Wellness: Healthy Living
My local shelter, the Ulster County SPCA in Kingston, N.Y., is highly regarded and much loved by the community. The vibe at UCSPCA is a good one, and some of the credit for that can go to Liz Wassal, the shelter’s Animal Reiki practitioner and teacher. For those not familiar with it, Reiki is a healing technique based on the principle that the practitioner can channel energy into the patient and activate the natural healing processes of the patient’s body, thus restoring physical and emotional well-being. (I should point out here that that the word “reiki” is a Japanese term that means “universal life force energy.” When capitalized, Reiki refers to the energy healing system founded by Mikao Usui. So, I ask all the English majors and copy editors who are reading this to be prepared for deliberately inconsistent capitalization.)
A pleasant, knowledgeable woman with an MA in psychology and a BFA in classical animation, Wassal—a Reiki Master Teacher—began volunteering at UCSPCA in 2007. Initially, she offered Reiki to the shelter’s animals informally. Even though she was low-key about it, other shelter workers quickly began to notice that an energetic shift had taken place. The animals were calmer and were healing more swiftly from injuries and surgeries. They seemed happier, too.
Eventually, Wassal was approached by board members and asked if she would teach them Reiki. Soon, staff members began requesting Reiki training as well. Currently, most of the department heads—the cat manager, the dog kennel manager, clinicians—are certified Reiki practitioners. Wassal, who is also an ordained priest, animal communicator and a chocolatier, now serves as the shelter’s official Animal Reiki teacher and offers ongoing courses in Animal Reiki to staff and volunteers. Her courses follow the principles established by Kathleen Prasad, founder of the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA).
Lee Harrington: How would you describe Reiki?
Liz Wassal: Reiki is the energy of the universe. We all have it. Reiki is also called ki, chi, prana. These are all synonyms for the same subtle, transcendent spiritual energy.
LH: How do you initiate an Animal Reiki session?
LW: Well, the first thing the Reiki practitioner does before beginning a healing session is to secure consent. Obviously, a human patient would simply sign a consent form and/or give verbal permission, whereas communication with the animal recipient is non-verbal. I’ll either intuit the answer—the consent—or the animal will give clear signs that he’s willing to accept the reiki—sometimes simply by coming toward me or backing away. After securing the animal’s permission, I create a healing space by asking the reiki to flow. Intention leads the energy on. Instantly, the reiki fills the room, a building, a neighborhood or wherever it’s directed. Reiki energy has its own intelligence and knows exactly where to go. The animals also know exactly what they need.
LH: When I’ve received a Reiki healing, it looks as though the practitioner is just sitting there meditating.
LW: In fact, that’s pretty close to what it is. A Reiki session is non-invasive and passive. It’s not hands-on.
LH: Describe a typical Animal Reiki session.
LW: There really isn’t a “typical” Animal Reiki session, because we turn everything over to the animal. The animals are always in charge. They decide how long the session goes, or where they want to be or whether they want to receive the reiki energy at all.
LH: What do you mean by “where they want to be”? Are they confined to a particular area during a Reiki session and asked to stay still?
LW: Again, it’s up to the animals. They get to choose where they want to be within the perimeters of the kennel or treatment room. I often I sit with the dogs in their kennels or cages (with permission, of course). The dog is free to move around the room or, if he so chooses, can cuddle on my lap and place his head in my hands. Or he may position himself 10 feet away from me, or—if he’s not comfortable with me being so close—he can be in another room.
LH: The Reiki practitioner does not need to be able to reach the dog, or even see him, to offer the healing?
LW: Nope. The reiki energy knows where to go and what to do. In my private practice, I often do healings from a distance. At the shelter, if I’m working with a particularly fearful or agitated dog, I’ll stand on the other side of the kennel wall where he can’t see me in order not to trigger anything by being visibly present.
LH: What are some of the benefits of Reiki for animals?
LW: The benefits of Reiki and other energy healing systems are numerous. Reiki can help relieve pain and reduce stress and stress symptoms such as sleeplessness, restlessness, pacing, barking, panting and so forth. Reiki is a supportive system. It’s an energy that helps keep things balanced.
LH: And having a balanced system means that the body is better able to heal itself.
LW: Yes. We’ll often do Reiki on the animals right before, during or after procedures to help facilitate the natural healing process. Or, if an animal is crashing from stress or needs to be calm before a procedure, we’ll offer Reiki off the cuff.
LH: Can you give an example of a Reiki healing session having an immediate impact on a dog?
LW: I remember working with one of the Hurricane Sandy dogs who was brought to us from a shelter in, I think, Long Island. This young dog was so utterly terrified in the isolation area that he was urinating all over himself. He was too stressed to stay still–pacing, barking, shaking. But after 10 minutes of Reiki, he simply lay down. He accepted the energy despite his stress. A few minutes later, he fell asleep, even though other animals near him were barking.
LH: That’s impressive, especially given how challenging it can be to relax or sleep in such loud and high-stress environments.
LW: Indeed. These dogs have to put up with a lot. But Reiki does help them sleep. I’ve seen them stop barking quite suddenly and slump into sleep, their noses pressed against the kennel doors.
LH: Have you ever had a dog decline a Reiki session? And if so, did you know why?
LW: Yes. It’s hard to say why. It may be that they are very agitated and reactive and simply cannot settle down if I’m visible to them. But I always respect the animal’s wishes. If a dog is not interested in Reiki that day, no problem. I will not use treats to try to persuade an animal to accept [a healing session]. Nor will I use a dominant approach if the animal is unable or unwilling.
LH: It sounds like a nice way to establish trust.
