Dog's Life: Humane
Resources for parents & teachers
Across the country, groups both large and small provide information and services in support of humane education. Here are a few places to start, and others may be available in your community. If not, give some thought to helping your humane society start a local program. The world—and its children and animals—can always use more kindness!
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Best Friends Animal Society
Dumb Friends League
HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers)
Humane Education Programs
Humane Society of the United States
Institute for Humane Education
The National Humane Education Society
Progressive Animal Welfare Society
Dog's Life: Humane
Raising Money for Rescue
La Dolce Vita Gourmet is the newest food truck making waves on the streets of Los Angeles. Dog lovers Joanna Fiore and Michael Valentine converted a vintage 1947 Airstream into a traveling café featuring gourmet cashew butter sandwiches, gelatos and other delectables — all to raise funds for their nonprofit dog rescue of the same name. Menu items are named after their rescue dogs Luigi, Gigi, Dino and the rest of the gang. The couple decided to put wheels on their fundraising efforts because, as Joanna admits, “We suck at raising money for our rescue. We thought, why not give people something they love to eat and, at the same time, all the proceeds will go to our charity for dogs.”
They already have a large and growing following of people who line up for their flavored nutty butters, which are also available online. Check it out and be sure to watch the videos of the dogs. They hit a sweet spot too.
Dog's Life: Humane
Are people crazy to admit they need their dogs?
Last spring, Ashley Judd took heat in the blogosphere for coming out as having psychological-support dogs to help her cope with depression. After the actress posted on Twitter that it is illegal to “pester” someone about having service dogs, people around the country responded by calling her “crazy,” a “beyotch” and a “service-dog snob.” Some suggested that she was using the laws that allow service animals in public places as a way to be a diva.
Registered as official service animals, Judd’s four-legged friends go everywhere with her. Yet, legally, as psychiatric service dogs, they are considered neither her friends nor her pets. The law is quite clear that service animals are for use by people who suffer from physical or mental disabilities. Rather than companions or helpers, the law holds them to be the same as the inanimate equipment those with disabilities use to navigate the world.
According to the law, animals can enter our intimate family circles either as pets — which is to say, as property — or as a result of trauma, disease or disability. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been used to protect the rights of people dependent upon psychiatric-service and emotional-support animals as long as they are not pets but, rather, “assistive aids, such as wheelchairs.” According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), their calming or therapeutic effect is not enough; all service dogs (or other animals) must be specifically trained to perform tasks. They must pick up dropped keys, counterbalance dizziness, turn on lights or do something else to help with the requirements of daily life.
The DOJ draws a distinction between psychiatric-service dogs and emotional-support or therapy dogs. The former are legally recognized under the ADA, while the latter are not, despite the fact that they are included in current subcategories of service animals.
My sister, a liver-and-kidney transplant recipient, has three Dachshunds who go everywhere with her and help her cope with the post-traumatic stress of her medical ordeals. Her dogs are therapy animals prescribed by a doctor to provide emotional support. Having a prescription should allow patients to take their animals with them into public places where animals are usually banned, including buses and trains, buildings, and the workplace. However, unless the dogs are providing a material service, technically they are not legal service animals.
Doctors prescribe dogs instead of pills for everything from post-traumatic stress to depression. The military is using dogs in war zones not only as bomb-sniffers but also to comfort battle-weary soldiers, and veterans returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder also have dogs prescribed to help them. (This is an about-face for the military, which, until 2000, had a policy of treating “war dogs” as equipment to be disposed of after they were no longer useful.)
In addition, comfort dogs are used in courtrooms to provide emotional support for children called to testify in difficult cases, and Yale Law School has instituted a program whereby students can “check out” a dog from the library to help alleviate stress. Programs like these are popping up all over as evidence mounts that companion animals reduce both mental and physical stress as well as promote learning, coping and social adjustment for all ages.
It is ironic, then, that although our attitudes toward animals are changing, psychological and emotional dependence on them is still seen as a sign of childishness at best and craziness at worst. Our relationships with animals are being circumscribed by laws that relegate them to the role of tools or medication, and then pathologize the people who rely on them. These laws show that public policy does not take our love and dependence on animals seriously. Instead, it turns them into devices, machines performing tasks or medication prescribed by doctors. In order to have our dependency on animals sanctioned by law, we have to become patients and objectify our furry friends.
