Friday, April 15, 2016

The housing shortage: Bad apples are tripping you up

"Landlords are greedy and they don't like pit bulls. If insurance companies would lighten up, more pit bulls could get homes." 

False. Well, mostly false.

According to nearly 70 landlords and property managers who responded to a 12 question survey we circulated recently, insurance and breed types have been non-issues in their decisions to rent to pet owners. Instead, they told us that the main obstacle to maintaining a dog friendly policy is the damage, mess and nuisance noise caused by former tenants with all types of dogs. That, and the fact that housing is at such a premium that there are dozens of qualified families without pets standing in line, ready to pay historically high rents for their hard-to-find apartments. Supply and demand, headaches vs. landlord convenience. It makes sense, doesn't it?

Only three of the landlords we polled mentioned insurance as a potential obstacle to renting to pit bulls and other dogs, and only one had breed restrictions (no reason given). Almost all reported the need for expensive and time consuming repairs after dog owners moved out and/or dogs who disturbed neighbors with noise. One of the bigger surprises to us was that most of the survey participants still allow dogs despite the headaches they outlined. 

From the survey: Have you had any negative experiences renting to pet owners? Please describe:

.... 'Dogs being allowed to mess in the house. We have had to deep clean grout & tile & replace (new) carpet because of excess dog bathroom messes.' ..... 'People were very nice and paid their rent on time, however the condo was a mess after they moved and it had a very, very strong urine odor in the carpet.' ..... 'Constant barking of pet at all times of day and night.' ..... 'Peed on, moldy carpets, all the way through the pad. Chewed baseboards. Kittens galore. Fleas. Large dog poop in the yard.' ..... 'Hardwood floors damaged from pets nails, black fur build up between carpet and trim, pet waste not picked up and neighbors complained, barking complaints' .....'Young tenants went out every night and their little dog suffered from anxiety and would howl all night till they returned and the dog pooped in my house and they would leave it' .... 'The dog caused so much damage to carpet through urination that both carpet and pad had to be replaced throughout unit AND the concrete foundation below carpet and pad had to be treated for urination saturation. Total cost $3,000 plus a lot of extra time and energy hiring contractors, arranging appointment/cleaning times, meeting with contractors, etc. I learned my lesson and went back to a No Pet policy '...

Understanding is Key

We have more info to share including the reasons some of the landlords do like renting to responsible owners of pit bull type dogs among others, but as we move forward, it seems important to point out that dog owners may not be interpreting landlord rejection correctly. Understanding the perspective of property owners is crucial if we're going to make any headway in opening more housing to pet owners. And, according to 70 (mostly) dog friendly landlords who were kind enough to speak to us, the insensitive renter who allows his dog to make a big mess of things is one of the key reasons you're facing such a big disadvantage during this housing shortage ... The exception of course being landlords who are swayed by breed stereotypes in towns and counties that endorse Breed Specific Legislation (Yes San Francisco, that includes you.)

Knowledge is Power: Be Awesome. Get Your Home!

There are strategies you can take to show landlords that you're a cut above the rest. Because if you aren't a cut above the bad apples, why should anyone rent to you?

To help on that end, we've created a 90-second video with a 'landlord approved' approach to securing housing, in English and in Spanish. All are welcome to embed this on their websites (the embed code pops up with the share button).

Shelters and Rescue Groups. You're welcome to post and print these graphic hand-outs for people in your community. HAND-OUTS

Monday, March 14, 2016

Is San Francisco ready to end its Breed Specific Discrimination?

Dog celeb Jonny Justice has an important meeting with San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed on Tuesday, March 15. He's going with his adopter Cris Cohen and while he's there, he hopes to explain how SF's current designation of “pit bulls” as a special “problem” dog has been stigmatizing both the dogs and their owners and contributing to a homeless pets problem in SF and other cities. Photo right: Mark Rogers

Breed specific mandates endorse discrimination and profiling of all kinds, including and especially breed bans by landlords and insurance companies.

Cris experienced San Francisco's BSL first hand when he was out walking Jonny's sister dog Lily. He told us that, two blocks from their home in the Sunset district, "a uniformed ACO in a white Chevy Astro van, with the SFACC (San Francisco Animal Care and Control) logo on the door pulled up and stopped in the middle of the cross walk, blocking our path. He rolled down his window, and asked 'Is your dog neutered?'"

Lily was spayed back when she was a BADRAP foster dog, but if she hadn't seen the vet for this procedure yet, the ACO would have been within his right to confiscate her until Cris paid fines and surgery costs. If Cris had been unemployed or otherwise unable to afford the fees, he would risk losing custody of Lily altogether. In fact, we've interviewed several under resourced SF dog owners who had to make the terrible decision to surrender their dogs to an unknown fate at SFACC when faced with the same situation.

Targeted dog owners in SF who are resistant to the strong arm approach to neutering have told us that they just avoid walking their dogs - No training classes, limited socialization, and in a densely populated city where the need for proper training and socialization can be crucial.

Why the discriminatory law?

Back in 2005, after a dog related fatality involving a young boy whose mother locked him in their house with two very troubled dogs who were mating, San Francisco retaliated by categorizing all pit bulls as "higher risk dogs" and started targeting pit bull owners with a mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) law. They were working from the belief that a dog's behavior could be predetermined by its breed make-up, a bias that has been discredited by dog experts in several ways, including peer reviewed studies. Animal welfare organizations have long condemned MSN policies, citing a long list of reasons including enforcement problems, opting for effective, voluntary spay/neuter programs instead that focus on building safe, humane communities through breed neutral laws and owner education/support programs.

