Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping vulnerable people feed their dogs
Low income means tough choices. Should I buy medications or heat my home? Do I pay my rent or buy shoes? Who gets to eat—me or my pets?
It’s this last question that inspired volunteers with Meals on Wheels to add pet food to deliveries for seniors and disabled individuals who are at risk of hunger. People who were taking food to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities noticed that many of them were doing without the food they desperately need in order to make sure their pets had something to eat.
As dog lovers, this is no surprise to most of us. Many of us have a “my dog eats before I do” mentality in the event of economic stress, but not all of us have had to act on it. Once volunteers became aware of this new threat to adequate nutrition for the people they serve, they became enthusiastic partners with a program called AniMeals on Wheels.
This program allows volunteers to deliver pet food along with the meals they bring to human clients. It relies on donations and volunteers for all pet food and deliveries and involves collaborations with a number of pet programs in multiple states. Despite the popularity of the program and the huge amount of food donated, the need is even bigger. They are never in a position where they don’t need more donations of pet food.
AniMeals on Wheels is one of many programs nationwide that seek to address the problem of hunger in both people and dogs. It’s important to understand that until there is enough food for their pets, the problem of hunger in low-income seniors and the disabled will not be solvable.
A wonderful pictorial story of a very unique animal rescue—amazing how the dogs took to this little baby squirrel.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The world said good-bye to one of Michael Vicks former fighting dogs this week as she succumbed to age related illness. Georgia became quite a celebrity after her rescue and left her mark on all who knew her. While I never had the opportunity to meet her, I’ve been told that Georgia was delightful and unforgettable.
I have to confess that when I first heard that some rescue groups were going to see if any of Michael Vicks fighting dogs could be saved, I disagreed. It didn’t make sense to me try and save dogs who had been bred and trained specifically for fighting when friendly, healthy dogs who had never been trained to fight were being euthanized all over the country every day. I love the breed, and was broken hearted by what they had been through, but I still thought it safest to let them go.
In the years since that terrible event, I have had the good fortune of meeting several of Vicks former dogs and I fell completely in love. The dogs I met were affectionate, happy, typical dogs who loved people and wanted to play with other dogs. Saving the Vick dogs ended up being a fabulous choice on so many levels. It is a reminder that all dogs deserve to be judged on their own merits, not by breed or history. It also brought a great deal of attention to all canine victims of dog fighting and gave some wonderful animals the love and happiness all dogs deserve.
Georgia was heavily scarred from fighting and was one of those who could not live with other dogs but she had a vast number of human friends who adored her. Georgia and the other Vick dogs were originally rescued by the amazing BAD RAP (Bay Area Dog-lovers Responsible About Pit-Bulls) rescue group. They traveled across the country hoping that a small number of the dogs could be saved. Instead they found that very few of the dogs were aggressive and many even enjoyed other dogs. BAD RAP evaluated the dogs, helped care for them and facilitated their eventual rescue and placement.
Some of the dogs that were unable to be adopted at that time were sent to foster homes and sanctuaries. Georgia went to Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, where she received much needed attention and training. She eventually passed her Canine Good Citizen test and was adopted into a loving home.
Georgia spent the last two years of her life as the beloved companion all dogs should be. When I think of Georgia, I try to remember one of the best lessons of dogs, which is to live in the moment. Georgia didn’t dwell on the past but lived joyfully in the moment. She was described as exuberant, confident and full of life.
Sweet Dreams Georgia and a huge thank you to all who helped her and the other Vick dogs get a second chance.
News: Guest Posts
A Missoula man is living my worst nightmare. My heart goes out to him.
On Sunday, November 17th, Layne Spence took his three family members – Malamutes Rex, Frank and Little Dave – out into the forest near Lolo Pass in Missoula County for some recreation. They drove to a campground that is closed for the winter. Spence was x/c skiing while his dogs did what Malamutes love to do – trot up the road just ahead of him, enjoying the snow. Because it’s hunting season, Spence’s dogs each wore a special collar with lights.
Suddenly, without warning, their peaceful winter outing was destroyed by the sound of gunfire—as reported in the local paper—two quick, muffled shots. Horrified, Spence watched Little Dave’s rear leg explode just yards ahead of him on the road. Yelling “Stop! Stop!” to alert the shooter, Spence stood helplessly on his skis as the camo-wearing hunter quickly fired four more times at Little Dave, with at least one bullet piercing the dog’s neck, killing him. The hunter then came down out of the trees, saying he thought Little Dave was a wolf and asked if he could do anything. Spence did exactly what I would have done—screamed at the guy to leave.
