News: Guest Posts
My dog and I both enjoy the arrival of autumn. I love the cascade of warm leaf colors, and she particularly loves rooting through the newly dropped leaves, as if there must be a treat hidden in there somewhere. We’re able to take much longer walks, no longer burdened by daytime heat spikes, scorching pavement, or the constant buzz of mosquitoes.
However, this time of year also brings another, less pleasant arrival: adult-stage blacklegged, or deer ticks. Wait a minute! Maybe you thought ticks were only a problem in the spring and summer? Well, they are active then. But blacklegged ticks are also a problem in the autumn. The tiny, poppy seed-sized nymphs that were nearly invisible all summer now have grown into the adult form and seem to be everywhere. These autumn days, when all other bloodsuckers are pretty much gone, adult blacklegged ticks can be found spending their days at the tops of tall grasses and low shrubs, legs outstretched, and waiting for a potential host to brush by.
The females are particularly dangerous to you as well as your pup. It’s currently estimated that around 50 percent of female blacklegged ticks are infected with the Lyme disease bacteria in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwestern states, and the likelihood of transmission and infection increases the longer she’s attached and feeding. A lower proportion (about 15 percent) of these same ticks are infected in the southeastern and south-central states. And don’t be surprised if you see what looks like two types of tick on you or your pet. The all-black tick you may see is a male, usually just crawling around. He’s not interested in feeding (he’s only looking for the ladies). In addition to the Lyme disease bacteria, blacklegged ticks are also known carriers of the agent that causes canine anaplasmosis, another nasty pathogen that causes lethargy, lameness and fever in dogs.
While ticks pose a serious risk to you and your dog, they are no reason to hide indoors. A little TickSmart planning can help keep you TickSafe as you enjoy the beautiful fall weather.
Top 5 TickSmart™ Actions to Protect your Dog from Deer Ticks
•Avoid edges where ticks lie in wait.
•Perform daily tick checks on your dog.
•Protect your dog with a quick tick-knockdown product.
•Make sure your dog’s Lyme vaccine is up-to-date.
•Create a tick-free yard.
Dog's Life: Humane
Ten years ago, I was among the lucky ones, able to evacuate New Orleans ahead of the storm and take my pets with me. I had no idea that it would be more than a month before we could return—and even then, we were among the luckiest. For thousands of New Orleans-area residents and their pets, Hurricane Katrina was a devastating personal tragedy that stretched on long after the floodwaters subsided.
The upside for the animals who survived was a national spotlight that brought resources and expertise into the region, first, to assist with their rescue and later, to assist in developing programs that would ensure that the disaster of separating pets from their owners would never be repeated.
Louisiana passed a pet evacuation bill in 2006, and when Hurricane Gustav appeared in 2008, on the third anniversary of Katrina, pets were welcome on buses and trains carrying families out of the city. The Louisiana SPCA also lent a hand, with help from ARNO and other local rescue groups, distributing dog crates and supplies to families who didn’t have the tools to safely leave town with their pets. But there were still losses, and when I returned that week to my own uninhabited neighborhood, I was able to rescue remarkable, yet mysteriously abandoned, dogs, among them: a white Pit Bull named Babe; Doug, a blue brindle who became my own; and even a pair of English Bulldogs (I named them Harold and Maude), one of whom was wearing a dog tag that was later traced to an unrelated dog who had perished in Katrina.
Now, on yet another anniversary of the disaster, we can celebrate great gains. The Louisiana SPCA, which also serves as the city’s only open-intake shelter, has completed the second phase of their impressive new campus, adding 32,000 square feet to their existing space. Neighboring Jefferson Parish has also just broken ground for an equally large facility on the Westbank. Both parishes have seen a remarkable rise in animal services: free and low-cost spay/neuter programs, increased partnerships for placement of abandoned animals, and training and educational programs for pet owners. Rescue groups have sprung up across the city, and the Pit Bull, always popular in New Orleans, has come even more into the mainstream—you’ll see them everywhere if you visit the city. Even the local Basset Hound rescue takes Pit Bulls.
But despite the increased resources and foster organizations on the ground, one can’t help but think that the problem of strays really hasn’t been solved. Fewer animals are coming into the shelters (about 8,000 annually in New Orleans, compared to 10,000 in 2004), but more are being held, in some cases for years, in foster care with rescue groups while awaiting adoption. Those grass-roots organizations (including my own) aren’t required to report their intake statistics, so the total number remains a mystery.
