We've all seen them, the transient with the loaded backpack thumbing a ride with a cardboard sign or hanging out at the park and sleeping in cars with all their worldly belongings. Many of these people have dogs and in some cases are even homeless because of their dogs. People who have lost their homes or are unable to find pet friendly rentals are often forced to choose between giving up their beloved pet and homelessness.
As an animal control officer I've dealt with more than my share of homeless peoples dogs. In some cases these dogs lead a better life than dogs whose owners have plenty of money but no time for them. Other times the owner's lifestyle results in harm to the dog. I've been called to pick up homeless peoples dogs after the owners arrest, illness or death. Sometimes the owners are unable to provide veterinary care or other needs and we try to help them out. We do low-cost or even no-cost spay/neuter surgeries and vaccines whenever possible.
In many cases the dog is a homeless persons only friend and protector in a scary world. I was once called to check on a dog barking and howling beside a freeway overpass. I found a tent tucked back in the bushes and when I approached a black and white Pit Bull began barking at me. I didn't see anyone nearby and the dog was tethered to the tent stake. He retreated inside the tent as I came closer and I peered inside as he growled a warning. The tent was spotless clean and judging from the articles inside I guessed that the resident was a woman. The dog was in excellent weight and condition and wearing a coat. His reaction to my intrusion was appropriate given the circumstances. I posted a notice on the tent and left the dog where he was. The owner later called and confirmed that she had just been out looking for a job and was back with her dog.
I was once flagged down by a man walking with a darling older yellow Lab. He was disabled and had recently lost his job and his home. He was unwilling to go to a shelter because dog weren't allowed but the colder weather had his dog suffering outdoors too. After a brief discussion I agreed to house his dog at the shelter for a period of time while he explored his options. He had tears in his eyes as he lifted his beloved companion into my truck. I promised to take good care of her and drove away with a lump in my throat.
The dog was given a cushy bed on a heated floor in the kennels and I tried to spend a few minutes with her whenever possible. I wondered if she would ever be able to go home. We could have found a home for her, she was darling girl, but I know she would be happiest with her person. The man kept in touch and after nearly a month he found a place to live where he could have her. It was wonderful to see the reunion when he came for her.
There is a well known homeless character in my area who hangs out in the town square with his dog. He's older and wears layers of bright colored clothing with bits of yarn, feathers and other prizes tucked into it. The dog is an obese white mixed breed and he refuses to put a collar on her but leads her with a strip of rags around her waist. I stopped to talk to him one day and asked him how long he had lived like this. He turned his wrinkled face toward me and said “since I dodged the Viet Nam draft.” He then went on to tell me that he loved his life. He nodded toward the dog and said “I've got her, clothes on my back and enough to eat. What more do I need?” And I believe he meant it too.
With a Stray Pup
I sat down in the grass, leaned against a post in the sunshine and took a deep breath. It was easy to relax here. Other than the occasionally distant cry of a bird, it was utterly quiet on the remote ranch. A slight breeze tickled my skin and I felt peace descend over me. The reason for my being there lay quietly watching me from 10 feet away. He was a fuzzy-faced mutt of uncertain lineage and completely adorable. I had been called to pick up a stray on the ranch and was told that no one would be home but that the dog had been hanging around the barn for a few days. He seemed friendly but no one had been able to get a hold of him. Sure enough, the dog ran up wiggling his whole body and thrilled to see me but afraid to be touched. I offered cookies and he took them and then darted away.
I had to change my initial demeanor from one of capture to one of friendship. Dogs are often so good at reading our body language that sometimes they pick up on the subtlest of cues that we aren't even aware of. After I allowed myself to totally relax, I could see him start to relax too. He lay down near me and we both gazed over the surrounding hillsides. He glanced at me occasionally, and studied my face briefly before turning away. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. If I reached toward him he scooted away. Every few minutes he would get up and approach for a cookie before retreating again. He sniffed my outstretched legs and boots, studying them thoroughly for clues to my suitability as a friend. Each time he would check me out for a few moments and take a cookie before his fear overcame him and he would retreat again and lie staring into the distance. It was as if he wanted to contemplate the situation for a while before deciding what to do.
