters. Fairfax was also able to reduce its reliance on rescue groups by 50 percent, freeing up those rescues to pull dogs from other shelters.

Since the play yard opened, Auerbach says she looks forward to Saturdays, when the public is invited to visit. “When people go to the kennel, they feel sad. They’re trying not to cry,” she says. “When they go to the playgroup, they are laughing and excited. Many people go home with a new dog—dogs who maybe you wouldn’t have noticed in the kennel. They’re not beautiful, maybe they’re older, but they’re adopted based on personality, and that’s what we want.”

Dog's Life: Humane
Pinups for Pitbulls—Serious Dedication with a Retro Vibe
Founder Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin discusses her work with Bark’s Sophie Cox

Pinups for Pitbulls (PFPB), a nonprofit founded in 2005, works tirelessly to end the unnecessary killing of Pit Bull-type dogs and to educate people about Pit Bulls and the flaws of breed-specific legislation. Every year, PFPB also releases a stunning calendar that pairs women with darling Pit Bulls, a feel-good purchase that harks back to the first half of the 20th century, when these dogs were viewed as war heroes, and pin-ups were all the rage. In October 2014, PFPB will publish its first book, Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls, followed by the nonprofit’s 10th anniversary calendar in 2015.

Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin is PFPB’s founder, but she’s more than just a dog lover: she’s an educator, hero and a determined voice for Pit Bulls everywhere. Bark had the pleasure of interviewing Deirdre to discuss PFPB’s work, the upcoming book and misconceptions regarding Pit Bull-type dogs.

Bark: Who are the dogs in your life?

Deirdre Franklin: My first Pit Bull-type was Carla Lou. I adopted her when she was one and had her until she was 18; she passed away in August 2012. She was the true inspiration for Pinups for Pitbulls—we often use the hashtag #itsallforyoucarlalou.

I lost my second of four dogs, Lexi Doodle, this past year to hemangiosarcoma. She lived to be 14 and was a Lab/Shepherd mix.

I currently have Zoe, a 14-year-old Harrier mix, and Baxter Bean, a Pit Bull-type from a dog rescue in New Jersey. He was my foster failure when he was five months old. His back is covered in scars from a chemical burn or having been set on fire. He latched onto my heart, and I couldn’t let him be rehomed; now he’s about nine. He is on the cover of our 2015 calendar and on the cover of the book, covered in kisses.

B: What sparked your interest in Pit Bulls?

DF: In the mid ’90s, I fell in love with a shelter dog who happened to be a Pit Bull-type, only to find out that I could not adopt her because she was a Pit Bull and was therefore sentenced to die. Despite the efforts I [made] to save her, the shelter denied my interest in her and told me it was simply policy. I did everything I could to save this dog, but unfortunately, they euthanized her. I worked with Chako, a Pit Bull rescue, to try to pull her and they offered to give me a chance. I adopted Carla Lou through Chako’s director, Dawn Capp, and the rest is history.

B: What sort of work does PFPB do?

DF: We step out of our comfort zone by displaying at comic and tattoo conventions. I also speak regularly at Amazing Pet Expos about breed-specific legislation and dog bites, reaching the unconverted and the ignorant in these audiences. It’s an honor to speak on behalf of dogs.

I also interview children who [express interest in] being Pinups in Training (P.I.T.), a term our volunteer Nancy coined. Many of these children are already passionate voices for the dogs, and want to share their love by training to be better advocates. (I started out as a child advocate 25 years ago, and I haven’t stopped.) We encourage these kids to educate their peers through their own lens.

B: Does PFPB collaborate with other dog rescue organizations?

DF: We promote any rescue that requests our assistance through our social media pages, especially Facebook, where we have over 340,000 followers. Many advocates trust our page as a resource because they know we always fact-check and use science-based information to promote dogs, rather than just emotional appeals. On average, we’ve gotten 40 or more dogs adopted per month by cross-promoting them on our page. This [statistic] is based on the people who take the time to update us on successful outcomes. We are confident that the number is even higher.

B: How is the calendar put together?

