There is a front page story today in the New York Times about emotional support dogs on planes, and how many people seem to be gaming the system. It is obviously a very touchy subject for dog lovers. But one that needs serious addressing. Should rules regarding emotional support dogs (different from assistance/service dogs for blind or physically disabled people) be re-examined? This article dealt specifically with plane travel, which allows emotional support animals to fly free. Those animals (not just dogs) are not restricted to a crate and are even allowed to sit on their guardian’s lap, unlike other animals who must fit under-the-seat in a carrier, and for which a fee is charged on most airlines.
Robert Farr of the Pacific A.D.A. Center explained that, “The Air Carrier Access Act allowed for emotional support animals to be taken on planes, broadening the American Disabilities Act, which recognized service animals in public places.” Little (or no) proof of their status is required. And as the article points out, there seem to be many who are flaunting the guidelines.
Is this a problem? According to Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, it is becoming a big one.
“I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”
Ms. Davis, who uses a wheelchair, flies about once a month, along with a service dog, for her job as a health and human services consultant.
She goes on to note:
“Honestly, I understand that there’s some value that people need an emotional assistance dog. But I think a lot of this is that people love their dogs and think they feel like if you have your dog, why can’t I have mine?” Airline workers echo Ms. Davis’s view. “It’s out of control,” said an American Airlines flight attendant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.
Not only are there psychotherapists who provide the necessary “prescriptive” paperwork, but online stores that sell service dog vests to anyone. Like one in Southern California who the Times spoke with who is willing to offer certification papers for a one-hour $99 phone/Skype call.
I know a few people without legitimate issues who do this as well, like a couple with two 70 lb. dogs who wear such vests. Their dogs are extremely well trained but, to me, that isn’t the issue. They simply prefer that their dogs fly in the cabin with them and not in the cargo, an understandable sentiment, but one that doesn’t give consideration to other passengers, including those with service animals or those with animal allergies.
The comments to this article are interesting, especially when addressing the needs of those with severe allergies. Unfortunately their rightful concerns could also impact other guide/service animals—with stale cabin air being recycled, it is hard not to take into consideration the pet dander allergy issue. One commenter suggested that those with severe allergies should also be accorded “ADA” status, warranting special consideration too.
But there is also the fact that airlines are charging more and more for things that use to be standard for the cost of a plane tickets, baggage, roomier seating, snacks etc., so it was suggested that if they started to charge for emotional support dogs (like they do with “carry-on” dogs), perhaps they would see a reversal in the popularity of misusing the system. Or as another commenter noted,
“When airlines are able to provide a more humane way for our pets to travel on an airplane, i.e. a secured heated in winter/air conditioned in summer section in the cargo area, where the crates are also secured and not dumped in with luggage, etc., when airlines stop asking vets to sign waivers that say if your pet comes out the other end of the flight like a frozen Popsicle or overheated Pizza Pocket and not breathing, when pets do not escape due to negligence on the part of the airline employees, who are not specifically trained to handle animals, are trained properly to do so and in fact have dedicated jobs for only this function, than I would love to be able to relinquish my beloved dog to the airline and get on the plane! with some level of peace of mind.”
Are there really that many people who are abusing the system who, in turn, are making it more difficult for others to bring their service dogs with them? Perhaps an example of how this might be affecting the attitude of crewmembers too comes from a story reported yesterday in the New York Post about a blind man, Albert Rizzi and his guide dog Doxy, who were booted off a US Airways plane by TSA guards. As the story goes:
“The 9-year-old Lab was under his seat, Rizzi said, but the loving pooch got restless as the plane sat for 90 minutes on the runway before the scheduled hour-long flight at 8:30 p.m.
“My dog had been under the seat for an hour and a half, and he needed to be near me, touch me,” Rizzi told The Post. “This is the relationship between a guide dog and his handler.”
But there is great twist to this story when other passengers voiced their support to Rizzi.
“After he [Rizzi] was removed, people on board began to voice their opinion,” said passenger Carl Beiner, a 43-year-old construction manager. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re 100-percent wrong.’ There was not a single person backing the stewardess. Every single person on that flight was behind the blind guy.”
“When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’ ” Passenger Frank Ohlhorst told Philadelphia TV stations. “The captain came out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”
Obviously, one hopes that is an extreme example on how easy it is to fray nerves while sitting in a plane for hours on a runway, and one that the management of US Airways agrees was a severe overreaction by the crew.
As for the broader issue of support dogs being accorded the same status as guide dogs, and how this leads to misusing the system, is this perhaps an example of a good idea gone bad? Is it time to reexamine the certification process? Is more accountability in order? We would love to get your thoughts.