Unfortunately, poverty wasn’t among the things washed away by Katrina. Recent numbers suggest that the poor in New Orleans are poorer than they were 10 years ago, and the rich are richer. Spay/neuter is still inaccessible for many, either for financial reasons or because they lack transportation to get their pets to a vet. Breeding is still seen as a viable moneymaker in communities where jobs are scarce. Insurance companies are increasingly forcing mortgage-holders to give up large-breed dogs erroneously labeled as risky or give up their required coverage. State law still requires that animals seized in dogfighting cases be immediately euthanized, regardless of disposition. All of these flaws contribute to the flow of unwanted animals into the overburdened shelter system, and to a culture that implies that animals are easily disposable burdens.
We need to remind ourselves that one of the great lessons of Katrina was the power of collaboration to reach a common goal. The urgency of the situation, which was literally and vividly a matter of life and death, compelled people to overlook their differences in order to work together. This wasn’t always easy. Then, as naturally happens, the sense of unity that flowed in the face of chaos ebbed after things began to seem normal again.
While the city spotlights its new residential towers and other glossy signs of economic health, the issues are still life-and-death for many families struggling to hold things together and care for their pets.
As advocates for animals and their owners, we can waste valuable time pointing fingers, or pointing out what some other person or organization should be doing. However, we need to look to ourselves and find ways that we can contribute to filling gaps in resources and education. We need to remember that we can only succeed by working together.
Culture: Readers Write
Every day pets are exposed to various temperature levels from heat to cold, and while it is easy to forget, you really need to consider just how much your pets can be affected in extreme conditions. That’s where we come into play.
We are Pause4Paws, the voice for pets who cannot speak up for themselves. Pause4Paws is a group of sophomore Community Problem Solvers from Flagler Palm Coast High School, Florida. Community Problem Solvers (CmPS), is one of the four competitive components of Future Problem Solving Program, International (FPSPI). FPSPI is meant to stimulate critical and creative thinking skills, encourage students to develop a vision for the future, and to prepare students for leadership skills. In CmPS specifically, we identify real problems in the community, then create and implement real solutions. We all share a strong passion for pets. As Pause4Paws, our mission is to increase familiarity of the dangers associated with climate for household animals so that a healthy lifestyle for them isn’t compromised.
Because we live in Florida, our group knows all too well about how hot it can get. We are called the Sunshine State for a reason—our sunny weather and high temperatures. Occasionally, the heat can be too much for us, and it’s just too hot to stay outside. This does not just apply to humans, but also to our furry friends.
Regardless of where you live and what your weather conditions may be like, a pet still has the possibility of overheating in a matter of minutes. When left in extreme heat, a pet’s body temperature can reach 109 degrees, to the point where it can no longer cool itself to accommodate the heat, a term called hyperthermia. A heat stroke commonly follows elevated body temperatures. Upon reaching these conditions, the pet’s health may begin to take a dramatic turn towards organ failure, damage to the pet’s brain, heart, liver, nervous system, and in extreme cases, death.
By taking a few precautions before spending the day with your pet in the sun, you can decrease the likelihood of your pet from getting injured.
With winter approaching quickly, we can’t forget our friends in states that aren’t as sunny as Florida! While it may be enjoyable to play with your pet in the snow and cold, you need to know what actions to take to keep your pets warm.
As you can see, pets are at risk of danger during the hot and cold seasons. Considering that pets are a part of your family, you need to make sure they stay as happy and healthy as possible. It’s up to you as an individual to take a stand for your pets. After all, they rely on you heavily. You feed them, wash them, love them, and care for them. It’s all up to you! They deserve the best care available to them, just like Pause4Paws’ slogan says, “Best friends need best care.”
News: Guest Posts
Homelessness is an ongoing issue around the world. In the U.S. it is estimated that 3.5 million people are homeless. The number of homeless with pets is estimated to be in the 5-25 percent range depending on the area of the country. Pets of the Homeless was instrumental in bringing the issue to the forefront as evident by the number of other agencies that are now taking a proactive step to help.
