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Dog's Life: Humane
Innovative Sheltering
Mall Adoptions: Shelters expand into retail locations
That doggie in the window, 21st-century version.

When Camille Limongelli and her boyfriend Ted Drummond decided to bring a new puppy into their home, they knew exactly where to find one: the mall. Specifically, the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, N.J., an upscale retail paradise that includes everything from Victoria’s Secret to Abercrombie & Fitch, known locally as a puppy mecca. In fact, when the couple arrived, they found themselves among a horde of shoppers jostling for space beside a wall of cages occupied by adorable pups. Soon enough, a love connection was made and 13-week-old “Tibet” was off to his new home in Brick, N.J.

While Tibet is clearly special to Limongelli and Drummond, he’s also special in the evolving world of animal welfare. That’s because Tibet isn’t a typical petstore puppy—he didn’t come from a puppy mill, where young female purebreds are used as puppy-producing machines and live in deplorable conditions. Rather, he and his abandoned siblings were rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico by a San Juan-based animal welfare organization. Moreover, Tibet wasn’t purchased, he was adopted, and this took place not in a pet store, but at the Freehold Adoption Center, a satellite site of the Monmouth County SPCA (MCSPCA), which serves the northern Jersey shore.

A New Approach
Such mall-based adoption sites represent a new approach to animal sheltering and rescue that capitalizes on the retail model that made pet stores so popular in the first place: convenience; an irresistible inventory of puppies and kittens; and the availability of a wide range of pet accessories, from fashion ware to gourmet treats, all under one roof. The main difference, of course, is in the sourcing. Rather than profiting from animal suffering, the adoption center is alleviating it.

“The concept was that by giving people what they want in terms of the retail experience, you can save more lives,” says Ellen La Torre, director of finance for MCSPCA. “The fact is that if people come to our main shelter and don’t see what they want, which is often a cute, cuddly puppy, they may end up going to a pet store, which just perpetuates puppy mills. So, from an animal-welfare perspective, we figured, why not give them what they want, where they want it?”

While it’s difficult to know how many such retail-based adoption sites are now in operation, variations on the concept are clearly beginning to take hold and grow. The MCSPCA mall site opened its doors in April 2012, about six months after Humane Society Naples (HSN) expanded into Coastland Center, an enormous shopping hub in southwestern Florida. AniMall Pet Adoption and Outreach Center of Cary, N.C., began developing a slightly different model in 2005, using rent-free space in a nowdefunct outlet mall to provide local rescue groups with a centralized location to showcase their adoptables. Three years ago, AniMall made the bold decision to move into 3,000 square feet in Cary Towne Center, where they pay market rate. That move was so successful that the nonprofit plans to expand into 4,000 square feet of space in the same mall this February.

With neighbors like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Sears and JCPenney, these adoption sites have had to learn to embrace a full retail model, starting with merchandising. Most stock an array of high-end pet supplies, from logo-wear and gourmet treats to dog beds and designer leashes. AniMall specializes in organic and specialty pet foods that contain no wheat, corn or other potentially harmful additives. The sales of these products are critical to funding the overall operation, as well as supporting rescue and adoption efforts.

Greatly extended hours are another component of the new retail model. Like their mall neighbors, these adoption sites are typically open seven days a week, and in the evenings, as late as nine. On “Black Friday” 2012, the Freehold Adoption Center racked up $600 in sales between midnight and 8 am on its way to a record-breaking $2,695 day. And AniMall is so serious about building customer loyalty that it recently launched a rescue-rewards program, where up to 6 percent of every sale is donated to the rescue group of the client’s choice.

The adoption sites have also become adept promoters. Last summer, a fashion show at Coastland Center paired adoptable dogs with runway models wearing styles from tenant collections, and was so popular that it is being restaged this year with a “Furry Valentine” theme. “It’s really nice to incorporate [the animals] into these events because it makes it fun for the whole family,” says Melissa Wolf, Coastland Center marketing manager and herself the owner of a rescued Doberman. “We have had some wonderful events here … that showcased many of our tenants and also helped many pets get adopted.”

The sum of these retail efforts—from sales and promotions to convenience and creation of a loyal customer base— supports the main goal: saving the lives of animals.

By the Numbers
The Freehold Adoption Center placed more than 200 kittens and 350 puppies in its first eight months of operation. To keep its 20 cages stocked with rescued puppies, the MCSPCA has developed partnerships with foster-based organizations and shelters in areas of the country where the spay/neuter message has not been assimilated and animal overpopulation continues to be a huge problem. Puppies in these areas are euthanized in heartbreaking numbers. Pairing supply with demand, MCSPCA has puppies driven up from highkill shelters in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia as well as flown in from Puerto Rico, as was the case with Tibet. MCSPCA has also accepted puppies confiscated from hoarding situations and puppies and female breeder dogs from puppy-mill seizures. The adoption fee for a puppy is $405, which is on the high side in the shelter world, but less than a third of the cost of a typical puppy-mill puppy. The proceeds help cover the costs of transporting the pups to New Jersey.