LW: These shelter animals are in situations in which very little is under their control. So I don’t push them. Often the animals will remember this—remember me as the person who listened to them. Thus, the animals will be more willing to accept my presence, and Reiki, the next time we meet.
LH: You are also an animal communicator. Does that serve your Reiki practice, or vice versa?
LW: Animal communication is not part of Reiki, but it is an overlapping discipline that is helpful. For example, as I said earlier, it’s easy for me to intuit whether an animal is willing to accept Reiki or not.
LH: Are you officially on board at UCSPCA as an animal communicator, or is that under the radar?
LW: I’m not official, but people know I have this skill. So staff people often ask me behavioral questions, such as “What does this dog need?” Or, “Why’s he so stressed?” Or, “What can we do for him?”
LH: I could tell when I first stepped into UCSPCA that the animals knew they had a voice and were being listened to. I didn’t have the words for it at the time—it was just something I sensed. A vibration of sanity and balance and hope.
LW: The rescue community is in dire need of this type of attention. Animals come to shelters as mysteries. Unless we are able to open ourselves up to their needs, we won’t be able to truly communicate with them. And if we can’t communicate with them properly, we can’t help them to our fullest extent.
LH: When you communicate with dogs, is there a typical question you get? I know they’re all individuals with individual needs, but—
LW: The most common question I get from dogs is, Why is no one listening to me? Animals are frustrated because no one gets it, no one is speaking to them and no one is hearing them. Also, a lot of the shelter dogs ask, What did I do wrong? Why am I here?
LH: Poor sweeties. But I’m thankful they have people like you to help them. Do you offer them advice, so to speak?
LW: Well, I do whisper to the animals: Remember who you are. Don’t forget, you are more than this. A lot of religions and spiritual traditions offer similar reminders, along the lines of “Remember the light you carry.” Animals, because they are more evolved than we are spiritually, don’t usually need that reminder the same way humans do. But in such an extreme environment [at a shelter], what’s the harm in reminding them of the part of them that travels forever and will always be at peace inside of them? Remember who you are.
LH: Getting back to Animal Reiki—how hard is it to learn and to practice?
LW: It’s very easy, simple and straightforward. You can learn the basics of Reiki in a short time, and you can walk out of your Reiki 1 class empowered to offer Reiki to anyone in your circle of family, friends and most definitely your pets. My teacher, Kathleen Prasad, who founded SARA, is extraordinary. Her mission is to enable as many teachers as possible to set up Reiki programs at their own shelters, and it’s catching on, one volunteer, one shelter at a time.
LH: The more people who practice Reiki at shelters, the more uplifting those shelters will become, and more animals will be helped and adopted. UCSPCA is lucky to have you.
LW: The staff at UCSPCA is extraordinary. That shelter attracts such devoted, conscientious and open-minded people. Thank goodness the animals are in such good hands. These people are the steadiest presences in the animals’ lives while they’re with us. We’re all lucky.
Author Lee Harrington used to avoid visiting her local animal shelter because she feared the experience would be depressing, and because her own dog kept her plenty busy. But when the loss of her beloved dog led her to the place she feared most, she discovered that not only was the animal shelter not depressing, it was absolutely uplifting. Find out why, and how, in this interview by the author of popular Bark columns “Rex and the City” and “The Chloe Chronicles.”
The day before Thanksgiving I received an animal control call from a woman who had recently found a pregnant stray Rott/Shep type dog and taken her home. The finder tried to find the dog’s owner but no one claimed her and 8 chunky puppies were born soon after. Unable to keep them and desperate about what to do with a large, protective mama and her 8 newborns, she called the shelter.
I told her that I would impound them through the shelter but then take them home to foster. I picked the family up, photographed mama and posted her on the shelter website and took them straight home where she would have a quite place to raise her babies. Ideally, puppies should be raised inside the house, however, I work ten to twelve hour days and have a house full of other pets. An 80 pound mama and 8 babies inside with me gone all day doesn’t work. What I have set up is a little shed and spacious kennel area with a floor heater that goes under the bedding and keeps it quite cozy. I settled the little family in on some soft blankets and let mama get used to her new digs.
I named the mama Bonnie and she did a wonderful job with her babies. The first 3 weeks or so with newborns is pretty easy. Mama does all the feeding and clean up and I just scoop up after her, change the bedding every day or two and keep her bowls full. I also try and pick up each puppy for a moment or two to make sure they are gaining weight and get them used to being handled.
Around 3 weeks of age puppies get fun. They also start to be a lot of work. Their eyes are open, they are walking around, the little tails start to wag and they learn to bark and growl and play. They start eating soaked kibble and mama stops cleaning up. For the next 5 weeks it seems like all I do is refill massive bowls of food and scoop up a few hundred piles of puppy poop a day. They start wanting to interact with people and I bring them inside as often as possible. I encourage gentle visitors of all ages to come and cuddle and socialize the babies and give them a great start. Puppies are so much work but they are also good for the soul. They kiss and cuddle and nibble fingers while mama gets a tummy rub. Just spending time with them is a great stress reliever.
As the New Year gets underway, I prepare to send Bonnie and the babies to adoptive homes soon. My hope for 2015 is that each of them gets a wonderful home where they will be cherished as adored companions.
Do you have any hopes or plans for you your dogs or others in the coming year?
Dog's Life: Humane
Animal Welfare Network helps Trinidad and Tobago’s dogs by teaching its children about the value of spay/neuter
There comes a moment during Mitra De Souza’s class on animal welfare when she can tell by the faces of her Trinidadian elementary school students that they have grasped the concept of spay and neuter. It happens during the “overpopulation activity,” when she holds up a poster board “animal shelter” filled with pink and blue paper puppies.