We received hundreds of entries to our 2013 Best Places to Work contest from all across the country. We heard from two-person shops and large corporations who are dedicated to dog-friendly workplaces. We were introduced to a resident dog at a Hawaiian dental office who helps soothe jittery patients; we met shop dogs at bakeries (Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC) and a glassblowing studio (Glassybaby in Washington state), a rescue dog/mascot at a distillery (Tito’s Handmade Vodka) in Texas, several technology/internet firms (Advent, The Nerdery) and a handful of manufacturers (Jones Soda, Bissell). While each company had a great story to tell, three entries stood out, earning Bark’s special recognition and a year’s worth of Zuke’s delectable treats.
Midland School, Los Olivos, Calif.
The Midland dogs attend classes, watch soccer games from the sidelines, sleep on library couches and help herd the resident cattle. Dogs even play a role in academic research. Midland’s statistics class conducts an annual mathematical analysis of daily dog wanderings. Students attach GPS units to the collars of several dogs and track their movements around campus over the course of several days.
Dogs are so integral to the culture of Midland School that Headmaster Will Graham’s 2011 graduation speech centered around their importance: “An animal can teach a person to focus on the simple things … the important things … to care for and love something other than ourselves, to pick up a mess that we did not make, and to play. They reassure us, keep us from being restless, help us be practical and grounded, and make us smile.” He named the dogs alongside the graduating seniors when he issued diplomas.
PrintingForLess, Livingston, Mont.
KolbeCo, O’Fallon, Mo.
2014 Best Places to Work Contest kicks off September 1.
Just in case you missed the newest youtube sensation of cats who just love to steal or bogart dog beds, and the ingenious maneuvers that dogs go through trying to get their beds back—give this a look. I love it that most of the cats seem nonplus by the "attention" they are getting from their dog pals. Really cool cats.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Park Case Studies
Description: This jewel of an Off Leash Area (OLA) comprises 15 acres in a woodland landscape, with open fields, shady trails and a large pond. It opened in September 2007, and is owned by the city of Lansing but maintained cooperatively with the Ingham County Parks Department. The park is enclosed by a six-foot fence, and has permeable, sandy soil and easy access to the pond, which is its central feature.
History: What’s unusual about this park is how it started. According to Ellen Sullivan, past president of the Friends of Greater Lansing Dog Parks (Friends), the idea came from thenparks department director Murdock Jemerson. After attending a recreation conference in early 2001 at which dog parks were a hot topic, he tested community interest for them in Lansing. The possibility was eagerly greeted by local dog lovers, and more than 100 people attended the first meeting. It received overwhelming support, and volunteer committees were quickly formed; a more formal Friends group came soon after. It took six years to bring the park into existence.
Financing: To help raise the $100,000 needed for the park’s development, the Friends group established itself as a 501c(3) nonprofit. Extremely well organized, the group developed annual strategic plans and was able to raise significant capital through many inventive fundraising approaches— among them, offering naming rights to the individual or business making the most substantial donation. Those rights went to a local store, Soldan’s Feed and Pet Supplies, which pledged $50,000. Other donors and sponsors came in at various levels, and their names are enshrined on the park’s sponsor board.
Hurdle: Getting the city council to change the ordinance that required dogs to be on-leash in city parks. According to Sullivan, “that took over a year in itself.” Ultimately, the law was amended to permit dogs to be off-leash in designated dog parks. Neighbors also mounted roadblocks. When the park first opened it had 17.5 acres, but after a few complaints, it was downsized to 15, sacrificing a full loop trail and a small-dog area.
Stand-out Feature: In 2010, Soldan adopted a fee-based use system, an approach that many communities, especially in the wake of the recession, have considered but few have implemented. Income from this system has helped defray operational costs such as the purchase of poop bags and portable restrooms, and routine park maintenance. To receive the electronic pass card, owners must provide proof that their dogs are current on their rabies vaccination and are licensed; they are also required to verify that they have read the park’s rules and will abide by them. The annual “key fob” fee is $30, or $15 for students, seniors, military and service-dog owners.
Rules & Regs: Park manager Brian Collins told us that, as is common with many OLAs, “Once the park was established, the Friends group became less involved in the day-to-day operations.” However, the original volunteer community built a strong foundation and provided useful guidelines and rules that are still in use. In fact, their “Getting Ready for the Dog Park” handout—covering (among other things) where to play fetch and cautions against crowding around entrance areas—is one of the most thorough instructional guides we have seen.
