News: Guest Posts
Rent a dog, save a life? Not likely, according to animal advocates
On the surface, FlexPetz founder Marlena Cervantes came up with a smart idea. There are plenty of people who enjoy dogs, but cannot have one of their own. Why not let them borrow a dog for a walk in the park or a weekend excursion? FlexPetz matches one of its dogs to the client’s needs and everybody’s happy, right?
Well, not exactly. “I am concerned that these ‘rent-a-pet’ enterprises devalue the worth of companion animals,” says Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana. “One can now rent them for a few hours and return them as if they were disposable. That is not a message that I would like to send to children.”
Cervantes told a reporter she prefers to use the term “dog time-share,” as though our canine companions are on par with a condo. Such semantics might make for good marketing, but it does not change the fact that these dogs are treated like books checked out from the library. (Cervantes did not return calls or emails requesting an interview for this article.)
“The concept really sickens me,” says Amy Wukotich, a professional dog trainer and director of Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus. “I spend much of my time explaining to clients and adopters how important it is to build a healthy relationship with your dog. This [business] tells the public that relationships don't matter, that a dog is just like any other trendy toy. Use it while it’s convenient, then dump it and move on. The dog’s quality of life isn’t even considered in this arrangement.”
Being shuttled between multiple homes over the course of a week’s time could be confusing or possibly even harmful, depending on the dog’s temperament and health. What does that constant change do to the dog, both mentally and physically?
“We object strongly to any options that would leave pets in limbo, bouncing from home to home for the sheer enjoyment of humans looking for entertainment,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center & Mobile Clinic Outreach Program. “From scientific studies and data collected over several decades, we know that dogs are social animals that form long-lasting bonds to each other and to people. A stable bond is necessary for the well-being of an animal, much like you’d imagine for a child with the caretakers in a family.”
FlexPetz also spins its service as a way to save shelter dogs and prevent other dogs from ending up there. If the dog’s history is unknown, is it wise to press this dog into such service? Even the best-trained, physically healthy and temperamentally sound dog might be stressed under these circumstances. Perhaps more to the point, doesn’t this rent-a-dog concept encourage the disposability of dogs, which is how many of them ended up in the shelter in the first place?
Buchwald says there are many options for a doggie fix that are in the dog’s best interest, too. For example, volunteers are always welcome at shelters where they can help socialize and exercise dogs until they find a permanent home. For those who are uncomfortable in a shelter environment, volunteering with a breed rescue, whose adoptable dogs are already safe in foster homes, is another viable alternative. Family, friends and neighbors with dogs would also appreciate help exercising their dog or pet-sitting while they’re on vacation.
“Many elderly people have to give up their pets because they’re physically challenged and can’t take care of them,” says Buchwald. “Helping elderly people care for their dogs is a great way to get interaction with a dog if you can’t manage full-time ownership.”
Read a Newsweek update here.
Winner of free private screening of Hotel for Dogs to be announced soon
(Update: Thanks to everyone who nominated a deserving shelter and rescue organization. It's been inspiring to hear about all the wonderful efforts to help companion animals around the country. The contest is now closed to entries. We'll announce the winner of the Hotel for Dogs screening soon.)
Thanks In the new movie Hotel for Dogs, a couple of street-smart siblings in a foster home with a strict no-pets policy hide a feisty Jack Russell Terrier in an abandoned hotel. With the help of a few friends, they are soon providing love and shelter to a motley assortment of city strays, keeping them happy, healthy and well fed with some truly ingenious inventions. (Go behind the scenes with Alysia Gray Painter in the Jan/Feb '09 issue.)
While vending machines that spit out shoes for chewers and automatic ball launchers aren’t available in most shelters or foster homes, Hotel for Dogs celebrates something very real—the heart, hard work and creativity behind every successful rescue effort. That’s what Bark loves about this movie, and why we’re thrilled to share it with folks who know all about fighting the good fight for dogs.
In partnership with Bark, Paramount Pictures is offering a free private screening of Hotel for Dogs to a shelter organization or rescue group (and its choice of employees, volunteers and supporters) at a local movie theater. From humane societies to small grass-roots networks, all are welcome. Entries should be posted as comments below, so that we can all read about these inspiring programs to help homeless companion animals.
