Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.
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
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.
Dog's Life: Humane
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
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
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
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
News: Guest Posts
Every day worried pet owners called the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL) for low-cost veterinary care. Only affordable vaccinations and spay/neuter services were available. All that changed on April 9, 2011 when Judith Gardner, president and CEO, announced the opening of PetMed, a veterinary clinic to serve low income pet owners.
Funded by private donations, PetMed opened with once weekly service. Surgeries, if needed, were done on a second day. Through word of mouth advertising, 1,000 owners brought in 168 cats/kittens and 563 dogs/puppies during the first nine months. Additional funding expanded service to three days says Vicky Kamm, director of operations.
In a remodeled clinic, PetMed treats dogs and cats with fungal infections, cracked teeth, Valley fever, and fractured limbs. Veterinary services are limited, however. Walk-ins or emergencies are not accepted. There are no overnight stays. Clients must have an appointment and a fee schedule applies. Kamm says PetMD does not perform cosmetic surgeries such as tail docking or ear cropping. They will not de-claw cats or de-bark dogs.
For the first time, local limited income pet owners have a viable option to help keep their sick or injured animals rather than surrender them to a shelter. Take the case of Missy, a feral kitten with a broken leg. Missy lived in a colony outside a downtown Phoenix hotel. Staff had the colony sterilized and fed them daily. One day a worker noticed Missy’s limp. A veterinarian said a car probably struck the cat and suggested amputation. He recommended PetMed for treatment. Hotel staff pooled their resources for Missy’s successful surgery.
A couple’s pregnant dog Jazzy was in distress after delivering two puppies. A veterinarian determined a third puppy remained inside, dead. Only surgery would relieve Jazzy’s suffering. The financially strapped couple called PetMed. Not only was the surgery successful but Jazzy was spayed too. Later on, the couple brought in their male dog and two puppies for sterilization. Kamm says it was a win/win all around.
PetMed is staffed by a licensed veterinarian and two full-time employees. Volunteers pitch in with clerical duties. In 2013, PetMed plans to expand to four days a week.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
On a recent dark, chilly fall evening, a three year old child wandered out of his home un-noticed by his parents. His departure was, however, observed by the family dog, a large neutered male Pit Bull, who took it upon himself to follow the little boy and stay close by his side. They were a good distance from home before they were seen by some passers-by who stopped to help. The child was unable to tell them where he lived or give them any other information so deputies were summoned. The dog stayed by the child’s side the entire time, friendly but watchful.
The child was going to be taken into protective custody so one of my fellow animal control officers was dispatched to pick up the dog. The officer scanned the dog and found a microchip which had been implanted by our shelter during a free neuter clinic that we had offered a few years previously. Thanks to the chip, one phone call was all that was needed to get the pair home safely. The situation is still under investigation but could have been much worse had the dog not chosen to stay with the little boy.
I was so touched by the way the faithful dog stayed with the child the entire time and by the way, once again, a microchip led to a happy ending!
I would love to hear from readers about things your dogs have done to be there for someone in need.
Tara, a trainer/dog walker in Red Deer, Alberta has come up with a good idea about ways to alert others about a dog who might need a little “space” from another dog on a leash. She calls it the Yellow Dog Project and founded this movement only a couple of months ago. As you know, there are many reasons why a leashed dog might require a safe distance from another dog—health and behavioral reasons, primarily. Our dear Lenny, a little Terrier mix who died last year at 19, was that kind of dog, he was reactive towards most other dogs. There were many times when a friendly dog would approach us and I would have to call out something like “my dog isn’t friendly,” most of the time the response would be “but my dog is friendly.” How much easier it would be if we all understood that a dog with a yellow ribbon or something in yellow on their leash, said it for us instead. So hooray to Tara—help her spread the word.
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