In 2005, my Malamutes Maia and Meadow and I moved to the West Central Mountains of Idaho, a rural ranching and logging area adjacent to the Payette National Forest, just outside the tourist town of McCall. Wild wolves had recently been reintroduced and were gaining a toe hold in the State, over the vocal objections of many Idahoans, including most hunters and ranchers. I had been living in the Seattle area, where strangers were always interested in meeting my girls, rarely showed fear and never thought they were wolves. In Idaho, I discovered the opposite was true: most locals assumed they were wolves, were immediately afraid of them, and only with reassurance from me that they were dogs— very friendly dogs—would they come closer to meet them. One of my new neighbor, a rancher who—like so many there—bought grazing allotments from the forest service and grazed his cattle in the Payette every summer, letting them roam freely, making them possible targets for wolves—assured me that no one would mistake my girls for a wolf, that wolves have longer legs, don’t hold their tails curled up on their backs, etc. I wanted to believe him, but…I couldn’t, based on the fearful reactions the girls kept eliciting. A couple years later, as I was walking my girls on leash up a country lane, this same neighbor stopped his truck beside us. Without preamble, he pointed at Maia, the one who looked most wolf-like, and said, “I shot a wolf that got into my cattle yesterday. It looked just like that one.” He then drove away. I felt threatened and didn’t sleep easy for weeks.
During my time in Idaho—2005 through 2008—wolves were still protected as an endangered species and it was illegal to hunt them, although they could legally be shot if they “worried” livestock or threatened a pet. Despite those protections, I quickly learned that most locals would shoot any wolf they happened to see in the forest, any time of year, the Feds be damned. They bragged about it, or wanting to do it. So I made sure, any time I took my girls hiking or trail running in the forest, they stayed very close to me. During hunting season, I covered them in orange and even then—because I feared they would still be mistaken for wolves—I took them trail running in the only two nearby places where hunting was always illegal, a State park and a ski resort. I referred to their orange vests as “Do Not Hunt Me” vests. In fact, my fear was so great, I embellished the first vests I found (ironically sold by gun manufacturer Winchester to be worn by bird hunting dogs) by adding several lengths of orange flagging tape to their collars. The vests had nothing covering their chests so that head on, my girls could still be mistaken for wolves. Eventually I found bright orange vests made by VizVest that covered virtually their entire chest, backs and sides. I relaxed only slightly.
By 2008, it became clear wolves would lose federal protection and hunting them would be legalized in Idaho. Despite my love of the breed and having at least one Malamute in my life since 1985, I vowed that if I continued to live in Idaho I would not get another because the stress of worrying they’d be shot was too great. When I did add another dog to my family in 2008, I got an Aussie—a ranch breed no hunter would mistake for a wolf.
Trying to understand everyone’s perspective, I asked lots of questions—of locals, hunters, fish and game experts. Here’s my opinion, based on those conversations and living with the issue in a far-too-intimate way: Hunters out to kill wolves do so based on myth and fear. Their motivation is far different than the typical game hunter. Wolf hunters aren’t hunting for food, or even a trophy (although there are some really sad people out there who consider wolves a trophy animal and pose proudly next to one they’ve killed). An ethical elk or deer hunter will aim carefully to take the game with one shot; they don’t want the animal to suffer, nor do they want to follow a wounded animal over rough terrain to finally kill it. Many give thanks to the animal for the food it will provide. But a wolf hunter? They want wolves to suffer, they want to exterminate the species all over again. Wolf hunters seem motivated by an intense, almost irrational hatred borne of fear, believing wolf actively seek to kill humans. When I was building my house in Idaho, a concrete contractor told me with a straight face that the wolves the Feds were forcing on Idaho would come down onto school playgrounds and snatch children. (When I asked my 80-something father, who as a Kansas farm boy grew up hunting, why people were so afraid of wolves, he replied with his usual insight, “I guess they still believe in fairy tales.”) Add to that fear a strong anger based on the misguided belief that wolves are decimating elk populations, making it harder for hunters to find them. (This hunter complaint is common, despite research in Yellowstone showing that reintroducing wolves improves overall herd health, and reduced elk populations allow aspen trees decimated by the elk to thrive once again, returning the entire ecosystem to balance.)
Mix misinformation (myth), fear and anger and you have a combustible combination leading to rash, irresponsible shootings like the one that killed Little Dave.
I moved back to western Washington in early 2009. By then, wolves were delisted and states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were eagerly issuing hunting tags for them or planning to do so. Idaho’s governor boasted he wanted the first tag. The blood lust for wolves was palpable, and for me, sickening. Locals complained how the wolves didn’t belong in Idaho, saying they weren’t even “native” which totally ignored their extermination decades earlier. Rumors spreading around town of the evils perpetrated by wolves grew to fantastic proportions. As one sympathetic dog-loving friend said to me, “It’s like religion. They believe what they want to believe and can’t be persuaded they might be wrong.” It was clear to me that tragedies like that suffered by Little Dave and Layne Spence were waiting to happen in any state allowing wolf hunting.
Even more tragic for Mr. Spence? There’s nothing the State of Montana—the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department nor local Missoula County law enforcement—can or will do. Apparently the shooter had a tag for wolf hunting, the season in Montana for wolves in all winter long (September 15 – March 15), and the killing occurred in an area where hunting was legal. (If Montana is like Idaho, legal hunting territory is pretty much everywhere outside city limits.)
However, Mr. Spence may have a civil cause of action against the hunter for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional trauma—seeing his beloved pet shot and killed on a public road—depending on Montana’s statutory and common law. I hope he finds an animal law attorney and pursues it, because these sorts of cases, whether won or lost in the early rounds, can slowly change laws and people’s perceptions of what’s okay and what isn’t. When the pets we take onto public lands with us are afforded the same protections from harm that we are, others will be more careful. There are better, safer ways to “manage” wolf populations than issuing cheap hunting tags to people whose hatred and fear turns them into vigilante exterminators, overcoming their ability to hunt safely.
