News: Guest Posts
New York magazine looks at our complex relationship with dog
On the plane home from Burbank, Calif., on Sunday night, I read New York magazine’s cover story about dogs. (By the way, I’m always impressed by Los Angeles' serious dog scene. Even though we were traveling sans canines, we walked the very hilly loop at Runyon Canyon Dog Park. Great views of the city, locals and dogs (lots of matched pairs). If you really want to experience L.A., this has to be on the list. Anyway, as they say, I digress.)
I grabbed New York in the newsstand because of the provocative cover featuring a tentative looking Boston Terrier with the cover line, “A Dog Is Not A Human Being, Right?” I’m always interested when the non-dog press decides to tackle a comprehensive Dog Story—and this looked like a meaty bone for the ride home. It was, in fact, a well-written survey of our complicated modern relationships with dogs—the sort of sophisticated reporting you expect from New York—covering—albeit too quickly—the high and low points of our attitudes about everything from diet and training techniques to breeding and rescue. I appreciated that dog-owning author John Homans dipped his toe in the shark-infested waters of dog politics—after all, as we see demonstrated on this here blog, we certainly don’t all agree on what constitutes a dog’s basic rights—and that conversation can get a little heated.
While the story is too short and too ambitious to dig very deep into anyone area, it’s a decent primer about the state of things and raises interesting questions—like are we allowing dogs to take the place of people in our lives? What does it say about us that dogs treated are often treated better than people? Where is the dog headed as we continue down the road of “anthropomorphic selection”?
News: Guest Posts
The President’s Portie is no bipartisan!
Last week in my Rally class, a student joked that her dog couldn't make left turns because he was a Republican. Of course, we all cracked up; dogs don't follow a political party. Or do they? Check out First Dog Bo Obama's blog and you might be surprised. He speaks his partisan mind on everything from Haiti's dog victims, to Scott Brown's unexpected Senate win, to race in politics. Bo is also considering a run for the "big enchilada of the South Lawn animal kingdom." I hear there's already a squirrel smear campaign ... .
News: Guest Posts
An early valentine for mixed breeds
As I wrote in an earlier post, the American Kennel Club will allow mixed breed dogs to participate in events such as agility, obedience and Rally starting April 1, 2010. (Hope the April’s Fool date is not a joke!) The organization--whose new core values embraces all dogs--just announced that mixed breed dogs will no longer compete in a separate class or earn separate titles from purebred dogs. Instead, mutts will now go paw to paw with the pedigrees.
I’m thrilled that my young mixed breed dog can compete at the same shows as my rescue Dalmatians, earn the same titles and be included with the rest of the pedigreed pack. There are a lot of AKC trials in my area, which make them convenient. That said, I will continue to support agility venues like USDAA and NADAC and Rally venues like APDT and C-WAGS because they embraced mixed breeds from day one. We'll also continue to show in disc dog events through UFO and Skyhoundz--the only competitions I’ve experienced where mixed breeds and rescues outnumber the pedigreed purebreds. Participants are always friendly and supportive; it is my hope that long-time AKC competitors will foster that same community spirit.
Can mixed breed dog owners and purebred dog owners literally come together and respect each other’s choice of dog? Please share your thoughts.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What are you wearing?
Who among us doesn’t have a wardrobe full of pieces that proclaim our love for dogs? I still cherish the Dog’s Best Friend T-shirts I wore as my uniform when teaching training classes at that business before my husband’s new job prompted us to move. In the photo on back covers of the books we wrote together, both Patricia McConnell and I are sporting matching denim shirts embroidered with dogs. Très chic.Many dog clothes are sold as fundraisers, including one particularly stylish T-shirt that says “Rescue Me” and raises funds to help place rescue dogs in homes. Online, in stores and at professional events, canine couture is all the rage. At one dog training conference, I went out to lunch with a group of six people, and we laughed to discover that I was the only one NOT wearing dog-themed socks. (Apparently I am either a complete fashion idiot, or I just didn’t get the memo—hard to say.) At most conferences, there are many items for sale, and at dog events, lots of them are clothing and accessories for people. From the “Bigger is Better” T-shirts with images of Great Danes to the Chihuahua earrings so common in the Southwest, there are so many ways to “wear your heart” on your sleeve or elsewhere. What do you wear that tells the world you love dogs?