HOW TO ENTER: Nominate your favorite shelter or rescue in 100 words or less as a comment below by February 15, 2009. No phone calls. A winning organization will be selected at random from all qualified nominations and announced on TheBark.com. Please note: Multiple entries from the same address or duplicate entries will be disqualified. Screening can be held Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, excluding holidays, in a 200-seat theater. Theater location based upon availability.
Important fine print: This film is rated PG. All federal, state and local regulations apply. A recipient of prizes assumes any and all risks related to use of prizes and accepts any restrictions required by prize provider. Paramount Pictures, Terry Hines and Associates, Bark Magazine and their affiliates accept no responsibility or liability in connection with any loss or accident incurred in connection with use of a prize. Prizes cannot be exchanged, transferred or redeemed for cash, in whole or in part. We are not responsible if, for any reason, winner is unable to use his/her prizes in whole or in part. Not responsible for lost, delayed or misdirected entries. All federal and local taxes are the responsibility of the winner. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. Participating sponsors their employees and family members and their agencies are not eligible.
News: Guest Posts
These days, dogs on the small screen are doing less fetching and romping and more relating. On The Sarah Silverman Program, a Chihuahua-Pug mix named Doug, is essentially Silverman's rent boy. Last night, she amped things up by declaring herself engaged to Doug (mostly to rain on her sister’s betrothal). It's edgy, funny stuff—the sort of thing that keeps Prop 8-proponents up at night. While the interspecies nuptials are getting some buzz, that canine plot-twist is timid compared to an earlier episode.
In a new series, Puppy Love, created by Amy B. Harris (of Sex in the City fame) a parade of dogs serve as boyfriends, chick magnets and child-surrogates to anxiety-prone New Yorkers. My favorite sequences are during closing credits, when actors, such as Alicia Witt and Janel Maloney, describe their rescue co-stars—who, by the way, steal most of the scenes. These shorts are available at L Studio hosted by Lexus (yes, the carmaker), which attracted headline talent (working for free) with a $50,000 donation to the ASPCA.
For six years, they shared a 25-acre enclosure at the base of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains with a pack of gray wolves. Their office was a Mongolian yurt; their sleeping quarters, a canvas tent. In the winter, the path to the outhouse required frequent shoveling to clear the snow away. This was the life of Jim and Jamie Dutcher, awardwinning documentary filmmakers. Their book, The Hidden Life of Wolves, is the culmination of this unique experience.
Although the book is oversized and contains hundreds of the Dutchers’ compelling photographs (as well as beautifully rendered maps and illustrations), it is not a skimmable coffee-table tome. An extensive study of wolves both inside and outside of the enclosure, it is comparable in depth to Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men.
The Hidden Life of Wolves details their social structure, hunting techniques and body language (among other things) as well as human-influenced issues, including the Yellowstone and central Idaho wolf reintroductions of the mid ’90s. The Dutchers explore similarities between the eradication of wolves in the 1800s and the current explosion of wolf hunting and trapping, which became legal when wolves were dropped from the Endangered Species List in 2011. Solutions to wolf problems, including livestock depredation, are discussed, and the “Little Red Riding Hood” myth is thoroughly debunked. The Dutchers also incorporate insights from a number of respected authorities, including Aldo Leopold, Gordon Haber, L. David Mech and Carter Niemeyer.
Acknowledging the vast disparity of opinion on Canis lupus, the Dutchers suggest that the wolf “may be the greatest shape-shifter in the animal kingdom.” Through intensive observation of their hand-raised pack, which they assembled from rescue centers in Montana and Minnesota, the Dutchers gained intimate knowledge of the inner workings of wolves. They came to the conclusion that their extremely social and complex subjects were “neither demon, nor deity, nor data.”
Readers come to know the Sawtooth wolves. Kamots, the benevolent leader, maintains order without undue force. Littermate Lakota is larger than Kamots, yet remains at the bottom of the pecking order, often harassed by the others; younger brother Matsi comes to his rescue, blocking blows from the aggressors. Clever Wyakin, a small female, loves to snatch extra food and cache it for later.
These individuals and other members of the pack are brought to life as they interact with one another and with the Dutchers, who record them with cameras and sound devices. Though their hearts are never quite out of the picture, the couple observes at a distance that allows for an objective view.