This cultural and legal attitude suggests that people who are dependent on their animals for anything other than amusement or entertainment are abnormal or unhealthy. People who love animals as friends and family, and more especially, who depend on them for comfort and emotional support, are seen as quirky at best, and at worst, mentally ill. Perhaps it is time that our culture accepts that we depend on animals in all aspects of our lives, including companionship and emotional support.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Saving a shelter dog
I’ve always felt that the best way to remember a beloved dog is to rescue another dog in need. I was missing my previous rescued Doberman when a friend who knows that I have a soft spot for them sent me a photo. It was of a Doberman scheduled for euthanasia in a shelter in southern California, many hours away. The dog was a black female of maybe 3 or 4 years old. The sweet face appealed to me and I requested more information. I was told that she was friendly and had come in as a stray. She had a microchip going back to Oaxaca, Mexico and the unfortunate name of “Slash” but the owner never claimed her and no one came to adopt her.
I agreed to foster her and waited to hear back. On a Thursday I heard that she had to be pulled by the next day or she would be euthanized. I had no way to pick her up until Sunday as I had to work and there was no one to cover me. I offered to give the shelter a credit card or whatever it took to hold her. The response: “You don’t understand. We want to help but there is no room. She will be euthanized Friday unless she’s picked up by closing.”
It was a sad reality to hear that this shelter was so overcrowded that friendly, healthy dogs were being euthanized. It was a frantic scramble to try and find a way to save the dog. I would have driven there after work but they would be closed. It was a long shot for a dog that I hadn’t even been able to evaluate but I made a bunch of phone calls and fretted.
Finally one of the rescues got back to me with the news that a nearby kennel would board the dog for $10 a night and a rescue transport could bring her part way up to Northern California on Sunday. I was also asked to pick up a Pit Bull who had also been scheduled for euthanasia and had a foster home waiting. We met on interstate Hwy 5 at a gas station on a desolate stretch of barren freeway.
The rescue driver snapped a lead on “Slash” and brought her out. The dog greeted me eagerly, her stump of a tail wiggling with delight. I was thrilled with her sweet temperament and confident friendliness. Her coat was dull and she was thin but I knew that was easily remedied. The Pit Bull was a sweetheart as well and I walked them both before loading them into crates in my station wagon and starting the long drive back. As I glanced at the Dobie in the rear view mirror I decided to change her name to Breeze.
I dropped off the Pit with her foster family and when I got home I took Breeze out into my fenced pasture and let her loose. She began racing huge joyful circles around the field, darting back to give me kisses before she was off again. As the sun set over the trees I glanced at my watch and realized that she and the sweet little Pit Bull would have been dead by then if not for the combined efforts of a lot of people. My eyes filled with tears as I continued to watch her run.
I introduced Breeze to my complicated family of teens, husband, elderly house-mate and other dogs. She couldn’t have been any sweeter with soft playful body language and a constantly wagging tail. She also had an endearing habit of carrying her stuffed toys, her “babies” everywhere she went. I was absolutely smitten.
The only snag was introducing Breeze to the cats. She had major cat issues and those took a lot of work to overcome and manage. She is such a truly wonderful dog in every other way though that it’s been more than worth it and she became a permanent member of our family. Every time I watch her racing joyfully on the beach, playing with the other dogs or feel her sweet head on my lap, I’m thankful she’s alive.
I’m so grateful to all the people who spent their valuable time making it happen. My friend who sent me Breeze’s photo and made rescue arrangements, the overburdened shelter workers, the woman who agreed to board her for two nights and the people who transported her on their own time all had a hand in saving this wonderful girl’s life. For those of us who think dogs are one of our greatest treasures on earth, it’s time well spent.
Dog's Life: Humane
We talk with organizers of the Best Friend’s Society 2012 No More Homeless Pets conference to be held in Las Vegas, Oct. 25 to 28. Learn how to part of the solution— attend this important and informative conference.
Q. How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about?
A. The No More Homeless Pets Conference is legendary in its ability to bring together like-minded people who want to make a proactive, sustainable change for companion animals. Its sponsor, Best Friends Animal Society was founded on this premise. In the beginning, their origins were as grassroots as they could get. They saw the problem—stray, abandoned, neglected and abused animals—and created a sanctuary. They provided the local animal care and control around Kanab, including Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. When we say they built the Sanctuary, they did everything from creating the blueprints for the specialized buildings to physically constructing the buildings.
