Having a Pit Bull Makes Renting Challenging
Last week Shirley Zindler wrote about homeless people and their dogs, the hard life they lead and the difficult choices they have to make. It made me think of a family in Walnut Creek, California—Carol and Peter Devia and their two sons Leandro and Christoffer—who made the choice to live out of their car rather than give up their pups, Camilla and Rocco.
Last year Carol and Peter were fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartment. With their savings dwindling rapidly, they couldn't find a place to live with both of their dogs. While landlords had no problem with Camilla, a Labrador mix, they balked when they met Rocco, a Pit Bull.
Carol says that people keep advising her to give up Rocco, but that is something they could never do. They've had both dogs since they were puppies, with Rocco sleeping next to them every night.
Rocco wasn't always a saint, but from the beginning you can see that the Devias are completely committed to their dogs. After Rocco bit a Dachshund who stuck his nose in the family's yard, the Devias started taking Rocco to classes at BAD RAP, a Pit Bull advocacy organization, which transformed his behavior.
Finding affordable dog friendly housing can be difficult, but it's particularly challenging with a Bully breed. Pit Bulls are most likely to be turned away by landlords, which means they're often the first ones left behind at the animal shelter.
Donna Reynolds, the director of BAD RAP, says that the organization gets countless inquiries from people wanting to rehome their Pit Bull because they can't find housing. Donna advises families to ask friends help, post ads on Craigslist, and to seek help from rescue organizations. She also recommends getting an insurance policy on the dog, so any liability doesn't fall to the landlord, although that hasn't helped Rocco's case.
For now the Devias are making the best of their situation, cooking meals with a Crock-Pot that plugs into the car and driving to the local park to exercise the dogs. The good news is that Carol and Peter are now employed, so they're hopeful they'll be able to find housing soon.
Have you experienced breed discrimination when looking for a rental?
Packs of the pint sizes pups are chasing kids and overwhelming Animal Control
Recently Chihuahuas terrorizing an Arizona neighborhood have been making the news, in part because it sounds so unbelievable. Pit Bulls frequently get a bad reputation, but this situation shows that any dog can be dangerous, often due to human irresponsibility.
In the Phoenix, Ariz. neighborhood of Maryvale, Chihuahuas are reportedly traveling in groups of 10-15, chasing children, bicycles, and cars. Last year the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control received 6,000 calls about Chihuahuas from the Maryvale neighborhood alone. Animal Control has been urging residents to call if they see the strays and has offered to neuter any Chihuahua for free.
Abandoned Chihuahuas have long been a problem at California animal shelters as well. As a New Yorker, it can be hard to believe since small breeds are often the first to be adopted. But that's how Project Flying Chihuahua came about transporting the tiny pups by the plane load from the West to the East Coast.
Hearing about the Chihuahuas make me particularly sad because of how they were objectified as accessories in the early 2000's (influenced perhaps unintentionally by Paris Hilton and films like Legally Blonde). I hope that the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control's neuter efforts are successful, but responsible pet ownership is ultimately the root cause of the overpopulation problem. We must get the word out that animals are not disposable!
Snow days bring alternative ways to burn off canine energy
Thanks to the now infamous Polar Vortex, the North East has been getting hit with endless amounts of snow this winter. The weather means shoveling heavy snow, scraping ice, and for dog families, finding creative ways to exercise the pups. Many of my friends have been lamenting that their back yards are too icy to let the dogs play outside, so they've been opting for creative ways to keep busy inside the house--shaping new tricks, buying tasty chew bones, and playing with brain teaser toys.
My Border Collie, Scuttle, and I have been taking advantage of the conditions by going snowshoeing in upstate New York, where the snow has not iced over. Trekking through white powder is a great workout and heading to the trails in the winter means less crowds. By the time we get home, I've got a passed out puppy on my hands (success!).
Some of my friends in New England and Canada skijor with their pups on cross country skis. I tried my own made up version, snowboardjoring, which ended with me on the ground and my Sheltie, Nemo, jumping on top of me. Although we didn't go anywhere, we both had lots of fun! For those less athletically inclined, I've also seen children sledding with their pups on board this winter.