Read the original article in The Missoulian on November 19th, which has since posted several follow-up articles.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I've always been fascinated by watching dog friends together. They play, they cuddle, even lick each other. Many dogs are very bonded with their fellow canine housemates but its funny how sometimes dogs have a special friend who doesn't live with them. I love to see how dogs will find a friend at a dog park or other social gathering and pair up, just as people connect with certain other people. Once they've connected, when they see that dog again, they rush toward each other joyously and spend all their time together until they must part.
My own dogs enjoy each other very much although any of them will gladly ditch the others for a day out with me. They do sometimes find another dog who fascinates them for whatever reason. I once had a large spayed female Borzoi who was rather reserved with most new dogs but small intact male dogs were her thing. Let some little un-neutered Chihuahua come along and she was head over heels, acting flirtations and comically silly. My current dogs love to meet and greet other dogs at the off-leash beach. Occasionally one of them really hits it off with another dog for no rhyme or reason but it's always fun to watch.
I recently had the joy of watching two young dogs meet each other for the first time and make that instant connection. One dog was Lily, a one year old, Pointer/Lab mix who I had fostered since birth and who was adopted but back for a short visit with me. The other was Spur, a friend's five month old Cattledog pup. They were in a group of other dogs of all ages and sizes but the two youngsters bonded immediately. My friend and I must have sat for a good hour watching them wrestle, run together and thoroughly enjoy themselves. They paid very little attention to the other dogs and spent the entire time in close physical contact. I don't think they ever got more than a few feet apart and their play was spontaneous and joyful. There was no posturing for dominance, no competition or concern for who was in charge, just dogs having fun with each other. It was a delight to witness.
Does your dog have a special canine friend?
Dog's Life: Humane
Don't judge a dog by his color
Editor’s note: Best Friends Animal Society is kicking off their annual Back in Black 2013 campaign dedicated to finding great homes for black dogs and cats. It’s a reminder that a stigma can follow adoptable animals who are black, as they often wait longer to find their forever homes. Special adoption events will be hosted throughout the month by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, our Los Angeles and Salt Lake City adoption centers, and participating No More Homeless Pets Network partners around the country. To learn more visit bestfriends.org.
When Tamara Delaney of Woodville, Wis., volunteered to find a home for a black Labrador Retriever named Jake last year, she had no idea what she was up against. Jake, cared for by a rescue group, had already waited nearly three years for a new home. And he would wait eight more months as Delaney tried to find someone to take in the big Lab.
It didn’t matter much that Jake was a sociable dog and in perfect health. Jake’s problem wasn’t his temperament—it was the color of his coat. Jake bore the stigma of the “BBD,” an acronym used to refer to big black dogs, who are frequently passed over for flashier, prettier dogs and wind up, like Jake, waiting for years to be adopted.
“Nobody wants a black-coated dog,” rescue workers told Delaney as she tried without success to find a home for Jake. And when Delaney turned to the Internet, she found that shelters across the country were overflowing with black-coated mutts.
“Please don’t overlook our black dogs,” rescue groups pleaded on their home pages above pictures of Rottweilers, Chows and Labs sporting bright bandanas. One shelter’s website just came right out with the grim truth: “The general public is not aware of how doomed black dogs are when they are brought to a pound.”
The more Delaney learned about the numbers of black dogs in shelters, the more determined she grew to make a difference—one black dog at a time. She started by adopting Jake, the overlooked Lab. But Jake would not be the only black dog in Delaney’s life.
Her newly acquired insight into the plight of the BBD inspired her to create a website devoted to them. Last November, Delaney launched www.blackpearldogs.com and named her new site “Contrary to Ordinary: The Black Pearls of the Dog World.” Since its inception, the Black Pearl Dogs website has been visited by more than 7,500 people.
“I’m starting to become a middle-person between shelters and rescues, to get their black dogs off death row,” says Delaney, whose inbox fills with email from shelters and rescue groups asking her to post pictures on her website of black dogs who were passed up on the way to the Golden Retrievers.
When Amy Chase read about Delaney’s Black Pearl site on an Internet message board this spring, she had a big black dog of her own to worry about. Five months earlier, animal control officers had dropped off Mickie, a Newfoundland mix, at the Ohio County Animal Shelter in Rising Sun, Ind., where Chase works. Looking for ways to make Mickie more interesting to those who visited the shelter, Chase highlighted his Newfie heritage, but nothing seemed to work.
To potential adoptors, “He was just another big, black, hairy dog,” recalls Chase. Mickie was scheduled for euthanasia in May, so Chase contacted Delaney, who in turn posted Mickie’s picture on the Black Pearl website. She also cross-posted it on other adoption sites, including Jen Wold’s Gemini Rottweiler and Pit Bull Rescue, where Delaney had found Jake. Before long, Mickie was no longer just another black dog, but the focus of three optimistic women and their commitment to finding him a home.
