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.
For nearly 30 years, Best Friends has helped pioneer the no-kill movement. Perhaps, best known for operating the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals, over the years they have branched out to include a diverse program of outreach and education that ranges from a popular television show to Strut Your Mutt events, and one of their most valuable projects—the No More Homeless Pets® conference. Each fall, Best Friends brings together experts in the no-kill movement, experts in animal care and behavior, marketing and fundraising, animal welfare professionals, rescue groups and volunteers to share knowledge, strategize and work together to save animals. This year’s conference is October 10–13 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Bark spoke to Barbara Williamson, Best Friends media relations manager, about this important event.
How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about? It’s a collaborative approach to a big problem … which is great to see.
Can you talk about the kinds of people and organizations that attend, and what kind of impact this shared knowledge is having?
Denise, founder of BWAR, has been involved in animal rescue for years. She’s been to three No More Homeless Pets Conferences and intends to be at the conference in Jacksonville. What she hadn’t planned on at last year’s conference was meeting the person whose organization would help her move 25 dogs, many of them seniors, out of the South up North, where forever homes have been waiting in the wings. “It’s been amazing working with Emma and Friends of Homeless Animals,” shares Denise. “We’re saving so many more dogs. FOHA really takes the time to match the dogs with the right adopters, and they start to promote them before they even get on the road. FOHA also shares the amazing updates from their new adoptive families, which continue to inspire our volunteers.”
FOHA is able to take so many dogs, in part, because they are helping the market meet the supply and demand. While they regularly pull from local shelters and accept owner-surrendered animals, they have found that those dogs alone do not fill the need for smaller dogs in their region.
Both groups are looking forward to attending No More Homeless Pets Conference in Jacksonville. As Denise puts it, “I think the conference is an invaluable resource for anyone in animal rescue, from volunteers to staff that share the Best Friends mission, and this conference has so many opportunities to network and really grow your organization.”
If there is a major trend that is shaping animal rescue and sheltering what would it be? This fall Best Friends is unveiling the call-to-action “Save Them All™.” In many ways this program crystallizes what Best Friends has believed all along and was a strong impetus for the No More Homeless Pets Conference in the first place: Alone you can save many, but together, we can Save Them All. More than 9,000 animals are killed every day in America’s shelters—that’s about 4 million a year. It doesn’t have to happen. We know that by increasing the number of people who adopt animals, and implementing more spay/neuter programs to reduce the number of animals who enter shelters, we can SAVE THEM ALL.
What speakers, topics or workshops are you most excited about this year?
Can your share some good news with our readers about the impact that the No Kill Movement is having?
For more information on the No More Homeless Pets National Conference go to: conference.bestfriends.org
News: Shirley Zindler
As a child I was surrounded by dogs and was always fascinated by them. When I was 5 years old I walked up to a neighbor’s dog as it was chewing a bone. I reached to pet him and received a minor bite to the hand for my inattention. As I recall, my parents sternly reminded me not to bother dogs, especially if they were eating, sleeping, or chewing a bone. Lesson learned. It was the only bite I ever received as a child and to this day I consider dogs to be one of the greatest gifts in life.
When I was six my parents divorced and I went through a long period without a dog. I missed having a dog so much that I ended up moving to my dad’s house because I could have one there. My first dog that was all my own was a little shaggy mutt that followed me everywhere and slept in my bed at night. That dog was my constant companion through several moves, childhood traumas and a few teenage heartbreaks. His presence in my life is something I still feel the effects of today.
Kids and dogs can be one of the most wonderful or one of the most tragic pairings of childhood. As an animal control officer, I investigate dog bites almost daily. Most are minor, a few are severe, and many of them are to children. I have seen nice dogs euthanized for the most minor of bites and children scarred and traumatized for life by the more severe ones. In almost every case they could have been prevented.
Children are most likely to be bitten by their families own dog and yet for many children, the dog is their most precious friend and confidant. The value of dogs in many children’s lives is so precious that it should not be missed but children and dogs must both be kept safe.