DF: It’s a six-month process. We begin by hosting an annual model call, though we look for any woman who cares about ending breed-specific legislation and advocating for dogs. We select our calendar girls through an in-depth voting process (this includes 10 judges, [women] who have been in our calendar in the past and have a strong sense of what we look for), then contact each girl to let her know we’d like to feature her. We set up shoot dates, and all of the models travel to Philadelphia to Celeste Giuliano Photography. We do everything once they arrive—hair, make up and so forth—and Unique Vintage, our clothing sponsor, provides costuming. After the shoot, we lean on these gals to help promote our cause and calendar through their own social networks.

B: What will readers find in Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls?

DF: We broke the book into sections. One of my favorites is “Hero Dogs”—we feature many amazing dogs like Hector (former Vick dog), Wallace (Flying Disc champion), Handsome Dan, Oogy and many therapy dogs as well. It’s a great section of the book because it showcases the various ways these dogs are making a difference in their communities.

Another section tells Carla Lou’s story and why PFPB exists today, while another gives educational resources for being a better advocate. There are also plenty of pages of gorgeous photos from our calendar shoots.

B: What inspired you to use pin-ups for your cause, other than the great alliteration? What’s significant about the retro aesthetic?

DF: During the first half of the 20th century, American Pit Bull Terriers were considered war heroes, and graced the cover of Life magazine; they were symbols of loyalty and tenacity. The pin-up style grew out of the same period (WWI and WWII). It made perfect sense to me to marry these two in a classy and eye-catching manner. Also, I was doing a lot of pin-up and alternative modeling before I started PFPB, and garnered an audience fairly quickly through the aesthetic of being a modern pin-up girl. We make sure our calendar is office-friendly and PG-13.

We love showing these dogs not only as the individuals they are, but also as the often goofy and fun characters we know them to be. When we host tables at the various events we attend, people are drawn in by either the pin-up or the dog aspect of our booth; many will walk up saying, “You’ve managed to pair my two favorite things—pin-ups and Pit Bulls!” We love that.

We are here to break down stereotypes, and we do so in a fact-based, non-emotional and well-educated voice. Being a pin-up girl is a bonus, but it is the smallest part of our approach. It just gets the most attention so that we can educate on behalf of dogs. We advocate for all dogs, not just Pit Bull-types.

B: How would you characterize the media’s portrayal of Pit Bulls?

DF: I can honestly say that, after starting PFPB in 2005 and looking back from where I stand now, we have come a long way, and so has the media. There is a lot more balance overall in the portrayal of these dogs, and in the reporting. There are still many ignorant reporters, and many who prefer to sensationalize, but there is a healthier balance of well-informed journalists who present the full story.

I finished my graduate degree in public policy and wrote my thesis on breed-specific legislation, and whether or not it keeps people safe. The answer is no, but in doing my research, I found about 18,000 news articles that said yes and not a single peer-reviewed study that could prove it worked.

The reason is, all dogs have teeth and we are responsible for their behavior. The only dogs making headlines are those who have been abused, neglected and/or chained. It’s the same story time and time again. We can do better on behalf of dogs, and PFPB will not quit until that day comes. Pit Bulls are just dogs, like any other breed of dog, and they are individuals before anything else—they need love, shelter, food and water.

B: What can Bark’s readers do to help remedy the misconceptions surrounding Pit Bulls? Are there ways for them to get involved with PFPB in their own communities?

DF: Start by thinking of Pit Bulls as individuals. They are special in that we love them as members of our families, but they are otherwise simply dogs and are not inherently different. We need people to understand that they are not an “other.” They want what your dog wants. Some are scared, some might require some extra help, but that is true of any dog. They rely on us. We also promote the use of non-force-based training— such as positive-reinforcement methods. We want dogs to feel safe so they can be their best selves.

We have an open-door policy for volunteers—we cannot finish this without them! Remember, we do more than make a calendar each year. We are on the road almost every week throughout the year and need advocates everywhere. Our calendar work is important, but our daily street-team volunteers and advocates hosting booths are doing the bulk of our work.

To get involved or to learn more, visit pinupsforpitbulls.org. 

Dog's Life: Humane
Do Wolfdogs Make Good Pets?

For centuries, wolves — incredibly charismatic, highly social and extremely intelligent — have held a special place in our consciousness, starring in as many nightmares as they have in paintings and pop songs. With their bigger brains, stronger muscles, and teeth and jaws many times more powerful than any dog’s, they’re also quite dangerous, capable of killing an elk, a moose, even a bison.