Most black dogs have to rely on shelter staff and volunteers to steer potential adoptors their way. And indeed, many shelters take extra steps to make black dogs more adoptable, according to Kate Pullen, director of animal sheltering issues at the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. Teaching the dogs tricks, putting placards on kennels highlighting the dog’s personality (“I may just be a black dog, but I know how to balance a biscuit on my nose.”), making sure multiple black dogs aren’t kenneled next to one other—anything to catch the eye and imagination of potential adoptors.
“I’ve had to turn away many black dogs because I can’t fill the place up with them,” says Jill Wimmer, shelter manager at PAWS Atlanta, that city’s oldest and largest no-kill shelter. “And every one I turned away had a great temperament.” Wimmer knows that she can likely adopt out three dogs in the time it takes to find a home for one BBD.
Delaney’s advocacy for Mickie eventually paid off when Shonna Crompton of Ada, Minn., went online in April and came across Mickie’s forlorn face—stamped URGENT—on Wold’s Gemini Rescue site. “I couldn’t just let him die,” says Crompton.
In May, Delaney, Chase and Wold arranged for a network of volunteers to transport Mickie nearly 500 miles from Rising Sun, Ind., to Madison, Wisc. Crompton’s husband Shane drove Mickie another 400 miles to his new home in northern Minnesota. “His hip bones were protruding and his belly was sunken,” recalls Crompton of her first meeting with Mickie. “But he just sprawled out on the grass like it was the best feeling on the planet.”
Right now, Delaney is feeling pretty good herself, and hopes that her website, which is filled with black-dog facts, convinces more people to give a BBD a chance. She works for all the black dogs waiting in shelters and foster homes, and for the ones who never got a chance to know what it was like to play and be loved, she says. “I mostly just hope it helps people become aware of how overlooked and underadopted these dogs are,” says Delaney. “I had one person tell me, ‘Thank you for being an advocate for the black dog, because nobody else is.’”
In honor of National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month the good people at The Humane Society of the U.S., Maddie’s Fund, HALO, Purely for Pets and the Ad Council (the country’s largest producer of public service advertising) have produced an online video series, “Meet My Shelter Pet,” to inspire shelter dog adoptions. These charming videos are part of their larger campaign to change people’s perceptions of shelter animals, and ultimately increase adoptions across the country.
Their series leads off, appropriately, with none other than Late Night with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer, with his daughter Victoria talking about their amazing four adopted dogs.
Would love to hear from you why you picked your shelter dog, and what encouraging words you would give to someone thinking of adopting a shelter dog. It really is up to all of us to get the word out!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
In my job as an Animal Control Officer, I spend 10 hours a day working with dogs and then come home to a houseful of my own dogs. I love dogs and it’s such an honor to spend my life in their company. Anyone who has a close relationship with a dog would likely agree that dogs share many of our emotions, social needs and characteristics. Dogs are often our closest non-human companions. Horses, cats, birds and some other animals can bond very tightly to humans too but dogs most consistently choose to willingly follow us on almost any adventure or trial.
Studies have shown that dogs communicate better with humans and understand us better than any other animal on earth. In studies asking multiple species including dogs and non-human primates to interpret human body language to find a treat, only dogs understood human communications consistently.
People get very excited to think of dogs as little people in fur coats but I find the best thing about dogs is their very “dogness.” I have a lot of wonderful people in my life but sometimes no one can comfort or share a day with me in the way a dog can. My human family loves me but they don’t go into transports of delight ever every time I walk into the room. When I get home from work and my dogs greet me and then I take them for a run, I can feel the stresses of the day start to fade. They race and play with the same joy and abandon every single day.
Dogs live so fully in the moment. They never say, gee, I’m tired of this same walk, same ball chase, same Dog Park etc. It’s new, and fun, each time. Dogs find joy in the simplest of things. Just about anything I want to do, my dogs think is a blast. My wonderful friends and family are great to spend time with but they aren’t always available, or don’t always want to do the things I want to do. My dogs have never once said no thanks or I’m not in the mood, to a car ride, a hike, a cuddle or any other adventure. Not once.
Dogs are the perfect blend of similar enough to us enough to enjoy most of the things we do, and unique enough to be fascinating in their own right. Dogs are just perfect as they are.
Let us know what special “dog” things your furry companion does that make you glad he’s a dog.
Dog's Life: Humane
A Louisiana prison’s shelter/adoption program.
Drive along a narrow country road 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, La., the late-summer morning filtering through the leaves as you pass acres of cow pasture and a few small churches, and you’ll come across a white picket fence leading to the last thing you’d expect to find: a mediumsecurity prison. First comes the octagonal guard tower, peeking over the trees, then the blocky brick buildings and drab exercise yards enclosed by chain-link fencing topped with curly razor wire, 15 feet high. You’ve reached the Dixon Correctional Institute, home to 1,600 inmates whiling away everything from a few years to life. That’s where I found myself in early September 2012. I hadn’t come to visit the inmates. I’d come to see the cats and dogs.
