orgs that matter
Dog's Life: Humane
Q&A with Photographer Tracey Buyce, Volunteer and Board Member, Cats and Dogs International
While writing about Cats and Dogs International (CANDi) for the Spring 2015 issue, we were in touch with board member Tracey Buyce, who’s also the organization’s volunteer photographer; she made many good points that space prevented us from including in the print article. Here’s the “value-added” expanded version of that conversation.
Bark: What motivated you to become involved with CANDi?
Tracey Buyce: A few years ago, my husband I were vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, and took a romantic walk on the beach after dinner. Suddenly, we encountered a starving, stray mother dog with her malnourished puppy, searching for food and comfort. I fed her my dessert. I didn’t know what else to do, and my heart ached after that encounter.
What became clear during our stay was that there were even more dogs living on the beach, trying to survive. I knew I had to do something to help them, and couldn’t rest until I did.
As soon as we returned home, I searched the Internet for animal rescue groups in Cancun and discovered CANDi. I contacted the founder, Darci Galati, who invited me to return to Cancun the following month as a volunteer photographer for their free spay/neuter clinic. Almost immediately, I came on board as their official photographer for the clinics, and was invited to join CANDi’s Board of Directors in 2014.
B: Have you had any “aha” moments while working with the group?
TB: Yes, many, but the most notable was my change in perception of the underlying cause of the stray dog problem in Mexico.
My volunteer work has required me to visit many of the communities surrounding Cancun’s tourist resorts to photograph dogs and the local people. Although Mexico has some very dangerous areas, its hard-working people are doing their very best to survive and make it through each day with extremely limited resources. When people’s basic needs are not being met, their animals’ needs come in second, which I believe is the case here.
Visitors tend to be judgmental about what’s happening in Mexico with the stray animal and overpopulation issues, and assume that it’s the fault of the local people and community that the animals are not cared for. The reality is—and this was my personal “aha! moment”—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 of caring for them. Many live without basic resources and are unable to provide necessities such as immunizations for their kids; sterilizing their pets is almost impossible.
I think it’s a government issue. There needs to be an infrastructure in place to provide for the basic needs of families and children, and there also needs to be some support from the tourist industry to help offset the devastating poverty in the communities that surround the resorts.
B: Do you have a special CANDi story?
TB: My work with CANDi has provided many moments of joy, success and surprise, but the one that is most memorable involves Luna, a dog I found in someone’s yard, who was near death. I had seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of street dogs before I came across Luna, but something about her was different. I knew I couldn’t leave her there.
With a lot of difficulty and the help of a translator, I managed to get the owner to relinquish the dog, and through CANDi, she got the immediate veterinary care she needed until she stabilized. I found her a loving home in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, and that’s where she lives and thrives today as a happy, healthy, well-loved family dog! Luna is my special success story. [Editor’s note: You’ll find Luna’s story here.]
B: What do you consider to be the organization’s greatest strength?
TB: That it’s a grassroots group and brings volunteers from all around the world to communities that have the greatest need for spay/neuter clinics.
Everyone, including the veterinarians, is a volunteer who donates his or her time, skills and resources. All of our stories are similar in that we saw animal suffering and wanted to do something to help. CANDi is the vehicle that not only brings us together, but also, paves the way for each of us to help. Without CANDi, none of it would be possible.
CANDi’s approach—partnering with the tourism industry—is what we need to continue to build on expanding our volunteer base. This partnership also translates into resources that support more spay/neuter clinics, the implementation of humane programs at tourist destinations, and education and resources for local residents.
B: What can individuals do to help CANDi?
TB: 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! I am a professional photographer, and I give based on my talents. Not every volunteer is a vet, or wants to pick ticks off dogs at a clinic. Think about your greatest skill or asset and then think about how you can apply that to helping animals through CANDi. Visit CANDi’s website for more information on how to get involved!
B: Finally, a personal question: any dogs of your own?
TB: Yes, I have two rescue dogs, Roxy and Sydney, plus a shelter kitty, Reece, and a horse named Moose. I’m a bona fide animal lover, and that’s why I do what I do!
The interview was conducted in January 2015 and has been edited for clarity.
Dog's Life: Humane
Animal Welfare Network helps Trinidad and Tobago’s dogs by teaching its children about the value of spay/neuter
There comes a moment during Mitra De Souza’s class on animal welfare when she can tell by the faces of her Trinidadian elementary school students that they have grasped the concept of spay and neuter. It happens during the “overpopulation activity,” when she holds up a poster board “animal shelter” filled with pink and blue paper puppies.
One student is allowed to “adopt” two pups—one blue and one pink. But, because these paper dogs have not been sterilized, De Souza quickly gives this same student four more puppies, asking him or her to find good homes for them among the classmates. That’s easy at first, because every child wants to adopt a puppy. Then De Souza tells the class that each household is limited to only one dog. As the students scramble to redistribute the new litters, De Souza keeps doling out four new puppies to every student with a pink “puppy.” As in real life, the homes fill up rapidly, but the paper puppies keep coming.
“It’s like a light bulb goes off, and they realize there are many more puppies than homes; they start worrying about what is going to happen to them,” says De Souza, coordinator for Animal Welfare Network’s Primary School Education Program. “I will have told them about spaying and neutering their pets earlier in the program, but this is when they really understand what it means. When I ask them if something could have been done to prevent this puppy explosion—every hand goes up.”
This is also the point at which many of these young people become animal welfare ambassadors within their families, schools and communities. After De Souza taught the class at Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary School, Vice Principal Deryck Kistow recalls that one nine-year-old girl started making her own paper cutouts and doing the game with her friends, while another lectured his mother about spay and neuter for a month straight.
“They spoke a lot to their friends in other classes about the overpopulation activity, and also about what types of things stray animals need,” says Kistow. “They want Mitra to return and they want us to start a group to raise funds to help buy food for strays.”
The Animal Welfare Network (AWN), a nonprofit dedicated to reducing pet overpopulation and promoting responsible pet ownership in Trinidad and Tobago, launched its education program in November 2012 with the blessing of the Ministry of Education. The program has since been presented to more than 1,000 five- to 12-year-olds at nine schools ranging from private academies to public schools in low-income neighborhoods throughout Trinidad. There are plans to take the program to the neighboring island of Tobago.
Schools can chose from three options: a 30-minute assembly that includes a visit by a trained shelter dog and certified handler; a 30- to 45-minute classroom presentation customized for three different age groups (ages 5 to 7, 8 to 10, and 11 to 12); and the simple distribution of educational materials. (These materials are also provided for options one and two.)