One student is allowed to “adopt” two pups—one blue and one pink. But, because these paper dogs have not been sterilized, De Souza quickly gives this same student four more puppies, asking him or her to find good homes for them among the classmates. That’s easy at first, because every child wants to adopt a puppy. Then De Souza tells the class that each household is limited to only one dog. As the students scramble to redistribute the new litters, De Souza keeps doling out four new puppies to every student with a pink “puppy.” As in real life, the homes fill up rapidly, but the paper puppies keep coming.
“It’s like a light bulb goes off, and they realize there are many more puppies than homes; they start worrying about what is going to happen to them,” says De Souza, coordinator for Animal Welfare Network’s Primary School Education Program. “I will have told them about spaying and neutering their pets earlier in the program, but this is when they really understand what it means. When I ask them if something could have been done to prevent this puppy explosion—every hand goes up.”
This is also the point at which many of these young people become animal welfare ambassadors within their families, schools and communities. After De Souza taught the class at Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary School, Vice Principal Deryck Kistow recalls that one nine-year-old girl started making her own paper cutouts and doing the game with her friends, while another lectured his mother about spay and neuter for a month straight.
“They spoke a lot to their friends in other classes about the overpopulation activity, and also about what types of things stray animals need,” says Kistow. “They want Mitra to return and they want us to start a group to raise funds to help buy food for strays.”
The Animal Welfare Network (AWN), a nonprofit dedicated to reducing pet overpopulation and promoting responsible pet ownership in Trinidad and Tobago, launched its education program in November 2012 with the blessing of the Ministry of Education. The program has since been presented to more than 1,000 five- to 12-year-olds at nine schools ranging from private academies to public schools in low-income neighborhoods throughout Trinidad. There are plans to take the program to the neighboring island of Tobago.
Schools can chose from three options: a 30-minute assembly that includes a visit by a trained shelter dog and certified handler; a 30- to 45-minute classroom presentation customized for three different age groups (ages 5 to 7, 8 to 10, and 11 to 12); and the simple distribution of educational materials. (These materials are also provided for options one and two.)
The presentation for the youngest children focuses on how animals feel, while the two older groups learn about the issues of overpopulation. In some sessions, there are role-playing exercises in which a student might pretend to be a dog chained outside in the hot sun, or one who has fleas. There are also guided discussions about understanding the needs and feelings of animals. Students are encouraged to think about what it means to treat stray dogs with kindness and dignity.
Most sessions end with tips on how to safely approach strange dogs and how to protect against aggressive ones. As a special treat, adopted mutt Clio often puts in an appearance to demonstrate her obedience training and let the students practice their new skills. Each child goes home with a coloring/activity booklet and a note for parents that debunks myths about spay and neuter. (Intact males do not make better guard dogs; spayed female dogs are not destined to become fat.)
AWN developed the program by adapting some of the activities found in the Humane Education Guidebook of the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, and De Souza worked out the kinks by presenting it to different classrooms at her daughter’s school. A promotional video featuring two kids and a dog, posted on Facebook (see it at bit.ly/awnv1), helped get the word out to the island nation’s primary schools, and the section on safety has proven particularly helpful in marketing the program to school administrators. Current demand is so high that AWN is in the process of training at least two more facilitators.
For Sara Maynard, a founding member of AWN, the educational program has become a critical component of the organization’s overall mission to promote spay and neuter. Like so many of its Caribbean neighbors, Trinidad has a terrible problem with animal overpopulation and abandonment. Maynard believes that children have a critical role to play in addressing these issues— adults are more receptive to the concept of animal welfare, particularly the spay/ neuter message, if it comes from their kids. “If you teach the kids, you’re teaching the parents,” she says. “Our goal is to follow up the educational course by holding a free spay/neuter clinic in a MASH tent in the same community.”
A pilot program intended to make this goal a reality is already planned for the low-income town of Cocorite, west of Trinidad and Tobago’s capital city, Port of Spain. The regular educational program will be presented to students at the local school. Then, the entire community will be invited to attend a presentation on responsible pet ownership and watch a video on the importance of spay and neuter. As an attendance incentive, there will be plenty of pet supplies and pet food giveaways, and a certified dog trainer will be on hand to answer questions. AWN will also distribute vouchers for free or low-cost spay/neuter procedures. In Trinidad and Tobago, the cost of a single spay can equal one week’s salary, so the organization has worked hard to forge good relationships with local vets to ensure reasonable rates.
Given the effectiveness of the Primary School Education Program, these vets are likely to have plenty of clients for decades to come. To test the program’s effectiveness, AWN recently conducted a follow-up assessment of student attitudes toward animals. Before participating in the program, students scored an average of 78 out of 104 on an animalwelfare scale. Four months after they took the class, the same students scored an average of 87, indicating that the program had not only changed attitudes, but also, that the attitudinal changes were holding steady.
That’s great news for adult animal lovers like Tiffany Llanos, who teaches at Dunross Preparatory School. After inviting De Souza to her classroom, Llanos said, “It warms my heart to know that perhaps the next generation will be equipped to help and be more sensitive and compassionate towards homeless animals in our community.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping Save a Dog's Life
I had a profoundly moving experience recently. I pulled up on a call to pick up a sick kitten and the song The Christmas Shoes came on the radio. I wrote about this song in The Secret Life of Dog Catchers because it always makes me cry. Sometimes I see so many sad, terrible things on the job that I lose the ability to cry even when I need to. A tender song can be a catalyst to release some of that pain. The Christmas Shoes is about man who is feeling caught up on the stress and commercialism of Christmas. He’s in line to buy something and the little boy in front of him doesn’t have enough money for his purchase. The child is trying to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother to wear to heaven. The boy asks the stranger to help him and the man finds the true meaning of Christmas in helping a stranger.