It's unclear why SF is still hanging onto to an outdated and discriminatory ordinance in light of more progressive and effective spay/neuter program examples, but just maybe a change is coming. Anti-BSL advocates have been way too polite in SF and even the progressive San Francisco SPCA has been silent on the city's policy. The nonprofit's general counsel Brandy Kuentzel told us by email that while the SFSPCA is philosophically opposed to breed discriminatory laws, they have never formulated an official statement to denounce SF's BSL due to "limited staff time," but they hope to address it in the near future on their advocacy blog. Photo right: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle Article 'SF animal shelter full as economy goes to the dogs'

Housing Shortage: Landlord Rejection = Surrendered Pets

CNN noticed SF's pet retention problem when they ran an article last summer entitled 'No dogs allowed: San Francisco's pet housing crisis.' Said to be three times worse that NYC's housing situation, they noted that, "According to San Francisco animal welfare nonprofit SF SPCA, there's been a surge in owners abandoning their pets due to an inability to find pet-friendly housing."

Pit bulls are counted as one of the top five most popular dog breeds in CA (source: Banfield) yet tend to suffer the most when renters can't find housing. As of this writing, 70% of the dogs at SF's city shelter - 16 out of 23 - are adult pit bulls who've lost their homes (source: We are hard pressed to offer realistic advice to desperate SF pit bull owners who contact us for help during a dead end housing search. The law that was meant to curb irresponsible breeding and lower shelter intake numbers has instead cast an ugly light on pit bulls, and at a time when landlords are especially reluctant to rent to dogs over 30lbs.

Vinegar, Honey or Good Old Fashioned Respect?

Being targeted as a potential criminal made a lasting impression on Cris Cohen. He said that the day he was stopped, "the ACO acted like a jerk. It really could have been a friendly positive interaction, but it was anything but."

Contrast the ACO's 'old school' approach to nonjudgmental public outreach programs that invite dialogue about spay/neuter options with under resourced dog owners. Across the bay in Oakland for example, our small but mighty spay/neuter van attracts long lines of area pit bull owners (photo: left) for free on-the-spot surgery appointments, vaccines, microchips and training help. People respond well to the welcoming vibe and pour out of their houses to join us at every event, hungry for information and resources. Even the most reluctant dog owners will sign on for neuters when presented with information in a respectful way, proving time and again that building healthy relationships with our communities can create more positive change than shaming, profiling and criminalizing ever have or will. Photo left: Kathy Kinnear in East Oakland

 VIDEO: Who shows up? 
See a typical Oakland-based voluntary spay/neuter event in action.

Please, stop the profiling in San Francisco 

It's our hope that Board of Supervisors President London Breed receives Jonny's information with an open mind. Blatant discrimination of dogs or their people should never be tolerated, especially in a world-class city like San Francisco, and especially during a pet-friendly housing crisis.

If anyone can move the needle on breed discrimination, little Jonny can.

We encourage dog lovers to show your support for ending breed discrimination in San Francisco. Brief, considerate emails can go to Supervisor Breed and other board members at these email addresses. Thank you.

SF Board of Supervisors President London Breed

District 11 John Avalos 
District 9 Dave Campos
District 3 Aaron Peskin
District 10 Malia Cohen
District 2 Mark Farrell
District 6 Jane Kim
District 1 Eric Mar
District 4 Katy Tang
District 8 Scott Wiener
District 7 Norman Yee

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pit Ed Primer: Homework for dog owners on our wait list

Next to chihuahuas and small dog mixes, dogs described as pit bulls are some of the most popular dog 'types' in all of CA. In the SF bay area, we can boast some of the best mannered 'block heads' you will find in the country, thanks to the dedication of hundreds of responsible dog owners and advocates who live here.

If you've signed up for BADRAP's Pit Ed classes, this primer (with homework!) is for you. Classes are designed to help you and your dog learn how to be a better team. Your pet will learn self control around intense distractions, and you'll learn safe, humane handling skills so he can be a the best behaved dog in your neighborhood. We cover current events that affect our dogs, understanding dog tolerance levels, basic obedience, socialization, responsible ownership must-knows, keeping your dogs safe from negative experiences, and basic problem solving. If you're not in the SF area, we hope some of the info here will be a help as you sort out your dog's leash manners at home.

Want to come observe?  HERE We welcome dogless visitors with a heads-up email.

WHAT? Urban Street Skills - It's What You Want

Most dog owners want great 'street manners' ie, a dog that can walk down a busy street looking rock star cool and collected. This same dog will be well behaved when encountering bigger distractions (squirrels! skateboards! yappy dogs!) and will listen to your cues (leave it. sit. look. let's go!) when you need him to. Having good street manners means you can take your dog to a cafe and enjoy an uninterrupted conversation with your friend, or walk into the crowded lobby of your veterinarian and have the best behaved dog there.

Left: After six one hour classes and some homework, Tony & Daniel wowed us by showing off their dogs' great leash manners during an up-close greet. This came from practicing new skills and totally rearranging the way they communicate with their dog. The best part? Their dogs loved the training, especially the happy attention they got for each success.

"But my dog is too excitable to do that"

MOST of the dogs who first come to our classes are mildly to extremely excited by distractions, especially other dogs. How can we possibly help them get the kind of smooth manners you see in the photo?

HOW? It Starts with the 'Look'

The foundation skill for just about any dog who can be overly excited by the sight of other dogs is eye contact with their handlers. The more you reinforce this skill at home where it's easy to accomplish ('Look. Good boy!') and then practice it in new situations with new and bigger distractions, the easier it is to build great street manners into your dog when he needs them most. "Who cares about that silly barking dog behind the fence. Look at me instead. GOOD boy!"

Once your dog masters this skill, you're ready to start allowing him to look at the distraction briefly from a comfortable distance, and - important - praising for calm. Baby steps, baby steps!

Photos left/right: Gustavo Del Castillo N. Rivera

HOMEWORK: Cementing a Solid 'Look' (Watch Me) Command

It's best to start reinforcing this skill at home without distractions and with a treat held up to the bridge of your nose. 'Look! Good girl!' ... and treat. Repeat.

