News: Guest Posts
A Belgian Malinois named Jagger plays the title role in the recently released movie, Max. As the story goes, the canine character Max has served in Afghanistan, and is returned to the United States after his Marine handler/partner is killed in action. Max, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, becomes part of a coming of age story for the killed Marine’s younger brother.
Max is pegged to be a summer blockbuster, although the reviews I’ve read have been mixed. Regardless of its popularity Max will undoubtedly create an, “I must have a Belgian Malinois phenomenon.” Any time Hollywood unleashes a new dog movie, a “breed du jour” is created. This phenomenon appears to be an ingrained cultural dynamic, no different than other fads gleaned from the movies such as clothing fashions, hairstyles and even baby names.
Three researchers from the University of Bristol, the City University of New York, and Western Carolina University recently conducted a study titled, “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice.” They looked at 87 movies released between 1927 and 2004, all of which featured dogs. By evaluating American Kennel Club (AKC) registration trends, the researchers confirmed that movies do indeed have a lasting impact on breed popularity, in some cases, for up to ten years.
The duration and intensity of the rise in breed popularity was shown to correlate with the movie’s success, particularly during its opening weekend. The researchers found that the top ten movies were associated with changes in AKC registration trends such that approximately 800,000 more dogs were registered in the ten years after movie release than would have been expected from pre-release trends. Lassie Come Home was associated with a 40 percent increase in Collie registrations during the two years following its release in 1943. The Shaggy Dog, released in 1959, produced a 100-fold increase in Old English Sheepdog registrations.
Concerns within the Belgian Malinois community
In response to the release of Max, Judy Hagen, President of the American Belgian Malinois Club (ABMC) stated, “We are very concerned that the public will see this movie and recognize the intelligence, athleticism and beauty of the Belgian Malinois, but not realize that the dogs currently being featured in movies and television are the result of years of intense training. Living with a Malinois requires a commitment to daily training and exercise. Without this they will find their own activities that will make your life a nightmare of dangerous and destructive behaviors.”
Another ABMC member, Melinda Wichmann stated, “Dedicated Malinois owners joke that Malinois are not just a dog, they’re a lifestyle. Unless you are ready to be a firm leader 24/7/365, Malinois will assume that you are an idiot and that they are in charge.”
The Belgian Malinois rescue community is already bracing for the predicted influx of dogs. Taylor Updike Haywood, Midwest Coordinator for American Belgian Malinois Rescue, reported, “It’s already starting here. People are calling and asking to adopt the Air Jordan of dogs.” It so happens that a movie trailer for Max uses the phrase “Air Jordan of dogs” to describe the breed.
The likely increase in the number of Malinois relinquished to rescue organizations is a valid concern. An impulse purchase of a Malinois without consideration of the breed’s temperament and all that is necessary to successfully train and care for one is bound to produce an unhappy ending. Additionally, unethical breeders taking advantage of the movie-generated demand for Malinois will produce pups without consideration paid to creating good health and temperaments. Yet one more ingredient in a recipe for disaster.
Max and me
I confess to having mixed feelings about seeing Max. I would love to watch it because three of the scenes in this movie were filmed in my very own backyard, DuPont State Recreational Forest. As tempting as this is, there will be no Max for me. I will resist for the following reasons:
Purchasing a particular breed of dog based on a reaction to a movie is ill advised. Such an impulse adoption foregoes the important research and preparation necessary to ensure that the dog breed will be a good fit. Think about it, how likely will a Belgian Malinois, the canine king of police and military work, be a suitable pet for the average family?
I encourage you to share this article with the Max moviegoers you know. Together, we can discourage as many of them as possible from thinking they need a Belgian Malinois of their very own.
Of all of the dog movies you’ve seen, which one is your favorite?
News: Guest Posts
Man posts Craigslist ad rehoming his girlfriend
Several days ago a man posted a Craigslist ad that seemed to be offering a free Beagle to a good home. In the post he explains that his girlfriend wants to get rid of the dog. He proceeds to describe his Beagle pup saying "I have had her 4 years. She likes to play games. Not totally trained. Has long hair so she's a little high maintenance, especially the nails, but she loves having them done." However, by the end of the post we learn that he is in fact rehoming his girlfriend and keeping his dog!
As the ad went viral he updated the post saying it was all a joke and that in reality he's a pitbull owner and his girlfriend loves his dog. He ended his post encouraging one simple message—that adoption is a life long commitment, not just while convienent. It's great that he is using his viral fame to continue to push his message and promote pet adoption.