When Hurricane Katrina barreled down on the Gulf Coast in 2005, hundreds of thousands of residents f led their homes, leaving their pets behind. Most weren’t being cruel—they left food and water and assumed they’d be back in a few days, as they had after previous storms. They didn’t realize that Katrina and the f loods that followed would devastate the region, demolishing homes, killing hundreds and drowning a city.
Fortunately, animal rescuers poured in from around the country, saving dogs on roofs, cats in attics and pets wandering homeless on the streets. They trucked them to emergency shelters throughout the area, including a massive triage operation that had been set up at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. The facility—a venue for livestock shows, horse exhibitions and rodeos—would become the epicenter of the largest animal rescue operation in U.S. history, staffed by hundreds of volunteers and veterinarians caring for the more than 8,000 animals salvaged from the storm. But as the weeks wore on, Lamar Dixon began to overf low. There was no space left to shelter the cats and dogs. They sat in cages in parking lots, and thousands were in danger of dying or becoming lost.
That’s when Jimmy LeBlanc got on the phone. Dixon Correctional’s warden, LeBlanc had recently lost his 17-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, and he wanted to do something good for pets. He offered the Humane Society of the United States, which was running Lamar Dixon at the time, some of the prison’s real estate. HSUS happily accepted. In the middle of the night, trucks began arriving, carrying hundreds of dogs and cats, plus a few geese, ducks and horses. The prison housed them in a former dairy barn just a mile from its main grounds. Volunteers from Lamar Dixon set up kennels and a makeshift clinic, and the prison sent over 12 convicts to help feed and walk the animals and clean cages. Injured, starving pets were nursed back to health, and most were eventually reunited with their owners. The arrangement worked out so well that HSUS decided to make it permanent. In 2007, it gave the prison a $600,000 grant to build a real shelter. It would be used in future disasters like Katrina, but also as an adoption center for the local community. I’d come to check it out.
When I arrive at the prison, I pull up to the guard gate. My rental car’s window is caked with bugs and its A/C is struggling to overcome the oppressive heat and humidity. Colonel John Smith meets me on the other side. A 23-year Department of Corrections veteran who has worked with police dogs for most of that time, he’s tan and solidly built, with a gray moustache and short, brown hair. He wears a blue uniform and cradles a large black walkie-talkie. “Did you have any trouble finding us?” he says in a mellow Southern accent.
Smith guides me inside the prison grounds, past a double gate that resembles a chain-link airlock. I’ve been among inmates before, but I’m still a bit uneasy. Suddenly, a tiny black-andwhite Rat Terrier runs up to us, yipping “Come here, you little tramp!” says Smith, hoisting the pup into his arms. It’s his dog Chirro, who comes to work with him every day. I begin to relax.
We enter the main shelter. Opened in 2010 on the fifth anniversary of Katrina and built on the site of a former chapel, it’s a white-brick building with a peaked roof that looks a bit like a squat bungalow. Inside, we’re greeted by Smith’s junior officer, Master Sergeant Wayne Aucoin. Thin and young, with a shaved head and a brown moustache slightly less bushy than Smith’s, he manages the day-to-day operations of the facility, and he’s eager to give me a tour. Despite the modest exterior, there’s a lot going on inside Pen Pals, as it’s known.
Aucoin shows me the surgical suite, with its metal exam table and anesthesia machine. There’s also a grooming area with a large sink, a computer room for tracking the animals who come in and out and an education alcove. Here, inmates can peruse a growing library of veterinary textbooks; learn, from posters on the wall, how to spot zoonotic diseases like roundworm; and try their hand at diagnosing parasitic infections with a microscope. A few prisoners buzz about as we tour. Wearing jeans and light-blue T-shirts with “DCI” in large orange letters down the side, they wash bowls and mop floors.
And, of course, there are the cats and dogs. Two rooms lined with metal cages can house about 30 felines. Today, there are a couple of longhaired orange kittens, a black cat missing an eye and a handful of others. Many are brought in by the inmates themselves from the prison’s tool sheds and exercise yards. “The fences don’t really keep them out,” Smith says. “They slip through them like the wind.” The dogs live in a long, narrow space f lanked by kennels. There’s room for about 60 of them, but right now there are just a few. Still, the barking is almost deafening as we pass.
All in all, it looks a lot like your average shelter. That’s a good thing because it’s the only one in all of East Feliciana, a rural parish of about 20,000 people. I ask Aucoin what happened to homeless cats and dogs before Pen Pals was set up. “They got shot,” he says matter- of-factly. These days, he tries hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. He posts each animal’s picture and story on Facebook. He drives them to the nearby town of Zachary every month to adopt them out in front of the town’s library. He even brings them to local rodeos. “You’d be surprised,” he says, “but we adopt a lot of dogs out that way.” A dog costs $40, but the cats are often free, donated to farmers as pest control. “A lot of people ’round here want them just for their barns.”
Aucoin doesn’t keep the shelter running by himself. That’s where the inmates come in; five currently work for Pen Pals. One of the many jobs they can take at the prison, it has one of the longest waitlists. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who want to do this,” says Smith. Only a select few pass muster, however. Those with a history of animal cruelty or sex crimes are ruled out. “We screen these convicts pretty close before we bring them in here.” Once inside, they clean litter boxes, walk dogs and assist with exams and surgeries carried out by visiting veterinarians and their students from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “The students are a little spooked when they first get here. You see it all over them,” laughs Smith. “But by the time they leave, they’re joking around with the convicts.”
