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Dog's Life: Humane
How simple, innovative changes can improve shelter and adoption rates.
In journalist Kim Kavin’s book, The Dog Merchants, she investigates the complex businesses and networks involved in the buying and selling and “homing” of dogs: breeders, pet stores, pet brokers, the AKC, local shelters and rescue organizations. It is her goal to advance the conversation on how dogs are treated, from puppy mills to high-kill shelters. In the following excerpt, Kavin explains how rebranding shelter dogs can make them more desirable and, therefore, adoptable.
Her face is pallid, probably not just in the black-and-white photograph, but also in real life. She’s looking back over her right shoulder at the camera with eyes desperately wide and bloodshot. Nobody has to hear her speak to know she needs to be set free. “Chained to a desk with nothing but a mouse to entertain her,” the flier’s big type reads.
In another flier, it’s a male, also pale-faced and hunched over. He looks as if the air all around has become so thick, so stagnant, that he can no longer bear to rise. The corners of his mouth are turned down, darn near weighted by jowls. “For nine hours a day, he is kept in a tiny box,” it states. “And ignored.”
These fliers aren’t of dogs. They’re of people—models photographed sitting in office conference rooms and in the glow of a cubicle’s computer screen, wearing the dismayed expressions shared by so many nine-to-five prisoners of concrete jungles, all as part of a groundbreaking campaign called the “Human Walking Program.”
It sprang from the brain of Jake Barrow, a creative director in the Melbourne, Australia, office of GPY&R, a creative agency that is 600 people strong with a network of 186 global agencies. Barrow and his colleagues typically work on campaigns for big-ticket clients including the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival and Australia’s Defence Force, but he had an idea that had been in the back of his mind for a few years, and no matter how many times he tried to turn it off, it kept lighting him right back up.
“We were going through a busy period at work, and occasionally, I would walk a friend’s dog just for fun,” Barrow says. “And I thought, ‘Oh, that could be a service for office workers, to go out and walk a dog, completely to benefit the human.’ That was years and years ago, and I just remembered the feeling I got from walking that dog, and it was really good stress relief. It was completely selfish. I’ve been trained to recognize a good idea, and together with my copywriter at the time, we turned it into the Human Walking Program.”
There was no client. No income was to be made. That didn’t stop Barrow and his partner, who worked pro bono on the concept for six months and built it into a small presentation, sort of a miniature version of what they might do for a regular advertising customer. Then they asked one of the account salesmen at GPY&R to call the local shelter in Melbourne— which happens to be The Lost Dogs Home, founded in 1910 and today serving as Australia’s largest, caring for more than 31,000 dogs and cats each year.
“I said, ‘Hi, I’m Jake, this is Dan, we have this idea,’” Barrow recalls with a laugh. “They definitely saw the benefit of showing the dogs as the heroes instead of just sad. We did completely flip it around and say, ‘It’s about the humans getting out of their cages.’”
Shelter workers gave the GPY&R fliers to commuters from 8 ’til 9 a.m. in central business district train stations the week of the event, and they passed them around at all the buildings near the park where the walk would be held. Social media and radio stations were engaged as well, to spread the message that humans needed a break and a stroll—“to go walkies,” as they say Down Under—perhaps even more than the dogs did.
When the day arrived, the weather was gorgeous. Barrow, like everyone else involved, found himself standing in a park, waiting with a rumbly stomach, wondering what the heck might happen next.
“We were quite nervous,” he recalls. “Are we going to get the crowds we want? Is it going to be too big of a crowd? Is somebody going to get bitten by a dog? There were a lot of unknowns. You can only do so much planning for these things.”
During the next few hours, his unease gave way to elation. More than 5,000 office workers came outside to stand right alongside him, leaving behind their ergonomically accented desks for a much-needed meander the way nature intended. The Lost Dogs Home paired each participant with a homeless pooch so they could get to know one another in the fresh air, outside the shelter environment, in a way that would all but obliterate any ingrained ideas about the dogs and let them be seen as the happy, friendly pups they had always been inside their enclosures, where most of the people would have never seen them at all, or might have assumed there was something wrong with them.
“Their negative stereotype still exists, in our experience, because people do not realize that cats and dogs largely end up at shelters as a consequence of a human circumstance,” says Martha Coro, a spokeswoman for The Lost Dogs Home. “The Human Walking Program was first and foremost a creative campaign that challenged people’s intrinsic beliefs about lost and abandoned animals, [and] that also engaged a real-life event to tie it all together.”
After the three-hour walk, amazing things happened. Every one of the dogs got adopted. Hits on the shelter’s online adoption pages spiked 42 percent. A fund-raising appeal one month later became the shelter’s highest-grossing in nearly a decade. Barrow says it was one of the most satisfying days of his life—and even he failed to predict the impact his idea would have next.
“We did the event and the campaign, and whenever we do something more unusual than a television commercial, we create a case study, and we did that with this event and how successful it was,” he says. “Somehow, the website Upworthy got hold of the case study, and the next thing you know, we had half a million hits on this case-study video, and we’re getting calls from all over the world wanting to do a Human Walking Program in their own cities. We ended up saying we can’t ignore it, so we set up a website that lets people create their own Human Walking Program. People can download all the ads and localize them to their area. It’s a step-by-step guide. I know someone did one all the way over in the U.S. The calls were coming from everywhere.”
What’s so great about thehumanwalkingprogram.org— in addition to the fact that it hands over, for free to the world, what Barrow estimates as an $80,000 to $100,000 creative campaign—is that it also makes clear how to copy the strategy as much as the actual walk.
“The creative rebranding of adoption dogs came first,” Coro says, “which in a way [was] just as influential as the event.” And she’s right. What sets the Human Walking Program apart on a crucial level is its professional marketing approach. It was developed by seasoned pros, as an advertising initiative that helped people get to know the product—great dogs— instead of making a desperate plea for money to save their tragic little lives. Beliefs about homeless pooches are often so deep-seated that it takes a physical change of space or a professional advertising campaign to knock biases out of people’s thought process, much like getting them to buy generic-brand foods at the supermarket or new-brand cars off the lot.
“The ads with the sad dogs, I guess there was a time and a place for it, but as far as the general public goes, it gets squashed over now,” Barrow says. “We need something else to wake us up and pay attention.”
More and more shelters around the globe are coming to the same conclusion and partnering their efforts accordingly. Instead of begging people to see the wonderful pooches they know are inside the enclosures, they are looking to leaders in everything from creative design to architecture to retail sales to make new messaging work. It just might be the beginning of an unprecedented rebranding effort, potentially on the scale of what breeders did starting in the mid-1800s when convincing dog lovers that purebreds were the ideal pets in the first place.
The signs of change are worldwide. In Berlin, Germany, the animal-protection society turned to the renowned architect and cat lover Dietrich Bangert to design its multimilliondollar facility, one of Europe’s largest at 163,000 square feet (more than 15,000 square meters, about the size of the largest Target retail store on the U.S. East Coast). The Berlin shelter holds about 1,400 animals at a time and cares for about 12,000 animals a year. Bangert has serious drafting chops and is perhaps best known for his work on an art museum in Bonn and the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven; the result at the Berlin facility was a far different environment than most people imagine as an animal shelter, a modern study in concrete and water so futuristic that it was used as a set for the 2005 Charlize Theron film Aeon Flux, set in the year 2415.
Creating the architecturally inviting space gave potential dog owners a chance to breathe a bit easier when walking inside, so their brains would take precedence over any bad feelings created by more typical shelter buildings. They looked up instead of feeling down. They intuited that it was okay to relax, because nothing they were about to see would depress them. The professionally designed atmosphere allowed people’s minds to focus not on what they thought a shelter might be like, but instead on what was actually before them: friendly, healthy dogs the volunteers had gone so far as to house-train prior to sending them home, in the hopes of making each pairing more likely to stick.