The Coastland Mall adoption site placed 775 puppies in its first 12 months, essentially increasing Humane Society Naples’ total adoptions by nearly 40 percent and putting it on track to reach 3,000 in 2012, up from 2,200 in 2011. HSN executive director Michael Simonik says that the organization reaches out to high-kill shelters in rural parts of the state that don’t typically do many adoptions. They pulled 1,300 animals from death row last year alone. HSN also showcases adult dogs under 20 pounds, a size limit dictated by the site’s cages, which were constructed by the space’s previous tenant, a pet store. In both Florida and New Jersey, the animals are housed on-site, but are cycled back to the main shelter if they have not been adopted within about 10 days.

AniMall has facilitated about 5,000 adoptions over a six-year period using a variation on this model. Rather than representing a single group or shelter, it serves as a central resource for about 50 local organizations, including breedspecific dog groups, sanctuaries, shelters and animal-control facilities, and a host of specialized rescue outfits for animals ranging from llamas and pigs to rabbits and reptiles. Most of these groups pull their animals from local high-kill shelters, where the euthanasia rate averages about 70 percent. AniMall gives its members blocks of time on weekends and high-traffic days to showcase their animals to prospective adopters.

“We have a very active rescue community here, and people are doing great work, but they are very spread out. We wanted to support their efforts by bringing everyone together in one central space, and providing what they need most, which is exposure,” says Jeremiah Adams, executive director of AniMall. “So here, we can give them space in a high-traffic mall.”

Much of that traffic is actually driven by AniMall. “We have become a destination stop,” he says. “We don’t rely very much on walk-in traffic anymore. People are coming in specifically because we are here.”

Raising Awareness
In addition to the tangible goal of finding homes for on-site pets, these retailbased animal lovefests have some unexpected, high-impact benefits. In the case of MCSPCA and HSN, the mall sites increase adoptions at the main shelters, helping adult and larger dogs find homes as well. Many of the people who stop by don’t know that adoption exists as an option. The insight that it does often motivates them to head over to the shelter; some even volunteer or become donors. La Torre says that a few folks have come to the mall site thinking they want a puppy, but after speaking with an adoption counselor, realize that an older dog would be a better fit and go to the main shelter to meet some. Even a single drop-in visit at the Freehold Center can lead to a discussion of broader animal welfare issues.

“One of the best things about the setup is that we are educating the public,” says La Torre. “People come in saying they want to ‘buy’ a puppy, and that opens the door to talking about adoption and where our puppies come from and why they need our help. It’s almost as if you can see a light bulb going off in their heads.”

Success Stories
This isn’t the outcome the naysayers were expecting. Not only did the move into retail inspire dire predictions from people who thought that a mall-based location would knock the main shelter off the map, but many pessimists expected that the return rate of mallbased adoptions would be sky high.

“People were telling us that there would be a lot of impulse buying, but we actually have fewer returns from the Coastland site than we do from the main shelter,” said Simonik. “People worried that our donations would dry up if the shelter profile was lowered, but now we have many more donors because so many more people know about us. It’s 100 percent positive feedback.”

Even at the mall, potential adopters are subject to the same requirements they would face at most shelters or through most rescue organizations. These typically involve questionnaires, reference checks and either proof of home ownership or written permission from a landlord to have a pet.

After being approved as adopters, Limongelli and Drummond took Tibet home. Intrigued by his origins, they have since educated themselves about the terrible situation for abandoned animals in Puerto Rico and have connected with All Sato Rescue, the group that originally saved Tibet from the streets. “It has been a wonderful experience and we appreciate all of the people who work so hard to find these animals homes,” says Limongelli. “Tibet is the most loving dog we have ever met—he is the perfect addition to our family.”

Dog's Life: Humane
International Outreach Vacations
Transformed by volunteering, Nora Livingstone helps others do the same
Nora Livingstone

Four months after hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, college student Nora Livingstone decided to drive from her home in Toronto to New Orleans to assist at an animal shelter during winter break. Livingstone, a double major in environmental studies and anthropology, thought she’d be walking and grooming dogs who had been separated from their owners during the flood, in an otherwise comfortable setting. The experience wasn’t what she expected. “Up in Canada, we had no idea how bad things had gotten in New Orleans,” Livingstone, now 29, says.

Her first clue to the chaos came when she entered the city. Beside the road, a dead horse hung from a tree. “Everyone was too busy helping themselves and their families to deal with the horse,” says Livingstone. “It sort of set the precedent for the rest of the week.”

