shelters & rescues
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The scruffy little stray peered warily at me from under her filthy, matted curls. She looked to be a poodle mix of maybe 15 pounds and animal control had been getting calls about her for a month or so. I called softly to her but she tucked her tail and trotted away. I spent the next several weeks trying every trick in the book to capture the little dog but she was too shy to approach and too clever to be cornered or trapped. She slept under old cars behind the meat company and roamed the nearby car dealerships daily.
Finally after several weeks of trying different baits in the trap I was thrilled to find her safely confined. Back at the shelter she was terrified and trying to bite but I was able to wrap her in a blanket and get her vaccinated and scanned. To my surprise she had a microchip. There was no phone number so the next day I went to the home and met with her former owner. A pleasant man, whom I will call Marco, he stated that he loved his dog but had too many dogs and still had 4 of her puppies from a previous litter of 8.
It’s my job to help and educate rather than judge whenever possible and Marco needed help. He showed me the 4 puppies. There were two males and two females and he told me that he was trying to separate them because the boys were trying to have “the sex” with the girls and he didn’t want any more puppies. It’s important to remember that Marco was doing the best he could with the education and information he had. Other than a bad limp on one of the female puppies, they looked healthy and well cared for. They had enough to eat and a cozy bed in a shed.
Still, the dogs were reproducing at random and I knew it wouldn’t be long before there would be more puppies and I was worried about the limp on the female puppy. Also my preference is always that dogs live in the home as part of the family. We chatted a few more minutes and Marco decided to surrender the original stray mama and her two female puppies and I gave him information on getting the males neutered.
I took the little scared stray and the two puppies home to foster until they could be adopted. I named the mama Ava and she warmed up in no time, crawling tentatively across the floor and into my lap after a few moments. I bathed her filthy coat and trimmed the mats and scheduled her to be spayed as soon as she was more comfortable being handled. I had the two puppies, Charlotte and Cookie spayed (Cookie was in season), vaccinated and treated for worms and fleas. I also Cookie seen for her leg and X-rays showed a partially healed fracture that was crooked and needed surgery.
One evening about a week after I caught her, Ava lay blissfully relaxed on my lap. I was absently stroking her belly when I felt movement under my hand. Two days later I woke up to a single puppy nursing happily in the bed with Ava.
Cookie had her surgery and was adopted by one of the wonderful vets who took care of her. Charlotte went home with a friend of mine and will have the best of everything. Mama Ava and her puppy Bruno will stay in foster care with me until Bruno is weaned. Then they will be spayed and neutered and adopted out.
It’s funny how catching one little stray resulted in four dogs having a better life. I can’t help but think what good timing it all was. Little Bruno might have grown up under a car as a feral stray, if he even survived. The two female pups would have become pregnant and produced more puppies in the back yard. And little Cookies broken leg might never have been fixed, leaving her with a lifetime of pain.
I think Ava and little Bruno, snuggled up in a warm bed in my living room would agree.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
There has been a man in our county for many years who has been breeding and advertising his large mixed breeds as the world’s perfect dog. The dogs live outside on runner systems and the pups are raised outside. He gives them an impressive designer name and offers his unwitting buyers a great story about why they should pay big bucks for them. I love all dogs, mixed or purebred, but as an animal control officer I've got a hundred dogs in my shelter that nobody wants and a good percentage of them are large mixed breeds. It’s hard to watch this man’s dogs produce litter after litter of puppies every year. He sells most of them as cute babies. Those he can’t sell grow up in the back yard until he surrenders them to the shelter at a year or two of age, never having seen a vet, had a leash on, or been socialized to strangers or other animals. He also has deafness and some other health problems in his line so we usually end up with those and it’s a huge ordeal to find an adopter or rescue to take them. In the cases where the dog’s poor health or temperament cannot be overcome, the shelter staff, myself included, faces the heartbreaking task of euthanasia.