Underlying Dietrich Bangert’s futuristic, geometric design for Tierheim Berlin is the architect’s commitment to creating maximum physical and emotional comfort for the approximately 1,400 animals it shelters, as well as its workers and visitors. A 163,000- square-foot, glass-andconcrete facility, its circular pavilions, with their cantilevered overhangs and splayed walls, incorporate fresh air and natural light. Each pavilion consists of three spherical structures arranged around an enclosed open space, rather like petals on a daisy.
Yet another example is in Costa Rica, where the Territorio de Zaguates shelter had nearly all mixed-breed dogs while adopters primarily wanted purebreds, so it worked with the San Jose–based creative agency Garnier BBDO to launch a marketing campaign around the idea of “unique breeds.” Instead of calling the dogs mutts, they followed the same branding convention long used by breeders, labeling the dogs as things that sounded surprisingly like kennel club– recognized Dandle Dinmont Terriers and Finnish Laphunds: Chubby-Tailed German Dobernauzers, Fire-Tailed Border Cockers, Alaskan Collie Fluffyterriers, White-Chested Dachweilers, and Brown-Eyed Australian Dalmapointers. (Is it really any different from inventing a German Blabrador?)
Watercolor artists painted renderings that mimicked the design of the purebred standard drawings, then added the unique breed names in a highfalutin, royal wedding–worthy typeface. The posters created a visual way for people to process the message that breed names, when it comes to choosing a pet, are often no more than a line of marketing copy.
By the end of the Territorio de Zaguates campaign— “When You Adopt a Mutt, You Adopt a Unique Breed”—the shelter’s dogs had received more than $450,000 in news and public-relations coverage. More than a half-million people had discussed and shared the dogs on Facebook. Adoptions went up 1,400 percent, and the shelter got sponsors who now cover the whole of its operating expenses.
All in all, the teams in Costa Rica and Germany experienced the same thing organizers of the Human Walking Program saw in Australia: Working with professional marketers and designers made a huge impact on people’s perceptions about the dogs, who were suddenly in demand and welcomed into people’s homes en masse—even though the pooches themselves hadn’t changed at all.
“We have been inundated with interest from shelters from South Africa to the USA, which leads us to believe that shelters across the world generally share the same priority of changing the public’s perception of shelter pets,” Coro says from Melbourne, “and now there is a tried and tested plan that can help us all do that.”
Mike Arms is a business-minded advocate who saves dogs without making any excuses for raising their value along with the professional value of the people working with them. Since 1999, he has been president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in California, where he tripled adoption rates while charging some of the highest dog-adoption fees in America and recruiting employees for their business and marketing savvy. (As of 2013, according to an independent auditor’s report, the center’s management salaries and benefits totaled $373,420. Arms’ pay was not itemized.) Nobody can buy a dog from the center for less than $399. A couple of Labrador puppies sold recently for $500 apiece, and a six-month-old Goldendoodle went for $1,000 not long ago. Arms has no problem telling adopters they should pay fair market value because his dogs have just as much intrinsic value, and make just as fabulous pets, as the purebreds going for similar prices from breeders. “Why is it,” he asks, “that somebody can go out and spend $2,000 or $3,000 on a pet and after thirty days realize it’s not for them, and they take it to their local facility, and the minute it crosses that threshold, the value is gone?”
His approach leaves many shelter operators with mouths agape, especially the ones who can’t even give their dogs away for free. Arms believes that their failure has nothing to do with the quality of the dogs, but instead with the quality of the dogs in people’s minds, which he sees as the job of shelter directors to manage. The problem isn’t the dogs. The problem is the marketing.
“I’m getting more and more frustrated with my peers as I get older,” he says. “It just seems like they’re going backwards in time now. They think the way to increase adoptions is to lower fees and come up with gimmicks. That doesn’t increase adoptions at all. All that does is devalue the pets. How in the world can we change the public’s perception of these beautiful pets if we’re the one doing this?”
The root of the problem with homeless dogs and pricing, he says, goes back to the way many rescue organizations got started. It’s usually a woman who finds a puppy in the street and gets him into a loving home. The woman likes the feeling of having done right by the pup, so she helps more dogs, and then more dogs, until she decides to form an organization along the lines of a humane society. “They weren’t getting paid for it,” Arms says. “They just liked doing it as a hobby. So they felt, ‘If I’m not doing it for pay, nobody else should be doing it for pay.’”
Try telling a breeder he should care for all the dogs for free and give them away out of the goodness of his heart. Rescuers often have a completely different mentality, Arms says, one that devalues their own worth as well as the worth of the dogs.
Arms regularly finds himself standing on stage in front of a room filled with rescuers who fit that mold, most of them women, even today. He tells a particular story again and again, one that seems to make the message clear. It starts when he asks them what they would do if they were invited to a formal dinner banquet at a high-end restaurant. What is the very next thing you’d do, he asks, after you accepted the invitation?
To a person, they answer that they’d go out and buy a new dress. “Now, human nature is that a lot of people will put a budget on what they’re going to spend on that outfit,” he tells them. “You go out in the department store and start trying on outfits and none of them fit you right. The color’s not right. You get depressed and you’re going to walk out, and then on your way out you see a dress that’s a hundred dollars more. And it fits. And you buy it. You’re willing to spend three hundred or four hundred dollars on that dress that you’re going to wear three or four times, but you’re not willing to spend it on a dog. What are we teaching the public about value?”
Arms loves dogs just as much as the rescuers in the audience do, but he treats the pooches far more like products than most of his colleagues might—because he believes that’s what gets them into homes. He’s had courtesy shoppers from the department store Macy’s come through his shelter to tell him what he can do better in terms of staffing and displays. He brought in BMW salesmen to train his staff. (“Nobody is a better salesman than a car salesman,” he says.) As of this writing, Bruce Nordstrom, former chairman of the upscale retailer Nordstrom Inc., was scheduled to do training at the center, all because Arms believes the sales techniques in the dog-rescue business need a swift reboot into the modern era of retail sales. He wants to be the BMW of the used-pooch industry, the place where buyers can go and know they’re getting a top-quality product worth every penny of the extra money, not unlike a pre-owned luxury sedan.
“They can call it adoptions or rehoming or whatever they want,” Arms says of rescuers, “but they’re in the business of selling used dogs. And they’d better be good at it, because those lives are on the line.”
Arms has been invited to speak to shelter directors everywhere from British Columbia in Canada to multiple cities in New Zealand, preaching the philosophy that shelters should be run by the savviest marketing and sales people, raising their prices and preaching the overall value of every great pup. Shelter directors should have a heart for dogs, but first and foremost, a mind for business—because that’s the only thing that breaks through stereotypes and helps dog lovers understand what they’re really getting for their money.
“We have to change the public’s perception,” he says. “The public believes the pets in pet facilities are there because there’s something wrong with the pet. We have to teach them that the pet is there because there’s something wrong with the person who had the pet. That’s the reality.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Sanctuaries are stressed and animals are in danger.
The direwolves who bound through HBO’s Game of Thrones sprang from the imagination of author George R. R. Martin, who wrote the bestselling books on which the popular program is based. (Real-world dire wolves —Canis dirus, or “fearsome dog”—became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene and are not considered to be the direct ancestor of any modern canine species.)
In early 2015, media sources began to blame Game of Thrones for nurturing wolfdog ownership. Apparently, people trying to replicate a fictional experience at home were seeking out dogs with wolf content. Too late, many of these people learned that caring for a wolfdog, as the type is called, is nothing like living with a domesticated dog.