With a foreword by Robert Redford, The Hidden Life of Wolves is a richly layered work that speaks to the complicated and controversial place wolves occupy in the human imagination. While some consider them embodiments of a litany of evils, the Dutchers maintain that “more than wolves themselves, it is our relationship with them that needs to be managed.” Their aptly titled book provides a valuable roadmap to guide us through this process.
McConnell Publishing, Ltd., 96 pp., 2011; $9.95
Volunteer long enough with shelter dogs and you develop a long list of their needs — each as essential as the last — that you absolutely must share with adoptive parents as they walk out the door with one of “your” pups. She loves belly rubs! Oh, he’s a bit scared of men, especially men wearing hats. Watch her with the cats; remember that when her prey drive kicks in, she may lose her manners. They’re common enough concerns, but we can’t squeeze them all in, let alone talk about how to work with these issues.
Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home by renowned animal behaviorists Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Karen London, PhD, is the next best thing to following the dog home (and a whole lot more articulate). This slim book from two powerhouse experts covers all the basics of adopting an adolescent or adult dog, preparing you for success when bringing the new family member into any kind of home — even one with kids, cats or other dogs.
Given that adopted dogs have their own unique histories, half of the book is dedicated to very brief considerations of the most common behavioral problems, which include house-training, fear of strangers and resource guarding. From its smart tips for dog-proofing in advance and the car trip home to sound advice on bonding, training and establishing daily routines, Love Has No Age Limit is a gift, one that will help everyone successfully weather the first month’s experiences. It would be an ideal addition to take-home packets supplied by shelters, rescues and breeders. Assuming you won’t let a volunteer tag along, that is.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Severn House Publishers, 224pp., 2011; $28.95
It’s been way too long since the last Holly Winter mystery hit the shelves — 2007, to be precise, when All Shots was released. But finally, oh finally, our patience is rewarded with the 19th in the series: Brute Strength.
Fights, frights and mysteries break out at every turn in this new book. Amazingly, none of them are of the canine variety. Rather, Holly’s family and friends are the ones doing the scrapping. Turning down adoption applicants for her local Alaskan Malamute rescue group doesn’t win Holly any points, either. The big story, however, is the way catastrophe seems to surround a new neighbor, a woman with a gorgeous and slightly overweight Malamute female, the latter of whom has her almond-shaped eyes on Sammy, Holly’s young Mal.
Add references to Jane Austen, clueless (and careless) breeders, and observations on real-life training techniques and the scientific investigation of dog cognition and you have a literary meal dense and rich enough for the hungriest Malamute. Speaking of which … Over the years, I’ve learned as much about the behavior of northern breeds by reading this series as I have from much more serious works. At least once, and usually more often, I find myself smiling in recognition as Conant describes a typical behavior — in this case, the mealtime feeding frenzy, which Holly chooses not to train her dogs out of: “I have seen sick and dying dogs become indifferent to food and refuse it altogether. These raucous displays of appetite are confirmations of health, and I revel in every leap and every shriek.” To which I say amen.
As she frequently does, Conant keeps multiple story lines going, wrapping them up tidily at the end, albeit with a major scare as part of the conclusion. Now, when’s the 20th Holly Winter mystery coming out?
Skyhorse Publishing, 240 pp., 2009; $14.95
Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue of St. Louis (strayrescue.org), started his canine-focused career by driving around East St. Louis every morning before work, searching for feral dogs and spending weeks taming them. From those early years came an acclaimed book, The Man Who Talks to Dogs, coauthored with writer Melinda Roth.
Now Grim and Roth have collaborated on another book—one that sent them into gales of laughter every time they sat down to write. It’s called Don’t Dump the Dog, and it’s Grim’s answer to every lamebrained excuse he’s ever heard from people returning dogs to his shelter.
He wrote it to convince his therapist he wasn’t the crazy one.
Every week at therapy, Grim would throw himself on the couch and rail against human idiocy. For the dogs, he had nothing but sympathy. But for the woman who wanted to dump her dog because her boyfriend didn’t like him? Or the one who wanted to trade her senior dog for a puppy because he was getting gray around the muzzle and bumping into things? Or the guy who wanted to exchange a high-energy dog for a couch potato who’d watch TV? Only exasperated fury.
Some of Grim’s answers need no more than a line: “Dump the boyfriend.” But between these “Quick Fixes,” he inserts hysterically funny chapters laced with the most practical dog-behavior advice around. His favorite trick is teaching a dog to relax; his favorite training tool is hot dogs.He’s endearingly neurotic himself (he’ll let dog throw-up sit for days because he has “avoidance issues,” and he resorts to vodka or Xanax as needed).As a result, the book’s never preachy—but it’s immensely instructive.Grim’s expertise with ferals yields solutions for abused, timid, aggressive or hyper dogs.
What he can’t solve are the people. People return dogs because they bark— “Did they expect them to sing Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ chorus at the door?” They return dogs because they’re moving, or having a baby—“That, I just don’t get at all.” He says he left out some of the best—like the guy who complained that the dog was lazy, or the woman with white furniture who wanted to exchange a white puppy because his fur darkened in adulthood.
He was afraid nobody would believe him.
St. Martin’s Press; $24.99
Adding to the long (and growing) list of dog-related memoirs, Steve Duno’s Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou tells the story of a dog who truly is extraordinary. Lou saves the lives of people and dogs, takes down criminals, and has a profound impact on just about every creature with whom he comes in contact.
Fate, if one believes in such things, plays a central role in Last Dog on the Hill, beginning with Duno’s first glimpse of Lou, his mother and littermates scurrying up a hill beside a northern California highway. Duno and his girlfriend stop the car and get out for a better look at the pups. Duno whistles, “just to see what would happen.” All of the dogs continue into the tree line at the top of the hill … except for one: “the last dog on the hill,” who, though feral, “made a mad downhill dash toward us, as if recognizing someone.”
When Duno hesitantly allowed the flea- and tick-infested, six-month-old Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix into his car, it marked the beginning of a nearly 16-year friendship. It was a friendship that would change the lives of both man and dog in more ways than Duno could have imagined were possible, perhaps most significantly by inspiring Duno to become a dog trainer and an author of pet care and training manuals. And while some of Duno’s ideas about dog training and “dominance theory” (barely noticeable in this book, but evident in some of his others) are outdated, his relationship with Lou is clearly based on love and trust, and is immensely rewarding for both of them, as well as those around them.
It’s easy to anthropomorphize when writing about dogs, and Duno does. But Lou, with his keen ability to sniff out bad guys and assist in the rehabilitation of fearful and aggressive dogs, provides a persuasive argument for anthropomorphizing, and doing so doesn’t affect the strength of Duno’s prose, which is engaging and even lyrical at times: “The essential crime committed against all dog owners is born of the love we hold for them, which, like the love of a child, runs deep. No parent should have to bury a child, they say, but that is what we dog owners must do, not once but time after time, throughout our lives. While we remain unchangeable to their sweet eyes, they run from birth to the grave in an instant of our own measure.”
Lou, not unlike Ted Kerasote’s Merle, is a once-in-a-lifetime dog who teaches even more than he learns, gives far more than he takes. Duno, in a fitting tribute to his best friend, offers Lou’s story to us, and we are better for it. As Duno puts it, “Lou set me straight. He gave me these words. He wrote this story.”
When Julie Klam was 30 years old, single and living in a tiny New York City studio apartment, she rescued a Boston Terrier and named him Otto. Initially described to her as a dog who just needed a little love—evoking images of “the dog version of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree”—Otto helped Klam grow up, figure herself out and embrace responsibility.
In what the author refers to as her “dogoir,” Klam recounts, in charming, heartfelt and often seriously funny detail, her experiences with Otto, her subsequent Boston, Beatrice (adopted when Klam was married and very pregnant) and the many dogs she’s fostered through her work with Boston Terrier rescue. Structuring the book into specific, light-hearted life lessons (How to Listen to that Small, Still Voice; How to Keep the Yin from Strangling the Yang), Klam explores, in a unique and never preachy way, an important truth about the enormous amount of love dogs can bring into people’s lives if they are given a chance. “I began to understand that ‘dog’ was its own category of ‘love,’” Klam writes. “Sometimes you just need to hold and kiss a member of the dog species. Even when humans are available.”
Klam also discovered that sometimes people don’t get the dog they want, but they get the dog they need. For dog lovers, this book is both what they want and what they need. Klam’s writing has such a warm, friendly and engaging quality that it’s as if your best friend is telling you wonderful stories about her dogs. You Had Me at Woof is a book that, upon completion, makes you think about sending the author pictures of all your own dogs and asking her many questions.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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