The presentation for the youngest children focuses on how animals feel, while the two older groups learn about the issues of overpopulation. In some sessions, there are role-playing exercises in which a student might pretend to be a dog chained outside in the hot sun, or one who has fleas. There are also guided discussions about understanding the needs and feelings of animals. Students are encouraged to think about what it means to treat stray dogs with kindness and dignity.
Most sessions end with tips on how to safely approach strange dogs and how to protect against aggressive ones. As a special treat, adopted mutt Clio often puts in an appearance to demonstrate her obedience training and let the students practice their new skills. Each child goes home with a coloring/activity booklet and a note for parents that debunks myths about spay and neuter. (Intact males do not make better guard dogs; spayed female dogs are not destined to become fat.)
AWN developed the program by adapting some of the activities found in the Humane Education Guidebook of the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, and De Souza worked out the kinks by presenting it to different classrooms at her daughter’s school. A promotional video featuring two kids and a dog, posted on Facebook (see it at bit.ly/awnv1), helped get the word out to the island nation’s primary schools, and the section on safety has proven particularly helpful in marketing the program to school administrators. Current demand is so high that AWN is in the process of training at least two more facilitators.
For Sara Maynard, a founding member of AWN, the educational program has become a critical component of the organization’s overall mission to promote spay and neuter. Like so many of its Caribbean neighbors, Trinidad has a terrible problem with animal overpopulation and abandonment. Maynard believes that children have a critical role to play in addressing these issues— adults are more receptive to the concept of animal welfare, particularly the spay/ neuter message, if it comes from their kids. “If you teach the kids, you’re teaching the parents,” she says. “Our goal is to follow up the educational course by holding a free spay/neuter clinic in a MASH tent in the same community.”
A pilot program intended to make this goal a reality is already planned for the low-income town of Cocorite, west of Trinidad and Tobago’s capital city, Port of Spain. The regular educational program will be presented to students at the local school. Then, the entire community will be invited to attend a presentation on responsible pet ownership and watch a video on the importance of spay and neuter. As an attendance incentive, there will be plenty of pet supplies and pet food giveaways, and a certified dog trainer will be on hand to answer questions. AWN will also distribute vouchers for free or low-cost spay/neuter procedures. In Trinidad and Tobago, the cost of a single spay can equal one week’s salary, so the organization has worked hard to forge good relationships with local vets to ensure reasonable rates.
Given the effectiveness of the Primary School Education Program, these vets are likely to have plenty of clients for decades to come. To test the program’s effectiveness, AWN recently conducted a follow-up assessment of student attitudes toward animals. Before participating in the program, students scored an average of 78 out of 104 on an animalwelfare scale. Four months after they took the class, the same students scored an average of 87, indicating that the program had not only changed attitudes, but also, that the attitudinal changes were holding steady.
That’s great news for adult animal lovers like Tiffany Llanos, who teaches at Dunross Preparatory School. After inviting De Souza to her classroom, Llanos said, “It warms my heart to know that perhaps the next generation will be equipped to help and be more sensitive and compassionate towards homeless animals in our community.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Helps ease retired lab Beagles into new lives, and a whole new world
Despite the open door, the sturdy little Beagle huddled inside the transportation kennel; it took him 10 minutes to put a paw tentatively on the unfamiliar surface, then move completely outside, high-stepping all the way. It was the first time this adult Beagle had ever walked on grass.
Everyone loves stories about dog heroes—the police dog who leads the chase for an armed criminal, the military dog who goes ahead of the troops to sniff out hidden bombs or the service dog whose devotion and skill give a person with a disability greater independence.
But what about the thousands of dogs who sacrifice years of their lives—or even their very lives—to science’s controversial pursuit of everything from cures for deadly diseases to safe cosmetics? Who speaks for them?
In December 2010, the Beagle Freedom Project (beaglefreedomproject.org) joined the list of those who advocate specifically for these small hounds, and since then, it has mounted multiple efforts on their behalf. Founded by animal-rights attorney Shannon Keith to help a group of Beagles she learned were about to be released and needed homes, BFP now has six full- or part-time paid staff and has helped place or foster 215 lab dogs since its inception. (Keith also founded BFP’s parent organization, Animal Rescue Media Education [arme.tv].)
More than 95 percent of the dogs used in research are Beagles. The same attributes that make them great family pets—“docile, people-pleasing, forgiving, gentle, easy to care for”—also make them desirable research subjects, says Kevin Chase, director of operations for BFP.
BFP had its first legislative victory earlier this year when Minnesota governor Mark Dayton signed into law an act that requires the state’s higher-education research and related facilities receiving public money to offer their dogs and cats to nonprofit animal rescue organizations when the animals are no longer needed.
The law, based on BFP’s “Beagle Freedom Bill,” is a modest first step. Similar bills have been introduced in California and New York. Other states will follow, BFP organizers hope.
“The law is meant to bridge two sides of a very polarizing debate over animal research,” says Minnesotan Chase, who spearheaded the law in his home state. Although BFP opposes any use of animals in research, the legislation is intended to allow adoption as an option for “retired” research dogs and cats. It fills the regulatory gap between the care animals are mandated to receive while being actively used and what happens afterward, when they’re no longer needed.
“If a dog is at the end of its utilization with research and can be placed with a family, why not? It just makes sense,” says Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble, who authored the legislation along with Representative John Lesch. But though it did indeed make sense, it wasn’t easy. As Dibble admits, “It turned out to be a little more contentious than we anticipated.”
In 2013, when the idea for the law was first floated, the University of Minnesota—which, along with the Mayo Clinic would be the most affected—was reluctant to support it, and the bill was shelved. This year, Dibble and Chase approached the university again and got, if not support, at least no overt opposition.
The Minnesota law includes a provision that eliminates certain liabilities for research facilities that release lab animals, something the university requested in discussions with Chase and Dribble, according to the Office of the Vice President of Research.
In statements released through Communications Director Andrea Wuebker, that office said of the law, “This legislation allows the university opportunities to do what we can to offer dogs and cats, available after the study concludes, for adoption without threat of liability by potential or future owners regarding any unforeseen behaviors by the animal. What this law will do is help us partner with outside groups to make available animals for adoption, should the animal not be adopted by the researcher or persons close to the animal, at the end of the study.”
