Kathleen St. John

Kathleen St. John is a freelance writer for target The Denver Post and The Onion's A.V. Club, and a lifelong dog lover. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband, John, and her dog, Daisy, who's a mix of just about everything.

News: Guest Posts
Hey, Pal, Your Dog Needs Help
How to intervene when a dog needs an advocate?

It was a glorious Sunday afternoon in the park. My husband and I were having a lovely time at our friends’ impromptu baby shower, a picnic with lots of snacks, sangria and lawn games. Everyone was basking in the sun and celebrating the happy occasion.

Everyone except Sparky.

Sparky the Lab mix was tied to a nearby tree. He had a long lead and plenty of water, but he was clearly agitated. He seemed concerned about his “territory” from the get-go, barking warnings at newcomers to the party and pacing almost constantly. At one point, I refilled his water dish and when I bent down to put it on the ground, Sparky jumped at my face, snapping his jaws and headbutting me. It hurt.

Nobody seemed to see it. Sparky’s owners were the couple being feted, and I didn’t want to spoil the fun. I didn’t say anything.

As the park began to fill with weekend revelers—and their dogs and toddling children—Sparky’s protectiveness increased. He was on guard full-time now. More than once, passersby smiled and came closer to Sparky, attracted by his classic Labrador handsomeness. As soon as they crossed the invisible border of Sparky’s kingdom, he charged, barking ferociously. Hands that reached out to pet were swiftly retracted, and smiles turned into scowls.

“Sparky!” one of his owners would shout distractedly. Then, “Oh, Sparky,” with a sigh.

It happened over and over again. I started to worry that Sparky would go after a kid. But I never said anything.

I felt conflicted. What would I have said? This was a special day for Sparky’s parents. Should I have pointed out their dog’s anxiousness, basically forcing them to cut the party short to take Sparky home? But what if the dog actually hurt someone? I’d feel far worse about that.

It’s a tricky situation. Much like parents and their children, pointing out a dog’s behavioral issues can offend the owner. When it’s a good friend or a family member who’s got “The Bad Dog,” the touchiness factor is far higher. You don’t want to come off as critical of your friend, or ruin a precious moment, but you also don’t want anyone to get hurt. And in Sparky’s case, he was uncomfortable, too.

I’m not always a shrinking violet when it comes to misbehaving pooches. My husband and I essentially got a woman kicked out of our apartment building for refusing to leash her dog. The dog was dog-aggressive, and the owner either didn’t know or care to control her animal. It even tried to push its way into our apartment once to get at our dog.

After woman-to-woman pleas, gentle reminders and, eventually, confrontations, we finally had the guts to file formal complaints. She was evicted—just because she couldn’t find the wherewithal to consistently leash her dog. Despite verbal reports from other neighbors, we were the only ones who approached the management with the problem in writing.

But I barely knew that woman beyond her first name. It’s far different when a person you care about has a dog that’s potentially harmful.

It’s not like I think I’m a behavior expert. I know that my dog is sometimes The Bad Dog. She’s aggressive toward other dogs and not great on the leash. We’re working on it, though, and we try to be realistic about her bad behavior and our limitations. I just don’t know what to do when it’s someone else’s dog who’s lashing out.

Have you ever had to confront a friend or family member about their dog’s behavior? How did you do it, and how did it go over?


News: Guest Posts
Bear v. Dog Mom

If dogs issued medals for bravery, this woman would get top honors: Brooke Collins, of Juneau, Alaska, took on a black bear—and won—to save the life of her beloved Dachshund.

Collins heard little Fudge barking hysterically in her yard and discovered the bear trying to make a snack out of her weiner dog. Her protective instincts took over and, without thinking, Collins ran up to the bear, punched it in the face, and scooped up Fudge.

The bear took off, and Fudge is recovering at home.

Collins admits that what she did was “stupid,” but she was caught up in fear for her dog’s life.

 “I wasn’t in my right mind at the moment but I would never think of doing it again,” she told the Juneau Empire.

Read the full story here.

Would you do the same thing? Have you ever done something crazy to rescue your pup?

News: Guest Posts
A Lifesaving Lens
With time running out, “death-row dogs” have a friend in photographer Carolyn Evans

Carolyn Evans spends her days as the “Phodographer” of the Cincinnati area, snapping keepsake photos of beloved pets. In her off time, though, she’s a passionate crusader for shelter dogs, using her photography skills to take photos of dogs who have run out of time at a shelter. With a click of the shutter, she can capture the essence of a lonely pup on the brink.

