Dog's Life: Humane
Prison inmates train dogs behind bars.
Freedom Tails is a joint program with the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Wash., and the animal rescue group North Beach PAWS. It partners rescued dogs with SCCC inmates who train and care for the dogs to prepare them for life in their adoptive homes. We feature Freedom Tails in the April/May 2011 issue of The Bark, along with two leather collars made by the SCCC K9 Club to support Freedom Tails (see “Kit’s Corner”).
We spoke with SCCC Corrections Unit Supervisor Dennis Cherry, who heads up the program on the corrections end, as well as Program Assistant Karen Diehm, who writes the program’s monthly newsletters, and Carl Corcoran and Robert Wrinkle, two of the inmate trainers. They explain how the program got started and how it has dramatically changed life inside the prison.
Bark: What made you specifically want to try a dog program at SCCC?
Cherry: We heard how successful it was for bringing violence down in the units and how it was helping the offenders cope with being in prison and helping them when they get out. It gives them a self worth, like they’re helping the community. And it helps them to progress in their lives once they get out. It gives them some responsibility while they’re in here. They have to take care of a dog and they’re totally responsible for it. And it seems to be working pretty well.
Bark: Trainer Corcoran, what made you decide to participate in the program?
Corcoran: It gives me something to look forward to every day. I have something to care for, and it gives me a self-worth. I feel like I’m doing something good for the community and a dog.
Bark: The dogs you’ve been training, are they dogs that have been surrendered and have been in shelters?
Corcoran: My first dog that I had was a Terrier. Her name was Cookie. I came in just a couple weeks prior to her graduating, and that was the dog that I learned on. Maverick was the first dog that I trained on my own. He was a black Lab. He was an owner surrender. The owner didn’t have time for him, so they just gave him up. Now I have Skeeter.
Diehm: Skeeter’s a special project this time around. His owner has a disability, so we’re training him to help her when he gets back home.
Corcoran: Right now I’m training him to ring a bell. I have started training him to bring me a bag, which is going to have medicine in it. He’s picked that up real well. And he wears a special harness. It’s kind of like he’ll be used for a cane, or if she falls down, she can use him to get back up.
Wrinkle: I trained the first [assistance] dog. We trained her last session, and she was trained for a 17-year-old who has Down syndrome, and she was the first special needs dog we did. That was kind of difficult, because we had to train her to be very gentle with her mouth, no jumping. Everything that a person with Down syndrome needs. And we teach ourselves in some sense on how to train dogs in that way.
Bark: Do you feel like doing this has prepared you for leaving the correctional system?
Wrinkle: It’s helped me. You see, when we first started this, I was kind of a wreck. Not really that much of a sense of responsibility, although I’d been through some college. And it’s like having a two-year-old kid on your shoulder all the time, so you’ve really got to pay attention. You’ve got to feed him, exercise him. You’ve got to bathe him. Everything in your daily life, you have to do with a two-year-old kid more or less. As far as responsibility, I mean we’ve got to give the dog meds, everything to do with this dog we live with him day in and day out for the next eight to 12 weeks. So it’s taught me more responsibility in the 14 or 15 months that I’ve been in the dog program than I’ve learned since I’ve been down. Plus, it’s also taught me that people do care. We get to interact with the community in this program in ways that we never have before.
Bark: When you say “interact with the community,” do you mean specifically with the outside trainers?
Wrinkle: With the trainers and, at graduation, they bring in all of the families that are adopting the dogs, and we go through a dog show, sort of just like on TV. And everybody sits there and watches, and when we’re done, we interact with the public at large. Some of the phrases and some of the comments we get are stuff that we—that I—haven’t seen in over 20 years. I’m just living in an enclosed bubble in here and we don’t get to see a lot of stuff. It kind of brings to light some of the positive aspects of everything we’re doing.
Bark: What are the dogs like when they arrive at SCCC? Do they mostly need to be resocialized?