News: Guest Posts
Strays, rajas and spouses?
I had coffee today with a dog-loving friend of mine named Kathy, who spends three to four months each year in India. We were talking about dogs, of course, and she was describing what she sees over there. It’s pretty much what I expected. Lots of stray mutts, small, Shepherd-Lab looking pups, scavenging in the garbage. There are pet dogs—mostly belonging to people with money and almost always purebred. She says there are a surprising number of American Eskimo Dogs—pure white with thick double-coats that seem ill suited to the climate. I’m thinking their very inappropriateness makes them a status symbol. A friend of hers in Rajasthan has a pair of pugs with staff. Domestic help is inexpensive in India, and these pugs have a young man whose sole employment is their care and feeding.
But that’s nothing. Kathy had heard of a man who married a stray dog. I don’t know how that failed to surface on my radar. As soon as I got home, I googled (because honestly, isn’t that pretty much what we do about nearly every question these days): “Indian man marries dog.” Sure enough: In a Hindu ceremony, P. Selvakumar married a dog to ward off some bad karma he banked as a result of killing two dogs 15 years earlier. And he’s not the only one. From what I can tell, it’s not an icky, carnal thing but more a commitment to take care of the dog, Selvi, for the rest of her days. We’d call it adoption, although it’s a lot more festive looking. I know it seems weird but Selvi’s a lovely bride (watch, below) and who can argue with the desire to atone for a cruel act with kindness?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sitting in an odd place takes practice for dogs
Previously, I wrote about using a visiting Pomeranian as a foot warmer, and I mentioned that I had to teach him to sit on top of my feet. The first time I lured him over and gave him the cue to sit, he looked a little confused and was not as quick to respond as usual. He started to lower his back end hesitantly, unlike the usually sharp way he sits on cue. I praised his initial lowering to let him know that even in this unusual context, he was doing the right thing by sitting on top of a part of my body. I then gave him a treat, though his training is usually well beyond the point of requiring a treat to reinforce the right behavior in response to a simple cue like “Sit.” For many repetitions over several days, I asked him to sit when to do so meant that he would be on top of my feet. After this work on my part and his, I could get easily get him to perform the behavior I desired—sitting on my cold feet and making them cozy warm. He seemed comfortable with the cue in this context and willingly sat when asked.
Dogs don’t tend to generalize well. If you think your dog knows how to sit on cue, you may be right, but if you think he knows how to sit in all contexts to that cue, there’s a good chance you are mistaken unless you have specifically trained him to respond in a variety of contexts. To many dogs, the cue “Sit” means to do what they were taught in training class—to sit in front of you while you stand there.
Many dogs know how to sit when asked in their own living room, at training class, or when on a leash in the backyard and the person who gives the cue is standing up. Change any part of that context, and your dog may not respond. So, if you ask your dog to sit when you are lying down in bed, when you are not facing your dog, when there are visitors at the door, or a cat is visible out the window, he may not do what you ask. The fact that he does not respond is more likely to mean that he hasn’t been trained to respond to your cue in that context than that he is disobedient or being stubborn. Dogs need to be trained to respond to cues in different contexts if we expect them to do what we ask. I think this is one of the big secrets known by experienced dog trainers, but not by people who are novices in the field: Teaching the dog what the cue means is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to respond to the cue no matter what is going on and no matter where you are. This is especially true of difficult behaviors such as heel and come compared with a simple behavior such as sitting.