It’s both understandable and surprising that people want to take a bit of that wildness home in the shape of a wolf/dog mix — or “wolfdog” — which some consider to represent the best of both worlds: a dog’s friendly companionship paired with a wolf’s good looks and untamed nature. Buy a wolfdog, the thinking goes, and live out your Jack London fantasies, even if you’re in Akron rather than Anchorage.

As with many things, reality is not so simple. Wolfdogs are perhaps the most misunderstood — and, many would argue, mismanaged — animals in America. Advocates say they can be wonderful pets, while opponents argue that they’re unpredictable, untrainable and inherently dangerous. They’re permitted in some places, forbidden in others and are showing up on breedban lists, along with Pits and other so-called “dangerous breeds.”

What’s more, there’s no approved rabies vaccination for wolfdogs. While the federal government officially sees them as domestic pets (and leaves their regulation to individual states and municipalities), they’re treated as wild animals when it comes to rabies. Thus, the wolfdog who bites a person can be considered a rabies risk — even if he’s been vaccinated — because the USDA, which regulates veterinary medicines, does not extend approval for use of the standard rabies vaccine with “hybrids” (the vaccine is approved for use in dogs, cats, ferrets and horses). Euthanasia is necessary, the USDA says, because the only reliable test for rabies requires an examination of the animal’s brain.

Wolfdog owners are encouraged to vaccinate their animals, but to do so, they have to make a tough choice: lie to their veterinarian about the animal’s lineage or sign a waiver stating that they understand that the vaccine is being used “off-label” on a hybrid animal and thus cannot be relied upon to deliver full protection against rabies, and that their animal can be impounded and put down if it bites someone — a high-stakes gamble, and one for which the wolfdog could pay with his life.

When it comes to their legal status, the regulations are literally all over the map. At the time of this article’s publication, it’s illegal to keep one as a pet in Alaska, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota and Rhode Island. However, in some of these states — Alaska, Michigan and North Dakota — a wolfdog can be “grandfathered” in. Other states — Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Utah — don’t regulate ownership on a state level, instead leaving it up to individual counties. Among the states that allow wolfdogs, many require the owner to obtain a permit, or mandate registration and/or confinement in specific kinds of cages. In some states (New York, for example), that means getting a “dangerous animal” permit — the same type needed to keep a lion.

And, legal or not, wolfdogs pose significant behavioral challenges for owners, many of whom are unable or unwilling to meet them, thus creating a large population of unwanted animals who wind up chained in backyards, abandoned or euthanized.

“These are beautiful animals, and a lot of people are attracted to something that’s exotic and different,” says Nicole Wilde, a wolfdog expert and author of Wolfdogs: A–Z. “They want to own a piece of the wild, and they often say that the wolf is their spiritual sign or totem animal. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that it’s not really the same thing as having a wolf in their living room.”

Like Pit Bulls and pornography, wolfdogs can be tough to identify, regardless of laws passed to limit them. Several years ago, the USDA released a report estimating that there were about 300,000 wolfdogs in the US; how they came to this metric is unclear, as the numbers are impossible to nail down. Some people deny their pets’ heritage, while others claim their 100 percent dogs are part wolf. In fact, experts say that the vast majority of animals sold (or bragged about) as wolfdogs actually possess very low wolf content, or none at all.

Part of the problem is that there’s no clear definition of what a wolfdog is, says Nancy Brown, director of Full Moon Farm, a wolfdog rescue and sanctuary in Black Mountain, N.C. Most experts use the term to describe an animal with a pure wolf in its family, no more than four or five generations back. But there’s no way of proving any animal’s pedigree, as there is no breed registry (and no such thing as “papers” for a wolf or wolfdog, no matter what those who breed them contend). Genetic testing is theoretically possible but, as it is reserved for wildlife management and law-enforcement agencies, is essentially unavailable to individuals. Phenotyping — having an expert evaluate an animal’s physical and behavioral characteristics — remains the most accessible way to identify a wolfdog. Unfortunately, few are trained in phenotyping wolfdogs and, as a result, many dogs are erroneously labeled.

