Dog's Life: Humane
Q&A with Photographer Tracey Buyce, Volunteer and Board Member, Cats and Dogs International
While writing about Cats and Dogs International (CANDi) for the Spring 2015 issue, we were in touch with board member Tracey Buyce, who’s also the organization’s volunteer photographer; she made many good points that space prevented us from including in the print article. Here’s the “value-added” expanded version of that conversation.
Bark: What motivated you to become involved with CANDi?
Tracey Buyce: A few years ago, my husband I were vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, and took a romantic walk on the beach after dinner. Suddenly, we encountered a starving, stray mother dog with her malnourished puppy, searching for food and comfort. I fed her my dessert. I didn’t know what else to do, and my heart ached after that encounter.
What became clear during our stay was that there were even more dogs living on the beach, trying to survive. I knew I had to do something to help them, and couldn’t rest until I did.
As soon as we returned home, I searched the Internet for animal rescue groups in Cancun and discovered CANDi. I contacted the founder, Darci Galati, who invited me to return to Cancun the following month as a volunteer photographer for their free spay/neuter clinic. Almost immediately, I came on board as their official photographer for the clinics, and was invited to join CANDi’s Board of Directors in 2014.
B: Have you had any “aha” moments while working with the group?
TB: Yes, many, but the most notable was my change in perception of the underlying cause of the stray dog problem in Mexico.
My volunteer work has required me to visit many of the communities surrounding Cancun’s tourist resorts to photograph dogs and the local people. Although Mexico has some very dangerous areas, its hard-working people are doing their very best to survive and make it through each day with extremely limited resources. When people’s basic needs are not being met, their animals’ needs come in second, which I believe is the case here.
Visitors tend to be judgmental about what’s happening in Mexico with the stray animal and overpopulation issues, and assume that it’s the fault of the local people and community that the animals are not cared for. The reality is—and this was my personal “aha! moment”—as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means of caring for them. Many live without basic resources and are unable to provide necessities such as immunizations for their kids; sterilizing their pets is almost impossible.
I think it’s a government issue. There needs to be an infrastructure in place to provide for the basic needs of families and children, and there also needs to be some support from the tourist industry to help offset the devastating poverty in the communities that surround the resorts.
B: Do you have a special CANDi story?
TB: My work with CANDi has provided many moments of joy, success and surprise, but the one that is most memorable involves Luna, a dog I found in someone’s yard, who was near death. I had seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of street dogs before I came across Luna, but something about her was different. I knew I couldn’t leave her there.
With a lot of difficulty and the help of a translator, I managed to get the owner to relinquish the dog, and through CANDi, she got the immediate veterinary care she needed until she stabilized. I found her a loving home in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, and that’s where she lives and thrives today as a happy, healthy, well-loved family dog! Luna is my special success story. [Editor’s note: You’ll find Luna’s story here.]
B: What do you consider to be the organization’s greatest strength?
TB: That it’s a grassroots group and brings volunteers from all around the world to communities that have the greatest need for spay/neuter clinics.
Everyone, including the veterinarians, is a volunteer who donates his or her time, skills and resources. All of our stories are similar in that we saw animal suffering and wanted to do something to help. CANDi is the vehicle that not only brings us together, but also, paves the way for each of us to help. Without CANDi, none of it would be possible.
CANDi’s approach—partnering with the tourism industry—is what we need to continue to build on expanding our volunteer base. This partnership also translates into resources that support more spay/neuter clinics, the implementation of humane programs at tourist destinations, and education and resources for local residents.
B: What can individuals do to help CANDi?
TB: As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home! There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico and it’s very easy to do.
Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life.
And, of course, volunteer! I am a professional photographer, and I give based on my talents. Not every volunteer is a vet, or wants to pick ticks off dogs at a clinic. Think about your greatest skill or asset and then think about how you can apply that to helping animals through CANDi. Visit CANDi’s website for more information on how to get involved!
B: Finally, a personal question: any dogs of your own?
TB: Yes, I have two rescue dogs, Roxy and Sydney, plus a shelter kitty, Reece, and a horse named Moose. I’m a bona fide animal lover, and that’s why I do what I do!
The interview was conducted in January 2015 and has been edited for clarity.
News: Guest Posts
How The World's Worst Dog Became Our Shelter's Best Teacher
Eddie was not a particularly magnanimous little dog. While he was sweet and loving with people he knew, he was a snarling, snapping nightmare with children and other dogs. As he weighed less than ten pounds, it was a manageable situation but who would want to manage it? Making matters worse, he was a tan Chihuahua in an area up to its ears in tan Chihuahuas. If shelters in other states suffer from an overabundance of wonderful large black dogs, California has a Chihuahua overpopulation issue reminiscent of the “Tribble” episode of Star Trek.