Later, skip the treat and point to your nose when you want to get your dog's full attention. Remember to use her name and speak in a clear, upbeat tone 'Sally! Look! Good girl.' Most dogs love to hear their names ... Even better when it comes along with your happy, enthusiastic, purposeful tone. As your dog masters the 'Look' during a 'Sit,' you'll start to ask her to give you eye contact while she's moving. And then you're in business.
In our classes, the dogs that do the best usually have handlers who act like your favorite coach did in high school - Good direction in loud, happy voices with plenty of warm encouragement. Who doesn't love that?
MORE HOMEWORK: Most dogs come to class already knowing 'Sit' 'Stay' and 'Down.' We really want your dog to know a good 'Leave It' command, too. You'll use this command to call your dog's attention off of everything from a chicken bone on the street to a reactive dog that pushes her buttons. Here's a helpful VIDEO for your pre-class homework. You don't need to use a clicker btw to teach this skill. Just replace the 'click' with a verbal 'Good dog!' when she backs off from the treat, then make sure and offer her a reward from the opposite hand that you are using to hold the off-limits morsel.

Equally important: Handling Techniques You'll Practice in Class

Your dog doesn't understand (much) English, but he's a master at reading body language. So your success in class will come from learning to navigate him around obstacles and distractions as smoothly and skillfully as a lead dancer moves his partner around the dance floor.

But first, let's talk about Training Equipment. Our beginner classes accept up to 20 dogs at a time, and many will be bouncy and reactive to other dogs the first class or two. That's fine! You're welcome to use whichever collar or shoulder or head harness has been successful for you so far, with the exception of a choke or electric collar.

By far, the most successful and popular training equipment for new handlers has been the micro-prong or the 'plastic prong' (the Starmark collar).  We do not - repeat - we do not allow popping, yanking, pulling or otherwise punishing dogs who wear these collars in class. They're simply going to allow you enough power steering to finally get down to the business of practicing basic skills with your dog and helping him learn to be comfortable in a very exciting setting. This is especially true for people whose dogs are strong enough to pull them off their feet.

Right: Party Girl Cricket started her first three training classes on a prong collar, but graduated to a martingale as she learned that focusing on her person brought more reward than bouncing towards other dogs. Supported handler, smart pup!

Below Left: Badda Bing was too rowdy on his harness to learn new skills during his first class, but arrived in his Starmark collar the following week (right) and got right to work. We love and welcome harnesses on dogs who respond well to them, but some dogs like Bing need a little more control initially to get them started. Bing's life was in danger when volunteers were unable to walk him at the local shelter where he was surrendered, so we took him into our program to get him on track. With the right equipment, he gave up the bounce and found quick success and then, a brand new home.

Proper fit and technique is key. If you decide to try a prong collar on your dog, we want you to watch this VIDEO to help you get a proper fit. And remember, because we want you to reward your dog for good behavior - no popping the leash allowed.

Handling - It's everything! If you aren't handling your dog correctly, he may pull in front of you or trip you up, especially if he wants to bounce towards other dogs. Please review this video to learn how you will hold the leash and incorporate your 'Look' and other commands during class drills.


Once you're comfortable with the style of handling shown in the video above, you and your dog will start practicing close contact drills around other dogs, bikes, skateboards, feral cats (yikes!), you name it. Everyone improves. And our favorite part: some of the most challenging - ie, naughty! - dogs tend to turn into the biggest rock stars.

Photo right: Gustavo Del Castillo N. Rivera

Q: But what if I do all of the above and my dog still reacts? Dogs are individuals and react for a variety reasons that can change as their circumstances change. Together, we can learn enough about your dog and your communication style with her to customize an approach that works for you both. Because practice makes (nearly!) perfect, you're welcome to continue classes long after you've 'graduated' from Beginner's Class so you can sharpen new skills that can be used out in the real world where it really counts.

Q: Is there anything I can be doing before class starts?
Class provides an excellent opportunity to bond with and improve your relationship with your dog. This work doesn't stop after you leave class. If you're struggling with behavior issues at home, give this hand-out a read to see if it might be time to tighten up on some of your management techniques throughout the day: A NEW DOG

Q: My dog is afraid of people. Will this class help?
Pit Ed can be stressful for dogs with extreme fear issues because it can be loud, busy, full of dog noise and it butts up against a public park full of cars, visitors and other animals. If you think your dog will have a hard time in this setting, you may want to look into working with a trainer for one-on-one sessions.

Q: My dog misbehaves at the dog park. Will this class help?
Pit Ed is an on-leash only class. We'll discuss the pros & cons of dog park use in class, along with some fun ways to exercise your dog safely, but our focus is helping you develop solid on-leash street manners so you can navigate our busy city streets with ease.

Q: My reactive dog is not a pit bull. Can I still come to class? 
Occasionally we allow other breeds, but because pit bulls are the dogs most likely to be judged in public and euthanized in animal shelters for bad leash manners, we've dedicated our efforts to helping them. For your non-pit, please look at some of the 'Growly Dog' classes held at local SPCAs and Humane Societies.

Please be aware that, due to the extreme popularity of pit bulls in the SF Bay Area, our classes have a 6-9 month long wait list. We hope this post helps you gain enough info to get started before we meet you - or maybe, it can help you avoid the need for class altogether!

More photos from class. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

the blue dot dogs

First the bad news. This map shows the number of bank owned (foreclosed) homes being offered for sale this week in just one slice of Oakland - East Oakland, to be exact. (Source: Zillow) It's a shocking graphic that grows as the map reveals more pieces of the hardest hit parts of the SF east bay.

Behind every blue dot is a displaced family and/or an evicted tenant. Approximately 47% of those homes likely owned one or more dogs and/or cats when they were told they had to move. (That figure comes from the American Pet Products Association, who likes to keep tabs on the number of American families who own pets). Where did all those families and all those pets go? Many have been heading east, in search of affordable living. Faced with a dearth of pet friendly rentals, thousands are forced to leave their pets behind every year. In Oakland, where pit bulls have traditionally been among the top three most popular breeds, we can practically draw a straight line from every other blue dot to Oakland Animal Services. Or, hundreds of straight lines.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, SF Bay Area pit bulls aren't filling shelters because there are 'too many' of them, or they're 'too unwanted' or 'too difficult' to own. Instead, many if not most were well loved dogs who've simply been displaced, right along with their humans.