Even if you could draw its family tree, there’s no way to predict an animal’s “wolfiness,” says Stephen L. Zawistowski, PhD, executive vice president and science advisor for the ASPCA. “I’ve seen ads for animals that are ‘98 percent pure wolf,’ but these are bogus numbers,” he says. “These claims are based on the misguided belief that genes blend like food coloring: if you take half red and half blue, you get a nice, even purple.” In reality, he says, genes “blend” more like marbles. Say you have a dog, represented by 20 red marbles, and a wolf, represented by 20 blue ones. If you breed the two, you’ll get 10 marbles from each parent, so you’ll have half of each color; this is an F1 (Filial 1, or first filial generation) cross. But in subsequent generations, you’ll get a random assortment of red and blue from each parent. So the individual offspring of two F1, 50/50 wolfdogs (an F2 cross, a generation removed from full wolf) could have anywhere from three-quarters wolf genes and one-quarter dog genes to three-quarters dog and one-quarter wolf — yet all will be considered one-half wolf. Thus, he says, you can see enormous variations among wolfdogs, even those who come from the same litter.

Knowing an individual animal’s filial number — the number of generations it is removed from a pure wolf — is probably the best way to speculate about its future behavior and potential problems, says Kim Miles, vice president of the Florida Lupine Association, a wolfdog advocacy group. “Wolfdogs aren’t easily pegged because they’re essentially a combination of wild and domesticated animals.” According to Miles, the biggest difference between a wild and a domestic animal is its tractability, or the ease with which it can be managed or controlled. “A dog is like a 12-year-old child, and a wolf is like a 35-year-old man. The dog will generally do what you want it to, but the wolf will do what you want only if he wants to do it himself.”

Experts agree that the vast majority of wolfdog breeders are selling dogs with little or no wolf content, despite the fact that the animals fetch as much as $2,500 apiece. Moreover, the majority of “wolfdogs” being kept as pets — and being surrendered to shelters and sanctuaries — are all dog, too. “I’d say about 70 percent of the so-called ‘wolfdogs’ out there are not wolfdogs at all,” notes Ken Collings, director of Wolfdog Rescue Resources, Inc., a national rescue organization headquartered in Stafford, Va. “Individuals take Malamutes, Shepherds and other dogs and cross-breed them until they get an animal who looks like a wolf. And because most people [who want a wolfdog] are uneducated [about them] and have no idea what they’re looking at, they buy it.”

Unfortunately, people who like the idea of owning a fearsome predator as well as those with a misguided nature fetish often don’t understand what they’re getting into. In many cases, a person will think he has had experience with wolfdogs in the past — maybe he had or knew an animal who he thought was a hybrid but was, in fact, all dog — and decides to get a wolfdog puppy. “Only this time, he gets the real thing,” Collings says. “And by the time the pup is five or six months old, [she’s] eaten the couch or clawed [her] way through the drywall.”

Of course, not all wolfdogs behave the same way, and there’s probably more variety in behavior among wolfdogs than any other kind of dog. “You have to remember that a wolfdog is not a wolfdog is not a wolfdog,” says Brown. “There’s no such thing as ‘typical.’”

“A high-content animal is probably going to act a lot more ‘wolfie’ than a low-content animal,” adds Wilde. “With a high-content wolfdog, you might start out with the puppy in the house and then, as he hits adolescence, you’ll be building an enclosure outside. You’ll have to.” It’s for just these reasons that many experts, including Wilde, discourage people from breeding wolfdogs, or buying wolfdog pups from breeders.

“The average dog owner won’t deal with their Beagle, and can’t handle an ordinary dog’s behavior problems,” says Wilde, who rescued a wolf and two wolfdogs several years ago. She can personally attest to the challenges of keeping these beautiful canines. “I worked with them to the point that I could look between their paw pads and look at their teeth — and give them tummy rubs — but I never forgot what they really were.”

Editors’ Note: In our opinion, despite their undeniable beauty and appeal, deliberately breeding or purchasing wolfdogs as companion animals does a disservice to both Canis lupus and Canis lupus familiaris as well as to the individual animal. If you love wolves, honor their ancient connection with our domestic dogs by joining the effort to preserve their habitat and maintain their status as a federally protected species. HSUS and the Defenders of Wildlife are just two of many groups working on their behalf.