Exactly what kind of impact the new law may have remains uncertain. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report cited 317 dogs and 278 cats as being used in research at the university in 2013. Of those, 307 dogs and 273 cats were from humane societies or other animal shelters, or were student-owned animals, and were returned to the shelters or students after use.
That number is, however, a fraction of the 4,148 dogs listed for research in Minnesota in a fiscal year 2012 USDA report (the most recent year for which figures are available). Minnesota ranked fifth in the nation that year in the number of research dogs. With 9,434 dogs, Wisconsin ranked first, and in the United States as a whole, the report cited 72,167 dogs and 24,578 cats.
HSUS estimates that 25 million “vertebrate animals” are used each year in research, testing or education, while the USDA tallied 1,110,199 animals in their FY 2012 report. After mice, rats and birds, research animals used that year—in descending order of frequency—included guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, non-human primates (including monkeys and chimpanzees), farm animals (including pigs and sheep), dogs and cats.
At the University of Minnesota, research involving animals is mostly medically based, according to the Office of the Vice President of Research, related to cardiovascular devices, isolated working heart models and dental implants as well as understanding and treating strokes, epilepsy, overactive bladder syndrome and other human or veterinary diseases.
Like the Beagle Freedom Project, HSUS advocates an end to the use of animals in research, particularly in product testing, encouraging companies to use some of the 5,000 chemicals already tested and approved for human use. Others believe that animals have and still play a critical role in the development of live-saving treatments.
“Indeed, if one reviews the history of medical science, it is clear that every major medical advance has depended on animal experiments … Almost every vaccine used by humans had to be first tested on animals to ensure that it would be safe and effective. Insulin, which has saved millions of diabetics from an early and painful death, was discovered through research on dogs; until relatively recently, the only way to test insulin during the purification process was to inject it into mice and monitor the effect on their blood sugar,” the late John Vane, an Nobel Prize–winning British pharmacologist, said in a “Pfizer Forum” speech.
Both under the new Minnesota law and elsewhere around the country, when laboratory animals are made available for adoption, their actual research history is rarely, if ever, disclosed. That makes it difficult to predict the animals’ adjustment needs. In general, however, BFP has found that many of the Beagles they place are not house-trained, and tend to be shy around people and new situations, certainly at first. Also, because laboratory diets are generally formulated to reduce the amount of cleanup necessary, the dogs initially have digestive trouble with the richer food commonly fed to companion animals.
“On the whole,” says Chase, the dogs “have never been on grass, have never been on a leash for a walk, they’ve never been on steps. They’re like adult puppies; the whole world is new to them.”
To date, BFP has received lab dogs—and a few cats and a pig—from California, Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts and New Jersey as well as the Midwest, and has had great success both in fostering these lab-released dogs and then matching them with appropriate families. None of their adoption placements has been returned, even from the group of 40 Beagles flown from Spain who were suffering severe health and anxiety problems. The search for additional adoption and fostering homes is, of course, ongoing.
Sometimes, the organizers themselves end up providing the first line of fostering. Kevin Chase already had Junior, now seven and rescued when he was four. But when Chase organized a gathering to solicit foster parents for 10 former lab Beagles, he ended up bringing home Raymond, three, the last Beagle in the room.
“We let the families and the dogs kind of choose each other,” Chase says of the December gathering. “I wasn’t anticipating taking home one of the dogs, but nobody chose Raymond because nobody could catch him. He was afraid of everybody … I said, ‘Come on, buddy. You’re coming home with me.’ Once we got home, he wasn’t going anywhere.” Chase chuckles about how quickly “fostering” became “adopting” with Raymond. These days, he says, Raymond “loves his walk, loves lying in the sunshine.”
Some day, BFP might be able to add a Minnesota senator to its list of adopters. “If my life ever calms down so that I can be home,” dreams Dibble, “I’m totally going to get a lab Beagle.”
Go to the Beagle Freedom Project website for a link to the Cruelty-Cutter app, which allows you to use your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to scan products and identify those that have been tested on animals.
Interested in helping out a lab Beagle? Click on beaglefreedomproject.org/adopt_or_foster to find out how to do it.
With Dogs Galore + Hilary Swank, Jane Lynch and many more stars
There is a must-watch TV telethon on Thanksgiving night for all dog lovers. We urge you to tune into the history-making Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, a first-of-its kind program that features rescue dogs, and only rescue dogs. The show came out of the remarkable efforts of co-producers, Hilary Swank and Michael Levitt, both of whom are big-time advocates for dog rescue/adoption. The show will be cohosted by Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch, and feature a cast of leading Hollywood celebrities, including Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Queen Latifah, Betty White, and so many more.
The idea behind the program is the need to bring the plight of rescue dogs to center stage. It’s amazing, but sadly true, that many Americans still do not understand that millions of dogs are needlessly killed annually in this country, or that others are languishing in overcrowded shelters waiting, and waiting for their forever homes. This program wants to convince people that dogs must be saved and that the perfect dog is waiting for you at your local rescue group or area shelter. From purebreds to one-of-a-kind mixed breeds, there is a rescue dog there for you and your family.
The show will also be a celebration of the human-dog connection and, as Hilary explained, “it will be a joyful family show with a lot of fun and lots of dogs, with best tricks, best howlers, celebrity lookalikes, best viral dog video, plus celebrating the people who have done good work to help dogs and organizations that are doing good things and sharing all those stories.” It’s great that they’ll be featuring the heroes on the front lines of animal rescue, those rescue organizations that work tirelessly to save lives, such as Beagle Freedom Project (featured in Bark’s fall issue) This remarkable show will celebrate not just the rescuers, but also, the dogs themselves, from mixed breeds to purebreds, from youngsters to seniors and those with special needs, highlighting their uplifting, life-affirming stories. This makes for perfect viewing for the whole family.
On Tuesday, Hilary Swank was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest on his very popular iHeart radio show , she explained to the listeners, as she did in our winter issue, the problems faced by dogs in shelters and how grateful they are to their rescuers, she explained how tirelessly rescue groups work to care for dogs and connect them to forever homes, and she also gave The Bark a big shout out. She told Ryan that while she has been on the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, it was more important to her, and a bigger honor, to be featured, with her dear dogs, Rumi and Kai, on the cover of The Bark!
We were thrilled by her words but we’ll be even more thrilled if you tune into Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, 8 to 10 pm (7 pm Central time) on Thursday, Thanksgiving night on your local Fox station—tuning in is very important because a large viewership will give networks the green light for further rescue advocacy programming. And, as executive producer Michael Levitt notes, “This is our big opportunity to change the misperception of shelter animals and show the world that rescuing a dog is always the way to go.”
