Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
September 14 2016
Dog parks have come a really long way in the past 20 years. Once deemed a mild curiosity (and perhaps an irritant) by most city and county park departments, they are now at the top of the list of community “must-haves.” Since 2007, their numbers have grown by 80 percent, according to a recent report from the Trust for Public Lands, which surveyed the nation’s 100 largest city park systems.
As noted in their report, 2016 City Park Facts, “Nearly every big city now has at least one dedicated dog park, often with a name that reflects the creativity and exuberance of the movement. Fort Worth pups play at Fort Woof, Memphis pets frolic at Overton Bark, Dallas dogs run at My Best Friend’s Park and Atlanta pooches scamper at Freedom Barkway.”
As we all know, we’re hooked on dogs and love our outdoor R&R time with them, watching them make new friends as we share the latest with other dog folks. Park planners and advocates are catching on; as Peter Harnik, who led the study noted, “Americans love dogs, and parks increasingly reflect that fact as people want places to get outside and take their dogs with them.”
According to the report, the top five dog-park cities are Henderson, Nev.; Portland, Ore.; Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Madison, Wisc.
We have to hand it to all those “exuberant” dog park advocates: our hard work has paid off.
Dog's Life: Humane
September 7 2016
Little Allie has a true Cinderella tale. I first encountered her at a former landfill-turnedpark along San Francisco Bay’s eastern shoreline. Lola, our Pointer spotted her; I just heard warning barks, then saw a flash of white fur. The next two mornings, same thing. Curious, I contacted Mary Barnsdale, a friend who heads that park’s dog user group, and learned that they had been hearing stories about this elusive stray going back almost six months, but no one had been able to pinpoint a location. Now we knew where to find her!
Animal Control, stretched thin, didn’t have the personnel to corral her, so Mary turned to Jill Posener of Paw Fund to see if she could humanely trap the little dog, and I gladly volunteered to help. The first two tries came up short, but on the third day, we went out at the crack of dawn, set the traps with hot fried chicken—Jill’s go-to lure for hungry dogs—and bingo, we got her!
Albany PD officer Justin Kurland helped us ferry Allie in the capture crate to the parking lot. He, too, was thrilled; he had often seen her when out on park patrol, but she always eluded him. (For more about Allie’s rescue, see thebark.com/allie.) It’s amazing to consider how much intelligence and resourcefulness it took for such a young, small dog to survive on her own. Since there’s nothing in the way of food or fresh water at this park, her feat is even more impressive.
After a brief stint at the Berkeley shelter, Jill fostered Allie, got her ready for an adoption event and, in short order, found her the perfect match: Mary Lou Salcedo, a retired senior. As Mary Lou told us, “Allie gives me so much happiness after I lost my Bichon at the age of 16. Now I found my new companion.” Mary Lou has the time, patience and tender love that Allie deserves.
We are overjoyed to show her off on the cover in a photo taken a scant three weeks after her capture. The photo was taken by Mo Saito, who recently set up his Doghouse Photos studio near our office. A former London fashion photographer, Mo made a turn dogward in this country. He has a masterful skill, which he put to good use in getting this shot —while Allie wasn’t fearful, she was rather busy exploring the studio. Thankfully, Mary Lou’s friend, Chase Wilson, a San Francisco firefighter and ardent dog lover who’s been invaluable with Allie’s training, came along to help wrangle her. We think you’ll agree that she, Mo and Mary Lou did the trick.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
September 7 2016
In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Frans de Waal presents a fascinating history of the study of animal behavior and cognition. De Waal, who says his love of animals dates to his childhood, is a worldrenowned primatologist and ethologist and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. We asked him to shift gears and give us his take on the canine mind.
Bark: Konrad Lorenz (co-founder of your field) wrote Man Meets Dog in 1954. And while it is still one of the best, if slightly flawed, books on canine behavior, why did it take so long for ethologists, and other researchers, to to study dog behavior?
Frans de Waal: Dogs were (and are) considered imperfect subjects of study because they are “unnatural.” Many ethologists, including Lorenz, feel that natural behavior under naturalistic conditions is what we should focus on, and the dog is a product of artificial breeding. Lorenz liked all animals, however, and so couldn’t resist describing his dog stories, and we should all be grateful.