The song had me feeling teary as I got out of my animal control truck and as I crossed the parking lot a woman called to me from a car. She asked me to please help them so I approached and saw a family holding a tiny, older Chihuahua in their arms. The dog, Lilo, was the special pet of the ten year old daughter and was critically ill but they had no money. Every vet clinic and shelter had turned them away. Veterinarians are generally hard working and compassionate people but they have to make a living just like everyone else and shelters are there for animals who have no owners.
Lilo probably didn’t weigh more than 3 or 4 pounds, with just enough gray around her muzzle to show her maturity without advanced age. The big brown eyes were resigned to her fate, whatever it may be and I could see that she was lethargic and dehydrated. The family was distraught and obviously adored their pet. I asked a few more questions and then called in my credit card number to a nearby vet clinic and asked them to please see the dog. The family and I embraced and exchanged some tears and I sent them on their way.
A couple of hours later the clinic called and said Lilo had a life threatening pyometra and needed emergency surgery to save her life. Pyometra is a nasty uterine infection common in un-spayed female dogs. The kind-hearted veterinarian gave me a break on the surgery and many generous people chipped in to help pay for it. Lilo ended up with major complications and spent 5 days in the hospital before she was well enough to be released. I was finally able to pick her up and drive her home and placing her in the daughter’s arms was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time.
Now animal control officers don’t make a lot of money. I buy most of my clothes at the Goodwill and drive a 20 year old car. We don’t spend much at Christmas other than some gifts for the kids. We have everything we really need and although I love giving gifts, I don’t like buying them just for the sake of buying them. Helping this family meant more to me than any gift I could ever get.
If I look close I can see my reflection in the dog’s eyes.
News: Guest Posts
One of the most shared recent articles in the New York Times was one about a “wrong dog” and how the op-ed blogger felt she was wronged by agreeing to adopt a young dog from a rescue group. I was going to write about this but then our good friend, and former Bark science editor, Mark Derr, wrote a great post for Psychology Today that brought up all the points, and then some, that I had wanted to make. He kindly allowed us to cross post his article:
The New York Times ran a opinion piece on Saturday, December 13, by Erica-Lynn Huberty on the trauma caused when a well-meaning young couple bring a sweet young rescue dog into their home who turns into a cat-killing maniac. The essay, “The Wrong Dog,” serves as a sobering reminder that not all found dogs fit as seamlessly into their new homes as Arthur, the Ecuadoran stray who joined a team of Swedish adventure racers and traveled several hundred arduous kilometers with them last month. The team captain then sought and won permission to take him home to Sweden, and their story went viral.
Arthur’s story raised several questions in my mind: How frequently can dogs be said to choose their human companions, what criteria do they use, and what is their success rate? I have several friends who literally rescued dogs off the street, in one case the Brooklyn Bridge, and took them home to discover they had a friend for life.
Is it merely random chance that a dog and man or woman should meet and become instant friends? I think that both are choosing—the human to save a fellow creature in distress; the dog to find a loyal companion. Any dog dumped in the road would want that but be suspicious, too, I should think.
People I know with multiple dogs often have dogs dumped near them by neighbors who assume they will take the dog in. They do and if it doesn’t fit into their existing “pack,” they will find the dog a home. The private placements I know of have worked well—on occasion spectacularly. But dogs who go that route are the lucky exception among the abandoned millions.
The apparent ease with which human and dog share affection and respect casts light on why wolves and humans teamed up initially. Though the reasons remain mysterious, they clearly, I have long suspected, have to do with the ability of individuals from both species to form lasting bonds of friendship with someone other than their own kind and to do so voluntarily, as adults, as well as children and puppies.
Whatever mutations governing sociability occurred to make dogs, at least one must have involved fixing them as dominate in the dog genome—or so it appears.
But there are times human and dog don’t match up well, and unless something is done, the results can be tragic. Many of the failures in that relationship seem to arise from a lack of forethought on the part of the human, a fundamental failure to think through and find ways to meet the animal’s need for exercise, social contacts with people and dogs, consistent treatment and mental stimulation.
The central problem with Huberty’s essay lies in her argument that nothing short of ditching the dog when she first started acting oddly would have prevented the catastrophe that occurred. They would have done that had they known that some dogs are unfit for adoption, and no amount of training, discipline, or coddling will change that.
“We let ourselves believe that beneath our rescued puppy’s strange, erratic behavior was a good, loving pet,” Huberty writes. The truth was the opposite.
The back story is common enough. Having become smitten with a five-month old Lab mix, Huberty and her husband, decide to have her share their home with their three cats, a female dog, and two children.
From her arrival, the new dog, Nina, showed a defensive/possessive aggression that led Huberty to seek more information from the group who rescued her.
Huberty says that she and her husband followed the advice of Cesar Millan, “the Dog Whisperer” to create a “loving but disciplined environment.” Nina responded by attacking a cat and biting Huberty when she intervened.
In response, Huberty called the woman who gave them Nina. She agreed to pay for a trainer, who proved to be the anti-Millan. She advocated a rewards-based approach rather than “discipline.” The essay takes an odd turn here as Huberty calls the rewards-based method ‘coddling” while appearing to indicate that it was working up to a point.
Nina would go along being a normal, playful puppy. But at times, out of nowhere it seemed, she would snap at me or Alex and, once, at our son,” Huberty says, “She would suddenly cower and growl. It was like a switch flipped, yet we couldn’t figure out what had done it.”
Nor do they try to find out. Dogs do not usually change their behavior that rapidly and dramatically without reason. That could very well be an underlying pathology that a thorough examination by a veterinarian might reveal. Indeed, Huberty gives no indication that she ever took the dog to a veterinarian—the first stop a new dog or cat companion should make.
