Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I was headed back to the shelter after a long day when another call came in. Dispatch informed me that a small dog had bitten a passerby who tried to catch her as she was running in traffic. I called the victim who stated that she had grabbed the dog and received a minor puncture. She hadn’t been able to hold onto her after the bite and had last seen the dog run under an SUV parked in front of a business. When I arrived and looked under the vehicle there was no dog. I poked around in the bushes in front of the building with no luck. Soon a man inside the building saw me and come out. He pointed to the vehicle and said, “She’s under there.” I looked again but no dog. “She’s not there now.” I said.
“Yes she is.” He insisted. “She’s up underneath.”
I found that hard to believe. Cats often climb up inside cars but I’d never heard of a dog doing it. Still, the car was next to a busy road and the dog needed to be quarantined so it was critical that I find her. Doubtfully I got down on my knees and peered under. I was still unable to see anything so I inched underneath it on my back. As I slid farther I saw a small white dog wedged up in the undercarriage of the vehicle. Well, that was a new one. Thank goodness the man had come out. I shuddered to think what might have happened if the owner had driven away.
The dog growled at me, undoubtedly terrified by her ordeal and I sweet-talked to her to calm her down as I slowly worked my way closer. My legs were dangling practically in traffic and I was afraid she would panic and run out in the road and get killed before I could a hold of her in that tight spot. Working slowly and carefully, I managed to slip a lead over her head. In her fear, she snapped at me but I managed to dodge her teeth and get her secured.
It was a challenge to get the little dog down out of the vehicle while avoiding her teeth and the rushing traffic but I finally worked my way out and stood up with the little dog in my arms. She was tense and wary but stopped trying to bite.
Back in the truck, I scanned her. She didn’t have a chip or tags so I settled her in the front seat with me where I could keep an eye on her and headed for the shelter. By the time we made it back we were friends and I found her to be a delightful little dog who had just been terrified by her circumstances and felt the need to defend herself.
No one claimed the little dog during her 10-day bite quarantine and since her bite had been provoked and very minor, she was put up for adoption. Young, healthy and totally adorable, it was only a few days before a lucky adopter snatched her up. I watched her prance out the door with her new person and felt a warm glow of satisfaction.
Dog's Life: Humane
BAD RAP lends a helping hand
Earlier this year, on a sunny January day in a parking lot near the Berkeley, Calif., waterfront, BAD RAP’s Pit Bull training classes were in full swing. People and dogs cheerfully circled, practicing “heel,” “sit” and, most important, “look at me.” The media were there too. They wanted to be ready with photos, film and interviews the minute sentencing was over in the Michael Vick dog fighting trial and a gag order was lifted.
The reporters needed to have the “Vick dogs” pointed out to them. A big white pit bull with tan spots and three legs would make a great photo, but Dango wasn’t a Vick dog—he was from an Oakland shelter. What about chocolate Stella, with the fight scars? No, she was from a drug bust in Detroit.
When it was time for a group photo of the Vick dogs, there was trouble, just the sort of trouble you’d expect. The dogs heard “photo op” and they thought “wigglefest.” They didn’t want to look at the camera, they wanted to lick faces, play or roll over for a belly rub.
The Vick dogs are a sample of what gets called “Pit Bull” in America today. Small black Frodo looks like the Old World Pit Bulls traditionally bred by dog fighters. Hector’s a big red dog with scars on his chest. Jonny Justice is black and white, glossy as a penguin. Big white Teddles looks like the many American Pits crossed with bigger breeds. As BAD RAP’s co-founder Tim Racer describes this trend, Teddles slumps against my leg—after all, he’s known me for 30 seconds—and lets me rub his speckled ears.
Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer founded BAD RAP—Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls–in 1999, and in 2007, Reynolds and Racer were among the nine experts asked by the ASPCA to help evaluate 49 of the dogs seized from Vick’s Bad Newz kennels and held in Virginia-area shelters. When the dogs were initially seized, Reynolds and Racer had submitted a proposal to evaluate them, hoping to fend off their immediate destruction, and were gratified when the government agreed. In addition to Racer, Reynolds and Justin Phillips of the SPCA of Monterey County, Calif., the evaluation team assembled by the ASPCA consisted of Dr. Randall Lockwood, Dr. Pamela J. Reid, Dr. Daniel Q. Estep, Dr. Crista R. Coppola and Nancy Williams, and was led by Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. Though the case hit the news in April 2007, evaluators weren’t able to see the dogs until September.