Clearly, the dog is a mammal with many typical mammalian tendencies, so now scientists are finally seeing that the fact that they are domesticated also has advantages. For example, they are eager to work with us, they are generally not dangerous, they are smart, they have empathy. Lots of great things can be done with them. And they are easier to work with than other large mammals, such as apes and dolphins.
Bk: Can you give an example of how other species, including dogs, demonstrate empathy?
FdW: American psychologist Carolyn Zahn-Waxler sought to determine at what age children begin to comfort family members who sobbed or cried “ouch.” It turns out that children do so at one year of age. In the same study, Zahn-Waxler accidentally discovered that household dogs react similarly. Appearing as upset as the children by the distress-faking family members, the dogs hovered over them, putting their heads in their laps with what looked like great concern. This work has recently been repeated in different studies, more focused on the dogs themselves, and it is clear that these animals show empathic concern for humans.
The ancestor of the dog, the wolf, probably behaves the same. If “man is wolf to man,” as Thomas Hobbes liked to say, we should take this in the best possible way, including a tendency to comfort the whimpering and help the needy. This insight, of course, would undermine much of political philosophy based on Hobbes’ dog-eat-dog view of nature.
Bk: Do you think human bias has played a part in some of the canine cognitive studies?
FdW: At first, dogs were rated as more intelligent than even apes and wolves because they followed the direction of human pointing (at a bucket with food), whereas apes and wolves ignored human directions. Then it was found that wolves raised in a human home will act more like dogs, following human pointing, suggesting that the earlier failures with wolves were probably due to lack of bonding and attention. The same probably applies to the apes. Now, dogs are seen not just as smart but rather, as finely in tune with the species that bred them.
They have a special bond with us, as also reflected in the oxytocin studies, which show that human-dog contact increases this “cuddle” hormone in both. The dog is perhaps the only animal that performs at its peak when tested by humans, whereas many other animals are not so into us, hence need to be tested in different ways. This is yet more proof that cognitive testing of animals always needs to take into account what kind of animal we are dealing with: we need to find the most species-appropriate way.
Bk: In contrast to behaviorism’s reward/ punishment model, ethology views animals as “seeking, wanting and striving.” Why do you feel the latter is a more productive way to look at animals?
FdW: The behaviorists (followers of B. F. Skinner) totally overlooked natural animal tendencies. Trying to explain all behavior on the basis of reward and punishment, they could not explain why you can train a dog to fetch, but not a rabbit or a goat.
Predators are obsessed with small moving objects, which we see every day in our dogs as well as cats. Their interest sets up a learning situation where they are going to absorb many lessons about how to catch these moving objects, how to trick them, how to outsmart them. Dogs eagerly learn all of those things.
Reward and punishment are only small parts of the story; their natural hunting instinct is, in fact, the driver of the process. This is where behaviorism failed. It had some good ideas, many of them applicable to animal training, but its perspective was far too narrow as it lacked attention to natural tendencies and the evolution of behavior.
Bk: Why do you think Darwin used dogs to illustrate emotional continuity?
FdW: Darwin was a dog lover, and he knew that to get his message across about the continuity between human and animal emotions, the dog would be the easiest way to communicate. Darwin mostly worked on the expression of emotions (it’s hard to know what animals feel, but we can at least document how they signal various states, such as fear, submission, anger, affection). Of course, the dog is very expressive with its postures, facial expressions, tail-wagging, growling and so on. Darwin knew that most people could relate to all of this, and would have more trouble if he described other species that people have less exposure to.
Bk: In terms of an evolutionary advantage, how important is it for a species to have self-awareness, or theory of mind?
FdW: These capacities require large brains. In terms of recognizing oneself in the mirror or understanding what others know, the champion species are apes, dolphins, elephants and perhaps also the corvids (crow family). This doesn’t mean that dogs lack them. They probably have similar understanding, but not as fully expressed.
The more complex the societies of a species, the more demands there are on cognition, and perhaps canines do not need social understanding at the level of an ape or dolphin. I feel we need to judge animals on what they are good at and what they need to know to survive. In this regard, canines have lots of specialized skills, often related to their sense of smell, their pursuit of prey, their need for tight cooperation and so on. This is where we should test them out, and probably find remarkable skills.
Bk: Clearly, emotions are important to the understanding of behavior; how do they relate to and inform one another?