The section of the city where Livingstone had signed up to volunteer didn’t even have full power. She spent her Christmas vacation working up to 20-hour days at a makeshift animal shelter at Celebration Station, a former fun park. She slept on a cot alongside other volunteers in a second-floor loft overlooking hundreds of displaced cats caged on the floor below. Outside, chain-link fences separated the runs that housed about a hundred homeless dogs. “At that time, there were still houses on top of houses,” Livingstone says. “There was tons of debris. There was no food. There were stray dogs everywhere.”

Livingstone’s volunteer work in New Orleans was difficult, both physically and emotionally. Each morning, she fed hundreds of dogs and cats, and cleaned just as many bowls and litter boxes. She picked up countless piles of dog poo. By the time she had completed the breakfast routine, it was time to feed the animals dinner, and the whole process started all over again. The sheer number of dogs meant that she could only spend a couple of minutes with each. “I cried every day,” Livingstone says. “There were some dogs who were just so bewildered and scared. The hard part about working with animals is that you can’t rationalize with them. You can’t explain what happened, and that things are going to be okay. All you can do is lie down beside them and pet them.”

Despite the challenges, Livingstone considers her time volunteering in New Orleans as some of the most rewarding in her life. The sadness she felt was tempered by the joy of witnessing daily reunions with families who had come to claim their lost pets. She learned that in many cases, people had had their pets taken from them by authorities who prohibited them at human shelters, or were forced to leave their animals behind at gunpoint by the National Guard during evacuation. “I realized that the work I was doing was helping not only animals, but also people struggling to make their families whole again after a really awful situation,” Livingstone says.

While she didn’t know it at the time, her experience planted the seed for what would become her life’s work. Six years later, Livingstone co-founded Animal Experience International (AEI), a travel company dedicated to providing animal volunteer opportunities around the globe.

But before the idea for AEI could materialize, Livingstone would return home to Canada and finish university and a post-graduate program in Outdoor Adventure Leadership, which involved activities like canoeing and kayaking. Unsure how to combine her education, her outdoors experience and her love of animals into a career, she headed to Nepal in 2007 for another round of volunteer work. She hoped to find some direction, or at least the same satisfaction she had discovered in New Orleans.

While in Nepal, Livingstone volunteered at a medical clinic and as an English teacher. She noticed that dogs were not treated the same as they were in the west. Dogs in Nepal guard homes and gardens, and are not typically considered pets. Most Nepalese believe dogs are the reincarnations of bad prophets —humans fated to live as dogs as punishment for past misdeeds.

One day at a bakery in Kathmandu, Livingstone discussed her observations with a British woman she’d just met. The woman had been living in Nepal for more than 30 years and told Livingstone about a groundbreaking dog clinic, the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center (KAT). Shortly after, Livingstone showed up at KAT’s door and offered to volunteer. She wound up spending several weeks at the center, which aims to improve the lives of street dogs through vaccination, injury rehabilitation and spaying/neutering. After dogs are treated, experts at KAT evaluate them for pet potential, and keep those with promise at the shelter for adoption instead of returning them to the streets. “I loved being there,” Livingstone says. “A place like KAT is so rare in Nepal. I wanted to find a way to get more people involved, to let more people know about it.”

An idea formed once Livingstone returned to Canada. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a company that connected standout animal sanctuaries, shelters and conservation programs around the world with interested travelers like her? The vision stayed in the back of her mind even as she took a job as volunteer coordinator at the Toronto Wildlife Centre. It was there that Livingstone met veterinarian Heather Reid, who helped bring her idea to fruition. Reid shared Livingstone’s passion for travel and her interest in volunteer work with animals. One step ahead of Livingstone, Reid had been considering what it would take to create international animal-based volunteer experiences for other veterinarians. “My brain practically exploded after talking to Dr. Heather because it was just so obvious,” says Livingstone. “I’m passionate about volunteering and encouraging others to volunteer and travel and stir up their lives, so why not get paid to live my dream while helping other people live theirs?”

In 2011, the two women founded AEI, launching it in March with five trips, including one to KAT, the dog clinic where Livingstone had volunteered in Nepal. Within a couple of months, they had 20 travelers signed up. In June, a volunteer tourism portal, GoVolunteering.com, picked up some of their trips and blasted them out to more than 13,000 subscribers. A few months later, AEI’s client list doubled. “We knew there was a market for this,” Livingstone says, “We were just surprised at how quickly it took off.”