Evans distributes her photos online to give these “death-row dogs” one more chance at adoption. She has a particular soft spot for Pit Bulls, currently banned in Cincinnati, and her photos reflect the true nature of happy, healthy Pits.

She says: “Just like receiving a gift in a Tiffany’s box, I think that seeing a professionally photographed image, and knowing that someone cared enough about this animal to invest in a professional photograph, sends a very different message than what many think of when considering an animal from a shelter.”

Recently, I asked Evans about her rescue projects, her own dogs and how she balances her work and activism.

In your daily life, you’re a professional pet photographer for happy families. Once a week, though, you photograph shelter dogs who are about to be euthanized. How do you handle those two extremes?

Carolyn Evans: When I’m at the shelter, I have to try checking my emotions at the door and focus on the task at hand. The fact that the dog needs help, craves attention and doesn’t know anything about their possible fate helps me focus. Dogs definitely live in the here and now, and all they know is that someone has come in to give them some special attention. Afterwards, it’s definitely more difficult to keep my emotions in check. But it helps to have others that I work with who have looked into the eyes of these very same dogs and who are going through the same emotional rollercoaster. We lean on each other for support and draw strength from one another.

In my professional life, I meet some of the happiest, most loved, pampered pooches you could ever imagine. I guess that’s just life, and the disparity amongst these dogs is no different than the “haves” and the “have-nots” of our world. I know I can’t change that. But I’m glad that I have clients who adore their own dogs as much as they do—that’s why I get along with them so well.

What’s it like for you when you find out one of the photographed dogs didn’t make it?

Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. I obviously go into this knowing that there is a distinct possibility that a dog I photograph will not make it. Knowing this in advance helps me sort through and brace myself. For the most part, I’m not going to be taken completely by surprise, but it is never, ever easy to accept the cold hard fact when I learn that a particular animal is gone. Every single loss leaves its mark. It is something that weighs heavily on my mind. But these are all my emotions and they have nothing to do with the dogs. So for me, my wanting to spare myself these emotions is not a reason to deny the dogs another opportunity for a better shot at getting out.

Do you go to the same shelter every week?

I work with several rescue groups that pull animals from a number of different shelters in the area. In fact, the way that I got involved in pet photography to begin with was that I formed Happy Tails in 1997, a nonprofit organization to promote animal adoptions from local animal shelters through stories and photographs of rescued pets. At the time, I wanted to find a way to help local shelters, but I was leery of committing to walking/socializing dogs that may not be alive the next time I visited. Emotionally, I wasn’t sure that I could handle it back then, so I found another way to make a contribution. It took me a long time to muster the courage to actually photograph dogs at risk—“death-row dogs.”

Where are the photos posted?

The photos are posted on several different websites and in social networking arenas. It depends on the particular group that I am working with, or stipulations of the shelter.

Facebook has proven to be an effective medium for spreading the message far and wide when an animal needs rescue … [but] Facebook tends to elicit stronger emotions and people will act on impulse and a desire to save a dog. The intentions are good, but it’s not the best approach for a good match. Probably the most effective placement of my photos is by rescue coordinators who send regular “urgent” emails to rescue groups in their network. These are not posted publicly, but rather go directly to rescue groups who are in a position to take animals into their rescue groups/foster network and are actively looking for animals to take into their rescue.

How effective have your photographs been in getting dogs adopted?

In general, a photograph alone will not save a dog, but it is an important component of an overall rescue strategy. And it is essential to have a good quality photo to help an animal get noticed in the sea of animals looking for a home. Nowadays, so many people are starting their search for a pet online and rescue groups are pulling dogs from many different shelters initially based on a photograph and description of the animal. People will travel many miles to adopt a dog they’ve never met, but who caught their eye in a photograph. So, just having a good, clear, well-lit, expressive photo (taken by anyone) is going to improve an animal’s chances at rescue.

Thankfully, there are many photographers out there these days who are volunteering their professional services to help local shelters and rescue groups photograph their animals. There are even networks and forums for those who want to get involved and to help find volunteers.

[For example, see our story on HeARTs Speak, a nonprofit alliance of photographers volunteering their services for shelters and rescues.]

How is Cincinnati’s Pit Bull ban affecting families in your city?

Families are being torn apart when family dogs are seized and killed based on appearance alone. And just like anything else, once something is banned, it suddenly becomes “cool and desirable” to the wrong crowd and the only people who will have whatever is banned are the very people who shouldn’t have it in the first place. The City of Cincinnati employs two full-time police officers dedicated to identifying Pit Bulls. Instead of targeting reckless owners to keep our community safe, innocent dogs are being killed, and the public is not protected from dangerous or vicious dogs because the ban is based on appearance and not behavior.

Were you always a fan of Pit Bulls, or did something change your mind?

My family had the most incredible Pit Bull mix named Moose when we were growing up. This was many years ago, before we even knew what a Pit Bull was, so we had no preconceived notions about the breed. Moose was simply the best family dog we could have ever dreamed of for our family of six kids, so I’ve never had any reason to have anything but positive feelings for the breed. But today, Pit Bulls are so unfairly discriminated against.

Tell me a little about your pups at home.

Our two dogs, Abby (a Border Collie/Lab mix) and Capt. Jack (the best looking Golden Retriever mix I’ve ever met), both came into our lives not long after our first two dogs had passed. My husband was adamant that we wait a bit before bringing more dogs into our family, but he is the one who actually made the first move to adopt both of these dogs, so I was glad to see that now it’s not just me, but also my husband, who is willingly taking rescue dogs into our lives.

Abby was a stray that was found wandering the streets of Covington, Ky., in an area where animals are frequently abandoned or dumped. I received an urgent email and we decided to foster her until we could find a home for her. Four years later, she’s still with us! Jack was the furriest, biggest (cutest) puppy at an adoption event that I wasn’t supposed to go to. After telling me that IF we were going to get another dog, it wouldn’t be (1) a puppy, (2) a large dog, and (3) a long-haired, furry dog, my husband picked this little bundle of joy out of the pack.

News: Guest Posts
Foodie Poodle Cooks Noodles
Francis is the well-behaved host of a Japanese cooking show on YouTube

Dogs like to help out around the house, from working farms to high-rise apartments. There’s one room, however, where they aren’t typically welcome: the kitchen.

Try telling that to Francis. He’s the miniature-poodle “host” of Cooking With Dog, a Japanese YouTube series. Over a Chopin piano soundtrack, Francis “narrates” each episode as a chef prepares classic Japanese meals. He gives measurements and advice, and rounds up the show with the full recipe. Naturally, his favorite movie is listed as Ratatouille.

Most of the time, Francis is a silent and still observer, perched politely on the counter. Occasionally, he changes position or gives an especially interesting ingredient a curious sniff, but Francis largely stays on the sidelines. He gets a little sleepy at times and, incredibly, nods off, even in the face of pork belly.

There’s at least one episode where Francis loses his cool, though: When his chef pal finishes making okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, Francis can’t contain a little, pleading whine and impatient foot-stomps (watch below). It just looks that good.

Francis’s restraint in the kitchen is impressive. Tasty food constantly passes within inches of his snout, but he manages to stay calm—that’s some solid training. My dog, Daisy, could take a lesson or two from Francis: She loves to be my “sous chef,” but isn’t nearly so patient and unobtrusive.

Does your dog like to “help out” in the kitchen?

News: Guest Posts
The Short Tail of the Rump Scratch
Why so many dogs love being rubbed on the rear

I’m half-asleep. I can hear the “tip-tap” sound of Daisy’s nails on the wood floor. I open my eyes just a millimeter, and see Daisy’s face right in front of mine. Her chin is resting on the edge of the bed, and her expectant face moves gently from side to side with the movement of her wagging tail. It’s time to wake up and eat and walk—the best time of the day!

I reach out to pet her cute head and, suddenly, there it is: The Rump. Or, more precisely, Daisy’s luxurious, wagging tail and poised hindquarters. Right in my face. She cranes her head around to look at me, as if to say, “Well?”

Like many dogs, Daisy loves a good, solid rubbing on her rear. She loves it as much as tummy rubs—sometimes maybe more. What is it about that area that drives dogs mad with pleasure?

According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University, the answer is very simple.

“The reason most dogs like their rears scratched is because that is a very hard area for them to reach themselves,” Beaver says. “Think about the hardest place you have to reach in the middle of your back, and how nice it is if someone will scratch that for you.”

This explains the pleading eyes and subsequent looks of rapture.

Keep an eye out, though, for signs that your pup’s posterior-petting obsession isn’t just a good time. Beaver says to look for excessive scratching, a bad odor, or bald spots.

Rear-rubs aren’t universally loved, either. Some dogs are not especially pleased by a rump-scratch, and move away, growl or snap when a well-meaning human touches their hips too directly.

“A few dogs are just not into being touched in many places and don’t appreciate the help,” Beaver says.

However, if your dog is one of the rump-scratch lovers, remember that you’re doing them a big favor—even though sometimes you’d prefer to stick with a nice ear scratch or chin rub. They’d return that favor if they could.

News: Guest Posts
Will a Mutt Be New York’s Top Dog?
New York legislators consider “the rescue dog” as new state dog

New York state legislators are teaming up to take a major stand for shelter dogs: In April, they introduced a bill designating “the rescue dog” as the official New York state dog. And it’s a bipartisan effort. State Assemblyman Micah Kellner, a Democrat from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is co-sponsoring the bill with fellow Manhattanite and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal along with Rochester Republican Joseph Robach, a state senator.

  A spokesman for Kellner told The New York Times, “He’s a huge advocate for animals in need.” He doesn’t own a dog at the moment, but has fostered shelter pups in the past. Robach owns three shelter dogs.   If the bill passes, New York will be the 12th state in the nation to name an official state dog. Most state dogs have an obvious local connection, such as Alaska and its Malamute or the New England-bred Chinook, state dog of New Hampshire. Adopting the rescue dog as a canine ambassador will be more of a statement.   It’s appropriate, though, considering New York’s history as a haven for immigrants looking for a new home and a new life. And, as Kellner pointed out in a press conference, New Yorkers are a tough, scrappy lot, much like rescue pups.   There’s no word yet on when it’ll be put to a vote. In the meantime, New Yorkers can voice their support for the measure by contacting their local representatives in the statehouse. Track the bill: SO4781, AO6681.


News: Guest Posts
Cute Animal Overload
Cuteroulette.com is the most adorablest time-waster in the world

Buckle your sweet-belts, everybody. Cuteroulette.com is here to sweep you into a fluffy vortex of adorable-ness.

Created by New York City design firm Hard Candy Shell, the site brings together a random assortment of “squee!”-inducing YouTube videos. Simply keep clicking the “Next Cuteness” arrow to up your dosage of incredibly precious creatures doing precious little things.   Some of the videos are old chestnuts, like “Puppy Howl” and “Surprised Kitty,” but new friends are in store, too. The videos aren’t relegated to the usual domestic pets, so you may find yourself unexpectedly charmed by a pair of fennec foxes, or suddenly soothed by the sight of a sleeping tiger kitten.   Of course, there are plenty of pups in the feed to keep us dog-people interested. Beware of the “Pug Massage” video, or one of a gangly Great Dane puppy and his perplexing tortoise pal. They’ll make even the most jaded cute-seeker melt like a cheap chocolate Easter bunny.   The most dangerous thing about Cuteroulette? The parade of related videos that appear at the bottom of each clip as it ends. Before you know it, you could find yourself watching 10 baby-and-doggie vids, disappearing into the black hole of “Awwwww.” (Or, like me, end up following the call of the wolf video for 20 minutes.)   Just remember: All productivity will be temporarily terminated upon visiting Cuteroulette. But if you’re having a bad day, there may be nothing better. Watch, you'll see:

News: Guest Posts
Why I Like Leash Laws
The downside of free-roaming dogs

Last week, the Denver Police Department and Animal Care and Control held a friendly press conference reminding dog owners to keep their pets leashed, or face fines of at least $80.

  The conference was held at Cheesman Park, the city’s favorite place to illegally let dogs run loose. Hilariously, a man let his dog cavort, leashless, on the lawn during the press conference, apparently unaware of exactly who was gathered at the park—until a couple officers started heading his way. (He got off with a warning.)   There was no real news at the conference. No laws have changed. It was just a springtime reminder to dog owners that they should only let dogs go leashless in designated dog parks.   It probably won’t change matters much, but I’m happy the city is making an effort. As the owner of a dog-aggressive dog in a canine-filled city, anything that keeps pups on leashes is fine by me. My husband and I got Daisy from a shelter almost four years ago. She’s a mutt who looks like a miniature wolf, or a blonde fox, and is often mistaken for a Shiba Inu. She is sweet, loving and probably the cuddliest dog I’ve ever met—when she’s around humans. But the mere sight of another dog sends her into a defensive rage.   They warned us about it at the shelter. When we took her on a get-to-know-you walk, we saw how she pulled mightily on her lead when she spied another dog. At the time, she seemed so small and cute that it wasn’t a big deal. We were so wrong.   After adding on about 15 pounds of healthy weight—she was terribly skinny in the shelter—Daisy got back to fighting strength. And she was ready to throw down. In a neighborhood filled with leashless, laid-back Labs and Frisbee-loving Aussie shepherds, Daisy was like Tony Soprano arriving on a hippie commune.   Everything about Daisy’s communication with other dogs says, “Eff you.” She walks with her head erect and ears pointed skyward, her chest puffed out. Her tail, usually long and straight, curls up over her back. When she detects another dog in the area, even if it’s just a distant bark, her hackles go up and she begins to huff and puff. When a dog comes into sight and moves closer, she starts to thrash and snarl, trying vainly to run at the other dog. Every dog, no matter how small, large or docile, is seen as a threat.   We tried seeing a trainer—it was expensive, and the trainer herself wasn’t a good fit. If we had more money, we’d go to a professional behaviorist. I’ve read books and articles. I’ve tried to sit in Cheesman Park with Daisy and feed her treats when dogs, often off-leash, appear. She refuses the treats, and her breathing becomes ragged and shallow as her rage turns into fear.   It’s a sad situation, but we do our best. Daisy has a couple of dog-pals she can play with at relatives’ houses. We avoid the dogs we see on walks, as it seems a large part of Daisy’s anxiety comes from her leash. What’s frustrating, though, is when a leashless dog comes running at Daisy, full of cheerful intentions, and I hear the owner absently call, “It’s OK, he’s friendly.” To which I respond, “Yes, but my dog isn’t.” By this point Daisy is lunging and growling at the other dog, who’s often puzzled, but sometimes offended and angered. And then we have a potential dogfight on our hands.   I understand the desire to let a dog off-leash. I might understand it more than anyone, since I have a dog who loves to run but can’t be let go in public. Still, leashes don’t exist just to be a buzzkill—they’re an important safety tool. I wish more people remembered that.


News: Guest Posts
Search Dogs Travel to Japan to Sniff Out Survivors
Follow their progress online

A dozen American search-and-rescue dogs are on the ground in Japan to search for survivors after last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

  Riley, Baxter, Pearl, Hunter, Cadillac and Joe were trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) and are based with firefighters in California. They’re currently at work in the hard-hit city of Ofunato. According to a CNN report, another group of six dogs, from Virginia Task Force 1 in Fairfax County, Va., have joined the effort as well.   Both rescue crews have responded to some of the biggest disasters of the last 20 years, from the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Learn more about the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in Lisa Wade McCormick’s story for Bark, “Rescue, Doubled” (Sept/Oct 2009).   The teams will sniff for humans still alive and trapped in the wreckage—even unconscious victims can be detected. Nosing into the layers of rubble, the dogs help “clear” areas as searchers systematically move through the debris.   The dogs’ work is easy to follow stateside: The SDF posts frequent updates on their site and on the group’s Facebook and Twitter pages. There’s even video of the dogs arriving in Japan to begin their mission.   Task Force 1 also reports the latest news on their site. The most recent posting, from Wednesday evening in Japan, said the dogs had concluded their searches in Ofunato and Kamaishi with no victims located.
News: Guest Posts
Does Your Home Need a Harvey?
Pup makes a convincing case for adoption in UK ad

Think your dog is well-trained? Meet Harvey, and reconsider. This freckled shelter pup performs a dazzling array of helpful household tricks, from shining (and not eating) shoes to picking the kids up at school—as he persuasively argues in this TV commercial, “Every home needs a Harvey.”

Since the ad first aired in the United Kingdom last fall, it’s racked up more than 1 million views on YouTube, and Harvey’s achieved canine celebrity in his homeland. He’s got his own Facebook page, a slew of “behind the scenes” extras and lots of incredibly cute pics for his fans to download. (The commercial is for UK advertising organization Thinkbox, which helps promote TV as a marketing medium.)   Offscreen, Harvey answers to a different name: Sykes. His real-life job as a pup-performer brings him plenty of work, including major film productions like Sweeney Todd, Prince of Persia and the latest Pirates of the Caribbean. In an article in The Guardian, Sykes comes across as refreshingly down-to-earth and charming, greeting the reporter at the door and showing off a sampling of the tricks he performed in his star-making commercial.   Sykes has a special connection to his Harvey character, too: He was once a stray. A friend of his future owner, Gill Raddings, was joined by Sykes while out on a walk. Raddings adopted Sykes after his original owner couldn’t be found, and she added him to her pack of acting animals.   Thinkbox’s “Harvey” commercial is currently getting a second blast of airplay across the pond, to the joy of his 12,000-plus Facebook fans. This time around, maybe he’ll make some new friends here in the States, and convince more people about the joys of adopting a shelter dog.