While building the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary, they also started sharing the information on how they were able to work better and smarter for the animals People from different countries, socioeconomic and education backgrounds came together and dove headfirst into working to realize a time of No More Homeless Pets. The conference was a next logical step in bringing these like-minded people together. The conference started more than 10 years ago with about 250 attendees. Last year’s had more than 1,300 attendees.
Q. How important is sharing success stories at the conference? Does it help to build a sense of community?
A. Sharing success stories is very important. From the very beginning the emphasis on hope and solutions is what attracted supporters to Best Friends and shaped the editorial content of its magazine and website.
From its start, No More Homeless Pets Conference has carried the message that ending the killing of adoptable, treatable animals is absolutely a goal that can be achieved. The sharing of the successes and innovations from across the U.S., Canada and other countries is one of the hallmarks of the conference and what keeps people coming back.
Q. Is there a long-term strategy or a multi-tiered plan to solving the problem—addressing key links in the process, such as, transportation, fostering, training—to reduce the number of pets who enter shelters?
A. All of these are important components. Each community has its own unique needs list so community-based solutions that look at the local needs and how to devise strategies that address those needs are best.
For instance consider the success of the city of Calgary in Alberta. Bill Bruce, director of Animal Services there, has approached ending the killing of shelter animals with a top-down, integrated community-policy approach. The department is funded entirely by pet-licensing fees and animal-regulation enforcement fines. A pet license is $30 for a fixed dog and $52 for an unaltered canine, and registration can be done online, in person and even at the bank. To encourage compliance, a fine for not licensing a dog is $250.They focus on public education about responsible pet ownership, pet-licensing compliance and addressing as many animal issues as possible out in the community before the animals become shelter problems. Bill has turned the “dog catcher” into a genuinely helpful community animal care resource.
The return-to-owner rate for cats in the U.S. is a miserable 2 percent. In Calgary, 49 percent of cats are returned to their owners and 29 percent are adopted. That’s a 78 percent save rate. An amazing 90 percent of dogs are returned to their owners in Calgary, 9 percent of impounded dogs are adopted and only 5 percent are put down.
More impressive still is the fact that Calgary accomplishes this with no taxpayer dollars at all, which protects animal services and the animals from political wrangling over budget cuts and economic trends.
Q. What changes have you seen in public awareness of adoption and rescue, spaying and neutering and are you seeing an impact?
A. When the No-Kill Movement first started about 17 million animals were being killed in the nation's shelters. That number is still about 4 million, a number that is not acceptable.
Best Friends started the first statewide coalition of rescue groups and shelters in Utah in 2000. Over 46,000 animals were euthanized in shelters throughout the state (1999 baseline). Today, that number has decreased by 49%. This year twelve communities achieved a 90% or higher “save rate” for the first 6 months of 2012. And slightly more than ten other communities were in the 80-89% range for the same period. In New Hampshire, Peter Marsh was a founder of Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, the group that spearheaded the establishment of publicly funded pet-sterilization programs in that state. During the first six years after the programs were established, shelter euthanasia rates dropped by 75 percent and have been maintained at that level since that time. For more than 15 years, Peter has helped animal care and control agencies, humane organizations and advocacy groups establish effective shelter overpopulation programs in their communities. Marsh’s analysis of the impact of targeted spay/neuter services states that spaying or neutering five animals per 1,000 people in low-income areas will reduce shelter intake by as much as 33 percent over a five-year period. Jacksonville, Florida, reduced shelter intake by 23 percent in four years, and New Hampshire reduced shelter intake by 33.6 percent in six years. In Los Angeles the NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles) imitative is a coalition close to 50 local rescue groups Through the first five months of 2012, there has been a 15.7 percent reduction in the number of animals euthanized at LA city animal shelters—that’s 1,080 less in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2011. On top of that, the Coalition partners alone (separate of Best Friends or Los Angele Animal Services) placed 426 more animals than last year so far from January through June
Q. What are some of the success stories and evolutions of no-kill communities?
A. Here are four success stories, among the very many, that we are proud of.
1. Cheryl Wicks, founder of Sammie's Friends in Grass Valley, California, in 2000, Cheryl moved to the foothill area after living for decades in the fast-paced corporate world. She went to her local animal shelter to begin volunteering and found that not only were they killing 68 percent of the animals, she was also their only volunteer. In ’02, she attended the No More Homeless Pets Conference and received important information to help take her work to the next level. So she set about putting together a volunteer program and then things started going in the right direction. With the help of social networking, she was able to rally 100 people who wanted to end the killing of healthy pets in her community.