If no physical reason for the behavior can be found, the next stop is to consult a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. There are not many in the country but your veterinarian should help arrange a consultation.
Huberty blames the dog, the woman who gave her the dog, the trainer—everyone but herself and her husband—and Nina herself for her failure to fit seamlessly into Huberty’s home. From this experience, she draws the conclusion that some dogs are just unsuitable for living with humans. That might be the case but there is no proof of it here.
Maybe we should seek ways to allow more dogs to choose their human companions. I have a notion they would do a better job of it. “And when they don’t fit in they may be saying ‘wrong family,’” said my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff after reading “The Wrong Dog.” “Living with a dog is a two-way street and assigning unilateral blame gets us nowhere and once again leaves the dog out in the cold. This sort of ‘musical dogs’ is bad for the dog, as much research and common sense tell us.”
Nina might pay with her life for human miscalculations and failure to seek professional help.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The holidays can present a different picture for animal control officers and shelter workers. It’s hard going to work each day and seeing all the homeless faces. Some eager and hopeful, some scared and lonely. All in need of someone to show them how good it can be. Of course not everyone can adopt a pet and certainly in most cases pets shouldn’t be given as gifts. The exception is a parent who is committed to the life of a pet giving a pet to a child or a family who is picking out a pet together. It was once thought that no animals should be adopted out around Christmas but the thinking later changed to encourage people to give needy pets a home for the holidays. I’m all for taking things on a case by case basis. An easy-going family adopting a confident, happy dog can be a blast at any time.
Even if you can’t adopt, there are lots of ways to make life sweeter for homeless pets during the holidays. As we look at our beloved pets lounging in pampered comfort, remember the dogs who have no one. Contact your local shelter or rescue and ask for a wish list. Donate blankets, food, toys, treats or money. Volunteering to walk and play with shelter dogs is a great way to walk off all the rich food most of us indulge in this time of year and makes all the difference for a lonely dog.
The holidays can be a stressful time for our own dogs as well. Some dogs thrive on all the activity this time of year but many don’t. We often see cases of dogs biting visitors around the holidays. Even nice dogs can bite and dogs are limited in the ways they can ask for space. I constantly see well meaning people ignoring numerous stress signals from dogs. If your pet isn’t thrilled to see visitors, settle them in a quiet room with some treats and toys instead of subjecting them to the chaos of people who may push them past their limits.
We can all benefit from slowing down and focusing on the real meaning of the season. What are you doing to make life sweeter for your pets and others?
with Pope's Blessing CORRECTED VERSION
On Dec. 16 The New York Times, where the following article was sourced from, published a clarification about the remarks attributable to Pope Francis:
An article on Friday about whether Pope Francis believes that animals go to heaven — a longstanding theological question in the church — misstated the pope’s recent remarks and the circumstances in which they were made.
He spoke in a general audience at the Vatican on Nov. 26, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died. According to Vatican Radio, Francis said, in speaking of heaven, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Those remarks are reported to have been made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child.
An article on Nov. 27 in Corriere della Sera, the influential Italian daily, compared Francis’ comments to Paul’s, and concluded that Francis also believed that animals go to heaven. A number of subsequent news reports then mistakenly attributed both quotations to Francis; The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.
What a refreshing, and can I say, enlightened pope that Catholics have with Pope Francis! In responding to a little child’s grief at his dog dying, Francis told a crowd at St. Peter’s Square that, indeed, “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” This message sent theological scholars and humane societies across the world into a frenzy, the former trying to figure out exactly what the pope meant, the latter rejoicing in the great news that dogs and all animals can go, and merit going to heaven, and in fact, have souls. Such marvelous news. In reading through the reports about this “divine” decision, it was learned that it wasn’t until 1854 when papal infallibility was actually inscribed in that faith by Pope Pius IX who also supported the doctrine that animals have no consciousness, hence have no place in heaven, and even worse he tried to stop the founding of an Italian chapter of the SPCA. But back in 1990, Pope John Paul II seemed to reverse Pius when he said that “animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” This position wasn’t well advertised by the church. Unfortunately John Paul was followed by the stricter more conservative, Benedict who reverted back to Pius’s position.
But now we have a new pope and definitely a new age in the way that most view animals, with a pope who, “citing biblical passages that assert that animals not only go to heaven, but get along with one another when they get there." Francis was quoted by the Italian news media as saying: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
The editor of Catholic magazine, the Rev. James Martin, who is also Jesuit, like the pope, said that he believed that the pope was at least asserting that “God loves and Christ redeems all of creation,” and adds that “he’s reminding us that all creation is holy and that in his mind, paradise is open to all creatures, and frankly, I agree with him.”
While it is not such as surprise that Pope Francis, who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, would take this humane, enlightened position, it is a remarkable gift he has given to all animal lovers this holiday season. Viva le Pope Francis!
Dog's Life: Humane
Helps ease retired lab Beagles into new lives, and a whole new world
Despite the open door, the sturdy little Beagle huddled inside the transportation kennel; it took him 10 minutes to put a paw tentatively on the unfamiliar surface, then move completely outside, high-stepping all the way. It was the first time this adult Beagle had ever walked on grass.
Everyone loves stories about dog heroes—the police dog who leads the chase for an armed criminal, the military dog who goes ahead of the troops to sniff out hidden bombs or the service dog whose devotion and skill give a person with a disability greater independence.
But what about the thousands of dogs who sacrifice years of their lives—or even their very lives—to science’s controversial pursuit of everything from cures for deadly diseases to safe cosmetics? Who speaks for them?