“Of those who gave up their animals, the most common reason cited was that the landlord or place of residence did not allow dogs or cats.” - American Humane Association Report 'Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes: A Three-Phase Retention Study' 2012

Many of the blue dot dogs also reflect the lack of affordable training resources in these same communities, so are doubly challenged by a lack of basic manners when they land in the shelters. In a market oversaturated with dogs-in-need, the well mannered dogs are understandably cherry picked for adoption programs, leaving the dogs with caveman manners at a much higher risk of euthanasia.

Dealing with the aftermath of the economic trends and housing shortages has vexed animal shelter workers for over a decade, even while live release rates are closely scrutinized by a public hungry for 'save them all' successes.

Successes are within reach but can be hard to sustain, and it's not uncommon for frustrated critics to place blame on surrendering families for not trying harder to keep their pets or at animal shelters for not trying harder to attract new homes. To their credit, shelters have increased adoption rates for pit bulls and other dogs substantially over the years all around the country (news link). Yet the intake numbers have have held steady.

What's a shelter to do?

In a very real sense - until and unless the flow of displaced pets slows - any animal shelter's best defense to the perennial intake of larger dogs is to keep their marketing skills sharp and social media pages humming so well resourced families can be attracted to the same dogs their less fortunate neighbors were forced to give up. Rather depressing, but true.

So What's the Good News?

The good news is that many in the animal welfare field are finally rubbing their eyes awake to the bigger picture. Under resourced dog owners shouldn't be written off as bad guys, and 'Owner Support' programs that honor the human-animal bond are finding their legs. Inventing new ways to keep challenged dogs in their homes is becoming the in-vogue topic at animal welfare conferences and even publications like Dodo, which ran this article early in the week.

'People Are Unfairly Forced to Leave Their Dogs at Shelters. Now There's Help.' - LINK

Understanding the key causes behind high shelter intake numbers doesn't always afford us easy solutions, however. At times, the reality of homeless dogs can seem so overwhelming - It may have almost been easier for animal lovers to believe that the majority of pit bull owners were irresponsible and required policing, as San Francisco and other cities have done.

But we're smarter than that now, and hopefully more compassionate. Or at least, we know we're supposed to be.

Photo credit: Chris Arson. An Oakland family comes to a 2014 BADRAP owner support event to have their dog spayed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Game Changer Dogs - Viva the Evolution

We lost our founding dog Sally recently, which was as big a blow as anyone can experience when saying good-bye to a dear friend. Our nostalgia about our seventeen year friendship with her stirred a project we'd been simmering for years: An image-rich tribute to the human-animal bond and the ways we're transformed by that bond.

The healing, motivation and comfort that dogs offer in exchange for a meal and some ear scratches have been a source of poetry and prose for centuries, and now, as pit bulls secure their rightful place in our culture, their fans seem to have no shortage of gratitudes and stories. In fact, people have been writing to us since our group began to express their amazement at their love for ... a dog.

We feel like therapists at times, taking confessionals from people who can't quite believe how much their lives have changed for the better. "We understand," we reply. The human-animal bond is big stuff. It's been nudging us to evolve our thinking about our planet and its creatures and even each other, and all in the most positive of ways. The newfound interest in dog owner support programs, for example, is born out of our shared love for companion animals with people in communities that may be very different from the ones we grew up in. We thought* we were helping dogs, but really, the dogs have been helping us to become better humans. Clever beasts.

And so, here is the start of our little project: Public confessions of game changing dogs. Many of the entries in this growing collection are heart tuggers, some are funny and a few are quite candid and deeply personal.

Game Changer Dogs

Join Us! This project is for you, and anyone who wants to stamp their story in Cyberspace for all to ponder and enjoy. A few short sentences is plenty and a gorgeous photo tells a thousand words, of course. Thank you for reading and for sharing with your circles.  ---> Submissions

Thursday, February 05, 2015

We're Hiring!

Now seeking a very special Super Hero who has the vision and fortitude to help us ramp up our Keep'Em Home work in the SF East Bay. 

Thank you for sharing with your community-minded friends and colleagues.

Keep'Em Home Manager Part Time Position Opening

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Hello, Hello to 2015 / Year end report and Good bye to Sassy

Are the holidays always so filled with nostalgia, or was this year special? 

Just yesterday, on the last day of 2014, we said a sad good-bye to Barn Dog alumna Sassy - a regal elderbull who first came to us from a dusty hoarding case in SoCA. She lived a very happy two years with her adopters, and died of mass cell cancer under the tears of her biggest fans, the Blechman Rivera family. Photos Bettina Crawford Photography

Life ends, Life begins. And on the first day of this New Year, our team tended to a small litter of puppies who've just* started to scuffle around. They currently look like wrinkled old men, trying out their new legs. The pups and their most wonderful mom Waffles came to us two weeks ago from Yolo County Animal Services and promise a lifetime of fond memories to their future adopters.

Life demands that we keep moving forward. 

In the middle of the sad news and those busy tasks, we made preparations to reunite a dog named AJ with his (formerly homeless) family (photo link); a reminder that rescue work is intrinsically connected to our wider community, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. AJ's story is spelled out in our year end report, linked below.

Chart Your Course in 2015

If you haven't already, don't forget to purchase your 2015 New Beginnings Calendar. Each month highlights a rescue case who moved through our adoption program on their way to new lives, and each story represents a certain triumph for the dog and a happy day for their new families.

Calendars Link

For more information on the key projects that kept us busy in 2014, and a look at what we're doing next, please give our year end report a read. Miles to go before we sleep, and we're so happy to have you alongside us for the sometimes bumpy, sometimes silly, always interesting ride of our lives. Thank you for being such a big part of this nationwide movement to keep the 'blockheads' in our circle of compassion.

BADRAP 2014 Year End Report

Good bye, sweet girl. You won't be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Riverside County: The bite prevention effort that isn't

Riverside County, CA is having some trouble with dog bite prevention.