After we tour the main facility, Smith and Aucoin lead me out the back door onto a wide, grassy yard f lanked by barbed-wire fencing. In the distance is a 10,000-square-foot pavilion with an open concrete floor and a steel roof. As we head over, Smith tells me that the inmates take the dogs to this field to walk them and teach them basic obedience. “Watch out for land mines!” he smiles.
The pavilion is filled with dozens of makeshift kennels. There are a few dogs here now—the structure serves as a quarantine area, and new arrivals stay here before they’re taken into the main building. But its main purpose is as an emergency shelter. When a storm like Katrina hits, inmates can quickly build hundreds of crates, providing housing for as many as 250 dogs and 100 cats. If needed, they can split the crates in half, doubling those numbers. There are also generators to run fans in case the prison loses power. During Hurricane Gustav in 2008, the pavilion housed 40 dogs and 30 cats. And last week, when Hurricane Isaac struck, Lamar Dixon sent a few animals over. The warden didn’t even have to contact them. “We got a call from someone saying, ‘Hey, can you take a couple of dogs?’” says Aucoin.
Running a shelter inside a prison has its advantages. The main perk, says Smith, is the free labor. “You’ve got all the workers you need, and you have 24-hour access to them.” By caring for the animals and building the shelter and pavilion themselves, the inmates stretched HSUS’s $600,000 grant much further than it would have otherwise gone. But the money ran out last year. Now Pen Pals is completely reliant on donations. “We do a lot of begging, borrowing and stealing,” says Smith. And when he says stealing, he isn’t joking. The shelter has been known to pilfer medical equipment from the prison infirmary. “Bandages, X-ray film, you name it,” laughs Smith. “People medicine ain’t too much different than dog medicine.”
To date, the shelter, which is no-kill, has adopted out more than 250 cats and dogs. It’s the only one of its kind in the country, and Smith says he’s had calls from sheriffs throughout the state asking how to set up something similar.
Pen Pals isn’t just helping animals. The vet students who volunteer here gain valuable experience in shelter medicine, which they can’t get at the university. Inmates learn skills they can apply when they get out; one has already lined up a job at an animal clinic, while another just completed a correspondence course to become a veterinary technician. Even those who don’t get jobs become better people, says Smith. “Working here humanizes them. It teaches them to think about something other than themselves. They’ll walk up and tell me, ‘I gotta let my dogs out for a walk.’ You can see they’re concerned about these animals.”
The parish has changed too. Now that there’s a shelter in the area, the locals are more likely to bring sick and homeless animals here instead of disposing of them by other means. “Yesterday, a woman called about a Labrador mix who had been tied up in a yard for a long time,” says Aucoin. “He was so skinny, he looked like a walking skeleton. John and I drove out and picked him up.”
All of this gives me a warm feeling, and as I drive out of the parking lot after shaking hands with Smith and Aucoin, I almost forget that I’ve spent the last two hours in a prison. Almost, that is, until a guard runs after me as I prepare to turn onto the road leading back to town. “Stop, stop!” she yells. I hit the brakes and roll down my window. “Sir,” she says, scanning my back seat for stowaways, “I’m going to need you to pop your trunk.”
For more information on Pen Pals, including how to donate to the shelter, check out its Facebook page: Pen Pals, Inc. Animal Shelter.
Dog's Life: Humane
Colleges are welcoming second chance dogs.
From a dog’s point of view, there may be no better place to spend some time than a college campus. Think about it: the grassy expanses, the flying Frisbees, the attentive humans and all the other opportunities that dogs, like students, have to bond, grow, absorb knowledge, find their passion or just lie in the shade.
It can just as easily be argued that there’s nothing better for college campuses, and more fitting with their mission, than dogs. Dogs can pave the way to healthy social connections. They can help calm frazzled nerves during final exams. They can serve as friends during bouts of homesickness. They tend to make an institutional setting a warmer, friendlier, more family-like place. And on top of all that, there are the volumes they can teach.
They require no salary. They don’t insist on tenure. Yet, without a degree, or even a pedigree, they can help us learn—maybe not computer science 101, but some fairly important things, like compassion and responsibility.
Why then—given the benefi ts to all involved—haven’t more doors opened to dogs at America’s universities? Blame the usual suspects: allergies, barking, poop, fear of lawsuits, fear in general and that rigid, play-it-safe thinking for which bureaucracies are famous.
Despite all the “Top 10 Pet-Friendly Campuses” lists you can find online— some of which include schools that permit little more than fish tanks in the dorm room—it appears that many institutes of higher learning still have a lot to learn when it comes to dogs.
The handful of schools that do let dogs live with students in dormitories commonly impose weight limits (something even the meanest of sororities have moved beyond), failing to realize that size in dogs, like size in people, has no bearing on either aggression or destructive tendencies. Most have breed restrictions, which are based not on academic research, but on insurance company guidelines. And for every school that does, conditionally, permit dogs in dormitories, you can find 100 more that don’t, though some are more intent on enforcing it than others.