FdW: In my book, I left emotions out on purpose because I felt it would muddle things. But there can be no studies of cognition without attention to the emotions, and vice versa. The two go hand in hand. In our famous capuchin monkey experiment with the grape and the cucumber, for example, you can see not only that the monkeys judge what they get relative to what others get, but also their strong emotional response. You cannot study the one and ignore the other.
New Points of View of Shelter Dogs
September 2 2016
Two new books, both well-investigated works, merit your attention. The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene is a fascinating, absorbing and inspirational read about the power of love to help those in need, while The Dog Merchants by Kim Kavin introduces an out-of-thebox idea involving a rating system that just might change how we get our dogs. Both are out just in time to make it to the top of your summer must-read list.
Greene’s book is an examination of the power of the bond between dogs and children with disabilities, but its purview extends much further. The two-time National Book Award nominee interweaves personal stories of children, their families and a few unforgettable dogs with current research and scientific findings on the cognitive and emotional lives of dogs and the human/ canine bond. The main story revolves around a remarkable woman, Karen Shirk, and the service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, that she founded in 1998. It was the first organization to train skilled service dogs with public access for young children.
We learn how Shirk’s own experience —developing myasthenia gravis as a young adult and being saved by a dog —motivated and inspired her to become a leading advocate for service dogs for young children with disabilities. 4 Paws trains dogs for highly specialized work, including seizure alert, mobility assistance and autism assistance; the goal is to never exclude a child “because a disability did not fit in a box.”
Greene profiles some of the families who have been benefited profoundly by graduates of this program; their compelling and uplifting stories pull on your heartstrings. Just how this connection between a dog and a child is established, and what motivates dogs to bond so deeply to their young charges speaks volumes for the intensity of crossspecies attachment.
Some of these dogs are truly are underdogs, adopted from shelters and trained in a nearby prison-based program. In a chapter called “Prison Dogs,” we have a good example of how adroitly Greene blends congruent storylines— those of the families and their children with, in this case, stories of the importance of the dogs to the inmates, along with overviews of research into “why humans feel happier in the presence of dogs.” Greene is a gifted and caring storyteller, and she gives her subjects the intelligence and warmth they deserve. This all makes for absorbing, pleasurable and inspirational reading.
In Kavin’s Dog Merchants, subtitled Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers, she investigates the various channels through which dogs are purchased—keeping in mind that there are differences of scale between those who broker commercial puppy sales and those who provide shelter/rescue adoptions. Both, however, involve financial transactions. Her basic premise is that we as buyers need to be aware of our marketplace choices. Through crowdsourcing our views, she says, we might be able to make a difference. “We need to be conscious consumers when it comes to our dogs. None of us likes to think of our beloved dog as a product, but legally and financially, that is what dogs are.”
In the first half of the book, she takes us behind the scenes of the commercial dog world, from dog auctions to dog shows like Westminster (of which she is no great fan), breeders and the largescale brokers who provide overpriced puppies to pet stores. The second half focuses on rescuers and shelters, and what makes some of them more successful than others. The book also has a very useful chapter with questions that ought to be asked of breeders or shelters before getting a dog.
Kavin has developed a companion website, dogmerchants.com, that has listings for thousands of breeders and rescuers/shelters, and is now taking reviews and your suggestions. Might this change the way dogs are marketed? Will negative reviews actually expose those breeders or other “dog merchants” and have an impact on the way they do business? Will it hold them to account? Will it promote those who receive positive reviews? Kavin is definitely putting a lot of effort into weeding out the bad and “making the world a better place for dogs.” We can only hope that this works. While we might have questions about how the comments on the site are being vetted, we do applaud her for both it and her book.
See our Q&A with Kavin and read an excerpt from Dog Merchants, plus read an excerpt from The Underdogs.
August 31 2016
Kim Kavin’s provocative and probing new book, The Dog Merchants, takes a hard look at the “business” models behind how we get our dogs and the fur flies in many directions. We talk with her about some of her insights.
Bark: Why do you think people chose the dogs they have? Do you think that mixed-breeds are changing breed favoritism?
Kim Kavin: That’s a question it took me a whole book to try to answer. To sum up briefly, I think our choices about the dogs we bring home result from a combination of history, tradition, religion, culture, politics, gender, societal obligations and personal responsibility—all the stuff of humanity’s greatest world wars.