In October 2013, Riverside County Animal Services ushered breed specific legislation in to unincorporated parts of the county in the form of a mandatory spay/neuter law that targets families who own dogs described as 'pit bulls.'  They'd hoped to promote public safety through this ordinance and, by focusing law enforcement resources on sterilization, decrease the number of dog bite incidents. That move came on the heels of a well publicized attack involving two mixed breed dogs described as “Australian shepherd pit bull mixes.” 

"It's time to say enough is enough," County Supervisor John Tavaglione said. "I'm tired of seeing innocent people hurt.” LINK

Debates leading up to the ordinance stirred the usual pit bull breed myths and stereotypes in online discussion and news stories, but did not bring additional funding for animal control officials, bite prevention education or spay/neuter resources for under resourced residents. Naturally, the ordinance attracted heated criticism from the public who lamented the use of a tired, outdated strategy that targets under resourced dog owners.  The practice of criminalizing dogs owners through mandatory spay/neuter laws is now widely condemned by a diverse array of animal welfare experts and organizations. LINK

It's not working

Since the ordinance passed, Riverside County residents have watched several tragic bite incidents play out in the media. On November 5, an unsupervised toddler took a bad bite and lost much of his tiny ear after approaching a frustrated dog who'd been chained in his backyard. RCAS's news release and facebook post was quick to call out breed type in their headlines, and the media followed suit. The dog in this case was described as a pit bull and had already been neutered.

Less than two weeks later, another tragedy when a loose dog mauled a toddler at a playground on November 14, causing disfigurement and lasting nerve damage to the young boy's face. The biting dog, photo right, was called out as "dog" in agency headlines and later identified as a neutered Labrador mix. However, research reminds us that visual identification tells us nothing about a dog's breed make-up - lab-type dogs included! - and breed type(s) tell us even less about the multifactorial reasons an individual dog may inflict a severe bite on a human. EDIT: The identity of the biting dog is being debated. LINK

“You need to be educated on it"

Dog bite prevention information has been noticeably absent from any of RCAS communications following bites. Instead, perhaps to justify their highly criticized spay/neuter ordinance, the agency continues to suggest via clumsy quotes that dog bite risk can be measured by breed type. This past summer, after Animal Services released a blocky headed dog with a history of aggression back to his family, the dog attacked two children. RCAS described the dog as a pit bull. Deputy Director Frank Corvino’s explanation for the attack amounted to this quote:  "If you're going to own that type of breed you need to be educated on it, you need to know what to do with it if folks come by, you need to know your dog inside and out, and be aware of the genetics.” 

Three for three: The dog in this incident was also neutered at the time of the attack.

It's clear that relying on a targeted warnings and spay/neuter strategy as a cure all to dog bites is failing Riverside’s citizens and will continue to fail them.  

This comes as no surprise to animal experts who study dog bite trends and causes. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s paper on breeds implicated in serious bite injuries urges policy makers to avoid assigning bite injuries to breed type, pit bulls especially. LINK
Owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma, however controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous. The pit bull type is particularly ambiguous as a “breed” encompassing a range of pedigree breeds, informal types and appearances that cannot be reliably identified. Visual determination of dog breed is known to not always be reliable. And witnesses may be predisposed to assume that a vicious dog is of this type.
Sure enough, a case of visual mis-identity played out last week when the Labrador mix that mauled the toddler was initially identified - and reported by media - as a Rottweiler. The mind plays tricks under duress, and the media is notoriously quick to report unconfirmed hearsay as fact after a dog related incident. LINK

In this era of advanced understanding of dog behavior, it's highly irresponsible for any animal control agency to focus on and sensationalize breed type as the basis of a dog bite prevention campaign. Given their history of well publicized maulings and fatalities, Riverside County authorities are especially obligated to seize every opportunity to educate and lead the dialogue on the known components of dog safety. Fact based information should be pouring off their website pages, social media and in their communications with the public and news sources. 

Dog safety. It's big picture.

We all want fewer dog bites and increased public safety. Riverside County residents have a right to demand that their animal services discontinue the time and resource wasting focus on targeting breed type and instead, recommit to dog bite prevention efforts by promoting an effective, holistic approach to dog bite prevention in the form of tried and true public education and effective, non-judgmental outreach efforts. There are a myriad of places for great info. Here are just a few to start:

Bite prevention info from the AVMA.
The Family Paws Parent Education programs.
Graphics for children on how to avoid trouble with dogs. Credit: Dr. Sophia Yin. Link
BADRAP's page on dogs and kids. Link.
The Safe Kids / Safe Dogs Project
National Canine Research Council - for science on dog bites.
An uncomfortable but revealing look at warning signs that say, "Please leave me alone." Video.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Demonization or knowledge-based support? Aurora, CO is getting ready to decide

October’s dappled light likes teasing us into reflecting on life's lessons and mysteries. In the spirit of celebrating our bond with dogs, our supporters have been sharing some truly remarkable stories of the power of dogs to change, and in many cases, to save the lives of their people. (When you can, please visit this amazing facebook thread for reflections on profound personal change.)

2014 has been an especially good year for activating lessons learned from living with dogs. At no time in our eons long history with canines have humans had access to so much credible information regarding dog behavior, bite prevention and the all-important human element in creating and maintaining safe, humane communities. That swell of knowledge is changing us for the better. As a result of dog owner education for example, the number of reported dog bites has been plummeting in many major cities. (Link)

This year, we’re happy to see Aurora, Colorado put its toe in the water of this exciting trend of progressive change. Thanks in part to a plethora of contemporary scientific research and expert opinion made available through the reach of the internet, Aurora's citizens may end their nine year long ban on 'pit bulls.' If they say ‘YES’ to Measure 2D, they would be following in the footsteps of numerous states and municipalities around the country who've recently repealed or rejected breed discriminatory laws in favor of breed neutral animal control mandates that hold all dog owners equally responsible for the care and management of their pets.

We can thank dogs described as pit bulls for a big part of the push towards a new and smarter era of dog ownership. 

Regarded as one of the most popular dog ‘types' in the U.S., a widespread passion for the dogs jump-started our collective search for answers after fears and misperceptions began victimizing the dogs and their families some two decades ago. Despite the efforts of a handful of detractors who demonize blocky headed dogs with World War Z-like warnings, credible animal care professionals have, time and again, calmly reminded us that pit bulls are simply dogs. And dogs as a whole faithfully reflect our care, our expectations, and our management - always have, and always will.