Most people do not realize that over 76 percent of homeless have a physical disability, a developmental disability, have HIV/AIDS or have a mental illness and/or a substance abuse problem. The rest are just down on their luck. The cycle to get out of homelessness is very difficult.
When faced with the possibility of homelessness, many have to decide if they will start this journey with their pet or give it up. The only thing they may have left is the unconditional love the pet offers and companionship when no one else will interact. The pet is nonjudgmental and often provides protection. The problems homeless with pets face can be insurmountable: most homeless shelters won’t allow pets; it’s hard to get and store pet food; and there are limited resources for veterinary care.
In 2006, I saw a need and developed a system in which people could donate pet food without having to interact with homeless people who had pets. Pet businesses could be socially responsible and help by becoming a collection site. The donations of pet food are delivered to a local food bank and distributed to low income and homeless with pets.
The nonprofit evolved to keep up with the needs of these pets. Today Pets of the Homeless offers not only pet food, but emergency veterinary care, wellness clinics and sleeping crates to homeless shelters. With limited funds, we initiated a program to vaccinate and spay/neuter healthy pets that were not seen at wellness clinics or altered during emergency care treatments.
Every day we receive calls from homeless that have a pet that is in trouble and they do not have the resources to take their suffering pet to a hospital. “Littles” was having tummy troubles. Her homeless owner thought she might have ingested rocks. The veterinarian performed an exams and an x-ray. The x-ray did not show anything foreign. Littles was given special food to help recover. Many other success stories can be found on Pets of the Homeless website.
Though not all 400 collection sites report the pounds of donations, Pets of the Homeless has recorded over 355 tons of pet food and supplies have gone to food banks and other agencies. The fair market value of these donations is over $1.4 million. We have spent over $276,000 on veterinary care, pet food and crates. Over 12,000 pets have been treated. During 2014, Pets of the Homeless served over 290 pets for emergency care. 19 of them required a repeat visit to the hospital. Wellness clinics saw and vaccinated over 1,200 pets and we paid for 45 spay/neuters. All expenses were paid with donations from individuals, companies, matching grants and funds from private foundations.
This year there has been a drop in the number of collection sites – likely due to the number of businesses closing their doors.
This year our goals include recruiting more collection sites in every state and in cities that have the largest homeless populations and camps; increase pet food donations (no pet should go hungry); increase awareness of the human-pet bond; provide services that support and honor that relationship for the homeless pet owner; support the positive emotional and physical influences pets provide their owners; cultivate fundraising; increase our grant requests; and bring responsiveness to homeless shelters about the Pets of the Homeless Crate Program. We ship sleeping crates to homeless shelters so pets of the homeless can sleep comfortably and safely next to their owners. This is an important first step to help the homeless get the services they require to end their homelessness and begin a new life with their companion pets. Fundraising is the primary source of revenue for our programs.
For more information visit: www.petsofthehomeless.org
News: Guest Posts
Ample data show dogs and other animals remember the past and plan for the future
A few days ago a colleague asked me if I'd seen an essay called "Dogs Don't Remember," published by Dr. Ira Hyman. I hadn't, and then, as I was doing an interview, a similar question about mental time travel by animals came up so I decided to pen a few comments about Dr. Hyman's claims that "Dogs don't remember what happened yesterday and don't plan for tomorrow" and "Even if they can't describe their memories,chimps may engage in mental time travel. My dogs, however, are stuck in an eternal present."
In his essay, Dr. Hyman also writes, "If I walk into the backyard, the dogs are overjoyed to see me and act like they haven't seen me for days. If I stay in the backyard, they quickly become bored with me. If I go inside and return after 10-15 minutes, my dogs are overjoyed to see me and act like they haven't seen me in days. They don't remember that I was in the backyard just a few minutes ago."
I don't see that dogs or other nonhuman animals (animals) greeting a friend(s) after a short absence says much about whether or not they remember that an individual(s) had just been there. Many animals engage in repeated and effusive greeting ceremonies when first seeing a friend and shortly thereafter. So too do humans.
What about future planning?
Given his interests in mental time travel, Dr. Hyman also writes, "Dogs don't plan for particular future events although they have a general expectation of when dinner will appear." He may be correct here. I don't know of any studies that show that dogs "plan for particular future events" but, for example, I have seen dogs and wild coyotes very cautiously approach an area where unfriendly individuals live and often have felt they were planning for possible combat. Nonetheless, I'll grant for now that it is difficult to differentiate planning for a particular event and having a general expectation that something might occur. However, I wouldn't be so sure that dogs don't do both until the proper studies are conducted.
Studies on nonhuman primates, birds, and other animals show, in fact, that they do remember the past and plan for the future. In an essay I wrote called "What Makes Us Uniquely Human?" that was concerned with mental time travel, I noted that the prominent primatologists Christophe and Hedwige Boesch-Ackerman wrote in their book The Chimpanzees of the Tai Forest that "A hunting chimpanzee 'not only has to anticipate the direction in which the prey will flee (recorded as a half anticipation), but also the speed of the prey so as to synchronize his movements to reach the correct height in the tree before the prey enters it (recorded as a full anticipation) . ... We also recorded a double anticipation when a hunter not only anticipates the actions of the prey, but also the effect the action of other chimpanzees will have on the future movements of the colobus, that is he does not anticipate what he sees (the escaping colobus), but how a future chimpanzee tactic will further influence the escaping monkeys." And, even birds remember the past and plan for the future (see, for example, "Can animals recall the past and plan for the future?" and for numerous examples of more recent research on a wide variety of animals please see).
There's no evidence that dogs are stuck in "an eternal present"
So, all in all, unless others and I are missing something, dogs do remember yesterday. If Dr. Hyman literally means by "yesterday" the preceding day—24 hours ago—perhaps he's correct. To the best of my knowledge, no animals other than humans look at or wear watches or use calendars. However, it doesn't seem that Dr. Hyman literally means yesterday, but rather, more generally, "the past," given the example he uses about dogs greeting him repeatedly even if he's only been absent for a short while.
There are many examples of dogs and other animals "remembering yesterday." Think of dogs and other animals who have been severely abused and who suffer from severe fear or depression for years on end, and also, for example, think of dogs who remember where they and others peed and pooped, dogs who remember where their friends and foes live, dogs who change their behavior based on what they learned in various sorts of learning experiments, and dogs who remember where they're fed and where they've cached food and other objects. The list goes on and on.
From an evolutionary point of view it would be somewhat odd and exceptional if mammals such as dogs and many other animals didn't remember yesterday and plan accordingly. Mental time travel truly is a very exciting field of research and I look forward to more studies that speak to the questions of how past experiences inform future behavior. And, as I mentioned above, there already are many detailed studies that show that mental time travel back to the past and ahead toward the future is not uniquely human.
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation, Why dogs hump and bees get depressed, and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence.
This story was originally published by psychologytoday.com. Reprinted with permission.
News: Guest Posts
One of the most shared recent articles in the New York Times was one about a “wrong dog” and how the op-ed blogger felt she was wronged by agreeing to adopt a young dog from a rescue group. I was going to write about this but then our good friend, and former Bark science editor, Mark Derr, wrote a great post for Psychology Today that brought up all the points, and then some, that I had wanted to make. He kindly allowed us to cross post his article:
The New York Times ran a opinion piece on Saturday, December 13, by Erica-Lynn Huberty on the trauma caused when a well-meaning young couple bring a sweet young rescue dog into their home who turns into a cat-killing maniac. The essay, “The Wrong Dog,” serves as a sobering reminder that not all found dogs fit as seamlessly into their new homes as Arthur, the Ecuadoran stray who joined a team of Swedish adventure racers and traveled several hundred arduous kilometers with them last month. The team captain then sought and won permission to take him home to Sweden, and their story went viral.
Arthur’s story raised several questions in my mind: How frequently can dogs be said to choose their human companions, what criteria do they use, and what is their success rate? I have several friends who literally rescued dogs off the street, in one case the Brooklyn Bridge, and took them home to discover they had a friend for life.
Is it merely random chance that a dog and man or woman should meet and become instant friends? I think that both are choosing—the human to save a fellow creature in distress; the dog to find a loyal companion. Any dog dumped in the road would want that but be suspicious, too, I should think.
People I know with multiple dogs often have dogs dumped near them by neighbors who assume they will take the dog in. They do and if it doesn’t fit into their existing “pack,” they will find the dog a home. The private placements I know of have worked well—on occasion spectacularly. But dogs who go that route are the lucky exception among the abandoned millions.
The apparent ease with which human and dog share affection and respect casts light on why wolves and humans teamed up initially. Though the reasons remain mysterious, they clearly, I have long suspected, have to do with the ability of individuals from both species to form lasting bonds of friendship with someone other than their own kind and to do so voluntarily, as adults, as well as children and puppies.
Whatever mutations governing sociability occurred to make dogs, at least one must have involved fixing them as dominate in the dog genome—or so it appears.
But there are times human and dog don’t match up well, and unless something is done, the results can be tragic. Many of the failures in that relationship seem to arise from a lack of forethought on the part of the human, a fundamental failure to think through and find ways to meet the animal’s need for exercise, social contacts with people and dogs, consistent treatment and mental stimulation.
The central problem with Huberty’s essay lies in her argument that nothing short of ditching the dog when she first started acting oddly would have prevented the catastrophe that occurred. They would have done that had they known that some dogs are unfit for adoption, and no amount of training, discipline, or coddling will change that.
“We let ourselves believe that beneath our rescued puppy’s strange, erratic behavior was a good, loving pet,” Huberty writes. The truth was the opposite.
The back story is common enough. Having become smitten with a five-month old Lab mix, Huberty and her husband, decide to have her share their home with their three cats, a female dog, and two children.
From her arrival, the new dog, Nina, showed a defensive/possessive aggression that led Huberty to seek more information from the group who rescued her.
Huberty says that she and her husband followed the advice of Cesar Millan, “the Dog Whisperer” to create a “loving but disciplined environment.” Nina responded by attacking a cat and biting Huberty when she intervened.
In response, Huberty called the woman who gave them Nina. She agreed to pay for a trainer, who proved to be the anti-Millan. She advocated a rewards-based approach rather than “discipline.” The essay takes an odd turn here as Huberty calls the rewards-based method ‘coddling” while appearing to indicate that it was working up to a point.
Nina would go along being a normal, playful puppy. But at times, out of nowhere it seemed, she would snap at me or Alex and, once, at our son,” Huberty says, “She would suddenly cower and growl. It was like a switch flipped, yet we couldn’t figure out what had done it.”
Nor do they try to find out. Dogs do not usually change their behavior that rapidly and dramatically without reason. That could very well be an underlying pathology that a thorough examination by a veterinarian might reveal. Indeed, Huberty gives no indication that she ever took the dog to a veterinarian—the first stop a new dog or cat companion should make.
If no physical reason for the behavior can be found, the next stop is to consult a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. There are not many in the country but your veterinarian should help arrange a consultation.
Huberty blames the dog, the woman who gave her the dog, the trainer—everyone but herself and her husband—and Nina herself for her failure to fit seamlessly into Huberty’s home. From this experience, she draws the conclusion that some dogs are just unsuitable for living with humans. That might be the case but there is no proof of it here.
Maybe we should seek ways to allow more dogs to choose their human companions. I have a notion they would do a better job of it. “And when they don’t fit in they may be saying ‘wrong family,’” said my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff after reading “The Wrong Dog.” “Living with a dog is a two-way street and assigning unilateral blame gets us nowhere and once again leaves the dog out in the cold. This sort of ‘musical dogs’ is bad for the dog, as much research and common sense tell us.”
Nina might pay with her life for human miscalculations and failure to seek professional help.
News: Guest Posts
My last blog post included a bit of ranting about puppy mills and the importance of purchasing puppies responsibly. While it’s unusual for me to rant two weeks in a row I simply can’t resist given what I just viewed in the September 8-15 edition ofTime magazine.
The Time cover states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids”? Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.
My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.
IF I WERE IN CHARGE
While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing will shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.
My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders believe that “designer hybrids” detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.
Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. He did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated,
I’ve done a lot of damage. I’ve created a lot of problems. Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in. For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a Poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a Poodle with a Rottweiler. How could anyone do that? Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen.
In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!
Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.
How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?
Nancy Kay, DVM
News: Shirley Zindler
As an animal control officer, I’ve seen a lot of tough stuff, but last summer’s callout to pick up a stray Pit Bull was about as bad as it gets. The old dog was so emaciated that I could count every rib and vertebra, and could have hung my hat on her hip bones.
She was also missing much of her hair, her skin was inflamed, her nails were long and the cruciate ligaments in both of her hind legs had clearly ruptured. In spite of her condition, this old girl was thrilled to be shown some attention. She held my gaze with big brown eyes that melted my heart. When I stroked her sweet face, her hairless tail whipped so hard that she nearly fell over. I wrapped my arms around her stinky, bony body and hugged her.
The shelter vet gave her a poor prognosis. Not only was she old, she was in extremely bad condition, and her blood work looked terrible. Still, the shelter did what it could for her, among other things, starting her on a gradual re-feeding program; her appetite was voracious. I visited her every day, and when her stray hold was up, I named her Patty and took her home to foster.
As Patty settled easily into life as a pampered house dog, I went to work on finding justice for her. I consulted a friend, an investigator for the DA’s office, and together, we put in many hours on the case. During the investigation and court proceedings, Patty lived in our home but could not be formally adopted until the case was resolved. In the meantime, she gained 20 pounds, her hair grew back and her skin improved tremendously. She was so strong, shiny and vigorous that it was hard to believe she had ever been anything else.
Finally, 10 months after I picked her up, we wrapped up Patty’s case with two arrests, a felony conviction with jail time and a court-ordered diversion program.
During her time with us, my entire family fell in love with this delightful old dog (we learned that she will be 12 this year). She cuddles with my geriatric cats and ancient Chihuahua mix, greets visitors like long-lost friends, and adores children. Without a doubt, Patty has blessed our lives at least as much as we have blessed hers. You can guess where this is going. Years ago, I made a sort of “bucket list,” things I wanted to do or to accomplish. One was to adopt an old, beat-up dog and pamper the heck out of him or her. Last week, I finalized Patty’s adoption as a formal member of our family. This may be the best thing I’ve checked off that list yet.
This experience reminded me of two important facts: justice for abused dogs is possible, and many elderly dogs—even elderly, broken-down dogs—have life and joy left in them; all they need is a chance. If you’re thinking about adopting a dog, find it in your heart to give one of these venerable creatures a home.
Culture: Readers Write
The Year of the Dog is associated with kindness, good fortune, harmony and humanitarianism; idealism is supposed to overshadow materialism.
For us, the Year of the Dog began early. Just before Christmas, as I strolled through San Francisco’s Washington Square Park on the way to the post office, my dog Jeff met Midnight.
As the two performed the doggy circle dance, a young man put down his newspaper, rose from his bench and introduced himself as Junior. He explained that he was taking care of Midnight, a throw-away, but she wasn’t really his. “I just don’t want her to be destroyed.”
From the look of things, Junior was trying to keep himself alive as well. “I can try to find her a home,” I offered. Junior liked the idea. “One of us at least could have a home.”
From my gallery nearby, I went to the post office often; stopping to talk with Junior became routine. I dropped off Christmas cookies for Junior and his bench friends, a couple, aging alcoholics. I brought dog food. “Her coat is better, but I think she’s sick,” said the woman with few teeth and bright lipstick. Junior disagreed: “I think she’s just unhappy.” He wanted to have her spayed.
I began asking around for a home. She’s lovely, I told people, very quiet and gentle, mostly Border Collie. She had black, silky fur with a white chest and white feet. I felt she would have perked right up with a little care.
One night I spotted the man–dog pair on the street near my gallery. Two Pit Bulls, residents of the housing project on the corner, set after Midnight. Terrified, she flew into the street. Junior and I got to her simultaneously. “I’m sorry,” Junior mumbled to the dog. “I love you.”
“She’s in heat,” Junior said, on my next visit. “I called the SPCA but the fee for spaying is $35. I don’t have any money.” I called. No matter what I said about homelessness, unwanted puppies, desperation, the fee was still $35. I told Junior I’d pay. I’d pick her up on Wednesday. But on Wednesday, man and dog were nowhere to be found.
“Pregnant,” announced Junior, with obvious chagrin. “Crack’s the father.” We all knew this street dog, a tough little brown thing with a stub tail who belonged to an older guy from the projects who called himself Hitler.
My real concern was the dog, but I also wondered about the man. “I’d like a simple life,” he told me. “Nothing special. Just a little apartment, an ordinary job, a family.” Junior, who was 26, had a nine-year-old son he rarely saw. “I don’t want my son to see me like this,” he explained. Once, while we were talking, he dashed away to assist a disabled man who had fallen. “You’d be good in nursing,” I suggested. “I worked in a nursing home for two years,” he said. “It’s too hard on me. People dying all the time. Maybe I could do house-painting.”
I had begun to ask around for a job for Junior. He was slight, with a somewhat askew and whimsical face. He was bright and fun to talk to, charming and gentle. I didn’t see why the situation couldn’t have an easy fix. Man with job and dog in little apartment, gets son back.
I was beginning to plan the spring exhibition for the gallery. I’d met the artist several years earlier when I was a juror for a photography competition. Looking over the photographs, we all knew immediately which would win first place. It was a large, black-and-white solarized print of a bough of roses, beautiful and sad. We’d not heard of the artist, someone called Gay Outlaw, apparently a pseudonym. At the reception, we were astonished to find Gay Outlaw to be a gracious, elegant, young Southern woman, using her given name.
In January, as Gay and I were discussing the show, she said, “I’m thinking of getting a dog.” Within minutes, we’d arrived at the park and were rubbing the now rotund Midnight. “I might be interested in one of the pups,” Gay told Junior.
From then on, Gay and I were partners in the save-the-dogs mission, conferring constantly. We brought food daily for Midnight and sometimes for Junior too. We talked to vets and animal rescue groups. I arranged with Junior to bring Midnight to the gallery for the birth, but not long after, we found Junior on his bench next to a basket of puppies. “They were born out on the pier,” he said. “I slept through it.”
There were nine pups. Then four. Then three. Then, somehow, four again. Gay chose the only female and gave Junior $60 to hold Suzette. James, a nice young man who worked in the neighborhood, fell in love with the largest one and put down $50 for Jordan.
During the day, Junior held court in the park. An old man came each morning, chatting at Junior in Chinese. A batch of private-school boys dropped by every afternoon to hold the little blind babies. Yuppies and drunks gathered to peer into the basket. Animal Control paid a visit. “Everything’s wonderful,” Junior beamed, passing out the pooper-scoopers they had left. He joked about the next litter.
At night, Junior dragged the basket, the mom loping along beside, to whereever they would spend the night. Sometimes they stayed outdoors and sometimes they slept in an old truck that belonged to Hitler.
“Midnight’s really stressed,” Gay reported, when the puppies were about a week old. “She’s barking and running after everyone. I’m afraid she’s going to bite someone.”
And bite she did. First, a cable-car driver. The police came. Junior was arrested and released. The next day, another bite, another arrest. Midnight and the puppies were taken to the pound for a 10-day rabies observation. Junior cried.
Our goal became to keep the puppies nursing for six weeks until adoption, then maybe rescue Midnight, too. Junior was frantic. “I’ve got to get my dog back,” he cried. I couldn’t decide if I thought it was worth “sacrificing” the dog for the happiness of the man.
On the release day, Gay and I went alone to the pound, feeling guilty and sneaky. We’ll take them all, we said.
Then, to our astonishment, Junior arrived, claiming ownership. Legally, he was right. I snagged an animal control officer, who led us through an hour of tense negotiations. He got Junior to agree that all the dogs would come to the gallery. Junior could walk Midnight during the day, but she would continue to mother the puppies for three more weeks. After that they could go to their new homes. Midnight would still be Junior’s dog. He promised to have her spayed. We all felt better. “This is a real nice place,” Junior said. He took a copy of the Questionnaire for Volunteers. Gay paid the fees. We all left in her car.
The gallery turned into a kennel. A show for a famous photographer I’d worked years to organize now looked down on shreds of newspapers, puddles and Purina crumbs. My assistant, Myung-Mi, disappeared for hours to coddle the little brown runt. The neighboring architects hung out in our space to watch our roly-poly cutie-pies. Passing children and tourists peered through the windows. Clients still came, and while I was initially mortified, they were enamoured. “You can be forgiven a great deal for a litter of puppies,” a friend said. He was right.
Junior bought Gay a book on puppy care. Gay bought him a watch. He came every morning at 10 to take Midnight to the park. He brought newspapers and mopped, too. “These puddles are arranged like art,” he laughed, catching on to us. At night, Midnight curled up on a quilt. Junior walked back into the chill.
The little ones grew bigger and bolder. They learned to eat and drink from bowls. They came when called. Unlike a matched set of purebreds, this litter had brown, black, white and tri-colored. No two of our puppies were exactly alike.
March 3 was an opening for a new show. We decided the dogs would move to Gay’s house. They still had another week to nurse. Junior arrived at moving time, drunk. Midnight jumped happily into the car. “Come on,” Gay said to Junior. “You can see where they will be staying.” “No,” snarled Junior. “I’m sick of all this shit. I’m sick of you. Gimme all my dogs.”
“Hit me, if you want to,” said Gay, “but you’re not taking the puppies.”
“Gimme my goddamn dogs,” he shrieked. Hitler showed up with Crack, on a chain.
I called 911. “Are there guns?” the dispatcher asked. The responding police officer proved to be another excellent negotiator. Jordan and Suzette, already paid for, were set aside as out of contention. We had to hand over the white one as promised to Hitler. Myung-Mi helped me put together $50 to buy Brownie on the spot. Junior left with Midnight. It was over.
Back in the gallery, exhausted, we locked the door, opened a bottle of wine and wondered what we’d done. Perhaps gotten too involved with too few skills. We had devoted several months to hysteria but rescued neither man nor dog. And I’d bought a puppy I couldn’t keep.
The pups stayed together another week. James took Jordan to his new suburban home. We gave Brownie to a designer we knew. Happy Suzette remains with Gay, romping in the garden, the source of the beautiful rose photographs. The gallery is quiet now. We’re back to showing real life in photographs.
Postscript: In May, Midnight was rearrested and put to sleep. Junior left—for alcohol rehab, we were told. A car hit the white puppy. Hitler was bitten by a woman.
Dog's Life: Humane
Last August, my dogs and I took an eight-week road trip across the West, and it was awesome. We hiked through painted hills in rural Oregon, made a memorable drive to Idaho’s Silver City, marveled at the colors of fall in the Rockies, toured Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, survived the Loneliest Road in America (U.S. 50 through Nevada) and fell in love with the California coast. Maybe you saw us; we were towing a 1969 Airstream travel trailer, and the sign in the rear window asked you to do something: go walk a shelter dog.
Did you know that some shelter dogs rarely leave their kennels? I made this discovery a year ago when I started volunteering at my local animal shelter. Naïvely, I asked the staff, “How do you get all the dogs out in the morning to potty?” I was stunned to learn that it’s common for shelter dogs to pee, poop, sleep, eat and wait within the chainlink walls of their kennels.
In the beginning, volunteering as a dog walker was just about unbearable. My heart ached for all the sad, scared and forgotten dogs. But day after day, I promised to return because these simple walks were making a huge difference. I was giving shelter dogs exercise, a chance to potty outdoors, lessons on manners, praise, confidence and the human companionship they greatly missed.
After months of walking shelter dogs, and driving home troubled because I couldn’t walk all of them, I decided to ask for help. I wanted my local shelter dogs—and shelter dogs everywhere—to get a daily reprieve from their kennels. Thus, go WALK shelter DOGS was born.
As I cruised the West, I learned that while my hometown shelter wasn’t alone in lacking dog walkers, some shelters have the luxury of a new volunteer waiting list. And while the media does a good job promoting a variety of shelter causes—pet of the week, foster, spay and neuter, donate supplies, give money—walking shelter dogs doesn’t make headlines. I can only assume there are people out there, dog-loving people, who don’t know they are needed. Why else would shelter dogs not get walks?
The mission of go WALK shelter DOGS is to raise awareness, recruit people with time and compassion, and encourage animal lovers to visit their local shelter to learn about volunteer opportunities. Do you know if your local shelter dogs are getting walks? Do you know how else volunteers can help shelter animals? Is there an application process for volunteers, an age requirement, an orientation meeting?
If dogs aren’t your thing, how about cuddling cats? There are plenty of shelter cats waiting for something to purr about. As any shelter director will tell you, volunteers are always needed, and are vital in saving and improving animals’ lives.
Animal shelters are everywhere in every size; they may be kill or no-kill, they may be privately owned or government run. Though no two animal shelters are alike, one thing remains constant: they give our best friends a second chance.
Walking shelter dogs won’t end pet overpopulation and it won’t stop animal neglect, but I believe it adds momentum to help us reach those goals. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.
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