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 Time.com, 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."




Thursday, May 08, 2014

Oakland's most popular dogs need community support

Follow up from our report back in December. Oakland Animal Services (OAS) is still in the spotlight for ongoing practices that endanger the survival of our city’s lost and surrendered dogs (News Link).  

If you are a pit bull owner or if you’ve found a lost dog in Oakland and you value his survival, it’s imperative that you try every alternative before bringing your dog to OAS at this time. Please read at bottom of post for information on alternatives. But first, some background...

OAS has been under heavy scrutiny for lack of leadership, high euthanasia rates of adoptable and ‘treatable/manageable’ animals (definitions), and substandard conditions brought on by too few staffers including an urgent lack of on-site veterinary care. 

Change is in the air, but it may be a long time coming: A recently hired shelter director is out on leave after less than two months at the helm and is not expected to be replaced until an investigation into allegations of misconduct are complete - possibly up to a year. In the meantime, the City has acknowledged that it is trying to find a way to move the shelter from the Oakland Police Department to civilian leadership. The how-tos for a possible transition have been tasked to the City Administrator, who recently resigned from his position and will be leaving in June. And these are just some of our challenges, Oakland.

Right: Daddy-O is the type of dog facing death at OAS. His age (six), his coat color and a flea allergy were the deciding factors. We were physically present the day he was set to be destroyed and were able to pull him in time to save his life.

Lost Pets, Lost Forever

While nearly every urban municipal shelter in CA utilizes an online photo database to help pet owners locate their lost animals (pet harbor.com), OAS has no such system in place, leaving pet owners completely in the dark unless they can manage to visit the shelter during the 21 hours a week that they're open to the public. Those with transportation and scheduling challenges have little to no hope of reclaiming their animals.

To compare, next door neighbor Berkeley Animal Care Services uses petharbor.com as part of their proactive 'return to owner' (RTO) efforts and was able to return 33% of the dogs that walked in their door in 2013. OAS' 2013 stats have not been published yet, however they reported that only 12% of Oakland's dogs were returned to their homes 2012.

Communication Break Down

OAS does not have a formal system in place to alert rescues when pets are in danger of being euthanized. While most Bay Area shelters offer full disclosure including regular e-alerts and volunteer driven notices on busy Facebook pages, there is no euthanasia “list” or notification system at OAS for rescues to review. Once a dog goes in the door and has been deemed 'unadoptable,' very few ever know that he or she exists.

Over the years, the transfer of OAS animals at risk has been accomplished informally through emails or phone calls placed by one or more staff members and shelter volunteers to rescuers whom they maintain personal relationships with. Their valiant efforts have saved numerous animals, but falls short of being an effective approach to rescue outreach. As a stop gap measure, the Oakland City Administrator’s office has just communicated that they will now be offering select times for rescues to "visit the shelter" and assess animals that are scheduled to be euthanized (link).  (We're currently waiting for a reply to learn more about this system).

Euthanasia decisions at OAS tend to happen very quickly, and pit bulls and dogs that are mistaken as pit bulls are quick to go. We acknowledge that the City wants to do better by its animals and efforts are s-l-o-w-l-y moving towards creating positive change. However, until the shelter develops a coherent system for working with rescue groups and families who’ve lost their dogs, it will continue to be one of the deadliest places for a lost or unclaimed pit bull in the SF bay area to find itself. 

Right: Huckleberry was set to be destroyed without a formal evaluation after a staff member felt that he looked at her "funny." We were physically present the day on his last day and pulled him into our program. Huck is now a reading assistant dog for a tutor who works with at-risk kids. You can read more about his work on his facebook page.

Please Act

What can you do when you find a stray or can no longer keep your own dog?

- Do everything in your power to reunite your stray with the dog’s owner. Don’t assume he’s from a ‘bad home’ because he’s dirty or shows wear & tear from life on the streets. Locating his home may save his life. What to do if you find a stray

-  Have the dog scanned for a microchip at your vet’s office, or contact us and we’ll scan him for you.