If you embark on an outdoor excursion with your dog, remember to bring food, water, an extra jacket (for warmth), and booties (for a ripped paw pad), in addition to your own gear. It's important to be prepared to spend more time outside than you planned, in case you get lost or someone gets injured. This is essential in the winter.
What are you doing to keep your pups busy on snow days?
More Olympic athletes are saving pups at the Games
Earlier this month I wrote about the last ditch effort to save stray pups in Sochi and the hope that Olympic visitors might consider adopting. Now U.S. athletes are coming together to take homeless dogs back to America.
It all started with slopestyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, who discovered a mom and her four pups living under a security tent at the Olympic media center. He was not allowed to bring the dogs into the Athletes' Village, but visited them every day. Gus said that the animals were a welcome distraction leading up to his competition.
Gus knew that these dogs would have nowhere to go once the security tent came down and could not bear leave them behind. So Gus postponed his return home and got the necessary paperwork to take the pups back with him. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the man backing the pre-Olympic rescue effort, is helping Gus get the puppies on a plane this week. Oleg is also planning to unveil a new shelter on Friday that can accommodate 250 dogs.
Now multiple athletes are following suit and adopting Sochi strays they've met on the Olympic grounds. Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis didn't medal at the Games, but is ecstatic to be taking home an adorable pup she named Sochi (judging from what other athletes are calling their pups, Lindsey's dog won't be the only Sochi coming back to the U.S.!).
Other adopters include U.S. hockey team members, Ryan Miller, David Backes, and Kevin Shattenkirk, skiier Brita Sigourney, and bobsled and skeleton press officer Amanda Bird. Amanda has said she'd like to adopt an older dog, since the puppies are more likely to find homes.
For David Backes and his wife Kelly, adopting a Sochi stray was second nature. They already do a lot of rescue work through their charity, Athletes for Animals.
I'm happy to see so many athletes taking back Sochi strays, but I'm equally happy with how much publicity this has created for adoption in general. I hope people watching the Games will be inspired by the Olympians and think about visiting the animal shelter to save a dog close to home.
Non-surgical alternative sterilizes dogs in one shot
Sochi's pre-Olympic dog crisis brought the world's pet overpopulation problem to the forefront of people's minds. Neutering is not a cultural norm in Russia, exacerbating stray dog numbers to uncontrollable levels. Many countries have had success with Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programs in reducing stray pet numbers over time, but not all communities have the resources needed to implement TNR. Surgery is expensive and comes with the complications of any medical procedure. Neutering also faces a hurdle with Individuals who sometimes see it as unnatural or emasculating.
However, we could be entering a new era. On Monday, a vaccine started shipping that many animal welfare people are calling a game changer in lowering stray dog populations worldwide. Zeuterin is the first ever FDA-approved injectable sterilization compound. The vaccine sterilizes a male dog for life with one shot.
With Zeutrin five dogs can be sterilized for the cost and time it takes to surgically sterilize one dog. According to the manufacturer, Ark Sciences, the vaccine is five time safer than surgery. Zeutrin has a simple composition of sterile water, the trace element Zinc Gluconate, and the amino acid Arginine. All of these ingredients are required for the body, and no preservatives are needed.
At the moment Ark Sciences has regulatory approval in Panama, Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico, and the United States. They envision full adoption in the United States by the year 2020.
Besides the low cost and ease of this surgical alternative, there is another potential benefit to the vaccine. Dogs sterilized with Zeutrin retain about 50 percent of their testosterone levels. This is beneficial considering that recent studies have shown possible negative effects from eliminating sex hormones, particularly before full maturation.
Last weekend a group of volunteer veterinarians held a “Zeuterathon” in Los Angeles. Approximately 75 male dogs of all ages were sterilized in the span of a few hours. The suggested donation was $20.
While reading about Zeutrin, I came across a sad statistic that really drove home the overpopulation problem: only one out of every ten dogs born will find a permanent home. I hope that Zeutrin will be a major step in reversing the numbers of the overpopulation problem.