Many breeders, shelters and rescues have hard and fast rules about what age the children must be for the family to adopt a dog. In my many years of fostering, I am often faced with the decision of deciding whether a family with young kids is suitable for a dog that I am caring for. There are so many variables that I find it impossible to pick an age and take each family on a case by case basis. The most important factor is the parents. Many parents want a dog that the children “can do anything to.” They tell me of some dog they know of that just lets the kids bounce on their backs, dress them in doll clothes and drag them around all day. I have seen dogs like that but I think it’s shocking that the parents allow the child to treat the long-suffering dog that way. And what happens when the dog gets arthritic or painful or just reaches a breaking point? Or when a child visits a friend whose dog is not so tolerant? When I see parents that understand a dogs needs, and teach them to their children, I know it’s a good start.
The second most important factor is the dog itself. Some dogs have a natural affinity for children while others don’t care for them. Unless a dog is truly dangerous, even grumpy dogs can succeed in households with children if the parents are diligent and the children respectful. Of course choosing a dog that is tolerant, easy-going and enjoys children is your best bet. It’s up to the parents to provide boundaries. In the case of children too young to follow directions adults need to be diligent and not put the dog in a situation where he feels the need to defend himself. Dogs try very hard to communicate with us but often we ignore their attempts to express their discomfort until it’s too late. A dog isn’t able to tell us in words that the child is hurting him, bothering him or invading his space. Careful observation of body language is critical, as is teaching respectful behavior toward dogs and separating them from kids if they aren’t enjoying the interaction.
I would love to hear about readers experiences with dogs and kids. Even negative situations can be a learning experience for us all and the positives between dogs and kids are truly priceless.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pets Alive works to provide sustainable solutions for Puerto Rico’s “satos”
If you’ve been to Puerto Rico, you’ve surely seen them: stray dogs the locals call satos. You can spot them everywhere, trotting in the heat alongside roads from San Juan to Mayagüez and loitering on the periphery of seemingly every beach, parking lot, gas station and cluster of homes. Most are badly malnourished, with protruding hipbones and rib cages; some have coats patchy with mange, and they stagger from illness or injury. All too many are followed by litters of scrawny puppies.
By now, even those who have never visited the 3,500-square-mile island are aware of its teeming population of strays (estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000). Recent news stories, which have exposed the southeastern dumping ground of Playa Lucia—better known as “Dead Dog Beach”—and the 2007 Barceloneta massacre, when 80 dogs were thrown to their deaths from a 50-foot bridge, are myriad and awful.
However, this coverage has had at least one positive consequence: a proliferation of stateside-based organizations dedicated to rescuing satos. At least a half-dozen such groups now exist, and most work in a similar way: they collect as many strays as possible, nurse them back to health on the island, then fly them to mainland U.S. shelters for adoption. Through their efforts, they have given hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dogs new homes.
In the past year, however, a new dog rescue operation, Pets Alive Puerto Rico, has been expanding this conventional approach to the sato problem. As well as rehabilitating strays and sending them north for adoption (through the New York–based headquarters of its parent organization, Pets Alive), this group has launched new on the ground programs: educational outreach in Puerto Rican communities, low-cost spay-and-neuter programs and even a B&B that attracts a steady stream of traveling volunteers. Their aim is to address the issue where it lives.
Pets Alive Puerto Rico (PAPR) has no published address. The six-acre sanctuary sits at the end of a long, unmarked dirt driveway, off the winding main road that snakes through the mountain village of Utuado. On the drive there, banana palms and crimson thatches of bougainvillea line the roadsides; hairpin turns offer sweeping views over the Rio Dos Bocas—a shimmering river far below, bound by jungly-green slopes and low-hanging clouds.
Joy and Ken Carson, who have run the no-kill sanctuary since opening it in April 2012, greet visitors with an apology for the hard-to-follow driving directions. They keep their location under the radar, says Joy, because they try to avoid having locals abandon dogs on the property. It’s tough to stay incognito with up to 50 barking dogs on site, however. The parcel of land, which was purchased with a donation from Rob and Marisol Thomas through their Sidewalk Angels Foundation, was chosen in part for its remoteness.