I hope you will be moved to donate to the cause and open your hearts to adopt a rescue dog or help in any way you can. This is a cause where every person can make an important difference. So remember: adopt, foster or donate, and most importantly, spread the word. Join Swank, Levitt and your local rescue communities in saving the lives of animals and enriching your own as well.
For Q&A with HIlary Swank, see here
Dog's Life: Humane
Beyond being famous for her film work—which has earned her two Academy Awards—Hilary Swank has also made a name for herself as a leading advocate for animals. On Thanksgiving night (Fox, 8 to 10 p.m.), she’ll bring her talents and humane passion to a special program celebrating rescue dogs: Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Special. She is co-producing this groundbreaking show with Michael Levitt, producer of special programming and a leader in dog rescue. Jane Lynch will be the co-host. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Swank about her animal advocacy and this extraordinary television show.
Claudia Kawczynska: What drew you to rescue/shelter dogs?
Hilary Swank: Every year, nearly 8 million animals end up in shelters, of which approximately 4 million never make it out. We want to do the work [on this program] to make people aware of the extent of the problem, because I don’t believe that anyone’s life should be cut short. Up to 25 percent of homeless animals are purebred, if people are looking for a purebred. There are puppies; young, already trained dogs; and senior dogs. If people are made aware, they will know that their four-legged family member is waiting for them at a shelter or rescue organization. So many people want a dog but are either misinformed or simply unaware of these facts. Rescuing a dog shouldn’t be arduous or difficult, and this program will bring to light just how simple the process truly is if they have the right tools.
CK: How important is training to the success of an adoption?
HS: Sometimes people are disappointed when their dogs don’t behave, and yet they haven’t given the dog the skills to know how to behave. Dogs want to make you happy and want to know what you expect from them. For this reason, I believe in positive reinforcement training. It’s been such a joy to train my dogs and help them realize they have a place they belong.
CK: How did you become such a great advocate for dogs?
HS: I’ve always had a special place in my heart for all animals, but dogs especially; I just love them. As early as I can remember, I wanted a dog—they just look at us and see us for who we really are, when we sometimes feel that no one is able to do that. I feel there’s a connection between dogs and humans that is super profound. That is something I experienced when I moved out of the house at 18 and rescued my first dog, a black Lab/Shepherd mix I named Lucky. Besides the dogs I’ve rescued and shared my home with [Lucky, Karoo, Rumi and Kai], I’ve also found forever homes for thousands of dogs.
I have worked with humane societies in New York and LA and places in between, going in shelters during my days off [from filming], volunteering and connecting dogs with people who were ready to rescue. With the passing of Karoo, who touched my soul profoundly, I decided to start the Hilaroo Foundation.
CK: Tell us about the Hilaroo Foundation.
HS: Hilaroo is my name and Karoo’s name put together. The goal of the foundation is to bring together youth who have been given up on and animals who have been abandoned, to help heal one another through Rescue, Rehabilitation, Animal Adoption and Responsibility Training. Every soul needs someone who cares and believes in us, and this will be the goal and mission of the Hilaroo Foundation.
We will rescue animals who have been abandoned and rehabilitate them, both physically and emotionally. Youth who, whether by choice or circumstance, have been given up on by society will be paired with animals to help in that rehabilitation endeavor. The two souls will set out on a journey together to find healing.
When the animals are ready, we will adopt them into forever homes. Through their time at the foundation, youth will be given responsibility training so that they can go out into this world to make it a better place for themselves. Simply stated, the mission of the Hilaroo Foundation is to “change the path of a soul.”
CK: Tell us more about Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Special. How did it come about? How long have you been working on and planning this program?
HS: Michael Levitt brought it to me about a year ago, and the Fox television network loved the idea and gave us the opportunity, for the first time in history, to make a two-hour special that celebrates dogs and the dog-human connection. This is going to be an entertaining, joyful family show with a lot of fun and lots of dogs; prizes will be given for best tricks, best howlers, celebrity lookalikes and best viral dog video, and we’ll celebrate the people who have done good work to help dogs and organizations that are doing good things. We’ll be sharing all those stories. The program will also be an education effort, informing people about the importance of rescue/adoption and spay/neuter, among other things. Knowledge is power, and we are so excited to see what lives will be changed by this program.
CK: You’ve gathered quite a cast of celebrities. Tell us about them.
HS: So many people are stepping up to help by lending their time, their name and their talent: Jane Lynch (co-host), Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Amber Riley, Kristen Bell, Betty White, Kristin Chenoweth, Carrie Ann Inaba, LeAnn Rime, Masterchef, Jr. Contestants: Mitchell, Natalie and Sean, David Arquette, Max Greenfield, Emmy Rossum, Olivia Munn, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Paula Abdul, Jerry O’Connell, Randy Jackson, Josh Duhamel, Rebecca Romijn, Julianne Hough, Sharon Osbourne, Kathy Griffin, Wayne Brady, Kelly Osbourne, Wendie Malick. There are so many dog lovers out there, and it’s been such a blessing to see them coming together—for that, I am so thankful.
CK: Since this program will be pre-taped, how will the adoption process be handled?
HS: We’ll be working with many wonderful, experienced dog rescuers who have been vetted by our own “canine unit” to make sure that everyone is doing their due diligence. All the dogs on the show (who will also be highlighted on our website) will come from approved 501(c)(3) rescue groups that have agreed to an established code of conduct. Our website will also introduce people to the dogs on the program and others in their geographic area who are looking for homes.
For those who cannot adopt, we’ll give them the opportunity to foster as well as donate time and/or money; everyone will be able to help in many ways. Potential adopters or fosterers will be thoroughly vetted and asked to fill out a pre-adoption application that will include reference checks, site visits and, very importantly, follow-up visits (that is a big thing—helping people with that transition is super important). All of the dogs will come from the ranks of grassroots rescuers.
The donations will be handled through a well-established charitable foundation, which, in turn, will dispense the funds to the individual groups through a granting process. So people will be able to call in or text and give to organizations that are doing extraordinary things for animals.
It is a really great opportunity all around, and I’m really proud to be part of it, and to help shepherd it. It is our hope that this coming-together with viewers will be such a great success that we’ll be able to do it every year. There is no better day than Thanksgiving to air this program, because of all the thanks we have for our four-legged friends, who bring us such unconditional love.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cincinnati Center provides an opportunity to use the connection between people and their dogs to help heal sick children.