What’s Next: Under discussion are improvements such as a ramp for water-loving dogs, a bridge or “floating walkway” to create a loop within the park, trail lighting and paving. Carole Living, long-time park user and supporter, believes that this park “is a place where dogs can run free, swim all they want, investigate all the exotic scents and just be a natural dog. It enriches all our lives.” She also thinks a new user campaign to spread the word should be considered; Lansing is a college town with a high population turnover, and reminders that Soldan Dog Park beckons are needed!
If you would like to recommend a dog park, write to email@example.com and use “dog park” in the subject line.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photos of NYC Church's celebration of the Feast of St. Francis the Assisi
Dog's Life: Humane
A Louisiana prison’s shelter/adoption program.
Drive along a narrow country road 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, La., the late-summer morning filtering through the leaves as you pass acres of cow pasture and a few small churches, and you’ll come across a white picket fence leading to the last thing you’d expect to find: a mediumsecurity prison. First comes the octagonal guard tower, peeking over the trees, then the blocky brick buildings and drab exercise yards enclosed by chain-link fencing topped with curly razor wire, 15 feet high. You’ve reached the Dixon Correctional Institute, home to 1,600 inmates whiling away everything from a few years to life. That’s where I found myself in early September 2012. I hadn’t come to visit the inmates. I’d come to see the cats and dogs.
When Hurricane Katrina barreled down on the Gulf Coast in 2005, hundreds of thousands of residents f led their homes, leaving their pets behind. Most weren’t being cruel—they left food and water and assumed they’d be back in a few days, as they had after previous storms. They didn’t realize that Katrina and the f loods that followed would devastate the region, demolishing homes, killing hundreds and drowning a city.
Fortunately, animal rescuers poured in from around the country, saving dogs on roofs, cats in attics and pets wandering homeless on the streets. They trucked them to emergency shelters throughout the area, including a massive triage operation that had been set up at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. The facility—a venue for livestock shows, horse exhibitions and rodeos—would become the epicenter of the largest animal rescue operation in U.S. history, staffed by hundreds of volunteers and veterinarians caring for the more than 8,000 animals salvaged from the storm. But as the weeks wore on, Lamar Dixon began to overf low. There was no space left to shelter the cats and dogs. They sat in cages in parking lots, and thousands were in danger of dying or becoming lost.
That’s when Jimmy LeBlanc got on the phone. Dixon Correctional’s warden, LeBlanc had recently lost his 17-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, and he wanted to do something good for pets. He offered the Humane Society of the United States, which was running Lamar Dixon at the time, some of the prison’s real estate. HSUS happily accepted. In the middle of the night, trucks began arriving, carrying hundreds of dogs and cats, plus a few geese, ducks and horses. The prison housed them in a former dairy barn just a mile from its main grounds. Volunteers from Lamar Dixon set up kennels and a makeshift clinic, and the prison sent over 12 convicts to help feed and walk the animals and clean cages. Injured, starving pets were nursed back to health, and most were eventually reunited with their owners. The arrangement worked out so well that HSUS decided to make it permanent. In 2007, it gave the prison a $600,000 grant to build a real shelter. It would be used in future disasters like Katrina, but also as an adoption center for the local community. I’d come to check it out.
When I arrive at the prison, I pull up to the guard gate. My rental car’s window is caked with bugs and its A/C is struggling to overcome the oppressive heat and humidity. Colonel John Smith meets me on the other side. A 23-year Department of Corrections veteran who has worked with police dogs for most of that time, he’s tan and solidly built, with a gray moustache and short, brown hair. He wears a blue uniform and cradles a large black walkie-talkie. “Did you have any trouble finding us?” he says in a mellow Southern accent.
Smith guides me inside the prison grounds, past a double gate that resembles a chain-link airlock. I’ve been among inmates before, but I’m still a bit uneasy. Suddenly, a tiny black-andwhite Rat Terrier runs up to us, yipping “Come here, you little tramp!” says Smith, hoisting the pup into his arms. It’s his dog Chirro, who comes to work with him every day. I begin to relax.
We enter the main shelter. Opened in 2010 on the fifth anniversary of Katrina and built on the site of a former chapel, it’s a white-brick building with a peaked roof that looks a bit like a squat bungalow. Inside, we’re greeted by Smith’s junior officer, Master Sergeant Wayne Aucoin. Thin and young, with a shaved head and a brown moustache slightly less bushy than Smith’s, he manages the day-to-day operations of the facility, and he’s eager to give me a tour. Despite the modest exterior, there’s a lot going on inside Pen Pals, as it’s known.
Aucoin shows me the surgical suite, with its metal exam table and anesthesia machine. There’s also a grooming area with a large sink, a computer room for tracking the animals who come in and out and an education alcove. Here, inmates can peruse a growing library of veterinary textbooks; learn, from posters on the wall, how to spot zoonotic diseases like roundworm; and try their hand at diagnosing parasitic infections with a microscope. A few prisoners buzz about as we tour. Wearing jeans and light-blue T-shirts with “DCI” in large orange letters down the side, they wash bowls and mop floors.