Animal-based organizations from all over the world started contacting AEI to create volunteer travel programs at their locations. But Livingstone has been careful to add trips slowly. One of AEI’s core values is to partner with only the best and most effective organizations; Livingstone or Reid visits each before adding it to the lineup. After one year of operation, AEI offers 26 trips to locations ranging from Canada to Thailand and Australia. Travelers can choose to volunteer with dogs, cats, bats, turtles, monkeys, elephants, parrots, bears, leopards, tigers, crocodiles and kangaroos, among others. “People have been knocking down our door, which is both inspiring and a little overwhelming,” says Livingstone.

AEI travelers can also customize the length of their trip, from two weeks to two months, with longer options available. One client signed up for a full year working with orangutans in Sumatra. Her cost of $4,390 includes accommodations, meals, transportation, travelers’ insurance—everything except airfare. While $4,390 seems like a bargain for a full year abroad, Livingstone recognizes that money is the biggest inhibitor to international travel. She and Reid have devised aggressive fundraising techniques for clients, as well as a scholarship program. “If someone is inspired enough to go on one of our trips, we’re going to do everything in our power to get them there,” says Livingstone.

Trips also include cultural experiences and sightseeing excursions. Both Livingstone and Reid want AEI travelers to experience the natural and manmade wonders that draw tourists to the destinations where they are volunteering. But they are also clear that AEI trips are not typical getaways. “We’re not offering a vacation,” Livingstone says. “This is not going to a resort, this is work. But it’s work that’s transformational— through the animals you work with, through the family you homestay with, and through the community you live in.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
To Spay or Not to Spay

 I recently read an article about a study from UC Davis, showing an increase in some cancers and joint problems in Golden Retrievers that are spayed or neutered as opposed to intact. As a shelter worker, this is so concerning. There are endless studies showing many health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering. It’s critical to look at the overall benefits to neutering before deciding to keep a dog intact based only on a limited study of one breed. As a shelter worker I have seen Intact dogs who are relentless in their pursuit of a mate. Digging out, jumping fences, chewing through walls, I've seen it all. Unaltered dogs roam more, get hit by cars more, fight more, bite more, and cause more human injuries and even fatalities. Intact females are prone to mammary tumors and pyometra and intact males can get testicular and perianal tumors. According to one veterinary study, 80% of unaltered males will develop prostate disease. Urine marking is a common problem in unaltered dogs.  

My champion Borzoi was un-spayed because she was a show dog. She developed a pyometra at 6 years of age, had to have emergency surgery at great expense and was ill with a nasty pseudomonas bacterial infection for a long time afterwards. She didn’t fully recover her former health for nearly a year. She also got along wonderfully with our spayed female dog except when she was in season. Twice yearly, they had to be separated as they were prone to fight. After she was spayed, they never had another issue.  Another un-spayed show bitch that I owned was so snappy and difficult for several months at a time around her seasons that I actually considered euthanasia. Thankfully I decided to spay her to see if it would help. It ended her show career but she was a delightful happy girl after that and lived to a ripe old age as a beloved pet.  

The article mentioned that neutered dogs are more likely to be overweight causing stress on the joints. While it is true that intact dogs may burn more calories fretting and looking for a mate, this is a feeding issue, not a neutering issue. All dogs should be kept trim and fed properly for their needs regardless of altering status. Excess weight is also a cancer risk. Ethical breeders are going to neuter dogs with joint problems and keep those with good joints for breeding which may result in a skewed study.

I would be interested in knowing more about the way the study was conducted. As shelter workers, we often see dogs surrendered to the shelter to be euthanized when they become sick or infirm with issues including cancer and hip dysplasia. Often these dogs are unaltered. The level of responsibility that goes along with extensive veterinary care often includes neutering, so of course neutered dogs will see the vet more for other issues as well. Unaltered dogs are commonly surrendered to shelters for behavior problems such as roaming, barking, urine marking etc. Many of these issues can be improved on by neutering. The article mentioned the fact that service dogs were affected. Unaltered dogs are not suitable for service work as they become distracted by potential mates. Could the work they do assisting people be a factor in causing stress on the joints?

The number one cause of preventable, premature death in companion animals in this country is euthanasia due to overpopulation. If people decline to alter their pets, this number will certainly climb. I have the greatest respect for those highly dedicated and ethical breeders out there, but for the rest of us there are endless, well-documented veterinary studies showing many health and behavioral reasons to neuter our pets.

For more information on the study see Joanna Lou's post.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Shelter Pups Need Love

Even though I work mostly out in the field as an animal control officer, and love it, the animal shelter is still my baby.  Almost every day I walk through at the beginning and end of my shift to check on the animals. As I passed through one of the small dog areas recently, I noticed an adorable terrier mix puppy in a cage. The puppy begins to growl as soon as he sees me. Teeth showing, eyes dilated, body tense, the pup makes no secret of the fact that he will bite.  I open the cage and he growls louder. I talk softly to him, then offer a cookie that I always have in my uniform pockets.  He threatens to make mincemeat out of my face but finally leans forward and sniffs the treat cautiously.