-  Consider holding onto the dog until you can find a home. If the dog is a pit bull or pit bull look-alike, we’ll support you with free training and promotional assistance. Contact us

Right: 'Squeeks' was set to be destroyed at OAS after a staffer found her to be too shy. We were physically present on the day she was set to be destroyed so were able to pull her into our program. Squeeks is now a cherished member of her family.

- If you can no longer keep your dog, plan ahead. It can take several weeks or months to find a new home. Let us coach you. Start here: Rehoming Advice

-  If you cannot afford a spay/neuter surgery, veterinary care or are facing homelessness because of your housing situation, please visit this page first and then allow us the opportunity to help you. Keep'Em Home

- If you’re a veterinarian, RVT, foster home or donor and want to help us reduce the number of pit bulls entering (and dying inside) Oakland Animal Services, please join our Keep'Em Home Project.

- Contact your City Council member, and demand that the shelter move quickly to fill critical staff positions and to build an advisory board to oversee shelter policies.

To save lives, demand that the shelter begin immediately to improve slagging 'return to owner' stats and increase the public’s ability to search for their lost animals inside through an online database.

Right: This pointer was said to be misidentified as a pit bull and destroyed by OAS staff because the "pit bull population is too high." Link  Of course, pit bulls and their imposters are not the only breed types that are losing their lives at OAS. This facebook page, run by OAS volunteers, offers more examples. 

To increase the number animals saved by rescues, demand that the OAS provide 501c3 groups with a minimum of 48 hours notice via an electronic alert on ANY adoptable/treatable/manageable dog that they plan to put to sleep.

For Oakland's dogs and the families who love them, thank you.

Chief of Police: Sean Whent: Swhent@oaklandnet.com
Jean Quan, Mayor: officeofthemayor@oaklandnet.com
City Council Members - If you live in one of their districts, you should mention it, but you don't need to be an Oakland resident for them to hear you on Oakland issues.
Noel Gallo - (510) 238-7005 - Ngallo@oaklandnet.com (the shelter is in his district)
Libby Schaaf - (510) 238-7004 - Lschaaf@oaklandnet.com 
Dan Kalb - (510) 238-7001 DKalb@oaklandnet.com
Pat Kernighan - (510) 238-7002 - PresidentPkernighan@oaklandnet.com
Lynette Gibson McElhaney - (510) 238-7003 - D3intern@oaklandnet.com
Desley Brooks - (510) 238-7006 - Dbrooks@oaklandnet.com
Larry Reid, Vice Mayor - (510) 238-7007 - Lreid@oaklandnet.com
Rebecca Kaplan - (510) 238-7008 - Rkaplan@oaklandnet.com




Monday, April 28, 2014

Keep'Em Home. A longtime mission with a new name.

We've recently christened our dog owner support mission the Keep'em Home Project in recognition of the efforts of families who struggle to keep their dogs in the face of personal crisis including financial and housing challenges. We've been assisting pit bull owners especially with resources for many years, but naming the project allows us to sharpen our focus and deepen our commitment to this important work. We hope you like it! 

Keep'em Home is a rallying cry to everyone who shares our belief that providing dog owners with relevant information and necessary resources is the cornerstone to building safe, humane, compassion-based communities. Thank you for joining us with your support and participation. 

The Families Behind the Project

Visit our webpage to read the personal stories behind these efforts. In many cases, just a little bit of support can make all the difference in helping a home maintain their bond with a beloved pet. LINK

Monday, March 17, 2014

a week of firsts

A very special group of survivors arrived in CA two weeks ago. We first met them over Christmas week when our team of ten traveled to the southeastern US to provide care for 167 dogs held in a busy HSUS-run animal shelter. They'd been swept up in a dog fighting raid that saved 367 dogs - not including the pups born post-seizure. News Link.

The dogs are being released to rescue for TLC and re-homing one group at a time. We accepted seven (Monkey, Jamie, Melvin, Gwennie, Ollie, Luna, Lady Bug), and hosted Megg and Londyn for two weeks at the Rescue Barn before they left for new adventures thanks to the Seattle Animal Shelter.

Watching this lucky group experience their 'firsts' has been a blessing and a privilege.