A wolfdog is defi ned as the result of the mating of any domestic dog with one of the four wolf subspecies: gray, eastern timber, red, and Ethiopian; gray wolf is the most common. While many states, such as California, have banned fi rst-generation wolfdog ownership, others, such as Maine, allow it as long as the owner obtains proper wildlife permits. Regardless of its legality, many new owners are finding wolfdogs to be Allison Kern/Courtesy of Howling Woods Farm too much work and responsibility to handle. As a result, the number of wolfdogs being abandoned or forced into shelters and sanctuaries is on the rise.
Nicole Wilde, who holds Certified Professional Dog Trainer credentials, has been working with and caring for wolves and wolfdogs for nearly 20 years. Author of Living with Wolfdogs and several other helpful texts detailing dog ownership and training, Wilde says she understands the enthusiast’s attraction to these animals. “For some, it’s a pure love of wolves; they simply want to be close to these magnificent animals. For others, it’s the lure of owning something wild or exotic,” Wilde said.
Christie Guidry, manager of Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary in Montgomery, Texas, said she hesitates to believe that wolfdog adopters are simply seeking a family animal. “We find that the idea of having exotic wild animals as pets is usually about someone wanting to be able to claim that they have tamed the wild, or because a domestic dog is too mainstream for them. It is often about ego, status or because it’s cool,” said Guidry.
In reality, caring for a wolfdog often has little to do with building family relationships. Cindy Matthews of Virginia has owned wolfdogs for nearly 10 years and knows the toll this responsibility can take on a family. “My sons, who were raised with them, will never [have] a wolfdog when they get older, as they’ve seen how much hard work it is to care for one,” Matthews said. “These are not the type of animals that can be kept like an indoor dog.”
Unlike a domestic dog, a wolfdog cannot simply be taken to a kennel. Few kennels have the capacity to contain them, since they require eight-foot-high fences as well as dig guards along the base of their enclosures to prevent escape. And because they’re naturally wary of strangers, it’s unlikely that friends or neighbors would be able to look after the animal in the owner’s absence. “Don’t plan on taking any vacations,” said Matthews.
With the rise in popularity of wolfdog ownership comes the inevitable rise in abandonment and returns as those who buy them realize that they either cannot or do not want to provide the resources and attention the canines require.
While breeding facilities profit from mating and selling wolfdogs, sanctuaries suffer from a lack of resources, which prevents them from accepting the large number of hybrids who are surrendered. Most sanctuaries, which are usually operated as nonprofits, are almost entirely funded by private donations. Guidry works tirelessly to ensure care for all of the abandoned wolfdogs who come to Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary, but there is only so much space available.
“On average, we get about three requests a week to rescue wolves and wolfdogs from pet situations,” Guidry said. “Since wolves are born in the spring, we do not get as many requests that time of year. People keep them when they are cute, cuddly pups [but] as soon as they reach adulthood, they can no longer handle them.”
Michael Hodanish, president of the Howling Woods Farm sanctuary, has noticed the same upward trend at his facility, which is located in Jackson, N.J. He cites funding as the reason he cannot accept all the animals for whom he receives rescue requests, and says it’s the biggest challenge facing Howling Woods Farm today.
Hodanish, who is devoted to helping animals and owners get out of bad living situations, has had to go beyond relying on donations to find ways to fund his services. “I have a full-time job that pays for a significant amount of rescue costs,” he said.
Hodanish also remarked that an increase in breeding practices is the main reason for the increasing numbers of rescue requests. “We do not support wolfdog breeding [at Howling Woods Farm],” Hodanish said.
Wilde agreed. “Wolfdog rescue centers are perpetually full, and an unwanted wolfdog’s options are extremely limited.”
Howling Woods Farm attempts to rehome its rescued wolfdogs whenever possible, but the adoption application process is rigorous. Hodanish said the sanctuary hopes that more vigorous screening and stricter home requirements will help prevent the cycle of animals being surrendered to shelters.
“We have rehomed approximately 150 animals over the last 10 years. Some have taken over a year to place,” Hodanish said.
With rescue requests increasing and rehoming processes taking as long as they do, not every wolfdog will be given a second chance.
“Wolfdog rescues all over this country are full most of the time, so we see countless wolfdogs euthanized in shelters. Shelters will not adopt them out due to liability issues. It’s a heartbreaking problem,” Guidry said.
Besides taking in abandoned wolfdogs, sanctuaries also play a large role in providing education to the public. “We feel there are no benefits to ‘owning’ a wolfdog over a conventional dog breed,” Guidry said. “The most rewarding part of my job is educating the public on the challenges of exotic pet ownership.”
Sanctuaries often provide facility tours as well as off-site visits to schools and other organizations so that individuals can learn how wolves differ from domestic dogs.
“Wild wolves are the epitome of what it means to be wild and free. They have a right to live that life. The fact that people try to numb out their wild instincts by breeding dog into them just to make them pets is terribly sad,” Guidry said. Wilde said it is not the wolves, but rather, the owners who are the most challenging aspect in her role as an educator and trainer. “So many people have unrealistic expectations of what living with a wolfdog will be like …Wolf lovers would do well to support organizations that are helping wolves in the wild,” she said.
In providing information, sanctuaries hope to convince those who love wolves that the best way to respect and show dedication to these animals is to let them remain wild and decrease the number of wolfdogs being bred for profit. Only then can these animals live out the lives that they were meant to have, free from containment.
Dog's Life: Humane
Saving Dogs Who Live in Darkness
In August 2015, social media shed light on the infamous Yulin Dog Meat festival, an annual celebration held in Yulin, Guangxi, China, during the summer solstice during which festival goers eat dog meat. The festival spans about 10 days, and it’s estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are abused—it is believed that adrenaline released in response to pain makes their meat more tender—killed and consumed.
After learning about this situation, I travelled to China to see if the things I had read and the images I saw on the Internet were real. I knew the dog meat trade in Asia was a long-held practice, but wasn’t aware that abuse and torture were key components. I felt like I had to do something to make a difference. I left my family, my business and my life here to try to help these dogs who live in darkness. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t speak the language.
I went to China to save as many dogs as I could. It wasn’t about changing the system. While I was there, people asked me what I had come for. I told them, to save dogs. I told them, to make whatever change I could with these hands. You cannot tell a country that does not have the same value system as we do to love dogs. The only way is to plant a seed.
In total, I’ve made four trips to Asia —to China, South Korea and North Vietnam—to save dogs from slaughterhouses; in total, I’ve rescued 249 dogs on these trips. I go undercover as a dog meat buyer, then work to expose the brutal practices embedded in this generational tradition of torturing and eating dogs. I secretly photograph and take videos, then post them on Instagram and Facebook, documenting my journey in real time.
I believe the key to stopping the brutal dog meat trade is awareness, that as people throughout the world become more aware of the abuse linked to dog meat, hearts will turn and laws will change. Because as people learn, and become conscious of what is really happening, a million united hearts become a movement. A million souls become a voice so strong that you can change laws, and pull from darkness lives that only know suffering.
Every rescue organization has its focus. At Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, we specialize in abuse. We save all the abused dogs we can, both locally and in Asia. We rehab them, and find them amazing homes. The transformation and the lives these abused souls go on to live … it’s amazingly beautiful.
Dog's Life: Humane
Founder Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin discusses her work with Bark’s Sophie Cox
Pinups for Pitbulls (PFPB), a nonprofit founded in 2005, works tirelessly to end the unnecessary killing of Pit Bull-type dogs and to educate people about Pit Bulls and the flaws of breed-specific legislation. Every year, PFPB also releases a stunning calendar that pairs women with darling Pit Bulls, a feel-good purchase that harks back to the first half of the 20th century, when these dogs were viewed as war heroes, and pin-ups were all the rage. In October 2014, PFPB will publish its first book, Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls, followed by the nonprofit’s 10th anniversary calendar in 2015.
Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin is PFPB’s founder, but she’s more than just a dog lover: she’s an educator, hero and a determined voice for Pit Bulls everywhere. Bark had the pleasure of interviewing Deirdre to discuss PFPB’s work, the upcoming book and misconceptions regarding Pit Bull-type dogs.
Bark: Who are the dogs in your life?
Deirdre Franklin: My first Pit Bull-type was Carla Lou. I adopted her when she was one and had her until she was 18; she passed away in August 2012. She was the true inspiration for Pinups for Pitbulls—we often use the hashtag #itsallforyoucarlalou.
I lost my second of four dogs, Lexi Doodle, this past year to hemangiosarcoma. She lived to be 14 and was a Lab/Shepherd mix.
I currently have Zoe, a 14-year-old Harrier mix, and Baxter Bean, a Pit Bull-type from a dog rescue in New Jersey. He was my foster failure when he was five months old. His back is covered in scars from a chemical burn or having been set on fire. He latched onto my heart, and I couldn’t let him be rehomed; now he’s about nine. He is on the cover of our 2015 calendar and on the cover of the book, covered in kisses.
B: What sparked your interest in Pit Bulls?
DF: In the mid ’90s, I fell in love with a shelter dog who happened to be a Pit Bull-type, only to find out that I could not adopt her because she was a Pit Bull and was therefore sentenced to die. Despite the efforts I [made] to save her, the shelter denied my interest in her and told me it was simply policy. I did everything I could to save this dog, but unfortunately, they euthanized her. I worked with Chako, a Pit Bull rescue, to try to pull her and they offered to give me a chance. I adopted Carla Lou through Chako’s director, Dawn Capp, and the rest is history.
B: What sort of work does PFPB do?
DF: We step out of our comfort zone by displaying at comic and tattoo conventions. I also speak regularly at Amazing Pet Expos about breed-specific legislation and dog bites, reaching the unconverted and the ignorant in these audiences. It’s an honor to speak on behalf of dogs.
I also interview children who [express interest in] being Pinups in Training (P.I.T.), a term our volunteer Nancy coined. Many of these children are already passionate voices for the dogs, and want to share their love by training to be better advocates. (I started out as a child advocate 25 years ago, and I haven’t stopped.) We encourage these kids to educate their peers through their own lens.
B: Does PFPB collaborate with other dog rescue organizations?
DF: We promote any rescue that requests our assistance through our social media pages, especially Facebook, where we have over 340,000 followers. Many advocates trust our page as a resource because they know we always fact-check and use science-based information to promote dogs, rather than just emotional appeals. On average, we’ve gotten 40 or more dogs adopted per month by cross-promoting them on our page. This [statistic] is based on the people who take the time to update us on successful outcomes. We are confident that the number is even higher.
B: How is the calendar put together?
DF: It’s a six-month process. We begin by hosting an annual model call, though we look for any woman who cares about ending breed-specific legislation and advocating for dogs. We select our calendar girls through an in-depth voting process (this includes 10 judges, [women] who have been in our calendar in the past and have a strong sense of what we look for), then contact each girl to let her know we’d like to feature her. We set up shoot dates, and all of the models travel to Philadelphia to Celeste Giuliano Photography. We do everything once they arrive—hair, make up and so forth—and Unique Vintage, our clothing sponsor, provides costuming. After the shoot, we lean on these gals to help promote our cause and calendar through their own social networks.
B: What will readers find in Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls?
DF: We broke the book into sections. One of my favorites is “Hero Dogs”—we feature many amazing dogs like Hector (former Vick dog), Wallace (Flying Disc champion), Handsome Dan, Oogy and many therapy dogs as well. It’s a great section of the book because it showcases the various ways these dogs are making a difference in their communities.
Another section tells Carla Lou’s story and why PFPB exists today, while another gives educational resources for being a better advocate. There are also plenty of pages of gorgeous photos from our calendar shoots.
B: What inspired you to use pin-ups for your cause, other than the great alliteration? What’s significant about the retro aesthetic?
DF: During the first half of the 20th century, American Pit Bull Terriers were considered war heroes, and graced the cover of Life magazine; they were symbols of loyalty and tenacity. The pin-up style grew out of the same period (WWI and WWII). It made perfect sense to me to marry these two in a classy and eye-catching manner. Also, I was doing a lot of pin-up and alternative modeling before I started PFPB, and garnered an audience fairly quickly through the aesthetic of being a modern pin-up girl. We make sure our calendar is office-friendly and PG-13.
We love showing these dogs not only as the individuals they are, but also as the often goofy and fun characters we know them to be. When we host tables at the various events we attend, people are drawn in by either the pin-up or the dog aspect of our booth; many will walk up saying, “You’ve managed to pair my two favorite things—pin-ups and Pit Bulls!” We love that.
We are here to break down stereotypes, and we do so in a fact-based, non-emotional and well-educated voice. Being a pin-up girl is a bonus, but it is the smallest part of our approach. It just gets the most attention so that we can educate on behalf of dogs. We advocate for all dogs, not just Pit Bull-types.
B: How would you characterize the media’s portrayal of Pit Bulls?
DF: I can honestly say that, after starting PFPB in 2005 and looking back from where I stand now, we have come a long way, and so has the media. There is a lot more balance overall in the portrayal of these dogs, and in the reporting. There are still many ignorant reporters, and many who prefer to sensationalize, but there is a healthier balance of well-informed journalists who present the full story.
I finished my graduate degree in public policy and wrote my thesis on breed-specific legislation, and whether or not it keeps people safe. The answer is no, but in doing my research, I found about 18,000 news articles that said yes and not a single peer-reviewed study that could prove it worked.
The reason is, all dogs have teeth and we are responsible for their behavior. The only dogs making headlines are those who have been abused, neglected and/or chained. It’s the same story time and time again. We can do better on behalf of dogs, and PFPB will not quit until that day comes. Pit Bulls are just dogs, like any other breed of dog, and they are individuals before anything else—they need love, shelter, food and water.
B: What can Bark’s readers do to help remedy the misconceptions surrounding Pit Bulls? Are there ways for them to get involved with PFPB in their own communities?
DF: Start by thinking of Pit Bulls as individuals. They are special in that we love them as members of our families, but they are otherwise simply dogs and are not inherently different. We need people to understand that they are not an “other.” They want what your dog wants. Some are scared, some might require some extra help, but that is true of any dog. They rely on us. We also promote the use of non-force-based training— such as positive-reinforcement methods. We want dogs to feel safe so they can be their best selves.
We have an open-door policy for volunteers—we cannot finish this without them! Remember, we do more than make a calendar each year. We are on the road almost every week throughout the year and need advocates everywhere. Our calendar work is important, but our daily street-team volunteers and advocates hosting booths are doing the bulk of our work.
To get involved or to learn more, visit pinupsforpitbulls.org.
Dog's Life: Humane
Focusing on dogs and empathy helps children learn.
Mikey hated school and everything about it. A firstgrader in a small town in Kentucky, Mikey already had a reputation as a handful. He disrupted, interrupted, erupted and was generally frustrated and isolated. He didn’t speak at grade level and resisted gestures of friendship.
Mikey’s school had recently implemented the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum, a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program that uses the affinity between children and dogs to teach kids the skills they need to develop emotional intelligence: empathy, resilience, self-awareness, cooperation and decision-making. All of the curriculum’s lessons build on children’s intense connections to canines, specifically shelter dogs, to illustrate the nuances of body language, the power of unconditional love, and the myriad similarities between dogs and people, as well as between people and people.
One day, after a Mutt-i-grees lesson called “Finding Feelings,” Mikey walked up to his teacher and said, “He broke my feelings.” Surprised, the teacher asked Mikey what he meant, and Mikey cautiously explained that another boy had taken his toy truck. Together, Mikey and his teacher approached the boy, who apologized and returned the truck. For both the child and the adult, this was a breakthrough.