Corcoran: Well, some dogs, when they come in, have been chained up in a backyard their whole lives without much contact with humans or animals. So when they get here, some of them don’t know how to react to all these people or another dog. So it takes a lot of time and patience on our part to just adjust this dog slowly, get him to be around more humans and other dogs. Some of these dogs come in not knowing how to be a dog.
Wrinkle: Plus, our lead trainer has actually saved dogs that are on the way to be put down. We had one dog that they found under a boat, named Angel; she was so near death they did not think she was going to make it. We’ve had other dogs come in that are so underweight that they’re about 50% of their actual weight. We’ve had other dogs come in that we’ve actually had to do a hair care session with them because they’re so patched and bald that you would never think that they’d come out of this program the way that they do. It’s just really amazing.
Bark: Do you see parallels between your life in prison and the lives of all these surrendered dogs?
Wrinkle: Yeah, I do. It’s actually put life back into my life. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s given me back a lot of stuff that I’ve lost over the years. And it’s not just for me, but for my family. It’s helped me re-interact with my family as far as how they’re feeling. That’s a topic of conversation every single time I talk with my family. They want to know what’s going on with training, just about everything about it.
Bark: Is it that you have something in common to talk about, or is there more?
Wrinkle: That’s a big part of it, that it’s something to talk about. But there’s more to it—like almost every single member of my family wants me to train their dog now.
Bark: What has surprised you most about Freedom Tails?
Wrinkle: The calm in the unit. When the first dog walked into this unit... Within a week, it was like the tension level dropped to about 50%. And the stress level. It was almost as if everybody had new conversation. I don’t know how else to say it. It just was a drastic change. You can even see when there’s no dogs in the unit, in the two-week span when we don’t have dogs sometimes, you can actually see the difference between the stress level and attitudes and everything.
Bark: Having dogs around gives you a common connection.
Wrinkle: Yes, definitely.
Cherry: Yeah, you can see it in their faces. Guys who aren’t involved in the program, when they can pet the dogs when they see a green or yellow collar. And when they’re petting the dogs, you can see the smiles on their faces instead of frowns. It’s pretty amazing, really.
Bark: Do you see other correctional facilities interested in starting dog training programs as a result of Freedom Tails?
Cherry: We have. From our program, there’s probably four others that have started in our prisons across Washington. Walla Walla has one now, Munroe has one, Cedar Creek has one, Olympic Corrections Center has one. They modeled it off our program, pretty much.
Bark: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the program?
Wrinkle: The only thing I can really say is this has made a drastic change in my life and everything in it has been for the better. I know it’s going to help me when I release.
Cherry: I’d like to make one point, that the whole purpose of our program was to save dogs that might not have a life. If a dog ends up in a kennel, he’s facing death sometimes. And we’re actually taking these dogs and we’re re-training them and adopting them to good families, so we’re saving these dogs in the community. Some guys even relate it to their situation. Some guys are never getting out of prison. They see that and they think, “That’s cool. They’re out there giving that dog a second chance. You know, I wish someone would give me a second chance.” Maybe it gives them some hope. Maybe it doesn’t. But at least it gives them some appreciation of what we’re doing.
Corcoran: Yeah instead of doing something negative for the community, we’re doing actually something positive. And it feels good.
To learn more about Freedom Tails, visit North Beach PAWS. The SCCC K9 Club makes leather collars, leashes and keychains that are available for sale. All proceeds are collected by North Beach PAWS and go to support Freedom Tails.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I’m usually a pretty upbeat person but it was one of those rare days when I was in a sad funk. A series of tragic calls had really taken it out of me. I was in a fog and struggling at work when I got a call of another sighting of a stray dog that had been roaming the area for days. Fellow animal control officers had tried sweet talk and cookies without luck and had even managed to net her a few days previously but so great was her panic that she ripped through the net and escaped again. I knew my chances of catching her were slim but a long walk in the fields where she had been seen sounded appealing.