On the grounds of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, children threw their arms around furry necks and bodies amidst a flurry of wagging tails. Many hadn’t seen their dogs for weeks, or even months. Some children were attached to medical equipment but didn’t seem bothered; they were just happy to be reunited with their canine family members.
During the reunion earlier this year, Cincinnati Children’s broke ground on a revolutionary project that introduces hospitals to a new kind of therapy: the Family Pet Center, a grassy, fenced-in area behind the facility’s main building, where hospitalized children can visit and play with their dogs and other pets.
Cincinnati Children’s, one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the country, has about 570 beds for children from all over the world. More than half the young patients come from outside the Cincinnati metropolitan area. “With all those patients, with hundreds of patients, you can’t reasonably or safely have dogs visit from home,” says Dr. John Perentesis, executive codirector of the hospital’s Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute.
It’s not just distance that creates a separation between the children and their dogs; time does that as well. The average stay at Cincinnati Children’s is about a month, but many are longer. Some children are hospitalized for more than six months without a break for home visits.
“That’s a long time — kids are wrenched from their families and their dogs, and pets are a huge part of their families,” says Perentesis. “Sometimes, you go into rooms and [see] far more pictures of pets than of brothers or sisters. Far more pictures of dogs.”
While dogs are the center’s primary animal visitors, its inspiration can be traced to Canadian horse country. During a trip to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Perentesis noticed an unusual addition to the hospital. Connected to the lobby was a pet visiting room, a shed-like structure large enough for a small pony.
“We were really intrigued [with the idea of] kids having contact with their pets from home,” says Perentesis. “It seemed like a great idea, but all of our internal resources are poured back into biomedical research for the next therapy, so we didn’t have the opportunity [to go further with it].”
With no realistic way of funding the Family Pet Center through Cincinnati Children’s, Perentesis shared his idea with Ellen Flannery, founder and director of the nonprofit charity CancerFree KIDS, which has been partnering with the oncology program at Cincinnati Children’s for years. However, the center remained a dream, as CancerFree KIDS was also unable to fund the project. “Our donors give to us because they want to support research, so for us to divert those funds away from our core mission didn’t make sense, even though we all knew intellectually and emotionally what a great thing [the center] would be,” says Flannery.
The only way to make the Family Pet Center a reality would be to secure a grant. So, at the end of 2011, CancerFree KIDS began the application process for a 2012 grant from Impact 100, a local organization that uses 100 percent of its membership fees for grants to tri-statearea nonprofits each year.
“We review the letters of intent and, by committee, determine which ones we would like to submit a full grant application,” explains Sally Nugent of Impact 100. “We take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that we really dig into each organization’s financials, the sustainability of the project and their ability to service the client in an efficient way. The project has to be life-changing for the client.”
After a long process that included research, grant writing, site visits and answering questions on the importance and logistics of the project, the Family Pet Center was selected as one of five finalists for the two Impact 100 grants.
“The winners come together for an evening [membership event], and they have ten minutes to present their story,” says Nugent. “No Power Point, no brochures, no dog-and-pony show. It’s just from the heart. They’re telling [us] what their project is and how they’re going to [affect] the greater Cincinnati area.”
After the presentations, Impact 100 members voted. Within the hour, Perentesis and Flannery’s vision was suddenly tangible: they were awarded one of the two $107,500 grants. The pet visitation center would finally be built.
“As Ellen’s board was thinking through new dimensions of moving things forward for kids with cancer, this opportunity came up; they really breathed life into it. This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Ellen,” says Perentesis.
“And we wouldn’t have been able to fund it if it had not been for Impact 100, because it isn’t our mission,” adds Flannery. “It was the perfect storm. Coming together was an opportunity for us to secure funds that didn’t come from our donors. Even though we’re still promoting the wellness of kids with cancer, it has the added bonus of being available to every child in the hospital.”
The Family Pet Center officially opened in late 2013, the culmination of a long journey to a goal that goes beyond what medical science can prove.
“We do a lot to fix kids medically, but there’s a piece [missing] even with all the technology we have,” says Perentesis. “We think this is going to have a huge impact on the children’s quality of life, their well-being and, potentially, the trajectory of their disease. Curing people psychologically is a big piece [of the process].”
For many years, research has linked people’s health to their relationships with their dogs. Now, the Family Pet Center provides an opportunity to use this connection to help heal sick children as well as to export their experience to other hospitals across the country. Cincinnati Children’s motto is “Change the Outcome,” and the goal of the Family Pet Center is to achieve this expectation locally and beyond. For now, though, the children are just happy to see their dogs.
News: Guest Posts
If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a dog trainer or are already a dog trainer looking to further your education, you won’t want to miss the world’s largest all-positive training conference: ClickerExpo 2015!
Held every year in January and March, ClickerExpo features leading-edge training seminars taught by top trainers from premier animal institutions and schools from all over the world, all brought together by training innovator and author Karen Pryor. Learn the all-positive training techniques used by top animal trainers to teach any animal almost anything. At ClickerExpo you can practice teaching your dog to retrieve (not eat!) a hot dog and watch live training sessions by the faculty.
In addition to courses focusing directly on obedience, agility, service, and behavior management and science, you’ll find a wealth of in-depth courses that apply across disciplines. Teachers and attendees listen, practice, and learn from each other for up to three days of unparalleled interaction in over 60 Sessions and Learning Labs.
ClickerExpo is coming to Portland, Oregon January 23-25, 2015 at the Red Lion Hotel and Dearborn, Michigan March 20-22, 2015 at the beautiful Adoba Hotel. For more information or to register, visit www.clickerexpo.com.
“I thought ClickerExpo was a fantastic experience to connect with other trainers with like-minded styles and to hear new ideas that people are working on.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Helping dogs, one community at a time.
Matt Piccone maneuvers his van through the streets of Rochester, a mid-sized city in upstate New York with the fifth-highest poverty rate in the nation. Beside him sits Hillary Cardin, a veterinary technician. He pulls the van to the curb in front of a beige, two-story, wood-frame house, and he and Cardin each grab an armful of straw from the back of the van. Piccone struggles to open a wooden gate obstructed by thick snow. Two Pit Bulls, Henny and Diamond, charge them.