A tour of the sanctuary reveals a highly shipshape operation. The resident dogs, which range from adoptable adults to week-old orphaned pups who need bottle-feeding every few hours, occupy three separate areas on the property, each with spacious, immaculate kennels protected by sun shades, and containing Kuranda beds and “dogloos” for shelter. It’s important to have separate zones, the Carsons point out, because newly rescued dogs are often in precarious health and must be sequestered from those who aren’t yet vaccinated. (During a recent visit, one set of kennels housed a litter of pups who were slowly recovering from a bout of parvo.) The Carsons’ days are taken up with providing basic care for the dogs—cleaning their enclosures, changing and laundering their bedding, feeding and watering them, giving them medicine.
Not only have they rescued and rehabbed more than 350 dogs in just over a year, they have also managed to do an impressive amount of community outreach in the region around Utuado. By knocking on doors, promoting their work on social media and hosting educational seminars at area schools, they are establishing PAPR as a trusted resource for locals concerned about the satos’ welfare. (Area residents often tip off the couple about dogs in need.) They have also launched a pilot spay/neuter-release program, which, once it’s funded, will help ensure that even unadoptable strays won’t continue to reproduce.
The efforts the Carsons are most proud of, however, have been the partnerships PAPR has formed with local veterinarians to offer the community low-cost spay/neuter programs. After months of engaging with locals, they realized that—contrary to popular belief—many Puerto Ricans were perfectly willing to sterilize their dogs (and even neighborhood street dogs) as long as they could do so affordably. With the help of charitable foundations (including Cold Noses and the Humane Society International), they arranged for a veterinary clinic in the nearby coastal town of Arecibo to offer spay/neuter procedures at a greatly reduced cost ($50 rather than the usual $150 to $250).
These efforts culminated with PAPR’s participation last February in World Spay Day, during which volunteer vets working with the organization spayed and neutered more than 150 dogs in a single week. Since then, Joy says, they have continued to arrange sterilization for between five and 10 local dog owners each week.
While the amount of day-in, day-out work to be done at PAPR is daunting, the Carsons have been able to entice a steady stream of volunteers to help out, largely through what may be their most unusual program of all: offering the extra bedrooms in the sanctuary’s cheerful main building—which also happens to be their house—to paying guests who want to take a do-gooding Puerto Rican B&B holiday. Joy says that since last April, about 35 volunteers have done brief stints (usually about a week) at the property, during which they share not just chores, but meals and nightly happy hour with their everwelcoming hosts (Ken makes a mean rum-and-guava cocktail).
The work is undeniably arduous; there is always poop to be scooped, vet trips to be made, and Sisyphean heaps of dirty towels and blankets to launder. Still, several guests have already made repeat visits.
“It’s the puppy breath!” says Ken, using his favorite all-purpose description of the rewards that come from sanctuary work. Relentless though it may be, the work definitely allows plenty of time for petting, snuggling and playing with swarms of wriggling, grateful dogs. (Volunteers who’ve never before bottle-fed a litter find out pretty quickly just how magical puppy breath really is.)
“It may not be the most relaxing holiday you’ll ever take,” Ken quips. For dog lovers, though, it might easily be one of the most gratifying.
News: Guest Posts
Good things can happen when people join together and walk for a cause. Like moving towards a no-kill nation. Like educating the public about the root causes of homeless pets. Like helping fund those organizations on the frontlines of animal rescue and adoption. Last year, nearly 11,000 people nationwide took part in Best Friends Animal Society’s Strut Your Mutt events. Together, these two- and four-legged walkers helped save the lives of pets in shelters all across the country, earning nearly $1.3 million for homeless pets and 180 animal welfare groups who serve them.