A neighbor pointed the dog out to me; a tan blur huddled in the high grass. I spoke softly to her and offered treats but she got up and hurried away. I sat down and waited but she would have none of it. I then tried to head her off, aware of the rapidly rising temperature of what was going to be a very hot day, but she bolted away from me. The neighbor followed and we tried to corner the dog but she growled and changed direction each time we got near. I noticed that she seemed weak and stumbled several times. I wondered if she was sick or just dehydrated from being on the run. At one point she fell and I sat in the grass hoping to reassure her but she soon staggered to her feet and took off again. As I got closer I could see the engorged ticks covering her body. Hundreds of them. In her ears, on her face and everywhere on her skin.
Finally I was able to get close enough to loop a leash over the dog’s head as she tried to dodge past me. She immediately collapsed to the ground and I carried her, ticks and all, to my truck. I could feel the fear and tension in her muscles as her body pressed against me. I settled her on a blanket in the vehicle and stroked her sweet face and told her it would be ok. I gave her water, flipped on the A/C and then we headed back to the shelter. The shelter techs and I spoke softly to her and began removing the ticks one by one as she slowly started to relax. There was something so rewarding about giving comfort to this lost creature that I forgot my sadness. By the time the ticks were all gone and she had a good meal, the dog was wagging her tail and we were both feeling much better.
The dog’s owners claimed her soon afterwards and my heart was full with the knowledge that she was finally safe at home after being lost for more than a week. Sometimes the best way to feel better is to help someone else feel better.
This is another amazing rescue video from Hope For Paws and Eldad Hagar, one of its founders. In this one an exhausted dog, who had been living on the streets in LA and who had avoided other rescue attempts, was simply too tired this time. And while he was definitely stressed by the net, soon after, as you will see on this video, the adorable pup was basking in the love and attention given to him by his rescuers. Kudos to Hope For Paws once again.
Dog's Life: Humane
A goal within our reach
Before the recent presidental election, there was talk in the media about the “Bradley effect”—the difference between what voters say to pollsters and the way they mark their ballot in the privacy of the voting booth. As it turned out, in this election, the polls were accurate; people voted for the candidate they publicly supported.
The humane movement has been living with its own Bradley effect, the notion that despite all evidence to the contrary—the people we see at the dog park, the people we talk to in the lobby of our veterinarian’s office, the number of successful books and movies about animals, the amount we spend on our pets, the demographics that show the immense compassion of a pet-loving nation—Americans are irresponsible and somehow don’t care enough about animals. This is followed by an equally unconvincing corollary: Shelters in this country have no choice but to put to death roughly four million dogs and cats every year.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do approximately 165 million dogs and cats share our homes, and not only are we spending more than $40 billion per year on their care and comfort, but study after study confirms that people will cut back on their own needs during periods of economic downturn rather than curtail the care they provide for their animal companions. The success of “no kill” does not depend on winning the hearts and minds of the American public. We don’t need to gain their support because we already have it.
While voters were electing a new leader to move us in a new direction, they also banned confinement cages for chickens. During the same election, Massachusetts voters ended Greyhound racing. In 2007, Oregon voters followed Florida’s 2002 lead and banned gestation crates for pigs. And in 2006,Arizona voters passed a farm animal protection statute banning veal crates, while Michigan voters defeated a measure to increase hunting in the state. In short, we have discovered that despite the things that separate us as Americans, people in all walks of life want to build a better world for animals.
What makes some of these votes especially significant is that Americans not only care about dogs and cats; they also care about animals with whom they do not have a personal relationship. And if, despite all the forces telling them that voting for these laws was a bad idea, they voted for them anyway, we need to put to bed once and for all the idea that dogs and cats need to die because people are irresponsible and don’t care enough about them.
The lesson here is that the leveraging of this love can and should be used to effect change. Specifically, it can be used to end the tragic policy of killing companion animals in U.S. shelters. Many communities are doing so— some are in the North, some are in the South, some are in what we call “blue” states and one of the most successful is in the reddest part of the reddest state.