“We’d just covered the lesson about recognizing feelings, putting them into words and having the confidence to talk about those feelings,” she says. “And that’s just what Mikey did. He found his feelings, named them and asked for help. It worked!” Together, Mikey and his teacher “fixed” his broken feelings. From then on, Mikey found a way to fit in with his schoolmates and feel calmer and more self-confident.
Small Moments and Oxytocin
Key to this phenomenon is oxytocin, “the hormone of love.” Research shows that even thinking about dogs lowers cortisol levels in our brains and ups the oxytocin. Cortisol is related to stress and the fight-or-flight response and is often associated with anxiety, depression and impulsive behavior. It also shuts down learning.
Oxytocin, which is exclusive to mammals, is released in mega-doses during childbirth and lactation, but is present in human beings of both genders all the time. Unlike cortisol, higher levels of oxytocin seem to increase trust and reduce fear; facilitate bonding (both maternal and social); and promote feelings of contentment, generosity and empathy. As for dogs, experts say that what’s good for the human is good for the Mutt-i-gree. The human-dog bond is just that, a bond, and both partners enjoy a boost of calming oxytocin with each pat, cuddle and shared glance.
The Mutt-i-grees Lineage
North Shore Animal League America has been a pioneer in the no-kill shelter movement since its founding in 1944, and Yale’s 21C is a highly respected innovator in American education, famous for introducing the country’s first nationwide community-school model to address the needs of working families for quality child care and early childhood education.
So, when it came to creating the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, the major players were in place. Matia Finn- Stevenson, PhD, a renowned educator and director of 21C, is married to NSALA president John Stevenson, and the couple has always shared a passion for rescuing shelter dogs. The Pet Saver Foundation, NSALA’s developmental arm, and the Cesar Millan Foundation provided the curriculum’s initial funding.
In just five years, the curriculum has grown to include eight carefully researched and structured binders for PreK–Grade 3, Grades 4–6, Grades 7–8 and Grades 9–12, as well as “Mutt-igrees in the Library,” “Paws Down, Tails Up, Physical Fitness” and “The Animal Shelter Guide to the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum.” There’s also a version called “Cats Are Mutt-i-grees 2,” because, well, they are! All lessons and activities focus on five fundamental SEL concepts: Achieving Awareness, Finding Feelings, Encouraging Empathy, Cultivating Cooperation, and Dealing with Decisions. What distinguishes this curriculum from other SEL programs is that all lessons and activities use shelter pets to illustrate and reinforce these concepts.
Miguel A. Cardona, EdD, is the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Meriden Public Schools, Meriden, Conn. This past fall, his school system introduced the curriculum in its kindergarten classes. “This is much more than a dog-in-the-classroom program,” he says. “I don’t want to downplay dogs in the classroom, but that’s not what this curriculum is about. Most kids have an instinctive, positive emotional connection to animals. This program recognizes that connection and meets the kids where they are. It then adds complexity and structure to develop the interpersonal and emotional skills kids need for academic achievement. Skills like empathy, self-regulation and impulse control are crucial for student success. In fact, I would argue that Mutt-i-grees helps provide a social and emotional bridge that takes kids where they need to be to become successful students.”
“The focus on the human-animal bond inherent in the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum is a powerful learning tool,” says Finn-Stevenson. “Although it’s especially valuable for children who are at risk and those with developmental and educational problems, all children love and benefit from it. The kids think it’s just plain fun. But from our perspective, we see them developing empathy and learning about themselves, animals and each other—learning to care.”
Finn-Stevenson says the curriculum’s methodology synthesizes concepts from the fields of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) and resilience research to teach valuable skills that foster both social and emotional competence and academic success. She also says that it’s one of the few SEL programs available that works on a continuum from preschool through high school.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of the program is its versatility. The curriculum now has applications for libraries, animal shelters, special education programs, after-school programs, at-risk youth, anti-bullying, physical education and families.
“We knew that children would respond favorably to stories and activities about shelter pets,” says Finn-Stevenson, “but we were—and continue to be— amazed at the interest the program is generating among teachers, counselors, parents and other family members.”
And a Dog Shall Lead Them
Shell Bank adopted the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum in 2014. That fall, NSALA’s Mutt-i-grees Team visited the school with several dogs and puppies to conduct an interactive assembly. By day’s end, Denise Atwood, who teaches English language arts at Shell Bank, had fallen in love with a mellow black-and-white Mutt-i-gree who’d recently come from a high-kill shelter in Tennessee. Atwood named her Shelby, and together, she and Principal Teri Ahearn made Shelby the school’s canine counselor and goodwill ambassador. Every day, Shelby contributes to a calm classroom atmosphere, making the school day more fun and productive for faculty and students while doing her utmost to combat any misconceptions students may have about dogs.
Shelby isn’t the curriculum’s only campus Mutt-i-gree. In fact, at least 16 former shelter dogs (and one cat) are now members of the nationwide Mutti- grees Canine Corps. Finn-Stevenson is quick to point out, however, that real dogs are not essential to the program’s success, especially with young children. The curriculum uses plush puppy hand puppets, books, art activities, games and other means to bring the essence of dog into the classroom. Thanks no doubt to the oxytocin phenomenon, the puppets are so popular that young learners often compete to see who can take one home for the weekend.
“I’ve worked hands-on in animal welfare for more than 35 years,” says Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations at NSALA. “The internship is crucial to the curriculum, because it gives students a chance to experience firsthand what an animal shelter is all about, especially now, when people are proud of their rescue pets, of doing the right thing and adopting. I want these kids to feel that pride and to know that today is an exciting time to be a member of the shelter community.”
St. Martin de Porres Academy (SMDP), in New Haven, Conn., implemented the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum in 2010. Located just a few blocks from Yale’s campus, SMDP is a progressive, independent Catholic school that provides tuition-free, extended-day classes for underserved students from low-income families. Admission is open to all regardless of race, religion, color or ethnicity. Now in its 11th year, SMDP enrolls about 60 students in grades five to eight. School days are 10 hours long, and the school year runs a full 11 months. In addition, SMDP makes a 12-year commitment to all students and their families, pledging academic, personal and financial support from fifth grade through college.
For the past five summers, incoming fifth-graders from SMDP have traveled the 80 miles from New Haven to Port Washington to spend five days as Mutti- grees Interns. The week begins with shelter intake and moves on to medical care, grooming, socialization and marketing. On their final day as interns, the students see for themselves what it’s all about as they help lucky Mutt-igrees get adopted from one of NSALA’s mobile adoption units.
SMDP President Allison Rivera, who adopted a Beagle mix named Penny in 2011, has seen the effects of the program on her students. “I’ve watched the transformative power that an intense focus on empathy can have and how it can extend to all living things,” she says.
Rivera notes that for many of these inner-city children, the internship offers a rare opportunity for positive contact with nature. “These kids are so removed from the natural world,” she says. “They really haven’t any experience with it. They’re terrified of insects, everything. That’s just one reason that going to North Shore is always an eye-opener. It gives them a chance to see and relate to animals, which means relating to nature.”
One of this year’s interns, Alexzander London, 10, has a dog at home named Oscar. “At North Shore, we learned not to judge a book by its cover when we learned about Pit Bulls,” he says. “We also learned about how important it is to train a dog well. When you treat them well, there’s always good inside a dog.”
“Love Is a Four-Legged Word”
In 2012, several town leaders who were also dog lovers decided to change the pound into a true shelter and upgrade Selma’s humane services. In January 2014, Second Chance Animal Shelter of Selma held its grand opening in a small but highly visible location just a few blocks from Selma High School. Second Chance is a nonprofit run entirely by volunteers with support from the town and local businesses. Its motto? “Love Is a Four-Legged Word.”