A truly responsible breeder will not knowingly reproduce health problems and takes responsibility for the dogs he produces for life but this guy isn't doing anything illegal so there isn’t much I can do about it. It’s been a source of frustration for years. I was recently there for annual kennel inspection (he has over the regular legal number of dogs so he pays for a kennel license and inspection). I started talking to him about the number of unwanted dogs in our shelter. I also expressed concern about the deafness in his line. I was very nice but I put a bug in his ear about overpopulation etc and then let him sit on it for a week.
The following week I consulted the manager of the local low cost spay/neuter program for openings and looked up when the man’s licensing is due (next month). The licensing has gone up tremendously for intact dogs and as a senior he will pay next to nothing once they are spayed. I called him up and reminded him that his licensing was almost due, amounting to hundreds of dollars, and let him know we had openings for surgery. I also offered to pay the minimal fee at the low cost clinic (believe me, it’s more than worth it) and to pick them up and drop them off. So he agreed! He’s already gotten two of them done and has tentatively agreed to get them all done and stop breeding. The key was gently educating him and making it as easy as possible to accomplish.
In many cases people want to get the surgery done but don’t have the resources. Donating to low/cost spay neuter clinics is one of the best ways to save lives on the least money. Bang for your buck it’s hard to beat. One dog sterilized can potentially prevent hundreds of unwanted births. A two-year-old dog I know of had already produced 3 litters of ten or more puppies per litter. That’s more than 30 puppies by one mama dog who hadn’t even reached maturity and of a breed that is most overrepresented in shelters. And those 30 puppies are now at reproductive age. It’s a mind-boggling problem and one of the reasons I donate most of my book sales to low cost spay/neuter programs.
It feels good to know that there will be fewer unwanted puppies entering our shelters in the coming years.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping Save a Dog's Life
I had a profoundly moving experience recently. I pulled up on a call to pick up a sick kitten and the song The Christmas Shoes came on the radio. I wrote about this song in The Secret Life of Dog Catchers because it always makes me cry. Sometimes I see so many sad, terrible things on the job that I lose the ability to cry even when I need to. A tender song can be a catalyst to release some of that pain. The Christmas Shoes is about man who is feeling caught up on the stress and commercialism of Christmas. He’s in line to buy something and the little boy in front of him doesn’t have enough money for his purchase. The child is trying to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother to wear to heaven. The boy asks the stranger to help him and the man finds the true meaning of Christmas in helping a stranger.
The song had me feeling teary as I got out of my animal control truck and as I crossed the parking lot a woman called to me from a car. She asked me to please help them so I approached and saw a family holding a tiny, older Chihuahua in their arms. The dog, Lilo, was the special pet of the ten year old daughter and was critically ill but they had no money. Every vet clinic and shelter had turned them away. Veterinarians are generally hard working and compassionate people but they have to make a living just like everyone else and shelters are there for animals who have no owners.
Lilo probably didn’t weigh more than 3 or 4 pounds, with just enough gray around her muzzle to show her maturity without advanced age. The big brown eyes were resigned to her fate, whatever it may be and I could see that she was lethargic and dehydrated. The family was distraught and obviously adored their pet. I asked a few more questions and then called in my credit card number to a nearby vet clinic and asked them to please see the dog. The family and I embraced and exchanged some tears and I sent them on their way.
A couple of hours later the clinic called and said Lilo had a life threatening pyometra and needed emergency surgery to save her life. Pyometra is a nasty uterine infection common in un-spayed female dogs. The kind-hearted veterinarian gave me a break on the surgery and many generous people chipped in to help pay for it. Lilo ended up with major complications and spent 5 days in the hospital before she was well enough to be released. I was finally able to pick her up and drive her home and placing her in the daughter’s arms was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time.
Now animal control officers don’t make a lot of money. I buy most of my clothes at the Goodwill and drive a 20 year old car. We don’t spend much at Christmas other than some gifts for the kids. We have everything we really need and although I love giving gifts, I don’t like buying them just for the sake of buying them. Helping this family meant more to me than any gift I could ever get.
If I look close I can see my reflection in the dog’s eyes.
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