As the New York Times noted just after the election, “Even as we celebrated our first black president, we looked around and rediscovered the nation that had elected him. ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’ Obama said, and indeed, millions of such Americans were here all along, waiting for a leader. This was the week that they reclaimed their country.” It is a new year, there is a new president and we have new hope. It is time for animal lovers all over this country to reclaim our movement, too. A no-kill nation is within our reach.
AB 1810 signed into law by California Gov. Brown
California—An important new bill has passed protecting abandoned animals has been signed into law in the state of California. AB 1810 removes a state mandate to euthanize any animal abandoned at an animal care facility, including veterinary offices, spay/neuter clinics, animal hospitals, and grooming facilities, if a new home is not found within 24 days. Additionally, AB 1810 provides more flexibility to achieve positive outcomes for these animals by permitting animal care facilities to turn the animals over to a local shelter—an option that is strictly prohibited under current law. Sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), AB 1810 was passed unanimously by both houses of the California Legislature and was recently signed by Gov. Brown. “Abandonment should not be a death sentence for animals,” Kevin O'Neill, senior state director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Western region, said. “Dogs and cats at spay/neuter clinics, veterinary offices, or any of California's many other care facilities should not face certain death simply because their owner fails to pick them up. It is imperative that we do all we can to ensure positive outcomes for these animals, and AB 1810 will do just that.”
News: Guest Posts
If ever there were an aptly named dog, it has to be Hope. In the spring of 2013, an Oakland animal control officer found the scrawny one-year-old Pit Bull tied to a tree behind an abandoned house. She was severely underweight with no fur, the result of a condition called Demodex, a non-contagious mange that is extremely difficult to eradicate. She was brought to Oakland Animal Services and, predictably, no owner came for her. But she wasn’t healthy enough to be put up for adoption. Besides, the shelter doesn’t have the resources to treat that condition, so there was little hope for her future.
That’s when Oakland Animal Services’ volunteers Steve LaChapelle and Pat Luchak stepped in, agreeing to share foster parent duties for Hope, while they nursed her back to health. Because Steve works as a pilot, he couldn’t provide a full-time foster home, so Pat agreed to care for Hope when Steve traveled. In those early days, Hope was weak and almost completely bald. “Because of the mites on her (from the mange) she had an elevated temperature and was hot to the touch,” explains Pat. Hope needed oral medication and frequent medicated baths to treat her condition, which can get worse from stress. Steve and Pat soon learned more bad news. Hope had a congenital heart problem called Valvular Pulmonic Stenosis. Without surgery she would not live more than another year.
But Steve and Pat never gave up. Steve set up an online “crowd-funding” website, asking friends, family and the public to donate any amount to help cover Hope’s surgery. Steve set an ambitious goal—$5,000. In less than three days, the campaign raised almost $6,000, from hundreds of people across the country, and even abroad. One generous anonymous donor gave $1,000. About a month later, Hope had heart surgery, and was on the road to recovery.
It wasn’t easy. The stress from surgery and recovery could trigger the return of the mange. Steve and Pat kept watchful eyes on Hope throughout this period. They then cared for her through a spay surgery and more recovery.
Fast-forward to summer 2014 and you’ll find Hope not only surviving, but thriving. She now has a medical prognosis for a normal, healthy life. She sports a gorgeous coat, a mixture of fawn with white spots. On a typical day, you’ll find her enjoying the company of Steve and his dog, or at Pat’s house with her two dogs and Bob, her second foster dad. As Pat says, “Hope has never met another dog she didn’t like.” The suddenly energetic girl has gone from taking six kinds of medication a day to just one. She enjoys hiking and playtime, often outlasting her older canine roommates. When asked for one word that describes her, both Pat and Steve say “snuggler.” Through her ordeal, Hope has become a bit of a celebrity too; she has a loyal following of almost 600 dog lovers from all over the country on her facebook page.
Now Steve and Pat know it is time for Hope to find her “forever” home. They believe it will be with a person or family who has some dog experience, and a commitment to sustaining Hope’s good health. Given how playful she is, canine “siblings” would be a bonus. Steve and Pat hope to remain in her life, and offer to be lifelong Hope-sitters for anyone who adopts her. While she still lives with Steve and Pat, Hope is available for adoption through Oakland Animal Services. More information about her is available here.