 
 Can't see video? LINK HERE.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

a 12-step plan for Good Samaritans

People who pluck strays from the streets are unsung heroes in any community's efforts to prevent early deaths in crowded animal shelters. You may not know they're out there because they're working independently, without much of an internet presence and with little to no access to resources. But they make up some of the most motivated partners in the ongoing work to help homeless dogs move from danger back to safety.

We know how frustrating it can be to be a solo rescuer with no support and a dog that no one can absorb, including the original owner(s), so we built this little slideshow video with our favorite tips and techniques for attracting adopters to unowned dogs. (Needless to say, an unowned dog is one that was never able to be reunited with his original owner after all reasonable efforts have been made: INFO)

Please share this slideshow widely, so the strong hearted but bewildered Good Sams in your community can find a little encouragement and maybe even a suggestion that lands their foundling a new home. Thank you.

Video LINK

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013 year end report as 2014 rises to her feet.

Our team was away for the holidays, tending to a large group of dog fighting victim dogs (news link) who are being held in a temporary shelter run by the Humane Society of the United States. It was a tough time to be away from home, but incredibly gratifying to see so much energy being poured into bringing comfort to rescued cruelty victims who now have the option of finding a second chance with rescue orgs. We anxiously await news of their release dates, which will happen one subset of dogs at a time as the (13) defendants have their day in court. More on that as news unfolds.

We returned to an incredible outpouring of holiday generosity from our donors: Year end donations, holiday cards with warm, encouraging messages and boxes of treats, toys and supplies for the dogs of 2014 were waiting to be unwrapped. What a homecoming!

We're truly grateful for the support we receive from everyone who extends a part of themselves to this important work. Archived here, our YEAR END REPORT which outlines our key activities in 2013 and our road map for the new year. Thank you all for joining us on this ongoing journey with the dogs.

My favorite Christmas gift: Days before we left town, we said our good-byes to every single adoption ready dog in our program as they all lucked into families in time for the holidays. Below, a favorite barn dog named Darla Dickens pops up to ask for a smile. Darla went home with Beetle - the little black dog in the photo - and represents the second pair of dogs from our program who found homes together (Corky & Tuffy lead the way).

The dogs' departures made room for more intakes, including survivors from the fight bust who will soon be released. And the beat goes on.

Hello 2014. It's so nice to meet you! Wishing you and yours a brilliant year.





Monday, December 09, 2013

Oakland Animal Services in Crisis

Dear Oakland residents: Your city animal shelter is in complete and utter crisis.

That’s not ‘new’ news I’m sorry to say, but things at our infamously troubled city agency just went from bad to worse when Oakland Animal Services (OAS) - a branch of the Oakland Police Department - announced that they are no longer spaying/neutering adopted animals before they go home. Instead, adopters are now required to shoulder the burden and the expense. From the OAS website:

ADOPT ***Please note our new spay/neuter policy*** Due to shelter staffing, we cannot perform spay/neuter surgeries at OAS. All adopted animals are still required to be spayed or neutered per state law. Adopters will have two weeks to have the animal they adopted spayed or neutered at a vet of their choosing, at their own expense. Our new adoption fees are $10 for cats and $35 for dogs. We hope this is a temporary measure until we hire new vet staff. 

Does OPD know that they’re breaking state law? 

Food & Agriculture Code (Div 14, Ch 1.5., § 30520. (a)) states that "no public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group shall sell or give away to a new owner any dog that has not been spayed or neutered.” Link



The state makes exceptions for animals that are too sick/weak to go under the knife, or towns/counties under 100,000 residents. But Oakland is a city of 400k+ with a population of dogs and cats that will be very happy to spike the number of unplanned litters once they leave the shelter. Why? It's not an easy fix: The average cost to spay a dog is between $250 and $450 at the busy VCA Bay Area Pet Hospital. Even with the best intentions, human nature dictates and many will procrastinate making the expensive appointment until 'accidents happen.' Who really wants the bother? The added trouble and expense of adopting from OAS will naturally send dog shoppers elsewhere, driving city animal adoptions down and euthanasias up. Shelter volunteers have stepped up to sponsor adopted pets’ surgeries and others are scrambling to secure subsidized help from other non-profits including the East Bay SPCA, Berkeley Humane Society and SFSPCA. Key word: Scrambling. Shelter supporters we've spoken with have been in tears since interim director Dan Cronin made the announcement.