It was a dog fighting case, and a hoarding case, and a neglect case. Vick had amassed more dogs than he could fight or sell. The dogs spent deprived lives caged or chained to car axles in the woods. After they were confiscated and parceled out to six different Virginia animal control shelters, their isolation continued. It was hardest on the youngest dogs. Those who came to BAD RAP arrived in October after seven months in custody.
Although dogs don’t tell stories, they have stories, and stories help us understand. The saga of Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels, and the dogs who were hung, drowned or electrocuted when they displeased their handlers, grabbed the public’s attention. The dogs who died helped people see the surviving dogs as victims, not monsters. The story changed.
Animal welfare groups are using that story as a powerful tool to show that “fight-bust dogs” should be evaluated as individuals, and that it’s wrong to assume they’ve been turned into monsters. The personal stories of dogs—dogs redeemed from dreadful captivity, with no interest in fighting, joyously learning to be with people—have touched many hearts.
Transitioning to a Better Life
A few days later, I visited Frodo at Reynolds and Racer’s house, which is given over to dogs and art. Racer carves wooden carousel animals—including dogs—with marvelous detail, and Reynolds is a found-object artist. Their big deaf Pit Bull, Honky Tonk, comes over to say hello and lean on me. Before long, Honky Tonk is in the chair with me. Then Frodo nervously approaches to be introduced, smells my hand and excuses himself to be a little farther away.
Frodo represents a less-told side of this story: how much some dogs suffered from their long isolation in legal custody. Frodo and his littermates were six months old when they were confiscated. “They’re stunted. Socially stunted,” Reynolds says. Among his littermates, Frodo’s doing the best at adjusting to his new life. “He’s the bravest,” she says.
In the 1990s, Racer and Reynolds were doing all-breed rescue. They had no special affinity for Pit Bulls, but saw that no one was doing anything for them. “It was really just about helping the underdog,” Racer says. “There were no rescue groups for Pit Bulls. They were dying in record numbers. Besides that, they’re a great family dog.”
They rescued and placed some Pit mixes. “Then we ended up with an ex-fighting dog.” They got a call from a woman who’d found an injured dog in the street at midnight; she opened her car door and the dog got in. Racer and Reynolds went to the vet hospital to meet him. “He was covered in wounds—old wounds, new wounds … He was just shredded. Attached to a standing IV, he leaned into our legs, looked up and started wagging his tail. I said, ‘I don’t know how to help this animal, but we’ll find out,’” Racer recalls.
To counter the myths about the dangers of the breed, they created a website. “The avalanche came rolling in,” Reynolds says. “By day three, we were just inundated.”
That was the start of BAD RAP. They began developing training classes and doing education, speaking at animal welfare conferences. “We’re helping the larger organizations improve their message about the breed,” Reynolds says. BAD RAP does weeklong “Pit Ed” camps for shelter staffers and rescuers. They’ve partnered with the East Bay SPCA for shot fairs and free spaying and neutering for Pit Bulls, and their website has everything from news about legislation to a popular page called “Happy Endings.”
“Rescuing is a political action,” Racer says. Some rescued dogs have stories that catch public attention and help educate people about Pit Bulls. The organization took a lot of Pit Bulls after Katrina, and they may take a dog from a distant shelter to show shelter staff that Pit rescue works. For example, Stella, the dog from the drug bust, was an exception to a Detroit shelter’s policy of euthanizing all Pit Bulls; they will now revisit that policy. And Stella has a pending adoption.
BAD RAP deals with about 17 dogs at a time. They look for classic Pit Bull temperament, Reynolds says. “Optimistic, resilient, stable, well balanced, able to deal with confinement. Appropriately submissive. Dogs who can tolerate, if not enjoy, other dogs.” As for the Vick dogs, “These dogs have been more thoroughly evaluated than any dogs in history,” she says. The dogs they chose to care for would be ambassadors, representing not just Pit Bulls, but fight-bust dogs. After socialization and training, they would have to be flawless. “They have to be perfect,” Reynolds says. “That’s a horrible pressure, because no dog is perfect.”