See what a good girl she is!
Volunteering can make a difference
We often hear from people who are volunteering their time and talents helping animals. So many people are moved to action in the groundswell to help neglected and abused dogs—fostering rescues, transporting animals, quilting blankets, fundraising—the list goes on. It takes a village to meet the unfortunate demand, and too often, even that’s not enough. But it’s exciting when we’re contacted by somebody who has transformed their passion into action. A photographer named Brian Moss reached out to us recently, sharing some photos he took of dogs at a nearby animal shelter. The images are quite extraordinary. Brian has adopted strays, and is a longtime advocate for animal rescue. But in his words he “wasn’t walking the walk.” He’s part of a growing trend of professional photographers volunteering their considerable skills to shelters—capturing the heart and soul of adoptable animals for the world to see. These portraits can be lifesavers ... for the animals, and, in many ways, for the people who take them. See Brian’s photographs.
Dog's Life: Humane
Helping dogs, one community at a time.
Matt Piccone maneuvers his van through the streets of Rochester, a mid-sized city in upstate New York with the fifth-highest poverty rate in the nation. Beside him sits Hillary Cardin, a veterinary technician. He pulls the van to the curb in front of a beige, two-story, wood-frame house, and he and Cardin each grab an armful of straw from the back of the van. Piccone struggles to open a wooden gate obstructed by thick snow. Two Pit Bulls, Henny and Diamond, charge them.
“Hey, guys, get back in!” he shouts, hurriedly shutting the gate. As Piccone and Cardin drop the straw into two dog-houses, the dogs, tails wagging frantically, compete for attention. Henny steals a glove.
Cardin laughs at their exuberance. “Their energy level is a good sign. It means that they’re getting enough food to keep their body heat up in this weather.”
Before Piccone became a fixture in their lives, Henny and Diamond were underfed and had only a board slanted against the house for protection. The doghouses, built by apprentices in the local carpenter’s union, are doublewalled, fully insulated and raised six inches off the ground. The straw helps the dogs retain their body heat. “I climbed in a doghouse on a singledigit day and the temperature was 52 degrees,” says Piccone. The shorthaired dog nestled inside was warm to his touch.
The dogs’ owner, Anthony McBride, emerges from the house, wearing a wide smile. After some small talk, Piccone says, “Hey, Bro. Are you going to get Diamond spayed?” Henny is already neutered. The man nods, but is noncommittal as to when. “This would be a good time of year to do it,” Piccone offers, no trace of judgment in his voice.
Piccone is the founder of Providing Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) of Rochester, a fledgling animal welfare group. PAWS’ motto is “outreach, education and assistance.” By delivering doghouses and straw and providing free spay/neuter surgeries and low-cost vaccinations to city residents, PAWS has become a welcome presence in neighborhoods where pet owners can’t afford health care for their animals. To receive the doghouses and other perks, people must agree to sterilize their pets. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s a yes,” says Piccone.
Not surprisingly, it’s the backyard breeders who resist altering their pets. “I might get a solid ‘no’ for a year, but I’ll keep talking about it,” Piccone says. One of his proudest accomplishments was convincing a woman who had been breeding Pit Bulls for 20 years to have her three dogs altered and allow them to live inside. “Pointing fingers will get you nowhere,” says Piccone. “It’s a matter of time, patience, asking the right questions and knowing how to ask them.”
Before PAWS, Piccone worked as a security technician for Time Warner Cable. His job was to drive around city neighborhoods and locate households illegally tapping into cable services. Peering into back yards, Piccone, an animal lover, was often disturbed by what he saw: dogs tied on short chains, dogs who were sick and malnourished or who had fresh wounds from dog fighting. Dead animals dumped at the curb also haunted him.