Each time he returned he came a little closer. I rewarded every overture of friendship with treats and finally he let me tickle his chin while he ate his cookie. Over the next 20 minutes or so we progressed to stroking behind his ears and scratching his neck as he tilted his head back and blissfully closed his eyes. A couple of times I moved too fast and he shot away from me. Don't be a rookie, I reminded myself. I was starting to feel the pressure of spending so much time on one call but I knew that a few minutes of patience would be more likely to be rewarded with success.
Finally the time came when I was able to stroke his whole body as he cuddled as close as he could get. When he climbed into my lap and leaned his head into my neck and closed his eyes and sighed I knew we were friends. After another moment or two of the love fest, I slowly, carefully eased a slip lead over his head. He panicked and fought the leash until I scooped him up and soothed his fears while stroking his sweet whiskery face. “It's ok hon, you're gonna be ok.” I crooned. A glance at his teeth showed him to be a baby of about 5 months or so. It always frustrates me to find dogs like him who are unsocialized and have obviously never even had a leash on. The good thing was that at this age he would likely come around quickly. He certainly had delightful temperament.
The pup wasn't claimed and he passed his temperament and health evaluations with flying colors. He was vaccinated, wormed and neutered in the shelter clinic and it was no surprise that he was adopted quickly.
I would love to hear reader's experiences with coaxing scared dogs or taking in a stray in need. How long did it take them to feel safe and what made the difference?
A late night call on standby had me driving my animal control truck across town in the dark to the scene of a vehicle accident. I hadn’t been given many details and hoped it wasn’t a fatality. When I arrived, I found a truck wrapped around a telephone pole and several police cars and a tow truck at the scene. An officer led me to his patrol car where he pointed to the back seat.
A big black puppy stared back at me, his glossy coat highlighted by the flashing blue and amber lights of the emergency vehicles. I opened the door and called to him softly “hey buddy, what are you doing here?” He wagged and wiggled closer and I scooped him up. He looked young but his feet were massive and he was all heavy bone and knobby knees. I studied him in the headlights of the patrol car for a moment. Black Lab? No, the coat was too short and sleek and he was bigger than a Lab. He looked a bit like a Pit Bull but he was too big and his ears were too droopy for that. He may have even had some Great Dane or Mastiff in there, but either way, he was gorgeous.
I was told that the accident occurred after some gang members were involved in a high speed police chase. The chase ended when they wrecked their truck and fled the scene. When officers arrived, they found drugs, guns and one black, knobby-kneed puppy in the wreckage. I was amazed that he wasn’t injured and he didn’t even seem upset by his predicament.
The suspects were later apprehended on serious charges and the puppy was never claimed. A local wildlife rescue worker, Danielle, fell in love with him and adopted him. She named him Morrison and he has grown to be huge, muscular bundle of fun and love that delights everyone who meets him. He goes to work with Danielle every day and lives the life every dog deserves.
Did your dog have an interesting or unusual start? Share it with us.
As we welcome the New Year, I’m still recovering from the holiday season. Along with the usual craziness, animal control officers see more dog bites, more lost dogs, and more owners who pass away and leave pets behind. New Year’s fireworks cause panicked dogs to bolt and holiday celebrations result in more arrests and accidents with dogs needing to be picked up.
I was trying to think of some New Year’s resolutions relating to my own dogs but frankly, they already get lots of attention and exercise and have it pretty darn good. I’m sure they would like to go to the off- leash beach every day instead of every week or two but I have to go to work to buy kibbles so that’s not gonna happen.