A war dog is featured in the latest Taliban video
War dogs are pretty incredible animals. They don't choose to be on the front lines of battle, but they serve at their handler's side through a multitude of horrific events. Many working canines have died on the job, but there are other risks as well. Like their human counterparts, dogs also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Recently a British Belgian Malinois joined humans in another aspect of war by becoming the first canine to be used in a hostage video.
Last week the Taliban released a clip showing a canine prisoner chained to a group of heavily armed men. According to the Washington Post, the men thank Allah for the capture of an animal of "high significance to the Americans," which they say took place during a night raid by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon confirmed that a working dog did go missing in December, but that the pup belongs to a British special forces unit. Officials also said they had no previous record of a military dog being held captive.
The video is hard to watch and the poor dog looks extremely confused. No one has identified the handler or his whereabouts, but knowing what a tight bond working dogs develop with their handlers, I'm sure he's devastated. I hope that by some miracle this pup is returned to safety soon.
Mixed and purebred pups run together in the Master Agility Championship
As judging gets underway this morning for the storied Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the more athletic pups already had their night to shine this past weekend. On Saturday, Westminster hosted their first annual Masters Agility Championship. It also marked the first time mixed breeds could participate in a Westminster event since 1884 (apparently non-purebreds were included in the early days). The American Kennel Club has only allowed mixed breed dogs to participate in their companion sports events (agility, rally obedience, etc.) since 2010.
To show their dedication to all dogs, regardless of bloodline, Westminster designated spots in the in the final Championship round to the highest scoring All American (mixed breed) in each height group (calculated by their performance in two qualifying rounds). A special award was also given to the top All American across height groups in the finals.
While the top three dogs in each height group automatically advanced to the finals, the remaining spots were given to the highest scoring breeds not represented in the top three. You can imagine if they didn't have this rule in place, the 20" height group for the finals would be nearly all Border Collies.
Although I was a little disappointed that not all of the most competitive dogs were represented in the finals, it did meet the goal of bringing more awareness to this rapidly growing sport. The Masters Agility Championship had the most media attention I've ever seen for an agility competition. Breed diversity in the final round highlighted the fact that any dog can participate in this sport.
The finals showcased many amazing runs, as dogs gracefully negotiated difficult obstacle combinations at top speed, but I was most moved by watching the special bond between the handlers and their dogs, as well as the support and friendship between competitors. Also, I've never watched so many of my friends on television before and it was nerve wracking to watch them!
In the end, Kelso, a 7-year old Border Collie handled by Delaney Ratner of Cape Elizabeth, Me. won the overall Masters Agility Champion award and Roo!, a 6.5 year old Husky mix handled by Stacey Campbell of San Francisco, Calif. won the Best All-American award.
If you missed the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster, the National Geographic channel will be rebroadcasting the finals on Wednesday, February 12th at 9 p.m. ET. The results can be viewed on the Westminster Kennel Club web site.
Volunteers mobilize for a last ditch effort to save strays
While the Sochi government ruthlessly kills stray dogs in preparation for the Olympic Games, animal rescuers have mobilized to save as many pups as possible. On Monday the volunteers were told that they had until Thursday to remove dogs from the Olympic Village or the animals would be shot.
Russian billionaire and Sochi Games investor Oleg V. Deripaska has backed the rescue effort by funding PovoDog, a makeshift shelter on the outskirts of the city. The name is a play on the Russian word povodok, which means leash. Some have called the outdoor kennels a "doghouse shantytown," but there was no time to build an indoor structure.
All week volunteers have been rounding up dogs with a golf cart and bringing them to PovoDog. They've saved about 80 pups so far, but sometimes it feels like a losing battle. Animal rights advocate Tatyana Leshchenko estimates that over 1,000 dogs have been killed since October. Responding to public outcry, the International Olympic Committee told reporters that no healthy dogs were being killed, but that's hard to believe.
Some say that these strays were abandoned by families whose spacious homes were demolished to make way for the Olympic buildings. They were compensated with new apartments but not everyone brought their dogs along. Compounding the problem is the lack of neutering in Russian culture.