In truth, the doors haven’t opened that widely for canines in college, despite dogs being exemplars of that most important attribute of all when it comes to learning: curiosity. Of those schools that are catching on to the magic of dogs, one—sorry, no Top 10 list here —leads the way, a private college in Missouri that not only permits students to have canine roommates (be they Chihuahuas or Great Danes), but pays them to do so.
Stephens College, in Columbia, Mo., provides $3,000 scholarships to students who agree to foster rescued dogs and cats. Between that program, the school’s 175 designated pet-friendly dorm rooms and free on-campus doggie day care, the small liberal arts school could easily make a case for being the nation’s dog-friendliest.
But that’s not the point. The point is that the influx of dogs, especially those for whom students are providing foster care in dormitories—assisting a canine’s transition to a new life while undergoing one of their own—has served not to just make the dogs better dogs and the students better humans, but the school, it could be argued, a better place. And therein may lie—or is it lay?— a lesson.
In the mid-1990s, a staff member at Stephens College suggested to the school president that students be allowed to bring their dogs with them when they came to school. The response, as she recalls, was, “Absolutely not! What are you thinking?”
A few years later, a new college president arrived on campus. Her name was Wendy Libby and, because the house she’d bought wasn’t ready, she lived that first summer in a school dormitory with her black Lab, Abby.
“Abby started the whole ball rolling,” said Deb Duren, who, sensing a change in the climate, made her suggestion again. This time it met with approval, and, in 2003, seven students brought pets on campus. Today, about two of every 10 students at the women’s college lives with a pet.
Duren, now vice president for student services and athletic director at the college, was no stranger to dogs, or to rescue work. In addition to being a volunteer herself, both of her daughters were involved in helping establish Second Chance, the rescue organization in Columbia through which the foster program is run. Both regularly brought foster animals home. Though her children are grown, Duren still has two rescues at home, a 14-year-old Chihuahua named Pixie, and a 12-year-old mutt named Hewy, after the Hewlett-Packard box he was found in.
Duren said that once the campus opened up to dogs, the foster program seemed a natural progression. “There were a lot of students who would have liked to have a pet but couldn’t bring one from home for lots of reasons,” she said. “They were willing to do foster work in the name of helping a new pet find a forever home, but also for the comfort and enjoyment of having a pet.”
With the school funding other forms of “community engagement” scholarships, adding the foster program wasn’t too big a hurdle.
Last school year, the foster program kicked off. The school set aside 10 double rooms in its dormitories for those taking part. Students in the program get a double room for the price of a single, and aren’t assigned roommates— at least, not human ones. They’re also spared the school’s pet deposit and have $3,000 lopped off their tuition.
In exchange, they agree to serve as foster parents for the full school year— to care for the pet, take it to adoption events and, once a dog or cat they’re caring for is adopted, to take in another one from Second Chance.
Second Chance, which has been rescuing dogs and cats for nearly three decades, gets about 70 percent of its animals from local “kill” shelters; about 30 percent come directly, as either strays or surrendered dogs. More than half have medical issues or traumatic pasts. Students in the program receive mandatory training on how to care for dogs, and Second Chance covers the costs of food, veterinary visits, collars, leashes, toys and medications.
“Students can devote the time,” said Valerie Chaffin, executive director of Columbia Second Chance. “They don’t have the pull on their time—the family or full-time job. Even a full-time college student is only in class a few hours a day. The animals [leave] them in great shape, and that’s kind of a plus for us.” In addition to the free dog day care center on campus, which is located in a dorm basement, students who are fostering pets can usually find someone to help out, often as easily as knocking on the next door.
Of the 10 students in the foster program last school year, only one pulled out, and that was because she left school. At the end of the last school year, nine students were on foster-pet scholarships, and five more Stephens students were serving as fosters without the scholarship program as an incentive. Between returning sophomores and new freshmen, college officials expect up to twice as many students will receive the scholarship in the coming school year.
The program was established primarily with freshmen in mind. Freshmen, according to Duren, tend to more smoothly make the transition to college, and do better academically, when they have a pet.
They also do better when they don’t have a job, and the scholarship helps some avoid that. With the school’s $25,000-plus tuition, the scholarship can help students who might be on the border financially. “It can make the difference between getting to come here and not getting to come here,” Duren said.
“The school really put its money where its mouth is,” said Second Chance director Chaffin. “They saw that the benefits of the program outweigh any other issues. They didn’t get bogged down like other universities with potential liability issues, whether [the dogs] will tear up furniture or pee on everything, and all those other things that are so small compared to the benefits that Stephens is obviously enjoying.”
You can take your cat to MIT. You can bring your snake to Eckerd College in South Florida, provided he’s less than six feet long and non-venomous. At Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, students can share their dorm rooms with fish, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, ferrets, cats and dogs, or at least dogs under 40 pounds.
Academia—though it hasn’t totally gotten there yet—is moving towards dog-friendliness, and for mostly sound reasons: students with pets tend to be good students.