Way to go, dude!
Dog's Life: Humane
Partnerships that help alleviate animal suffering in popular resort areas.
Which of these things is not like the others? Sun, surf, sand, fruit drinks, stray dogs. While on the surface, the last is the odd-dog out, the truth is that in many tropical vacation paradises, emaciated, mange-afflicted and lonely canines (and felines) roam the beaches, alleys and streets in heartbreaking numbers.
Among the humane groups that have sprung up to address this situation is Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), whose mission is “to save the lives of stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs, supported and funded by the tourism industry, travelers and pet lovers.”
CANDi was founded by Canadian Darci Galati, an avid traveler and natural-born entrepreneur, who was inspired by her daughters’ concern for the strays they saw while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. The girls would do what they could for the animals they saw wandering the streets and beaches, but knew that when they left, these dogs and cats would once again be on their own. Galati made her daughters a promise that she would do something to make the animals’ situations better, and CANDi was born.
The group has no brick-and-mortar shelters of its own, but rather, enlists what it calls “humane partners,” local rescue groups that have charitable status, a substantial and active volunteer base, and a focus on spay/neuter and other prevention work, as well as documented recordkeeping and administrative capacities.
At first, CANDi sponsored free spay/neuter clinics, which became wildly popular with local dog and cat owners, who would line up early on clinic days to have their pets altered. Galati then decided to kick it up a notch—to find a way to address the larger systemic problems by involving those who benefit financially from the tourist trade: hotels, resorts and airlines.
This was an area Galati knew well. Founder of an interline travel company that went on to become one of the largest in the UK and North America, she knew how the tourism industry worked, and how much it depended on the good will of those who enjoyed it. She was determined to parlay that knowledge into a model that would benefit animals in need.
For example, with the group’s “Make a Difference” program, participating hotels invite guests to add the equivalent of $1 per night to their bill at checkout, with the money going to help CANDi provide clinics and educational programs in the local community. While guests are under no obligation to sign up, CANDi’s research indicates that about 75 percent of them elect to take part in this fund-raising activity.
Finding adoptive homes for animals in need locally is another primary activity, but the group also reaches out to the international community, both as adopters and as travel partners to transport dogs and cats to new homes in Canada and the U.S. Currently, ACTA (the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), Air Transat, CEO Mexico and RIU Hotels and Resorts are actively working with CANDi in support of its mission.
In her work with CANDi, photographer, volunteer and board member Tracey Buyce has had numerous experiences with local communities, and understands the struggle many have just to feed and house their families. According to Buyce, people tend to be judgmental about the animal situation in, for example, Mexico, assuming that the local people are just neglectful. “The reality is, as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means to care for them.” This is the gap that CANDi helps fill.
Buyce’s introduction to the issue also came during a Cancun sojourn. As she and her husband were taking a moonlit stroll on the beach, they encountered a starving stray and her equally malnourished puppy. Not knowing what else to do, Buyce shared her dessert with the dogs, but the encounter shook her. Once she returned home, she began an online search for animal rescue groups working in the area, and found CANDi.
When asked what individual travelers can do to assist, Buyce had several straightforward suggestions: “As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home. There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, and it’s very easy to do. Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life. And, of course, volunteer.”
Read more about Tracey Buyce’s experiences in our interview.
The Majority Project needs your photos
Talk about a great idea that can help combat negative stereotyping of Pit Bulls—presenting a photo collection of the people who love their Pitties, dogs who are just like every other dog after all. “The Majority Project” is taking action against Breed Specific Legislation by asking Pit Bull people to join in with snapshots of yourselves with your dog and a simple sign “signifying” that you are not the exception but are proudly part of the “majority” of Pit lovers. Watch this PSA video featuring actor Jon Bernthal with his young son, Billy and their dogs, Boss and Venice for more information. The PSA also features: Eric, a cancer biologist and his dog, Red, of Cambridge, Mass.; Nonny, a great grandmother and Ginger, of Washington D.C.; Father Humble, a priest and Aura, of Flowery Branch, Ga.; Rebecca, a teacher and Carmela, of Tucson, Ariz.; and many others. Add a photo of yourself and your Pittie—see how on The Majority Project.
This project is being spearheaded by the Animal Farm Foundation, a non-profit that advocates against breed specific legislation and whose director of operations, Caitlin Quinn, adds, “Discriminating against dog owners because of what their dog looks like will never make for a safer community. Holding reckless owners accountable will.”