And, of course, there are the cats and dogs. Two rooms lined with metal cages can house about 30 felines. Today, there are a couple of longhaired orange kittens, a black cat missing an eye and a handful of others. Many are brought in by the inmates themselves from the prison’s tool sheds and exercise yards. “The fences don’t really keep them out,” Smith says. “They slip through them like the wind.” The dogs live in a long, narrow space f lanked by kennels. There’s room for about 60 of them, but right now there are just a few. Still, the barking is almost deafening as we pass.
All in all, it looks a lot like your average shelter. That’s a good thing because it’s the only one in all of East Feliciana, a rural parish of about 20,000 people. I ask Aucoin what happened to homeless cats and dogs before Pen Pals was set up. “They got shot,” he says matter- of-factly. These days, he tries hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. He posts each animal’s picture and story on Facebook. He drives them to the nearby town of Zachary every month to adopt them out in front of the town’s library. He even brings them to local rodeos. “You’d be surprised,” he says, “but we adopt a lot of dogs out that way.” A dog costs $40, but the cats are often free, donated to farmers as pest control. “A lot of people ’round here want them just for their barns.”
Aucoin doesn’t keep the shelter running by himself. That’s where the inmates come in; five currently work for Pen Pals. One of the many jobs they can take at the prison, it has one of the longest waitlists. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who want to do this,” says Smith. Only a select few pass muster, however. Those with a history of animal cruelty or sex crimes are ruled out. “We screen these convicts pretty close before we bring them in here.” Once inside, they clean litter boxes, walk dogs and assist with exams and surgeries carried out by visiting veterinarians and their students from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “The students are a little spooked when they first get here. You see it all over them,” laughs Smith. “But by the time they leave, they’re joking around with the convicts.”
After we tour the main facility, Smith and Aucoin lead me out the back door onto a wide, grassy yard f lanked by barbed-wire fencing. In the distance is a 10,000-square-foot pavilion with an open concrete floor and a steel roof. As we head over, Smith tells me that the inmates take the dogs to this field to walk them and teach them basic obedience. “Watch out for land mines!” he smiles.
The pavilion is filled with dozens of makeshift kennels. There are a few dogs here now—the structure serves as a quarantine area, and new arrivals stay here before they’re taken into the main building. But its main purpose is as an emergency shelter. When a storm like Katrina hits, inmates can quickly build hundreds of crates, providing housing for as many as 250 dogs and 100 cats. If needed, they can split the crates in half, doubling those numbers. There are also generators to run fans in case the prison loses power. During Hurricane Gustav in 2008, the pavilion housed 40 dogs and 30 cats. And last week, when Hurricane Isaac struck, Lamar Dixon sent a few animals over. The warden didn’t even have to contact them. “We got a call from someone saying, ‘Hey, can you take a couple of dogs?’” says Aucoin.
Running a shelter inside a prison has its advantages. The main perk, says Smith, is the free labor. “You’ve got all the workers you need, and you have 24-hour access to them.” By caring for the animals and building the shelter and pavilion themselves, the inmates stretched HSUS’s $600,000 grant much further than it would have otherwise gone. But the money ran out last year. Now Pen Pals is completely reliant on donations. “We do a lot of begging, borrowing and stealing,” says Smith. And when he says stealing, he isn’t joking. The shelter has been known to pilfer medical equipment from the prison infirmary. “Bandages, X-ray film, you name it,” laughs Smith. “People medicine ain’t too much different than dog medicine.”
To date, the shelter, which is no-kill, has adopted out more than 250 cats and dogs. It’s the only one of its kind in the country, and Smith says he’s had calls from sheriffs throughout the state asking how to set up something similar.
Pen Pals isn’t just helping animals. The vet students who volunteer here gain valuable experience in shelter medicine, which they can’t get at the university. Inmates learn skills they can apply when they get out; one has already lined up a job at an animal clinic, while another just completed a correspondence course to become a veterinary technician. Even those who don’t get jobs become better people, says Smith. “Working here humanizes them. It teaches them to think about something other than themselves. They’ll walk up and tell me, ‘I gotta let my dogs out for a walk.’ You can see they’re concerned about these animals.”
The parish has changed too. Now that there’s a shelter in the area, the locals are more likely to bring sick and homeless animals here instead of disposing of them by other means. “Yesterday, a woman called about a Labrador mix who had been tied up in a yard for a long time,” says Aucoin. “He was so skinny, he looked like a walking skeleton. John and I drove out and picked him up.”