I think most of us feel in our hearts that we love dogs and are doing the right thing, whether we choose purebreds or mutts. And I think that most of us—on both sides—have never considered the enormous business interests and marketing efforts that are at play, all of which feed into our beliefs as well.
BK: You aren’t a big fan of televised dog events like Westminster, why not? What do you suggest as an alternative?
KK: To be clear about Westminster, I’ve never said the breeders who participate are necessarily doing anything wrong with their own dogs. What I’ve written is that when you take a show like Westminster and put it on millions of televisions and computer screens around the world, it stops being about the people and dogs in the ring and starts becoming about the resulting mass-market demand, which cannot possibly ever be filled by the types of breeders in that show ring. By their own estimate, they are merely 20 percent of the supply chain. When you turn a dog show into a mass-media event, it becomes the biggest marketing asset for all of the worst offenders, no matter how good the intentions of the people in the show ring.
The alternative I suggest in The Dog Merchants is that we evolve the concept of televised dog shows into a format that is more in keeping with our morals, media impact, and breeding and shelter realities today.
I’ve seen the attempts Fox has made, and cheer them. I think they’re a good start, and I give Fox and those producers like Michael Levitt who care deeply about dogs a great deal of credit for trying to be the first to break down that wall. They’ve made at least a small hole in it.
What I’d like to see is the entire wall smashed to smithereens. I think we need to get even more top-notch, highly talented people involved who are truly dedicated to animal welfare, people on the level of Simon Cowell of American Idol and Ricky Gervais. We need to use what they know about producing those big-time, international broadcasts to create a new format for dog shows that the general public will actually switch channels away from the Westminster-style shows to watch.
We need American Idol meets X-Games meets the Oscars, not just another version of a rescue-dog telethon, to really move the massmarketing needle.
Tell me dog lovers wouldn’t change the channel to watch. Tell me it wouldn’t show, inside of five minutes, just how antiquated the big beautypageant productions like Westminster have become. Tell me it wouldn’t change the way people think about dogs, and about what’s important when deciding to bring one into their families.
BK: What advice do you offer to people who are considering adopting a rescue dog but still wonder if it may be safer to buy a dog from a breeder?
KK: I think we all need to be far more conscious consumers, whether we’re buying from breeders or from rescuers. There are responsible and irresponsible people dealing in dogs on both sides, and it’s up to us all to put the latter out of business.
My book offers a litany of openended questions that people can ask to try to determine the true nature of any breeder or rescuer, and dogmerchants.com—if we all come together as dog lovers to post ratings and reviews—will go a long way toward helping us crowdsource the answers we need.
Here’s my ultimate advice: Stop being on the side of the breeders. Stop being on the side of the rescuers. Let’s get together on the side of all the dogs.
July 21 2016
Be sure to tune into and visit “Clear the Shelters” this Saturday, July 23. It is the largest adoption initiative in the nation with over 400 animal shelters and rescue organizations, holding street fairs and opening their doors to people interested in bringing a new family member home with them. The event is sponsored by NBC Owned Television Stations and the Telemundo Station Group. The animals will be ready for their new homes and come spayed or neutered, microchipped. Many shelters are also waiving adoption fees, plus offering benefits like free training lessons, dog food, coupons for toys and other products. Clear the Shelters helps to address the overcrowding issues that local animal shelters typically experience in the summer months because of spring litters. Last year some shelters actually were so successful that they were emptied of their animals, so let’s make this year’s event even bigger and better. Even if you can’t adopt a dog just now, it still is a good time to come out and attend a local event, to talk with shelter personnel, or local rescuers to understand the importance of adopting your next pet from a shelter. See for yourself how many wonderful animals need new homes. Check out this map for an event in your area. And let us know if you adopt a dog on July 23, and if send us a photo of you with your new dog we’ll give you a free subscription to The Bark. Send us your photo submission here.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
July 13 2016
Reading is a year-round pleasure but summer is particular seems to invite us to kick back, chill out and dive into the printed—or digital—page. Here are our candidates for your reading list, books we feel offer intriguing perspectives and tell good tales.Non-Fiction
The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love
Behind the scenes with a remarkable organization that trains dogs—some from shelters—for highly specialized work for young children with disabilities. Inspirational and absorbing.