The Majority Project PSA from Animal Farm Foundation on Vimeo.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sheriffs dispatch called me on standby about ten o’clock on a Friday night. They had a caller reporting an injured dog at an address out in the country. I pulled up in my animal control truck and met with a kind hearted family who pointed out the dog huddled behind a grill on the deck. They said they had tried to approach but she growled at them. I shined my light and that direction and the beam fell across an old, beat up pit bull. Her ears were cropped short, the eyes in the gray face were filled with fear and a large tumor hung from her belly. I heard a low growl. “Hey Doll, what are you doing here?” I called softly too her. Immediately I heard the sound of her hairless old tail beating against the grill.
I’ve been doing this job a long time. Most scared dogs that have wandered away will bolt for home when confronted. It was very likely that this old girl had been dumped put out of a car here, under cover of darkness. My heart broke for her and I called her again. The tail beat louder but she was afraid to come to me. I set my catch pole down and approached with a slip lead, talking to her the whole time. I was finally able to stroke the sweet face and slip the lead over her broad head.
I tugged the lead, trying to coax her out but she seemed to have no idea what the leash was. Finally I scooped her up and carried her to my truck. I settled her on a thick blanket and looked her over. The tumor was larger than an orange and she had several smaller ones as well. She was missing some of her hair and her skin was a mess. I could see that her mammary system had been used over and over. The skin sagged with the evidence of many litters of puppies.
I made the old dog comfortable at the shelter and put her on the vet log to be seen the next day. I dreamed about her that night, wondering if there was any chance that a family with few resources was missing her. Maybe she had gotten disoriented and wandered away from an elderly person who loved her but had no money? Maybe they would be frantically searching for her and we could help them with some vet care? I’m an optimist that way.
The shelter vets gave the old dog an exam and ran bloodwork the next day. I checked up on her and she was settled on a cushy thick dog bed although it was hard for her to lay comfortably on the tumors. We had saved old dogs with tumors bigger than this one though. One dog, Peaches, had come in with a cantaloupe sized tumor. The vet did surgery, she recovered fully and was adopted into a loving home. My own old pit bull Patty, had also come in terrible condition and with tumors. She had surgery and was doing great. I was hopeful.
I went in and sat with the old dog whenever I could and she climbed in my lap and cuddled as close as possible. I stroked the gray face, scratched behind her bad-ass cropped ears and massaged her muscles until she sighed with pleasure. I brought her special treats too and laughed to watch her tail wag and her cloudy old eyes light up when she smelled them.
Her stray hold passed, not surprisingly, with no one coming to claim her. I finally had a chance to ask the vet staff about her. She’s riddled with cancer, I was told, and her blood work looked terrible. She was dying. My eyes stung and I choked on the lump in my throat as I walked away. I so wanted her to have a few good years, with people who pampered and adored her. I knew she had likely been an outdoor breeding animal, used only to produce puppies, and I wanted to make up for it.
I sat with the old dog for a long time after work. I cherished this sweet time with her at the end of her life and tried to think of some other options but in spite of her good care at the shelter, her condition had deteriorated even more while she was there. Soon she would be in pain.
I had hoped to be with her the next day, as she slipped away in the gentle arms of the shelter staff, but I was tied up with emergencies and wasn’t able to make it back. How I wish she could have belonged to someone who loved her. Someone with the decency to hold her and drip heartbroken tears on her sweet face as she took her last breath. I know my dedicated co-workers would have been kind to her though and that is a comfort.
People often tell me they couldn’t do my job because they love animals too much. I tell them I love them too much not to. It’s not about my pain, it’s about helping the animal. What if no one were there to comfort this dog at the end of her life when even her owners betrayed her? Even though we couldn’t save her, I like to think we made her last days as nice as possible under the circumstances. Sweet dreams old lady.
Dog's Life: Humane
Q&A with Photographer Tracey Buyce, Volunteer and Board Member, Cats and Dogs International
While writing about Cats and Dogs International (CANDi) for the Spring 2015 issue, we were in touch with board member Tracey Buyce, who’s also the organization’s volunteer photographer; she made many good points that space prevented us from including in the print article. Here’s the “value-added” expanded version of that conversation.
Bark: What motivated you to become involved with CANDi?
Tracey Buyce: A few years ago, my husband I were vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, and took a romantic walk on the beach after dinner. Suddenly, we encountered a starving, stray mother dog with her malnourished puppy, searching for food and comfort. I fed her my dessert. I didn’t know what else to do, and my heart ached after that encounter.
