Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Therapy dogs attend marathon festivities
After the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, therapy dogs from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries were there within 24 hours. The group consists of 70 therapy dogs (all Golden Retrievers) from 10 states. Small groups of the dogs visit churches, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, offering the soothing, healing presence that only dogs can provide. Many survivors and first responders in Boston benefited from spending time with these highly trained and lovable dogs.
This year at the Boston Marathon and associated events, four dogs from this group will again be in attendance. Ruthie, Hannah, Luther and Rufus have traveled from Illinois to offer support and lots of opportunities for petting and loving. They are making appearances throughout the four days of events that conclude with the race on Monday, April 21, 2014. It’s the fourth visit of “Comfort Dogs” to the area since the events at last year’s race.
Every year, runners and fans of the sport watch the Boston Marathon. This year the audience is bigger because the whole world is watching. I’m so glad that these therapy dogs are a part of the celebration and that they have been part of the healing all year. They are contributing to making Boston strong.
The Little Miracles of Social Media
At its best, social media can spark connections one only dreams about. Such was the case involving a series of photographs we posted recently on Facebook. Last week we blogged a new series of photos by Bark contributor Grace Chon, showing her 10-month-old son Jasper and 7-year-old dog Zoey in matching apparel. The photos are adorable and our followers agreed, “liking” and sharing the pix with tens, then hundreds of thousands of people. Zoey and Jasper had gone viral—appearing on HuffingtonPost, Mashable, BuzzFeed and Good Morning America to name but a few. As the images brought smiles to viewers around the world, one woman far away in China thought Zoey looked familiar. It was a woman named Joy who had fostered little Zoey in the first months of the pup’s life in Taiwan. She had been waiting 7 years to hear news of the little puppy she nursed back to health before sending her halfway around the world to a new home in California. All she knew was that a Korean girl in Los Angeles had adopted her. Following her intuition, Joy reached out to Grace, and piecing the puzzle together, they concluded that Zoey was indeed the little pup she had fostered. The two women shared photos of Zoey— of her early life in Taiwan, including her first night with Joy—and Grace’s photos of life in Southern California. Each had wondered about the portions of Zoey’s life they had missed, and are grateful for this serendipitous reunion. Deep down inside, they both knew that this little black dog was loved and well cared for—in both Taiwan and in Los Angeles. Now they have the stories and pictures to prove it. Read more about their reunion.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Butler will be easing people's pain
With weather extremes making headlines more than ever, it’s nice to know that The Weather Channel does more than just predict and report disasters. With their recent choice of a therapy dog to help those who are in the midst of crises, they are helping to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
After a nationwide search for just the right dog, Butler has become The Weather Channel’s official therapy dog. He was adopted from the Humane Society of Charlotte in North Carolina by Amy McCullough. McCullough is the National Directed of Animal-Assisted Therapy at the American Humane Association, as well as Butler’s handler and trainer.
Many dogs across the nation in various shelters were considered. Butler, a 35-pound, 18-month old Shepherd mix. was chosen because he has the traits of a perfect therapy dog. He is affectionate, social, friendly, attentive, easy to train and well-mannered. He likes to sit in laps and is comfortable in crowds.
Once Butler has completed his training, he and McCullough will visit schools, hospitals, shelters and other locations to help ease the pain of people who have survived disasters.
Two-year old Fletch has lived at Mount Vernon, Ohio’s Knox County shelter for seven months but a week ago he was facing execution. He had accidentally nipped a girl on the hand while the two were playing together—his first offense ever. But Fletch is a well-loved dog by shelter workers and the public so when dog warden, Jordan Barnard, issued the final sentence on him, animal lovers and friends of Fletch went into action. Thousands signed online petitions, and more than a 100 gathered in downtown Mount Vernon to wave signs and get supportive honks from passing cars.
Cody Jackson, 41, of Mount Vernon, had been hoping to adopt Fletch, so he filed an injunction to block the dog’s euthanization. Fletch’s case went to court, with his advocates packing the municipal courtroom. All were relieved when Judge Spurgeon seemed unmoved by the warden’s case and ordered the dog released to Phil Samuell, a shelter volunteer who offered to foster the dog. Samuell takes marvelous photos of shelter dogs to entice adoptions (and often sends them to us for our viewing pleasure), and tells us that the warden has appealed this stay of execution, so a further hearing is now set for 4/1/14. Let’s hope that Fletch’s case is resolved and he gets a permanent reprieve and to go to his forever home with Jackson.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
David Backes, NHL star launches Athletes for Animals
Stereotypes are hard to break. Mention hockey players and some picture battle-scarred faces and toothless grins. Mention shelter dogs and some assume that something has to be wrong with a dog for it to land in a shelter. David Backes, captain of the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues, is out to prove both of those stereotypes wrong.