I had never trained a dog specifically to sit on my feet before so it was a bit of a learning exercise for both of us. (I have had dogs sit on my feet when I was just asking for a normal sit, but who hasn’t had that happen?) However, we had the advantage of my knowing that it might pose a challenge for Tyson so I knew to take it slow with him, helping him out by reinforcing his efforts and not expecting too much too soon.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs contribute in so many ways
As I write this, I have a little ball of fire keeping my feet warm. Specifically, Tyson, an eight-pound Pomeranian sits right where I asked him to—on my feet. I like having him sit on my feet because my feet often get cold. My view is that he creates a lot of heat and I believe in sharing. He generally likes to be close to me, though when I first asked him to sit on my feet, he seemed puzzled as though he doubted that I REALLY wanted him to sit on them. Once I actually trained him to sit on my feet, he was more than willing to do so whenever I asked.
I’m happy when Tyson helps me out this way, and I’m all about getting as much out of the relationship as possible, as long, of course, as the dog is happy too. Do other people have services that their dogs provide that may not be standard?
News: Guest Posts
What will you do for animals in 2010?
Last year, I wrote about my dog-centered New Year’s resolutions. They were small but hopefully meaningful to the dogs in my immediate orbit—teeth-brushing, skijoring, leaving the iPod behind on walks. I made progress in all three categories (the latter was helped along by the loss of said distraction). And I stepped up with a fourth bounce for the dogs, clicker training. (I know, I’m the last kid on the block to drink the Kool-Aid for clicker training. But drink it I have and now I’m wondering what took so long.)
My goal was to keep my resolutions simple and manageable, so I might accomplish them. But lately I’ve been thinking bigger—about making goals that reach beyond my immediate, multi-species family. In part, because I’ve been helping out with a special issue of Bark (the first in 2010) highlighting the positive contributions of game-changers in the dog world. Researching the accomplishments of outstanding veterinarians, behaviorists, trainers, nutritionists and more over the decades is inspiring and humbling.
One story is most appropriate at this time of year. More than a decade ago, Jared and Betsy Saul made a New Year’s resolution to help at least one homeless dog get adopted each month. The Sauls were both employed full-time with no special experience in animal rescue or the like. But they knew their way around the Internet, and in their spare moments designed and launched Petfinder.com. Yeah. PET FRIGGIN FINDER! Honestly, it’s hard to imagine the world without this ubiquitous helper. It’s easily the go-to site for shelters, rescues and everyone seeking companion animals, and has facilitated millions of adoptions. Like that’s not enough, Betsy Saul is also the founder and president of the Petfinder.com Foundation, which supports the efforts of shelters, rescue organizations and animal welfare groups with funding, training and other resources.
All that difference rippling out from a single New Year’s resolution is awesome. The Sauls make a powerful case for what can happen when you get serious about making a difference this time of year.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Macy’s features adoptable animals in their Christmas displays.
As Christmas approaches, cities are full of people flocking to department stores to see the festive displays. Being in New York, I see plenty of beautiful windows, but often it seems a little extravagant and perhaps a waste of money.
The Union Square Macy’s in San Francisco, Calif. has found a way to use their beautiful windows to benefit a good cause year after year by teaming up with the SF/SPCA. This holiday season, the department store has continued this partnership to help homeless pets find loving families.
From November 20 through January 3, adoptable animals can be viewed through Macy’s Christmas windows, specifically designed for the pets’ comfort. The displays are temperature controlled and have hidden litter boxes and spots for napping. SPCA representatives are on site to answer questions from potential adopters and collect donations.
This year’s window theme follows letters from pets and children to Santa Claus at the North Pole.
Throughout Macy’s 21-year partnership with the SF/SPCA, 40,000 animals have been adopted through the Christmas windows and other events. Last year, 300 animals were adopted and Macy’s visitors raised a record-breaking $75,000 in donations.
The SF/SPCA still needs more volunteers to help. If you’re interested, contact Norma Wood Metcalf, SF/SPCA Volunteer Services Manager, at 415.522.3543 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If, like me, you won’t be able to get to San Francisco this holiday season, you can view these special windows via web cam on the SF/SPCA’s website.