He continues to glare at me as he reaches for the tidbit. “That’s a good boy, you’re such a good boy” I croon as he chews. The body visibly relaxes and I scratch him under the chin. He licks my fingers and wiggles closer. A moment later, the puppy crawls into my arms, snuggling as close as he possibly can while his tail whips in delight and he covers me with kisses.  In less than two minutes, we’ve gone from “Get away, I hate you, I’m going to bite you” to “I love you, I trust you, don’t ever leave me”.  I’ve seen it a thousand times and yet it never fails to move me. I cuddle him close and promise him a better life, swallowing the lump in my throat and marveling again at what a gift dogs are.

Of course, sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks for a scared dog to come around, and a few never do, but most improve quickly with patient handling. My own Great Dane, Tyra, took longer than most to trust, but now she’s the happiest girl around. It always warms my heart to watch a dog blossom into a confident pet.  

The puppy’s initial behavior is so understandable. Abandoned, terrified and in a strange place, his response was completely based on fear. As soon as he felt safe, his reaction changed.  Over the following days of his stray hold period, I visited with the pup daily. He greeted me happily each time, with a wagging tail and soft, wiggly posture. The pup had been vaccinated, wormed and flea treated on intake and as soon as his stray hold was up, he was vet checked and neutered. Once on the adoption floor, it only took a few days for him to be adopted by a loving family. This is what it’s all about, I thought, as I watched him go out the door in the arms of his new adopters.

 

News: Letters
Teaming Up in Encinitas

I volunteer about 20 hours per week at Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, Calif. (which happens to be the first solar-powered humane society in the U.S.). We have a very successful callback program that involves calling and/or emailing every adopter of a dog from our shelter at four to five days, six weeks and three months post-adoption. We give advice on shelter-dog transition and training issues and answer any questions the adopters may have. We also have a chance to see if the adoption is working out or if, as is the rare case, the dog is not a good fit for the family. If we cannot help the adopter, we are able to encourage the adopter to bring the dog back to the shelter so that a more appropriate placement can be made. We enter information from our communications in the shelter’s computer system so that anyone who looks up a dog in the system can see how things are going in the home.

The callback program is very rewarding for those of us who make the calls (and emails); we share the joy of the new adopters, and of the dogs, who get out of the shelter and into loving homes. We also are able to help people help their new companions adjust, which can make the difference between a success story and a return. We get many compliments on this program.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Animal Control Officers
A Dangerous Job

As animal control officers, we put our lives on the line every day trying to make a difference. We go in with other law enforcement to dangerous situations, drug busts, domestic violence, murders and other crimes. We deal with aggressive animals and unstable people.  Often we are called in because someone has lost everything, their money, their home, their pride. When we arrive to take their animals it can be the last straw.

The recent shooting death of a fellow animal control officer in the Sacramento area is a grim reminder of the dangers we face every day. Officer Roy Marcum was called to a home where the owner had been evicted the previous day and left some pets behind. I've lost count of how many similar calls I have responded to. As Officer Marcum approached the home, he was shot and killed by the former resident.  Officer Marcum was described as a devoted animal lover and was there to help. What a loss for his family and the community.

I've been bitten, kicked, scratched and run over in my years in animal control, but the human encounters have been by far the scariest. I have been threatened, had the wall punched next to me and gone into homes with armed suspects, all to try and make life better for dogs and other animals. I wear a bullet proof vest and carry an asp, pepper spray, a shotgun and a rifle. I hope they will keep me safe.
My love of dogs and other animals keeps me coming back in spite of the risks. It's such a thrill to make a difference. A fun rescue or finding a beloved lost dog can keep me smiling for weeks. Removing a dog from a bad situation and finding a better home for it feels like such an accomplishment. For the most part, the good, responsible people are glad to see us and abusers and law breakers aren't. That tells me I'm doing my job but those who would abuse an animal, may also harm a person.  It's critical to stay alert and aware on the job, and sometimes that's not enough.  
My thoughts got out to Officer Marcums family and friends.
 

Dog's Life: Humane
Emmylou Harris
Singer helps Nashville’s homeless dogs.

On a sunny late-autumn afternoon, two bark-happy Chihuahuas, Jade and Coco, sprint across the grass and jump on Emmylou Harris. We’re in the spacious back yard of Harris’s Nashville home, which doubles as Bonaparte’s Retreat, a fostering service for unwanted dogs.

 

“Good girls,” says the legendary country singer, gathering the two dogs close to let them nuzzle and lick her. “Both of them were abandoned. The night we rescued Coco, she gave birth to five puppies.”