“Hey, guys, get back in!” he shouts, hurriedly shutting the gate. As Piccone and Cardin drop the straw into two dog-houses, the dogs, tails wagging frantically, compete for attention. Henny steals a glove.
Cardin laughs at their exuberance. “Their energy level is a good sign. It means that they’re getting enough food to keep their body heat up in this weather.”
Before Piccone became a fixture in their lives, Henny and Diamond were underfed and had only a board slanted against the house for protection. The doghouses, built by apprentices in the local carpenter’s union, are doublewalled, fully insulated and raised six inches off the ground. The straw helps the dogs retain their body heat. “I climbed in a doghouse on a singledigit day and the temperature was 52 degrees,” says Piccone. The shorthaired dog nestled inside was warm to his touch.
The dogs’ owner, Anthony McBride, emerges from the house, wearing a wide smile. After some small talk, Piccone says, “Hey, Bro. Are you going to get Diamond spayed?” Henny is already neutered. The man nods, but is noncommittal as to when. “This would be a good time of year to do it,” Piccone offers, no trace of judgment in his voice.
Piccone is the founder of Providing Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) of Rochester, a fledgling animal welfare group. PAWS’ motto is “outreach, education and assistance.” By delivering doghouses and straw and providing free spay/neuter surgeries and low-cost vaccinations to city residents, PAWS has become a welcome presence in neighborhoods where pet owners can’t afford health care for their animals. To receive the doghouses and other perks, people must agree to sterilize their pets. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s a yes,” says Piccone.
Not surprisingly, it’s the backyard breeders who resist altering their pets. “I might get a solid ‘no’ for a year, but I’ll keep talking about it,” Piccone says. One of his proudest accomplishments was convincing a woman who had been breeding Pit Bulls for 20 years to have her three dogs altered and allow them to live inside. “Pointing fingers will get you nowhere,” says Piccone. “It’s a matter of time, patience, asking the right questions and knowing how to ask them.”
Before PAWS, Piccone worked as a security technician for Time Warner Cable. His job was to drive around city neighborhoods and locate households illegally tapping into cable services. Peering into back yards, Piccone, an animal lover, was often disturbed by what he saw: dogs tied on short chains, dogs who were sick and malnourished or who had fresh wounds from dog fighting. Dead animals dumped at the curb also haunted him.
For eight years, he made thousands of complaint calls to animal control and the local humane society. Either help never came, or a dog would be removed from the home, only to be replaced. “I was directly affected by what I saw,” Piccone says. “There was a lack of compassion for [poor] people. They had been written off as bad pet owners.”
One frigid winter day, Piccone saw two dogs in a back yard, one in a metal crate with a plastic bag over it, and a second lying on concrete, covered by a wooden box with no bottom. Piccone called animal control. “I was crying. I insisted someone come down.” The animal control officer who came said the shelters were sufficient. Piccone rang the front doorbell. “I was afraid the dog’s skin would freeze to the concrete. I was so overcome with emotion I didn’t even know what I was going to say,” he recalls. When a man opened the door, Piccone blurted, “Your dogs can’t live outside like that. Can I bring you two doghouses?”
Piccone and his father built the doghouses in less than a week, and PAWS was born. Two years later, Piccone and Cardin are still the only paid employees; Piccone’s wife, Laura, volunteers as the group’s grant writer/office manager. But with local donations and almost $130,000 from the national ASPCA, PAWS now operates a mobile spay/neuter clinic and a standing clinic, which provides wellness care (vaccinations, deworming, etc.) for $25 per visit. By June, Piccone plans to begin offering at the clinic high-volume, high-quality spay/neuter services, free to city residents. In less than two years, the nonprofit has sterilized 139 dogs and 55 cats. The ASPCA liked PAWS’ “caring, personalized approach to helping atrisk animals in the community,” says Jill Van Tuyl, a community initiatives director. “In a typical animal control response, the animal would be removed from the home and placed in the already overburdened shelter system. By offering ongoing support and education … PAWS is giving pet owners the resources they need to care for their pets and keep them in the home.”
The ASPCA created its Safety Net program in 2008 to enlist the public in reducing the number of abandoned animals. Initiatives include free and low-cost sterilizations, vaccinations, and online animal-behavior and rehoming advice.
Sterilization is a cornerstone of the campaign. Last year, the ASPCA awarded more than $5 million to grassroots organizations for spay/neuter programs, and that amount will increase each year, says Emily Weiss, PhD, the organization’s vice president of shelter research and development. The euthanasia rate is decreasing, but as many as four million pets are still destroyed in shelters each year. This is a rough estimate, as there is no central registry to track data, Weiss says.
To spend money most efficiently, the ASPCA is using a new geographic information system that pinpoints the neighborhoods sending the most dogs and cats to shelters. Those areas are then targeted for intervention. ASPCA staff have also conducted in-person surveys to find out why people surrender large dogs, who are the least adoptable and the most likely to be euthanized, says Weiss. At a Washington, D.C., shelter, pet owners cited a shortage of affordable housing that allowed dogs weighing more than 30 pounds. While this was also a problem in New York City, a larger issue was a shortage of low-cost veterinary care.
Austin, Texas, has become a model for reducing shelter deaths through aggressive spay/neuter services. The city’s per capita shelter intake is currently at its lowest in its history, and the number of homeless animals coming into the shelter each year has dropped from 23,351 in 2000 to 18,668 in 2013, says Amy Mills, chief executive officer of Emancipet (emancipet.org), Austin’s community-based spay/neuter and preventive care organization. These feats are impressive, given that Austin’s human population nearly doubled between 1990 and 2014, from less than 500,000 to 859,814, according to Austin officials. Mills credits this progress to the city’s emphasis on prevention efforts and a strong collaboration between Emancipet, the ASPCA, the city of Austin, Animal Trustees of Austin and the Austin Humane Society, a nonprofit shelter.
In 2005, Emancipet built a clinic with money from the city, Petsmart Charities and a local foundation called Impact Austin. In 2013, they opened a second clinic in Pflugerville, just north of Austin. The organization also operates two mobile clinics that cover a 70-mile radius, providing free spaying and neutering and other low-cost services four days a week. The city subsidizes most of the free services provided by Emancipet through a contract.
Using ASPCA data, Emancipet targets areas with the most homeless animals and complaint calls. “The real barriers are cost, understanding the [sterilization] procedure and trusting medical care,” Mills says. “What we’re finding is that vet care is not part of their family neighborhood culture. They never saw their parents take pets to vet.”