All of this gives me a warm feeling, and as I drive out of the parking lot after shaking hands with Smith and Aucoin, I almost forget that I’ve spent the last two hours in a prison. Almost, that is, until a guard runs after me as I prepare to turn onto the road leading back to town. “Stop, stop!” she yells. I hit the brakes and roll down my window. “Sir,” she says, scanning my back seat for stowaways, “I’m going to need you to pop your trunk.”
For more information on Pen Pals, including how to donate to the shelter, check out its Facebook page: Pen Pals, Inc. Animal Shelter.
Dog's Life: Travel
Revisiting Minnesota’s Highway 61.
Lake Superior, northernmost of the Great Lakes, is the largest body of freshwater in the world. While its Minnesota North Shore beckons adventure-seekers and their dogs year-round, fall is a particularly spectacular time to visit. Rocky cliffs, cobblestone beaches, rolling hills, spectacular waterfalls and ridges covered in boreal forest make it a perfect spot for leaf-peeping and dog fun.
Lake Superior Magazine’s list of premium parkway overlooks includes Bardon’s Peak, Thompson Hill, Enger Tower and Hawk Ridge. Local dog lovers point out that the area’s many cross-country-ski trails are also great places to walk your well-behaved dog off-leash before winter blows in. For more dog-pal diversions, visit the city-owned dog park at Keene Creek Park or take an urban stroll on the Lakewalk pathway along the shore of Lake Superior. On Lakewalk, dogs need to be on-leash, and you’ll fi nd fountains with pup-level faucets. The city’s Canal Park also has much to offer in the way of shopping and local fl avor. Cathy Kates, one of Duluth’s self-proclaimed “dog fanatics,” tells us that some restaurants—including Green Mill, Caribou, Little Angie’s and Bellisio’s—accommodate diners and their canine companions on the patio.
Pet-friendly accommodations include the historic Fitger’s Inn, a former brewery now a luxury lakefront hotel (happily, when it comes to canine guests, they don’t impose size restrictions or additional fees). As you explore the Fitger’s Brewery Complex mall, keep an eye out for A Place for Fido, which caters to active, outdoorsy dogs. Shop owner Jamie Parent tells us that dogs are allowed in all the shops, not just hers. Pick up some “made in Minnesota” Sojos-brand food and treats at Jamie’s place for your drive up the coast.
NORTH SHORE SCENIC DRIVE
On your way to Tofte and Lutsen, you’ll travel through the Superior National Forest, known for its 1-millionacre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and more than 386 miles of trails winding their way through a truly breathtaking landscape. Stay in one of the dog-friendly rooms at the lakeside Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte, or go on to neighboring Lutsen and the Cascade Lodge—log cabins and miles of wild, scenic and accessible shoreline surrounded by one of Minnesota’s finest parks, Cascade River State Park.
If a sense of adventure calls, head into the Northwoods for a stay at the Gunflint Lodge on the shores of one of the area’s numerous lakes—Minnesota is, after all, known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes! The resort was started by a mother/daughter duo, and has been operated by the same family for three generations. Their dog-lover weekends, which are offered throughout the year, include activities and seminars on dog massage, training, communication and pet health. Autumn’s Woofta Ufta and Waggalot weekends are great hits.
Dog's Life: Humane
Colleges are welcoming second chance dogs.
From a dog’s point of view, there may be no better place to spend some time than a college campus. Think about it: the grassy expanses, the flying Frisbees, the attentive humans and all the other opportunities that dogs, like students, have to bond, grow, absorb knowledge, find their passion or just lie in the shade.
It can just as easily be argued that there’s nothing better for college campuses, and more fitting with their mission, than dogs. Dogs can pave the way to healthy social connections. They can help calm frazzled nerves during final exams. They can serve as friends during bouts of homesickness. They tend to make an institutional setting a warmer, friendlier, more family-like place. And on top of all that, there are the volumes they can teach.
They require no salary. They don’t insist on tenure. Yet, without a degree, or even a pedigree, they can help us learn—maybe not computer science 101, but some fairly important things, like compassion and responsibility.
Why then—given the benefi ts to all involved—haven’t more doors opened to dogs at America’s universities? Blame the usual suspects: allergies, barking, poop, fear of lawsuits, fear in general and that rigid, play-it-safe thinking for which bureaucracies are famous.
Despite all the “Top 10 Pet-Friendly Campuses” lists you can find online— some of which include schools that permit little more than fish tanks in the dorm room—it appears that many institutes of higher learning still have a lot to learn when it comes to dogs.