Having worked in shelters for 25 plus years, I do have some New Years wishes. On my fantasy wish list is that every dog would have a wonderful home. On my more realistic wish list are some things that even good dog owners can do to improve their dog’s lives and safety. I have also included some things that people can do to help dogs in need in their communities.
If your dog is overweight, now’s a great time to help them reach a healthy weight. Even just being a little chubby reduces a dog’s life span and quality of life. Dogs are just as happy to have a tiny treat as a big one. Substitute healthy treats for fatty ones and cut back on their rations while increasing exercise and stimulation. Check with your vet first and then get those dogs out for a daily walk or better yet, two or more. You’ll improve your own health too. Try agility or join a dog-friendly hiking group. You’ll both feel better. Exercise is a great stress reducer and often improves behavior issues as well.
Even the most beloved of dogs often have behavior problems that could be improved on with good management and training. A well behaved dog is a joy to have around and can be included in more activities. Dogs that pull the leash or are reactive with other dogs are no fun to walk. Work with a trainer or read up on techniques to work on.
An ID tag is a lost dog’s first chance to get home. I will usually return a dog with no fees if they are wearing a tag. Check and see if your dog’s tags have current information and are in good condition. I find that they tend to wear through and drop off every few years. Even people whose dogs never run loose should keep tags on. Accidents happen, doors get left open, fences blow down and dogs get lost.
I would also love to see all dogs microchipped. I have seen some miraculous returns that never would have happened without microchips, including pets that were found years later and returned to owners all because of a microchip.
Consider adopting or fostering a dog in need. It may be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. I am endlessly amazed at all of the wonderful dogs in shelters. Some are near perfection while others are diamonds in the rough that just need a little polishing to really shine. Volunteering for a shelter or rescue is another way to help. Sure it’s hard sometimes, but you can really make a difference for a unwanted dog. If you have grooming or training skills you can make a shelter dog more adoptable. Donating to a spay/neuter program is great bang for your buck as it saves lives by preventing overpopulation. Shelters and rescues can always use donations of blankets, food, money etc. Check with your local shelter to see what their greatest needs are and thank you for making a difference.
New Years Day will find me at our annual walk at a local off-leash beach. Lots of friends come with dogs of every size and shape and everyone has a blast. I hope you have lots of fun things planned as well and that 2014 is the best yet for you and your dogs.
What are you going to do to make life sweeter for your own dogs or dogs in need in the next year?
The world said good-bye to one of Michael Vicks former fighting dogs this week as she succumbed to age related illness. Georgia became quite a celebrity after her rescue and left her mark on all who knew her. While I never had the opportunity to meet her, I’ve been told that Georgia was delightful and unforgettable.
I have to confess that when I first heard that some rescue groups were going to see if any of Michael Vicks fighting dogs could be saved, I disagreed. It didn’t make sense to me try and save dogs who had been bred and trained specifically for fighting when friendly, healthy dogs who had never been trained to fight were being euthanized all over the country every day. I love the breed, and was broken hearted by what they had been through, but I still thought it safest to let them go.
In the years since that terrible event, I have had the good fortune of meeting several of Vicks former dogs and I fell completely in love. The dogs I met were affectionate, happy, typical dogs who loved people and wanted to play with other dogs. Saving the Vick dogs ended up being a fabulous choice on so many levels. It is a reminder that all dogs deserve to be judged on their own merits, not by breed or history. It also brought a great deal of attention to all canine victims of dog fighting and gave some wonderful animals the love and happiness all dogs deserve.
Georgia was heavily scarred from fighting and was one of those who could not live with other dogs but she had a vast number of human friends who adored her. Georgia and the other Vick dogs were originally rescued by the amazing BAD RAP (Bay Area Dog-lovers Responsible About Pit-Bulls) rescue group. They traveled across the country hoping that a small number of the dogs could be saved. Instead they found that very few of the dogs were aggressive and many even enjoyed other dogs. BAD RAP evaluated the dogs, helped care for them and facilitated their eventual rescue and placement.
