Dog's Life: Humane
No More Homeless Pets
No More Homeless Pets Conf. Two Dogs

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.

  • Donate to their local rescue groups or humane societies.
  • Volunteer even one day a month at the local shelter or to help transport animals, to low- cost spay/neuter clinic, etc. - Always adopt, never buy pets and encourage your family and friends to do likewise
  • Always spay/neuter your pets and help educate others on the importance of this. (see Best Friends' “Fix at Four” educational campaign).

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
Embark: Saved by a Wristband
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
Old Dogs Can Stray

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?

News: Editors
Dexter Needs a New Home

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
Good News for Companion Animals
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
Street Dogs of Paradise
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.”


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Joy of Fostering

She was another one of the many neglected strays I pick up on my job as an animal control officer but I was shocked by how emaciated she was. Her spine and hips stood out in stark relief, especially over her rump where much of her hair was missing. Her belly was hugely swollen and closer inspection showed that she was ready to deliver. She was incredibly sweet and looked like a Border Collie/Lab mix; all black with beautiful big brown eyes.

It was clear that she would give birth before her stray hold period was up and in her condition, the shelter was not the best place for her. Her photo was posted online in case an owner came looking for her. They would have had to do some explaining as to why their unspayed dog was roaming and in such terrible condition if they had tried to claim her. I named her April and took her home and made her comfortable in a cozy, spacious kennel that I keep ready for dogs in need.

Within days she delivered 8 beautiful puppies in shades of gold and black. She was a doting mama and her puppies thrived. Getting full choice puppy kibble and several warm wet meals a day she actually began to gain weight even while nursing. She was delighted when I gently examined her puppies each day and would wag her tail proudly while licking each one as I checked to be sure they were gaining and healthy.

On the ninth day I went in to do my daily puppy cuddle and was shocked and saddened to find one of the gold puppies dead. It’s not unusual to lose a very young puppy, especially when mom was in such terrible shape, but they had been so fat, shiny and healthy the day before. When I examined the rest of the litter I found others that were failing too. Even mama April was off her food and seemed like she didn’t feel well.

I consulted with the vet, who thought they had probably picked up a nasty infection. We started antibiotics twice daily and I began tube feeding and gave warmed subcutaneous fluids to the ones that weren’t able to nurse.  Some of them rallied while others went downhill. Having worked in numerous shelters and vet clinics I’ve dealt with sick puppies many times.  Often the very young pups die even with extensive treatment.

It was heartbreaking to have to poke the sick babies with needles and stick tubes down their throats but it was all that was keeping them alive. Several of the pups never did get sick and they continued to grow and gain weight. I took the chubbies out several times a day to give the weaker pups a chance to nurse without competition.

The two remaining blond pups and the little blaze-faced male were so sick that I doubted they would survive. After nearly two weeks the blond pups started to improve but little Blaze lingered, barely alive, day after day. More vet consults, more meds and fluids. I started to wonder if I was just prolonging his suffering but he didn’t seem painful, just terribly weak and frail. I was certain he would die but he hung on and would at least attempt to nurse so I continued the treatments.

He finally improved briefly but then I found him nearly comatose one evening. I put Karo syrup on his tongue for energy and gave him warmed fluids. I sat up half the night with him cuddled up on my chest and dripped miserable tears onto his tiny body. He remained unresponsive and there didn’t seem to be any hope. Around 1 a.m. I finally tucked him into a warmed blanket on low heat and kissed him good-bye.

I was emotionally and physically exhausted after 2 weeks of round the clock puppy care but I tossed and turned until six before getting up and preparing to bury Blaze. I was positive that he couldn’t have survived the night and was shocked to find him rooting around for a meal when I opened the blanket. Hurrying him into see April, I moved the bigger puppies out of the way and placed him on a nipple.  She nosed and licked him eagerly and I supported him while he nursed for a moment before falling asleep. He was still very weak and I helped him nurse every hour or so until he grew stronger and stronger.

Blaze finally turned the corner and he and the other pups never looked back. Mama April and all the puppies were adopted into wonderful homes and we get together for reunions so they can play together. I’ve been doing fostering and rescue for more than 25 years but the rewards of helping needy dogs still feel just as sweet.

I would love for Barks readers to consider fostering a needy dog or share experiences of fostering.  Most shelters and rescues welcome the assistance and there’s nothing like the feeling of making a difference.

Culture: DogPatch
Feel-Good Giving
Vet students at U of Tennessee fundraise for the Josh Project

Do you remember your first visit to the hospital? For a child facing surgery or treatment for a life-threatening illness, it can be a scary experience. By participating in the Josh Project, our Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association hopes to transform this ordeal through the power of the human-animal bond.