Backes, a veteran of almost 500 NHL games, is a tireless supporter of animal rescue, something he first got a taste of as a young boy when his family took in a small Poodle a neighbor no longer wanted. With that seed planted early in his life, Backes’ interest in animal rescue truly took hold when he and his wife Kelly were students at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and began volunteering at a local shelter.
When the couple moved to St. Louis, Mo., to be part of the Blues organization in 2007, they looked for ways to become involved in the community, and found Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles. During the time they’ve been with the shelter, they’ve worked on a number of projects, including a $1 million capital campaign that financed the construction of two new buildings. Recently, Kelly and David stepped away from their duties on the Five Acres’ board to concentrate on the next step: the formation of their own rescue organization.
As David says, “We’re going to try and use the story that Kelly and I have with Five Acres Animal Shelter to get players in all four major sports and in cities around the U.S. to use that template to start that good work.”
The good work that David mentions will begin with education and networking. “What we’re trying to do is educate the public on animal adoption and the truth about what goes on with the three to four million animals who are euthanized in shelters every year because of overpopulation, and the lack of spay and neuter,” he says.
Eventually, the work will go beyond public education to helping rescue organizations function together in a focused manner. As David describes it, “We want to network with organizations, to get everyone together so we’re all pulling the same rope, instead of having parallel organizations doing the same thing—doing double the work.”
David and Kelly walk their talk; their companion animals—cats Sunny and Polly, and dogs Marty, Rosey and BB— are all rescues. And after Kelly found a stray dog on the side of the road, things were much more crowded for a time. As David recalls, “We took her to the vet, and she had 12 puppies on board. Teammates D.J. King, Barret Jackman and I finished off a corner of our basement and built a little whelping box [for her]. Kelly and I fostered the 12 puppies until we could find them and their mom homes. We had quite a menagerie at the time.”
The NHL season runs from September through June and is bookended by training camp and the Stanley Cup playoffs, which doesn’t leave David with much downtime. Nonetheless, he dedicates most of it to rescue, and he’s quick to point out that Kelly is a huge part of the endeavor, responsible for the bulk of the day-to-day legwork.
The couple’s involvement with rescue is clearly something they are very passionate about, but David knows they face an uphill battle with the public at large in breaking the stereotype of shelter animals. “I think there’s a negative perception that they are damaged or thrown-away products,” he says. “These animals are amazing; there’s nothing wrong with them other than that they are in a shelter, and they need a home.
“If people knew that these animals are just like the dog they have in their back yard, [and are] being euthanized only because there’s no room for them, I think that starts to hit home pretty hard. [Ideally], they’ll think twice before breeding their animals, and they’ll get them spayed or neutered.”
The couple recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary by visiting two rescue organizations, the Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, Calif., and Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. As David tells it, he and his wife wanted to see the great work the two organizations are doing as inspiration for their own efforts. And, of course, they wanted to volunteer.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Buddy the Chocolate Lab is safe
This weekend’s devastating mudslide northeast of Seattle, Wash. has claimed the lives of at least 8 people, and left over 100 people unaccounted for. Many are feared dead. Treacherous mud has made rescue work dangerous at times and impossible at others. People around the world following the story celebrated the report that a 6-month old baby was found alive.
A later development greeted with celebration was the rescue of Buddy the Chocolate Lab, seen in this video at about 1:20. To dog lovers everywhere this is welcome news in a story that is mostly bad news. Buddy’s rescue has brought joy to family members waiting to hear the fate of their sister, who is his guardian. Hopefully his presence will help them as they face what will likely be a time of grieving. It seems improbable, unfortunately, that Buddy’s guardian was as lucky as he was. She remains missing and rescuers are not optimistic about finding more survivors.
The man who pulled Buddy from the mud caused a rare moment of laughter when he called out, “He needs a bath pretty bad.” Besides a bath, the dog will need to recover from the harrowing experience, which left him shaken up and suffering mild injuries. And yet, there’s no denying he was extremely blessed to have survived the ordeal, which many people, as well as other dogs, did not.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Joins National Canine Research Council
Adam Miklósi just became the newest advisor to the National Canine Research Council. Their mission involves understanding and preserving the human-canine bond and they both conduct and fund research in support of this goal. Miklósi is an expert on the cognitive and social abilities of dogs that make their bond with humans possible and he has played a pivotal role in the way dogs are now viewed by scientists and lay people alike.
Although scientists as brilliant and prestigious as Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize, and even Charles Darwin, were fascinated by dogs and studied them extensively, many others found them unworthy of attention. The viewpoint for generations was that because dogs were domesticated, they were not scientifically interesting the way that wild animals are. Many people in the field of ethology, which is the study of animals in their natural habitat rather than in the laboratory, failed to recognize that the natural environment of dogs is with people. Attempts to study them were met with scorn, and almost no funding.