To help raise money for the sick and injured animals, Cheryl started a 501(c)(3). She was looking to change the overriding mentality toward animals from being “killable” to being “adoptable.” The organization she named Sammie’s Friends, after her very special Shar-Pei, Sammie, was on a roll. In ’07, she approached the city to run the shelter. It took two years, but in ’09, Sammie’s Friends officially took over the animal control contract.
Sammie’s Friends, now running the municipal animal control shelter, euthanizes less than one percent of the animals.
Cheryl explains, "After I attended my first No More Homeless Pets Conference, it made me start thinking, ‘What can I do to get animals out of the shelter?’ It made me realize the animals are the clients, and we’ve got to do everything we can on their behalf."
2. Zach Skow, founder of Marley’s Mutts in Kern County, California, had been a volunteer with Best Friends’ Los Angeles programs for a few years when he went to his first No More Homeless Pets Conference in ’09. He went because he wanted to learn how to do more for the animals.
“Going to the conference is like going to spring training for sports teams. You hone your skills by learning from the best. We learned how to expand our foster network to save more lives,” shares Zach.
While Zach has attended other animal welfare conferences, he said none has come close to this conference in terms of the quality and accessibility of the speakers and the feeling of camaraderie the event cultivates. He went back to California with “a renewed vigor and (motivation) to take lifesaving to the next level.”
3. Denise Bitz, founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, North Carolina, is coming to this year’s conference, which features sessions that are divided into seven main tracks: building a no-kill community, marketing, keeping pets out of shelters, adoption and fostering, fundraising, animal care and behavior, and new solutions to old problems. She says, “The tracks allow you to take exactly what you need in areas that can use the most improvement.”
Denise cites shelter enrichment (creating a mentally stimulating environment for her charges) as something she was able to put into practice after attending a previous year’s conference. Lessons she learned continue to pay off as well, including mailing and marketing techniques.
4. The Fetch Foundation’s founder, Marie Peck, had an epiphany: “The first time I was at the conference, it was overwhelming. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be with your people. I learned the best lesson: Be nice. It sounds simple, but it changed everything. From the quality of volunteers to the quality of donations, when we changed our attitude, our ability to do more just opened up.”
The Fetch Foundation is a “boutique rescue,” pulling dogs who are good candidates for search and rescue from shelters. But sometimes they get hit with an unexpected situation, like a hoarding case, and the information they learned at the conference is invaluable in helping them place multiple animals.
Q. What are the top things that people who support the cause can do on their own?
A. Become a supporter of Best Friends Animal Society and your donations support innovative grassroots programs including spay/neuter and TNR (trap/neuter/return) programs, promoting shelter adoptons, fighitng breed-discrimnatory laws and puppy mills, educate the public, holding major adoption events, and conducting large and small- scale animal rescues.
Q. Can you give us a preview of this year’s conference, what are you most excited about?
A. We’re excited for the sessions geared toward people who aren’t necessarily deeply involved in animal welfare but who want to make a difference in their communities. We’re featuring some unique success stories of individuals who have taken the initiative in their communities to help animals and have made a big impact—from creating multi- group adoption events, to helping promote spay/neuter programs, to starting programs that help lost pets find their homes, to programs that provide temporary foster to keep pets out of shelters when their people are in temporary crisis. Leading a community to no-kill often seems like a daunting task, but it can start with one individual, one program or one idea. Often these are ordinary individuals who have achieved extraordinary results for the animals, and we're excited to be showcasing many of these individuals at our conference.
We would love to hear from Bark readers about success stories on how their shelter, rescue group, spay/neuter program etc. is helping to move the needle toward no-kill. We would love to hear all the ideas and successes that other have had. (You can add your comments below.)
Dog's Life: Humane
Sri Lankan Humane Effort With Style.