After having Eddie in our care for two years we were at a total loss for how to find him a home. Facebook posts, adoption ads, offering free training - nothing worked. Stymied, our Adoptions, Behavior and Marketing teams sat down to a situation room conference and came up with a drastic idea: complete honesty. We wrote a no holds bar blog about why you probably didn’t want to adopt Eddie, crafted a satirical press release noting the same, produced a couple jarring videos, and made some memes to distribute through various marketing channels.
It went completely viral. Our phone lines jammed and the media turned out in force to talk about little Eddie. America embraced Eddie. To say this was a huge learning experience for us at Humane Society Silicon Valley would be an understatement. After two weeks of near bedlam, Eddie was comfortably ensconced in a new home and our staff was older - and much wiser - than we used to be. Three big lessons stuck out from our crash course in unconventional marketing.
1) Everyone owns an Eddie. As the Eddie blog scampered it’s way around the internet on fleet little paws, we heard a resounding chorus of one sentence: “He’s just like my dog!”. While we may strive for perfection in ourselves, people are unfailingly willing to embrace imperfection in their companion animals. As a society, our love of the dogs we share our lives with far outweighs our need for control and order. While statistics have always borne out the fact that the reason dogs wind up in shelters has more to do with changes in the owners lifestyle, Eddie’s raging popularity - and the surfeit of people that stepped up to meet him - showed us anecdotally that we accept our dogs, warts and all.
2) Inform, don’t restrict. In deciding to go the route of radical honesty, we also decided to trust as well. Too often shelters deal with difficult animals by restricting the adopters - no kids, adult only, experienced homes. By doing that, we drastically cut down the number of options for animals already at a disadvantage for finding homes. We also forget a vital fact: most of us didn’t come to dog ownership as experts. None of us were born conversant in the lingo of behavior theory and versed in positive reinforcement training. It was a relationship with a dog that encouraged us to seek out information - to learn and grow. Even the most expert pet professionals usually came to their career through the very simple act of loving an animal. By frankly presenting Eddie’s problems and removing his restrictions, we allowed for the possibility of that transformative relationship, allowed his potential adopters to make an informed decision about what they were capable of. And they did.
3) You don’t need to write a horror story to make people care. Noticeably absent from all of the media we did about Eddie was one simple thing: his rather unremarkable history. Eddie wasn’t a victim of abuse or neglect - he was simply an under socialized dog who got loose and was a bit too much for his owners to handle. Too often in shelter marketing, we make the mistake of thinking that we need to return to the same narrative of good versus evil. If there’s one thing we learned from Eddie the Terrible, it’s that people are more complex - and their hearts are larger than we anticipated.
Eddie forced us to reevaluate how we approach more challenging animals that enter our doors and how we interact with potential adopters.
And perhaps these are lessons that can save more lives.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The scruffy little stray peered warily at me from under her filthy, matted curls. She looked to be a poodle mix of maybe 15 pounds and animal control had been getting calls about her for a month or so. I called softly to her but she tucked her tail and trotted away. I spent the next several weeks trying every trick in the book to capture the little dog but she was too shy to approach and too clever to be cornered or trapped. She slept under old cars behind the meat company and roamed the nearby car dealerships daily.
Finally after several weeks of trying different baits in the trap I was thrilled to find her safely confined. Back at the shelter she was terrified and trying to bite but I was able to wrap her in a blanket and get her vaccinated and scanned. To my surprise she had a microchip. There was no phone number so the next day I went to the home and met with her former owner. A pleasant man, whom I will call Marco, he stated that he loved his dog but had too many dogs and still had 4 of her puppies from a previous litter of 8.
It’s my job to help and educate rather than judge whenever possible and Marco needed help. He showed me the 4 puppies. There were two males and two females and he told me that he was trying to separate them because the boys were trying to have “the sex” with the girls and he didn’t want any more puppies. It’s important to remember that Marco was doing the best he could with the education and information he had. Other than a bad limp on one of the female puppies, they looked healthy and well cared for. They had enough to eat and a cozy bed in a shed.
Still, the dogs were reproducing at random and I knew it wouldn’t be long before there would be more puppies and I was worried about the limp on the female puppy. Also my preference is always that dogs live in the home as part of the family. We chatted a few more minutes and Marco decided to surrender the original stray mama and her two female puppies and I gave him information on getting the males neutered.