 

Harris also introduces us to Trooper, a black Lab; Preacher, a blond mixed-breed; and Gabby, an affectionate six-month-old puppy who, after spending her whole life at Nashville Metro Animal Control, has an eager handshake for everyone who comes close.

 

Finally, there’s Sally, a sweet, shy Terrier mix Harris describes as “a survivor and a heartbreaker.” Prior to coming to Bonaparte’s, Sally lived the first eight years of her life at the end of a five-foot chain in someone’s yard, with zero love and affection.

 

“Our mission is to take dogs who’ve run out of time,” says Harris. “This is a great situation compared to where they’ve come from. But it’s a halfway house. We do try to give them the royal treatment while they’re here, but they’re still in limbo, waiting for a home.”

 

Founded in 2004, the facility is named after one of Harris’s especially beloved dogs. “Bonaparte had this really friendly demeanor,” she says. “He was kind of a Poodle mix. Loved people, very sociable, loved other animals. I got this idea to take him on the road with me, and he was terrific. He loved the traveling, the bus, hotels, backstage. Of course, once you have the experience of having a dog on the road with you, you don’t realize how lonely you’ve been without one. So he went everywhere with me. He was my constant companion for 10 years.”

 

When Bonaparte died suddenly in 2002, Harris was devastated (for her most recent album, All I Intended to Be, she wrote “Not Enough,” a tribute to her traveling buddy). Not ready to think about replacing him, she channeled her love of animals into finding companions for others.

 

“I had this big yard, and I had seen an HBO special called Shelter Dogs that Cynthia Wade did,” Harris says. “I was very moved, and I thought, I’ve got the room—I could foster three or four dogs. So that’s where the idea came from. We took in our first dog in July 2004. Eventually, I felt some kind of call that I needed to focus on the dogs at Metro Animal Control. Nashville Humane does wonderful work—they’re a no-kill shelter. But at Metro, the dogs are on a very short time period before they’re euthanized if they’re not adopted—they’re on death row, so to speak.”

 

Building the retreat—which includes a generous run and a cozy bunkhouse—fulfilled one of Harris’s childhood fantasies. “When I was about 10, I wanted to live in a great big house and take in all the strays in the neighborhood,” she says.

 

Harris grew up in North Carolina and Virginia, and her love of animals was instilled in her at a young age. “My father had studied veterinary medicine. My grandfather kept hunting dogs. My father’s sister probably took in every stray in her town. I had an uncle who had a dairy farm with horses. There was always a sense of respect for animals. Children learn by example, and of course, they learn by having their own pets. I was lucky that way. I was taught compassion and love for animals.”

 

Aside from Bonaparte’s current residents, Harris and her mother Eugenia, who lives with her, have five cats and four dogs—all rescues.

 

With her unconditional love for all animals, how does Harris choose which dogs to take into the limited space of Bonaparte’s Retreat?

 

“Usually, the bigger and the older, the more—I don’t want to say the word ordinary—but there are a lot of black Lab mixes out there who aren’t Disney dogs. The longer the dog is in a shelter, the more likely they are to develop problems. They go kennel crazy. They can get very aggressive, even when that isn’t their nature. Or become very depressed. It works against them getting adopted.

 

“I wish we could take more. What we’re trying to do is get more people to foster for us. We’ll pay the expenses, the vet bills, the food, put them on the website along with the dogs who are here on the property, take them to dog adoption events. But physically, if we take more than four dogs, it really starts working against what we can provide for them.”

 

Dogs staying at Bonaparte’s are pictured on Harris’s website, and webmaster Kate Derr, who oversees day-to-day operations at the retreat, fields calls and emails from prospective adopters. Watching Derr’s gentle way with the dogs, you understand why Harris calls her “wonder woman.”

 

“Kate does everything,” Harris says. “She will set up a meeting for the person to come and meet the dog. If they’re interested, they fill out an application. Then Kate does a home visit to see if they have a fenced yard, just to check out everything. Then the dog goes for a home visit, to make sure they can get along with other animals there. There’s a three-week trial period. If it’s not a good fit, they can return the dog. Or if we decide it’s not right, we can take the dog back.

 

“The dogs have had all their shots. They’re usually crate-trained. We let people know if there are any idiosyncrasies about the dogs. And we want to know idiosyncrasies about the people. Because it’s a lifelong relationship. It’s a commitment. We want to make sure that the people are happy and that the dog is going to have a happy home.”

 

Harris’s rescue efforts speak to a larger problem in Nashville, as well as in many other American cities.

 

“There are approximately 11,000 animals euthanized at Nashville Metro every year,” she says. “It’s a statistic that’s terrible for a lot of reasons. If we had mandatory spay and neutering legislation, people would do the right thing. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. All around the country, there are communities who have taken on this problem and almost eliminated the unwanted cat and dog population.”