“We recognize that students who are pet owners are generally responsible and caring individuals,” Barry M. Buxton, president of Lees-McRae, a Presbyterian college in North Carolina, said two years ago when the university designated its first pet-friendly rooms in Bentley Hall. “We want to encourage pet adoption and awareness that all creatures are sacred.” On top of that, it’s an effective marketing and recruitment tool, allowing a school to distinguish itself from the pack and portray itself as warm and welcoming—homelike, even.
“It’s definitely one of the upsides of being here,” said Cheyenne Smith, who will be a sophomore at Stephens this year. She planned on bringing her cat with her from Arizona when she started school last year, but she and her family decided that Stella Luna was too old to go along, and needed to stay near her vet.
Instead, Smith had a stream of foster cats, one after another, last year. That tended to keep her somewhat anchored to her room. “When I get a new one, I don’t like to leave them alone for a long time,” she explained. As a result, she said, she probably spent more time studying.
The college’s dog-friendly reputation was also seen as a plus by Briannica Ponder, a freshman last year who planned to bring one of her family’s two Miniature Schnauzers to school with her. After signing up for the foster program during an orientation, she opted not to.
“My mom is pretty attached to them and I didn’t want to separate her from them. Once I knew I was going to be fostering, I wanted to be able to give all of my love and attention to one dog.”
She had four roommates last year, starting with Phantom, a standard Poodle who stationed himself in her bed and didn’t want to get out; she had to train him to walk on a leash. Then came Lucille, a Basset Hound–German Shepherd mix who found a forever home after Ponder took her to an adoption event at Petco. After that, she took in a Beagle mix named Droplet.
In the entire school year, she was dogless only one week, said Ponder, who had some experience in rescue work before college, volunteering with her mother in St. Louis at Angel Acres.
As the school year came to a close, Ponder, 18, was serving as caretaker for Happy, a Miniature Schnauzer, just like the ones she left at home.
“All we have to do is give them some love and help them get adopted,” said Ponder, a theater major.
On top of all else she gets out of it, she said, “It’s a really good stress reliever. It’s really nice to be able to come back to your dorm and know someone is waiting for you and is happy to see you. It’s kind of like having a piece of home.”
“It changes how you view things,” she added. “When we have cast dinners, I may go for an hour, but I don’t stay that long. I want to see my dog more than I want to be out partying and stuff.”
She doesn’t see the additional responsibility as putting a crimp on her social life. To the contrary, she probably meets even more people because of the dogs. On campus, in addition to all the dog walkers, it’s not unusual to see cats being walked on leashes. There’s even a student who walks her miniature pig.
“With such a large number of pets here, it’s also a gateway to make friends,” Ponder said. “I don’t understand why more colleges don’t do it.”
Turning dog friendly may be more achievable at a small school, and operating and subsidizing a foster program may not be something every college wants to tackle, but at Stephens, where Duren has worked since 1984, the benefits have been huge, and the problems mostly minuscule.
“For us, it’s just a good fit in a lot of ways,” she said. “But it takes an administrative team that understands how animals can create a sense of community and is willing to take risks.”
Large universities are more like ocean liners; they can’t always react on the spur of the moment, or easily change course. “We’re a kayak,” she said, “so we can move more quickly and there’s not as much red tape to cut through.”
It also takes rules—there’s a whole book of them—and students who break them can receive demerits, for anything from unattended barking dogs to poop not picked up. A few times, when there have been violations of the latter, the administration called impromptu poop parties in which all students pitch in to clean up.
There are breed restrictions at Stephens. Students aren’t allowed to keep Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chows or Akitas, or any mixes thereof. On the plus side, the school has done away with its size restriction, which only allowed dogs under 40 pounds. When left alone in a dorm room, dogs are required to be in crates or pens. Students also have the option of dropping off their dogs at the free dog day care facility.
Cognizant that not every student (or faculty member) is going to be a dog lover, the school also has pet-free dorms, and it doesn’t allow dogs and cats in classrooms or common areas, like lounges.
“There are people with allergies and students and faculty who aren’t that excited about pets,” Duren said. “We’ve all learned to coexist and be tolerant of others’ needs.”
Two dormitories have been designated as pet friendly: Searcy Hall, which is also known as Pet Central, and Prunty Hall, which houses the dog day care center. Of the school’s incoming students, about one of every four indicate they want to be in a pet-friendly residence hall.
The Second Chance dogs being fostered at Stephens visit other campuses, too, including nearby University of Missouri, one of an increasing number of schools across the country that are inviting pets on campus at final exam time to provide students with some stress relief. Students spend a few minutes petting and playing with dogs to ease tension, and the dogs gain from the encounters as well, getting some socialization, and sometimes getting adopted.
The Stephens foster dogs are sometimes involved in extracurricular activities as well. At least, that was the case with two near-feral Chihuahuas rescued by Second Chance. They both ended up being fostered by a student in the theater program.
When the school’s production of the play Legally Blonde opened near the end of last school year, one of the Chihuahuas played the role of Bruiser and the second served as understudy. Before each show, the audience was told that both dogs, and many others, were available for adoption.
“They did really well,” said Ponder, who was assigned to make sure the dogs didn’t run offstage. Once the play completed its run, the two Chihuahuas—star and understudy —were adopted.
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