For eight years, he made thousands of complaint calls to animal control and the local humane society. Either help never came, or a dog would be removed from the home, only to be replaced. “I was directly affected by what I saw,” Piccone says. “There was a lack of compassion for [poor] people. They had been written off as bad pet owners.”
One frigid winter day, Piccone saw two dogs in a back yard, one in a metal crate with a plastic bag over it, and a second lying on concrete, covered by a wooden box with no bottom. Piccone called animal control. “I was crying. I insisted someone come down.” The animal control officer who came said the shelters were sufficient. Piccone rang the front doorbell. “I was afraid the dog’s skin would freeze to the concrete. I was so overcome with emotion I didn’t even know what I was going to say,” he recalls. When a man opened the door, Piccone blurted, “Your dogs can’t live outside like that. Can I bring you two doghouses?”
Piccone and his father built the doghouses in less than a week, and PAWS was born. Two years later, Piccone and Cardin are still the only paid employees; Piccone’s wife, Laura, volunteers as the group’s grant writer/office manager. But with local donations and almost $130,000 from the national ASPCA, PAWS now operates a mobile spay/neuter clinic and a standing clinic, which provides wellness care (vaccinations, deworming, etc.) for $25 per visit. By June, Piccone plans to begin offering at the clinic high-volume, high-quality spay/neuter services, free to city residents. In less than two years, the nonprofit has sterilized 139 dogs and 55 cats. The ASPCA liked PAWS’ “caring, personalized approach to helping atrisk animals in the community,” says Jill Van Tuyl, a community initiatives director. “In a typical animal control response, the animal would be removed from the home and placed in the already overburdened shelter system. By offering ongoing support and education … PAWS is giving pet owners the resources they need to care for their pets and keep them in the home.”
The ASPCA created its Safety Net program in 2008 to enlist the public in reducing the number of abandoned animals. Initiatives include free and low-cost sterilizations, vaccinations, and online animal-behavior and rehoming advice.
Sterilization is a cornerstone of the campaign. Last year, the ASPCA awarded more than $5 million to grassroots organizations for spay/neuter programs, and that amount will increase each year, says Emily Weiss, PhD, the organization’s vice president of shelter research and development. The euthanasia rate is decreasing, but as many as four million pets are still destroyed in shelters each year. This is a rough estimate, as there is no central registry to track data, Weiss says.
To spend money most efficiently, the ASPCA is using a new geographic information system that pinpoints the neighborhoods sending the most dogs and cats to shelters. Those areas are then targeted for intervention. ASPCA staff have also conducted in-person surveys to find out why people surrender large dogs, who are the least adoptable and the most likely to be euthanized, says Weiss. At a Washington, D.C., shelter, pet owners cited a shortage of affordable housing that allowed dogs weighing more than 30 pounds. While this was also a problem in New York City, a larger issue was a shortage of low-cost veterinary care.
Austin, Texas, has become a model for reducing shelter deaths through aggressive spay/neuter services. The city’s per capita shelter intake is currently at its lowest in its history, and the number of homeless animals coming into the shelter each year has dropped from 23,351 in 2000 to 18,668 in 2013, says Amy Mills, chief executive officer of Emancipet (emancipet.org), Austin’s community-based spay/neuter and preventive care organization. These feats are impressive, given that Austin’s human population nearly doubled between 1990 and 2014, from less than 500,000 to 859,814, according to Austin officials. Mills credits this progress to the city’s emphasis on prevention efforts and a strong collaboration between Emancipet, the ASPCA, the city of Austin, Animal Trustees of Austin and the Austin Humane Society, a nonprofit shelter.
In 2005, Emancipet built a clinic with money from the city, Petsmart Charities and a local foundation called Impact Austin. In 2013, they opened a second clinic in Pflugerville, just north of Austin. The organization also operates two mobile clinics that cover a 70-mile radius, providing free spaying and neutering and other low-cost services four days a week. The city subsidizes most of the free services provided by Emancipet through a contract.
Using ASPCA data, Emancipet targets areas with the most homeless animals and complaint calls. “The real barriers are cost, understanding the [sterilization] procedure and trusting medical care,” Mills says. “What we’re finding is that vet care is not part of their family neighborhood culture. They never saw their parents take pets to vet.”