Life for Sri Lanka’s more than one million street dogs is rough and tumble, and Embark, a humane group launched in 2007 by Otara Gunawardene — founder and CEO of Odel (Sri Lanka’s premier department store) and humane activist — is working to change that. The group is funded largely by Odel’s sale of Embark-brand jewelry and clothing, colorful wristbands and t-shirts for men, women and children with cool, dog-positive, provocative graphics designed to change public attitudes toward dogs. T-shirt slogans like “Real Dogs Bark Loud,” “I’m So Street,” “Who’s Your Doggie?,” “I Love You but I Love My Dog More” and “Wag Harder” certainly will attract a lot of attention here too.
From its base in Colombo, the island nation’s largest city, Embark tackles the issue on several fronts: sponsoring free spay/neuter and vaccination clinics; promoting and sponsoring adoptions; treating injured and critically ill dogs; and, most importantly for long-term improvement, conducting education and awareness programs. Working in partnership with Blue Paw Trust and the Maharagama Medical Officer of Health, Embark is also involved in the ambitious Humane Dog Population and Rabies Management Project, whose goal is to create a rabies-free environment. The task is a critical one, as rabies continues to threaten both animals and humans in many countries, including Sri Lanka (World Rabies Day is September 28; learn more here: worldrabiesday.org).
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
My flashlight started to fail about halfway across the river. It was fairly new and fully charged but it bobbled weakly between the rushing water I was wading across and the dog lying on the far side. I picked my way closer in the inky blackness but it was a moonless night and icy water surged over the tops of my boots as the last of the light ebbed away leaving me in total darkness. The bummer was that I was crossing on a narrow concrete spillway and had a steep drop off of about 8 feet on my left and a lesser drop on my right. The water crashing over the dam made a huge racket and it was a strange feeling to be standing there alone in the dark, unable to see or hear anything but the roar of the water.
As an animal control officer I knew I really shouldn’t be doing this by myself and had called for a sheriff’s deputy to back me up before I even left the truck. Unfortunately I had been too antsy to wait. I was sick with worry that the dog lying on the far side would succumb before I could reach her and had headed through a wooded area and down to the water alone. Hopefully, if I waited long enough a deputy would find me but they didn’t know exactly where I was and I wouldn’t be able to hear my phone or radio over the roar of the water.
The call had come in around 9 p.m. A man stated that he had been at the river near dusk and noticed a sick or injured dog lying on the far side. He had to leave but gave me some sketchy directions to find her. I was only vaguely familiar with the park but knew it to be somewhat of an afterhour’s hangout for shady characters. I didn’t technically have to go. It was nearly an hour from my house, I didn’t have anyone standing by and often the animal is either fine or long gone when we arrive. Still, I couldn’t bear the thought of a dog possibly in distress and had headed out.
As I stood there, afraid to move lest I tumble off the dam, I suddenly remembered that we had just been given tiny new flashlights for our belts. I hadn’t used mine yet and it was probably too small to help much but should be better than nothing. I fumbled with the holder and managed to pull it free and turn it on. To my delight it cut a strong swath of light across the water and lit the dog up like a spotlight.
I immediately slogged the rest of the way across and approached the dog. She didn’t even lift her head and I had to look close to see that she was breathing. She was an elderly German Shorthair Pointer and I called to her but got no response so I gently stroked her graying face. The milky eyes opened briefly and she shivered uncontrollably, but that was it. Her hind legs rested in the water and the rest of her was lying on the edge of the concrete dam.
Holding the light in my teeth, I gently scooped her up, soaking my uniform in the process, and headed back across the black rushing water. She may have been old but she probably weighed 60 pounds or so and by the time I reached the steep bank on the far side I was out of breath. I struggled to the top and then set her gently on a picnic table for a moment while I caught my breath, shivering along with her in the night chill.
When I finely reached my truck, I examined her carefully. She appeared well cared for and was clean and soft with neatly trimmed nails. Nothing seemed broken and her gums were a healthy pink. She seemed to just be chilled and exhausted. I dried her off and settled her on a thick comforter and wrapped several blankets around her, tucking the edges in and leaving only her sweet face exposed. She wore a collar and tag but it was a rabies tag that couldn’t be traced after hours and she didn’t have a microchip. She looked at me briefly before sighing and closing her eyes.
The next morning found the dog feeling much better and her frantic owners at the shelter looking for her. A worker at their home had left a gate open and the old girl had gone exploring. Deaf and somewhat frail, she had wandered down to the river and been too weak and disoriented to climb back up the steep bank. Her owners had searched for her all evening to no avail.