Dog's Life: Humane
Operation Roger: Truckers hauling rescue dogs home
When Marty discovered Jackson (bottom, left), shunned by a pack of wild dogs in a Louisiana swamp, he rescued the Beagle-mix, assuming he was another Hurricane Katrina victim. After some time, Marty became ill and could no longer care for his dog. Eventually, poor Jackson ended up in a shelter—homeless again. When a rescue organization in Lakeside, Calif., offered to take Jackson it seemed a mixed blessing. After all, the rescue was nearly 2,000 miles away near San Diego, which was besieged by wildfires.
A trucker named Nancy learned about Jackson through a volunteer transport organization called Operation Roger. In late December, she loaded the dog into her rig in LaPlace, La., for a long drive west. During much of the trip, Jackson sat on Nancy’s armrest with his head on her shoulder and watched the scenery pass by. He was not alone. For many shelter and rescue animals, transportation provided by volunteers means the difference between life and death.
When Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska adopted Kit and Holly from a rescue in Kentucky last year, she was initiated into the formal and informal network of individuals and organizations with planes, trucks and automobiles that get dogs-in-need to places where their future is brighter.
Inspired and intrigued by this grassroots cooperative effort, TheBark.com has been talking to the people who make these daily efforts a reality. Earlier this year, we met the women behind Colorado Animal Rescue Express (C.A.R.E.), a van transport group out of Denver; Dawn Painter, an individual animal welfare advocate who uses email to spread the word for animals in need; and Pilots ‘N Paws, a collection of general aviation pilots who volunteer planes for speedy transfers.
In this our final installment on the underdog railway, we talk to Sue Wiese, founder of Operation Roger, a non-profit organization comprised of regional and long-haul truckers who volunteer their time to transport needy pets at the same time they do their job delivering freight around the country. Wiese (pronounced We-cee) is a trucker and animal lover who knows how to get the most out of her telephone headset. She talked to us by phone from her home in the “tiny town” of Joshua, Tex., south of Fort Worth, where she lives with two dogs—Buddy, an American Bulldog, and a Dachshund named Huck, short for Huckleberry.
The Bark: How did Operation Roger get started?
I had heard about PetFinder.com, so when I was able to stop, I went online. I found out that the transport of pets was an everyday thing, not just disaster-related. I called a friend of mine, and then my daughters and … they immediately could see the big picture.
They talked me into going on a truck [call-in] show on XM radio. My hands were shaking; I was scared to talk on live radio. So I typed out what I needed to say. When the guy finally got to me he said, ‘What can I do for Classy Lady?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’d like to know if there are any drivers interested in an operation to move needy pets across the country.’
There was absolute silence. You don’t have silence on radio. From the left temple to the right temple was this thought: “Oh no, I’ve laid an egg now.” He and his wife finally got over the shock. The talk was about 15 minutes long, and I had about 12 calls to return by the time we ended.
Why were they so surprised?
Of the 12 calls, how many were truckers interested in driving?
Once you had drivers who were willing, how did you connect with dogs and cats needing transportation?
Are drivers taking legs and connecting with other drivers or do they frequently drive from point A to the destination?
Are those people who keep the animals overnight if necessary during a transfer or shuttle dogs from one truck transport to another when a leg isn’t covered?
That’s a terrible reason to need a layover home, isn’t it?
Are you transferring the dogs from a rescue or shelter to another rescue or shelter?
How many drivers do you have right now?
You just celebrated your fourth anniversary in September, how many animals have you transported in this time?
You were a trucker? Are you retired?
Tell me about the operation’s namesake, Roger?
What’s it like to have a dog companion in your truck?
Now if we can just convince more of the trucking companies, it would be great.
Are there companies that prohibit dogs on board?
So trucking companies are not seeing the advantages of dogs onboard?
What do shippers have to supply?
That’s got to be so great on a long haul.
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