Web alternatives to kennels
If cage-free, off-leash accommodations were the last big trend to sweep the boarding business, than sleepovers with regular folk are the new sweet spot between home and kennel. Today, several websites connect dog owners seeking a more hands-on, affordable boarding experience for their pups with dog-loving hosts eager to open their homes to canine visitors but with varying degrees of pet care experience.
Launched in Phoenix in 2004, the same year as Facebook, SleepoverRover.com helped pioneer the current web-based wave of hosting dogs as guests in private homes. With experience in pet retail and grooming and a desire to find a low stress alternative to kennels, co-founder Maggie Brown set about recruiting retirees and stay-at-home parents to take care of dogs in their homes.
Unlike newer sites, Sleepover Rover representatives evaluate each host and inspect each home, in some cases, providing dog-proofing and behavior advice. Sleepover Rover actively facilitates each match, handles payment (splitting the fee with hosts), and follows up on each home stay. Sleepover hosts are located in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver, and in Southern California from San Diego to Santa Barbara.
In 2011, two sites—DogVacay.com and Rover.com—launched more open-market versions of the same concept. Like AirBnB, these sites allow dog owners and dog sitters to post profiles for free. Owners are responsible for selecting a sitter and making arrangements, although they pay through the site, as well as checking references, which include onsite and other social media reviews. The sites take a percentage, from 3 to 15 percent, of fees collected by the dog sitters.
Started by a husband-and-wife team, DogVacay was originally limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now has more than 10,000 qualified hosts (DogVacay interviews hosts and checks references) around the country, concentrated in urban areas also including New York, Miami, Dallas, DC, Chicago and Atlanta. The hosts make an average of $1,000/month.
A well-funded, Seattle-based startup, Rover.com started by putting down roots in the Pacific Northwest but is now actively expanding in 52 cities.
In a recent New York Times blog specifically about DogVacacy the important issue of insurance was examined. While traditional homeowner's policies provide coverage that protects you in the event that your own dog bites someone, typically if a “guest” dog does likewise, this wouldn't be covered. You would need to acquire specialty insurance coverage for pet businesses, similar to groomers, boarding kennels, etc.
The Times article, explains:
"DogVacay's Web site says it includes “complimentary” insurance for hosts and guests with every booking. The free version covers veterinary care for guest dogs and dogs owned by the host, up to $2,000; it doesn't, however, include liability coverage for the host.
Hosts can pay to upgrade to “premium” insurance that does include liability coverage of up to $4 million, said Aaron Hirschhorn. The coverage is offered through Kennel Pro, an affiliate of the insurer Mourer-Foster.
DogVacay's site links to Kennel Pro's site, which says its policies start at $350 a year, which sounds a bit steep for someone hosting a dog only occasionally. But Hirschhorn said DogVacay was able to offer expanded coverage for $48 a year to its hosts through a special arrangement with the carrier. (The more affordable premium isn't cited on the Web site.) The fee is deducted from the first booking, so hosts don't have to pay the premium upfront, he said. He estimated that half of DogVacay's hosts bought the upgraded coverage."
Some local jurisdictions might also have laws about the need to have a business license. In Houston, for example, you might need a kennel license and an inspection.
Even though a few of these services do initial “vetting” of the hosts for you, and urge you to meet the “host” before you finalize your arrangements, some comments on the Times piece express concerns about leaving a dog with someone you only met on the internet. Have you used any of these services? Would you be interested in using them, or even being a host?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
From flower pups to well-heeled guests, dogs take their place in weddings
On a sunny June day in 2004, Danny Branson and Kathy Buetow were playing fetch with their Australian Cattle Dogs when Branson pulled out his pocketknife and began slicing into one of the balls. “I looked over at him, wondering what the heck he was doing,” says Kathy Buetow (now Buetow Branson). He held the ball up to her ear and said there was something rattling inside and he had to find out what it was.
“What, are you kidding? You’re ruining a good tennis ball for something silly like that?” she said. Her surprise turned to annoyance when she saw that the ball was filled with stuffing. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t want the kids ingesting that fluff!’ Of course, it took me only a few minutes and the blinding flash of diamonds to realize— finally!—what he was up to.” (The dogs were unimpressed by the elaborate proposal and looked up as if to say, “Throw the ball again, already!”)
A few months later, one of the impatient bystanders, Colby, was a tuxedo-wearing ring bearer in the couple’s lakeside wedding. Even better, the dogs joined the newlyweds on a honeymoon road trip from their Sidney, Ill., home to the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America National Specialty competition in Del Mar, Calif.
Dogs in the wedding? It hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. Eighteen percent of dog owners have or would include dogs in their wedding, according to an American Kennel Club survey. The reality is that dogs have become members of the family, and as such, many people want them to be a part of this important ritual as well. They participate as attendants and guests. They pose for wedding photos. They dance and socialize at receptions. And even if they aren’t up to crowds or are prohibited by a venue, they are often included in photos, on invitations and in keepsakes.
Given all this dog love, we figured it was time for Bark to venture into wedding planning, collecting wisdom from the trenches on ways to be sure—or as sure as you can be—that your dog-friendly nuptials are a howling success.
1. Treat pups as more than accessories. As cute as they are, especially in flowers and bow ties, dogs are members of the family and deserve the same attention and consideration.
Claire and Meg DeMarco’s Boston Terrier, Lexi (aka Lexington Rosebud DeMarco), was much more than their flower girl. “We wrote our own ceremony with the help of our celebrant, and it included many references to our becoming a family—Lexi is the evidence of that, and there were several times when we looked over at her during the ceremony,” the DeMarcos say about their 2008 wedding in Boston. “It may sound cheesy, but she definitely knew something special and important was happening.”
Adopted from a foster family only months before, the two-year-old pup in a pink carnation lei rose to the occasion. Well-behaved throughout, she calmed the DeMarcos’ jitters before, during and after the ceremony.
2. Find the right job for your pup. Not all dogs will blossom as flower pups or carry on as ring bearers. Your wedding —that day of days—is not the time to have expectations that might not be met. You’re stressed, distracted and (from your dog’s point of view) dressed funny— all that could affect the way he behaves.
During Sandy Portella Nelson’s outdoor wedding at her home in Fort Myers, Fla., last year, her four Italian Greyhounds stayed out of sight throughout the ceremony and much of the reception. But after everyone had dined, and before the cake-cutting, the DJ turned up the volume on “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and Dillon, Hopi, Romeo and Basille came blasting down the stairs.
“The guests loved it!” Nelson says. “A lot of them had heard many stories of the gang, so this just filled out the picture, so to speak. In fact, when it was time to put the dogs back in the house, guests asked if I would let them stay out for just a while longer.”