Some of the dogs that were unable to be adopted at that time were sent to foster homes and sanctuaries. Georgia went to Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, where she received much needed attention and training. She eventually passed her Canine Good Citizen test and was adopted into a loving home.
Georgia spent the last two years of her life as the beloved companion all dogs should be. When I think of Georgia, I try to remember one of the best lessons of dogs, which is to live in the moment. Georgia didn’t dwell on the past but lived joyfully in the moment. She was described as exuberant, confident and full of life.
Sweet Dreams Georgia and a huge thank you to all who helped her and the other Vick dogs get a second chance.
I've always been fascinated by watching dog friends together. They play, they cuddle, even lick each other. Many dogs are very bonded with their fellow canine housemates but its funny how sometimes dogs have a special friend who doesn't live with them. I love to see how dogs will find a friend at a dog park or other social gathering and pair up, just as people connect with certain other people. Once they've connected, when they see that dog again, they rush toward each other joyously and spend all their time together until they must part.
My own dogs enjoy each other very much although any of them will gladly ditch the others for a day out with me. They do sometimes find another dog who fascinates them for whatever reason. I once had a large spayed female Borzoi who was rather reserved with most new dogs but small intact male dogs were her thing. Let some little un-neutered Chihuahua come along and she was head over heels, acting flirtations and comically silly. My current dogs love to meet and greet other dogs at the off-leash beach. Occasionally one of them really hits it off with another dog for no rhyme or reason but it's always fun to watch.
I recently had the joy of watching two young dogs meet each other for the first time and make that instant connection. One dog was Lily, a one year old, Pointer/Lab mix who I had fostered since birth and who was adopted but back for a short visit with me. The other was Spur, a friend's five month old Cattledog pup. They were in a group of other dogs of all ages and sizes but the two youngsters bonded immediately. My friend and I must have sat for a good hour watching them wrestle, run together and thoroughly enjoy themselves. They paid very little attention to the other dogs and spent the entire time in close physical contact. I don't think they ever got more than a few feet apart and their play was spontaneous and joyful. There was no posturing for dominance, no competition or concern for who was in charge, just dogs having fun with each other. It was a delight to witness.
Does your dog have a special canine friend?
In my job as an Animal Control Officer, I spend 10 hours a day working with dogs and then come home to a houseful of my own dogs. I love dogs and it’s such an honor to spend my life in their company. Anyone who has a close relationship with a dog would likely agree that dogs share many of our emotions, social needs and characteristics. Dogs are often our closest non-human companions. Horses, cats, birds and some other animals can bond very tightly to humans too but dogs most consistently choose to willingly follow us on almost any adventure or trial.
Studies have shown that dogs communicate better with humans and understand us better than any other animal on earth. In studies asking multiple species including dogs and non-human primates to interpret human body language to find a treat, only dogs understood human communications consistently.
People get very excited to think of dogs as little people in fur coats but I find the best thing about dogs is their very “dogness.” I have a lot of wonderful people in my life but sometimes no one can comfort or share a day with me in the way a dog can. My human family loves me but they don’t go into transports of delight ever every time I walk into the room. When I get home from work and my dogs greet me and then I take them for a run, I can feel the stresses of the day start to fade. They race and play with the same joy and abandon every single day.
Dogs live so fully in the moment. They never say, gee, I’m tired of this same walk, same ball chase, same Dog Park etc. It’s new, and fun, each time. Dogs find joy in the simplest of things. Just about anything I want to do, my dogs think is a blast. My wonderful friends and family are great to spend time with but they aren’t always available, or don’t always want to do the things I want to do. My dogs have never once said no thanks or I’m not in the mood, to a car ride, a hike, a cuddle or any other adventure. Not once.
Dogs are the perfect blend of similar enough to us enough to enjoy most of the things we do, and unique enough to be fascinating in their own right. Dogs are just perfect as they are.
Let us know what special “dog” things your furry companion does that make you glad he’s a dog.