What gives, Oakland? 

Here’s the dirty laundry: While under the management of the Oakland Police Department, OAS has long suffered from the stresses of severe budget cuts, a revolving door of directors, staff shortages, furlough days and restrictive shelter hours, high volunteer turn over and a tenacious housing crisis that has boomeranged into a steady flow of homeless pets into crowded kennels. Meanwhile, distracted city leaders who have their hands full with other compelling PD-related problems (LINK) have let OAS’ ongoing issues fall to the bottom of their fix-it list. Unlike our neighboring community of Berkeley where animal lovers shouted their city pets to the front burner of city leaders' agendas and succeeded in building a viable shelter-based lifeline for pets in crisis, the culture of Oakland’s city government and even many residents has just never been terribly sympathetic to animal issues. Hence, our crisis - We are a very broke city with a plethora of problems affecting humans and our pets are, well,  just animals, right?

This is where the cultures clash in Oakland. To many of us, animals are our family, our comfort, our obligation. Whether they live with us in the O-hills or in the most challenged neighborhood in East Oakland, they greatly improve our quality of life by bringing joy and companionship. They are part of what makes us human. They matter and we owe them our best. Beyond the pet culture, Oakland residents face difficulties brought on by too-few animal control officers on our city streets (the city has only ten officers and is currently attempting to hire two full time and one part time officer).

Yes, the city is broke and cranky about it, but designing solutions to tough animal-related challenges is not outside of the scope of our local imagination. The SF bay area boasts some of the most motivated and solution-driven animal welfare mavericks in the country, all of whom have been wringing their hands about OAS from the sidelines, and all powerless to intervene due to - you know- city politics.

Leadership Fail 

OAS has been without a director since March 2013, and the city has been dragging feet on finding a replacement. Two candidates are said to be going through background checks right now and one would hope that the city would hurry that process along. A post on Craigslist advertising the position of shelter veterinarian is less than inviting. The new vet is expected to work as an independent contractor up to five difficult days a week tending to the needs of compromised shelter animals, help investigate and build cruelty cases and serve the OPD K-9 unit dogs. All without job security or medical/union benefits.

Without an oversight committee in place to help chart the course and implement humane policies for Oakland’s animal issues, our city pets face a losing battle. Oakland needs a humane commission made up of capable leaders and area experts to guide the city in best practices for a new age - budget problems and all. We really can’t pretend the shelter is doing well in its current state. It’s being euthanized right in front of our eyes.

Please Speak Out

If you’re a SF bay area resident, please tell Oakland city leaders that animal lovers want an immediate response to this current crisis, starting with full compliance of the state law requiring spay/neuter of adopted shelter pets and a vigorous effort to bring effective leadership to this important and badly neglected corner of our city.

Post City Council Meeting EDIT: With counsel woman Libby Schaaf leading the charge, the Oakland city council has agreed to move forward with exploring ways to move the city shelter out from under OPD management. We will update as we have news. Thanks to all who presented their views to the counsel.

The Oakland city council meets the second and fourth Tuesday of the month - this week! Please attend and submit a speaker card to get your chance to speak for one minute. Link

Deanna Santana, City Administrator: Dsantana@oaklandnet.com
Chief of Police: Sean Whent: Swhent@oaklandnet.com
Jean Quan, Mayor: officeofthemayor@oaklandnet.com
City Council Members - If you live in one of their districts, you should mention it, but you don't need to be an Oakland resident for them to hear you on Oakland issues.
Noel Gallo - (510) 238-7005 - Ngallo@oaklandnet.com (the shelter is in his district)
Libby Schaaf - (510) 238-7004 - Lschaaf@oaklandnet.com 
Dan Kalb - (510) 238-7001 DKalb@oaklandnet.com
Pat Kernighan - (510) 238-7002 - PresidentPkernighan@oaklandnet.com
Lynette Gibson McElhaney - (510) 238-7003 - D3intern@oaklandnet.com
Desley Brooks - (510) 238-7006 - Dbrooks@oaklandnet.com
Larry Reid, Vice Mayor - (510) 238-7007 - Lreid@oaklandnet.com
Rebecca Kaplan - (510) 238-7008 - Rkaplan@oaklandnet.com