What became clear during our stay was that there were even more dogs living on the beach, trying to survive. I knew I had to do something to help them, and couldn’t rest until I did.
As soon as we returned home, I searched the Internet for animal rescue groups in Cancun and discovered CANDi. I contacted the founder, Darci Galati, who invited me to return to Cancun the following month as a volunteer photographer for their free spay/neuter clinic. Almost immediately, I came on board as their official photographer for the clinics, and was invited to join CANDi’s Board of Directors in 2014.
B: Have you had any “aha” moments while working with the group?
TB: Yes, many, but the most notable was my change in perception of the underlying cause of the stray dog problem in Mexico.
My volunteer work has required me to visit many of the communities surrounding Cancun’s tourist resorts to photograph dogs and the local people. Although Mexico has some very dangerous areas, its hard-working people are doing their very best to survive and make it through each day with extremely limited resources. When people’s basic needs are not being met, their animals’ needs come in second, which I believe is the case here.
Visitors tend to be judgmental about what’s happening in Mexico with the stray animal and overpopulation issues, and assume that it’s the fault of the local people and community that the animals are not cared for. The reality is—and this was my personal “aha! moment”—as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means of caring for them. Many live without basic resources and are unable to provide necessities such as immunizations for their kids; sterilizing their pets is almost impossible.
I think it’s a government issue. There needs to be an infrastructure in place to provide for the basic needs of families and children, and there also needs to be some support from the tourist industry to help offset the devastating poverty in the communities that surround the resorts.
B: Do you have a special CANDi story?
TB: My work with CANDi has provided many moments of joy, success and surprise, but the one that is most memorable involves Luna, a dog I found in someone’s yard, who was near death. I had seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of street dogs before I came across Luna, but something about her was different. I knew I couldn’t leave her there.
With a lot of difficulty and the help of a translator, I managed to get the owner to relinquish the dog, and through CANDi, she got the immediate veterinary care she needed until she stabilized. I found her a loving home in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, and that’s where she lives and thrives today as a happy, healthy, well-loved family dog! Luna is my special success story. [Editor’s note: You’ll find Luna’s story here.]
B: What do you consider to be the organization’s greatest strength?
TB: That it’s a grassroots group and brings volunteers from all around the world to communities that have the greatest need for spay/neuter clinics.
Everyone, including the veterinarians, is a volunteer who donates his or her time, skills and resources. All of our stories are similar in that we saw animal suffering and wanted to do something to help. CANDi is the vehicle that not only brings us together, but also, paves the way for each of us to help. Without CANDi, none of it would be possible.
CANDi’s approach—partnering with the tourism industry—is what we need to continue to build on expanding our volunteer base. This partnership also translates into resources that support more spay/neuter clinics, the implementation of humane programs at tourist destinations, and education and resources for local residents.
B: What can individuals do to help CANDi?
TB: As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home! There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico and it’s very easy to do.
Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life.
And, of course, volunteer! I am a professional photographer, and I give based on my talents. Not every volunteer is a vet, or wants to pick ticks off dogs at a clinic. Think about your greatest skill or asset and then think about how you can apply that to helping animals through CANDi. Visit CANDi’s website for more information on how to get involved!
B: Finally, a personal question: any dogs of your own?
TB: Yes, I have two rescue dogs, Roxy and Sydney, plus a shelter kitty, Reece, and a horse named Moose. I’m a bona fide animal lover, and that’s why I do what I do!
The interview was conducted in January 2015 and has been edited for clarity.
News: Guest Posts
How The World's Worst Dog Became Our Shelter's Best Teacher
Eddie was not a particularly magnanimous little dog. While he was sweet and loving with people he knew, he was a snarling, snapping nightmare with children and other dogs. As he weighed less than ten pounds, it was a manageable situation but who would want to manage it? Making matters worse, he was a tan Chihuahua in an area up to its ears in tan Chihuahuas. If shelters in other states suffer from an overabundance of wonderful large black dogs, California has a Chihuahua overpopulation issue reminiscent of the “Tribble” episode of Star Trek.
After having Eddie in our care for two years we were at a total loss for how to find him a home. Facebook posts, adoption ads, offering free training - nothing worked. Stymied, our Adoptions, Behavior and Marketing teams sat down to a situation room conference and came up with a drastic idea: complete honesty. We wrote a no holds bar blog about why you probably didn’t want to adopt Eddie, crafted a satirical press release noting the same, produced a couple jarring videos, and made some memes to distribute through various marketing channels.