As a child I was surrounded by dogs and was always fascinated by them. When I was 5 years old I walked up to a neighbor’s dog as it was chewing a bone. I reached to pet him and received a minor bite to the hand for my inattention. As I recall, my parents sternly reminded me not to bother dogs, especially if they were eating, sleeping, or chewing a bone. Lesson learned. It was the only bite I ever received as a child and to this day I consider dogs to be one of the greatest gifts in life.
When I was six my parents divorced and I went through a long period without a dog. I missed having a dog so much that I ended up moving to my dad’s house because I could have one there. My first dog that was all my own was a little shaggy mutt that followed me everywhere and slept in my bed at night. That dog was my constant companion through several moves, childhood traumas and a few teenage heartbreaks. His presence in my life is something I still feel the effects of today.
Kids and dogs can be one of the most wonderful or one of the most tragic pairings of childhood. As an animal control officer, I investigate dog bites almost daily. Most are minor, a few are severe, and many of them are to children. I have seen nice dogs euthanized for the most minor of bites and children scarred and traumatized for life by the more severe ones. In almost every case they could have been prevented.
Children are most likely to be bitten by their families own dog and yet for many children, the dog is their most precious friend and confidant. The value of dogs in many children’s lives is so precious that it should not be missed but children and dogs must both be kept safe.
Many breeders, shelters and rescues have hard and fast rules about what age the children must be for the family to adopt a dog. In my many years of fostering, I am often faced with the decision of deciding whether a family with young kids is suitable for a dog that I am caring for. There are so many variables that I find it impossible to pick an age and take each family on a case by case basis. The most important factor is the parents. Many parents want a dog that the children “can do anything to.” They tell me of some dog they know of that just lets the kids bounce on their backs, dress them in doll clothes and drag them around all day. I have seen dogs like that but I think it’s shocking that the parents allow the child to treat the long-suffering dog that way. And what happens when the dog gets arthritic or painful or just reaches a breaking point? Or when a child visits a friend whose dog is not so tolerant? When I see parents that understand a dogs needs, and teach them to their children, I know it’s a good start.
The second most important factor is the dog itself. Some dogs have a natural affinity for children while others don’t care for them. Unless a dog is truly dangerous, even grumpy dogs can succeed in households with children if the parents are diligent and the children respectful. Of course choosing a dog that is tolerant, easy-going and enjoys children is your best bet. It’s up to the parents to provide boundaries. In the case of children too young to follow directions adults need to be diligent and not put the dog in a situation where he feels the need to defend himself. Dogs try very hard to communicate with us but often we ignore their attempts to express their discomfort until it’s too late. A dog isn’t able to tell us in words that the child is hurting him, bothering him or invading his space. Careful observation of body language is critical, as is teaching respectful behavior toward dogs and separating them from kids if they aren’t enjoying the interaction.
I would love to hear about readers experiences with dogs and kids. Even negative situations can be a learning experience for us all and the positives between dogs and kids are truly priceless.
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wallace the Pit Bull today. Wallace was a former shelter dog who had “issues” and spent a long time in a kennel. Thankfully a shelter volunteer and his wife took a chance on Wallace and adopted the problem dog. They spent a great deal of time working with him and he later became a champion Frisbee dog, winning many competitions and becoming an ambassador for Pit Bulls. A delightful book was written about Wallace’s transformation from unwanted dog to adored champion (Wallace. By Jim Gorant). Wallace passed away at a great old age, comforted by those who loved him, after a long and happy life.
As I walked through the shelter today I was struck, as I always am, by the number of wonderful dogs waiting hopefully behind the chain link. Many of them stare eagerly as I walk by, wagging their tails harder and harder the closer I get. Some are terrified and huddle at the back of the kennel, glancing at me furtively. A few are quite aggressive but most of them respond to a kind word and the offer of a cookie. The only difference between most of these dogs and Wallace is a person. One person willing to do whatever it takes to give that dog the life he or she deserves.