Every day, more than 9,000 pets are killed in America's shelters simply because they don't have a home—that number should be zero, and it can be. Best Friends Animal Society and local animal rescue organizations and shelters (No More Homeless Pets Network partners) have joined together to reach that goal. The donations raised through Strut Your Mutt will be used to fund lifesaving adoption programs and spay/neuter services, which will ultimately impact the number of pets entering and leaving shelters. This year’s events, expanded to include 11 cities, kicked off this past weekend in Kanab, Utah, the home base for Best Friends. We encourage everybody to join — as a participant walking with a favorite pooch or as a donor or sponsor. The bar has been set high, organizers hope to raise $2 million to assist pet shelters across the country — and help us move closer to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America's shelters.
Strut Your Mutt Events 2013
Kanab, UT – Aug. 31
No Strut in your area? No problem! Join Strut Across America, the virtual Strut Your Mutt open to anyone anywhere! For more information go to: strutyourmutt.org/BarkBlog
Dog's Life: Humane
The benefits of adopting a more mature companion.
When I first saw Rooney at the Martinez, Calif., animal shelter, she was dazed, matted and unsteady— obviously on her last legs. Her breath could’ve fueled my car. As a dog rescuer, I kicked myself for agreeing to see her. What possible prospects could I offer this bedraggled old Border Collie, beyond a marginally better demise?
Within two months (and minus several bad teeth), she was adopted—and seven years later, just after her passing, I look back on her as one of my all-time favorite success stories.
Named for her resemblance to “60 Minutes” commentator Andy, she was a grand old gal, full of nobility, life and love. She was gentle with adults and grandkids, she respected cats, and she kept younger dogs in line, even with that half-empty maw. Rooney was quick to settle into a regular routine, and when you patted her she just oozed gratitude and affection. In short, she was the perfect companion for Margie, the empty nester who adopted her. The world would have been poorer if those two hadn’t matched up and devoted themselves to each other.
If you’re approaching your AARP years (or even if you’re far from it), you’ve probably read about the many health benefits of pet ownership. Study after study has shown that blood pressure goes down, cholesterol levels improve and even heart attack risk declines. Companion animals may be the anti-aging medicine that you really should “ask your doctor about.” Having a pet also encourages you to get out and exercise, even if it’s just a gentle daily walk. And statistics don’t count the warmth, companionship and pure love that a mature canine can bring into a household.
Adult dogs are settled into their personalities, so you know what you’re getting more than you would with a puppy or yearling. They are usually house-trained, and may already know basic commands like “sit” and “stay.” Contrary to the old adage, you can teach these dogs new tricks—with adolescence out of their systems, they tend to focus pretty well on teaching moments. Their desire to please their people is very well ingrained.
And I can’t prove it, but I’ve heard it said too many times to discount the notion that adult adoptees are just plain grateful—they’ve seen the world’s harsher side and seem particularly appreciative of the new lease on life they’ve been given.
In recognition of the many mutual benefits of matching older dogs with their human counterparts, many shelters have established “seniors-forseniors” programs. They offer reduced adoption fees to folks older than some threshold age for mature dogs—typically six or more years old.
I recall an older gentleman who was looking over some impossibly cute foster puppies. Asked where he planned to be in ten years, he replied, smiling, “Dirt nap!” With many breed life expectancies in the 12–18 year range (smaller being typically longer-lived), six- or seven-year-old dogs—and even teenagers like Rooney, still have plenty of good “tread-life” on them. My senior friend decided on an eight-year-old Lab mix, and they’ve never looked back. (And I know Margie wouldn’t trade her years with Rooney for anything. She’s since taken in Gloria, another senior grand dame.)
A shelter in Reno recently received a letter from a woman who had adopted a senior dog there some time ago and then returned for another. She wrote: “Frankie’s time with me was very good. He was loving, gentle and a good friend. He would bound out of the house at the end of the day when I returned home from work. He would wiggle with happiness to see me. He would do those “play bows” that sometimes much younger dogs do.
“I want to tell you that I think I needed Frankie more than he needed me, but he loved me and I was grateful for that wonderful creature every day that I had him. My new girl, Willow, is lying at my feet chewing on a rawhide. I hope this makes sense—I heard her snore last night while I was watching television. I can hear her breathe and I am not so alone.