In the last decade, the tide has turned, and now excellent research on dogs is being done in many areas of the world. As founder and head of the Family Dog Project and head of the Ethology Department at Eötvös University in Budapest, Miklósi is a worldwide leader in the study of the domestic dog. The goal of his research is to investigate the ethological and evolutionary foundations of the human-dog relationship.
Dog's Life: Humane
Our Companions Animal Rescue
The first time nicole and Brian Baummer took their newly adopted black Lab, Finn, to the vet, the clinic staff’s reaction surprised them. Finn is particularly social and well behaved, yet the receptionist looked stricken as she pulled out a folder bearing a bright-red “caution” sticker.
“We caused quite a stir,” says Nicole. “They immediately remembered Finn from a visit to their office with his previous owners—and not in a good way. Apparently, he had been very aggressive and interacted negatively with everyone. They even had to muzzle him.”
It’s true that Finn had been well on the road to juvenile delinquency when his first owners decided to give him up. At five months, rambunctious, unruly and overstimulated, he had acted aggressively toward one of the three small children with whom he shared a chaotic household.
Shelters everywhere are full of dogs like Finn, and their prospects are particularly grim. But thanks to a new model for animal rehabilitation and adoption being launched in Connecticut, Finn didn’t become a euthanasia statistic— he became a success story.
Such successes are mounting at Our Companions Sanctuary in Ashford, Conn., a key initiative for the nonprofit Our Companions Animal Rescue. Modeled after Utah’s world-renowned Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the Ashford facility is on track to become New England’s first large-scale rehabilitation and adoption center for homeless companion animals with nowhere else to turn.
Situated on over 43 acres in rural Connecticut, the sanctuary will one day comprise 16 animal-rehabilitation cottages, a dog park, walking trails, a nature preserve and a center for humane education. The first cottage opened its doors in October 2012, and two more were completed a year later. The cottages are designed to offer animals an enriching, homelike environment where they can physically and emotionally recover from past traumas and become great candidates for adoption.
“Homelike” isn’t hyperbole here. The cottage where Finn spent 27 days has a refrigerator stocked with treats, a flatscreen TV tuned to Animal Planet, and cozy nooks for napping and lounging. During most waking hours, volunteers are on hand to administer belly rubs, offer words of comfort and tuck the guests in for the night. Each dog has his or her own room and crate, gets plenty of exercise in the play areas and outside trails. Upon arrival, each dog is evaluated by director of canine operations, Marie Joyner, who creates an individual behavoiral training program and then works with the staff and volunteers on its proper implementation. The environment is peaceful and supportive, with enough people coming and going to help even the shyest dog develop solid social skills. One cottage house cats and two of them are homes to dogs.
“Our goal is to provide an environment where homeless animals won’t feel homeless and where we can address needs that are not being met in the traditional shelter system,” says Susan Linker, CEO of Our Companions Animal Rescue. “Animals that linger in shelters often exhibit frustration and stress, which can lead to fear, which can turn them into ticking time bombs. We want to defuse that.”
After visiting Best Friends to participate in a workshop on sanctuary building, Linker was inspired to focus on rehabilitation as a solution to euthanasia. However, rehabilitation isn’t possible if an animal is feeling anxious. Linker knew that housing animals in rooms, as opposed to cages, would largely eliminate stress, but she also suspected that a shelter-type facility with rooms instead of cages would not be enough to address the rehabilitation component. For that, she wanted an actual house—a place where animals could be themselves, warts and all. The behaviors that emerged would likely be the same ones to pop up in a home placement, and the same ones that could torpedo that placement. A dog could learn not to fear the sound of a dishwasher, for instance, or be weaned away from barking at the television.
The dog’s behavior in the simulated home would also provide staff with important information on the best fit for a permanent placement, which, in turn, would reduce returns. “Every time a dog is returned, a little piece is gone,” she said. “We want to do everything possible to keep them whole.”
The organization pulls most of its dogs from municipal shelters, but also accepts owner surrenders of dogs who may be difficult to place. In addition to animals with behavioral issues, the sanctuary welcomes seniors, those with medical problems and those who, for whatever reason, are perennially overlooked in traditional shelters.
Recent sanctuary guests included Lucas, a Cocker Spaniel with a penchant for guarding his many treasures; Tinka, an elderly Chihuahua whose original owners were unable to deal with her Cushing’s disease; and Suzie, a Pit Bull whose hyperanxiety, which stemmed from having been caged for 15 months, caused her to aggressively protect her meager turf. Especially touching was Lucy, an abused Pit who was terrified of people. At the shelter, she cowered in the back of her kennel and emitted a continuous low growl. Her breakthrough came after nine days in Ashford, when she melted her 50-pound body onto the lap of a caring volunteer. The sanctuary refers to such milestone moments as the “personality blossom.”