However, a little education goes a long way in changing attitudes. “We tell them their pet will have a longer, happier life and [the surgery] will keep them from having unwanted pets,” says Mills. “Some dog owners are worried the surgery will be painful. When I tell them we have good docs and pain meds, they’re okay.”
To reach more people, Mills and staff began attending Austin’s free rabies drives, approaching owners who brought their unaltered dogs. “When I asked people if they had ever heard of Emancipet, almost everyone said yes,” Mills recalls. “And when we offered to have their dogs fixed that day, 90 agreed and another 100 followed up the next week. Most people don’t say no when you are offering them a free surgery, right now, today.
“We feel now that we have infrastructure to get to anybody. Pet owners are having good experiences. They are treated with dignity and respect. We love their pets. We want to give them an incredible experience so their friends and neighbors will come.”
Emancipet was there for Maria Shofestall and her five cats when she couldn’t afford veterinary care. “You don’t have to make an appointment or spend lots of money,” she says. “They care about the animals, not about the profit.” Now, Shofestall volunteers for Emancipet, driving people and their pets to the clinic.
The ASPCA has given Emancipet a grant to replicate their clinic model in other communities using a state-ofthe- art semi-mobile clinic facility. In February, the group opened a new clinic in Killeen, Texas. “Once that clinic is sustainable, we’ll transition into a permanent location and then we’ll go on to the next community,” says Mills. “We have something amazing here—if we can export [it], we can save lives.”
Pockets of Poverty
Arrington is now founder and executive director of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs (unchaindogs.net), a Durham, N.C.– based organization that builds fences for low-income pet owners so dogs can exercise freely in their back yards. Owners must also agree to have their dogs sterilized.
An articulate, tireless advocate for animals, Arrington is also director of Pets for Life, an HSUS program that is improving access to veterinary care in underserved communities. Pets for Life staff run outreach programs in four cities, providing sterilization, vaccination and other services. And through a partnership with Petsmart Charities, Pets for Life provides in-depth training and grants to animal welfare organizations in 19 additional cities. The program altered 16,000 pets in 2012 and 2013.
Says Arrington, “If you are living in poverty, you [often] don’t have a car; the closest vet may be 10 miles away. You can’t take pets on public transportation. If people are struggling, their pets will struggle too. Even a $25 spay or neuter is out of reach for some people.”
* * * * *
For many dog lovers, it’s incomprehensible to think of leaving a four-legged friend outside in extreme weather. But boots-on-the-ground animal activists know it’s a mistake to judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. “It’s really about making a human connection … inspiring trust,” says Amy Mills. “People have a lot going on in their lives. It’s our job to be kind, nonjudgmental friends.”
Matt Piccone has no doubt that Anthony loves Henny and Diamond. He also knows that Anthony’s landlord won’t permit the dogs in the twofamily house. If the dogs are removed, there’s a good chance they will end up in a shelter and be euthanized. In the meantime, Piccone tries to make the dogs comfortable, safe and healthy— and sterile.
On January 7, with wind chill driving the temperature down to -34 degrees, all Rochester schools were closed for the day. The cold was so severe, said the local meteorologist, that bare hands could sustain frostbite within five minutes. That morning, Piccone received calls that three dogs were outside in non-insulated shelters. He got in his van to bring them straw, gave the dog owners information about PAWS and took down their contact information. “I see it as an opportunity to move in and talk to people about why their pets are outside and give them an opportunity to get their pets inside,” he says.
Piccone cannot forget the hours he spent sitting in his cable truck feeling helpless. “I had a list of 500 houses where dogs needed help,” he says. “Now I have something to offer people.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Last August, my dogs and I took an eight-week road trip across the West, and it was awesome. We hiked through painted hills in rural Oregon, made a memorable drive to Idaho’s Silver City, marveled at the colors of fall in the Rockies, toured Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, survived the Loneliest Road in America (U.S. 50 through Nevada) and fell in love with the California coast. Maybe you saw us; we were towing a 1969 Airstream travel trailer, and the sign in the rear window asked you to do something: go walk a shelter dog.
Did you know that some shelter dogs rarely leave their kennels? I made this discovery a year ago when I started volunteering at my local animal shelter. Naïvely, I asked the staff, “How do you get all the dogs out in the morning to potty?” I was stunned to learn that it’s common for shelter dogs to pee, poop, sleep, eat and wait within the chainlink walls of their kennels.
In the beginning, volunteering as a dog walker was just about unbearable. My heart ached for all the sad, scared and forgotten dogs. But day after day, I promised to return because these simple walks were making a huge difference. I was giving shelter dogs exercise, a chance to potty outdoors, lessons on manners, praise, confidence and the human companionship they greatly missed.
After months of walking shelter dogs, and driving home troubled because I couldn’t walk all of them, I decided to ask for help. I wanted my local shelter dogs—and shelter dogs everywhere—to get a daily reprieve from their kennels. Thus, go WALK shelter DOGS was born.
As I cruised the West, I learned that while my hometown shelter wasn’t alone in lacking dog walkers, some shelters have the luxury of a new volunteer waiting list. And while the media does a good job promoting a variety of shelter causes—pet of the week, foster, spay and neuter, donate supplies, give money—walking shelter dogs doesn’t make headlines. I can only assume there are people out there, dog-loving people, who don’t know they are needed. Why else would shelter dogs not get walks?
The mission of go WALK shelter DOGS is to raise awareness, recruit people with time and compassion, and encourage animal lovers to visit their local shelter to learn about volunteer opportunities. Do you know if your local shelter dogs are getting walks? Do you know how else volunteers can help shelter animals? Is there an application process for volunteers, an age requirement, an orientation meeting?
If dogs aren’t your thing, how about cuddling cats? There are plenty of shelter cats waiting for something to purr about. As any shelter director will tell you, volunteers are always needed, and are vital in saving and improving animals’ lives.
Animal shelters are everywhere in every size; they may be kill or no-kill, they may be privately owned or government run. Though no two animal shelters are alike, one thing remains constant: they give our best friends a second chance.
Walking shelter dogs won’t end pet overpopulation and it won’t stop animal neglect, but I believe it adds momentum to help us reach those goals. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Guide Dogs for the Blind changes training methods, and the results are amazing.
In the dog-training world, “crossing over” refers to switching from using old-school traditional training methods (catching the dog making a mistake and correcting that mistake) to modern positive- reinforcement methods (catching the dog doing something right and rewarding those good choices).