In December 2010, the Beagle Freedom Project (beaglefreedomproject.org) joined the list of those who advocate specifically for these small hounds, and since then, it has mounted multiple efforts on their behalf. Founded by animal-rights attorney Shannon Keith to help a group of Beagles she learned were about to be released and needed homes, BFP now has six full- or part-time paid staff and has helped place or foster 215 lab dogs since its inception. (Keith also founded BFP’s parent organization, Animal Rescue Media Education [arme.tv].)
More than 95 percent of the dogs used in research are Beagles. The same attributes that make them great family pets—“docile, people-pleasing, forgiving, gentle, easy to care for”—also make them desirable research subjects, says Kevin Chase, director of operations for BFP.
BFP had its first legislative victory earlier this year when Minnesota governor Mark Dayton signed into law an act that requires the state’s higher-education research and related facilities receiving public money to offer their dogs and cats to nonprofit animal rescue organizations when the animals are no longer needed.
The law, based on BFP’s “Beagle Freedom Bill,” is a modest first step. Similar bills have been introduced in California and New York. Other states will follow, BFP organizers hope.
“The law is meant to bridge two sides of a very polarizing debate over animal research,” says Minnesotan Chase, who spearheaded the law in his home state. Although BFP opposes any use of animals in research, the legislation is intended to allow adoption as an option for “retired” research dogs and cats. It fills the regulatory gap between the care animals are mandated to receive while being actively used and what happens afterward, when they’re no longer needed.
“If a dog is at the end of its utilization with research and can be placed with a family, why not? It just makes sense,” says Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble, who authored the legislation along with Representative John Lesch. But though it did indeed make sense, it wasn’t easy. As Dibble admits, “It turned out to be a little more contentious than we anticipated.”
In 2013, when the idea for the law was first floated, the University of Minnesota—which, along with the Mayo Clinic would be the most affected—was reluctant to support it, and the bill was shelved. This year, Dibble and Chase approached the university again and got, if not support, at least no overt opposition.
The Minnesota law includes a provision that eliminates certain liabilities for research facilities that release lab animals, something the university requested in discussions with Chase and Dribble, according to the Office of the Vice President of Research.
In statements released through Communications Director Andrea Wuebker, that office said of the law, “This legislation allows the university opportunities to do what we can to offer dogs and cats, available after the study concludes, for adoption without threat of liability by potential or future owners regarding any unforeseen behaviors by the animal. What this law will do is help us partner with outside groups to make available animals for adoption, should the animal not be adopted by the researcher or persons close to the animal, at the end of the study.”
Exactly what kind of impact the new law may have remains uncertain. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report cited 317 dogs and 278 cats as being used in research at the university in 2013. Of those, 307 dogs and 273 cats were from humane societies or other animal shelters, or were student-owned animals, and were returned to the shelters or students after use.
That number is, however, a fraction of the 4,148 dogs listed for research in Minnesota in a fiscal year 2012 USDA report (the most recent year for which figures are available). Minnesota ranked fifth in the nation that year in the number of research dogs. With 9,434 dogs, Wisconsin ranked first, and in the United States as a whole, the report cited 72,167 dogs and 24,578 cats.
HSUS estimates that 25 million “vertebrate animals” are used each year in research, testing or education, while the USDA tallied 1,110,199 animals in their FY 2012 report. After mice, rats and birds, research animals used that year—in descending order of frequency—included guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, non-human primates (including monkeys and chimpanzees), farm animals (including pigs and sheep), dogs and cats.
At the University of Minnesota, research involving animals is mostly medically based, according to the Office of the Vice President of Research, related to cardiovascular devices, isolated working heart models and dental implants as well as understanding and treating strokes, epilepsy, overactive bladder syndrome and other human or veterinary diseases.
Like the Beagle Freedom Project, HSUS advocates an end to the use of animals in research, particularly in product testing, encouraging companies to use some of the 5,000 chemicals already tested and approved for human use. Others believe that animals have and still play a critical role in the development of live-saving treatments.
“Indeed, if one reviews the history of medical science, it is clear that every major medical advance has depended on animal experiments … Almost every vaccine used by humans had to be first tested on animals to ensure that it would be safe and effective. Insulin, which has saved millions of diabetics from an early and painful death, was discovered through research on dogs; until relatively recently, the only way to test insulin during the purification process was to inject it into mice and monitor the effect on their blood sugar,” the late John Vane, an Nobel Prize–winning British pharmacologist, said in a “Pfizer Forum” speech.
Both under the new Minnesota law and elsewhere around the country, when laboratory animals are made available for adoption, their actual research history is rarely, if ever, disclosed. That makes it difficult to predict the animals’ adjustment needs. In general, however, BFP has found that many of the Beagles they place are not house-trained, and tend to be shy around people and new situations, certainly at first. Also, because laboratory diets are generally formulated to reduce the amount of cleanup necessary, the dogs initially have digestive trouble with the richer food commonly fed to companion animals.
“On the whole,” says Chase, the dogs “have never been on grass, have never been on a leash for a walk, they’ve never been on steps. They’re like adult puppies; the whole world is new to them.”
To date, BFP has received lab dogs—and a few cats and a pig—from California, Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts and New Jersey as well as the Midwest, and has had great success both in fostering these lab-released dogs and then matching them with appropriate families. None of their adoption placements has been returned, even from the group of 40 Beagles flown from Spain who were suffering severe health and anxiety problems. The search for additional adoption and fostering homes is, of course, ongoing.
Sometimes, the organizers themselves end up providing the first line of fostering. Kevin Chase already had Junior, now seven and rescued when he was four. But when Chase organized a gathering to solicit foster parents for 10 former lab Beagles, he ended up bringing home Raymond, three, the last Beagle in the room.