 

Harris’s animal advocacy recently earned her the George T. Angell Humanitarian Award from the MSPCA, along with a Humane Society fundraiser dinner in honor of her 60th birthday. While she appreciates the awards—and makes it clear that these days, she’d rather be recognized for her work with animals than her music—she knows there’s a lot more work to do.

 

As Harris sits in Bonaparte’s Bunkhouse, scratching Sally’s chin, she says, “The other side of all this—the heartbreak—is that there are thousands of dogs who are going to be put down. I know that I can’t save them, but it’s very difficult. You can’t put blinders on. I have to say, which dogs have been at Metro Animal Control the longest? And which ones look like they’re suffering from certain conditions that are being exacerbated by them being there? But why one dog and not another? It feels like ‘Sophie’s Choice’ sometimes. I’m haunted by certain faces that I know were there one day and the next, they were gone. It isn’t easy, but the thing that keeps me going are just those few that we’ve been able to place in homes.”

 

Listen to Emmylou sing “Not Enough”—her tribute to her buddy Bonaparte.

 

News: Guest Posts
Testing Food Additives on Dogs
Beagles being used by food industry

What happens when a 15-year-old vegetarian learns that a controversial food additive, one that is patented as a flame retardant, is allowed to be added to her sports drink?

Sarah Kavanagh, of Hattiesburg, Miss., started a petition on change.org, asking the manufacturer to remove it. Brominated vegetable oil is allowed by the Food and Drug Administration as an additive “generally regarded as safe.” It has, however, been linked to health problems in some studies, so why put it in a sports drink, her petition argues?

Dog lovers, too, are posting petitions about practices involving food additives that make no sense to them—like testing such ingredients on animals. The requisite safety tests performed on BVO included animals; even dogs.

While rodents are the usual subjects in toxicity tests, dogs are also an important test tool for food additives such as olestra (of gastrointestinal fame); cyclamate (a banned sugar substitute); and countless other compounds, which are administered at high doses in studies.

Supporters of the practice view dogs as “whole, living systems” vital for testing the effects of additives in products sold to humans. Opponents see a cultural disconnect in using dogs to study products to be sold to…well, them.

Surveys show that nearly half of U.S. households have a dog. Another subset have Beagles; the most common laboratory breed. Yet the long-domesticated dog—subject of endless stories of devotion and cultural indulgence in the form of goods and services aimed at their comfort—is, in another context, a disposable species.

Petitioners say that dogs have limited protections in a research setting. Cages restrict their movement, puppies may be weaned early and caged individually, and procedures may hurt, particularly in vivo toxicity tests.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 “is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers.”

The Act was prompted by media reports on the theft of pets by dealers who sold them for research. Now most research dogs are “purpose bred,” but they can still be supplied by Class B dealers and legally sourced from shelters, auctions, and ads. As of June 2012, the Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that there were 3,303 USDA Class A breeders and Class B licensed brokers!

The animal welfare law is enforced “primarily through inspections of every licensed or registered facility in the country.” It regulates cage size, cleanliness, and food and water, but not the tests performed or their duration. The BVO feeding study spanned two years (in dog-years, how long is that, owners may wonder?)

Even when dogs emerge from a study in good health, there is still the “frequently asked question” of what happens when an experiment ends?

According to the website of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, “The majority of animals under study must be euthanized in order to obtain tissue for pathological evaluation and for use in in vitro tests.”

The association is a membership group of professionals from academia, government, and private industry that promotes “responsible laboratory animal care and use to benefit people and animals.”

In one petition on whitehouse.gov, the Dogington Post “internet newspaper” offers this appeal to the Obama administration: “Beagles aren’t reliable test subjects.”

In fact, many food additives such as BVO remain controversial long after tests in dogs were used to determine what a safe dose might be in human foods.

Like olestra, a substitute for fat. A 20-month olestra feeding study in dogs states that the objective “was to assess the potential chronic toxicity of olestra in a non-rodent species.” The study found that “olestra was not toxic when fed to dogs at up to 10 percent of the diet for 20 months.”

The dogs, 4-6 month old Beagles divided into groups of 10 for testing, were euthanized when it was over and the study was published in 1991. Yet olestra garners plenty of consumer complaints.

The sweetener Sucralose aka Splenda was also tested in Beagles. Sourcewatch.org describes one test that involved 32 Beagles caged for 52 weeks at the McNeil Specialty Products laboratories in New Jersey. At the end of the study they were anaesthetized and bled to death, which made the examination of organs easier.

An alternative to BVO in beverages, the Eastman product Sustane SAIB (sucrose acetate isobutyrate)—though not a source of consumer complaints—was tested in Beagles, too.