It was such a joy to reunite this sweet old girl with her family and a good reminder to check your pets ID. Ideally dogs should wear a buckle caller with a personal ID tag with several phone numbers. A microchip is the perfect backup in case the caller gets lost. Tags also wear through periodically. Are your pets tags current and in good shape?
Update 9/7/2012: Good news! Dexter has been adopted. Thanks for all your interest, hope you too find that perfect dog.
Dexter is one great dog—a Jack Russell Terrier, active, super intelligent and loving. He is two and a half years old, neutered, and weighs around 18 lbs. My friend, Carol, his human mom, died of a heart attack recently and he needs a new forever home. Another friend of his mom’s is now fostering him. She has three other dogs so it is difficult for her to provide him the amount of exercise he needs. He loves playing ball and she does take him to Pt. Isabel to play chuck-it, but only once a day. He needs two good exercise sessions a day (as most young dogs do).
Dexter was raised with two Huskies, and is getting along great in his foster home with two larger old dogs, positively loving the Keeshond. He has no problems with dogs at the dog park or while walking on leash and is fine with all adult humans he has met. He might be too active for young children but he hasn’t been tested yet with a child.
For a JRT, he is an obedient, happy little pup who just needs a lot more activity than his foster person can give him. He is housetrained, sits and walks like a prince on leash. He’s not destructive, travels well in cars and likes to give loads of kisses. But he is also a typical Terrier, so it is important that he goes to a home with someone familiar with this breed type.
If you like Terriers with their tenacious, loyal hearts and want a young and active happy dog to share your life, please email us. Dexter currently lives near Berkeley. Help us find him a great home!
News: Guest Posts
LA is considering a ban on the sale of commercially-bred animals
Despite laws and regulations protecting companion animals, these magnificent beings still can be treated very abusively with little to no penalty to their human guardians (aka owners) because in the eyes of the law they and other nonhuman animals (animals) are considered to be mere property.
In an earlier essay I wrote about the staggering number of homeless animals who need a safe home and puppy mills are notorious for severely mistreating animals as breeding machines. Carol Bradley's excellent book Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills is an excellent read about Gracie's rescue from a Pennsylvania puppy mill and the horrors of puppy mills in general. Top of Form
I remain a hopeful optimist and now there's some good news on the horizon for homeless dogs, cats, and rabbits in Los Angeles. This week a Los Angeles City Council committee “approved a proposed ordinance that would require every dog, cat or rabbit sold for profit in the city to be obtained from a shelter or humane society.”
I know many people have rescued animals with whom they've shared their home and the human and nonhumans have had wonderful lives together. Jethro, who I rescued from the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, and I had a wonderful life together (he also rescued me) and he turned out to be a “love muffin” who saved the lives of other species.
On a recent trip to the give a talk for the Wisconsin Humane Society I met Maddy, who reminded me of Jethro, and had I been able to take her home with me I would have done so, along of course, with all of the other wonderful animals who lived in this remarkable facility. I was thrilled to learn that Maddy was adopted shortly after I was there.
The Los Angeles ordinance may be voted on soon so there's time to contact the Los Angeles City Council to voice your opinion. Please take the time to do so. Millions of animals will be grateful for your efforts and we can hope that other cities will follow up on this ordinance and other species will also be included.
There really is no reason to buy a commercially bred animal.
Dog's Life: Humane
Grass-roots efforts to improve the lives of dogs
Led by Jacqueline, a small brown street dog, I walked the streets of Bora Bora. I had a purpose; so did she. Mine was to count dogs for a population estimate. Hers was to convince any cat foolish enough to show his face that keeping a low profile was wise. Jacqueline effectively yet benignly dispatched each one into hiding. Each time she did so, she looked back at me. By her expression I guessed that she appreciated I was there for back-up, but was a bit disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm.
I call Jacqueline a “street dog,” and by that I mean she is one of those ubiquitous dogs lining the streets of developing nations. Not quite stray, not quite owned, these dogs may have undetermined parentage but they probably aren’t mutts. Instead, they represent dog as “original dog”: Scientists now think they are the descendants of the first creatures who choose to depart the wild in favor of living with us. We are the “environment” to which they’ve adapted, and they have done so perfectly. They scope out the best sites for garbage, the safest routes across roads and which of us are the softest touch.