3. Recruit dog-loving pros for your team —especially the photographer (see tip 7), officiant and planner.
“A lot of wedding planners don’t have any experience with pets,” says Colleen Paige, which means they can’t really address your dog’s needs. A behaviorist, trainer and lifestyle consultant in Portland, Ore., Paige got interested in weddings when her dog-behavior clients started saying things like “We really want to have Jonesy in our wedding, but he’s still a little bit too hyper. What can we do to make sure he’ll walk down the aisle without a hitch?”
In her two-year-old company, The Wedding Dog, she combines her training expertise with full-on, dog-themed event planning. She’ll spend months preparing a dog for a trouble-free performance, find a baker to recreate the groom’s favorite pooch in cake and set up dog play zones for four-legged guests. Plus, she has a line of canine wedding couture.
Ironically, Paige’s first multi-species wedding featured a pet pot-bellied pig as ring bearer. “No one expected her to stop at every aisle and start eating the flowers,” she says. “It was crazy hysterical.”
4. If a dog is in the ceremony, include him in a rehearsal. “My original plan was to have Draven, my German Shepherd Dog, hold the basket in his mouth and have the flower girl walk alongside tossing the flowers,” says Marisa Capozzo-Schmidt, who was married at Annunciation Church in Crestwood, N.Y., in September 2007. “But Draven just wouldn’t hold it the whole way down the aisle, so we had them walk together, and she held a wreath of flowers. You need to be very flexible when working with dogs and kids!”
A director of product development at Fetch … for Cool Pets, Capozzo- Schmidt had a very special bond with Draven, whom she had rescued 10 years before. “He was tied to a tree and left for dead. I nursed him back and he’s been with me ever since,” she says. During the vows, Draven looked on from a special brown blanket with his name and the date stitched on a corner in pink.
5. Recognize that when a dog is involved, preparations, rehearsals and planning don’t guarantee perfection. The night before Shirley Newby tied the knot with Doug Tate in Waubaushene, Ontario, they did a dry run in the nearly empty United Church. Her granddaughter/flower girl walked down the aisle with Newby’s Briard, Amanda, without a hitch.
But on the big day, Amanda’s people-friendly nature took over. She not only stopped at every pew to greet the people, she also stepped on the flower girl’s dress, nearly tipping her over. “I’m so glad I didn’t see it,” Newby-Tate says. “I would have had a heart attack.”
6. Exercise restraint and compassion in accessorizing your dog. When Carrie Underwood married hockey pro Mike Fisher last summer, her Rat Terrier, Ace, wore a Swarovski crystal– encrusted pink tuxedo. If you’re a bling-loving country diva, this is understandable. But sometimes, overdressed dogs strike a campy or comic chord that may not fit the tone of this important day. Other considerations are your dog’s comfort (so she’s not obsessed with wriggling free) and safety (beware of accessories that could choke or poison a mouthy pup).
Eighteen years ago, when Debi Lampert-Rudman was planning her wedding, she brought her tricolor Cocker Spaniel, BonBon, with her on visits to her veil maker. BonBon was a gift from Debi’s fiancé, and meant a great deal to her. Seeing this, the veil maker suggested she include the dog in the wedding. This was well before the proliferation of formal wear for dogs.
The woman created a tulle collar with pink ribbons from some of the bride’s veil material, as well as a satin lead that matched her wedding dress. It was a meaningful gesture, and “BonBon was still herself,” Lampert-Rudman says; BonBon’s collar is among the mementoes of the event.
7. Select a dog-loving wedding photographer. For many of the brides we talked to, wedding photos featuring their dogs were hands-down favorites. And, because we tend to outlive our dogs, these images go on to be significant mementoes. You want a photographer who will bring the same spirit of joy and professionalism to capturing the dogs in the wedding as he or she does to the rest of the wedding party.
“What I carry around in my camera bag when I have a dog wedding is a squeaky,” says Pamela Duffy, who’s based in Sedona, Ariz. “I don’t tell anyone I have it, and when I start doing the portrait with the bride and groom and the dog or dogs, I usually revert to that because the dogs seem to lose interest.” She knows that weddings offer dogs a lot of distractions, so she holds the squeaker in her shutter finger, which usually means that the dog will be looking straight into the camera when she takes the shot.
A former photojournalist in New York City, Duffy fell into wedding photography when she moved to Sedona. Her style attracted those who were planning intimate, creative weddings, and it wasn’t long before a couple asked if their dogs could come. Once she put images from a wedding with dogs on her website, more couples sought her out.
Her first reaction to including a dog was based on how her own dog might behave. “My dog won’t always do exactly what I want. When people would say, ‘Do you mind if our dog brings the rings up?’ I’d say, ‘Will your dog really come on command?’” she remembers, laughing.
8. Appoint a designated dog wrangler. Unless the event is very small and informal, wedding couples have a lot on their minds, and it’s not smart to add keeping track of a dog to the list. Take the pressure off everyone by hiring a dog sitter, who can take the dogs out for a brisk, energy-consuming walk before the ceremony, keep them out of the canapés, and whisk them home or to a quiet retreat after the photos but before the band gets rowdy.
When Ally Zenor married Travis Nichol in Woodinville, Wash., in October 2009, she asked her friend Lindsey to be the official “Bearer of the Ring Bearer”—the ring bearer being the couple’s adorable West Highland Terrier, Allisdair.
“Lindsey put in extra time because she was not a big dog person,” Zenor says. “That was her stepping out of her comfort zone. It was important to her to get to know him. What made it successful is that Lindsey was invested in making him her date.”
Allisdair behaved himself, including refraining from barking at a bagpiper, which could have set off a howling chorus; he was, in fact, so calm that he fell asleep during the ceremony.
9. Have a backup plan. When Leesa Storfer married Scott Sidman on the beach in Provincetown, Mass., in July 2009, her Briard, Dolce, was her ring bearer, transporting the rings in a pouch attached to a pearl necklace around her neck. Storfer’s sister-in-law was escorting Dolce, but once the dog “saw the beach and me nowhere in sight, she pulled my sister-in-law so fast and furiously that she fell face-forward into the sand,” Storfer says. “Needless to say, she was not happy.” Storfer’s big, strong brotherin- law took charge of Dolce, who pranced down the aisle and then patiently awaited the bride.
A good back-up plan should include a place for your dog to escape the hustle and bustle, such as a room, a pen or even a crate, and/or someone to take him home, if needed.
10. Understand your dog’s temperament. Some dogs do better attending in spirit. Whether your dog’s personality isn’t a good match for the ceremony or reception, or you just can’t bring her, there are other ways to be sure she’s included. For example, she can be featured in a customized cake topper or a dog-themed lapel pin. (See “The Details.”) Another option: engagement photos with dogs make for eyecatching announcements and save-the-date cards.