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rejection, bedbugs and a sliver of hope: Update on "About to be homeless"

An update on the ongoing search for a home that will accept Carol, Peter, their two sons and two dogs. Back story here: About to be homeless

Scoring a dog friendly apartment for a low income family in crisis? We all knew it would be difficult, but the nitty-gritty realities can be rather discouraging. On the plus side, since losing their home, Carol and Peter have avoided sleeping in their car and have been staying in a Motel 6 thanks to the incredible generosity of people who read their story on BR's facebook page. The bill has been $600 a week, and we're rounding the corner into the fourth week now.

Rocco the dog is deeply bonded with his people so did not take well to being left alone in the borrowed dog run, set up in a volunteer's yard as a holding place while Carol and Peter were away at work. He panicked and tried to chew his way out through the chain link during their absence, so rather than risk a lost dog, they've found a friend who will stay in their motel room and pet sit while they're out at night delivering newspapers. Unfortunately the room also came with some unexpected guests: a scourge of bedbugs chewed them up while they slept. The management moved them to another room and comped them one night "for the inconvenience."

By CA law, families cannot stay in a motel beyond 21 days, so they now need to move all their belongings out and find somewhere else to sleep for one night and start the cycle again, or find a brand new hotel. They've spotted one with much cheaper rates down the road so are hoping to give it a go for the next couple of weeks.

The apartment search has come with repeat frustrations. Each time they find what appears to be a workable dog friendly listing, they're asked to submit $35 non-refundable application fee. So far, they've spend nearly $400 in fees only to be rejected again and again. Despite these set backs, Carol has managed to keep a positive, upbeat outlook. She comes to Pit Ed class every week with the ever-improving Rocco and celebrates our homeless foster dogs' successes: Rhonda's new family signed adoption papers. Puddles and Nigel both moved into new homes. Harpo has a suitor. She smiles and cheers for their homecomings even though her own family is less than fortunate.

What's next? Peter is a veteran, so they've submitted paperwork for a loan to buy a mobile home so they can finally have a place to call their own. Everyone is keeping fingers crossed that they get approved. Carol's resourceful digging turned up a possible respite from the motel woes: Select veterans qualify for transitional housing which would put them in a real house until they can find something permanent. Will they get in? Another wait and see hurdle. Dogs aren't allowed here, though. Yet another problem to tackle. 

On so many occasions we hear people say "I would sleep in my car before I'd give up my dogs." Would you? Could you?

Not a job for the faint of heart.

UPDATE: Carol, Peter, their sons and dogs have bumped the ickiness of low-budget hotels and are now renting a room in a pit bull friendly house. It's tight quarters, but temporary. They're working steadily on securing a mobile home and hope to have good news to report soon ... By Christmas maybe? We can hope.
UPDATE Feb 15: Carol and Peter's momth-to-month room situation ended and they are now sleeping in their car with Rocco the dog. The search goes on for a permanent home that allows pets. Landlords: They can afford up to $1200 a month, and while their credit isn't great, they both work full time. Their dogs are calm, older and well loved. Rocco attends our weekly classes and is a first class gentleman with all. Here's hoping...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

U.S. love for pit bulls, bigger than you thought


Banfield Pet Hospitals - the largest veterinary clinic chain in the world - wants us to know that the popularity of dogs described as pit bulls has increased by 47% in the last ten years in this country. (Source) They tell us that pit bulls now rank within the top ten preferred breeds in the U.S and are the third most popular dog in California (Check your state: Source) VetStreet's data agrees, but puts pit bulls as the second most popular dog in CA. (Source

Click map to open full size.