The shelter’s volunteer executive director is a 26-year-old dog trainer named Sarah Chambless, the sort of young woman whose enthusiasm and passion lead her to try things that surprise even her. She’d previously volunteered at the troubled pound, where she learned what a shelter should not be, and where she’d adopted her German Shepherd, Belle, now a certified therapy dog.
Shortly after Second Chance opened, high school principal Mark Babiarz, himself a dog lover, received a grant for an after-school program that required a curriculum. He immediately thought of Second Chance and called Chambless to see if she could use some high school volunteers. She said, “Yes!” Then he mentioned the curriculum.
“I had no idea how to make a curriculum,” she recalls. “So I went online and found the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, and it’s awesome! I use it with my volunteers and when I go into classrooms with Belle. We talk about empathy, and I always point out to the kids how Belle’s presence improves the energy in the room. Then we go to the shelter to work with the dogs. The students have chores, of course, but they also monitor playgroups and help me make sure that every dog gets outdoor time.”
Because her fledgling shelter faces a lot of challenges, she’s forged partnerships with local no-kill groups to move dogs out of Second Chance to safer ground. Adoption is slow, but many more owners now know where to find their lost pets. That, she says, is a step in the right direction.
“The only way to fix a problem is to change the mindset of people,” says Chambless, “and changing young minds is easier than changing the minds of a lot of old-school farmers. This is a rural community, really set in its ways. But education can make the difference. This curriculum opens a door that leads to change.”
For Principal Babiarz, that fortuitous phone call to Chambless signaled a turning point for Selma. “Building a community’s capacity to empathize and care for animals can only make that community a better place for everyone,” he says.
Power to the Mutt-i-Grees
One high school English teacher presented her students with the concept of “reputation,” and asked them to consider its thematic links to Michael Vick and Othello. The result was a collection of provocative essays about Othello, Casio, Vick and Pit Bulls.
A social studies teacher asked students to examine interspecies communication in relation to the anthropological development of the canine-human relationship. The students learned how ancient, rich and deep this bond really is—and, how to write a solid research paper.
Students, in turn, have seized upon Mutt-i-grees as a way to stretch their talents and play a role in the world outside the classroom. They volunteer and fundraise for local shelters, form clubs to spread the word about spay/neuter and adoption, organize adoption events, create anti-cruelty campaigns, and educate their families and community leaders about the importance of compassion and responsible pet care. Empowered by their Mutt-i-grees experience, kids are becoming informed spokespersons and leaders in the effort to create a better world for animals.
And they’re having fun doing it. Last summer, students in the Clinton, Ark., school district spent time at M.U.T.T.S. Camp. (The acronym, created by the campers, stands for Motivated Understanding Thoughtful Teenage Students.) They visited shelters, cleaned kennels and litter boxes, bathed and walked dogs, socialized felines, made friends, and learned lessons they’ll never forget. In July, more than 50 of those students worked with high school faculty and staff to stage a twoact Mutt-i-grees Musical Extravaganza: The Dog Days of Summer 2015. Numbers included such canine classics as “Hound Dog,” “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and even “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.”
“The curriculum is effective because it’s inspiring,” says Finn-Stevenson. “Both teachers and students are inspired to take the curriculum and make it their own. Really, Mutt-i-grees is much more than a school curriculum. It becomes part of the community and extends far beyond the schoolroom.”
Psychotherapist Deborah La Fond, LMFT, first encountered the curriculum in a school setting, where she directed a special education program for children with emotional disturbances. Today, she’s in private practice in San Jose, Calif., specializing in children and teens, and the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum has traveled with her.
A self-described “dog person,” La Fond says that shelter dogs in particular help kids access feelings and experiences that are often threatening and scary. “They identify,” she says. “They see innocent dogs in shelters being ‘punished’ for no reason. They recognize abuse, neglect and abandonment as things they’ve experienced—and they’re able to tap much more quickly and deeply into those emotions and talk about them. Shelter dogs can really lighten the emotional load for these kids, especially teens who get sucked into that edgy adolescent funk.”
She says that emotional resilience, which is at the heart of the curriculum, is crucial to helping everyone navigate life’s transitions and traumas. “There are times,” she says, “when we’re talking about shelter dogs and—bang!—the lights go on, and a child suddenly brings up the death of a pet or a grandparent. Connections get made. It’s amazing.”
Little Mikey in Kentucky would definitely agree: Finding and fixing broken feelings is undeniably amazing. And that, in essence, is the curriculum’s power: its ability to offer kids like Mikey a multitude of ways to become calm and resilient through skills they acquire simply because they love and relate to animals.
As for the Mutt-i-grees, it’s all good. Adoptions are up in communities where the curriculum is part of the culture, “… shelter dogs in particular help kids access feelings and experiences that are often threatening and scary. They identify …” 90 Bark Winter 2015 and educators from Connecticut to California are discovering that shelter animals have a lot to teach all of us about empathy, dignity, connection and the possibility of a more humane future. That’s a lot for a school curriculum to carry. But if you consider who’s really in charge—the Mutt-i-grees—it’s not so surprising after all.
Dog's Life: Humane
People and dogs saved by compassion and one another.
Down a small lane in what feels like the middle of nowhere is Posadówek, a tiny village in the west of Poland. With its fields, aging Soviet-era buildings and single road, it could easily be mistaken for just another rural outpost. But in reality, life-changing activities for both people and dogs are taking place here.
Those who live in the Posadówek community are part of the social co-operative Wielka Pomoc, which translates as “Great Help.” The co-op’s main focus is to provide a shelter and rehoming center for local homeless dogs as well as a reintegration center for some of Poland’s most socially excluded people. It is part of a nationwide movement of similar social co-ops that have been set up to help the “life-wrecked,” people who have become enmeshed in problems such as homelessness, substance addiction or crime.
The movement was founded by the Barka Foundation for Mutual Help, a local NGO (non-governmental organization), as a solution for the many who suffered in the Polish society that emerged after the end of communism in 1989.
The underlying idea is to help people reconnect with healthy ways of life by having occupations and places to live, which gives them a sense of purpose and security. In Posadówek, co-op members look after dogs, work that is turning out to be both productive and healing.
Hieronim, 36, had immigrated to Ireland, living in Dublin and supporting himself by doing manual labor until an accident made it impossible for him to work. He then developed a heavy drinking problem and ended up living on the streets. Eventually, he was found by Barka, which in 2012 helped him return to Poland and arranged therapy for him; since then, he hasn’t had a drink. Now the leader of the Posadówek co-op, Hieronim created the community’s dog shelter, which is financially self-sustaining and uses a local eco-friendly fuel.
Dogs are usually brought to the co-op by local authorities (barking erupts in the kennels when the council’s dog warden comes in). They are quarantined until they receive a medical check-up; once they’re cleared, they are moved to the main shelter. “First we feed the dogs, because they are always skinny and unhealthy, and then we clean and vaccinate them, then we give them a tracking chip,” Hieronim says.
People come to the shelter to adopt; in 2014, 128 dogs were rehomed. Hieronim feels that its size is a plus. “It’s a small dog shelter, so people feel happier adopting with us.” He mentions that a much bigger, state-run dog shelter in nearby Poznan houses more than 600 dogs, yet doesn’t rehome as many as Posadówek.
Hieronim has had training in veterinary practices, and the co-op employs an outside veterinarian. Tomasz, another co-op member who plays a large part in tending to the dogs, has also received training in advanced dog care. Very much a hands-on carer, Tomasz has positive relationships with many of the dogs, developed during his daily work of thoroughly cleaning their kennels and bringing their food. He also takes time to get to know each dog individually.
Joanna is Tomasz’s partner, the co-op’s cook and the community’s only woman. She once had a well-paid job, but an aggressive, alcoholic husband made life chaotic. When she left him, she came to the co-op, where, she says, life is simpler and harder, but where she is much happier.