Like Frodo, many of the Vick dogs were fearful after their long periods of isolation, and they’re not the only Pit Bulls with socialization issues. Many are chained and left outside all day—or night and day—and serve as puppy machines or guard dogs. They don’t know what to do in other settings. “A lot of the dogs have never been out of their back yards before,” Reynolds says.
Dogs who have been isolated from other dogs need to learn dog manners. In their foster homes, they may need to learn what furniture is, and how to behave around it. They may have to learn to walk on a leash. Loving people comes naturally to Pit Bulls, but the Vick dogs needed to learn manners. Frodo didn’t make eye contact with people at first. “It was like we were furniture,” Reynolds says. “It took a while. But once he got it, that was it!”
As we talk, from the corner of my eye, I watch Frodo come over to my chair. Silently, he smells my hand and touches it softly with his closed mouth.
Hector plays exuberantly with Nuccio’s dog Pandora. Nuccio has taught him “look” and “sit,” and they’re working on “down.” He’s learned to understand tones of voice. He’s also learned about cars, music, toys and dog beds. “I don’t think he’d ever been in a house. He was honestly surprised that playing tug with pool table pockets was not a good game.”
Nuccio wonders about Hector’s life before the bust. “I think he never got to play, so he just wants to play all the time.” And he does, zooming through rooms, snatching a piece of toast off a counter, dragging the bathroom rug through the house. “He’ll try to eat anything once. ‘Can I chew on the chair?’ ‘No.’ ‘How about the pillow on the chair?’ ‘No!’ ‘What about this other chair?’”
As Reynolds observes, “They’ve all had this intense puppy period. In all their houses, they all collect things and hoard them in their crates. Then they all stopped.” It was as though they needed to catch up on the chance to manipulate objects after their long, empty captivity. (Frodo collected eight shoes.)
Coming Together for Change
Another Vick dog, Leo, also came to the press event. Leo, a large red-gold Pit with soulful eyes and scars on his head, went to Our Pack, a South Bay rescue group, which trained him as a therapy dog. Founder Marthina McClay took Racer’s recommendation that Leo would be a good therapy dog. “He’s so sweet,” she marvels. “I don’t see a damaged dog whatsoever. Pit Bulls are great for therapy. That’s what they’re born for.”
The Vick case was the first with a Guardian/Special Master, appointed by the court, to recommend outcomes for the dogs. Rebecca Huss, a professor at Valparaiso School of Law, a specialist in animal law, was selected for this role. She was appointed in October 2007, after the dogs’ sixth month in custody. Her task was to observe the dogs and talk with the dogs’ caretakers, review the evaluations, and make recommendations to the court for the dogs’ futures. “So many people had written to the court and expressed interest,” she says. “It certainly made a difference.”
The dogs were evaluated on their responses to people and to other dogs, to being handled, and for general reactivity. All but one were found to be safe around people. Huss took applications from several rescue organizations, and only those who met all the standards set in the application were considered. Eventually, the dogs were distributed among eight groups; BAD RAP took in the second largest number. As a condition of placement, each group committed to the lifetime care of the dogs if necessary. “A lot of people were critical, saying ‘Why these dogs?’ I say, why not? They’re equally deserving. And if they’ve got a story that can help a dog down the line, that’s even better,” Huss notes.
When asked about the impact of the Vick case, ASPCA’s Randall Lockwood says he’s seeing shifting views about fight-bust dogs. People are starting to look at the dogs as victims, not as instruments, of the crime. “We need to get away from the knee-jerk assumption that all dogs seized in that context are necessarily a threat,” he says. “They deserve to be looked at as individuals.”
“I’ve changed my own position,” Lockwood says. “I helped draft the HSUS policy [when I worked there] of not placing animals rescued from known dog-fighting operations. I’ve changed my tune.”
A handful of shelters around the country have been treating fight-bust dogs differently. BAD RAP has already taken some dogs from a Missouri case and some from Arizona. Debbie Hill, at the Humane Society of Missouri, agrees that the Vick media coverage has changed things. Before this high-profile case, she says, among animal welfare professionals, “It was ‘oh, this animal was involved in fighting.’ And you kind of ended the conversation right there.”
Donna Reynolds believes the handling of the Vick dogs is helping change what people say about fight-bust dogs. It’s become impossible to argue that fight-bust dogs must be put down as menaces. “If it’s because there aren’t resources, then that should be the message, ” Reynolds says. “At least they’re not blaming the breed.”