Rehoming these pups will be difficult. Shelter volunteer Nadezhda Mayboroda says that everyone in Russia wants a shepherd or pit bull, so the mixed breeds will be the hardest to place—a trend they hope to reverse with a new outreach campaign. In the meantime, volunteers are urging Olympic visitors to think about adopting one of the dogs in need. Check out their Facebook page to meet some of the available pups.
There have also been individual efforts to help out as well. Moscow resident Igor Airapetyan was so upset over the dog culling that he drove the 20 hours to Sochi to rescue as many dogs as he could fit in his car. Now he's back in Moscow trying to find homes for the 11 pups he rescued. Igor is disappointed in the Olympics, which he has always considered to be a symbol of peace. He's hoping that this canine crisis will unite animal protection groups in Russia so that conditions will improve, long after international news crews leave Sochi.
Check out a video of the lucky pups in Igor's car!
Animals are being exterminated in advance of the Olympic Games
The Sochi Olympics has been met with controversy on many fronts, but now reports are surfacing that the Sochi government is overturning their decision to control the stray dog problem humanely in advance of the Games. The government is worried that the animals may bite visitors or interfere with the competitions.
Back in April, Sochi decided against hiring an extermination company to kill homeless animals after strong opposition from animal rights groups. The government promised to move towards sterilization and build a new animal shelter. Now it seems that they've gone back on their word and returned to the original plan. On top of that, there seems to be no evidence that a new shelter was ever built.
According to Basya Services, the Sochi government has hired the company to "catch and dispose" of stray dogs. Reports also indicate that the pups are not always euthanized in the most humane manner (Poison seems to be common, which besides being a horrible death, is a dangerous thing to leave lying around. There is also a history of people shooting or stabbing stray animals).
If the Sochi government did try the humane approach, it doesn't seem like they allocated enough resources to make it successful. Admittedly the sterliziation method takes more time than their "quick fix," time that they no longer have. I can imagine that existing shelters and rescue groups are most likely overwhelmed.
At this late hour it seems there is little that can be changed, but I hope that the attention and public pressure that Sochi receives will spur them to make a cultural shift in responsible pet ownership. Neutering pets is not common in Russia and that, along with less people abandoning animals, would make long strides in solving the overpopulation problem. It's sad that so many dogs will lose their lives over a sporting event.
Vet visits are down and health problems are up
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the number of canine vet visits dropped 21 percent since 2001 (and a whopping 30 percent for cats), while the number of emergency visits increased. Meanwhile, the Banfield Pet Hospital network has seen an increase in pet obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and thyroid and kidney disease. It seems that more and more people are waiting until their pets are very sick to bring them to the vet.
In response, a new campaign has been started by Partners for Healthy Pets, a collaboration between the AVMA, the American Animal Hospital Association, and more than 90 other veterinary organizations. to promote annual checkups for all pets. They want to let people know that preventative care saves lives and money by identifying problems before they require surgery or complicated treatment.
As an example, I was shocked to learn that only 55 percent of dogs are on heartworm medication, one of the easiest ways to prevent a fatal disease.
So why aren't people going to the vet? The 2008 economic downturn certainly didn't help, but the decline has been in motion for years. Some think that the research against annual vaccination or the proliferation of pet health information on the internet started the trend. Others believe that vets need to become better at marketing their skills, which is an interesting take.
Most of us at some point probably received a reminder postcard from our vet about vaccines, but an annual wellness exam nvolves much more than booster shots. Dr. Karen Felsted, a Dallas veterinary consultant, believes that vets need to describe the full value of what goes on in a check-up, such as how they observe gait and look for other behavioral clues that may indicate more serious problems. This is particularly important because animals like to hide illness as long as possible.
I always say that you are the best judge of your pet's health. After all, you're the one who sees your dog's behavior every day and knows if something isn't normal. But your pup's health should be a partnership between you and your veterinarian. If you're not bringing your pet to the veterinarian at least annually, find one that you respect and trust. Your dog will thank you for it!
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