Juliana and Justin Caton of Redmond, Wash., weren’t confident that their dogs, Jake and Alli, were up to a wedding. They were particularly worried that Jake— one of a litter of puppies they fostered and then adopted from the Seattle Humane Society—might be too excitable. So, they initially opted to include the pups in an engagement photo shoot with dog/wedding photographer Amelia Soper. They chose the Marymoor off-leash area as the setting because “we love going there; it’s our dogs’ version of Disneyland.”
In the end, the Catons overcame their concerns and included both Alli and Jake in the wedding in nearby Bothell. A friend escorted them. “He was giving them a little pep talk down the aisle,” Juliana remembers. “Everyone really liked it—they were laughing.” The dogs stuck around for photos, then were whisked home by a professional walker immediately après ceremony.
11. Consider eloping— with the dogs. Small, informal, outdoor weddings are a great fit for even the shyest dogs. When Lisa and Louis Ferrugiaro eloped to a dog-friendly bed and breakfast in West Cape May, N.J., in September 2008, they imagined that their dogs —Lola, a 13-year old Chinese Crested, and Gus, a 7-year-old Italian Greyhound—plus the mayor, who performed the ceremony, would comprise the entire wedding party. In the end, they were required to have two additional human witnesses, so the B&B owner’s 87-year-old mother and another guest joined the party. The newlyweds and their pups celebrated by taking a long walk through town and down to the beach.
There are as many ways to include dogs in your big day as there are mirrors on a disco ball. Take the time to find the best way to celebrate their special role.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An intimate wedding on a dog-friendly beach
Molly McNamara met Jeff McGlynn in obedience class when her Bearded Collie, Max, “dragged me across the room to meet him,” she says. McGlynn attended with his laidback St. Bernard, Cujo. With the dogs as matchmakers there was no doubt they’d be present for the wedding four years later—along with a three-month-old Bearded Collie puppy named Stanley.The couple lives in San Jose, where she’s an analytical chemist and he’s in software sales, and they decided to tie the knot at a favorite dog-friendly getaway in Mendocino. With individual cottages, a leash-free meadow and a private dog beach, The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek was a laidback setting for an intimate wedding with four friends and a Golden Retriever. Dogs almost outnumbered people at this affair. They small group gathered for vows on the beach, which ended with some off-leash romping in the surf. “The dogs sat there through the whole thing and then they were like, ‘OK can we run around?’” McNamara says. After champagne back at the cottage, the wedding party went out to dinner and the dogs slept off the day of hard play. “I think it was perfect,” McNamara says about featuring the dogs so prominently in her wedding. “I blame Max for changing my life. He brought me the love of my life.” A serious agility competitor, she also “blames” Max for turning her into an Ironman triathlete. “I was trying to keep up with him.” After the wedding, the new family of five took a 6,000 mile road trip to Warwick, R.I., to visit McGlynn’s family.
Dog's Life: Humane
A report from the inside
She was a timid thing, a tiny Chihuahua whose swollen belly was packed with five pups waiting to enter the world. Cradling this fragile, trembling mom-to-be in my arms, I carried her around the well-lit yet somewhat cramped quarters known as the “back wing” of the Humane Society of Skagit Valley adoption center.
A rare uncovered window positioned at eye level sparked a sudden idea—I’d brighten her day with a glimpse of the outside world. But the pup failed to show excitement. In fact, she registered nothing at all. At that moment, I embraced the stark truth: An unwitting rescue from a life of dark, unspeakable cruelty, this dog—estimated to be three years old—had no idea what a window was, nor was it likely that she had ever set foot outdoors.
The petite Chihuahua and her two-dozen shelter mates were among hundreds of dogs seized in January from an alleged “puppy mill” ring operating in northwestern Washington state. The rest were farmed out to other shelters and foster homes. Malnourished and suffering from infection, almost all required immediate medical attention. Some didn’t survive.
Like others moved by such news accounts, I broke my years-long streak of avoiding the dismal atmosphere of animal shelters. I put on my big-girl pants and signed on to volunteer as a caretaker. I also resurrected the investigative aspect of my extinct career as a newspaper reporter. I needed to do more, but also to know more, and to tell what I knew.
Dogs in Limbo
The refugees I saw were, I suspect, the cream of the crop—the healthiest and least traumatized of the bunch. They’d been bathed, groomed and treated to manicures that brought their nails down to a manageable length. Nonetheless, visible signs of their plight were heartbreaking. Most cowered at the approach of caring humans who wanted only to help them. Some less timid dogs, starved for attention and desperate to be held, charged workers entering their pens. None was properly socialized.
This is the world of breeding for bucks, an insidious industry in which jaw-dropping sums of money are made through trafficking the offspring of dogs crammed together in cages and bred until they can no longer stand. Adult dogs are used as procreative vessels, and puppies are pawned off to pet shops and resellers who position themselves as small-time “hobby” breeders. Proprietors of these canine factories operate on the sly, locating mostly in remote areas hidden from the prying eyes of law enforcement officials.
Doing the Right Thing
“I knew there were children sometimes sleeping there,” he said. “In all honesty? It hurt to do what I did, but it was the right thing to do.” (Read more at PuppyJustice.com, Hatch’s blog.)
Agents inspected, then promptly called law enforcement. An ensuing raid led to searches of three residences in two counties, and the seizure of almost 600 malnourished, diseased dogs with a wide range of medical ailments, including spinal deformities, dangerous bacterial infections and—in a few cases—dental deterioration so severe that the afflicted dogs’ jaws had dissolved.
What Hatch uncovered was an unlicensed, mostly unattended, large-scale breeding operation—a “puppy mill,” in the vernacular of animal advocates, law enforcement officials and concerned legislators who for years have made attempts to shut them down.
Emily Diaz, an animal control officer in Skagit County, has seen her share of horror. Most of her cases are smaller in scale and “walk the fence,” as she puts it, between behavior in need of adjustment and actionable abuse. I asked Diaz to recount her emotions as she processed the dogs removed from that property.
Her answer was understandable. “What I was really feeling I probably shouldn’t say.” It’s essential not to let emotions overtake your ability to work effectively, Diaz says. But she never disconnects entirely. “The moment I quit caring is the moment I have to quit my job.”
Don’t look for Diaz to quit her job. She is a warrior working on behalf of the voiceless by attempting to educate rather than impound, and hoping for that one tip from a witness or complainant willing to go on the record as a source so she can build a case for seizure when necessary.
Taking a Legal Approach
While it sounds aggressive, Washington’s legislation is dwarfed by a new Virginia law that mandates inspections of licensed kennel operations and forbids retailers from selling pets acquired from breeders not licensed by the USDA and subject to that agency’s basic standards of care.