We're not surprised. We know Americans love their pit bulls. Love, love, LOVE them. The stories and photos that flow into our inbox reflecting affection for these animals are non-stop. We get so many that they almost seem common place anymore, but this one gave me a good sized lump in my throat. What tugs at the heart more than a self-described 'fat cop' who melts into a puddle after receiving a life threatening diagnosis for his beloved pooch? Marc's big love for his girl Lilly represents everything we know to be true about the recent decade's new found love affair with the blockheads. Please send Lilly some warm thoughts for good health and spare some for her worried dog dad, too!

"The Beautiful Blue you see here is "Aloha Lilly" on FB - She Rescued me almost 5 years ago now. I grew up with many breeds and then ended up in Law Enforcement where my exposure to .... "unfriendly" Pits prevailed. I was always the "Fat Cop Trying to outrun a Pit - Film at 11 on the local news." Lilly now ("Sade" in the County Shelter) was dropped late one night in their "Safe Drop", I've pretty much put together she was raised from a pup by a US Marine living on base. He dropped her 3 nights after the "Hard Date" of NO Pits, Rotts or Wolf Breeds allowed on base - obviously he tried and tried to find someone to take her but alas with all the rental restrictions and no options he reportedly said "Goodbye" for 45 minutes.... as he drove off she tried to follow and was taken to ground by a Shepherd.




I cannot tell you how many times she's "Rescued me" in return. I have become a very outspoken Ambassador for the Breed.  Lilly is with me constantly - consequently she is exposed to outright Hatred on a weekly basis and I've grown VERY intolerant of "Aggressive Ignorance". Lilly and most Pits properly raised and socialized (and many others who are just dying to have an opportunity) are the most Sensitive K-9's I have EVER experienced in my 51 years. If I so much as LOOK at Lilly with Disapproval.... she will Pout for 10 minutes! I did not get her with any intention of being a working dog for me... that came later and at the urging from a friend who coached / trained in Utah. 
While driving home Christmas Eve Lilly came up on the box between the seats in HER 1 Ton Dodge Megacab. I was Loving on her when I felt a Lump under her jaw for the first time. I called her vet that moment. Long story short.... we sorta botched that. She'd ALWAYS been so healthy and other than the lump - nothing seemed wrong. He was out of town until New Years Eve and he saw her that afternoon.... again we decided it was a minor "Viral" infection. Two and a half weeks later.... it had exploded in size and gotten lumpy overnight.... my heart crashed! I raced her up for what HE (her Vet) said would be "just blood tests to start" but when he felt it...... I saw the color drain from his face. The next day - GREAT News! Blood work PERFECT! That was a Friday so Biopsy results would follow Monday or Tuesday "But if it were ANYTHING too serious - SOMETHING would have been off in her lab results". WE CELEBRATED Big Time! The next day - Saturday, (His sons 13th Birthday) my cellphone rang at 6:14pm - again my heart sank before I answered - when I did HE Couldn't really speak. (I've known him since he was in diapers.... I babysat him) and NOW he's telling me she has Lymphoma - a LOT of it! He'd spent 3 1/2 hours during his sons Birthday searching for something to give me hope. 


So much for the "Short Story" but she was Diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma and has successfully completed the CHOP Protocol. She was ruled "In Remission" but the 3rd treatment. The Biggest Challenge her Medical Team had was .... ME! Her Vet would tell me... "She doing GREAT" except she could drop 15lbs, but "YOU'RE a Mess!! Suck it up man - you're so afraid of losing her that it's going to be HARD on her".... and he was right.

Today she's in "Aftercare" and doing good, I'm doing better. Just LOTS of Stress and now the "Fallout" from diverting ALL Funds to her Treatment and NOT paying other Bills has come home to Roost as they say.... but I'd do it again if necessary!!" - Thanks again! Aloha Marc.

No, thank you Marc. We got such a boost your story today and plan to be some of your biggest fans on Lilly's facebook page.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"About to be Homeless"

On Sept 11, an email landed in our mailbox with the headline, 'About to be Homeless.' 