Shelter dogs are not flawed or bad. They just need someone to teach them how to behave and to manage them in such a way that they are set up to win. Most dogs will become a problem if allowed to roam or bark incessantly. I recently had a case involving an adolescent Great Pyrenees who barked day and night in the owner’s backyard until the neighbors complained. On investigating, I learned that the owners liked the dog but didn’t understand a dogs needs. The pup had food, water and shelter but they didn’t ever take him out of the yard. He didn’t come in the house, didn’t go for walks or have any kind of enrichment in his life. This puppy wasn’t a bad dog; he was just desperate for company. The owners surrendered the puppy to the shelter and he was adopted soon after. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful puppy leave with an adoptive family who understood his need for companionship, direction and exercise.
How I wish that every dog had the chance for a life like Wallace had. It wasn’t always easy, but Wallace’s family did whatever it took to help Wallace succeed.
I would love to hear from readers that were able to turn a “problem” dog into a happy pet. Tell me about your dog and how you did it.
A fellow animal control officer received a call to pick up a dog found lying emaciated and soaking wet in a creek bed. The tiny Chihuahua was rushed back to the shelter and examined by the shelter veterinarian. In addition to being skin and bones, she was too weak to stand, had a clouded eye and the look of long time neglect about her. She was immediately started on treatment but the prognosis was poor. Her blood work suggested that her organs were failing. Whether this was result of starvation or some other medical condition was unknown.
When I first saw the dog she was lying apathetically on her blankets in the shelter clinic. She looked terrible but the thing I noticed was the odor. She had that terrible “hoarder” smell to her sparse coat. Unless you’ve lived it, there is no describing it but it’s a combination of rotting garbage, feces, urine and filth that’s unmistakable. Every hoarder situation I’ve gone on smells the same, whether its dogs, cats or something else.
The tiny dog declined overnight and the discussion ensued about whether it was kinder to let her go. I certainly didn’t want to put her through anymore pain if she wasn’t going to survive but she didn’t seem to be in terrible pain, just incredibly weak and sick. I decided to take her home to foster. If she wasn’t going to survive, at least she should die in a quiet place surrounded by love.
As weak as she was, I couldn’t bear the stench of her coat and gently lowered her into a warm sudsy bath. She seemed to relax into the warm water and was soon clean and sweet smelling although she still looked terrible. I wrapped her in a warm towel and cuddled her close. She sighed, leaned against me and fell asleep.
I called the little dog Hannah and since she was unable to eat on her own, I carefully syringed a tiny amount of bland gruel into her mouth every few hours. People always want to pour high fat food into starved animals but in most cases that can be very harmful. The animal’s body needs time to slowly acclimate to eating normal foods again and re-feeding must be done very carefully. Within a day or two she was able to eat tiny amounts of food on her own and was able to stand and walk a little.
I was so encouraged by Hannah’s progress but was cautious about getting too excited as I knew she wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her gum color was still pure white as a result of anemia and I worried about organ failure. I worked closely with the veterinarian on her care and thankfully she continued to improve. After a week or so it looked to me like she might have gained a little weight. I put her on a little food scale and found that she had gone from less than 4 pounds to about 5 pounds. I was jubilant! As Hannah felt better her personality began to emerge and what a delightful girl. She followed me everywhere and began playing with toys and asserting herself with my 120 pound Great Dane.
I had been posting Hannah’s progress on my facebook page each day and a woman who had seen her photos expressed an interest in adopting her. After several weeks when it seemed obvious that Hannah would survive, we arranged a meeting. The introduction was successful and after Hannah had another thorough vet exam and was spayed she went to her new home. She had gained more than 2 pounds by then and was really starting to look good.
It is such an amazing feeling to watch a neglected animal blossom and get a forever home. I would love to hear from readers who have rehabbed a dog in need, or adopted one.
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