Joanna has strong bonds with some of the dogs, particularly a Rottweiler who was brought to the shelter because he was so aggressive. “Sometimes an owner chooses the dog, and sometimes the dog chooses the owner,” she says as she puts her hands through the cage and strokes the Rottweiler. She describes the dog’s unfortunate past, and the relationship they now have.
There is clearly a feeling of solidarity between the dogs and the co-op’s members, all whom have been through bad times but now support each other through their individual recoveries and reconnections to regular lives.
Hieronim talks about why he founded the Posadówek co-op, why it is important and why he is passionate about helping animals: “It is a good feeling for the people who [have lived] on the streets; they have empathy for the dogs. They’re animals, we are human, but it’s the same—if you don’t have a home, it’s the same bad feeling. My idea is that homeless people understand how the dogs feel. If the people work with and for the dogs, they start living better lives themselves.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Volunteer First-Responders To the Rescue
You’re strolling along a forest trail with your favorite trail companion, your big chocolate Lab. She’s 12, slowing down, but still loves getting outside, taking in the smells and sounds that excite her brain and bring a spring to her arthritic step. Walking a few feet ahead, she sets an easy pace, nose to the ground.
Suddenly, a clap of thunder startles you both. Spooked, she runs, terrified. You hear her crashing through shrubs and branches as you frantically call her to come … then there’s silence. Following her path as best you can, carefully parting the undergrowth to see where you’re stepping, you halt, nearly falling down a long steep bank covered in trees, shrubs and rock outcroppings. Far below, you see your dog’s brown coat and bright collar; she’s on her side near a stream at the bottom of the gully. Frantically shouting her name, you watch, terrified, as she lifts her head and looks at you with fear in her eyes.
Now what? Can you reach her without hurting yourself? And if you do, how will you manage to get her aging and probably injured 80-pound body back up to the trail by yourself?
If you’re lucky, you have your cell phone (and reception) and live in an area that has an animal rescue team, ready to respond to exactly this type of emergency. One such group is headquartered in Enumclaw, Wash., 40 miles south of Seattle.
Filling a Need
Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART) is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that mobilizes when companion animals and livestock are in a crisis situation—a dog slides down a ravine and can’t get back up, a horse gets stuck in a bog, or a wildfire threatens a community and their animals need emergency sheltering. WASART responds to emergencies and disasters throughout the state when called upon by an animal owner or law enforcement, often working in coordination with search-and-rescue teams. The group focuses on animal rescues, leaving the searching and human rescues to other responders.
WASART rescues a wide range of pets and domestic animals—dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and other small companion mammals—as well as farm animals such as chickens, ducks, cattle, pigs, llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep, cows and horses. They aren’t trained to rescue wildlife or exotics, such as snakes and birds.
The organization was founded by two women who volunteered with Northwest Horseback Search and Rescue. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast in 2005, Gretchen McCallum and Greta Cook watched, horrified, as people refused rescue because they couldn’t bring their pets; of those who declined to evacuate ahead of the storm, roughly one-third did so because of their unwillingness to leave their pets behind.
McCallum and Cook were determined that such a scenario would never happen in Washington, and created WASART in early 2007 with a few other volunteers, focusing on disaster sheltering and rescues of horses and livestock. Their first deployment involved a mare who had been down in a muddy pasture for two days.
Soon, they expanded to include a group of volunteers who had helped with the post-Katrina cleanup, including current WASART president Bill Daugaard, who brings his Katrina-rescued dog—whom he named for the hurricane—with him to the organization’s board meetings. With this infusion of talent and expertise, rescuing companion animals was added to the group’s mission, making good use of down time between disaster deployments.
According to Michaela Eaves, WASART’s Public Information Officer, most of their rescues are dogs and horses, in a nearly equal split. There are more canine rescues in the summer months, when dogs go along on hikes and other outdoor expeditions, and more horse rescues in the cold winter months, when older horses go down in stalls or fields.
WASART gets called to a rescue in one of two ways: 75 percent of the time, an owner calls 911, and the local sheriff or animal control officer asks WASART to help. The rest of the time, an owner calls WASART directly. (Occasionally a vet or someone who knows a WASART team member will call on behalf of an owner.) WASART doesn’t self-deploy. “It’s a matter of trust,” explains Eaves. “If we’re not asked to assist but show up anyway, we’ll never get called by those first responders again.”
Rescue, Simple and Complicated
Western Washington, where WASART most frequently works, is a place of steep hills and jagged mountains covered in dense forests, crisscrossed with rugged trails and rich in streams, lakes and waterfalls, all within easy driving distance of major urban areas. These temptations create the perfect storm for the most common scenarios WASART gets called to: urban dogs unfamiliar with this environment who have fallen over a cliff or slid down a ravine, whose pads are burned and/or cut from walking on hot boulder fields, or who are simply old or out of shape and unable to return to the trailhead under their own power. WASART teams are trained not only in handling various types of animals, but in the technical aspects of traversing difficult terrain, often utilizing ropes to rappel over cliffs and down steep embankments.
This year, during a June hot spell, WASART received a call to assist Summit to Sound Search and Rescue in packing out an injured dog on a trail near Mt. Baker, close to the Canadian border. Arriving at the trailhead at 9 pm, the team hiked five miles in the dark, arriving at the location around 1 am to discover that there were two dogs, Alaskan Malamutes Bow and Arrow, with their guardian. The dogs’ pads were burned and raw, and they couldn’t walk.
The WASART team put panty liners on the dogs’ feet for padding and blood absorption and covered them with surgical gloves (to prevent fur from sticking), then wrapped each injured foot in vet wrap. Now able to walk, Bow and Arrow, their guardian, and the rescue team slowly hiked the five miles out, taking time to rest and re-bandage. They arrived back at the trailhead at 5:40 am.
If dogs aren’t able to walk out on their own, the team will carry them out in a backpack (for small dogs); wrapped in a soft canvas litter; or strapped onto a Stokes litter, a metal wire or plastic stretcher with multiple attachment points so it can be carried by hand, attached to cables and hoisted up into a helicopter, or pulled behind a horse or skier. The Stokes litter can also be broken down into parts that fit into a backpack or horse pack.
Some rescues require a bit of ingenuity. Two years ago, a black Lab was stuck about 30 feet down a culvert that angled roughly 35 degrees. Rescuers couldn’t see her, although they could hear her whining. The culvert ran under a steep mountain road; at the other end was a 50-foot drop-off. One responder affixed a GoPro camera and a flashlight to the end of a flexible plumber’s snake, then sent it down the pipe while watching the video on an app on his smart phone. Seeing that the dog kept slipping on the pipe’s slick surface and couldn’t climb back up, the rescuers tied several lengths of ripped sheets to a rope and sent it down, giving the Lab enough traction to self-rescue. Without the GoPro, they wouldn’t have known how to save her.
Other rescues require brute strength, patience and determination. “Bossy” the cow became stuck in a muddy ravine in January 2015, a soggy season of rain and cold in western Washington. WASART deployed over two rainy days, assisted by a local vet who assessed Bossy’s condition and sedated her for everyone’s safety. A group from Back Country Horsemen of Washington came out and cleared brush on the ravine’s bank so that Bossy—after being loaded onto a glide (a flexible sled-like piece of equipment)—could be hoisted up the slope to safety.
When devastating wildfires hit communities in the Okanogan area of eastern Washington in July 2014, WASART deployed to help shelter displaced animals. Some WASART volunteers became overwhelmed as they spoke with residents who had lost everything. “The victims needed to talk to someone,” Eaves remembers, “but WASART volunteers aren’t trained for it. That doesn’t catch up to you for two or three weeks, when you don’t know why you’re suddenly yelling at your dog.” (WASART’s core training includes learning about compassion fatigue and how to take care of oneself in rescue situations; volunteer traumatology counselors provide psychological first aid to responders after difficult events.) A happier memory for Eaves includes local kids who set up a lemonade stand with handmade signs to raise money for “burned animals” and sent WASART their photo with a donation check.