The handful of schools that do let dogs live with students in dormitories commonly impose weight limits (something even the meanest of sororities have moved beyond), failing to realize that size in dogs, like size in people, has no bearing on either aggression or destructive tendencies. Most have breed restrictions, which are based not on academic research, but on insurance company guidelines. And for every school that does, conditionally, permit dogs in dormitories, you can find 100 more that don’t, though some are more intent on enforcing it than others.
In truth, the doors haven’t opened that widely for canines in college, despite dogs being exemplars of that most important attribute of all when it comes to learning: curiosity. Of those schools that are catching on to the magic of dogs, one—sorry, no Top 10 list here —leads the way, a private college in Missouri that not only permits students to have canine roommates (be they Chihuahuas or Great Danes), but pays them to do so.
Stephens College, in Columbia, Mo., provides $3,000 scholarships to students who agree to foster rescued dogs and cats. Between that program, the school’s 175 designated pet-friendly dorm rooms and free on-campus doggie day care, the small liberal arts school could easily make a case for being the nation’s dog-friendliest.
But that’s not the point. The point is that the influx of dogs, especially those for whom students are providing foster care in dormitories—assisting a canine’s transition to a new life while undergoing one of their own—has served not to just make the dogs better dogs and the students better humans, but the school, it could be argued, a better place. And therein may lie—or is it lay?— a lesson.
In the mid-1990s, a staff member at Stephens College suggested to the school president that students be allowed to bring their dogs with them when they came to school. The response, as she recalls, was, “Absolutely not! What are you thinking?”
A few years later, a new college president arrived on campus. Her name was Wendy Libby and, because the house she’d bought wasn’t ready, she lived that first summer in a school dormitory with her black Lab, Abby.
“Abby started the whole ball rolling,” said Deb Duren, who, sensing a change in the climate, made her suggestion again. This time it met with approval, and, in 2003, seven students brought pets on campus. Today, about two of every 10 students at the women’s college lives with a pet.
Duren, now vice president for student services and athletic director at the college, was no stranger to dogs, or to rescue work. In addition to being a volunteer herself, both of her daughters were involved in helping establish Second Chance, the rescue organization in Columbia through which the foster program is run. Both regularly brought foster animals home. Though her children are grown, Duren still has two rescues at home, a 14-year-old Chihuahua named Pixie, and a 12-year-old mutt named Hewy, after the Hewlett-Packard box he was found in.
Duren said that once the campus opened up to dogs, the foster program seemed a natural progression. “There were a lot of students who would have liked to have a pet but couldn’t bring one from home for lots of reasons,” she said. “They were willing to do foster work in the name of helping a new pet find a forever home, but also for the comfort and enjoyment of having a pet.”
With the school funding other forms of “community engagement” scholarships, adding the foster program wasn’t too big a hurdle.
Last school year, the foster program kicked off. The school set aside 10 double rooms in its dormitories for those taking part. Students in the program get a double room for the price of a single, and aren’t assigned roommates— at least, not human ones. They’re also spared the school’s pet deposit and have $3,000 lopped off their tuition.
In exchange, they agree to serve as foster parents for the full school year— to care for the pet, take it to adoption events and, once a dog or cat they’re caring for is adopted, to take in another one from Second Chance.
Second Chance, which has been rescuing dogs and cats for nearly three decades, gets about 70 percent of its animals from local “kill” shelters; about 30 percent come directly, as either strays or surrendered dogs. More than half have medical issues or traumatic pasts. Students in the program receive mandatory training on how to care for dogs, and Second Chance covers the costs of food, veterinary visits, collars, leashes, toys and medications.
“Students can devote the time,” said Valerie Chaffin, executive director of Columbia Second Chance. “They don’t have the pull on their time—the family or full-time job. Even a full-time college student is only in class a few hours a day. The animals [leave] them in great shape, and that’s kind of a plus for us.” In addition to the free dog day care center on campus, which is located in a dorm basement, students who are fostering pets can usually find someone to help out, often as easily as knocking on the next door.
Of the 10 students in the foster program last school year, only one pulled out, and that was because she left school. At the end of the last school year, nine students were on foster-pet scholarships, and five more Stephens students were serving as fosters without the scholarship program as an incentive. Between returning sophomores and new freshmen, college officials expect up to twice as many students will receive the scholarship in the coming school year.
The program was established primarily with freshmen in mind. Freshmen, according to Duren, tend to more smoothly make the transition to college, and do better academically, when they have a pet.
They also do better when they don’t have a job, and the scholarship helps some avoid that. With the school’s $25,000-plus tuition, the scholarship can help students who might be on the border financially. “It can make the difference between getting to come here and not getting to come here,” Duren said.