Street dogs are the reason I was in Bora Bora. This famously beautiful French Polynesian island is a resort paradise except for one thing: There are too many dogs. Tourists enjoy them, but they don’t like to see them sick, injured or neglected. Hotel managers often hear complaints, and can quote guests who swear they will never come back—“I can’t stand to see such suffering!” So places like Bora Bora realize that there are benefits to controlling dog populations: Fewer dogs mean fewer skeletal, lame, mangy blemishes on paradise.
I arrived as one of six veterinarians on a mission to spay and neuter as many dogs (and cats) as we could in one month. Our project was a combined effort of the US-based Esther Honey Foundation, the Tahiti-based Fenua Animalia and the local tourist commission, all of which were supported by Humane Society International (HIS) and the French Polynesian government. But in truth, the real people behind the project were a handful of local residents and a tourist or two who refused to sit by and do nothing. These few propelled the project past two years of bureaucratic hem-hawing, stalling and plain old uncertainty that dogs were important enough to be seen caring about.
There are, according to Kelly O’Meara of HIS, thousands of similar spay-and-neuter projects worldwide. Often on islands, often with tourism as incentive, many (if not most) are the result of a few local people stirring up support from other residents and tourists, and garnering the support of large international organizations like HIS and Pegasus International. While population control has long been an issue for these places, choosing humane and effective methods has not. For over a century, local governments have tended to wait for crises like disease outbreaks, fatal car accidents caused by dogs or just too many complaints of scattered garbage before they stepped in. Then, typically, they’ve chosen to use methods like shooting, poisoning or electrocution to deal with the problem.
These methods have had the benefit of being visible—people know their governments are acting—but besides being inhumane and dangerous (children have been poisoned, as have dogs with homes), they simply haven’t worked. Indeed, we have 150 years of experience proving they don’t work. It is a seemingly paradoxical fact that a sudden onslaught of canine killings results in a spurt in canine population growth. But there’s a rational reason for it: As adult dogs are removed from the population, competition for food is reduced, and the female dogs who survive these canine extermination efforts can sustain litters that would have otherwise died.
The earliest successful spay-and-neuter project was conducted in Jaipur, India, run by a chemical engineer named S. Chinny Krishna. Rabies is a serious problem in India, killing 20,000 to 30,000 people every year, and most cases result from dog bites. Krishna’s organization, Blue Cross for Animals (Help in Suffering), concentrated on vaccinations, but they also spayed and neutered. Since 1994, they have kept a record of every animal they’ve treated, and can document a dramatic decline in the number of human rabies cases in Jaipur, from several hundred a year to zero. Their work has been so successful that the Indian government has adopted their methods and extended its support to programs in other cities.
India may be a special case. As a predominately Hindu country, they value all animals and humane treatment. And India is a nation with considerable resources. But Help in Suffering was the result of a few individuals’ efforts, and its success is a consequence of their persistence and determination.
The island of Abaco in the Bahamas is the site of more recent project in a tougher society. Bahamian street dogs are not valued by the residents, who call them “potcakes,” a reference to the hard disc found on the bottom of cooking pots. This burnt residue of dozens of meals is what they toss to the dogs as food.
Fortunately, the potcakes’ plight touched Kathy Hargreaves. Her personal turning point to activism came when she found herself planning her trips to Marsh Harbor, the island’s big city, to avoid driving past the dogs.
“It was the starkest of visions,” she says. “Animals run over by the side of the road, dogs that were skin and bones that could barely walk, litters of puppies, some dumped in boxes, all near death. I said to my husband, ‘We have to do something about this.’” But what could two people do?
She started by surveying her neighbors. She tells of going into dozens of houses, asking the residents, “Do you own any dogs?” No, they’d say, but she’d just walked past two or three potcakes in their yards. So she’d ask about the dogs in their yards—while they wouldn’t admit owning them, they did admit feeding them. But when it came to doing something to control their numbers, the dogs belonged to no one.
So Hargreaves tried a new strategy: bribes. Her new organization, the Spay and Neuter Incentive Program (SNIP)—which received funds from HSI, Pegasus and local (mostly expatriate) donors—offered $10 for every male dog brought in, and $15 for every female. Local vets agreed to do the operations at discount prices (the Bahamian government prohibits visiting veterinarians from doing any work, even on a volunteer basis). The bribes worked, and 138 animals were brought into the first clinic, the most ever for a Caribbean island. Their project is now five years old, and because people can see the results, the number of clinics has dropped from three a year to two, and they don’t have to offer bribes anymore. Where Hargreaves could once count on seeing at least one dead dog a day, she now sees none.