“We let the families and the dogs kind of choose each other,” Chase says of the December gathering. “I wasn’t anticipating taking home one of the dogs, but nobody chose Raymond because nobody could catch him. He was afraid of everybody … I said, ‘Come on, buddy. You’re coming home with me.’ Once we got home, he wasn’t going anywhere.” Chase chuckles about how quickly “fostering” became “adopting” with Raymond. These days, he says, Raymond “loves his walk, loves lying in the sunshine.”
Some day, BFP might be able to add a Minnesota senator to its list of adopters. “If my life ever calms down so that I can be home,” dreams Dibble, “I’m totally going to get a lab Beagle.”
Go to the Beagle Freedom Project website for a link to the Cruelty-Cutter app, which allows you to use your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to scan products and identify those that have been tested on animals.
Interested in helping out a lab Beagle? Click on beaglefreedomproject.org/adopt_or_foster to find out how to do it.
With Dogs Galore + Hilary Swank, Jane Lynch and many more stars
There is a must-watch TV telethon on Thanksgiving night for all dog lovers. We urge you to tune into the history-making Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, a first-of-its kind program that features rescue dogs, and only rescue dogs. The show came out of the remarkable efforts of co-producers, Hilary Swank and Michael Levitt, both of whom are big-time advocates for dog rescue/adoption. The show will be cohosted by Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch, and feature a cast of leading Hollywood celebrities, including Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Queen Latifah, Betty White, and so many more.
The idea behind the program is the need to bring the plight of rescue dogs to center stage. It’s amazing, but sadly true, that many Americans still do not understand that millions of dogs are needlessly killed annually in this country, or that others are languishing in overcrowded shelters waiting, and waiting for their forever homes. This program wants to convince people that dogs must be saved and that the perfect dog is waiting for you at your local rescue group or area shelter. From purebreds to one-of-a-kind mixed breeds, there is a rescue dog there for you and your family.
The show will also be a celebration of the human-dog connection and, as Hilary explained, “it will be a joyful family show with a lot of fun and lots of dogs, with best tricks, best howlers, celebrity lookalikes, best viral dog video, plus celebrating the people who have done good work to help dogs and organizations that are doing good things and sharing all those stories.” It’s great that they’ll be featuring the heroes on the front lines of animal rescue, those rescue organizations that work tirelessly to save lives, such as Beagle Freedom Project (featured in Bark’s fall issue) This remarkable show will celebrate not just the rescuers, but also, the dogs themselves, from mixed breeds to purebreds, from youngsters to seniors and those with special needs, highlighting their uplifting, life-affirming stories. This makes for perfect viewing for the whole family.
On Tuesday, Hilary Swank was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest on his very popular iHeart radio show , she explained to the listeners, as she did in our winter issue, the problems faced by dogs in shelters and how grateful they are to their rescuers, she explained how tirelessly rescue groups work to care for dogs and connect them to forever homes, and she also gave The Bark a big shout out. She told Ryan that while she has been on the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, it was more important to her, and a bigger honor, to be featured, with her dear dogs, Rumi and Kai, on the cover of The Bark!
We were thrilled by her words but we’ll be even more thrilled if you tune into Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, 8 to 10 pm (7 pm Central time) on Thursday, Thanksgiving night on your local Fox station—tuning in is very important because a large viewership will give networks the green light for further rescue advocacy programming. And, as executive producer Michael Levitt notes, “This is our big opportunity to change the misperception of shelter animals and show the world that rescuing a dog is always the way to go.”
I hope you will be moved to donate to the cause and open your hearts to adopt a rescue dog or help in any way you can. This is a cause where every person can make an important difference. So remember: adopt, foster or donate, and most importantly, spread the word. Join Swank, Levitt and your local rescue communities in saving the lives of animals and enriching your own as well.
For Q&A with HIlary Swank, see here
Dog's Life: Humane
Every dog needs a forever home, fostering helps dogs to find one.
Mac was the hardest for me. He arrived about a year ago, just before Thanksgiving. He was my sixth foster dog in about as many months, and the first one who truly tested my commitment to the big-picture cause of rescue.
He was still a pup, less than a year old, a purebred yellow Labrador who would command well over a thousand bucks from any breeder with a decent website. Mac’s body, though, made it clear that he’d been neglected. On the day he pranced into my back yard giving love and kisses, I could see not only his ribs, but also his collarbone and spine. I wondered if he’d been left tied to a tree, or was perhaps abandoned by a family who simply moved away, before he landed in the gas-chamber shelter that gave him three days to live. He had terrible diarrhea following his transport from the Carolinas to the rescue in Pennsylvania; at first, he didn’t even want to eat. Poor Mac’s stomach must have hurt every single day of his life.
Mac and my own dog, Blue, became immediate pals. They ran in the yard, played tug in the den and cuddled in front of the fi replace on chilly nights. I fed Mac the same high-quality food that Blue gets, took him with us on walks in the park and treated him like a member of the family. As his health issues vanished and his body recovered, his spirit exploded with an even stronger glow. He looked like a completely different dog, and everywhere we went, people stopped me to comment on how gorgeous he was.
They were absolutely stunned, literally set back on their heels, when I told them he was a gas-chamber rescue now available for adoption. The very thought of a dog like Mac being abandoned really messes with most people’s ideas about who shelter dogs are, just as the thought of a normal-looking person like me being a foster mom messes with many people’s belief that only “crazy dog ladies” have foster pups in their homes.
Valerie Price has been shattering those same misconceptions for the past fi ve years. A student adviser at a college in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has fostered more than 150 puppies for Smiley Dog Rescue while working as a student counselor and studying for a master’s degree in business administration.