We raise money for Josh and Friends, a program founded by a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian and his Golden Retriever, Josh. The funds raised are used to purchase “I’ll Be Okay” gift sets—a book by the same name and a cuddly stuffed Golden—which are given to children in our community to help them through this anxiety-provoking experience. Best yet, when it’s over, the children have a furry friend to rub noses with as they make their way back to health … and we all know how reassuring that can be.


Dog's Life: Humane
Case Study: Saving Aussies
NorCal Aussie Rescue Sanctuary

From the driveway, NorCal Aussie Rescue Sanctuary looks not much different from most other properties along the winding roads of the Sierra Nevada foothills in northern California. It’s fairly modest and well-maintained, and the steep slope is shaded by Douglas fir and manzanita. Look closely, though, and there are differences, most notably a double-gated entry. Then … Paddy is probably the first to come bounding out of the green-painted clapboard building into the sandy, fenced space along the driveway, followed closely by a tumbling dozen other Australian Shepherds. There are blue merles and a black tri and a couple of red merles … and a Dachshund puppy.

Kim Kuenlen had wanted a dog most of her life, but circumstances conspired against that until early 1999, when she acquired Buddy, a blue merle Aussie. When she eventually started seeking a mate for Buddy, friends awakened her to the fact that the world really did not need more puppies; a little Internet research quickly informed her of the thousands of dogs who are abandoned each year. She contacted a rescue group, asking “How can I help?” and in less than 24 hours, took in her first rescued Aussie. Kim’s professional career included high-level fundraising, and when she was given the opportunity for early retirement, she put those skills to good use. In December 2003, NorCal Aussie Rescue was born as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. Kim’s goal was a full-throttle Aussie rescue operation.

The sanctuary, which sits high on a hillside in Grass Valley, Calif., opened in November 2006, with puppy-mill mama Noel and her pups as the first residents. Now it is home to 20-plus dogs at any one time. There is professional-quality kennel space for 14. The remaining dogs sleep in the house, and they are all rotated through the house for a few days at a time, giving each of them the opportunity to learn or retain the manners necessary to be a good pet.

In NCAR’s first official year, Joey sailed to his new home on Catalina Island, then Reno went to Sausalito. Cricket found happiness on a small ranch, and Moose got a home with a swimming pool. Thanks to foster families throughout northern California, and a small but devoted group of volunteers who help with grooming, transportation and property maintenance, that was just the beginning of this success story. The dogs are mostly Aussies, but there’s the occasional mix, or a “pocket dog” (like that Dachshund puppy). Kim is unceasingly vigilant about whom she allows to adopt—she knows that Aussies, with their energy and herding instincts, aren’t a good fit for just any household—and still she finds home after home for the unending stream of dogs that need help: nearly 900 in six years.

Visit the sanctuary at norcalaussierescue.org.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sniffing Poop to Save Wildlife
Ex-shelter dogs are trained to become conversation canines
Conservation Dog


Families often misjudge how much exercise dogs need, which is how many pets end up at the animal shelter. Insatiable play drive is bad for the average home but great for working canines. The Center for Biology Conservation adopts many of these dogs and trains them to sniff out wildlife droppings. Yes you read that right!

Scientists can learn a lot from scat, including sex, species, and even stress level. They can put together a complete health profile without even ever meeting an animal in person.

The Center's current project is bringing two conservation canines to the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico to track salamanders found nowhere else in the world. These amphibians are threatened due to the changing climate. The information will be used to map salamanders and create a plan to help save the critters and conserve the forests they live in.

The two dogs scheduled for the job are a Labrador named Sampson and an Australian Cattle Dog named Alli. Both are rescue pups and have since gone through rigorous training (all through positive reinforcement!). Sampson and Alli are trained on a variety of animal droppings, including the Pacific Pocket Mouse whose scat is as small as a sesame seed! Other conservation canines can even sniff out killer whale waste.

The Center's Conservation Canines program launched in 1997 and now sends scat sniffing dogs all over the world. Their skills are unmatched as they can collect huge amounts of samples over a large area in a short period of time.

I knew that droppings can provide a wealth of information, but the work that can be done with that data is far bigger that I'd realized. In one notable project, the Center used data from African elephant scat to create a map that is being used to battle the illegal ivory trade. Now when ivory pieces are discovered, the laboratory can identify the exact area it came from, which increases the chances of finding the culprits.

All that thanks to the amazing canine nose!