After 15+ years of rescuing and placing hundreds of so-called pit bulls into new homes, we would have to agree. Keeping the focus on the dog owners and supporting them with very basic care and training info can inject our communities with responsible action know-how, no matter the breed make-up of their pets, and even with individuals from some of the most bankrupt beginnings (Cue the Vick dogs).

Here’s the thing:

If we want our communities to enjoy safe, well managed dogs, we need only to activate the knowledge we have available at our fingertips. No manipulative stereotypes, no prohibitions or fearful Dooms Day warnings necessary.
Which brings us to another exciting trend that is growing as fast and large as this past summer's zucchinis. Dog Owner Support. Simply, it's bringing resources to dog owners in under served neighborhoods. And it’s catching on like wild fire wherever dog advocates are asking themselves "How can I be part of the solution?"

As residents of the dog-filled town of Oakland, CA, this would be our message to Aurora: We hear you! All citizens want and deserve public safety assurances as well as resources to help dog families do a good job. Of equal importance is empowering animal control agencies with the right tools for enforcement efforts and for the progressive sheltering for all dogs, no matter what they look like.

Our SF East Bay area cities are chalk full of pit bulls: They are THE dog of choice here, owned by responsible as well as irresponsible people and everyone in between. Dog owners here are hungry for help after decades of resource neglect, and recognizing their needs has provided a crystal clear road map for lasting change.

Breed bans and restrictions force families to hide their pets away; forever under socialized, untrained, unaltered. But busting the door open and embracing dogs of every kind guarantees an increase in healthy, trained, properly socialized dogs and enlightened dog owners in any community. To ensure a quality of life wherever we call our home, pet owners need support, information and resources, and our animal control agencies need the right tools and support to do their job. It’s so simple, it could make urban policy makers cry tears of joy.

Aurora is uniquely positioned to enjoy this same bump in responsible ownership of ALL breeds, thanks to committed experts who are poised and ready to update their citizens in dog-think.  Not only is ColoRADogs, for example, on point with educating the public about dog matters, they’ve recently invested in a new focus to bring resources to the dog owners who need them most. They also serve as a hub for information about the dogs Aurora is now voting on. Check them out to learn what they and their colleagues have to say as voters ponder this new focus.
EDIT: Aurora, CO City Councilwoman Molly Markert stated in a news story on October 23 that she would like pit bull owners to be banned along with the dogs. We're presuming that she believes that only criminals own pit bulls. This kind of discriminatory language is completely unacceptable. We hope voters are watching and aware that at least one of its city leaders is willing to stereotype its citizens in order to avoid taking a breed neutral stance on animal control policies in Aurora. See the video here: LINK 
UPDATE: On November 4, despite having been being presented with doomsday warnings posted as newspaper ads by anti-dog people living outside of Colorado, one third of Aurora's citizens voted in favor of repealing their breed ban. ColoRADogs has vowed to continue their efforts to educate residents as they work towards an eventual end to the ban. LINK

"These bans are inhumane, ineffective and based on myth and misinformation," Cory Smith (Humane Society United States) said. "Aurora’s breed ban is one of very few left on the books because communities are waking up to the reality that managing dogs effectively has nothing to do with breed."

Photos in this post were captured by Daniel Beck at one of many Owner Support events rolled out in Oakland, CA this year. More info on BR's Keep'Em Home (Owner Outreach) Project.

One of our bigger challenges is keeping up with the demand for free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries. At each event, veterinarians help us accomplish up to 36 surgeries, depending on our location (fewer surgeries in our spay/neuter van, more at a clinic.) Below, Dr. Noe and Beth Allen-Garland work in our van. They fill the bulk of the need with high quality, high volume surgeries.

Below: The recovery tent at our outreach events is a buzz of activity. Many dog owners choose to sit with their dogs as they fall asleep and again as they wake up from their anesthesia.

Below: The young people who bring their dogs to us are our future. The most important resource we have.

All dogs receive support at our events, regardless of breed. First dibs for supplies and surgeries go to pit bulls because of the high euth rate in local shelters, although chihuahuas and chi-mixes are closing in quickly on those statistics. Small dog owners literally beg for help. We do what we can.

All dogs go home with cones and pain medication.

Providing free microchips for large dogs and targeted breeds like pit bulls buys them more time if they end up lost and at our crowded SF bay area shelters. Reuniting dogs with their owners is profoundly more productive than trying to find them new homes.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hot temps, Hot topics. The BR 2014 Rescue Jam comes to town.

We rolled out another sold out Rescue Jam last weekend in hopes that our collective mind meld would work as well as it did last year to rejuvenate and inspire. How could it not? Rescuers flew in to Oakland from as far as Australia, Canada, Maine, Michigan, and Texas to think tank together. We met for two warm summer days of networking, sharing and soul searching in our quest to keep an updated outlook at the sometimes difficult work we do. Big Fat Group Photo (Thank you, Jesse Freidin Photography)

PHOTO Album from the event.

We enjoyed a smart, thoughtful crowd and passionate speakers. One of the most popular topics this year focused on using the Harm Reduction model as an effective approach to animal welfare work. Eliza Wheeler from the Harm Reduction Coalition rocked her talk, and has dozens of new fans digging through materials from this discipline, which calls for a balanced, non-judgmental approach to providing resources in order to secure incremental and small but forward moving changes. We'll be talking more about her message in upcoming months - It's just that good, and we learned so much. Thank you, Eliza.

Maggie McDowell outlined the trends that are leading to an increase in rescue hoarding in this country. Heads up rescue world, this hot topic needs our steady attention.

Dogs In Need of Space (DINOS) brainstormer Jessica Dolce had us laughing, nodding and applauding to her cartoon inspired message of responsible dog ownership. We adore this girl and her work and are still giggling about her happy-making presentation. Do yourself a favor and go check out her stuff. Jessica also did a compassion fatigue workshop for the tired and over-committed among us. Bless you, Jessica!