By Melissa Fay Greene (Ecco)
Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon
This is a thoughtfully-researched book examining the history, stereotypes, fictional and societal worries surrounding a breed that was once considered an American icon.
By Bronwen Dickey (Alfred A. Knopf)
The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers
This is a compelling investigation of the many ways that dogs come into our lives—keeping in mind how the financial transactions involved affect all dogs.
By Kim Kavin (Pegasus Books)
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Noted ethologist shows us that animals are not only smarter but also engaged in different ways of thought we have only begun to understand. The importance of looking at other species through their own world-views.
By Frans de Waal (W.W. Norton & Company)
Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures
Looking at the correlation between human and animal healing and how finding a cure is important to both species.
Arlene Weintraub (ECW Press)
Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home
A thoroughly engaging book about a lost dog’s journey and a family’s furious search to find him before it’s too late.
Pauls Toutonghi (Alfred A. Knopf)
Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry
Noted veterinarian behaviorist breaks new ground with the practice of One Medicine, the recognition that humans and other animals share the same neurochemistry, and that our minds and emotions work in similar ways.
By Nicholas Dodman, DVM (Atria Books)
Free Days with George: Learning Life’s Little Lessons from One Very Big Dog
An inspirational story about the healing power of animals, and about leaving the past behind to embrace love, hope and happiness.
By Colin Campbell (Doubleday)Fiction
A touching and dramatic story about saving animals in a no-kill shelter from a virulent virus. Some claim that dogs are the source but the veterinarian in charge of the shelter needs to prove this isn’t the case to save the animals.
By Neil Abramson (Center Street)
Stalking Ground: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery
The second in a new mystery series about a small town policewoman and her K-9 partner. Realistic portrayal of how the two work together; plus good character development that includes a sympathetic veterinarian and his two young daughters.
Margaret Mizushima (Crooked Lane Books)
No Better Friend: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II
A young readers’ version of one of our 2015 picks. This is a compelling and well-researched book that does justice to the remarkable dog Judy and the men whose stories are told so effectively and poignantly. Theirs is truly one of the great sagas of WWII.
By Robert Weintraub (Little, Brown and Company)
Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess
Elegant, charming and whimsical a story of a governess teaching 67 dogs and how she imparts 20 important lessons to her furry brood.
By Janet Hill (Tundra Books)
Picture Book (Ages 4 to 8)
July 11 2016
A ruling in an animal abuse case in Oregon should have far-reaching ramifications because the Supreme Court of that state ruled recently that pets are not just “mere” property. The case involved the conviction of a dog owner who was starving her pet. In this instance the owner had appealed her conviction for second-degree neglect because a veterinarian had drawn the dog’s blood (without her permission).
According to the Court’s summary of the case:
The case at issue began in 2010, when an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog, failing to properly feed it and keeping it in a kennel for many hours a day. An animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb's apartment in December 2010 and, once invited in, saw "Juno" in the yard with "no fat on his body." The dog, the investigator reported, "was kind of eating at random things in the yard, and trying to vomit."
The investigator asked why, and Newcomb said she was out of dog food but that she was going to get more that night, according to the summary of the case.
The investigator believed that defendant had neglected Juno. He asked her for permission to take the dog in for medical care, but defendant, who thought her dog looked healthy, refused and became irate. The officer therefore took protective custody of Juno without defendant’s consent, both as evidence of the neglect and because of the “strong possibility” that Juno needed medical treatment. He transported Juno to the Humane Society, where Juno would be housed and medically treated as appropriate. From medical tests, the officer expected also to be able to determine whether neglect charges were warranted or whether Juno should be returned to defendant.
The vet gave Juno food, charted his weight and measured his rapid weight gain over several days. The vet also drew Juno's blood and ruled out any disease. The investigator concluded nothing was wrong with the dog other than it was very hungry.
Newcomb was then convicted of second-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor. Among other problems with the conviction, Newcomb argued, authorities violated her constitutional rights to be protected from unreasonable searches of property by drawing blood from her dog. Under Oregon law, animals are defined as property.
The prosecutor Adam Gibbs had argued that taking the dog to the veterinarian office was similar to care in suspected child-abuse cases. And further argued that a dog is not a container—like an inanimate piece of property—that requires a warrant. Rather, Gibbs argued that a dog "doesn't contain anything"—and that what's inside a dog is just "more dog."