“It is possible that animals are our greatest gifts in this life.”
Sitting here with that story fresh in my mind, where it shares space with fond memories of Rooney, I am gratified to know that these adoptions can hold such meaning and so enrich the lives of all concerned. If you have a hankering for “one more good dog,” please consider adopting an older best friend—it’s one of the biggest win-win opportunities that senior life affords.
Dog's Life: Humane
Insurance companies’ breed-restriction lists take a bite out of housing options
The term “foreclosure dogs,” which came into the lexicon sometime around 2007, is all too familiar to animal shelter and rescue workers. Canine victims of the housing collapse, many of these economic orphans face the added burden of being, say, a Chow Chow — or just looking like one. Why does that matter? Two words: breed restrictions. At least a dozen breeds and their mixes are commonly found on insurance companies’ “prohibited” lists, which affect those who rent as well as homeowners. How many dogs might have dodged the shelter had their foreclosed owners found rental housing that allowed them to keep their companion animals with them?
According to Adam Goldfarb, director of HSUS’s Pets at Risk program, so many pets are losing homes that it’s impossible to track specific breeds or breed mixes. However, other statistics don’t bode well for those on the restricted lists. The long-running mortgage meltdown has resulted in more than 4 million foreclosures as of 2009, and no clear end is in sight. Factor that against a 2009–2010 survey by the American Pet Products Association, which shows that 39 percent of U.S. households include at least one dog, with a national average of nearly two per household. And when it comes to size, seven of the 10 most popular breeds weigh more than 25 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club, and that’s not counting the mixed progeny of popular breeds, which, when restrictions exist, are also prohibited.
“It’s more of a problem for renters than for homeowners,” Goldfarb observes. “It’s harder for renters since they don’t control the insurance used by the rental property,” much of which is run by large companies with business- wide policies in place that they’re unlikely to change. Take, for example, Parkwood Rentals in Pierce County, Wash., which handles all types of rental housing, from single-family homes to apartments and townhouses. On its prohibited list are more than 14 breeds and their mixes.
“We did not compile this list,” says Katie Howard, associate broker with Parkwood Property Management, Inc. “This is the list of breed restrictions recommended by the insurance industry that we have adopted as part of our pet policy. If there is a question of breed, veterinarian certification may be required, along with pictures, references and a possible pet interview.”
Will the pet interview or a training certificate help if a potential renter’s dog is on the list or has a relative that is? Not according to Howard. “Unfortunately, we are not able to make exceptions to the breed restrictions.”
An explanation of the rationale behind the restrictions comes from a spokesperson for Allstate Insurance, who — in 2005, when a Washington state bill prohibiting insurance companies from banning breeds failed to pass — defended her company’s position by saying “We’re in the business of evaluating risk, and based on what we know, those dogs [on the list] pose a higher risk.” Two states — Michigan and Pennsylvania — restrict breed profiling by insurance companies.
In the U.S., breed bans began in the 1980s after a string of serious attacks, many said to involve Pit Bull–type dogs. In 1984, Tijeras, N.M., was the first to enact a ban, which targeted Pit Bulls. As other regions followed suit, the insurance industry took note. Goldfarb isn’t sure when the practice began in housing, but says that in his opinion, it has definitely increased in the last five years. Over time, at least 75 breeds — from Dalmatians to Karelian Bear Dogs — have made the lists, which vary by region and company. To make it even more confusing, breeds allowed in one place or by one insurer may be restricted in others, or by other companies.
Though not all insurance companies profile — Farmers and State Farm are among those that don’t — those that do base their restrictions on actuarial and claims data, dog-bite reports, and state or local breed-specific laws. According to an article found on Michigan State University College of Law’s Animal Legal & Historical Web Center (animallaw.info), the use of actuarial data has been blocked by courts in some situations. For example, when actuaries found correlations between poor minority neighborhoods and increased risk for homeowners’ claims, they stopped issuing policies in those neighborhoods, a practice known as “redlining.” In the same article, the writer states that breed discrimination is a different kettle of fish from redlining, because insurers “have been unable to demonstrate an actuarial justification for discriminating based on breed.”