Washington State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, sponsor of Senate Bill 5651, would love to see even stronger legislation passed. But in an economic downturn, she said, few have the appetite to force rural, fiscally struggling counties to perform scheduled inspections. At a minimum, this bill will put breeders on notice: Cross the line into greed-induced, abusive practices and you will be held to account. (At press time, the Senate’s version had passed, but not unanimously.)
Opponents in the legislature worry about over-regulating responsible breeders and kennel owners, one of whom testified before a Senate committee that unannounced inspections were tantamount to a violation of her constitutional rights. Supporters rejected that contention, citing existing laws subjecting food establishments to mandatory, random inspections. Kohl-Welles emphasizes the consumer-protection aspect of her bill. “I understand these are financial endeavors that people have, that they are businesses, and that’s just fine,” she said. “But it also can be very costly to families and to individuals who purchase these dogs. And there is the more intangible impact of heartbreak. How do you measure that?”
Calculating the Costs
Cicourel, a lifelong animal lover involved in pet-shop protests and dog rescues, knew the expenses of bringing Butter home would be enormous. Her beloved three-year-old Maltese/Poodle mix, Polly, came from a puppy mill, though that fact only surfaced after she’d spent $4,000 in veterinary bills and discovered that another $3,000 would be necessary to correct orthopedic problems in Polly’s hind legs. As Cicourel has learned, very few survivors of puppy mill environments escape genetic defects.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, considering that operators of these warehouses can take in a staggering amount of revenue. Prosecutors in the Skagit County case allege that its ringleader has netted several million dollars over the last decade.
Like many of those who purchase dogs through newspaper or Internet ads, Cicourel was duped by a seemingly scrupulous breeder. Her goal is to warn off future victims, both human and canine. She urges patience through education.
“You have to be forgiving of people. They don’t want to know ugliness,” she said. “They don’t want the drama, the horror of it.”
A degree of understanding even toward perpetrators is encouraged by Officer Diaz and Brandon Hatch, both of whom believe few people start out with the intent of inflicting devastating harm on animals. But when commonsense barriers drop and greed takes over, innocent victims are left rotting in their own waste. They are deprived of the most basic sensory stimulation necessary for any living being capable of feeling pain, misery and fear.
Cicourel hopes the high-profile stories in Washington and elsewhere fuel support for continued activism that will eventually stop unnecessary suffering. People who buy or adopt animals as pets are searching for well-tempered companions. Though through an inordinate amount of care and socialization, dogs from puppy mills may become these companions, many fall devastatingly short.
My heart sank listening to Cicourel’s impassioned tale. In the shelter, I’d cared for a select group of relatively fortunate victims snatched from the confines of mass breeders. But it wasn’t hard to get to the place she hinted at—a world of despair she likened to concentration camps.
“They all have this spiritless persona. They’re like ghosts; they look right through you,” Cicourel said. “They’re empty and broken. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve ever seen.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A survey of milestones and innovations.
You might say that dogs were our first high-tech projects. As we co-evolved, we learned how to direct and develop dogs’ skills to benefit ourselves and to extend our reach. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and developments in technology are blasting at us at warp speed. From the basic (converting poo to power) to the jaw-dropping (growing bionic bone), technology holds a promise of better lives—not to mention some pretty cool gizmos—for us all. Here are a few highlights.Gadgets
Start with a curious mind, add a dash of technology and what do you get?
Where there’s a problem, technology can often offer a fix, or at least an improvement.
Want to dress up a virtual dog, find an actual dog park or give your dog’s social life a boost? There’s an app for that … and for a whole lot more.
Another type of light is said to help SAD dogs—those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. A new Portland based company is creating light boxes similar to those used by humans; in fact, the founder was inspired by seeing how well his dog responded to the light box he used to treat his own insomnia. Taken in roughly 30-minute doses, the bright white light is thought to increase levels of serotonin and thus, a feeling of overall well being, which dogs seem to enjoy as much as we do.
Swabbing the Dog
Stem Cell Research In the field of regenerative medicine, which searches for innovative therapies that allow the body to repair and restore damaged or diseased tissues, stem cells offer one of the best hopes for success. Part of the body’s repair team, stem cells are unspecialized cells that can renew themselves and can sometimes become specific cells with special functions. In November of last year, the results of a trial conducted at the University of Cambridge showed spinal cord regeneration in dogs with severe spinal cord injuries (many of whom were Dachshunds). Thirty-four pet dogs took part in the trial; those who received a transplant of olfactory ensheathing cells— which came from their own noses—had significant improvements. Read more about Swabbing the Dog.
Low Tech: Historically, leather tanning was considered a smelly business, and no wonder. As one step in the process, dung—commonly, from dogs—was pounded into the hides, or they were soaked in large vats filled with a dung/water mixture. Those who collected the dung were called “pure finders.”
Robo-Dog: To give mechanical man Elektro a companion at the 1939 World’s Fair, Westinghouse built Sparko, a robot dog that engineer Don Lee Hadley modeled on his own Scotty. After the fair, Electro and Sparko hit the road, making appearances in department stores and at theme parks.
Sticky Inspiration: A walk in the woods with his dog led Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral to invent Velcro® (a combination of the words “velor” and “crochet”) in 1948. As he was removing burs from his dog’s coat, he noticed how they bound themselves to the fur. It wasn’t long before Velcro® rivaled zippers.Waste Not
Natural Gas: It turns out that dog poo, the stuff we pick up and toss, is a useful—and a definitely renewable—resource. Placed in an airtight container, or “digester,” anaerobic bacteria break it down, converting it to biogas—primarily methane. At Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert, Ariz., a digester project run by students at Arizona State University’s College of Technology powers one of the park’s lights and reduces maintenance costs. It’s also lighting up the night in Cambridge, Mass., in Pacific Street Park, where conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta’s “Project Park Spark” keeps the flame burning in an old-fashioned park light using methane produced in a dual-tank digester. In both instances, the systems are themselves fueled by dog owners, who use biodegradable bags to pick up after their pups, then toss the bags in the digester: a perfect functional/technical mash-up.
Connectivity: A Mexico City Internet company recently tested a novel concept in 10 public parks: dog-walkers dropped full poop bags into a special container that doubled as a router. For each pound of poop deposited, a set number of minutes of free wi-fi were available to all park users. Though it was conceived as a short-term publicity action, rewarding people for doing the right thing sounds like a winner to us.
Poop Power: Pet waste is a big deal, and a big business. An entire industry is devoted to removing it from yards, dog daycares, vet clinics and cities. Left uncollected, it’s a hazard not only to the unwary but also to the environment. To keep it out of landfills and waterways, some cities are taking the proactive approach of asking trash collection companies to apply technology to the problem. By developing strategies to convert poop to power, this oh-so-common waste material can be converted to a useful and environment- friendly fuel.