“The school really put its money where its mouth is,” said Second Chance director Chaffin. “They saw that the benefits of the program outweigh any other issues. They didn’t get bogged down like other universities with potential liability issues, whether [the dogs] will tear up furniture or pee on everything, and all those other things that are so small compared to the benefits that Stephens is obviously enjoying.”
You can take your cat to MIT. You can bring your snake to Eckerd College in South Florida, provided he’s less than six feet long and non-venomous. At Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, students can share their dorm rooms with fish, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, ferrets, cats and dogs, or at least dogs under 40 pounds.
Academia—though it hasn’t totally gotten there yet—is moving towards dog-friendliness, and for mostly sound reasons: students with pets tend to be good students.
“We recognize that students who are pet owners are generally responsible and caring individuals,” Barry M. Buxton, president of Lees-McRae, a Presbyterian college in North Carolina, said two years ago when the university designated its first pet-friendly rooms in Bentley Hall. “We want to encourage pet adoption and awareness that all creatures are sacred.” On top of that, it’s an effective marketing and recruitment tool, allowing a school to distinguish itself from the pack and portray itself as warm and welcoming—homelike, even.
“It’s definitely one of the upsides of being here,” said Cheyenne Smith, who will be a sophomore at Stephens this year. She planned on bringing her cat with her from Arizona when she started school last year, but she and her family decided that Stella Luna was too old to go along, and needed to stay near her vet.
Instead, Smith had a stream of foster cats, one after another, last year. That tended to keep her somewhat anchored to her room. “When I get a new one, I don’t like to leave them alone for a long time,” she explained. As a result, she said, she probably spent more time studying.
The college’s dog-friendly reputation was also seen as a plus by Briannica Ponder, a freshman last year who planned to bring one of her family’s two Miniature Schnauzers to school with her. After signing up for the foster program during an orientation, she opted not to.
“My mom is pretty attached to them and I didn’t want to separate her from them. Once I knew I was going to be fostering, I wanted to be able to give all of my love and attention to one dog.”
She had four roommates last year, starting with Phantom, a standard Poodle who stationed himself in her bed and didn’t want to get out; she had to train him to walk on a leash. Then came Lucille, a Basset Hound–German Shepherd mix who found a forever home after Ponder took her to an adoption event at Petco. After that, she took in a Beagle mix named Droplet.
In the entire school year, she was dogless only one week, said Ponder, who had some experience in rescue work before college, volunteering with her mother in St. Louis at Angel Acres.
As the school year came to a close, Ponder, 18, was serving as caretaker for Happy, a Miniature Schnauzer, just like the ones she left at home.
“All we have to do is give them some love and help them get adopted,” said Ponder, a theater major.
On top of all else she gets out of it, she said, “It’s a really good stress reliever. It’s really nice to be able to come back to your dorm and know someone is waiting for you and is happy to see you. It’s kind of like having a piece of home.”
“It changes how you view things,” she added. “When we have cast dinners, I may go for an hour, but I don’t stay that long. I want to see my dog more than I want to be out partying and stuff.”
She doesn’t see the additional responsibility as putting a crimp on her social life. To the contrary, she probably meets even more people because of the dogs. On campus, in addition to all the dog walkers, it’s not unusual to see cats being walked on leashes. There’s even a student who walks her miniature pig.
“With such a large number of pets here, it’s also a gateway to make friends,” Ponder said. “I don’t understand why more colleges don’t do it.”
Turning dog friendly may be more achievable at a small school, and operating and subsidizing a foster program may not be something every college wants to tackle, but at Stephens, where Duren has worked since 1984, the benefits have been huge, and the problems mostly minuscule.
“For us, it’s just a good fit in a lot of ways,” she said. “But it takes an administrative team that understands how animals can create a sense of community and is willing to take risks.”
Large universities are more like ocean liners; they can’t always react on the spur of the moment, or easily change course. “We’re a kayak,” she said, “so we can move more quickly and there’s not as much red tape to cut through.”
It also takes rules—there’s a whole book of them—and students who break them can receive demerits, for anything from unattended barking dogs to poop not picked up. A few times, when there have been violations of the latter, the administration called impromptu poop parties in which all students pitch in to clean up.
There are breed restrictions at Stephens. Students aren’t allowed to keep Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chows or Akitas, or any mixes thereof. On the plus side, the school has done away with its size restriction, which only allowed dogs under 40 pounds. When left alone in a dorm room, dogs are required to be in crates or pens. Students also have the option of dropping off their dogs at the free dog day care facility.
Cognizant that not every student (or faculty member) is going to be a dog lover, the school also has pet-free dorms, and it doesn’t allow dogs and cats in classrooms or common areas, like lounges.
“There are people with allergies and students and faculty who aren’t that excited about pets,” Duren said. “We’ve all learned to coexist and be tolerant of others’ needs.”