"To whom it may concern.
I have a pitbull that is very important to me and in need of a muzzle.  I am about to be homeless (living in my car) and i need a muzzle for my pitbull (do not want to give him up) so i can safely tackle homelessness with him.
Please call me i will give my time to  help in any way i can just call me so i can keep my dog Rocco see attached photo." - Carol

I phoned: What's going on? Why a muzzle? Carol, her husband, two sons and their two dogs were being evicted due to a landlord move-in and finding a new rental that would accept their pets was proving to be next to impossible. Rather than surrender their dogs (a 16 year old dog and seven year old Rocco) to the shelter where both may perish, they've made the decision to live in their car until they can find a new dog friendly apartment. Living in a car is damn difficult for a myriad of reasons but Carol was certain her dog 'Rocco' would have the hardest time of all. Rocco had never been around strange dogs much and when he had, his experiences weren't good. Carol told me that in their former home - a rough neighborhood in Pittsburg, CA - he was routinely aggravated by dogs and people who provoked him through their shoddy fence for the fun of setting him off. Carol was certain that, once on the streets, Rocco would have a similar experience that would result in animal control taking him away from them.  
She had a point. Homeless pet owners are more likely to be cited following complaints filed by people who assume the animals are being abused or neglected. A larger dog with reactivity issues would easily draw all kinds of negative attention, especially while he was alone in the car and they were away at work delivering newspapers.



I asked Carol if she could bring Rocco to class so we could sort out his needs and hopefully come up with a game plan that didn't require a muzzle. As it turns out, Rocco was so horribly nervous outside of his home and in the presence of other dogs, he sat wide eyed and stressed, his thighs shaking like a leaf. With some practice, he's calmed quite a bit and has learned to look to his people for information and comfort. Carol and Peter have since come to every class, and as Rocco's confidence around strange dogs grows, so does their confidence in their ability to navigate him in difficult situations.

Dog management plan - handled. But the next real problem was much bigger and harder to solve. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 3.5 million people in American are homeless and between 5%-10% have dogs or cats. In some parts of the country, the rate may be as high as 24%. For many, the situation is temporary while they search for new housing, but for those with larger dogs, including pit bull type dogs, the search becomes excruciatingly difficult. Carol and her family face what could be weeks or months before they land the security of a dog friendly lease in an area near their jobs. In the meantime, they would be exposed to crime, police harassment, bad weather and illness, personal hygiene challenges and the general wear and tear that comes from the stress of being homeless. Despite all that, they are still 100% determined to keep their dogs.

For more info on the realities of the mobile homeless. New York Times: Keeping It Secret as the Family Car Becomes a Home.

What to do? We can work with dog reactivity issues, but impending homelessness of an entire family? Enter social media and the kindness of strangers. With their move out date just days away, we posted a plea on BADRAP's facebook page, not really knowing how people would respond. 

Peter and Carol have raised Rocco (age 7) since he was born. They're grandparents and live with two grown sons and a second dog who is 16 years old. Tonight, due to a landlord move-in, they'll be joining over 634K people in this country who are homeless. Hard times everywhere have been especially difficult for families with blockheads. Peter and Carol refuse to give up their dogs and plan to sleep in their car with both until they save up enough to get a dog friendly apartment.
The trouble is, their dogs will be on their own while they work delivering newspapers and they know this isn't safe. They are currently looking for a place in Contra Costa County to keep their dogs for up to six hours at a time while they work. A safe yard, a garage, etc. Can you help?
While they look, they're attending BR's Pit Ed classes to help give worrier Rocco enough confidence to deal with the unknowns of homeless living. Did we mention how much they love their dogs?
Any leads for a safe place to keep Rocco and his senior pal during the day are VERY much appreciated. They hope to find a dog friendly apartment before the winter rains start, so any leads for rentals in Contra Costa County would be fantastic too.
Please share, contact us with any ideas, and send some warm wishes their way. THANK YOU! 