The Supreme Court’s ruling agreed with his, stating that the chemical composition of Juno's blood was not "information" that Newcomb "placed in Juno for safekeeping or to conceal from view."
And concluded that the “defendant had no protected privacy interest in Juno’s blood that was invaded by the medical procedures performed.” And while dogs are considered personal property in Oregon, the ownership rights aren’t the same as with inanimate property, imposing other limits. “Those limitations, too, are reflections of legal and social norms. Live animals under Oregon law are subject to statutory welfare protections that ensure their basic minimum care, including veterinary treatment. The obligation to provide that minimum care falls on any person who has custody and control of a dog or other animal.”
Also interestingly the court added,
“As we continue to learn more about the interrelated nature of all life, the day may come when humans perceive less separation between themselves and other living beings than the law now reflects. However, we do not need a mirror to the past or a telescope to the future to recognize that the legal status of animals has changed and is changing still[.]”
See the full opinion here.
June 28 2016
Pat Summitt, the legendary basketball coach who brought women’s basketball to new heights, died at the age of 64. She had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at 58.
Not only did she have an amazingly successful career with the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols, but she was an inspiration both on and off the court to her players, all of whom also graduated, school officials said. She coached for almost 40 years, and started her career as coach when she was only 22 years old. She also inspired a variable Who’s Who in women’s sports, see this sampling of head coaches with ties to her.
Not only that, but her toughness, resilience—and love for her dogs—was demonstrated in 2008 when she dislocated her shoulder while forearming a raccoon off her deck to protect her Lab, Sally.
Her son, Tyler Summitt, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying his mother died peacefully at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.
“Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced,” Tyler Summitt said. “Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.”
[This following post appeared in 2011]
Pat Summitt is one gutsy woman, not only is she the winningest NCAA basketball coach in history (male or female) but this week she announced she has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at 59. Her talents, on and off the court, are near and dear to our hearts and we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to interview her about how dogs have inspired her and her style of coaching. Not only that, but her toughness, resilience—and love for her dogs—was demonstrated three years ago when she dislocated her shoulder while forearming a raccoon off her deck to protect her Lab, Sally. We wish her, and her family, well—and hope that she will continue to inspire her players and all those who love the game of basketball.
June 24 2016
One doesn’t often get the chance to have a hand in saving the life of another individual but early yesterday morning I had the rare opportunity to experience exactly that. A few days before, I and my pal, Naomi, were out walking our dogs at the Albany Bulb when we spotted a stray dog. The Bulb is a very unusual park constructed as landfill in the bay with debris from a previous highway. For years it was regarded as semi-marginal land full of mammoth chunks of concrete spiked with rebar tentacles but it became the favorite haunt for homeless encampments and outsider artworks, and, oh yes, for dog people too.
Recently the Bulb has received more attention from park planners, and is in the process of an intense clean-up and gentrification effort, some of it good, some of it threatening to become restrictive to our dogs. But it is still a wild and wonderful urban park with stunning views of the Golden Gate bridge. This past Saturday morning that is where my dog Lola found the dog at the end of what is referred to as the Bulb’s neck. It was only a fleeting image, of a white/brown fluff who yapped at Lola but as soon as we humans came on the scene, ran away. The next day we saw the dog at the same time and place but after a few barks, she sped off. We asked other park goers if they had seen such a dog and yes many had seen this dog for a very long time but didn’t know much more nor do much about it.
Obviously this was a dog who needed help, one can’t imagine where a dog could find any food and with no fresh water anywhere nearby, it seemed that she was in an extremely perilous situation calling for immediate intervention. So I contacted another friend, dog park advocate, Mary Barnsdale who, among many other dog-related interests, chairs an organization called Aldog, and maintains its Facebook page. I also asked her to also contact Jill Posener, another dog advocate and rescue person who runs a spay/neuter initiative called Paw Fund, who I knew has orchestrated successful stray rescues. They both had heard about this dog for at least four months, but the sightings were in many different areas that this was the first time they heard of sightings that were more precise and detailed. After our weekend initial sightings, my partner, Cameron, went out on day three, and he too found the dog in the same area. So now we now had a trifecta that could launch a rescue plan.
To further help the effort, Cameron put bowls of water, and tiny feeding stations throughout that area, and placed small irrigation flags to highlight the area. So on Tuesday evening Mary and Jill brought out the two traps, baited them and waited for a few hours. Nothing happened that night or the next, so it was decided that since we had seen the dog early in the morning, that the vigil on Thursday would be moved up to the crack of dawn.
Jill arrived first and had already baited the traps when I showed up at 5:30 a.m. She was standing off to the side of a pathway far from the traps to not be seen by the dog. She and I stood there whispering about the strategy, and at around 6:00 I saw a white flash go to the copse of trees where one of the traps was located. So we had our sighting. Jill told me that we might hear the trap door close but also cautioned that if the dog didn’t enter the trap within a few minutes that it would be it for that day. If that didn’t work then, we would have to remove the bait and plan to return the next morning and then scatter food around (and in) the trap to get the dog used to finding the food nearby. We waited with bated breath but did not hear anything, no barking, no cage door closing. But at 6:15 we quietly went out, not expecting to see anything but empty crates, but lo and behold, Jill quickly exclaimed, “bingo, we got a dog!” And there was the little wild one inside the trap, all the food had been eaten and when as we approached she barked up a storm and tried to dig her way out. It is really hard to express what a joyous moment this was but we took it very cautiously not coming too close, but close enough to see that she was safe and secure.
Jill then phoned Officer Justin Kurland of the Albany police department, who the day before had sent her this photo of the dog that he had taken at the exact spot where we were standing. He had seen the traps with a notice with Jill’s contact info. He had told her that if the trapping worked to call him and he would open the gate to the trail so she could drive up to the area instead of carrying the heavy crate down to the parking lot. So I was left alone to watch over the pup who I tried my best to reassure and cheer up, as Jill went to wait for him and to get her van. Even though the pup continued to bark, her body language seemed to calm down and she wasn’t frantic, there was even a slight tail wag. A few minutes later I was happy to see Officer Justin on a motorcycle escorting Jill’s van up to the rescue site. It was great getting his help, and he told us that he had two small dogs and might even adopt this one! We all were cooing and marveling at her. She sure is a cutie. He helped carry the traps to the van. He also added that he was so excited to get Jill’s call, that he left his cellphone at the station!
Once in the van, the dog totally calmed down, the barking stopped and she eagerly gobbled up the greasy chicken given to her between the bars, and even licked our fingers. It was like she was seemed relieved to get the wild life behind her. She didn’t appear too frightened, perhaps a little bewildered, but who wouldn’t be? We all fell under her spell.
Jill then drove her to the Berkeley animal shelter to see if she was chipped (negative) and check up on her health etc. She seemed fine considering her long ordeal, a few fur mats, but so far so good. They thought that with her nice white teeth that she was perhaps two years old (almost a quarter of her life spent as a stray). A vet will be checking her out thoroughly on Friday. So look like a Lhasa mix, with short legs and a lovely fluffy tail indicating a breed like that. Cameron and I paid a couple of visits to her today and we got to see a totally different dog as she greeted us at her kennel’s glass door. We weren’t permitted yet to go into her kennel, but Jill has the authority to do that, and it was so heartwarming to see how she was greeted by little Allie (with her new name) playing and nuzzling her. Jill will act as the adoption agent, finding her a foster home first and then picking the perfect forever guardian for her. Officer Justin might be just the candidate, and I heard that he has planned to bring his wife to meet with her. I am confident that all will work out for Allie, and I will be posting future news about her. But if anyone in the SF Bay area might be interested, you can contact me directly.
I can’t say enough about the great work that Jill and Mary do by picking up the slack from local shelters that are too strapped for staffing and funding—they simply do not have the resources to mount trapping efforts. This one was resolved quickly but normally it can take many days or even weeks and someone must be on site to check the traps so that other animals or dogs aren’t being caught. But individuals, like Jill and Mary, who freely donate their time and expertise, can also enlist others, such as eager ride-along novices like myself, to pitch in too. So this one worked out almost effortlessly, a full community effort, even involving a police officer!
I would love to hear your stray rescue stories. How were they resolved? Any tips to offer to others? Jill did teach me, that calmness and patience are key, but the payoff when a dog is safely rescued pays dividends that are definitely worth it all.
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