In the 1990s, reports of dog attacks increased. Breed bans boomed, lawyers found a new specialty and insurance underwriters scrambled to adjust their policies. But those who actually worked with dogs scratched their heads.
“It didn’t jibe with my experience,” says Janis Bradley, formerly an instructor at the San Francisco SPCA’s Academy for Dog Trainers. Bradley, who had worked with dogs for years without incident, also talked to other trainers — “I didn’t know anyone who had been seriously bitten by a dog.” Her curiosity piqued, Bradley decided to find out what was actually going on, and started looking for facts related to this contentious subject.
In 2001, soon after she began her research, another sensational story gripped San Francisco and the nation: the mauling death of Diane Whipple by two Presa Canarios kept by Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel. Though the case hinged on owner negligence rather than the breed’s aggression, the dogs were huge and the details were terrifying, and it became a touchstone for breed-ban advocates; terms Bradley calls “fear words” made headlines. Of the many factors that lead to breed bans, she thinks reporting bias is the most influential. How — and how often — information is relayed, along with a focus on certain breeds, can distort the issue in people’s minds. Her research convinced her that perception is everything; the more we hear something, the more we believe it to be true. No breed has been proven more likely than another to bite, Bradley says, but a log she keeps of Google hits and key phrases related to bites and breeds turns up an unsurprising fact: Pit Bull and Rottweiler are the most common search terms.
The study “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998” (J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000; 217: 836–40) is often cited as support for restricting these two breeds. This study, which was a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), tried to link breeds with fatal bites to assess policy implications. “It has done tremendous damage [but] there is no putting the genie back in the bottle,” Bradley says of the report, which she feels continues to be misused today. The biggest problem, she says, was its focus on fatalities, “an extraordinarily rare event.”
In contrast to the study’s narrow approach, Bradley gathered all the research then available, pulling together numbers showing that the likelihood of being killed by a dog is about one in 18 million. Or that roughly 3.9 million of the annual 4.7 million reported bites require no medical attention. (Most bite victims are children, according to the CDC.)
Ironically, the authors of the study had hoped to prevent the discrimination they feared was taking root at the time, says co-author Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division. “The folks involved in the study had concerns that people were considering breed bans,” she recalls. Golab goes on to note that they also had concerns about the study itself, among them, that the breeds involved in fatal attacks change over time. The study didn’t address breed popularity, a factor that could cause breeds to appear more often in bite statistics simply because there are so many of them. Another concern was that the study authors were looking at fatalities rather than bites, which are impossible to track. This meant they were unable to definitively assess any specific breed’s inclination to bite.
Reliance on media accounts and questionable breed identification were also areas of concern. The ability to tell a bear from a deer may be a useful human survival tool, but newer studies show it hasn’t helped when it comes to breeds; people often can’t tell a Foxhound from a Doberman. Eyewitness reports were — and still are — “pretty spotty,” Golab says; in one instance, “a Boxer was identified as a Pit Bull–type dog.” Often, identification occurred after the dog had been euthanized, making it even more speculative.
Though the final report did not conclude that any breeds are more likely than others to bite, it did call out Pit Bull–types and Rottweilers as being involved in more than half of the fatal attacks. Golab and her colleagues warned against using the flawed data to enact bans; the alternative to breed laws, they wrote in the report, “is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior.” At that point, the CDC abandoned its efforts to link breeds and aggression, acknowledging that it’s impossible to track the numbers.
Golab says that breed discrimination existed before the study, and has gradually become more prevalent over the years. “It certainly doesn’t help adoption rates when owners are penalized for choosing a dog of a particular breed, whether the penalty is a higher insurance rate or a flat-out refusal to insure. [Restricted breeds] can easily end up on the least-desirable list for adoption.” Or, if owners can’t obtain affordable — or any — insurance because of the breed they own, they often relinquish the dog; euthanasia is a common result. Foreclosure only adds to the problem, as people struggle to find alternative housing that will allow them to bring pets with them at all, let alone a dog of a “blacklisted” breed.