If fight-bust dogs can be placed, that means more dogs to place, and shelters are already overloaded. “We’re not saying that you have to save all your fight-bust dogs, but they still deserve to be treated as individuals. Give them a blanket, give them a toy, give them a walk,” Reynolds says.
Leslie Nuccio’s fostering gave Hector needed socialization. “Hector deserved to have a good time, he deserved to get a lot of love,” says Reynolds. “Now it’s time to get to work.” Mr. Can-I-Chew-the-Chair? needs to get serious so he can find a permanent home.
Cohen is Hector’s boot camp instructor. He’ll make Hector the perfect ambassador and prepare the big pup for Canine Good Citizen classes. What will be hardest for Hector, we wondered? “Sitting politely for petting. He may want to kiss the evaluator.”
Earlier, Cohen and Long fostered Jonny Justice. At first, Jonny was afraid of running water—who knows why?—but by the time he left, could be bathed without a tether. “He didn’t like it, but he stayed. ‘I don’t like this. Can I go? No? Okay.’” Long says, “Jonny was cooked, Jonny was done.” He’s now in a foster home with other dogs and cats.
Long and Cohen say Jonny needed lots of repetition to learn commands, but readily accepted the basic concept. “‘I’ll do whatever you want! Can I have a cookie?’” Cohen says. “Things that took Jonny a month, Hector gets in two days.” But Hector’s smart enough to be manipulative. “‘If you don’t have a cookie in your hand, I’m not doing it.’” In which case, he goes back to his crate. “The smarter the dog, the slower the process.”
Hector, who learned about couches at Nuccio’s house, thinks it would be nice to get up on this one, but Cohen tells him no. “You haven’t earned that spot in our house yet.” Hector stops trying to climb up. “Look at me,” Cohen tells Hector. Hector pretends not to hear, facing away, with a phony ‘I have no idea you’re talking to me’ expression. So Cohen puts him in the crate and Hector gazes out with goo-goo eyes. “Oh, now you see me.”
A few months after meeting Frodo, I saw him again. He’s now at Kim Ramirez’s house. “He needed more life experience,” Reynolds says. “He needs to see that the world is more than our little household.” BAD RAP is in touch with someone who might adopt him. “She’s interested in him because he’s trying so hard to be brave.”
Frodo’s in his crate, and he’s delighted to see a visitor. Ramirez won’t let him barrel out; she makes him sit first. Then he charges over to say hello, licking my hands.
When Ramirez says “Look at me,” he shows her a relaxed, smiling face. The change in him is impressive. New things remain hard for Frodo, though. We take him for a walk, and after an hour or so, he’s had all the newness he can handle. We rest on grass in a park, and I unwisely offer him my notebook to sniff. Too much! He leaves and goes to Ramirez’s far side.
Back home, Ramirez gives the dogs ice cubes. Frodo takes his into his crate. Ice cubes are still news to him—good news. He crunches it peacefully, without bothering to check if the outsider is looking. Cohen’s right: Frodo has come light years. I believe in his happy ending.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Trivia game fuels donations
On the site freekibble.com, there’s a daily multiple-choice trivia question, and if you answer it, 10 pieces of kibble will be donated to an animal shelter. It doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong. As long as you click on an answer each day, food will be donated.
Questions are highly variable. Some concern public figures. Recently there were questions concerning Richard Nixon and his dog Checkers as well as The Duchess of Cornwall and her new dog Bluebell. Other questions relate to breeds with questions being as variable as the breed that was developed by the Russian army to handle very cold temperatures (Russian Black Terriers) and which type of mix is most common in this country (German Shepherd). There are also questions about college mascots, the origin of expressions such as “Beware of Dog” which has its roots in ancient Rome, and random questions including the fact that a Pit Bull named Wallace who was rescued from a shelter became a World Champion Disc dog.
It’s fun to check out the daily question, and doubly so because doing so helps feed dogs in shelters. As the founder of the site, Mimi Ausland says, “Every dog and cat deserves a decent dinner.” (There is also a related site called freekibblekat.com.) Ausland was 11 years old in 2008, which is when she launched the site, which has provided 8 million meals to homeless animals.
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?
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