Though Best Friends Sanctuary does not operate the same type of homebased facility, it does offer something related: a sleepover program in which prospective adopters can spend quality time with the pooch of their choice at one of the local pet-friendly hotels. Faith Maloney, Best Friends co-founder, characterizes it as one of their most helpful programs, not just from the dog’s point of view, but from the potential adopter’s as well. That’s because the experience of walking past row after row of kennels and being buffeted by a constant din of barking can make even the most committed adopters feel as though they are adrift in a giant sea of dogs in which no one animal is distinguishable. Removing a dog from that environment immediately changes the perspective.
“If you look at a dog racing around in a kennel, you can’t picture them in your home,” says Maloney, adding that there is an 80 percent adoption rate for sleepovers. “So even in a hotel room, you get to see the dog’s individual preferences— does she like the bed or the couch? Does she snore? Does she look out the window? Suddenly, the dog looks like she belongs in a home—and maybe that home is yours.”
The Baummers couldn’t agree more. The calm environment of the sanctuary gave them a chance to see the real Finn, the one who immediately hopped onto a couch and asked for a belly rub. Also helpful, since they have an elderly cat, was the fact that Finn could be tested in a home setting with some of the feline guests in the neighboring cottage.
Of course, facilities like this aren’t cheap. Our Companions has embarked on a $5 million capital campaign to complete the sanctuary village, which is expected to eventually accommodate about 40 dogs and 160 cats. That population level is projected to result in the rescue, rehabilitation and adoption of 160 dogs and 1,200 cats annually.
Aside from fundraising, Linker’s biggest challenge now is adjusting to the program’s success. “We thought it would take several months for the dogs to rehabilitate from past physical and emotional trauma, but it’s actually happening very quickly, and people are incredibly eager to adopt them,” she says, adding that the dogs spend, on average, just 40 days at the sanctuary.
The unexpectedly speedy turnaround caught the design team off guard. The first cottage had given significant space to common areas, in the hope that long-term canine guests would benefit from the ongoing camaraderie. But, the typical shorter stays didn’t give dogs enough time to gel as a cozy pack; instead they were forced to make constant social adjustments as dogs were adopted out and new ones arrived. To better manage this dynamic, the second and third cottages were built with more individual living quarters for dogs who need additional stability away from the pack disruptions.
The need for a redesign doesn’t much bother Linker. “Actually,” she says, “this is a nice problem to have.”
Gaia is my foster dog through Dogs on Deployment, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides a central database for military members to find families and individuals who are willing to board their pets while they are deployed. No pet should ever be surrendered due to a military commitment.
Dogs on Deployment exists to help military members keep their pets by reducing the need for pet relinquishment from military members due to the hardships of deployments. Military personnel are often deployed with two-weeks (or less) notice. This allows them little time to get everything together, including finding accommodations for their pets. They may be forced to give up their pets to shelters or put them on sites such as Craigslist.
I’m hoping to get a shameless plug for DoD with this cute photo of Gaia!
“Vision,” Danelle Umstead says, “is to have sight, an idea, or a dream.” Danelle’s immediate dream is to win gold for the U.S. in alpine skiing at the upcoming Paralympic Winter Games (March 7–16) at Sochi, Russia. Danelle teams with husband Rob Umstead who acts as her coach and sighted guide as they race through the courses. Rooting the couple on in Sochi will be Aziza, Danelle’s new guide dog. Danelle began working with Aziza this past summer, after her longtime guide dog Bettylynn (shown here with Danelle and Rob) was forced to retire due to optic nerve atrophy. Bettylynn will be pulling for the couple back at their home in Park City, Utah, with their son Brocton.
At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes complete darkness. Her vision is “spotted” and she can only see up to three to five feet in front of her, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. In 2011 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Still, none of these hurdles have kept Danelle from achieving her best.
Danelle was introduced to adaptive skiing by her father in 2000, who acted as her guide. She quickly fell in love with the sport—the freedom, the speed, the exhilaration. After she began training and working fulltime with Rob in 2008, competitive success soon followed with Paralympic Bronze medals in Vancouver, 2010, nine World Cup podiums and Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Championships. Her success relies heavily on trust and communication—100 percent trust in Rob as he guides her down the hill at top speed. It’s similar to the trust and communication that she had with BettyLynn and is working to build with Aziza. Danelle and Rob have created Vision4Gold.org as a vehicle to mentor junior disabled athletes by sharing her story and offering encouragement. We’re hopeful that Danelle realizes her vision in Sochi.
Update: Danelle has finished 5th and 4th in her first two Paralympic events at Sochi and hopes to climb the medal stand sometime in her next three races.
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