The list of additives is long, and some say, getting longer. Consumer interest in health keeps the food industry experimenting with flavors, plant extracts, supplements, stabilizers and more. As they strive to churn out the substitutes, animal petitioners hope to see new substitutes for dogs in their toxicity tests.

Also promoting humane alternatives is the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is pulling for a robot to the rescue. Like the promising “Tox21,” a collaboration of federal agencies to test chemicals—including food additives—with a machine, at blazing speed. The evolution of technology, they say, will minimize the use of animals.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Another Microchip Save
Uniting Dog with Human

Our department recently received a report asking us to check on the welfare of two dogs.  When I arrived I found the dogs in an open side yard. The weather was cold and wet and the dogs were living in filth. There were feces and garbage everywhere, no food, no water and no adequate shelter. The stench of their conditions hit me from 15 feet away and one of the dogs was seriously underweight. He balanced like a circus elephant on top of his overturned water bowl in an effort to escape the mess beneath him.

I had another officer with me as the neighborhood had a high rate of crime and gang activity and I banged on the door of the house as he kept watch. No one responded so I notified my supervisor and prepared to seize the dogs.

While my partner continued to monitor the area, I quickly took a bunch of photos of the dogs, their conditions, empty bowls etc. I made sure to get lots of shots of the ribs, hips and spine on the skinny dog.

Next, I posted a notice of impound, leashed the dogs and hurried them to my truck. Both had sweet temperaments and followed me eagerly with tails wagging. I lifted them onto blankets in the vehicle, getting multiple wet kisses in the process, and closed and locked the doors.

It was a relief to leave the neighborhood and even more of a relief to get the dogs out of there. Several shady characters lingered next to a graffiti-covered wall, watching us as we drove away.

Back at the shelter I was surprised to see that one of the dogs was neutered and had a microchip. The chip traced to woman living in Reno, five hours away, who was shocked when she learned that her dog was in our shelter. She told me that a vengeful ex-boyfriend had taken the dog nearly a year and half previously!

The former owner is making arrangements to make the long drive to claim her dog and the person responsible for their conditions is facing animal cruelty charges. Another miraculous case of a dog going home that never would have been returned to the rightful owner without a microchip.

I’ve seen a hundred of them but I’d love to hear of any microchip miracles our readers have had.

 

(See What a Good Dog for another miracle.)

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Team Up It (can) take a village

A few months ago, one of our dog-park friends passed away unexpectedly while backpacking. Her two dogs — an older Husky and a young Jack Russell Terrier — were at home with their dog sitter at the time. There were no instructions or nearby relatives to help decide what to do with her dogs. Luckily, the Husky was quickly adopted by a friend, who had his sibling, but fi guring out what to do about Dexter, the JRT, was a little more of a challenge.

His immediate needs were met by his sitter, who was able to stay on with him for a while. Then another friend offered to foster (and possibly adopt) him. It didn’t take long for this friend, who already had four dogs, to realize that a very active, ball-loving, two-year-old terrier was a little too much for her. That’s when “Operation Rehome Dexter” — mounted by Dexter’s dog park “aunties” — went into high gear.

We crafted a charming bio and took great photos that displayed his sweet impishness. We posted him on FB, blogged about him, asked anyone who had a hankering for terriers if they had room for another. We struck gold when yet another friend who does rescue work offered to post him on Petfinder.com. Within minutes, we had our fi rst applicant, and more poured in for this eminently adoptable pup.

It was only a couple of days from the time we came together to find Dexter a home to the time we reviewed applications and made a date to meet Jody (the first applicant, who was looking for her first-ever dog). The meeting couldn’t have gone better. Jody loved him, and she had a good throwing arm! His aunties unanimously approved, and the match was made. He went to his new home the next day. But that was just the start.

This is where I think we hit upon something noteworthy. Altogether, our group had more than a century of dog “know-how” to offer a rookie, and, boy, were we eager to share it. Jody, perhaps sensing that she had no alternative, graciously accepted our coaching/mentoring offers. She upheld her end by asking many questions and providing us with updates on how she and Dexter were doing. For bonus points, she e-mailed us delightful photos. This made for a smoother transition into a new life-with-dog routine. I’m confident that she could have done it without us, but she said that knowing she could rely on us gave her signifi cant peace of mind.

Wouldn’t it be great if other dog adoptions, especially to first-timers, came with this sort of support? Kind of like Apple’s “genius bar,” people with experience could be called upon to provide useful, field-tested advice. Adopters would know they had a safety net, which could really reduce a shelter’s return rate.

Do any of you know of shelters who’ve developed this sort of auxiliary? Or might like to? We’re guessing that among our readers, there’s way more than a millennium of combined expertise. We need to come up with a method to put it to good use in our communities for the benefit of all the Dexters out there, and all the novice adopters who, with just a little coaching, could confi dently take them home

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