Quietly and without fanfare, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB)—an organization with a rich history and proven track record of training safe and effective guide dogs—began the process of crossing over almost a decade ago. The results have been nothing short of astounding.
According to Michele Pouliot, GDB’s director of research and development, Karen Pryor Academy faculty member, international Freestyle champion and the force behind the switch, success rates have soared. Using traditional methods, roughly 45 to 50 percent of the dogs entering the formal training process made guide dog status. With the incorporation of clicker training (one type of positive reinforcement), 60 to 85 percent graduate and are successfully paired with a blind partner.
The transition officially began within the training department in 2006. Then, in 2013, GDB adopted an organizationwide mission of maximizing the use of positive reinforcement in all departments. Their current goal is to roll out the changes over a five-year period. All of the dogs in GDB programs— the dogs in formal training, of course, but also the breeding dogs, the smallest puppies and even career-change dogs— will benefit from the commitment to clicker training. For those in the formal training program, the advantages are already clear.
“The dogs are more enthusiastic, better thinkers and problem solvers,” says Pouliot. “Their attitude is over the top. They are confident of the job. They want to do it—they can’t wait to do it!” Pouliot says that dogs who are not part of formal training, such as the breeding dogs, will also gain from the transition. For example, rather than being wrestled on and off exam tables, breeding dogs will be taught to happily get on and off by themselves. This will eliminate some of the stress experienced by both dogs and veterinary staff.
People will also be affected by the switch to clicker-training protocols. Puppy-raising families, volunteers and the blind partners with whom the dogs are paired will all be learning the power of positive reinforcement training. As they are exposed to positive reinforcement, they will learn to notice and acknowledge what the dogs are doing right, rather than looking for mistakes. Those of us who have experienced this transition know that it has the potential to be life altering.
Karen Pryor, CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training, author of Don’t Shoot the Dog and the person largely credited with bringing clicker methods to dog training, is equally excited by how positive reinforcement training affects people. Pryor says that learning to train this way is rewarding, and the training itself can be a powerful experience.
As an example, Pryor says she watched a blind handler learn to teach his dog to find things like the mailbox and a signal- crossing button. “What was really amazing was watching this well-dressed man and the expression on his face when he got to reward his dog. He was empowered in this process, too.”
Pouliot says that the impact of clicker training on the dogs has been more than she originally expected. “We hoped we’d get the same performance, but a happier dog. What we didn’t expect was how much better the performance would be.”
One of the initial challenges Pouliot faced was teaching the dogs to ignore food in the environment. Trainers were concerned that using food in training might make it more difficult for the dogs to learn to leave other food alone—a fair concern, to be sure. What they discovered, however, was just the opposite. Clicker-trained dogs were much more successful at this than dogs trained with traditional techniques.
Part of what worked was having a specific food-delivery protocol—a list of food do’s and don’ts that helped make it clear for the dogs. For example, the dogs are not rewarded on the ground, only by the person handling the dog and only when the dog stands in a specific position. Pouliot says that consistency with the protocol is important to a dog’s success.
Like many monumental changes, GDB’s crossing over had humble beginnings. “I started with Guide Dogs for the Blind in 1974,” says Pouliot. “I grew up with them, learning traditional training techniques: waiting for the dog to do something wrong, correcting it and then praising for the right response.” She was entrenched in traditional training, as was the rest of the organization.
For Pouliot, the change began in 2000 when she explored clicker training with her own dogs and horses. Pouliot says that when she clicker-trained her horses—not just one, but all of them—to retrieve objects from across a field, she knew she was on to something very powerful. “That was my big ‘a-ha’ moment. I was so impressed with the success.”
Inspired, Pouliot went to work trying out clicker training with the guide dog program in mind. She conducted a few unofficial trials, training dogs who had already been dropped from the program for various reasons. One, a young female yellow Lab, was too afraid of other dogs to be successful as a guide dog. Pouliot began clicker training her with the primary goal of reducing her fear. Not only was Pouliot successful in turning around the dog’s fearful response—the young Lab went from being scared to actively engaging with the other dogs—but also, the Lab was able to finish training and go on to be a career guide dog.
This and other equally exciting results encouraged Pouliot and others at GDB to begin an official pilot program. Pouliot and one of the training supervisors, Lori Brown, would formally train two dogs using clicker techniques. Because she had previously worked with dolphins (where positive reinforcement training is the norm), Brown was a natural choice for the pilot program.
The other trainers chose the dogs who would take part in the program; their candidates were considered difficult to work with, which set a very high bar for success. But after just one week, the transition in attitude alone spoke in favor of clicker training. The dogs had switched from being low energy and lacking enthusiasm to being animated and excited.
Following the initial success of the pilot program, Pouliot and her colleagues began working on specific procedures and techniques. By 2006, GDB was educating all 65 trainers on two campuses in this “new” method.
“The transition wasn’t instant,” says Pouliot. “In fact, it has been a long journey.” Because they couldn’t stop the training program long enough to establish the new routines and teach all the staff at once, progress was incremental. “We had to teach the staff in small chunks. Each year, we would add new pieces.”
Pouliot acknowledges that it was a challenge at times. Consider trainers—good trainers with 20 or more years of experience— being asked to learn and embrace new methods. But once they saw for themselves how powerful the method was, everyone got excited, and the transition moved forward at a steady pace.
Guide Dogs for the Blind’s organization-wide crossover to clicker training has and will continue to have a tremendous and powerful effect on the people and animals associated with its programs. But the reach of this transition has already been felt far beyond the immediate scope of the organization. Pouliot and GDB have shared the success of their program with guide-dog trainers worldwide through a series of weeklong seminars.
Pryor says that what GDB and Pouliot have done is not just develop a model for training guide- and other service dogs, but also showed how to reach people and organizations entrenched in traditions, and how to help them successfully make changes.
She also points out that the success of this program and the lessons learned about working in a positive manner for positive changes have had a big influence on her own life, giving her better tools to help with organizational transitions.
The magnitude of change brought about by the use of principles of positive reinforcement will continue to ripple outward to the larger guide dog world, the even larger service-dog-training world and beyond. How far? Imagine the power when a family-dog trainer can say to a doubting client, “These are similar to the methods used by Guide Dogs for the Blind. Let’s give them a try and see if they might work for your dog, too.”
Special thanks to Michele Pouliot and Karen Pryor for their contributions to this article.
The Puppy Handoff
Copyright © 1997-2016 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc