shelters & rescues
Tracey Stewart, author of the new book, in conversation with The Bark
Tracey Stewart has had a constellation of careers (some simultaneously): animal advocate, creator/editor-in-chief of the digital parenting magazine Moomah, writer for Huffington Post, vet tech, graphic designer. She and husband Jon—yes, that Jon Stewart—live in New Jersey with their two children, four dogs, two horses, two pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, one parrot and two fish. As she notes, “all rescues, except for the children.” With the forthcoming publication of Do Unto Animals (Artisan), beautifully illustrated by Lisel Ashlock, she’s now added author to her portfolio.
In your book, you mention that raising children, at least during their younger years, is a lot like your work in the vet field. Are there other similarities that make raising your human family a little easier?
Nothing prepares you for raising a human family. That first day you wake up with a baby, you just have to keep running to stay ahead. When I was pregnant, people would say, “Don’t worry, you’ll know what to do once the baby arrives.” That’s a bunch of hooey! You’ve got to educate yourself and change your technique as your child develops.
I believe this is true of “parenting” an animal as well. My family is constantly trying to learn how to do better for our animals. We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and take the best care of them that we can. Every day, we learn something new. It’s a family passion.
Shelter-based projects are one of the ways you and your family express that passion. How can children—and adults, for that matter—become active in this type of volunteerism?
Sometimes, the best way is to start with the closest shelter that shares your values. The easier it is to get there, the more likely you are to visit. We were lucky that our local shelter had aligned itself with a humane education program that invited children in for activities and education.
Even if your local shelter doesn’t offer something specific, be creative. Most shelters are hard at work taking care of their animals. They can use all the generosity you have to give. Offer whatever skills you have to help. Come up with your own idea and reach out. It’s really wonderful to have a personal relationship with a shelter.
And you don’t have to wait for a program to exist. When we’ve been on vacation, my daughter has gone to local shelters and offered to read to their animals.
How do you explain to young children that not all animals in shelters will be rehomed?
Honesty is always the best approach. The older the child, the more details I’m comfortable sharing. I usually know how much or how little information to give each child. Not that I haven’t made the mistake of answering big life questions with more information than my kids want. At that point, they give me a puzzled look and interrupt me with, “Okay, Mommy, is that it?”
As with any topic that is frustrating and sad, I find it helps to look at the positive and to focus on what we can actually do to help. Helping animals has shown my kids the strength of their voices and actions.
You point out that “an animal’s presence in a shelter often says a lot more about the person who surrendered them than about the animal.” Unfortunately, people seem to equate shelters with behavior problems. How do you counteract that perception?
I think we need to tell people to take a moment to ponder the many failings of members of the human race, and then imagine the gold that must get left at shelters every day. Having spent so much time in shelters, I can personally attest to the fact that fantastic animals are just waiting to be given a chance with a reasonable and kind human being. Shelter animals with the most daunting behavioral issues, such as extreme fear or aggression, are usually euthanized, especially if there is a history of biting. Sadly, however, animals with absolutely no serious behavioral problems are euthanized as well, due to lack of space and resources and because no one came to take a look at them.
You also mention virtual adoption. How does that work?
Virtual adoption is a way to help shelter animals without bringing them into your house. Let’s face it, we can only bring so many animals home before we have to worry about accusations of hoarding. Even if your home is already full, you have allergies or a hectic work schedule, you travel or any other of a host of obstacles, there is still so much you can do to help animals find their forever homes. When our family reached maximum capacity, my kids chose a shelter dog or cat to champion. They’d make posters, decorate cages with lovely messages, and make videos and buttons. They’d drop off enrichment toys for their surrogate animal to play with. Social media offers endless opportunities to get the word out as well.
Why is fostering a pet such a good idea for the whole family?
I know that my kids feel really proud when we’re part of finding an animal a loving home. And my husband is relieved when we’re successful because it means we won’t be adding another member to the household. For me, it’s therapy. I lean toward generalized anxiety and am always worried about one thing or the other, except when I’m fostering an animal. There is something soothing and peaceful about taking care of and creating peace for an animal who has been through so much. I’m able to put all my petty concerns aside and just be.
Tell us more about your wildlife rehab center as well as your sanctuary to rescue farm animals.
Our “wildlife rehab center” is nothing official. Mostly, we make sure our home is well prepared to help an animal until we can get it to a licensed wildlife rehabber. (People can sometimes unintentionally harm an animal when they don’t know what they’re doing.) We have all the emergency numbers at the ready. We also make sure that we don’t unintentionally harm the wildlife in the back yard with harmful chemicals. We give a loud holler before we let the dogs into the yard, and we provide lots of food and shelter. My car is always equipped with a container with air holes, dog treats, a leash and protective gloves.
The animal sanctuary is on its way to becoming official, but doing it right requires time. Last year, I took a course at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Their national shelter director, Susie Coston, taught it and it was a real eye-opener. I remember thinking that by the end of the conference, some of the attendees would have been discouraged from starting their own sanctuary.
Doing right by animals is no small task, and many well-meaning people get in over their heads. Then people and animals suffer. If you’re thinking of starting a sanctuary yourself, I would encourage taking this class. If you still think you’re capable of doing a great job when you complete it, then march on. If you don’t, give your passion to the animals at an already-existing sanctuary.
Sanctuaries need to be able to provide quality individual care to their rescues. They need to educate, educate and then educate some more. We are so out of touch with the animals we call food. We need to meet them.
The number of animals a sanctuary can save will never be enough. In the U.S., about 25 million land animals are killed for food daily.
What role do your husband and kids play in all this?
Fortunately for me, my entire family has an intense love for animals. I get away with a lot because Jon is such a softie. He has his own projects, but enjoys mine immensely. He’ll sometimes pretend to be exasperated when I tell him things like, “Honey, there are five goats sleeping in our garage tonight. The rescue will—I hope—come for them in the morning,” but I know he loves it. (Right, honey?? Right?!) My kids are essential in all of this craziness. They have feeding, enrichment and training duties. They are constantly teaching me new things about animals.
Among other things, you comment on dog tail- and ear-cropping and cat declawing. In other countries, these practices are thought to be inhumane and oftentimes are illegal. Why are we still doing it here?
My understanding is that one of the reasons this practice still goes on in the U.S. is due to some no-good politics. Other folks speak to that more articulately than I can, but what I do know is dogs’ ears and tails are important to their ability to communicate, and that declawing cats is painful and deforming. Lots of people think that because it’s been done for so long, it must be all right. It’s not!
You also take on the demonization of the Pit Bull. You’ve lived with Pit Bulls; why do you think they’ve gotten such a “bad rap”?
Myths abound. Lazy reporting and a desire to grab people’s attention with sensationalized stories have been implicit in the destruction and abuse of too many innocent creatures.
The reality is that Pit Bulls are smart, loyal and strong, qualities that unfortunately attracted the attention of unsavory types in the ’80s and ’90s. Criminals exploited Pit Bulls’ natural tendencies for the purpose of profit. Because they are usually so devoted to their owners, Pit Bulls could be trusted not to bite them while concurrently obeying their commands to fight.
Pit Bulls are being overbred, are not being spayed or neutered, and are treated as disposable. Couple that with the backlash against them and you can understand why our shelters are filled with Pit Bulls. It is estimated that 2,800 Pit Bulls are euthanized in the U.S. every day.
If BSL laws are in place to protect the communities, communities should be up in arms about the money being wasted. These laws don’t make communities safer. Education does! Pit Bulls do not bite more than other breeds. However, the media often labels dogs who have bitten people as Pit Bulls; their mantra is, “If it bit, it must be a Pit.”
Breed doesn’t appear among the factors relevant to dog-bite fatalities. According to a study done by the CDC, of the 256 dog-bite fatalities between 2000 and 2009, 84 percent were intact males, 76 percent were kept as guard or yard dogs rather than family pets, and 28 percent involved owners with a history of reported pet abuse. History, not breed, determines a dog's behavior. Humans, not dogs, are the variable.
By and large, dogs are at the mercy of human decisions, and when humans make poor decisions, dogs suffer and communities become less safe. Let’s put money now being spent on enforcing BSL laws toward educating communities about dog behavior and safety rather than blaming dogs—put it behind teaching people the importance of spay and neuter, dog behavior, and positive training methods.
Acts of animal cruelty are linked to violence against people. Communities would be safer if animal cruelty cases were enforced.
On a less weighty note, as an avid DIYer, I really love the simple projects you include in the book. But why did you include them?
The thing I like about hand-made projects is that they force people to drop everything else and ponder for a bit. And, if you want to engage people and keep them motivated to keep doing for others, you have to make it fun! DIY projects are a great way to get kids involved. Sitting together working on these projects provides time for conversation, and taking these projects to the animals is incredibly satisfying.
When their efforts feed their souls, people are less likely to burn out and more likely to continue helping. Animals do that for me. Whether it’s animals or something else, I would encourage readers to take some time to figure out what really makes them feel great about helping.
Your book’s theme of bettering the lives of animals should be popular with readers of all ages. What do you hope to achieve?
If nothing else, I hope Do Unto Animals inspires people to do just a little more. If we all did a little more, a lot of good could come from it. Lives are busy and tons of things are going wrong in the world. It can be overwhelming and depressing, but it helps to feel like you’re pushing back with positive action. What’s wonderful about animals is that they’re all around us. Opportunities to make a difference abound.
I’d love to inspire all animal lovers to constantly learn and seek out new information. Don’t take information at face value. Do your homework. Raise questions. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learning about suffering and wrongdoing isn’t as devastating to your soul when you’re working on the solution. The more I learn, the better I do, and each day I’m doing better than the last.
What’s next for the Stewart family?
I know Jon is looking forward to going to the carwash (he loves that!), stopping by his favorite smoothie place, being with our kids a glorious amount of time and keeping an eye on me. I’m guessing that I’m not going to be able to get away with sneaking so many animals into the house once he’s not at the show every day.
This interview has been edited.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Being prepared ahead of time can mean the difference between life and death
We just finished remembering the ten year anniversary of the Katrina disaster and those of us in Northern California are coping with our own crisis. It’s been a terrible fire season this summer but the most recent lake county fire blew up overnight destroying over 500 homes and evacuating 19,000 people. There has been at least one human fatality and endless animals have been lost or displaced. Pets and horses panicked and bolted forcing people to flee without them and those who were able to keep their pets with them often had no time to grab even the most basic supplies.
As an animal control officer I have worked many disasters from floods to fires and I assisted in evacuating animals from this fire as well. Tragedies like this are a good reminder to be prepared for the unexpected. Simple things like always keeping leashes and a list of phone numbers in your vehicle are a start. It’s a good idea to do some research before you need it. Not all emergency shelters allow pets so find out which hotels allow dogs and have a list of friends who might be able to help house your pets in a pinch. Also have a designated caretaker for your pets in case you are injured or ill and unable to care for them. Keep a list of vets and boarding kennels both near and far. In some cases entire counties are affected so it’s good to have a variety of options. Having your dogs crate trained and accustomed to riding in the car and going places always helps make things easier in an emergency.
Current microchips and tags are always useful especially if they have alternate numbers as well. One friend was displaced by the fire and staying in a hotel with her dog. The dog panicked and bolted and was running the streets without collar or microchip. The dog was found safe at the shelter but she would have been back with her people in an hour had she had ID. At least she was ok but the delay in getting her back was added stress to everyone. Some people didn’t even have time to grab their phones so having a friend or relative’s number also listed on tags and chips can make a difference. In a pinch, take a permanent marker and write your phone number on the dog’s collar or even on the dogs themselves. Microchips are amazing and can’t be lost but they must have current information to be helpful. Keep the chip number handy so that you can call and update your info with the company if your pet is lost during a disaster. Chips and tags together are your dogs best chance to find their way home.
Keeping a supply of food, water and your pet’s medications handy is critical and crates can be used to house dogs almost anywhere. The dogs can be leash walked as needed and crated the rest of the time. Not ideal but much better than having them escape or be unsafe. Along with leashes, keep a first aid kit, flashlights, batteries, poop bags, and a recent photo of your pet in your car. If there is room, blankets and crates are always handy to keep in the vehicle.
Give a set of keys to a trusted friend or neighbor, or have them hidden in a safe place so others have access to your pets if you are injured or away from home when a disaster hits. Leaving a few days worth of water is a good idea even if you just going out for the day. Things can happen so fast and often roads are closed and even residents aren’t allowed back in.
Being prepared ahead of time can mean the difference between life and death for both yourself and your dog in times of disaster.
Dog's Life: Humane
The first week of September saw a heartwarming example of positive political action when California lawmakers of all persuasions voted to make shelter animals the new official state pet. In both the Assembly and the Senate, the votes were all ayes, no nays.
ACR-56, introduced by Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), is numbers-driven bill. As it points out, there are currently around 8,000,000 abandoned pets living in animal shelters in the United States, and of these, 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 are euthanized every year.
Like shelters everywhere, those in California stretch to help the animals who come into their care, and it's a big, big job. It's hoped that greater public awareness will get more dogs and cats (and the occasional rabbit, guinea pig or chicken) out of shelter care and into forever homes.
Though the numbers are daunting, keep this in mind: every single adoption makes a difference. The dogs and cats who find new homes also find new lives. For them, it's a 100 percent win.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Accept and respect who your dog is
Today a client asked me what the best advice is for a friend who is about to adopt a dog from a rescue organization. So often, such general questions give me great pause. I’m often inclined to hedge and say, “It depends” or “There’s no single response to such a question.” Normally, if I do choose to give a specific answer to a sweeping question, I regret my choice and change my mind later. In this case, though, I do have an answer, thanks to a woman with a rescue dog who posted a comment on Patricia McConnell’s blog The Other End of the Leash.
The blog was a query to readers when we were in the early stages of writing Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog Into Your Home. We already had strong ideas about what we wanted to include in the book, and had even written an outline. Still, we wanted input from other people with experience adopting from shelters and rescue groups or adopting dogs with difficult pasts. In the blog, Trisha asked readers what they wanted to know when they adopted an adult dog and what they thought were the most important things for adopters to know. We were thrilled with the responses to the blog.
Among the many wonderful comments, one reply stood out. Judi, herself a guardian of rescue dogs, said something that we loved so much that we knew immediately that we had to include it in our book. Here’s what she said:
“See the dog, not the story.”
We considered this sentiment so beautiful and profound that we expanded on what it means to us with this paragraph in the book:
See the Dog, Not the Story. This is excellent advice from someone with a rescue dog. What your new dog needs most of all is the same thing a person needs—to be accepted and respected for who they are, to be “heard” and understood, rather than to be labeled. You may have been told a number of stories about your dog’s history, but although it can be valuable to gather information, it’s important not to label your dog for the rest of his life as, for example, “abused” or “neglected.” Your goal, beyond providing your new dog a safe and stable environment, is to honor him by letting him tell you who he is right now, accepting that, and acting accordingly. Just as you are no longer that little girl or boy who got bullied on the playground (or who did the bullying), your dog will grow and change as time goes on. Do all you can to see him for who he is NOW, not who he was years ago or who you think he should be.
When the juggernaut that was Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it taught the nation some hard lessons about the need to provide disaster assistance for both people and their companion animals. When told by emergency personnel that they couldn’t bring their four-legged family members with them, many chose to stay behind rather than abandon the dogs and cats who trusted them.
In the days and weeks that followed, groups and individuals from across the country converged on the Gulf Coast for what’s been called the largest animal rescue operation in history. The following year, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which directed FEMA to take the essential needs of individuals with household pets and service animals, and of the animals themselves, into account.
Ten years on, the phrase “Not without my dog” has been taken seriously, and the depth of emotion that binds us to our animal companions continues to inspire.BREED EXEMPLAR
Sally. Among the first group of dogs evacuated from New Orleans by the Marin Humane Society, Sally landed at San Francisco International Airport on September 11, 2005, and within hours, was charming the local media right out of its collective socks. A few days later, she was photographed for her debut as Bark’s Winter 2005 cover dog. According to her person, Sheri Cardo, 11-year-old, Sally continues to spread her Pit Bull love far and wide.AIDE-DE-CAMP
Katrina. While Bill Daugaard was leading a rescue team in New Orleans’ Eighth Ward in September 2005, he watched the liberation of a dog (above) who had been locked in a house for 22 days. Something about her spoke to him, but before he could put his name in to foster her, she was on her way to Los Angeles. Long story short, he found her, adopted her, named her Katrina and took her home to Seattle.ADOPTION HELPER
Boots. The Golden/Chow mix with the badly burned feet was rescued from St. Bernard Parish by a group of EAMTs from the Arizona Humane Society and transported to AHS’s Second Chance Animal Hospital in Phoenix for treatment. Shortly thereafter, his foster home became his forever home. For the past two years, Boots (above) has been returning the favor by volunteering as AHS’s kitten nanny, helping five- to eight-week-old felines acclimate to dogs (and thus become more adoptable).SQUADRON MASCOT
Katrina. Each time a helicopter from the 301st Rescue Squadron landed on the 1-10 overpass in New Orleans to take on stranded hurricane victims, an intrepid little Beagle would rush toward the craft and station herself nearby. On the last run, Pilot Mike Brasher (above) and his crew realized that she was alone, and took her with them. Brasher adopted her, and she became his squadron’s mascot. Now 15, she lives the good life in Fla.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Abby, the Pit Bull, gets a home and Jan gets a best friend
The beautiful brindle and white dog leapt joyfully in the surf, racing and playing with a large group of dogs. Abby’s striking blue eyes mirrored the sky and her sleek, shiny coat glistened in the salt water. She came back periodically to check in with Jan, her adopter, and the two of them had a playful exchange before Abby raced back into the ocean. Abby spends most of her Mondays at the off-leash beach now and the rest of the week cuddling at home, playing, walking with Jan or snoozing on her cushy bed.
It wasn’t always this way for Abby. She was found in an abandoned house, skin and bone and nursing ten puppies. When a Good Samaritan took them to the shelter, her luck changed for the better. She and the pups were treated for fleas, ticks and worms and I took them home to foster. After a few months of good care the pups were adopted and the search began for the perfect home for Abby.
I have fostered hundreds of dogs and Abby is as nice a dog as you could ever find. Mellow but playful, gentle and sweet, and wonderful with dogs, cats, kids, strangers etc. Truly a prize. Someone must have loved her once and I wondered how she fell on hard times. The fact that Abby is was what could loosely be described as a Pit Bull made it more challenging to find a home.
I had been communicating with Jan for a while because she was looking for a dog to adopt. Her Boston Terrier had died a few years previously and she was ready for a new companion. She wanted to adopt a dog in need and had been looking at shelter dogs for a while. She looked at Boston’s and visited with an adorable fluffy little mix breed but nothing was quite the right match. She never planned to adopt a Pit Bull and her husband Mickey didn’t like the idea at all initially. I’ll let Jan tell the story in her own words:
“Convincing Mickey was HARD! And to be honest it was because she was a Pit Bull. I felt like a five year old trying to convince dad that she was the perfect dog. I knew in my heart of hearts, I JUST KNEW! I didn't have a tantrum but I was close. I was nervous to do this, but I told him to come out when I came to first meet her. When we got to your house all I wanted was for her to win Mickey over. I came out knowing she was meant to be ours, I trusted my gut. When we got in the car to drive home I had to walk around the subject of Abby and slowly let it sink in with him. By the next morning he was sold!
Our life has changed in unimaginable ways since we adopted her. WE are both happier souls with her in our home. She is an amazing companion. I feel like I have a new best friend. She makes me giggle and brings out my playful/silly side. And I love seeing Mickey with her. He loves her so much and the sweetest side ever comes out with her. A side I have never seen. It is fun to “parent” someone who is “ours” together too. And I have healed some past pain around parenting with a partner because of Abby. The way that has happened is that when she has needed care/feeding/walking/comfort/middle of the night anything/etc he has been there right by my side. I NEVER had that from my ex-husband with my daughters. This is a gift to be able to heal the past.
And then connecting with so many other women, you included, at the beach on Mondays and also on Facebook is so cool.”
One last thing is the pride I feel when I tell people that we adopted her and tell them her story. I feel so happy that we did that and it has made me such an advocate for adoption. The two times a day walks have also been great! It's a great way to see the neighborhood and she loves it too. Forces me to get out and exercise!"
I find it wonderful that Jan adopted the dog that was right for her situation and didn’t let breed prejudices get in the way of finding the perfect companion. I would love for our readers to share how they ended up with a dog that was a breed they never thought they would have.
News: Guest Posts
Fostering can be the key
I’ve been working in animal shelters for more than 25 years and I fall in love almost every day. I get my heart broke just about every day too but it’s worth it to get to spend time with and help so many amazing dogs and other animals. I started as a shelter volunteer, then a kennel cleaner and have worked in just about every capacity since then. I’ve done temperament testing, adoption counseling, vet tech, management and now animal control officer. I’ve seen a lot of improvements in sheltering over the years and I’ve seen a lot of shelter bashing.
I recently saw a comment on social media where the person stated that “all shelters suck.” That was painful to read and certainly not true. Often shelters are the first place an animal hears a kind word or gets the medical care they need. It can be a place to recover from abuse or find a forever home, to learn to trust or learn social skills that will help them get adopted. I have seen so many dogs come into our shelter as miserable, broken shells and prance out the door, shiny and healthy and full of life, ready to take on the world with their adopters. I’ve also seen dogs returned to frantic owners after the shelter took them in and kept them safe. Lots of happy reunions happen in shelters.
All shelters need community involvement to reach their full potential though and it’s true that many shelters aren’t performing at their best whether it’s due to lack of resources, overwhelming populations, poor management or other issues. It’s so easy to criticize but so hard to roll up our sleeves and make a difference. Even a small donation or just an hour a week can make life sweeter for shelter dogs. There are so many ways that a little time can make a big difference. Walking dogs, doing some training, working at adoption events and photographing adoptable dogs can all help a dog find a new home. Some of our local groomers even come in and donate grooming. There’s nothing like seeing some dirty, matted, neglected dog transformed into a sweet smelling beauty.
Recently some of our shelter volunteers have seen an area of huge need and addressed it. Our shelter, like so many others, has been inundated with large, energetic, untrained dogs, many of them bully breeds. The public isn’t always eager to adopt these rowdy pups and they were being overlooked in our kennel. One volunteer, Christine, saw the issue and started fostering these dogs one by one in her home. She teaches them some manners, learns what their strong and weak points are and posts the heck out of them on social media. Dogs that had been in the shelter system for many months sometimes get adopted within days of going into foster care. Christine even started a Facebook page called The Tiny Pit Bull to promote these dogs. She works together with some of our photographers and they, along with the rest of the staff and volunteers, are making a huge difference in improving life for our shelter dogs. Christine’s involvement has encouraged others to help and its changing our shelter for the better.
Fostering can have life changing and even life saving benefit for shelter dogs. Some dogs are too sensitive to thrive or show their best in a shelter environment. They may be shut down, huddled in the back, growling in terror or refusing to interact. Many of these dogs blossom almost immediately once in a home, others take longer, but all can improve in the right situation. Yes it’s hard to part with them when they leave for their new homes. Yes we choke back tears when we say good-bye, but it’s not about us, it’s about the dog getting a great home. And if heaven forbid, you just can’t part with the foster, then an animal still gets a great home and the foster gets a loving companion.
It’s time to be the change we want to see in our local shelters. The animals need us. What do you do to make a difference?
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?
News: Guest Posts
How The World's Worst Dog Became Our Shelter's Best Teacher
Eddie was not a particularly magnanimous little dog. While he was sweet and loving with people he knew, he was a snarling, snapping nightmare with children and other dogs. As he weighed less than ten pounds, it was a manageable situation but who would want to manage it? Making matters worse, he was a tan Chihuahua in an area up to its ears in tan Chihuahuas. If shelters in other states suffer from an overabundance of wonderful large black dogs, California has a Chihuahua overpopulation issue reminiscent of the “Tribble” episode of Star Trek.
After having Eddie in our care for two years we were at a total loss for how to find him a home. Facebook posts, adoption ads, offering free training - nothing worked. Stymied, our Adoptions, Behavior and Marketing teams sat down to a situation room conference and came up with a drastic idea: complete honesty. We wrote a no holds bar blog about why you probably didn’t want to adopt Eddie, crafted a satirical press release noting the same, produced a couple jarring videos, and made some memes to distribute through various marketing channels.
It went completely viral. Our phone lines jammed and the media turned out in force to talk about little Eddie. America embraced Eddie. To say this was a huge learning experience for us at Humane Society Silicon Valley would be an understatement. After two weeks of near bedlam, Eddie was comfortably ensconced in a new home and our staff was older - and much wiser - than we used to be. Three big lessons stuck out from our crash course in unconventional marketing.
1) Everyone owns an Eddie. As the Eddie blog scampered it’s way around the internet on fleet little paws, we heard a resounding chorus of one sentence: “He’s just like my dog!”. While we may strive for perfection in ourselves, people are unfailingly willing to embrace imperfection in their companion animals. As a society, our love of the dogs we share our lives with far outweighs our need for control and order. While statistics have always borne out the fact that the reason dogs wind up in shelters has more to do with changes in the owners lifestyle, Eddie’s raging popularity - and the surfeit of people that stepped up to meet him - showed us anecdotally that we accept our dogs, warts and all.
2) Inform, don’t restrict. In deciding to go the route of radical honesty, we also decided to trust as well. Too often shelters deal with difficult animals by restricting the adopters - no kids, adult only, experienced homes. By doing that, we drastically cut down the number of options for animals already at a disadvantage for finding homes. We also forget a vital fact: most of us didn’t come to dog ownership as experts. None of us were born conversant in the lingo of behavior theory and versed in positive reinforcement training. It was a relationship with a dog that encouraged us to seek out information - to learn and grow. Even the most expert pet professionals usually came to their career through the very simple act of loving an animal. By frankly presenting Eddie’s problems and removing his restrictions, we allowed for the possibility of that transformative relationship, allowed his potential adopters to make an informed decision about what they were capable of. And they did.
3) You don’t need to write a horror story to make people care. Noticeably absent from all of the media we did about Eddie was one simple thing: his rather unremarkable history. Eddie wasn’t a victim of abuse or neglect - he was simply an under socialized dog who got loose and was a bit too much for his owners to handle. Too often in shelter marketing, we make the mistake of thinking that we need to return to the same narrative of good versus evil. If there’s one thing we learned from Eddie the Terrible, it’s that people are more complex - and their hearts are larger than we anticipated.
Eddie forced us to reevaluate how we approach more challenging animals that enter our doors and how we interact with potential adopters.
And perhaps these are lessons that can save more lives.
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