The genesis of my own group, the Esther Honey Foundation, was a vacation a fellow Oregonian, Cathy Sue Anunsen, took in the Cook Islands. She stayed in a resort on Rarotonga, fully intending to rest and relax. While there, she met Honey, a sort of “resort” dog. Like other street dogs on the island, he’d adopt tourists for the duration of their visit, and this time, Cathy was his new “family.” He slept outside her bungalow and accompanied her to the beach every day.
But only a few months before, a tourist had died in an auto accident caused by the driver trying to avoid a dog. In response, the police had been shooting all “stray” dogs; any dog not locked up was a target. When Anunsen found out about this, she was appalled. Then she read an article about a local resident, Tom Wichman, who was starting the Cook Islands SPCA.
“I contacted Tom,” she recalls, “just wanting to make a donation. He came to visit at about 10 AM and stayed until after midnight.” What was the best way to do fund-raising, he asked, and did she know any veterinarians who would be willing to come to Rarotonga to treat animals? From this discussion—and a few dozen more over the years—a free clinic was born, staffed by volunteer veterinarians from all over the world. The main mission is to spay and neuter, but no animal is turned away. Every year or so, “vet treks” are organized, in which veterinarians and vet students travel to one of the other 15 Cook Islands to sterilize dogs and cats, using picnic tables, community centers and churches as their surgical suites.
Anunsen keeps track of how many animals are treated. Since Rarotonga had never done a canine census, she has no way of quantifying the effects of the clinic’s work. But she knows that residents report that dogs are being treated better, and she has other evidence: When she first got there, stores didn’t carry dog food—the island’s dogs ate garbage, coconuts and fish they caught. Now, the stores carry canned dog food and kibble.
Dog food sales may be an odd way to measure success, but it’s one tangible marker. India looked at the number of rabies cases, other communities count complaints or dog-bite reports. However, actual counts of dog populations are rare to nonexistent. The priority placed on doing something seems to overwhelm the effort required to prove that what is being done is effective. Which means, unfortunately, that there are no real guidelines for what works and what doesn’t. For example, do you need to sterilize two-thirds of the animal population, or just two-thirds of the females? Or, do you need to sterilize all dogs, or just dogs with homes, since strays often don’t have the nutritional wherewithal to reproduce.
In Bora Bora, I counted dogs to try to get some baseline estimate, using what are essentially wildlife-monitoring techniques to statistically guess at population numbers. This lack of quantifiable data is also of particular concern to one of the leading practitioners of spay-and-neuter medicine, Eric Davis, DVM, director and founder of Rural Animal Veterinary Services (RAVS), which concentrates on serving this country’s rural areas, such as Native American reservations and Appalachian mountain communities.
“Who the heck knows how many dogs there were to begin with, and who knows how many dogs there were five years later?” he says. But to him, what is most shameful is the apparent lack of interest in this problem among the veterinary science community. As he points out, if as many dogs were dying of a disease as are euthanized as strays, attention would be paid and funding for research would be forthcoming. Instead, there is little to none of either. “You look in veterinary journals and try to find articles on population statistics for dogs and the effects of spay and neuter—they are nonexistent.”
The veterinary community is not entirely remiss, however. There has been considerable research into nonsurgical alternatives. The most anticipated is immuno-contraception, which uses a vaccine against the egg, sperm or reproductive hormones; several methods have been tried, and one is available in Australia. Another is Neutersol™, a chemical that, when injected, destroys sperm-producing cells permanently. Any of these would vastly increase the numbers of dogs or cats it would be possible to sterilize.
By whatever means, sterilization promises not just population control but other more abstract but equally important results. It is the contention of activists such as Merritt Clifton, editor and publisher of Animal People and a spay-and-neuter advocate, that by simply making dogs scarce, we can increase their value. And if dogs live longer, people will bond with them and learn to care about them. Not to mention that by setting an example by volunteering, and by the care we expend on the animal’s behalf, we can inspire others to care as well. All are good reasons to do what we are doing.
The real reason we do these things is more simple. As I look at Jacqueline, who is so patient with my cat-control deficiencies, I know that really, there is one reason I am there. As Davis said: “If I can make the life of one dog better, if I can keep one female from a short life of endless pregnancies and starvation, then I’ve done enough.”
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