WASART and similar animal-response teams operate on shoestring budgets, relying on volunteers who already have some personal equipment (helmets, gloves, harnesses) along with technical expertise and time to share. Volunteers are asked to pay for their training: Core, Field Response (animal handling), Transport and Emergency Sheltering. Other required certifications—FEMA and CPR—can be obtained from the government or Red Cross.
Technical Response Team members need additional specialized rope and climbing training. One of WASART’s major equipment expenses is, in fact, ropes, particularly technical climbing ropes, which must be replaced frequently because they degrade with use and washing. If ropes are used to hoist a heavy animal, they’re immediately replaced for safety reasons.
Currently, WASART has roughly 130 volunteers at various levels of training. Perhaps 50 of those have sufficient education and certification to go into the field. It’s tough, demanding work, with a high turnover rate, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. The generosity of these dedicated volunteers, as well as those who make financial donations, means that WASART never has to charge for rescues, and that animal owners needn’t hesitate before calling for help.
“This week we had two callouts for horses, with sad endings,” Eaves shared with me, trying to describe what drives her to pursue this work, especially since not every rescue ends happily. “As the vet was euthanizing one of the horses, I realized one of the things that makes this rewarding isn’t just that we are able to help immediately, to solve the problem and pack up and go home. What we do is more of a sprint in comparison to the more traditional foster-and-adopt rescues, which are more like a marathon. For the most part, we are there because the owners love their animals. At the second callout, all these people were standing in the field with their hearts in their eyes because they loved their horse. It’s no different for dogs, when you see the owners waiting anxiously for their buddy to be safe again. There is a lot out in the animal world to be sad about, but to see the care people have for their animals makes the hard stuff easier.”
While we all hope our companion animals will never need to be rescued, it’s heartening to know groups like WASART—with its compassionate, dedicated volunteers—exist, just in case they do.
Dog's Life: Humane
Partnerships that help alleviate animal suffering in popular resort areas.
Which of these things is not like the others? Sun, surf, sand, fruit drinks, stray dogs. While on the surface, the last is the odd-dog out, the truth is that in many tropical vacation paradises, emaciated, mange-afflicted and lonely canines (and felines) roam the beaches, alleys and streets in heartbreaking numbers.
Among the humane groups that have sprung up to address this situation is Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), whose mission is “to save the lives of stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs, supported and funded by the tourism industry, travelers and pet lovers.”
CANDi was founded by Canadian Darci Galati, an avid traveler and natural-born entrepreneur, who was inspired by her daughters’ concern for the strays they saw while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. The girls would do what they could for the animals they saw wandering the streets and beaches, but knew that when they left, these dogs and cats would once again be on their own. Galati made her daughters a promise that she would do something to make the animals’ situations better, and CANDi was born.
The group has no brick-and-mortar shelters of its own, but rather, enlists what it calls “humane partners,” local rescue groups that have charitable status, a substantial and active volunteer base, and a focus on spay/neuter and other prevention work, as well as documented recordkeeping and administrative capacities.
At first, CANDi sponsored free spay/neuter clinics, which became wildly popular with local dog and cat owners, who would line up early on clinic days to have their pets altered. Galati then decided to kick it up a notch—to find a way to address the larger systemic problems by involving those who benefit financially from the tourist trade: hotels, resorts and airlines.
This was an area Galati knew well. Founder of an interline travel company that went on to become one of the largest in the UK and North America, she knew how the tourism industry worked, and how much it depended on the good will of those who enjoyed it. She was determined to parlay that knowledge into a model that would benefit animals in need.
For example, with the group’s “Make a Difference” program, participating hotels invite guests to add the equivalent of $1 per night to their bill at checkout, with the money going to help CANDi provide clinics and educational programs in the local community. While guests are under no obligation to sign up, CANDi’s research indicates that about 75 percent of them elect to take part in this fund-raising activity.
Finding adoptive homes for animals in need locally is another primary activity, but the group also reaches out to the international community, both as adopters and as travel partners to transport dogs and cats to new homes in Canada and the U.S. Currently, ACTA (the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), Air Transat, CEO Mexico and RIU Hotels and Resorts are actively working with CANDi in support of its mission.
In her work with CANDi, photographer, volunteer and board member Tracey Buyce has had numerous experiences with local communities, and understands the struggle many have just to feed and house their families. According to Buyce, people tend to be judgmental about the animal situation in, for example, Mexico, assuming that the local people are just neglectful. “The reality is, as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means to care for them.” This is the gap that CANDi helps fill.
Buyce’s introduction to the issue also came during a Cancun sojourn. As she and her husband were taking a moonlit stroll on the beach, they encountered a starving stray and her equally malnourished puppy. Not knowing what else to do, Buyce shared her dessert with the dogs, but the encounter shook her. Once she returned home, she began an online search for animal rescue groups working in the area, and found CANDi.
When asked what individual travelers can do to assist, Buyce had several straightforward suggestions: “As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home. There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, and it’s very easy to do. Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life. And, of course, volunteer.”
Read more about Tracey Buyce’s experiences in our interview.
The Majority Project needs your photos
Talk about a great idea that can help combat negative stereotyping of Pit Bulls—presenting a photo collection of the people who love their Pitties, dogs who are just like every other dog after all. “The Majority Project” is taking action against Breed Specific Legislation by asking Pit Bull people to join in with snapshots of yourselves with your dog and a simple sign “signifying” that you are not the exception but are proudly part of the “majority” of Pit lovers. Watch this PSA video featuring actor Jon Bernthal with his young son, Billy and their dogs, Boss and Venice for more information. The PSA also features: Eric, a cancer biologist and his dog, Red, of Cambridge, Mass.; Nonny, a great grandmother and Ginger, of Washington D.C.; Father Humble, a priest and Aura, of Flowery Branch, Ga.; Rebecca, a teacher and Carmela, of Tucson, Ariz.; and many others. Add a photo of yourself and your Pittie—see how on The Majority Project.
This project is being spearheaded by the Animal Farm Foundation, a non-profit that advocates against breed specific legislation and whose director of operations, Caitlin Quinn, adds, “Discriminating against dog owners because of what their dog looks like will never make for a safer community. Holding reckless owners accountable will.”
The Majority Project PSA from Animal Farm Foundation on Vimeo.
Drones are coming to the rescue for stray dog operations in Houston. This innovative program is spearheaded by Tom McPhee, executive director of World Animal Awareness Society (WA2S), he’s the pilot behind the drone controls too. WA2S is filming a new television show called “Operation Houston: Stray Dog City,” to examine the stray dog problem in that city and profile the community people trying to save the animals. What better way to get a true count of the scope of the problem by marrying technology, i.e. drones and GPS, with on-the-ground volunteers who provide invaluable help to the dogs? Drones, to many, are annoying, invasive buzzing “toys,” but in the able hands of McPhee and other animal lovers, they can be the perfect “search and rescue” tool giving a synoptic, eye-in-the-sky view of stray dogs. See this story of how Bobby, a stray who hangs around a local park, is helped by Martha Vasquez and her Clark Park Forgotten Barks and Friends. Many of the dogs they care for are victims of dog fighting. But the stray dog problem in Houston is so enormous that is has earned the reputation as being, “Stray Dog City 2015,” maybe even outpacing Detroit for that infamous “honor.”
Drone might turn out to be good tool for local shelter or rescue groups. Have you heard of similar operations using drones to maybe locate lost dogs, or to track strays?
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