Bradley, whose research provided her with material for her first book, Dogs Bite: But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous, continues to track CDC bite statistics. The number of dog bites has held steady over 15 years, she says. Even so, she doubts such information will change people’s minds if they are already convinced there’s a dog-bite epidemic, or that certain breeds are more likely to bite.
“We are innately credulous if we don’t have prior knowledge of something,” she says. “The default response is to believe what we are told,” or have heard repeated time and again. Bradley feels that breed discrimination, like other forms of bias, won’t end without large societal changes.
As the recession wears on, pet policies will continue to restrict housing options for people and pets in crisis. In addition to planning ahead for a move, Goldfarb suggests homeowners do the legwork to find an insurance company that doesn’t profile, and renters look for an individual homeowner or smaller company, which may be open to changing their policy or making an exception. They are both ways “to encourage breed-neutral policies.”
News: Shirley Zindler
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wallace the Pit Bull today. Wallace was a former shelter dog who had “issues” and spent a long time in a kennel. Thankfully a shelter volunteer and his wife took a chance on Wallace and adopted the problem dog. They spent a great deal of time working with him and he later became a champion Frisbee dog, winning many competitions and becoming an ambassador for Pit Bulls. A delightful book was written about Wallace’s transformation from unwanted dog to adored champion (Wallace. By Jim Gorant). Wallace passed away at a great old age, comforted by those who loved him, after a long and happy life.
As I walked through the shelter today I was struck, as I always am, by the number of wonderful dogs waiting hopefully behind the chain link. Many of them stare eagerly as I walk by, wagging their tails harder and harder the closer I get. Some are terrified and huddle at the back of the kennel, glancing at me furtively. A few are quite aggressive but most of them respond to a kind word and the offer of a cookie. The only difference between most of these dogs and Wallace is a person. One person willing to do whatever it takes to give that dog the life he or she deserves.
Shelter dogs are not flawed or bad. They just need someone to teach them how to behave and to manage them in such a way that they are set up to win. Most dogs will become a problem if allowed to roam or bark incessantly. I recently had a case involving an adolescent Great Pyrenees who barked day and night in the owner’s backyard until the neighbors complained. On investigating, I learned that the owners liked the dog but didn’t understand a dogs needs. The pup had food, water and shelter but they didn’t ever take him out of the yard. He didn’t come in the house, didn’t go for walks or have any kind of enrichment in his life. This puppy wasn’t a bad dog; he was just desperate for company. The owners surrendered the puppy to the shelter and he was adopted soon after. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful puppy leave with an adoptive family who understood his need for companionship, direction and exercise.
How I wish that every dog had the chance for a life like Wallace had. It wasn’t always easy, but Wallace’s family did whatever it took to help Wallace succeed.
I would love to hear from readers that were able to turn a “problem” dog into a happy pet. Tell me about your dog and how you did it.
Dog's Life: Humane
Creating a snapshot of the state of animal sheltering in the U.S. can be a challenge. Bring up the topic in any group of dog-or cat-lovers and be prepared for a conversation that can move quickly from meaningful discussion to explosive argument. State and local political candidates are often confronted with questions regarding public-shelter policy, and even President Obama was criticized for not adopting a shelter dog.
Since at least the 1860s, animal sheltering has been an industry at odds with itself, splintered between 5500 welfare and humane associations and public, governmental animal control and sheltering groups and deeply torn by philosophical differences on strategies and programs intended to address pet overpopulation. However, all of the battling factions care very deeply and feel they are doing the best they can for the millions of dogs and cats in their care.
Most shelters operate on tight budgets, often relying on volunteers to supplement small employee rosters. Tending to the animals consumes the majority of their resources, and collecting and maintaining data come in a distant second. Further muddying the waters, most states don’t legislate direct oversight, although a few assign advisory boards, which tend to function in a cursory manner.