“People are always surprised when I tell them that these puppies were going to be put down in the shelter,” Price says. “These are beautiful, wonderful puppies. The problem is not with the dogs. It’s the owners who need to be more responsible. I wish people would spay and neuter and stop backyard breeding. That’s why I do this. There’s nothing wrong with these dogs, and I want to speak for them.”
Price has two dogs of her own, Whiskey, a Husky-Samoyed, and Misty, a mutt. Whiskey likes to be in charge, which is why Price sticks to fostering puppies instead of older dogs. Whiskey accepts puppies and often helps nurture them, even when the litters are as big as eight. Price went so far as to build a “dog room” onto her home, a space with a doggy door to the yard and furniture that looks like a bedroom. There’s even a television that the puppies can listen to between her lunch-time visits.
She’s had a few pups like my foster Mac, dogs who, for whatever reason, stuck out and made her want to adopt. But she found the strength to let them all go after the rescue cleared the adopters via its application process and an in-home visit.
“The first few times I fostered, I cried when they left,” she says. “I wanted to keep the second one that I fostered, and the rescue lady told me to be strong. She said the first or second ones are the hardest. It felt like I was losing a child. But the people who adopted those first ones live nearby, and I got to meet the families, and we still stay in touch. The only thing that made it easier is that if I kept the dog, then that would be the end of fostering. I want to have my home open because there are more dogs who need me.”
My first five foster dogs for Lulu’s Rescue came and went so quickly, I barely got to know them. They were puppies, and puppies are usually adopted the fastest; some of my fosters stayed less than two days. I’d been nothing more than a way station on their journey, a place for them to be safe until their families could collect them. I thought they were cute, but we didn’t even come close to bonding.
Mac, though, stayed for six weeks. His sloppy kisses and wagging tail became a part of my daily routine, and my own dog’s playtime, too. A month and a half is a long time to steel your heart against a dog who wants nothing more than for you to love him back — especially a dog who lives with you through Christmas and gets his very own presents under the tree.
On the day the rescue told me they had a great application for Mac, I, like Price, felt as though I was about to lose a child. I thought about saying no and officially becoming a “failed foster,” an all-too-common label for folks who tried but just could not say goodbye.
It’s happened more than once to Charlene Jackson of Coming Home Rescue in Rockaway, N.J. She’s had at least 300 foster dogs during the past 15 years, when she’s not busy at her job as an IT professional with Novartis. Her own pack helps with the fostering: Biscuit, a two-year-old Greyhound/Pit Bull mix; Emme, a five-year-old Australian Shepherd/Pit Bull mix; Sam-I-Am, a six-year-old Australian Cattle Dog; and Molly, an 18-year-old Golden Retriever.
“We call her Queen Molly. She came to me full of milk, so we think she was a thrown-out kennel bitch,” Jackson says. “To this day, she will investigate the puppies and sniff their ears to make sure they’re all right. I find that fostering is good for my own dogs. They learn to be sociable, and they learn to share. They open their hearts, too.” Dogs, like people, can become bonded to fosters — especially the ones who end up staying a while. “Time can make it hard, when they just become they’re happy, or it’s a special case and you start to feel like a protective mama bear,” Jackson says. “I’ve seen lots of fosters fail the first or second time. They often keep the first foster dog. Then with the second foster, they cry as they say goodbye. But then they get an email about how well that dog is doing, and they start to understand that this is a cycle. There’s another one waiting. You don’t have to cry for long. He’s in a crate waiting for you.”
For me, it makes things easier to think of that cycle as a pipeline, a pipeline that comes to a clogged stop if the foster person adopts the dog. Keeping that pipeline open is the only way that I could even conceive of saying goodbye to a dog as great as Mac. I kept telling myself that there was another dog just like him scheduled to die in a shelter tomorrow, and that I had to let Mac go, to make room.
The application arrived just before New Year’s. It was from a family about an hour away with a black Labrador who needed a playmate. The husband was willing to drive up to meet Mac even before the application was approved. He brought one of his three sons and their dog, Thomas, who played in my yard with Mac like old pals. The man apologized for his wife’s absence; if their application was chosen, he said, she’d quit her seasonal job early so she could be home to give Mac a proper first few weeks of settling in.
On the day Mac went home with them, I wept. My dog Blue wandered around the house in a daze, too. Mac, though, walked happily out my front door on his leash, his tail in a fullon wag. In my driveway, the family opened the door to their car and Mac jumped right in. He wanted to go for that ride. He didn’t even look back.
I’ve had 13 more foster puppies since then, each one just as deserving of happiness as Mac. Mine wasn’t the ideal home for every one of them — the poopers and chewers … well, I was happy to wish them good luck in life — but a few here and there have touched my heart deeply. For that reason, I’m glad I let Mac go. One of the greatest rewards of fostering is knowing that you’re not only helping one dog, but also the next one in line.
Another great reward is that they never forget you. A couple of weeks ago, I did a reading at a bookstore about a half-hour from my home. My dog Blue was with me, sitting quietly and politely as always. As the reading ended, Blue started tugging and tugging on his leash, trying desperately to get into the crowd. I looked up and saw a gorgeous adult Labrador with his tail wagging wildly, right there in the middle of the bookstore. Within five seconds, Blue was in a full-on play bow.
I looked at the man holding the Lab’s leash, confused about why another dog was inside. The man grinned and said, “You don’t remember him, do you.”
Mac had gotten bigger. And somehow even more gorgeous. His whole family had come to thank me for saving their dog’s life. More than a few people waiting for me to sign their books stopped, stared and wiped away tears.
I wonder if any of them are thinking about fostering now, too.
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