The post was seen by nearly 68K people and shared 850 times. From it, a big hearted couple - recent BR adopters Jill and Scott Borchardt - offered up a space in their yard to hold the dogs while the family was at work, and two others - Loran Watkins and Christine Tanner - donated a dog kennel to secure them safely. Next, the community of dog lovers on facebook donated enough to rent a hotel room for one, possibly two months while the search is on for a new home that will allow all of them.

We hope it's a quick search. We know they won't be the only families hoping and praying for a rental that will accept their dogs this year.

Wednesday Oct 16 Update: Finding a safe, affordable hotel for the interim is easier said then done. Costs can quickly exceed $2500 a month - A chunk that could be used for a security deposit for an apartment instead. The Homeless Program of Contra Costa Health Services lost their funding for hotel vouchers last year, so homeless families in our area can easily get caught in the Catch 22 of using every penny they have on a very temporary housing solution. Pet owners are then doubly challenged by hotel restrictions that ban pets. Some good news: Carol and Peter have jobs, so are eligible for a grant from a local homeless service to pay their first month's rent once they locate an apartment that will take their dogs. They are deeply grateful for the funds raised from BR's facebook community to help them during this time of crisis and are currently debating the best way to use them secure a roof over their heads. We'll report back as their difficult and all too common story unfolds.



Carol and Peter can afford up to $1200 a month in rent. Please send any leads for dog friendly housing in Contra Costa County, CA and we'll forward.  contact@badrap.org  We are always forwarding donations to help them with hotel fees during this time. Please designate that your gift is for Carol and Peter. BR Donation Page 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Buzz in Photo Form

This summer has been abuzz with some the fastest turn around on available dogs we've known, busy events filled with out of town visitors, public outreach and spay/neuter work and loud and happy Open Houses. Whew! I stopped the spins long enough to post this blog for those who don't get to follow our work on the vacuum that is facebook.

Thank goodness for talented photographers who can capture in images what we've been too busy to put into words. Our tech support Tom Becker has been especially generous with his camera and offers most of the photos snapped at our outreach events.

1. First, a jammed packed two day networking/educating extravaganza event at the Rescue Barn just for dog rescuers. Rescue Jam PHOTOS.

2. Then, some adventures with our new spay/neuter van - affectionately dubbed "the Nut Truck" - as it hit the streets of Hayward. Spay/Neuter Hayward PHOTOS



3. Then another Open House that resulted in several adoptions and even more smiles. Open House PHOTOS

4. Finally, back to the East Bay Rats Clubhouse for more outreach, owner support and spay/neuter work. Our volunteers rock these events like nobody's business. And veterinarian Dr. Noe and Beth Garland RVT do the work that will reduce unwanted litters in some of our most challenged neighborhoods. PHOTOS

Why am I pulling up this photo for you? (below) It's not a remarkable photo, but it's a remarkable moment. Tim Racer befriended this dog owner, a local backyard breeder with a few too many dogs. After some discussion, Tim helped him select one dog to fix - one of his females. No coercion or trickery, just an honest offer that he accepted. One of several dogs taken out of the breeding game is not a home run, but it's a start that we plan to build on as we return with more help and resources. Miles to go before we sleep, but what a good sleep it'll be.



The best part of this work ... It's as fun as it is busy. After all, if it's not fun, it's not buzz-worthy.




Thursday, July 25, 2013

Open House Aug 3: Thank the Lifesavers, Meet the Dogs


If you've adopted or plan to adopt from either Berkeley Animal Care Services or BADRAP, or if you're curious about the workings behind our programs, there is a crew of people you need to meet. Behind the scenes, dozens of big hearts give over a big chunk of their lives to TLC homeless dogs until their ship comes in ... The Pit Ed volunteer trainers, the Foster Parents and the Barn Crew.

Please join us on Saturday August 3 from 11am-1pm to help us thank the dedicated volunteer crew in person. **Meet dogs now looking for homes. **Observe shelter dogs being trained. **Learn about volunteer opportunities. **Nosh on pizza donated by the Cheeseboard. YUM.

ALUMNI! Dogs adopted from BADRAP or BACS are invited to attend. Please RSVP here so we can alert the troops! email to RSVP

Location: Corner of Addison and Second St. in Berkeley. Across from BACS.