Sad Tech: In 1957, a Soviet mutt named Laika became the first animal to orbit the Earth, as well as the first to die in the process. A good-natured stray from the streets of Moscow, Laika became famous worldwide as “Muttnik.” Her demise was met with protest from around the world, and help propel the humane movement into the modern age.
Bad Tech: Snuppy, an Afghan Hound born in 2005, is credited with being the world’s first cloned dog, and Time labeled him the “most amazing invention of the year.” Commercial cloning of dogs has since become slightly more common, but is still a controversial use of the technology.
Weird Science: Using high-speed cameras and advanced mathematics, researchers have studied everything from how dogs shake themselves dry to how they figure out where to intercept a flung Frisbee. Thanks to their loose skin, wet dogs can shake off 70 percent of the water from their fur in four seconds; their backbones move only 30 degrees in either direction, but their skin can swing a full 90 degrees. Some of the things they discover may eventually find their way into use—such as automated cleaning techniques for the interiors of distant space rovers.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Unlike our dogs, who have an aptitude for biting off more than they can chew (if they chew at all), when it comes to fulfilling our fitness resolutions, we might be more successful with a modest approach. Take, for instance, recent findings that only 150 minutes a week of moderate activity (such as brisk walking) can extend our lives by 3.4 years! A daily dose of 22 minutes might seem like a trifle to dog people, most of whom have this covered with dog-walking duty (albeit, probably not at a “brisk” pace). We also learned about the perils of prolonged sitting. As reported in the New York Times, it causes even the incidence of diabetes to go up: “When muscles don’t contract, they require less fuel, and the surplus, in the form of blood sugar, accumulates in the bloodstream, contributing to diabetes risk and other health concerns.” Suggested remedies? Get up more often, put down the remote, talk on the phone standing up. To that list, we add, play with or walk your dog (briskly!). Put some spring in your step. Your dog will be happy to help.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paintings meet furniture
In the hands of Leslie Oschmann, everything old really does become new again. Oschmann is the creative force behind Swarm, an eclectic collection of useful objects crafted from vintage oil paintings that she tracks down in antique shops and flea markets across Europe.
When Oschmann, a former visual director at Anthropologie, moved from the U.S. to the Netherlands and set up a studio in Amsterdam, she satisfied two lifelong desires: to give new life to beautiful objects and to acquire a dog. McDuff, a Wire Fox Terrier, is her constant companion, accompanying her on buying excursions and keeping an eye on her progress in the studio. And, since Amsterdam is such a dog-friendly place, he also goes with her to stores and cafés, often riding in her bicycle basket.
Oschmann has a gift for imaginative juxtapositions of subject, color and texture (linen on wood, stitching on canvas) that give the forgotten paintings new lives as handbags, shoulder bags, totes and even art-covered furniture. But it’s not all flowers and landscapes.
In her wanderings, Oschmann occasionally comes across paintings of dogs … not many and not often, but enough to pique her interest. An avowed “dog nut,” she now deliberately looks for dog-themed paintings, and the fact that they’re harder to find makes them even more special to her. In addition to using these paintings on individual items, she also arranges them in collage-like ways, sometimes including a piece’s unfinished edges, fringe or corners, then has the assemblage reproduced on sturdy canvas fabric, from which she makes pillow and, of course, dog-bed covers.
Each Swarm piece, a deconstructed/reconstructed work of art, incorporates subtle visual surprises, evidence of Oschmann’s artistic inventiveness. As a bonus, they’ve all been approved by McDuff.
Dog's Life: Humane
Mall Adoptions: Shelters expand into retail locations
When Camille Limongelli and her boyfriend Ted Drummond decided to bring a new puppy into their home, they knew exactly where to find one: the mall. Specifically, the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, N.J., an upscale retail paradise that includes everything from Victoria’s Secret to Abercrombie & Fitch, known locally as a puppy mecca. In fact, when the couple arrived, they found themselves among a horde of shoppers jostling for space beside a wall of cages occupied by adorable pups. Soon enough, a love connection was made and 13-week-old “Tibet” was off to his new home in Brick, N.J.
While Tibet is clearly special to Limongelli and Drummond, he’s also special in the evolving world of animal welfare. That’s because Tibet isn’t a typical petstore puppy—he didn’t come from a puppy mill, where young female purebreds are used as puppy-producing machines and live in deplorable conditions. Rather, he and his abandoned siblings were rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico by a San Juan-based animal welfare organization. Moreover, Tibet wasn’t purchased, he was adopted, and this took place not in a pet store, but at the Freehold Adoption Center, a satellite site of the Monmouth County SPCA (MCSPCA), which serves the northern Jersey shore.
A New Approach
“The concept was that by giving people what they want in terms of the retail experience, you can save more lives,” says Ellen La Torre, director of finance for MCSPCA. “The fact is that if people come to our main shelter and don’t see what they want, which is often a cute, cuddly puppy, they may end up going to a pet store, which just perpetuates puppy mills. So, from an animal-welfare perspective, we figured, why not give them what they want, where they want it?”
While it’s difficult to know how many such retail-based adoption sites are now in operation, variations on the concept are clearly beginning to take hold and grow. The MCSPCA mall site opened its doors in April 2012, about six months after Humane Society Naples (HSN) expanded into Coastland Center, an enormous shopping hub in southwestern Florida. AniMall Pet Adoption and Outreach Center of Cary, N.C., began developing a slightly different model in 2005, using rent-free space in a nowdefunct outlet mall to provide local rescue groups with a centralized location to showcase their adoptables. Three years ago, AniMall made the bold decision to move into 3,000 square feet in Cary Towne Center, where they pay market rate. That move was so successful that the nonprofit plans to expand into 4,000 square feet of space in the same mall this February.
With neighbors like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Sears and JCPenney, these adoption sites have had to learn to embrace a full retail model, starting with merchandising. Most stock an array of high-end pet supplies, from logo-wear and gourmet treats to dog beds and designer leashes. AniMall specializes in organic and specialty pet foods that contain no wheat, corn or other potentially harmful additives. The sales of these products are critical to funding the overall operation, as well as supporting rescue and adoption efforts.
Greatly extended hours are another component of the new retail model. Like their mall neighbors, these adoption sites are typically open seven days a week, and in the evenings, as late as nine. On “Black Friday” 2012, the Freehold Adoption Center racked up $600 in sales between midnight and 8 am on its way to a record-breaking $2,695 day. And AniMall is so serious about building customer loyalty that it recently launched a rescue-rewards program, where up to 6 percent of every sale is donated to the rescue group of the client’s choice.
The adoption sites have also become adept promoters. Last summer, a fashion show at Coastland Center paired adoptable dogs with runway models wearing styles from tenant collections, and was so popular that it is being restaged this year with a “Furry Valentine” theme. “It’s really nice to incorporate [the animals] into these events because it makes it fun for the whole family,” says Melissa Wolf, Coastland Center marketing manager and herself the owner of a rescued Doberman. “We have had some wonderful events here … that showcased many of our tenants and also helped many pets get adopted.”