However, a little education goes a long way in changing attitudes. “We tell them their pet will have a longer, happier life and [the surgery] will keep them from having unwanted pets,” says Mills. “Some dog owners are worried the surgery will be painful. When I tell them we have good docs and pain meds, they’re okay.”
To reach more people, Mills and staff began attending Austin’s free rabies drives, approaching owners who brought their unaltered dogs. “When I asked people if they had ever heard of Emancipet, almost everyone said yes,” Mills recalls. “And when we offered to have their dogs fixed that day, 90 agreed and another 100 followed up the next week. Most people don’t say no when you are offering them a free surgery, right now, today.
“We feel now that we have infrastructure to get to anybody. Pet owners are having good experiences. They are treated with dignity and respect. We love their pets. We want to give them an incredible experience so their friends and neighbors will come.”
Emancipet was there for Maria Shofestall and her five cats when she couldn’t afford veterinary care. “You don’t have to make an appointment or spend lots of money,” she says. “They care about the animals, not about the profit.” Now, Shofestall volunteers for Emancipet, driving people and their pets to the clinic.
The ASPCA has given Emancipet a grant to replicate their clinic model in other communities using a state-ofthe- art semi-mobile clinic facility. In February, the group opened a new clinic in Killeen, Texas. “Once that clinic is sustainable, we’ll transition into a permanent location and then we’ll go on to the next community,” says Mills. “We have something amazing here—if we can export [it], we can save lives.”
Pockets of Poverty
Arrington is now founder and executive director of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs (unchaindogs.net), a Durham, N.C.– based organization that builds fences for low-income pet owners so dogs can exercise freely in their back yards. Owners must also agree to have their dogs sterilized.
An articulate, tireless advocate for animals, Arrington is also director of Pets for Life, an HSUS program that is improving access to veterinary care in underserved communities. Pets for Life staff run outreach programs in four cities, providing sterilization, vaccination and other services. And through a partnership with Petsmart Charities, Pets for Life provides in-depth training and grants to animal welfare organizations in 19 additional cities. The program altered 16,000 pets in 2012 and 2013.
Says Arrington, “If you are living in poverty, you [often] don’t have a car; the closest vet may be 10 miles away. You can’t take pets on public transportation. If people are struggling, their pets will struggle too. Even a $25 spay or neuter is out of reach for some people.”
* * * * *
For many dog lovers, it’s incomprehensible to think of leaving a four-legged friend outside in extreme weather. But boots-on-the-ground animal activists know it’s a mistake to judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. “It’s really about making a human connection … inspiring trust,” says Amy Mills. “People have a lot going on in their lives. It’s our job to be kind, nonjudgmental friends.”
Matt Piccone has no doubt that Anthony loves Henny and Diamond. He also knows that Anthony’s landlord won’t permit the dogs in the twofamily house. If the dogs are removed, there’s a good chance they will end up in a shelter and be euthanized. In the meantime, Piccone tries to make the dogs comfortable, safe and healthy— and sterile.
On January 7, with wind chill driving the temperature down to -34 degrees, all Rochester schools were closed for the day. The cold was so severe, said the local meteorologist, that bare hands could sustain frostbite within five minutes. That morning, Piccone received calls that three dogs were outside in non-insulated shelters. He got in his van to bring them straw, gave the dog owners information about PAWS and took down their contact information. “I see it as an opportunity to move in and talk to people about why their pets are outside and give them an opportunity to get their pets inside,” he says.
Piccone cannot forget the hours he spent sitting in his cable truck feeling helpless. “I had a list of 500 houses where dogs needed help,” he says. “Now I have something to offer people.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Reuniting a lost dog with her family
There are a huge variety of reasons why pets end up in animal shelters. People lose their homes, pass away, can no longer afford their pets or become too ill to care for them. Many animals come in as strays and the owners are never found. Recently a stray dog came into our local shelter with a microchip listing her name as Sophie. The chip traced to a woman in southern California but the phone numbers were disconnected. The shelter then sent a letter to the address.
Soon a woman named Dee Dee called the shelter in response to the letter. She explained that she had previously been so seriously ill that she had been unable to care for Sophie. Dee Dee had been forced to find another home for her and had lost touch with the new owner. She had no idea how Sophie ended up 400 miles away and unclaimed in our shelter. She explained that she had now recovered from her illness and would love to have Sophie back but had no way to get to Northern California to pick her up. One of our dedicated shelter volunteers, Joanna, heard about the dilemma and offered to drive Sophie all the way home to Southern California, an 8 hour drive.
There was an air of celebration around the shelter when word of the trip was announced. Staff came out to watch when Joanna and Sophie headed out. Updates and photos came in from Joanna every few hours and when Sophie was finally returned to her original family there was a joyous reunion. Sophie immediately recognized her people and has settled back in very well.
Coincidentally, at the same time as Sophie was heading south, another dog in an overcrowded shelter in Southern California was looking for a ride north to a rescue. The parties coordinated and Joanna picked up that dog, a German Shepherd, and brought him back to a foster home waiting here. The Shepherd now has an adoption pending. It took the efforts of multiple dedicated and hardworking people to save two dogs in need, but the biggest thank you goes to Joanna, for spending her week-end making a difference.
News: Guest Posts
J. Courtney Sullivan writes a lot of great things in her New York Times op-ed “Adopt a Dog With a Southern Drawl.” In fact, she covers a lot of the same ground that I detailed in my award-winning 2012 book Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth. Like Sullivan’s beloved pooch Landon, my boy Blue, too, was an adorable puppy with mere hours to live in a Southern facility before a rescue group scooped him up and transported him to the safety of my adoptive home in New Jersey. I traced Blue’s path to very spot where he once was caged a few steps from a gas chamber, and I know the sense of relief all too well that Sullivan describes—and that is felt daily by the many thousands of us who have opened our hearts and homes to these wonderful dogs.
There is, however, one word in Sullivan’s op-ed with which I must take issue. She writes: “Three years ago, at 8 weeks old, he was hours from being euthanized in an animal control facility in Tennessee.” The word euthanized is inaccurate, and its pervasive use in news coverage only shades the reality of what is happening daily with easy-to-adopt dogs and puppies like Landon and Blue.
Euthanize means to end a life as a means of ending incurable pain or suffering. Giving a dog a lethal injection when he’s 16 years old and stricken with bone cancer may qualify as euthanasia, but killing a friendly, healthy puppy like Landon or Blue most certainly does not. The reason South-to-North rescue transports have exploded in number since about 2008 is that what’s going on in some animal control facilities is pure and simple killing for convenience. Calling this killing euthanasia is an act of ignorance. Euthanasia is a polite word for a horrific reality when it comes to what is happening to these dogs and puppies.
I can’t speak for Landon, but in Blue’s case, the taxpayer-funded facility (please don’t call it a shelter) where he was dumped had a year-after-year kill rate of about 95 percent—an adoption rate of just 5 or 6 percent each year—unless private rescue groups were able to intervene. More than 500 communities across America are now showing every day that the reverse of those figures is possible, that homes can be found for more than 90 percent of the dogs who enter such facilities. Having sky-high kill rates has nothing to do with euthanasia. It also, in some cases, has nothing to do with a lack of resources other than human will. In Blue’s case, as his expiration date approached, he was sitting in a $562,954 kennel addition less than a decade old.
So while I congratulate Sullivan on her op-ed and agree with its content, and while I praise the New York Times for running it to raise awareness, I would ask that all of us writing about this situation strike the word euthanasia from our vocabulary. How we tell this story affects the way readers understand it, and sugar-coating reality doesn’t do anybody any good, especially the dogs still in the cages who will never experience the wonderful lives that Langdon and Blue enjoy.
Learn more about “Little Boy Blue” at www.little-boy-blue.info.
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