It went completely viral. Our phone lines jammed and the media turned out in force to talk about little Eddie. America embraced Eddie. To say this was a huge learning experience for us at Humane Society Silicon Valley would be an understatement. After two weeks of near bedlam, Eddie was comfortably ensconced in a new home and our staff was older - and much wiser - than we used to be. Three big lessons stuck out from our crash course in unconventional marketing.
1) Everyone owns an Eddie. As the Eddie blog scampered it’s way around the internet on fleet little paws, we heard a resounding chorus of one sentence: “He’s just like my dog!”. While we may strive for perfection in ourselves, people are unfailingly willing to embrace imperfection in their companion animals. As a society, our love of the dogs we share our lives with far outweighs our need for control and order. While statistics have always borne out the fact that the reason dogs wind up in shelters has more to do with changes in the owners lifestyle, Eddie’s raging popularity - and the surfeit of people that stepped up to meet him - showed us anecdotally that we accept our dogs, warts and all.
2) Inform, don’t restrict. In deciding to go the route of radical honesty, we also decided to trust as well. Too often shelters deal with difficult animals by restricting the adopters - no kids, adult only, experienced homes. By doing that, we drastically cut down the number of options for animals already at a disadvantage for finding homes. We also forget a vital fact: most of us didn’t come to dog ownership as experts. None of us were born conversant in the lingo of behavior theory and versed in positive reinforcement training. It was a relationship with a dog that encouraged us to seek out information - to learn and grow. Even the most expert pet professionals usually came to their career through the very simple act of loving an animal. By frankly presenting Eddie’s problems and removing his restrictions, we allowed for the possibility of that transformative relationship, allowed his potential adopters to make an informed decision about what they were capable of. And they did.
3) You don’t need to write a horror story to make people care. Noticeably absent from all of the media we did about Eddie was one simple thing: his rather unremarkable history. Eddie wasn’t a victim of abuse or neglect - he was simply an under socialized dog who got loose and was a bit too much for his owners to handle. Too often in shelter marketing, we make the mistake of thinking that we need to return to the same narrative of good versus evil. If there’s one thing we learned from Eddie the Terrible, it’s that people are more complex - and their hearts are larger than we anticipated.
Eddie forced us to reevaluate how we approach more challenging animals that enter our doors and how we interact with potential adopters.
And perhaps these are lessons that can save more lives.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The scruffy little stray peered warily at me from under her filthy, matted curls. She looked to be a poodle mix of maybe 15 pounds and animal control had been getting calls about her for a month or so. I called softly to her but she tucked her tail and trotted away. I spent the next several weeks trying every trick in the book to capture the little dog but she was too shy to approach and too clever to be cornered or trapped. She slept under old cars behind the meat company and roamed the nearby car dealerships daily.
Finally after several weeks of trying different baits in the trap I was thrilled to find her safely confined. Back at the shelter she was terrified and trying to bite but I was able to wrap her in a blanket and get her vaccinated and scanned. To my surprise she had a microchip. There was no phone number so the next day I went to the home and met with her former owner. A pleasant man, whom I will call Marco, he stated that he loved his dog but had too many dogs and still had 4 of her puppies from a previous litter of 8.
It’s my job to help and educate rather than judge whenever possible and Marco needed help. He showed me the 4 puppies. There were two males and two females and he told me that he was trying to separate them because the boys were trying to have “the sex” with the girls and he didn’t want any more puppies. It’s important to remember that Marco was doing the best he could with the education and information he had. Other than a bad limp on one of the female puppies, they looked healthy and well cared for. They had enough to eat and a cozy bed in a shed.
Still, the dogs were reproducing at random and I knew it wouldn’t be long before there would be more puppies and I was worried about the limp on the female puppy. Also my preference is always that dogs live in the home as part of the family. We chatted a few more minutes and Marco decided to surrender the original stray mama and her two female puppies and I gave him information on getting the males neutered.
I took the little scared stray and the two puppies home to foster until they could be adopted. I named the mama Ava and she warmed up in no time, crawling tentatively across the floor and into my lap after a few moments. I bathed her filthy coat and trimmed the mats and scheduled her to be spayed as soon as she was more comfortable being handled. I had the two puppies, Charlotte and Cookie spayed (Cookie was in season), vaccinated and treated for worms and fleas. I also Cookie seen for her leg and X-rays showed a partially healed fracture that was crooked and needed surgery.
One evening about a week after I caught her, Ava lay blissfully relaxed on my lap. I was absently stroking her belly when I felt movement under my hand. Two days later I woke up to a single puppy nursing happily in the bed with Ava.
Cookie had her surgery and was adopted by one of the wonderful vets who took care of her. Charlotte went home with a friend of mine and will have the best of everything. Mama Ava and her puppy Bruno will stay in foster care with me until Bruno is weaned. Then they will be spayed and neutered and adopted out.
It’s funny how catching one little stray resulted in four dogs having a better life. I can’t help but think what good timing it all was. Little Bruno might have grown up under a car as a feral stray, if he even survived. The two female pups would have become pregnant and produced more puppies in the back yard. And little Cookies broken leg might never have been fixed, leaving her with a lifetime of pain.
I think Ava and little Bruno, snuggled up in a warm bed in my living room would agree.
Culture: Readers Write
Unexpected death brings new beginnings for one family.
She was a long hair mini dachshund and we did not know exactly how old she was. I do know that when I first rescued Tessie eight years ago, she could not see or hear well, but she sure could smell another dog a mile away. She was so energetic, happy, loved her walks, food and lots of people attention. I thought she was quite young.
On December 22 while I was getting ready for work, Tessie and I did our usual routine of breakfast and outside for her. After she ate her breakfast and jumped around a bit, she just lied down on the floor and could not get up. I could see something was very wrong and rushed her to the emergency pet hospital at 6:30am but she died in my lap on the way.
I was devastated and in absolute shock. It was a good thing I was on vacation for two weeks because I did not stop crying for four straight days. I was obligated to cook dinner for my children and their friends and in looking back it was good short term distraction. While I shopped for dinner, I cried all through the store. I would run across people that cried with me as they remembered their lost pets.
I guess perception is everything; I thought I had about 10 more years with Tessie. We now realize that she was most likely 6 or 7 years older than we thought. That would have made her 13 or 14 years old.
As I was lying in bed grieving, I started looking on PetFinder.com for dachshund rescues. I decided to rescue another dachshund because I understand their quirky and stubborn personalities. In honor of Tessie, I decided to rescue a senior dog.
Even though my friends and family kept telling me to wait, I just could not. It was just too painful and I knew that I wanted to have a dog in my life at all times. I was still able to go through the grieving process even though I was looking for another rescue. I did everything to get out of my heart, went to the animal shelter and dropped off items they needed for the shelter dogs, and took long walks.
I contacted Phyllis Van Boxtel, rescue director, of Recycle Love Dog Rescue to enquire about a little red dachshund mix that was apparently dropped off at a shelter by someone who could no longer take care of her. I was not sure about it, but it made me feel better just to find out more about her. Her name was Flower.
I live in Northern California and was in no shape to fly or drive to San Diego (400 miles) to pick her up. When I told this to Phyllis she said it was not a problem and they would fly her to me. I asked how much this would cost and she said it was free as she is affiliated with a company called Pilots n Paws who flies dogs for free to good homes. I could not believe it! So I just went with it, filled out the application and sent my adoption fee in. Sight-unseen I agreed to take her.
Three days later, I drove to the Palo Alto municipal airport and waited in a little building near the tarmac for the plane. Once landed, I was able to go out and greet them when they opened the airplane doors. It was amazing!
I renamed her Jolie Fleur (pretty flower in French). I’ve now had my little Jolie for 3 weeks. She is doing very well and taken me on as her person.
I believe my little Tessie led me to Jolie as I do believe she was trying to tell me something before she died. She was clingy and not her usual self for a few weeks before she died. Her signs were so subtle and I didn’t notice because she did not appear to be ill before she died.
I know that eventually I will go through a grieving period with Jolie because she is older. I don’t know how long we have together, but I am going to make it the best time I can for her.
It is worth rescuing senior dogs. They are so lovely and really know when they are safe and loved.
I would like to thank the following people for making this miracle happen: Phyllis Van Boxtel of Recycled Love Dog Rescue. Angel Pilots of Pilots n Paws. Luke Freeman for taking all the photos and being my best support of the Day! Thanks Luke, you are a trooper.
I am so happy to know that there are so many human angels still helping and loving the innocent animals that do not have a voice of their own and cannot defend themselves.
Wellness: Healthy Living
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.”
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