The sum of these retail efforts—from sales and promotions to convenience and creation of a loyal customer base— supports the main goal: saving the lives of animals.
By the Numbers
The Coastland Mall adoption site placed 775 puppies in its first 12 months, essentially increasing Humane Society Naples’ total adoptions by nearly 40 percent and putting it on track to reach 3,000 in 2012, up from 2,200 in 2011. HSN executive director Michael Simonik says that the organization reaches out to high-kill shelters in rural parts of the state that don’t typically do many adoptions. They pulled 1,300 animals from death row last year alone. HSN also showcases adult dogs under 20 pounds, a size limit dictated by the site’s cages, which were constructed by the space’s previous tenant, a pet store. In both Florida and New Jersey, the animals are housed on-site, but are cycled back to the main shelter if they have not been adopted within about 10 days.
AniMall has facilitated about 5,000 adoptions over a six-year period using a variation on this model. Rather than representing a single group or shelter, it serves as a central resource for about 50 local organizations, including breedspecific dog groups, sanctuaries, shelters and animal-control facilities, and a host of specialized rescue outfits for animals ranging from llamas and pigs to rabbits and reptiles. Most of these groups pull their animals from local high-kill shelters, where the euthanasia rate averages about 70 percent. AniMall gives its members blocks of time on weekends and high-traffic days to showcase their animals to prospective adopters.
“We have a very active rescue community here, and people are doing great work, but they are very spread out. We wanted to support their efforts by bringing everyone together in one central space, and providing what they need most, which is exposure,” says Jeremiah Adams, executive director of AniMall. “So here, we can give them space in a high-traffic mall.”
Much of that traffic is actually driven by AniMall. “We have become a destination stop,” he says. “We don’t rely very much on walk-in traffic anymore. People are coming in specifically because we are here.”
“One of the best things about the setup is that we are educating the public,” says La Torre. “People come in saying they want to ‘buy’ a puppy, and that opens the door to talking about adoption and where our puppies come from and why they need our help. It’s almost as if you can see a light bulb going off in their heads.”
“People were telling us that there would be a lot of impulse buying, but we actually have fewer returns from the Coastland site than we do from the main shelter,” said Simonik. “People worried that our donations would dry up if the shelter profile was lowered, but now we have many more donors because so many more people know about us. It’s 100 percent positive feedback.”
Even at the mall, potential adopters are subject to the same requirements they would face at most shelters or through most rescue organizations. These typically involve questionnaires, reference checks and either proof of home ownership or written permission from a landlord to have a pet.
After being approved as adopters, Limongelli and Drummond took Tibet home. Intrigued by his origins, they have since educated themselves about the terrible situation for abandoned animals in Puerto Rico and have connected with All Sato Rescue, the group that originally saved Tibet from the streets. “It has been a wonderful experience and we appreciate all of the people who work so hard to find these animals homes,” says Limongelli. “Tibet is the most loving dog we have ever met—he is the perfect addition to our family.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
More than just noise
A friend suggested that one of the reasons we love dogs so much is that they can’t talk back. But I wonder whether that’s true. Sure, a dog won’t tell you, “You really shouldn’t have that second cookie,” but does that mean dogs are not talking back?
Dogs are anything but mute, and while we usually focus on wagging tails and beguiling eyes, vocalizations—among them, barks and growls—provide us with another window into dogs’ everyday experiences.
Social species are known to be much noisier than animals who lead solitary lives. Snow leopards roam the mountains of central Asia in near silence, but groups of monkeys do a lot of highvolume chattering. So, given that dogs and their wild progenitor, the wolf, are über-social, it’s no surprise that both produce a wide range of vocalizations: they bark, whine, whimper, howl, huff, growl, yelp and yip (among other nuanced sounds). From the earliest moments of their lives, dogs and their canid relatives produce tonal yelps and whines, and atonal barks and grunts appear in the fi rst few weeks of life in conjunction with the onset of social behavior.
There’s a big difference between the bark of an adult dog and that of an adult wolf, however. Dogs seem to play every instrument in the orchestra, hitting the highs of the flute and the lows of the tuba, sometimes with the duration of a Wagnerian opera. Plus, there seems to be no context in which a dog won’t bark: They bark when alone and with other dogs. Some bark before, during and even after a ball is thrown. A car goes by or the doorbell rings and barking ensues. In contrast, wolves bark less frequently and in fewer contexts, primarily for warning or defense.
Meanings Behind the Message
That being said, research that has been conducted on the subject is incredibly insightful. Take growls, which, it has been shown, dogs use to accurately judge another dog’s size. How in the world do we know that? Tamás Faragó, PhD, and his colleagues at the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest (familydogproject.elte.hu) presented dogs with two images of the same dog: one was true to size and another was 30 percent larger or smaller. Dogs then listened to a pre-recorded growl, and most dogs looked at the image of the full-size dog rather than the altered image.
Growls appear to be meaningful in other ways as well. In another study, Faragó and his colleagues used some clever trickery to explore how dogs respond to growls recorded in different situations. In an apparently empty room, a dog was allowed to approach a bone. Unbeknownst to the dog, there was a speaker hidden behind the bone, and as the dog approached, the sound of a “play growl,” a “stranger-approaching” growl or a “food-guarding” growl was transmitted through it. Dogs were likely to take the bone when hearing the “stranger-approaching” or “play” growl, but the food-guarding “my bone” growl deterred them. Even though the foodguarding and stranger-approaching growls sound quite similar (at least, to our ears), they prompted different behavior.
Many studies investigating vocalizations are based on prerecorded samples, but it is important to remember that vocalizations and visual signals usually go hand-in-hand. In the strangerapproaching context, dogs growled with closed mouths, whereas in fooddefense situations, they showed their teeth and pulled back their lips.
While we tend to take notice when we hear a growl, we often dismiss barking as meaningless noise, as though it is simply an item on a dog’s daily checklist: “Take a walk, have breakfast, bark.” Before the turn of the century, that was the prevailing view among researchers and theorists. At most, barking was thought to result from social facilitation— one dog barking prompts other dogs to bark—or maybe attentionseeking, or even rivalry or defense.
Only recently have researchers begun to investigate whether barks produced in different contexts vary in their acoustic parameters (such as tone and pitch). Scientists theorized that if— like growls—barks displayed consistent differences, they might have a more specific communicative function, perhaps even be associated with a dog’s internal motivational or emotional state. For example, some barks might convey aggression while others might convey friendliness.