Two dormitories have been designated as pet friendly: Searcy Hall, which is also known as Pet Central, and Prunty Hall, which houses the dog day care center. Of the school’s incoming students, about one of every four indicate they want to be in a pet-friendly residence hall.
The Second Chance dogs being fostered at Stephens visit other campuses, too, including nearby University of Missouri, one of an increasing number of schools across the country that are inviting pets on campus at final exam time to provide students with some stress relief. Students spend a few minutes petting and playing with dogs to ease tension, and the dogs gain from the encounters as well, getting some socialization, and sometimes getting adopted.
The Stephens foster dogs are sometimes involved in extracurricular activities as well. At least, that was the case with two near-feral Chihuahuas rescued by Second Chance. They both ended up being fostered by a student in the theater program.
When the school’s production of the play Legally Blonde opened near the end of last school year, one of the Chihuahuas played the role of Bruiser and the second served as understudy. Before each show, the audience was told that both dogs, and many others, were available for adoption.
“They did really well,” said Ponder, who was assigned to make sure the dogs didn’t run offstage. Once the play completed its run, the two Chihuahuas—star and understudy —were adopted.
Photographer Nell Dickerson fondly recalls childhood nights on the sleeping porch of her grandparents’ Mississippi Delta home—the sounds of katydids, cicadas, and tree frogs, the merciful breeze from the overhead fan. But during the heat of the day, the family sought refuge indoors, leaving the dog to his lonely vigil. “I felt like he understood that the porch was the gateway between inside and outside and that it was his duty to keep sentry there in case someone wanted to pass,” she recalls. For eight years, Dickerson traveled across the South taking portraits of dogs committed to the deep-seated tradition of watching the world. Those photographs comprise her latest book, Porch Dogs.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Downward dog, anyone?
Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.
The lights are dimmed and the candles—strategically placed on the agility equipment pushed to the room’s perimeter—are lit as people and their pups (ranging from pampered purebreds to rescued Pit Bulls) make their way to a circle of cushions. Here at Andrea Arden’s training facility at the Animal Haven shelter in Manhattan, yoga is about to begin. The instructor is agility legend Chris Ott, though most of those in attendance don’t know her reputation; they’re just here for their dog’s yoga class.
Ott’s accomplishments include representing the United States on the USA/AKC Agility World Team, holding a Guinness World Record for weave poles, and numerous appearances and wins at national championships. Her experience extends beyond the agility arena, however. Most recently, she brought her three decades of dog training know-how to the creation of what she calls Four Paw Fusion yoga. The class, originally designed for high-level performance competitors and their handlers, was so successful that Ott modified it for pet dogs.
Companion dogs who take part in Four Paw Fusion enjoy many of the same successful outcomes the performance dogs experience, including increased flexibility and decreased rates of injury. Ott says that she was most surprised at “how quickly the dogs took to it and how much they enjoyed it, right from the beginning.” Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.
Like all yoga instructors, Ott leads participants through a series of stretches. But unlike yoga for humans, in Four Paw Fusion, participants lure their dogs into place with treats and praise, enticing them to hold the position for optimal stretch. Some of the positions start with the dog on the ground, while others utilize pillows and FitPAWS Balance Discs (inflatable rubberized cushions originally developed to help humans tone and increase balance) for support.
Because dogs are gently lured into position, even those without extensive training can be very successful in the class. Ott says that, much to her surprise, the dogs who are anxious and struggle to relax are often the biggest beneficiaries of the course. “The dogs we see the most dramatic improvement in are those who start out stressed and are described by their owners as ‘difficult’ to live with and train. To see a dog who was previously uncomfortable with any kind of touching now able to lie on his back in his owner’s lap while doing stretches is a wonderful experience.”
Ott punctuates her calming instructions with lessons in canine anatomy; descriptions of what a particular stretch is designed to achieve; and important reminders about not pushing a dog too far, which could cause injury. Similar to human yoga classes, everyone works at their own pace.
As the session goes on, the dogs visibly relax, and by the end of the twohour workshop, even dog-park warriors who require marathon games of fetch are panting. Although the dogs aren’t running around or doing activities that on first glance seem strenuous, they leave class happily tired.
And it isn’t just the dogs whose attitudes are changed. Even the most distracted human participants—those who entered class sipping lattes, texting and chatting with one another— pocket their phones and turn their attention to the eager dogs, influenced by Ott’s gentle demeanor and the energy she creates. Although the class is designed for canine relaxation, the peace, tranquility and connection that develop between dogs and their people are delightful side effects. The stress of big city life falls away, and they’re able to refocus on one another—what could be better?
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