I took the little scared stray and the two puppies home to foster until they could be adopted. I named the mama Ava and she warmed up in no time, crawling tentatively across the floor and into my lap after a few moments. I bathed her filthy coat and trimmed the mats and scheduled her to be spayed as soon as she was more comfortable being handled. I had the two puppies, Charlotte and Cookie spayed (Cookie was in season), vaccinated and treated for worms and fleas. I also Cookie seen for her leg and X-rays showed a partially healed fracture that was crooked and needed surgery.
One evening about a week after I caught her, Ava lay blissfully relaxed on my lap. I was absently stroking her belly when I felt movement under my hand. Two days later I woke up to a single puppy nursing happily in the bed with Ava.
Cookie had her surgery and was adopted by one of the wonderful vets who took care of her. Charlotte went home with a friend of mine and will have the best of everything. Mama Ava and her puppy Bruno will stay in foster care with me until Bruno is weaned. Then they will be spayed and neutered and adopted out.
It’s funny how catching one little stray resulted in four dogs having a better life. I can’t help but think what good timing it all was. Little Bruno might have grown up under a car as a feral stray, if he even survived. The two female pups would have become pregnant and produced more puppies in the back yard. And little Cookies broken leg might never have been fixed, leaving her with a lifetime of pain.
I think Ava and little Bruno, snuggled up in a warm bed in my living room would agree.
Culture: Readers Write
Unexpected death brings new beginnings for one family.
She was a long hair mini dachshund and we did not know exactly how old she was. I do know that when I first rescued Tessie eight years ago, she could not see or hear well, but she sure could smell another dog a mile away. She was so energetic, happy, loved her walks, food and lots of people attention. I thought she was quite young.
On December 22 while I was getting ready for work, Tessie and I did our usual routine of breakfast and outside for her. After she ate her breakfast and jumped around a bit, she just lied down on the floor and could not get up. I could see something was very wrong and rushed her to the emergency pet hospital at 6:30am but she died in my lap on the way.
I was devastated and in absolute shock. It was a good thing I was on vacation for two weeks because I did not stop crying for four straight days. I was obligated to cook dinner for my children and their friends and in looking back it was good short term distraction. While I shopped for dinner, I cried all through the store. I would run across people that cried with me as they remembered their lost pets.
I guess perception is everything; I thought I had about 10 more years with Tessie. We now realize that she was most likely 6 or 7 years older than we thought. That would have made her 13 or 14 years old.
As I was lying in bed grieving, I started looking on PetFinder.com for dachshund rescues. I decided to rescue another dachshund because I understand their quirky and stubborn personalities. In honor of Tessie, I decided to rescue a senior dog.
Even though my friends and family kept telling me to wait, I just could not. It was just too painful and I knew that I wanted to have a dog in my life at all times. I was still able to go through the grieving process even though I was looking for another rescue. I did everything to get out of my heart, went to the animal shelter and dropped off items they needed for the shelter dogs, and took long walks.
I contacted Phyllis Van Boxtel, rescue director, of Recycle Love Dog Rescue to enquire about a little red dachshund mix that was apparently dropped off at a shelter by someone who could no longer take care of her. I was not sure about it, but it made me feel better just to find out more about her. Her name was Flower.
I live in Northern California and was in no shape to fly or drive to San Diego (400 miles) to pick her up. When I told this to Phyllis she said it was not a problem and they would fly her to me. I asked how much this would cost and she said it was free as she is affiliated with a company called Pilots n Paws who flies dogs for free to good homes. I could not believe it! So I just went with it, filled out the application and sent my adoption fee in. Sight-unseen I agreed to take her.
Three days later, I drove to the Palo Alto municipal airport and waited in a little building near the tarmac for the plane. Once landed, I was able to go out and greet them when they opened the airplane doors. It was amazing!
I renamed her Jolie Fleur (pretty flower in French). I’ve now had my little Jolie for 3 weeks. She is doing very well and taken me on as her person.
I believe my little Tessie led me to Jolie as I do believe she was trying to tell me something before she died. She was clingy and not her usual self for a few weeks before she died. Her signs were so subtle and I didn’t notice because she did not appear to be ill before she died.
I know that eventually I will go through a grieving period with Jolie because she is older. I don’t know how long we have together, but I am going to make it the best time I can for her.
It is worth rescuing senior dogs. They are so lovely and really know when they are safe and loved.
I would like to thank the following people for making this miracle happen: Phyllis Van Boxtel of Recycled Love Dog Rescue. Angel Pilots of Pilots n Paws. Luke Freeman for taking all the photos and being my best support of the Day! Thanks Luke, you are a trooper.
I am so happy to know that there are so many human angels still helping and loving the innocent animals that do not have a voice of their own and cannot defend themselves.
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?
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