In one early study, Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, recorded a variety of breeds barking in response to different situations: a stranger ringing the doorbell (“disturbance barks”), separated from an owner (“isolation barks”) and play. Yin found that the barks did indeed have different acoustic properties. Disturbance barks were harsher and lower in pitch with little amplitude modulation, while isolation and play barks were pitched higher and had greater tonal and higher frequency and a wider range of amplitude modulation. More recent studies confirm that dog barks follow particular patterns. For example, a dog barking at a stranger sounds very different from a dog barking before going on a walk. But do these vocalizations carry meaning? They do for dogs. When dogs in one study listened to barks recorded in a new context or from a new dog, they gave more attention to the unfamiliar bark. This suggests that dogs can detect that some barks are different from others, though scientists are still exploring ways to determine how exactly they perceive and process that information. Humans, too, can decipher barks. Whether or not they’re experienced with dogs, people are quite good at classifying barks into their appropriate contexts and attributing them to perceived emotional states. After listening to randomly played recordings, people describe isolation barks as full of despair, while barks from a play session are said to be happy. Our ability to do this starts early; by age 10, children are able to assign different-sounding barks to the correct context. Today, we can distinguish the acoustic properties of certain barks so accurately that we’re able to program computers to categorize them (which confirms that computers will one day take over the earth; personally, I hope Ryan Gosling will be there to save us).
Recognizing the Patterns
A recent publication by Kathryn Lord, PhD, offers an additional take on why dogs bark. She and colleague Ray Coppinger, PhD, investigated the contexts in which other species use barklike sounds: “When other species emit their version of a bark, they are usually in some sort of conf licting situation. For example, an animal is at a nest or den and observes some sort of threat. Customarily, the animal would run, but because of its situation, it can’t, so it barks. We think [that] when dogs bark, they are making these sounds in association with an alert or an internal motivational state of conflict.”
In a sense, Lord and Coppinger argue that “conflicted” should be dogs’ middle name. They suggest that dogs bark in so many different situations because they often find themselves conflicted: they are in the house and want to go out, they are out and want to come in. And it may be that, through the process of domestication itself, dogs have become more prone to put themselves in these sorts of situations. In comparison with wolves, dogs have a substantially decreased f light distance; something can easily get too close before the dog feels conf licted about how to respond.
Udell suggests that barking doesn’t have to be whittled down to one simple explanation. “If you look at communication and vocalizations in a wide range of species, it usually isn’t about one thing. Chickadees have ‘alert’ calls, but they also have songs, and the songs themselves can mean different things in different contexts. I think the same could hold true for dogs.”
But genes aren’t everything. As Susan Friedman, PhD, a pioneer in the application of applied behavior analysis to captive and companion animals and a psychology professor at Utah State University, explains, “While Shih Tzus as a group tend to display less barking than Miniature Poodles, that doesn’t mean barking in Miniature Poodles is impervious to change. And I’ve certainly known individual Miniature Poodles who are quiet and individual Shih Tzus who are barky, both based on their current situations. The individual always bests any generalization.”
Dr. Yin’s study of dog barks concurs. Even within breeds, she found variations in who barked and when. Rudy and Siggy, 11-year-old German Shorthaired Pointers, both barked in the disturbance context, but when alone, Rudy did not bark and Siggy had lots to say.
The effects of the social environment on dog behavior can be important because sometimes, dogs just go with the flow. On The Bark’s Facebook page, Bev Morey of Kansas commented, “After attending day care each afternoon, my Weimaraner now barks at anything and everything. So annoying.”
“So annoying” is one of the challenges of barking. While all vocalizations, including barking, are generally seen as normal elements of dog behavior, barking is one of dogs’ less-appreciated attributes. According to Laura Monaco Torelli, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, director of training at Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago, “Barking can be especially challenging for those in urban settings, as they live in close quarters with neighbors.” Owners of barking dogs might receive dirty looks or formal complaints from neighbors, and enough complaints can lead to eviction.
Though dogs bark for any reason under the sun, barking is a construct of context, genes and environment, and so is flexible. For example, feral dogs are much less noisy than their counterparts who play with toys, sleep in beds and go to obedience class.
Friedman explains. “For dogs, barking is a functional behavior, meaning it is maintained, increased or decreased due to consequences. Once this is [understood], it opens the door to changing the duration, intensity and frequency of the behavior by changing the consequences.” In other words, dogs can learn to be quieter.
However, perfect quiet is probably unrealistic. Owners can’t always control the stimuli that prompt barking, especially if they’re not home 24/7. Moreover, barking that has been solidified and maintained over time through intermittent reinforcement has a lot of staying power. “It seems that owners unintentionally reinforce the barks produced when a dog is around food or toys, and these become the begging barks of that dog,” says Faragó.
Monaco Torelli agrees. “If a dog learns that the noise in the hallway goes away when he barks, barking becomes an effective behavior. Barking is followed by the consequence of the noise in the hallway stopping.”
Owners should focus not on eliminating barking altogether, but on reducing it to levels they find appropriate and livable. When she meets with clients to discuss their dogs’ barking issues, Monaco Torelli asks questions such as, “How many barks is okay? What’s excessive to you?” This, she says, gives the trainer a good starting point from which to develop a plan to teach the client how to reshape a dog’s barking behavior. Trainers and owners discuss acceptable barking, and then implement techniques to achieve desired levels in each context.
Friedman shares the way she manages her own dog’s barking: “We live in the country, and when we let the dogs out, they bark at the deer for a number of seconds. Then we say, ‘That’s enough, thank you,’ and they are quiet and we praise them.” She adds, “It’s a [mistake] to think that barking is the problem. The real problem is that dogs don’t stop barking when we ask.”
So-called “quick fixes” can make barking worse, particularly if the underlying reason for the behavior isn’t addressed. “Putting an anti-bark collar on a fearful dog is unlikely to decrease barking if the consequence [shock or spray] increases the dog’s fear. If the fear increases, barking could as well,” explains Marylandbased Mary Huntsberry, MA, ACAAB.
Strategies for Change
Barking can be managed and modified, so if you want to influence your dog’s vocal style, it helps to start early and be observant. Teaching dogs the boundaries of acceptable vocalizations from an early age will pay off for everyone; when dogs are young, barking might be cute, but as they age, the cute factor tends to wear off. If the behavior is already in place, there are ways to alter it, Huntsberry observes. “It helps to do a functional analysis. During an extensive interview, I identify what happens immediately before (antecedent) and after (consequence) the unwanted behavior so I can identify the trigger and what maintains it.”
Monaco Torelli focuses her attention on the dog-human relationship. “When owners are frustrated by their dog’s behavior, we show them some immediate training goals and success points so they see that their dog can do what they want them to be doing, instead of what they don’t want them to do. This helps them rebuild their bond with their dog.”
The takeaway message is that barking is a nuanced and flexible behavior, and relationships can grow by paying attention to what your dog’s vocalizations mean. And if you’re on a post-holiday diet and want to train your dog to bark incessantly whenever you make a move for another slice of cake, well, that’s just good teamwork.