Though sociological research into human and animal interaction focused on family, shared meanings between people and pets, euthanasia work and identity reflects a paradigm shift in how we view our companion animals, applied research—studies of animalsheltering operations—has inched forward more slowly. This issue of The Bark features a trio of innovative programs that concentrate on increasing adoption and significantly decreasing euthanasia. Many other shelters also work to creatively address similar problems.
Applied research can assist these dedicated leaders and volunteers. To determine the validity of new strategies and establish a baseline for future comparisons, basic statistical analysis and data collection are required. Regrettably, at this point, we hit another wall. Not only are organizations reluctant to share essential data for fear of being stigmatized for euthanizing companion animals, when data is available, shelters may code or define intake or outtake procedures differently, which negatively affects reliable data collection.
As a PhD student in the University of Louisville’s sociology department, I have spent summers collecting information on policies and programming from public animal shelters in Kentucky, and on the canines and felines held therein. Right now, I’m working to transcribe in-depth interviews with animal-shelter directors about their day-to-day work and leadership. This research is important and necessary to help improve Kentucky’s shelter system.
My next project will focus on nationwide data collection and, from my current position as an intern with The Bark, I’ll be asking for your help. Over the coming weeks, look for a survey request and an opportunity to participate via in-depth interviews. I hope that leaders of organizations, animal-shelter workers, volunteers and readers who have adopted furry family members will contribute to this research.
Dog's Life: Humane
Serving food for dogs and comfort for owners.
As the economy struggles, animal shelters across the nation are facing a staggering increase in surrendered pets due to the economic downturn, and many shelters, and even food banks, have started offering pet food. According to the HSUS, 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need, many supported by grants from the Humane Society’s Foreclosure Pets Fund established last year.
In California, the Santa Cruz SPCA distributes more than 7,000 pounds of food each month at Heather’s Pet Food Bank. Named after local songwriter and dedicated shelter advocate Heather Zir, the food bank has become one of the largest and longing running in the nation since opening 10 years ago.
This year, Heather’s Pet Food Bank has seen a 25 percent increase in demand. “People who used to donate are now coming to get food and supplies,” says Santa Cruz SPCA Executive Director Lisa Carter.
On the opposite coast, at Long Island, N.Y., Little Shelter’s Animal Soup Kitchen has also observed a striking demographic change in the past year.
“While once restricted to low income areas, people [looking for help] are now coming from all neighborhoods,” explains Little Shelter Communications and Events Manager Jodi Record. “Without assistance, many families would have no choice but to surrender their pets to the local animal shelter.”
Tom Wargo has made it his life’s mission to help Georgia families care for their pets during hard times. His volunteer-run organization, the SOS Club, has been distributing supplies for the past 11 years, and as the recession deepened, Wargo found that pet owners needed more formal assistance.
In September 2008, the SOS Club opened Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville, Ga., to keep up with increasing demand. During their first month, Daffy’s distributed 4,000 pounds of food in addition to pet supplies and discounted medical care. Now the soup kitchen averages 8,000 to 12,000 pounds each month and feeds 1,500 animals. With the growing need, plans are in the works to start five new locations in Georgia; the group is also working with others across the nation to open soup kitchens in other states.
“The goal is to keep families and pets together,” says Wargo, “We get calls every week from rescue groups with people who need to surrender their pets because they can’t afford food. It breaks their heart. Now shelters can refer owners to us for supplies and veterinarian care.”
Pets aren’t the only ones receiving support through the soup kitchen. Daffy’s encourages donation recipients to do a minimum of five volunteer hours each month at a local organization. It can be humbling to need the food pantry’s assistance, and the suggested service requirement fosters a sense of responsibility and importance. In tough times, Daffy’s has proven to be much more than just a food bank.
“At first some people are embarrassed to come,” explains Wargo, “but once they do, everyone sits in the office and swaps stories, ideas, and advice to help each other out. We have become a family for most and everyone acts like they’ve known each other for years.”
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