Lifetime activist Nancy Tranzow from ColoRADogs helped us learn about setting the stage for political change without lobbing grenades or alienating policy makers. Well done, Nancy.

We learned about creating sound contracts from Letti de Little, enjoyed author Ken Foster's view of frogs, dogs and deer (trust me, there's a connection), watched BR's Pit Ed classes expertly smooth 18 shelter dogs through real life drills, covered tips for dealing with the media, for creating a public outreach focus and we entertained common themes in round table discussions. After watching a vaccination clinic in action, hosting org Paw Fund found quick help for an unwanted pit bull puppy and off to Oregon he went with the lovely gals from Lovers Not Fighters. Nice work, ladies.

Not to be outdone, Natalie and Jenn from Prairie Pit Bull Rescue flew home with three dogs for their adoption program; two from Berkeley Animal Care Services and one from our Rescue Barn. Thank you, rock stars!

Writer Emily Douglas kindly shared the history and thinking that went into this blog - the Romance of Rescue - and graphic, which calls for a broader approach to rescue efforts.

Right: Jonny Justice with Ken Foster. Both boys share an affinity for enjoying friends, being playful and taking naps. A great lesson for this group of over achievers.

Tired and inspired. And yes, it's time to change this work up.

Did you know? Attendees expressed concerns about the 'Save Them All' message recently launched by Best Friends Animal Society. Many reported feeling fatigued by rescue demands and expressed a strong desire to create more balance by reducing the number of dogs they rescue in favor of shifting necessary resources to important public outreach missions. Most work a forty hour week in addition to carrying the responsibilities of rescue work, and some are looking at ways to create compensation for their leadership to help sharpen their focus and increase their group's effectiveness. Most use a diverse bag of training tools including prong collars, but to avoid time-wasting Facebook debates, most told us they no longer discuss training collars or techniques on social media. Most expressed a keen interest in collaborating, staying in touch with one another and - gulp! - coming back next year for another Jam.

Left:  "I heart boundaries." Best t-shirt at the Jam, as modeled by DINOS creator Jessica Dolce.

Throughout the presentations and breaks, we were schmoozed by the barn dogs and home boys Eddie and Elliot. We stayed up too late around the campfire comparing notes, laughing, venting and finding common ground on issues that keep us connected. If this Jam is anything like last year's event, we can expect to see and speak with many of these movers and shakers in upcoming months for both work and fun, and that's got us all looking forward to more. Mission accomplished!

Special thanks to our volunteer crew for helping us pull this larger than life event off:  Tina Broder, Connor Cook, Caroline Davis, Cindy Houser, Letti de Little, Kiem Sie, Sonya Cotton, Barbara Stanczyk, Andie Herman, Lisa Guerin, Leslie Smith, Charity and Jose Jara, Katie Dahlberg. Photos: Maggie McDowell. Great work everyone!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

TIME's 'Problem' piece: What a media giant's fumble can teach us about dog bites and an industry in decline

The number of dog bite injuries spikes in summer months, so to help curb the tide, news sites, trainers, advocacy groups and humane orgs roll out a perennial offering of bite prevention info as early as May. The efforts to educate seem to be helping: Reports from public health agencies around the US tell us that the number of bite injuries reported has declined significantly, even as the dog population has risen by millions during the time period bites have been studied. (Fewer bites.)

Right: Graphic & Info Huffington Post & Sophia Yin

What happens though when you take the same worthy topic of dog bite prevention, hand it to a life style writer on a very tight deadline, give the mike to two former bite victims with a whopping vendetta against pit bulls, omit science-based data and add the odor of a messy hoax -- one that falsified claims and exploited a child victim’s very real injuries for quick cash. What do you have?

A messy, tabloid-esque piece for Internet rubber neckers?

Yes. Except in the case I’ve just outlined, the bomb that dropped came with TIME Magazine’s name on it. Their train wreck of an article – 'The Problem with Pit Bulls' -- has already been chewed on, spit out and discarded by educated minds and it’s old news at this point, but it will live on in Internet annals of history as one of TIME’s and Time writer Charlotte Alter’s biggest blunders. It’s so painfully bad, it seems to mock the nine 'Principles of Journalism.'

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context... This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts.

In her piece, Alter trumpeted a bold, unproven assumption - “pit bulls are bred to be violent” - and then failed to back her claim up with any credible sources or science-based data. Assigning dog bites to breed types is passé, and journalists who go there can expect a loud scolding from all corners – hobbyists and professionals alike. Loud, because the voices behind the outrage come from an impressively large group of people.

Pit Bulls: Top five most popular 'breeds'

Dogs described as pit bulls top out as one of the five most popular breeds in America according to mega-chain Bansfield Veterinary clinic's data. So when you take a cheap shot at America’s pets, you are assaulting a significant segment of the population who owns and cares for dogs, and that’s never going to go over well.

Why did Alter, a Harvard graduate whose father (Johnathan Alter) is a career journalist, screw this up so badly? I want to be kind. I don’t believe Charlotte set out to bring harm to my dog or yours with her slanderous and disproven allegation. Bottom line: Her employer is in trouble, and she needed to meet a whirlwind deadline with an emotionally charged topic that would suck web traffic straight to her edgy rant.

Web traffic = Job security 

TIME is suffering from “an economic decline that reduced its revenues by 34% and cut its operating profit by 59%." (Link) In 2013, that bad news resulted in massive layoffs for TIME writers and staffers.

Reporters are keenly aware of hot trending topics. They have to be: maintaining an edge in the media industry has become a survivalist’s game.  In the week leading to Alter’s piece, the lion’s share of Internet traffic swarmed to a sad and ultimately bizarre story in Mississippi:  After a child was bit up by her grandfather’s dogs (reported to be pit bulls), her family promoted a tale of her being booted from a KFC when squeamish patrons balked at her scars. The alleged injustice made quick headlines and spread like wildfire, pulling a quick $135K in to her family’s online fundraiser. Just days before the whole KFC slam was exposed as a hoax, Charlotte Alter took the bait and jumped into the fray by condemning blocky headed dogs as the ultimate villain.