Dog's Life: Humane
Transformed by volunteering, Nora Livingstone helps others do the same
Four months after hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, college student Nora Livingstone decided to drive from her home in Toronto to New Orleans to assist at an animal shelter during winter break. Livingstone, a double major in environmental studies and anthropology, thought she’d be walking and grooming dogs who had been separated from their owners during the flood, in an otherwise comfortable setting. The experience wasn’t what she expected. “Up in Canada, we had no idea how bad things had gotten in New Orleans,” Livingstone, now 29, says.
Her first clue to the chaos came when she entered the city. Beside the road, a dead horse hung from a tree. “Everyone was too busy helping themselves and their families to deal with the horse,” says Livingstone. “It sort of set the precedent for the rest of the week.”
The section of the city where Livingstone had signed up to volunteer didn’t even have full power. She spent her Christmas vacation working up to 20-hour days at a makeshift animal shelter at Celebration Station, a former fun park. She slept on a cot alongside other volunteers in a second-floor loft overlooking hundreds of displaced cats caged on the floor below. Outside, chain-link fences separated the runs that housed about a hundred homeless dogs. “At that time, there were still houses on top of houses,” Livingstone says. “There was tons of debris. There was no food. There were stray dogs everywhere.”
Livingstone’s volunteer work in New Orleans was difficult, both physically and emotionally. Each morning, she fed hundreds of dogs and cats, and cleaned just as many bowls and litter boxes. She picked up countless piles of dog poo. By the time she had completed the breakfast routine, it was time to feed the animals dinner, and the whole process started all over again. The sheer number of dogs meant that she could only spend a couple of minutes with each. “I cried every day,” Livingstone says. “There were some dogs who were just so bewildered and scared. The hard part about working with animals is that you can’t rationalize with them. You can’t explain what happened, and that things are going to be okay. All you can do is lie down beside them and pet them.”
Despite the challenges, Livingstone considers her time volunteering in New Orleans as some of the most rewarding in her life. The sadness she felt was tempered by the joy of witnessing daily reunions with families who had come to claim their lost pets. She learned that in many cases, people had had their pets taken from them by authorities who prohibited them at human shelters, or were forced to leave their animals behind at gunpoint by the National Guard during evacuation. “I realized that the work I was doing was helping not only animals, but also people struggling to make their families whole again after a really awful situation,” Livingstone says.
While she didn’t know it at the time, her experience planted the seed for what would become her life’s work. Six years later, Livingstone co-founded Animal Experience International (AEI), a travel company dedicated to providing animal volunteer opportunities around the globe.
But before the idea for AEI could materialize, Livingstone would return home to Canada and finish university and a post-graduate program in Outdoor Adventure Leadership, which involved activities like canoeing and kayaking. Unsure how to combine her education, her outdoors experience and her love of animals into a career, she headed to Nepal in 2007 for another round of volunteer work. She hoped to find some direction, or at least the same satisfaction she had discovered in New Orleans.
While in Nepal, Livingstone volunteered at a medical clinic and as an English teacher. She noticed that dogs were not treated the same as they were in the west. Dogs in Nepal guard homes and gardens, and are not typically considered pets. Most Nepalese believe dogs are the reincarnations of bad prophets —humans fated to live as dogs as punishment for past misdeeds.
One day at a bakery in Kathmandu, Livingstone discussed her observations with a British woman she’d just met. The woman had been living in Nepal for more than 30 years and told Livingstone about a groundbreaking dog clinic, the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center (KAT). Shortly after, Livingstone showed up at KAT’s door and offered to volunteer. She wound up spending several weeks at the center, which aims to improve the lives of street dogs through vaccination, injury rehabilitation and spaying/neutering. After dogs are treated, experts at KAT evaluate them for pet potential, and keep those with promise at the shelter for adoption instead of returning them to the streets. “I loved being there,” Livingstone says. “A place like KAT is so rare in Nepal. I wanted to find a way to get more people involved, to let more people know about it.”
An idea formed once Livingstone returned to Canada. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a company that connected standout animal sanctuaries, shelters and conservation programs around the world with interested travelers like her? The vision stayed in the back of her mind even as she took a job as volunteer coordinator at the Toronto Wildlife Centre. It was there that Livingstone met veterinarian Heather Reid, who helped bring her idea to fruition. Reid shared Livingstone’s passion for travel and her interest in volunteer work with animals. One step ahead of Livingstone, Reid had been considering what it would take to create international animal-based volunteer experiences for other veterinarians. “My brain practically exploded after talking to Dr. Heather because it was just so obvious,” says Livingstone. “I’m passionate about volunteering and encouraging others to volunteer and travel and stir up their lives, so why not get paid to live my dream while helping other people live theirs?”
In 2011, the two women founded AEI, launching it in March with five trips, including one to KAT, the dog clinic where Livingstone had volunteered in Nepal. Within a couple of months, they had 20 travelers signed up. In June, a volunteer tourism portal, GoVolunteering.com, picked up some of their trips and blasted them out to more than 13,000 subscribers. A few months later, AEI’s client list doubled. “We knew there was a market for this,” Livingstone says, “We were just surprised at how quickly it took off.”
Animal-based organizations from all over the world started contacting AEI to create volunteer travel programs at their locations. But Livingstone has been careful to add trips slowly. One of AEI’s core values is to partner with only the best and most effective organizations; Livingstone or Reid visits each before adding it to the lineup. After one year of operation, AEI offers 26 trips to locations ranging from Canada to Thailand and Australia. Travelers can choose to volunteer with dogs, cats, bats, turtles, monkeys, elephants, parrots, bears, leopards, tigers, crocodiles and kangaroos, among others. “People have been knocking down our door, which is both inspiring and a little overwhelming,” says Livingstone.
AEI travelers can also customize the length of their trip, from two weeks to two months, with longer options available. One client signed up for a full year working with orangutans in Sumatra. Her cost of $4,390 includes accommodations, meals, transportation, travelers’ insurance—everything except airfare. While $4,390 seems like a bargain for a full year abroad, Livingstone recognizes that money is the biggest inhibitor to international travel. She and Reid have devised aggressive fundraising techniques for clients, as well as a scholarship program. “If someone is inspired enough to go on one of our trips, we’re going to do everything in our power to get them there,” says Livingstone.
Trips also include cultural experiences and sightseeing excursions. Both Livingstone and Reid want AEI travelers to experience the natural and manmade wonders that draw tourists to the destinations where they are volunteering. But they are also clear that AEI trips are not typical getaways. “We’re not offering a vacation,” Livingstone says. “This is not going to a resort, this is work. But it’s work that’s transformational— through the animals you work with, through the family you homestay with, and through the community you live in.”
Copyright © 1997-2016 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc