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News: Editors
California Is the First State to Ban Retail Sales of Puppy Mill Pets

California became the first state to ban the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits from pet stores. This law, introduced in February by Assemblyperson Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Friday, Oct. 13 and celebrated by animal protection organizations and animal lovers throughout the nation.

California Assembly Bill 485 amends the state’s Food and Agricultural Code and Health and Safety Code relating to public health. Beginning on January 1, 2019, pet store operators will be prohibited from selling any live dog, cat or rabbit in a pet store unless the animal was obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animal’s shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group. Pet stores will be required to maintain records that document the source of each animal it sells for at least one year, and to post on the cage or enclosure of each animal, a sign that lists the name of the entity from which each animal was obtained. Public animal control agencies and shelters will be authorized to periodically review those records. Pet store operators who violate the bill’s provisions will be subject to a civil penalty of $500.

When O’Donnell introduced the bill he explained that the bill’s main intent “is to promote adoption.” And noted that he already saved a couple of puppies. “Two members of my family, a German Shepherd and a Shih Tzu, were adopted from shelters and rescue groups.” It was his belief that the law in prohibiting stores from selling puppies from puppy/kitten mills and encouraging them to only sell pets obtained from shelters and rescue groups, would also promote partnerships advocating for the adoption of homeless pets.

Best Friends for Animals , noted in their press release, that California, as a state, now joins more than 230 cities, towns and counties across that country that have passed pet store ordinances to take a stand against allowing cruelly-bred animals to be sold in their communities. Those animals are generally kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate veterinary care, food, water or socialization. AB 485 should help break the supply chain so that “mill” operations are unable to profit from their abusive practices.

Chris DeRose, president and founder of Last Chance for Animals (LCA), one of a large coalition of humane organizations supporting this bill’s passage, noted that, “the California legislature’s passage of Assembly Bill 485 is a landmark victory and one that we have championed for decades. We are elated that our home state is leading the way on this important issue. Requiring pet stores to sell only rescue and shelter animals is a bold venture— but one that will help rehome some of the six million unwanted animals that enter shelters each year.”

Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, President of the San Francisco SPCA, said that “Right here in California, each year we have thousands of animals who are in need of new homes. By signing this important legislation, Governor Brown can help stop pet mill cruelty, while giving rescued animals the second chance they deserve.”

Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA added that, “This landmark law breaks the puppy mill supply chain that pushes puppies into California pet stores and has allowed unscrupulous breeders to profit from abusive practices. We thank the California legislature and Governor Brown for sending the clear message that industries supporting animal cruelty will not be tolerated in our society.”

The opponents to the bill was spearheaded by the American Kennel Club (AKC), and variety of industry trade organizations, like Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), breeders and retailer groups. They put up a concerted campaign claiming that this bill would “block all of California’s pet lovers from having access to professional, licensed, and ethical breeders,” as was promulgated by Sheila Goffe, vice president of government relations for the AKC. Obviously this bill does no such thing, it only covers the sale of animals at pet stores, and does not in any way affect responsible breeders from selling their dogs face-to-face to the public. As long as puppy mills can sell their puppies with AKC-sanctioned papers—that provide financial incentives to that organization—the AKC will stand behind them and take on anyone who opposes puppy mills. Some breeders had posted petitions on change.org that used “fake news” arguments and scare tactics such as that this bill “would requires pet stores to sell unwanted strays, not only from Mexico, but some from more distant countries like Egypt and Korea, where dreaded diseases and parasites are commonplace.”

Luckily for California, the legislators saw beyond those specious arguments and enacted a law that has two straightforward goals: to cut down on financial support of large-scale breeding facilities and to promote the adoption of homeless pets. That definitely is something to cheer about!

Dog's Life: Humane
Kindness Ranch: A Wyoming Safe Haven for Former Lab Animals
Amy the Beagle greets another of the ranch’s lab rescued animals as Animal Care and Behavior Manager Erica Stovken looks on.

What does freedom look like? For some lucky dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, alpacas, cows and horses, it’s endless rolling green pasture and grassland, open skies full of sunshine and starlight, earth under their feet, and companions to play with. It’s the absence of fear, pain and stress. It’s a place in Wyoming called Kindness Ranch, the only USDA-approved sanctuary in the U.S. that takes in all sorts of animals used in laboratory research. At 1,000 acres, the ranch has ample room for the rescued animals who live there as well as for people who like to combine getting away and doing good.

Since its creation in 2006, Kindness Ranch has helped more than 350 animals. Executive Director Maranda Weathermon says they have capacity for about 18 dogs and 20 cats. Given their unique history and lack of experience with normal life, newly arrived dogs and cats live in homelike group yurts (two for dogs, one for cats) with a full-time caregiver providing socialization and rehabilitation. When an animal is adopted, a new one arrives to take its place, and, not surprisingly, there are waiting lists.

Most of the dogs at Kindness Ranch are Beagles, and it was her love for the breed that led Portland, Ore., resident Amy Freeman to discover Kindness Ranch and arrange to volunteer there in June of this year. Amy rescued her first Beagle years ago; the puppy, whom she named Boomer, was a handful. “But he brought me so much joy. After Boomer, I adopted Belle, a 10-year-old Beagle (no more puppies!). Belle died at 13, and then I adopted Spike through Cascade Beagle Rescue.” Freeman’s volunteer work with Cascade Beagle Rescue steered her to the Beagle Freedom Project, which takes in Beagles from research labs. “I started following them on social media, and that led me to Kindness Ranch,” she said. “I came for the Beagles but fell in love with all of the dogs!”

Labs use animals to test human drugs, pesticides, household products, biomedical and dental research, and surgical techniques. Those using dogs prefer Beagles, a medium-sized breed with a good disposition and a propensity for large litters. Of the estimated 60,000 dogs held in research laboratories each year, a significant number are Beagles. They and other lab animals come from Class A animal dealers authorized by the USDA to breed and sell them to research laboratories. When labs no longer need the animals, they are either euthanized or turned over to a rescue organization.

“Most of our animals were involved in pharmaceutical studies,” Weathermon says. “When the study is over, or the animals age out at seven or eight years old, we get them. The dogs mostly come from vet and vet tech schools, where they’re used as teaching aids for students to learn to draw blood, do ultrasounds and perform spay/neuter surgeries. It’s the same story for the cats, although because they’re also used in food studies, some are fat when they arrive at the ranch.” The ranch’s pigs were used for pre-human trials for things like heart valves. The horses came from a Premarin (estrogen hormone replacement) facility, the sheep from a pharmaceutical research study and the alpacas were part of a fiber study using genetic modification.

Like other lab-animal rescue groups, Kindness Ranch has to juggle several ethical issues when working with facilities to take their animals. “Labs are finicky; they keep information close,” Weathermon says. “People trying to stop animal testing often block getting animals placed. So we play it neutral; we don’t name the labs, we keep information confidential. It’s a very narrow line to walk to keep animals safe because it’s easy for the labs to just euthanize.” Ideally, animals would not be used in research or testing, but until that day arrives, the staff of Kindness Ranch focus their attention on making it easy for labs to transfer their animals to the ranch so they can be rehabilitated and live the balance of their lives as someone’s companion.

While volunteering at the ranch, Freeman immediately noticed the strong bond between the staff and the animals. “They truly treat these dogs like they’re their own, one of the family,” she says. “One Beagle, Texas, they hold him like a baby, rubbing his tummy before walks because that’s what he wants; he won’t go for a walk until he’s held that way. I know from my rescue experience how hard it is to let them go; it must be even harder when you’re living with them 24/7. It’s heartbreaking and lovely at the same time.”

Jenny Collins, also of Portland, accompanied Freeman on her June trip to the ranch. While she’s volunteered in many settings— Reading with Rover with her own dog, Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah and Maui Humane Society’s Beach Buddies program—she says that Kindness Ranch was special. “It was amazing, especially because I had just gone to Best Friends in April. The contrast was interesting. Best Friends is also amazing, but on a bigger scale—huge staff, their own vet clinic. Kindness Ranch … no one had heard of it and it has less financial support and staff. I loved it because it’s so small. I felt like being there could make a difference.”

Kindness Ranch is open every day between 9 am and 5 pm. For day visitors, one of the eight fulltime staff members will provide a tour. Vacationers like Freeman and Collins can rent a guest yurt and even bring their own dog if they like (the guest yurts have a small dog yard attached), volunteer with the animals, or simply enjoy the ranch’s serenity. “Almost every weekend in summer is fully booked,” Weathermon says. “Winter is our slowest time for visitors because of harsh weather.” Rental fees pay for maintenance on the buildings, with the balance going to the animals’ care.

Volunteers are usually enlisted to help with dog and cat socialization. “We sat with the cats for an hour or more each morning,” Collins says, “then we’d work with the dogs.” Volunteers can also help clean dog and cat living spaces; stuff Kongs; and walk dogs, accompanied by a caregiver who is also walking one or two dogs, each with equipment suitable to their needs. “The staff would coach us, saying, for example, ‘That one’s reluctant, so don’t pull,’” Collins recalls. “We’d walk each dog about a mile, usually on a gravel road within the sanctuary, letting them sniff, pee, just be dogs. If a dog didn’t want to walk, we’d hang out in the yard. Some were new to collars and leashes—it felt like being back in Puppy 101 class.” The morning and evening shifts are two to three hours each, and volunteers can choose how much they work on any given day. Collins noted that because of its remoteness, the ranch has no internet service. “I read four books—it was awesome!” she said.

Guests renting a yurt also have the option of hosting a dog overnight: one dog per yurt per night, chosen by staff. It’s another way to help socialize the dogs and make them more adoptable. “The first night we had a Pit Bull, Frieda,” says Collins. “She was the sweetest, but shy at first. Frieda discovered the loft. She would peek at us from above with a big smile. That night, she slept with me. She spread herself over the entire bed, leaving me a tiny sliver in one corner.” On the third night of their stay, Collins and Freeman hosted Zoey, a Coonhound. Sweet but nervous and shy, Zoey took some coaxing to get on the couch, where she ended up sleeping. At four in the morning, Collins took Zoey out to pee, and when they came back in, she asked Zoey to get on the bed. “And she did! She was very polite, curled in a corner, so sweet. She touched my heart. You often feel sad for shelter animals, but here, truly, this is the next best thing if they can’t be in a home.”

The ultimate mission at Kindness Ranch is to place all adoptable animals in loving homes.

For the dogs, potential adopters are required to come to the ranch. “They must come to us because our dogs are so special, not for every adopter,” Weathermon explains. “An eight-year-old dog who’s only been on sawdust or in a wire kennel—they need the right home. So we don’t ship them.”

Sadly, not every animal taken in by the ranch can be rehabilitated and rehomed. “We keep animals deemed unadoptable for the balance of their lives,” says Weathermon. For example, Odie, who’s 12 now, has severe medical issues. Kennel spinning destroyed the cartilage in his elbows and knees. He also despises most men and children, so he’s not an adoption candidate. He’s on lots of pain-management medications, and every two weeks, we take him to visit a chiropractor. We spare no expense for animals needing extra medical care.”

A stay at Kindness Ranch inevitably means confronting the issue of testing products, drugs and surgical techniques on animals. That moral dilemma hit close to home for Collins, whose mother was treated for breast cancer. As she notes, before most drugs are tested on humans in clinical trials, they’re used on animals. “I don’t want research done on animals, but if my mom is in a clinical trial, would I want her to receive a completely untested drug? It’s easy to say I love animals, but when it affects me personally, what will I accept? Kindness Ranch was eye opening in ways I never expected, and my thinking on these issues was changed by my time there.”

After learning more about the use of Beagles in labs, and animal testing in general, Freeman vowed to educate others while also making changes in how she buys products. “I started by downloading Cruelty Cutter, a free app created by the Beagle Freedom Project.” The app allows the user to scan bar codes to learn whether a product is tested on animals. When Freeman runs out of a particular household cleaner, shampoo or cosmetic, she replaces it with a cruelty-free product. “I’m making small changes, being more conscious,” Freeman says. “I can make a small difference.” And as we know, small differences can add up to a greater good, so be inspired by the staff and animals of Kindness Ranch: add your own small changes to those of Freeman and others and help create a world where animal testing is no longer necessary. That would truly make a big difference.

Dog's Life: Humane
Hurricane Irma: Helping Small Local Dog Rescue Groups
Highlands County, Florida Humane Society

Small rescue groups tend to be overlooked by larger rescue groups when it comes to disaster relief.  After the Florida Keys, Highlands County was hit the hardest by Hurricane Irma and declared a Disaster Zone. Our staff is exhausted, our dogs are traumatized, we just got water and air-conditioning but at least our little St. Francis statue is still standing!

We are working at full capacity (75 dogs and 50 cats) and cannot intake anymore animals. Our biggest wish is to get these dogs to forever homes.

When a dog enters the shelter, our challenge is to remind them that they are good dogs and did nothing wrong. The shock of Irma hurt, and without our regular volunteers it’s difficult to tend to their emotional needs. Our solution?  We have enlisted the puppies to work with the older dogs and they are doing an excellent job. Who can’t be cheered up by a wee one?

What we did not count on were the hoarders. Just last week we found a home with over a hundred cats. We did not expect the intakes from the flooded puppy mills hidden in the back roads. We are finding cages of dogs stuck in the mud. Some of these dogs had been purposely blinded so they could not run away.  We worked with the Sherriff’s Office to locate the people who runs these operations and can now shut them down.

We have also found dogs tied to fences and cars, their backs and legs broken from the storm.  Many people panicked could not take their animals with them and tied them up instead of letting them take their chances. 

We are performing emergency triage on many animals, working hard to rescue dogs in need and find forever homes for the pets in our shelter but we can’t do it alone.

How can you help?

1. We have created an Amazon Wishlist for Highlands Animal Control:  This will help all the shelters in the area. 

2. There is also a Go-Fund-Me that will be used to deliver food to local residents. 

News: Guest Posts
Adopt-A-Pet Helps Owners Rehome Pets

When I ran a German Shepherd rescue more than 15 years ago, one of the biggest challenges was emotional blackmail. A dog owner would call me out of desperation or exasperation or they were just done. If I didn’t take the dog right now, he’d end up in the shelter or worse.

Social media didn’t yet exist and online pet adoption websites were brand new. Early on, I felt my only option was to take the dog. The longer I did rescue, I was less inclined to do so. I finally had the experience to know the rescue didn’t have the money or the foster home for it. Squeezing in another dog would affect our ability to care for and advertise the dogs we already had. But it was a horrible feeling, knowing that the owner had come to us as a last resort and we couldn’t offer another option other than the shelter.

Finally, there is a humane alternative: Adopt-A-Pet.com, a nonprofit pet adoption website, just introduced a new, free service for owners who need to rehome their pets. The owner creates an online pet profile that will be viewed by the public. Adopt-A-Pet then guides the owner through a screening process that includes adoption applications, meet and greets, and an adoption contract. The adoption fee can be submitted online and go to the rescue or shelter of the owner’s choice. 

This idea is so brilliant it’s a wonder no one thought of it sooner. Perhaps the only negative is that pet owners who don’t care who gets their pet – they just want him out of the house as soon as possible – will not take the time to create an online profile. It was always heartbreaking when an owner would call me and when I asked for a photo, they said they didn’t have any. Clearly, the dog was going to be better off without them.

My hope is that services such as Adopt-A-Pet’s new rehome program will help pet owners take steps well before desperation sets in.

For more info, go to: rehome.adoptapet.com

Wellness: Healthy Living
Reiki Works Wonders with Shelter Dogs

My local shelter, the Ulster County SPCA in Kingston, N.Y., is highly regarded and much loved by the community. The vibe at UCSPCA is a good one, and some of the credit for that can go to Liz Wassal, the shelter’s Animal Reiki practitioner and teacher. For those not familiar with it, Reiki is a healing technique based on the principle that the practitioner can channel energy into the patient and activate the natural healing processes of the patient’s body, thus restoring physical and emotional well-being. (I should point out here that that the word “reiki” is a Japanese term that means “universal life force energy.” When capitalized, Reiki refers to the energy healing system founded by Mikao Usui. So, I ask all the English majors and copy editors who are reading this to be prepared for deliberately inconsistent capitalization.)

A pleasant, knowledgeable woman with an MA in psychology and a BFA in classical animation, Wassal—a Reiki Master Teacher—began volunteering at UCSPCA in 2007. Initially, she offered Reiki to the shelter’s animals informally. Even though she was low-key about it, other shelter workers quickly began to notice that an energetic shift had taken place. The animals were calmer and were healing more swiftly from injuries and surgeries. They seemed happier, too.

Eventually, Wassal was approached by board members and asked if she would teach them Reiki. Soon, staff members began requesting Reiki training as well. Currently, most of the department heads—the cat manager, the dog kennel manager, clinicians—are certified Reiki practitioners. Wassal, who is also an ordained priest, animal communicator and a chocolatier, now serves as the shelter’s official Animal Reiki teacher and offers ongoing courses in Animal Reiki to staff and volunteers. Her courses follow the principles established by Kathleen Prasad, founder of the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA).

Lee Harrington: How would you describe Reiki?

Liz Wassal: Reiki is the energy of the universe. We all have it. Reiki is also called ki, chi, prana. These are all synonyms for the same subtle, transcendent spiritual energy.

LH: How do you initiate an Animal Reiki session?

LW: Well, the first thing the Reiki practitioner does before beginning a healing session is to secure consent. Obviously, a human patient would simply sign a consent form and/or give verbal permission, whereas communication with the animal recipient is non-verbal. I’ll either intuit the answer—the consent—or the animal will give clear signs that he’s willing to accept the reiki—sometimes simply by coming toward me or backing away. After securing the animal’s permission, I create a healing space by asking the reiki to flow. Intention leads the energy on. Instantly, the reiki fills the room, a building, a neighborhood or wherever it’s directed. Reiki energy has its own intelligence and knows exactly where to go. The animals also know exactly what they need.

LH: When I’ve received a Reiki healing, it looks as though the practitioner is just sitting there meditating.

LW: In fact, that’s pretty close to what it is. A Reiki session is non-invasive and passive. It’s not hands-on.

LH: Describe a typical Animal Reiki session.

LW: There really isn’t a “typical” Animal Reiki session, because we turn everything over to the animal. The animals are always in charge. They decide how long the session goes, or where they want to be or whether they want to receive the reiki energy at all.

LH: What do you mean by “where they want to be”? Are they confined to a particular area during a Reiki session and asked to stay still?

LW: Again, it’s up to the animals. They get to choose where they want to be within the perimeters of the kennel or treatment room. I often I sit with the dogs in their kennels or cages (with permission, of course). The dog is free to move around the room or, if he so chooses, can cuddle on my lap and place his head in my hands. Or he may position himself 10 feet away from me, or—if he’s not comfortable with me being so close—he can be in another room.

LH: The Reiki practitioner does not need to be able to reach the dog, or even see him, to offer the healing?

LW: Nope. The reiki energy knows where to go and what to do. In my private practice, I often do healings from a distance. At the shelter, if I’m working with a particularly fearful or agitated dog, I’ll stand on the other side of the kennel wall where he can’t see me in order not to trigger anything by being visibly present.

LH: What are some of the benefits of Reiki for animals?

LW: The benefits of Reiki and other energy healing systems are numerous. Reiki can help relieve pain and reduce stress and stress symptoms such as sleeplessness, restlessness, pacing, barking, panting and so forth. Reiki is a supportive system. It’s an energy that helps keep things balanced.

LH: And having a balanced system means that the body is better able to heal itself.

LW: Yes. We’ll often do Reiki on the animals right before, during or after procedures to help facilitate the natural healing process. Or, if an animal is crashing from stress or needs to be calm before a procedure, we’ll offer Reiki off the cuff.

LH: Can you give an example of a Reiki healing session having an immediate impact on a dog?

LW: I remember working with one of the Hurricane Sandy dogs who was brought to us from a shelter in, I think, Long Island. This young dog was so utterly terrified in the isolation area that he was urinating all over himself. He was too stressed to stay still–pacing, barking, shaking. But after 10 minutes of Reiki, he simply lay down. He accepted the energy despite his stress. A few minutes later, he fell asleep, even though other animals near him were barking.

LH: That’s impressive, especially given how challenging it can be to relax or sleep in such loud and high-stress environments.

LW: Indeed. These dogs have to put up with a lot. But Reiki does help them sleep. I’ve seen them stop barking quite suddenly and slump into sleep, their noses pressed against the kennel doors.

LH: Have you ever had a dog decline a Reiki session? And if so, did you know why?

LW: Yes. It’s hard to say why. It may be that they are very agitated and reactive and simply cannot settle down if I’m visible to them. But I always respect the animal’s wishes. If a dog is not interested in Reiki that day, no problem. I will not use treats to try to persuade an animal to accept [a healing session]. Nor will I use a dominant approach if the animal is unable or unwilling.

LH: It sounds like a nice way to establish trust.

LW: These shelter animals are in situations in which very little is under their control. So I don’t push them. Often the animals will remember this—remember me as the person who listened to them. Thus, the animals will be more willing to accept my presence, and Reiki, the next time we meet.

LH: You are also an animal communicator. Does that serve your Reiki practice, or vice versa?

LW: Animal communication is not part of Reiki, but it is an overlapping discipline that is helpful. For example, as I said earlier, it’s easy for me to intuit whether an animal is willing to accept Reiki or not.

LH: Are you officially on board at UCSPCA as an animal communicator, or is that under the radar?

LW: I’m not official, but people know I have this skill. So staff people often ask me behavioral questions, such as “What does this dog need?” Or, “Why’s he so stressed?” Or, “What can we do for him?”

LH: I could tell when I first stepped into UCSPCA that the animals knew they had a voice and were being listened to. I didn’t have the words for it at the time—it was just something I sensed. A vibration of sanity and balance and hope.

LW: The rescue community is in dire need of this type of attention. Animals come to shelters as mysteries. Unless we are able to open ourselves up to their needs, we won’t be able to truly communicate with them. And if we can’t communicate with them properly, we can’t help them to our fullest extent.

LH: When you communicate with dogs, is there a typical question you get? I know they’re all individuals with individual needs, but—

LW: The most common question I get from dogs is, Why is no one listening to me? Animals are frustrated because no one gets it, no one is speaking to them and no one is hearing them. Also, a lot of the shelter dogs ask, What did I do wrong? Why am I here?

LH: Poor sweeties. But I’m thankful they have people like you to help them. Do you offer them advice, so to speak?

LW: Well, I do whisper to the animals: Remember who you are. Don’t forget, you are more than this. A lot of religions and spiritual traditions offer similar reminders, along the lines of “Remember the light you carry.” Animals, because they are more evolved than we are spiritually, don’t usually need that reminder the same way humans do. But in such an extreme environment [at a shelter], what’s the harm in reminding them of the part of them that travels forever and will always be at peace inside of them? Remember who you are.

LH: Getting back to Animal Reiki—how hard is it to learn and to practice?

LW: It’s very easy, simple and straightforward. You can learn the basics of Reiki in a short time, and you can walk out of your Reiki 1 class empowered to offer Reiki to anyone in your circle of family, friends and most definitely your pets. My teacher, Kathleen Prasad, who founded SARA, is extraordinary. Her mission is to enable as many teachers as possible to set up Reiki programs at their own shelters, and it’s catching on, one volunteer, one shelter at a time.

LH: The more people who practice Reiki at shelters, the more uplifting those shelters will become, and more animals will be helped and adopted. UCSPCA is lucky to have you.

LW: The staff at UCSPCA is extraordinary. That shelter attracts such devoted, conscientious and open-minded people. Thank goodness the animals are in such good hands. These people are the steadiest presences in the animals’ lives while they’re with us. We’re all lucky.

 

Author Lee Harrington used to avoid visiting her local animal shelter because she feared the experience would be depressing, and because her own dog kept her plenty busy. But when the loss of her beloved dog led her to the place she feared most, she discovered that not only was the animal shelter not depressing, it was absolutely uplifting. Find out why, and how, in this interview by the author of popular Bark columns “Rex and the City” and “The Chloe Chronicles.” 

Dog's Life: Humane
Midnight Circus: Rescue Dogs Steal the Show
Creating community in neighborhood parks

Successful dog trainers know that a little showmanship engages students, but Jeff Jenkins may be the only one whose resumé boasts being a Ringling Brothers clown. This experience no doubt explains his ability to effortlessly turn the occasional training fail into an entertaining how-to that brings together people of all ages and backgrounds to laugh and learn.

When he isn’t teaching free Pit Bull training classes in underprivileged Chicago neighborhoods, Jenkins inspires audiences as co-founder and ringmaster of Midnight Circus in the Parks, whose mission is to create community, raise funds and rebuild parks. In 2016, it celebrated 10 years of “bringing circus to the people.”

Two of its biggest stars are Jenkins’ own rescue Pit Bulls, Junebug and Rosie Rae. They literally jump through hoops, entertaining and educating Chicago communities under the “Little Big Top.” Together with his wife, MC co-founder and performer Julie Greenberg, Jenkins and a talented cast that also includes aerialists, contortionists, clowns and musicians have raised more than $850,000 for local park improvements.

“At every show, something surprises me,” says Jenkins. “The challenging thing about being in the tent is that the audience is right there, just six inches away. When a kid in the front row is chomping on popcorn and spills some in the ring, on more than one occasion my dog jumped through the hoop and got a piece of popcorn!”

Jenkins first met Junebug when he was teaching obedience classes as part of HSUS’s “End Dogfighting” campaign. A young boy brought his Pit Bull puppy to class in Englewood, a struggling neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. It was clear that despite the boy’s love for her, she was not being well treated. Jenkins offered to provide the dog with a home in exchange for the boy becoming his class training assistant.

When Midnight Circus performed in Englewood for the first time in 2014, it was an extraordinary homecoming for the little tan-and-white Bully. She showed Englewood residents that their dogs could be well trained and well socialized like her. Jenkins observed that if kids see a polite dog in person at their local park, it makes a stronger impression than seeing one on TV or YouTube.

The dogs perform for crowds of all sizes, some as large as 20,000 during Chicago Bulls half-time shows. One would assume that the dogs would be most distracted by the huge crowds, but Jenkins says that smaller groups found in school classrooms, youth correctional facilities and the Midnight Circus prove more challenging.

On one occasion, a fellow dog trainer and family friend proved to be the distraction to Lola, their first circus dog. “We started the routine when I see her start to air scent, ‘I know that smell, that’s Jim!’ Lola scans the audience, locks in, then jumps over three rows of people to get in his lap! He catches her, she’s licking him and licking him, and the audience is totally losing it!”

Jenkins also recalls another more shocking performance incident, one that involved a large group of children. They were having a great time … until the Pit Bulls came out. “Thirty kids were whooping and hollering, and then literally ran out of the tent.” He says it’s not unusual for a few children to be scared; the dogs they know are rarely trained or socialized. But he had never seen so many frightened children. “It was a teaching moment. I repeated the tricks, took my time without any pressure. After the show, I found some of those kids, told them, ‘She’s really friendly, but she’ll slobber when you give her a treat.’ That made them laugh.”

The humor in the dogs’ routine is powerfully persuasive for people who negatively stereotype Pit Bulls. Jenkins will pretend to chase a naughty dog as she runs along the perimeter of the ring. A favorite trick involves the dog jumping through increasingly smaller hoops, which she somehow squeezes through every time. He also gets the crowd excited when they jump rope together.

Unlike Junebug, Rosie Rae, whom Jenkins and his family adopted from Chicago Animal Care and Control, wasn’t always so keen on trick training. (They had visited the facility just to “take a look,” Jenkins says.)

“One hula hoop was okay. I brought the rope out, started jumping and Rosie took off. I had my work cut out for me. I had to go really slow. I knew if I pushed too hard, she’d do it in training, but not at a show. The key is having fun, having the time of their life.”

After working for Ringling Brothers for many years, Jenkins’ jump to HSUS—which had filed repeated lawsuits against the company—caused some conflict among a few members of his big-top circus family. Jenkins, however, found he was straddling two worlds that weren’t as far apart in their goals as each might think.

“Whether you work in a circus or in animal welfare,” he reflects, “both are conduits to community, reaching people to inspire and educate. Animals are an important way to reach out to those with different opinions, different cultures. We reach out to folks who don’t have resources and opportunities. If you help the people, you help the dogs.”

The Midnight Circus will be performing in various Chicago-area parks through mid-October. See the schedule and buy tickets online.

Dog's Life: Humane
Greyhounds Trained at Prison Foster Program
These greyhounds get a ticket home.
Greyhound Foster and Training Prison Program

School’s out for the year, but for the dogs in the all-volunteer Prison Greyhounds foster program, classes are still in session. At the Putnamville Correctional Facility near Greencastle, Ind., two-man inmate handler teams work with retired racing Greyhounds to prepare them for life on the outside.

Specially selected inmates are coached by Prison Greyhounds volunteers; once trained, the men teach the dogs house manners, how to walk on a leash and basic commands. After the dogs are adopted, Prison Greyhounds stays in touch, working with the adopters to ensure a smooth transition, and will rehome a dog in the event a placement doesn’t go as planned.

Inmates selected for this work are nonviolent offenders who, in the process of developing the dogs’ social skills, learn to work as part of a team and be responsible for the success of their canine students. Like the dogs, the men benefit from the experience, as does the larger inmate population.

For example, take Thor, track name, LK’s Hemsworth. The 85-pound tuxedo boy is three years old and described as “confident and friendly.” For Thor and all the dogs it takes in, Prison Greyhounds underwrites the cost of supplies— food, bedding, leashes—as well as vet care, and finds families for the dogs after they graduate from the program. It also provides non-institutional foster homes for dogs who have been retired as a result of racetrack injuries—most commonly, broken legs—and encourages the adoption of dogs with these “repaired fractures.”

Prison Greyhounds’ dogs come from Daytona Beach Kennel Club racetrack in Florida via the nonprofit Greyhound Pet Adoptions of Daytona Beach (GPA Daytona), which is responsible for the full cost of transporting the dogs to non-racing states. This long-distance delivery of Greyhounds from Florida to a better life is pricey: shipping costs for a full load of 28 dogs is $2,100, or $75 per dog. To offset it, Prison Greyhounds has joined GPA Daytona in a campaign they call “A Ticket Home.” Donations are tax-deductible and help dogs on their journey to better lives as someone’s companion.

Prison Greyhounds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is funded entirely by donations; no taxpayer money is involved and the program is provided free to the Putnamville Correctional Facility. See available dogs and make a contribution to the organization and to A Ticket Home at prisongreyhounds.org.

Dog's Life: Humane
DYI Dog Rescue
Six Golden Rules for a Successful Rescue Start-up
Tips on Starting Your Own Dog Rescue

It often begins with a whispered, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own rescue?” At least, that’s how it began for us.

We were a handful of volunteers at a high-kill shelter. Like so many volunteers at so many shelters across the country, we rejoiced when dogs got adopted and were flattened when they were euthanized for no apparent reason. We knew there had to be a better way. But could we figure out what it was? One day, we decided it was worth a try, and took the plunge.

That was in 2014. It began with a few people with a shared idea who sat around a table and talked about it for more than four hours. It wasn’t especially glamorous, but it was exciting and empowering and, at times, contentious. Get a group of people in a room discussing a topic as passionate and based on what my friends and I learned by establishing and running DogsHome rescue three years ago, here are our six Golden Rules for starting your own rescue.

Golden Rule #1: Decide how you want to be different.

You want to save dogs. The good news: so do the shelters and rescues in your area. The bad news: so do the shelters and rescues in your area. Of course, it’s not really bad news, but it does make it harder for the new kid on the block (that’s you) to stand out. So you have to ask yourself what you’re going to do that’s different.

For example, you might decide to focus on rescuing senior dogs, dogs with medical issues or a particular breed. At our rescue, we knew that above all, we wanted to make sure every decision we made answered one question: Is this in the dog’s best interest? If it is, we do it. If it isn’t, we don’t. In many ways, that’s made our lives both simple (we always know what course of action to take) and difficult (the best course of action often requires much more time and energy). But we stand by it. However, this isn’t just about you.

Golden Rule #2: Ask your community how they want you to be different.

You’re going to need support, both helping hands and dollars, so make sure that when you decide the ways in which you’re going to be different, there will be something that resonates with your potential supporters.

In our case (and I can’t recommend this enough), we debuted our plan at a gathering at the home of one of our board members. We told everyone we invited to come with their ideas because we wanted to hear what they wanted from a rescue. To a person, everyone wanted better customer service. When they call or email, they want someone to get back to them. When they adopt or foster a dog, they don’t want to feel as though they’ve fallen into a black hole. They said they needed a place to turn with questions, problems and concerns.

We put this directly into our mission statement: we provide our dogs with lifetime support. In other words, we’re always there for our fosters and adopters. And while it means we sometimes get phone calls at 6 am or midnight, we’ve lived up to that!

Golden Rule #3: Think with your head, not your heart.

This is a tough one. How do you put logic ahead of compassion when it comes to saving lives? I can only tell you that it’s important to keep your heart in check or you’ll quickly find yourselves overwhelmed, both functionally and financially.

You can’t help a dog if you don’t have the resources to help him. And I know (oh, I know!) there is nothing more heartbreaking and frustrating than realizing you can’t take a dog because … you just can’t. You don’t have a foster home available for him, you don’t have the money to provide for his expensive vet care or you simply won’t be able to give the dog quality of life. Set up yourself and the dogs for success. Get your proverbial ducks in a row before going forward.

Golden Rule #4: Be prepared.

“Getting your ducks in a row” means taking care of the boring stuff, like liability insurance and nonprofit certification, should you go that route. It means finding good, committed fosters (assuming you don’t have a shelter facility available) so that when you want to rescue a dog, there’s a place ready and waiting for him. It also means having funds available for dogs who come to you with urgent medical needs.

Involve people who are experienced in different areas. Find someone who has expertise in fundraising, another who’s good at publicity, someone who can evaluate and possibly train your dogs. And it never hurts to have an attorney on call.

At DogsHome, two of us decided to get our professional training certifications, and we also each enrolled in year-long online programs we knew would help us with the running of the organization. I got my certificate in lifesaving-centered animal shelter management, and the other team member got a certificate in nonprofit management.

Golden Rule #5: Find people who are committed.

It will be impossible to get your rescue off the ground without good, highly committed, like-minded people. This includes everyone from board members to volunteers who put up flyers around town. But nowhere is it more essential than with those who foster. Unless you have a facility available to you, you’re going to have to rely on fosters to provide homes for your dogs. However, not all fosters are created equal. Some come with experience, others don’t. Some are home most of the time, others aren’t. Some can physically handle strong dogs … well, you get the idea.

Keep in mind that even fosters who come with the best of resumés may have only shared their home with dogs that operated on autopilot. What if their new foster dog is suddenly guarding his food bowl or lunging in a not-so-friendly way toward the neighbor’s dog?

Let’s start at the beginning. First, you have to find fosters, and that’s no easy task. I’ve often said if someone offered DogsHome $10,000 or three new foster homes, I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Foster homes win, hands down. To attract fosters, you need to get out in the community and beyond. Our info table loaded with foster brochures makes the rounds pretty much every weekend at pet supply stores, farmers’ markets and fairs. We use social media to let everyone know we need fosters, and we’ve held open houses aimed at attracting new fosters. Remember to let your fosters do the talking. No one can explain the rewards of saving dogs lives by providing them with a home better than someone who’s actually doing it.

Let’s go back to the foster with the dog who’s guarding his food bowl. This is where Golden Rule #4 comes into play. Make sure you have access to a trainer or behaviorist. They’ll need to work with the dog, but more importantly, they’ll need to work with the foster so that person can work with the dog. Whether this foster stays with your rescue (or even sticks with the dog until he’s adopted) may depend a lot on how supportive, tactful and patient you are in working through this. You can count on them making mistakes and getting frustrated. Just take a breath and be there for them. And yes, that may mean you’ll be getting texts at all hours of the day and night.

Bottom line: Take your time finding good fosters. Put together a thorough foster application, talk to them at length on the phone and visit them in their home. Trust your gut about how committed they are, because the last thing you need is a call in the middle of the night with a demand to “Get this dog out of here, now!”

Golden Rule #6: Keep your eraser handy.

When you first start out, your team will have a lot of ideas about how your rescue is going to function. Putting ideas in writing is a great way to get started, but once you get into the day-to-day, you’ll probably find that some of them don’t work, aren’t relevant or just aren’t what you want to do anymore.

When we first created DogsHome, we all agreed that we wanted to raise enough funds to eventually buy or rent a facility. This way, we reasoned, we’d be able to help a greater number of dogs. But as we got into the daily, hands-on operation of saving dogs, we realized that, with all the personal attention and TLC they got in their foster homes, our dogs were thriving in a way they probably wouldn’t in a facility. I mean, when it comes to knowing a dog, does anything really beat letting that dog sleep on the bed with you?

Having a dog live in a home provides us with valuable information for potential adopters, things it would be impossible to know if the dog lived in a shelter environment. Does he chew the furniture? Suffer anxiety when left alone? Greet visitors nicely? Guard his food? Bark excessively? Get along with the cat? And, if we have dogs living in a facility, how will we make sure they’re getting enough exercise, socialization and stimulation, let alone food and bathroom breaks? Then there’s the high cost of buying or renting a building, money we could be spending on veterinary care if we didn’t have the overhead of a physical structure.

So, our original goal of getting a facility has gradually faded. Finding fosters is hard work, to say the least, and no, we can’t save as many dogs as we might if we had a building. But the dogs we’re rescuing get quality of life and we’re able to meet their veterinary needs (our biggest expense) without worrying about going in the red.

The Big Surprise

I had a pretty good idea about what was required to build and run a nonprofit rescue organization from the ground up. I knew there would be a lot of scrambling, frantic phone calls, homing and re-homing and possibly re-homing dogs (yes, it happens). I knew there would be veterinary emergencies (who knew a dog could/would find his 20-pound bag of dog food and eat all of it when left alone for the first time?). I knew I’d evaluate dogs based on what I was seeing at the moment, only to have them present entirely different behaviors once they’re in a home. I knew running a rescue would frequently put me on mental, physical and emotional overload. I knew there would be days and nights when I’d cringe when my phone rang because I couldn’t handle any more bad news. I was prepared for all that.

What I wasn’t prepared for was that the majority of the time I devote to DogsHome is actually spent running the organization rather than working with dogs or even doing anything dog-related. Among those non-dog tasks: all the written communication (daily Facebook posts, twice-monthly newsletters, brochures, flyers, ads, promotions, signs, appeal letters); licenses, insurance policies and permits; creating a website; arranging adoption events; running board meetings; fundraising; designing and ordering t-shirts and car magnets. And the list goes on.

In the midst of all that administrative busy-ness, there are those actual moments when you race to a shelter to save a dog and you’re able to take him on that glorious freedom ride to his new life. Knowing everything I know now, would I decide to create and run a rescue all over again?

In a heartbeat.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Greyhounds of Avalon
Amazing activists who are fighting to save Greyhounds worldwide.
Saving Greyhounds

Set against Ireland’s green and rocky beauty and its harsh economic realities, The Dogs of Avalon is the story of a determined group of women who fight for the well being of ex-racing Greyhounds. Marion Fitzgibbon helped to found the County Galway sanctuary she named Avalon, is a model of compassion in action, and author Laura Schenone journeyed to Ireland to learn more about her work and what motivates her to do it.

The next day, Marion picked me up in the rain. On the way out of town, as we sat at a traffic light, I saw a monstrosity by the side of the road, an ugly conglomeration of cement and steel which was evidently a huge construction project abandoned before it was even halfway built. I asked Marion about it.

“Isn’t it terrible? It was going to be a shopping mall, but they ran out of money.”

It felt unnerving to look in and see the unfinished floors and concrete walls, steel beams reaching up to nowhere, as though the workers had dropped their tools and fled due to some catastrophe. In fact, this is exactly what happened, though instead of the volcanic ash of Pompeii or the huge waves of a typhoon, it was an economic disaster. This was just one of many incomplete real estate projects left behind from the boom years of the Celtic Tiger. With hundreds of years of poverty behind them, the Irish had been rich oh so briefly—and now they were poor again.

It receded behind us as Marion continued north. In Ireland, it never takes long to get from city to countryside, and soon we were surrounded by green, leafy trees on a road that ran alongside the Shannon, the longest river in Ireland.

After more than an hour, we turned west and crossed into County Galway. That’s when the terrain changed, as though we’d entered another dimension. The bright green landscape was gone, and suddenly the car was climbing a rugged small hill that led to an open plain of brown untilled fields on one side and a bog on the other. The sky hung low and grey, and the vista was gloomy yet beautiful, with brown moor grass and rushes dotted with yellow wildflowers and heather.

In the distance, the hills rose up into the Slieve Aughty Mountains. Patches of dark earth lay in small heaps of broken rectangles left behind by local turf cutters. I remarked on the untillable soil and Marion said, “To hell or Connacht,” with an ironic laugh. We were in the rocky, harsh part of Ireland’s west, the place to which Cromwell banished the Catholics after he stole the fertile land in the 1600s and gave it to English Protestants.

“I remember when Beverly and I first came here and found this land,” Marion said, changing the subject. “It really shook my foundations when she left. I thought we’d be saving dogs together until we dropped.”

We turned down a dirt road that led to a large wrought-iron gate flanked by a wall of round, smooth stones, beautifully placed by hand.

A sign hung in front, bearing the word “Avalon” inscribed in Celtic-style letters.

“Whenever I come here, I feel happy because I know Avalon will be here after I am gone. Kilfinane, I cannot be sure. Maybe they’ll turn it all into condos someday after I’m dead. Or maybe they will knock it down. I don’t know. But Avalon will always be here.”

Marion had been one of Avalon’s directors from the start. And though she felt responsible for helping bring Avalon into existence, it was very clear that Avalon was Johanna Wothke’s project. It was part of Pro Animale. Marion didn’t have to tell me what she was thinking: How could it be that she and Johanna had both been doing this for thirty years, and now Johanna had more than thirty sanctuaries while Marion couldn’t even complete one?

We drove up the road, passing through a stand of trees, and then beyond to open meadows and rolling fields for grazing and running. We had arrived at an animal heaven. The long necks of horses came into view, bent over to graze. Sheep stood in distant, misty fields. The most dominant presence was of Greyhounds, dozens of them, barking aggressively. In their paddocks, they came leaping toward us and jumped up, forepaws to the fences, pink bellies and fangs showing, ears up, barking so forcefully that I felt afraid and checked the height of the fence.

The entry road led to the main building, covered in climbing roses and vines. Inside, every wall was hung with art—paintings, woodcuts, and sketches of animals. The floors gleamed with stone tile.

There were a few humans here, mostly Polish men, walking horses between fields. An Irishwoman named Noreen was in charge. She’d studied animal science and spent her life on farms before coming here. She sat us down at the kitchen table and made tea. She and Marion began to talk about Johanna’s high standards, how everything had to be just so.

In 1996, a year after Johanna Wothke, Rosie, and Marion first met about their Greyhound adventure, Wothke invited Marion to Germany to see some of her sanctuaries. Marion and Johanna were similar in age and had started their animal work at around the same time, by bringing dogs into their homes.

On that trip, Marion learned that Johanna had started with no great financial means—she’d been a schoolteacher. Early on, she’d had the idea to write a newsletter—first, for her friends and acquaintances —to let people know about her work, and also to appeal for donations. She continued to write these newsletters a few times a year, and her subscribers and supporters grew. In time, some donors left bequests to Pro Animale, which allowed her to build several sanctuaries in Germany. When the Soviet bloc fell, she bought cheap land in Poland and, later, in Russia, Austria, and Turkey. She kept a notebook for each sanctuary and spoke several languages, which helped. She ran these sanctuaries down to the last Deutschmark. Each one was designed the same way, with art on the walls, gardens and tiled floors. She was not a social being, but a workaholic. From what Marion observed, she slept only four hours a night.

They drove across Austria and down into Italy. Johanna had just acquired about ten acres of prime land in Assisi. At sunset, they reached a secluded valley. There was a broken-down mill and an orchard. A stream ran through the middle of the property, and at the center stood a farmhouse with thick walls and Gothic windows with deep ledges where you could sit and look out at the green valley. To Marion it was all incredible.

Johanna was about to open yet another sanctuary right there in the shadow of St. Francis, on this spectacular piece of land. She had raised her money by writing stories about the suffering of animals. People had responded. Germany was a wealthy country. Marion pushed away any feelings of envy.

The Assisi property came with a flock of sheep, which were still in their winter coats. While she was there, neighbors arrived with shears and got to work. They also brought a big feast and set out tables and napkins. Everyone sat under the stars, with lanterns hung from the trees. The magical experience imprinted on Marion an entirely new vision of what was possible.

At Avalon, the dogs lived in small social groups, and had large grassy fields to run in, contained by eight-foot-tall fences because there would always be those extra-talented Greyhounds who could jump a six-foot fence. Inside the main building, each pack had its own large room, much like a den. Wothke passionately opposed putting any dog alone in a cage or a pen.

I was peering into one of those rooms now. It seemed like a revolutionary design. Rather than four walls and a floor, the layout was a system of steppedup ledges wrapped around the room, except that each ledge was three or four feet deep and covered in earth-colored tile. If you stood in the middle of the floor, you were encircled by dogs, each in its own soft bedding on the ledges stacked halfway up the walls. Above the ledges, the walls were painted a soft yellow, and a hand-stenciled frieze of Greyhounds circled the room near the ceiling. It was more like a home than a dog kennel.

I stepped inside with Noreen as my escort. She was a strong-boned woman of middle age who inspired confidence, and yet, when the door closed the behind me, a wave of fear rose in my chest. Noreen stood in the corner and watched.

“I have to be very careful about introducing any new dog to a pack,” she said. “If one attacks another, then they all will. And they’ll kill a dog very quickly, you know.”

Six dogs circled round and began jumping on me. One managed to put its paws on my shoulders. The others nearly knocked me off my feet. They were exuberantly curious about me, sniffing my body and licking my hands. There was a wildness to them. They had never been tamed and had astonishing strength. As a pack, they were unified and powerful—and slightly terrifying. I sat down on a ledge, thinking it might calm them down, but this only gave them more access. Noses in my ears. A mouth around my hand. Tongues licking my cheeks, noses sniffing. One took my pocketbook and carried it to its bed. Across the room, three dogs remained in their spaces on the ledge—not interested. But the six around me could not have been more intrigued. My heart pounded fast.

Shortly after I came home from Ireland, I had a dream that Lily got out of the house and ran away. The last time I’d seen her was at a neighbor’s maple tree, and from there she’d vanished. I kept returning to that tree, looking for her, but she was never there. When I finally realized that she was gone and not coming back, I was overcome with the most excruciating grief—the kind of grief you live in fear of.

It was bottomless.

The next day, I was still rattled and felt a shadow over my brain. I told a friend about the dream.

“You do realize that you were dreaming about Gabriel,” she said. “Don’t you?”

Excerpt from The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril by Laura Schenone. Copyright © 2017 by Laura Schenone. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dog's Life: Travel
Training Service Dog Puppies at New Mexico Spa Resort
A look inside Sunrise Springs Spa Resort’s Puppy Enrichment Center.
Assistance Dogs in Training at Sunrise Spring Spa Resort, New Mexico

According to philosopher Bernard Williams, “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” Imagine having four or five of them jockeying for attention, slipping and sliding as they try to gain favor. “Pet me!” “Give me treats!” “Play with me!”

But these young and slightly clumsy little chocolate, black and yellow English Labs aren’t here at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort’s Puppy Enrichment Center just to get their licks in. They’re here being trained to be service dogs for people with mobility impairments; traumatic brain injuries; combat injuries; autism spectrum, seizure, and emotional and anxiety disorders; developmental disabilities; and diabetes.

As part of their training, the dogs are taught to be patient as well as comfortable with being handled and spoken to by many different people in a variety of environments. When they’re older and ready to work, they will truly make a difference in their partners’ lives, helping them become more independent, self-reliant and confident.

This tranquil northern New Mexico resort is able to offer its guests opportunities to interact with the adorable Labs as part of its collaboration with Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW). Founded in 1995 in Santa Fe, ADW now has the largest assistance dog studenttraining program in the world.

The facility at Sunrise Springs is the brainchild of ADW’s founder, Jill Felice, and Sunrise’s Andy Scott. The two longtime friends decided that guests could benefit from contact with these healthy, welltempered dogs and observing their development and training firsthand. The puppies add another level to the spa experience, as do the Silkie chickens, also on the premises and available for guest interaction; the chickens are known for their calm temperament and fluff, which adds an additional layer of relaxation to this wellness oasis. (Marie Claire magazineis calls Sunrise Springs “the perfect escape for the animal lover.”)

The puppies are born at the resort, and staff trainers—professionals, student trainers ranging in age from eight to 18, and veterans with ADW’s Warrior Canine Connection—prepare the dogs to be mission-ready when they’re placed with their human partners. They teach the dogs 90 commands, including how to open doors; climb stairs one at a time; and “under,” which means to put their bellies on the ground under a chair or table when their person sits.

The dogs are also taught to step over Styrofoam tubes to learn agility, fetch rubber balls from a baby pool to learn retrieval skills and even to use a ramp. The trainers take them into public places to further refine the commands. All this helps the puppies become better problem solvers, smarter about handling the critical situations in which their future partners will require assistance.

The puppies’ spacious pen is set up in a large room, and guests are encouraged to interact with the dogs during visiting hours, known at the resort as Open Puppy Studio. In addition, there’s an adjacent playroom well stocked with toys, and a large pen out back. The puppies and their trainers are also free to roam the resort’s many acres of gardens, paths, walking trails and undeveloped land.

Guests are asked to remove their shoes and wash their hands before entering the center. Once they’re inside, Britte Holman, who runs the center and is the first supervisor of this new program, encourages them to engage with the puppies, and answers any questions they might have. She also reminds them that if they wave a ball at a puppy, they must toss it, because the dogs need to know how to follow through. When it comes to assistance dogs, this is especially critical, since when they’re on the job, their people will be relying on them to respond promptly and accurately to commands. This type of training is extremely demanding, as errors can have serious consequences for both dog and person.

Clickers are used to train the puppies, and the reward after a click is food. Other rewards include toys, pats and verbal praise. The clickers are also used to shape and reinforce critical behaviors. The trainers do not use the word “no,” and choke chain collars are never employed.

The dogs help to choose their human partners and are placed with them at two years of age. Some of ADW’s dogs are with their people for life; others work in facilities, such as children’s advocacy centers or with district attorney’s offices, spending their lives with their handlers in homes carefully screened by the organization before placement.

Like all of ADW’s training programs, the focus at the Puppy Enrichment Center is on the dogs’ mental, physical and emotional well being, all of which are important to the eventual heartfelt relationships they will forge with their people. They are truly four-legged solutions to human challenges. Come see for yourself.

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