In a Hot Hurry

Alter was aiming to strike while the KFC story was still going viral and emotions were hot. Her email to me was the first tip off:

URGENT. I’m writing a piece on whether or not pit bulls are dangerous for, and I'd like to get a comment from you and your organization. I am on a very tight deadline.

I hadn’t had my coffee yet but even so, it seemed clear from Alter’s tone that her story was already written. There was no time for constructive discussion or careful research; BADRAP’s views were needed to juxtapose quotes that had likely already been typed into place. Our job was to spit out words that would fill in the blanks on the tired “Dangerous? Not dangerous?” debate.

I wasn't impressed with the squeeze and decided not to play. Interestingly, none of the other larger animal welfare orgs wanted to play either.

Undaunted by the lack of response from dog experts and perhaps bolstered by mounting public support of the child victim, Alter went ahead and submitted one of the most poorly researched critiques of ‘pit bulls’ to ever to grace an online news site.

3. (Principles of Journalism) Its essence is a discipline of verification
Journalists rely on a professional discipline for verifying information….Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment, all signal such standards. This discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment. 

Newspaper Clippings are Not Science

Alter was unable to secure credible experts to support her allegation that pit bulls were “bred to be violent,” so based her piece on the opinion of two former dog bite victims, both of whom have been widely disregarded by animal welfare professionals for their vendetta driven stance on ‘pit bulls,’ in addition to their sole reliance on newspaper clippings as the basis of their claims. She also quoted animals rights group PETA, who has a long and committed history of embracing breed specific laws and lobbying animal shelters to bar pit bulls from adoption programs, regardless of their personalities. (Link)

Her search for answers neglected an entire body of expert opinion and contemporary research from the major animal welfare organizations. (Link) Most of these orgs deal with dogs on a daily basis and all staunchly oppose breed specific legislation as a cure-all for bites.

She failed to present any peer-reviewed evidence showing that one kind of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog, because there IS no peer-reviewed evidence to support that claim. Had she more time, she may have found Janis Bradley’s paper, debunking the notion that a dog’s breed make-up can predict future behavior (Link), or her excellent paper outlining the preventable risk factors that lead to dog bites.

Even the White House would have had something share: The Obama Administration cited the views of the Center for Disease and Control in a public statement, condemning breed specific legislation in favor of community based bite prevention programs. (Link)

Animal welfare experts may disagree on many things, but across the board, assigning dog bites to breed types is considered unscientific and obsolete. When a child is hurt, compassionate communities want helpful information that elevates their understanding of dog behavior and bite prevention - not a tired repeat of staged debates played out for website traffic scores. Public safety should be a shared goal prioritized by all, regardless of advocates’ personal opinions of dogs, and contemporary research and scientific opinion should lead the way in the conversation.

While dog bite related fatalities (DBRF) are exceedingly rare, we can learn a lot from studying the extremes. One of the most compelling studies on DBRFs was recently published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). The report takes the topic of bite prevention to a new level by outlining key circumstances that lead to tragedies. By recognizing the ingredients to a preventable tragedy, communities are better equipped to educate families and reduce bite risks.

The factors included in DBRFs: “No able-bodied person present to intervene (87.1 percent); the victim had no familiar relationship with dog (85.2 percent); the owner failed to neuter/spay dog (84.4 percent); the victim's compromised ability to manage interactions with dog (77.4 percent); owner kept dog as resident rather than pet (76.2 percent); owner's prior mismanagement of dog (37.5 percent); and the owner's abuse or neglect of dog (21.1 percent)." Four or more of these factors were present in 80.5 percent of the cases - and breed was not a factor.

Despite the flurry of links, research and opinion that rocketed around the Net on the heels of the “Problem” article, Alder announced in a tweet “I stand by my piece.”

OR - You Can Stand Up for Bite Prevention

Victoria Wilcher is the child bite victim at the center of this saga. Her home state of Mississippi is the poorest state in the country. Sadly, dog bite incidents tend to be more common in lower income communities like hers than they are in more affluent communities for many of the reasons pointed out in this article. We’re glad Victoria is too young to know that she was exploited twice after her attack. Once, by her family with their bogus KFC claim, and then by a news source that chose to misuse her story for its own gain.

Every day, all day, millions of Americans interact successfully with millions of dogs (an estimated 70 million). Our love affair with canines of all shapes, sizes and breed make-up is a testament to our long history together. When we don't get it right and a child suffers bite injuries, we can choose to learn from the incident and grow wiser as a community or we can fall back on the media's hunger for sensation and look for a villain.

What if reputable media voices decided to power the public’s kind sympathy for bite victims into productive discussions of dog bite prevention instead of Kentucky Fried hoaxes? Imagine the good that would result. Without mad deadlines and the pressure to feed morbid fascinations, our daily news feed might not be nearly as splashy, but we'd be happy to forego the hype in the name of reducing dog bite injuries. Wouldn’t you?


Follow Up: TIME requested a rebuttal from BADRAP to the 'Problem' piece after a country of dog lovers pounded their outrage onto message boards and emails. In a phone conversation, assistant managing editor Susanna Schrobsdorff and I chewed around the edges of the topic, but found quick consensus on one important item: When dogs injure children, expert opinion and contemporary science wins the race. On that note, I asked if we could step aside and offer our rebuttal 'spot' to National Canine Research Council, a leading authority on public policy regarding dog matters, including bites. NCRC and TIME are currently in discussion about an upcoming article, as should have been the case weeks ago. We'll link that article when it launches.

Before hanging up, I had to ask Susanna if she'd considered removing the 'Problem' piece from the Net altogether. It tarnishes TIME's credibility and reduces a once well respected news source to a tabloid-like ambulance chasing rag.  Susanna is a smart gal and seemed motivated to repair some of the damage caused by Alter's blunder, but conveyed that she could not remove the article. Why?

"TIME has never done that before." She went on to explain, "and to be honest, I'd like to keep my job."