Friday, September 22, 2017

The COUNT DOWN! Oct 1st. One lucky animal shelter will be named.

October 2017 marks the ten year anniversary that the 'Vick dogs' were finally allowed to leave Virginia and start new lives with their advocates. Before age steals the last dog away from us, sculptor Tim Racer, who helped evaluate, train and re-home the dogs as a representative of BADRAP, is commemorating their history-making lives by creating a one of a kind life size carving of Jonny Justice, (left) one the surviving dogs who is still going strong.

But where should that carving live? 
To give it a home where history lovers can enjoy it, we've asked advocates to help us select one lucky animal shelter to be the official guardian and permanent home of the finished piece.

On October 1, tallied votes from our Shelter Dog Celebration Calendar Contest will signal the winner.

Who's Who? The Shelter Line-Up: 

The shelters who are vying for the carving represent a Who's-Who of progressive policy and pit bull advocacy.  They include:


The Montreal SPCA: advocates on a mission. They're currently challenging their city's breed ban in court. When the city announced plans for the breed ban, the Montreal SPCA adjusted their city contracts with a refusal to seize or hold dogs under BSL (breed specific legislation) and started working to transfer endangered dogs to safe, breed-neutral locations. A win for the Montreal SPCA would help celebrate their commitment to humane, breed neutral policies that treat all dogs as the individuals that they are.  To vote on their contest photo.

Lucas County Canine Care and Control in Toledo Ohio. These history makers evolved from a shelter notorious for it's no-mercy "kill all" policy towards blocky headed dogs perceived to be pit bulls, to a place where every dog is given a fair chance. Their new and enlightened approach to helping dogs boasts a new volunteer program, play groups for all dogs, adoption events and increased public access to the shelter's larger dogs. To vote on their contest photo.

Sacramento County Animal Care and Control welcomed the PB SOC program, which is responsible for running playgroups for all the larger dogs, advertising with glam shots and individual web pages for each, adoption counseling, post-adoption behavioral support, and a rehab program for the shy, fearful, and not-as-social dogs. To vote on their contest photo.


KC Pet Project was founded to take over KCMO shelter operations and by doing that, ended breed specific shelter policies once and for all. Their non-discrimination policy for both pets and people, ensure that every life that enters our shelter gets equal consideration - no matter what the breed, species, age or physical ailment. To vote on their contest photo.

Berkeley Animal Care Services, where many of the Vick dogs attended their first training classes, is also vying for the sculpture. BADRAP has been part of BACS' legacy since first partnering to provide handling classes to shelter dogs and adopted dogs in 2001. To vote on their contest photo.

Other notable shelters who are participating: Three Rivers Humane Society, The SPCA for Monterey County, Macon County Animal Control and Care Center, Humane Society Silicon Valley, First Avenue Shelter, Friends of the River Rouge Animal Shelter, Fredericksburg Regional SPCA, Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society, SPCA of Tompkins County, Idaho Humane Society, San Jose Animal Care Center, Alameda County Offices East County Animal Shelter, Front Street Animal Shelter - City of Sacramento, Ventura County Animal Services, Conway Area Humane Society, Petaluma Animal Services, Monadnock Humane Society, Fresno Bully Rescue, Seattle Humane, Multnomah County Animal Services and SPCA of Anne Arundel County.

Funds raised for this contest benefit BADRAP's foster care program - specifically, our Hurricane Irma relief work. Please keep your eye on the progress and help us select a shelter deserving of being guardian for Jonny Justice's legacy. CONTEST

Above: Tim has made a name for himself as a carver in the carousel world. His museum quality portraits are hand carved from basswood in old school techniques and capture each dog's unique personality through the pose, gesture and saddle trappings. More of Tim's work.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A fad, unfortunate labels and a kennel in decline.

One of these pups is from a high volume kennel that is trying to shut down.

Not the pit bull. The fuzzy girl on the right came from a kennel in a remote part of NorCA. The woman who owns the kennel has been busy attracting buyers from near and far who dream of owning their very own 'wolf type dog.'

The power of marketing and personal fantasy is strong. Hundreds and hundreds of pups have been sold from this yard over the years, but the jig is up.

Along with the breeder's announcement that she wants to retire (she's 72 and facing health problems) the County is demanding that she reduce her numbers by 80% - from 130 adult dogs down to 25 adults, or else. She's told us that she wants out of the puppy business altogether. Good news, since there are only so many families to go around who are ready for the built-in challenges of a high energy dog who carries the burden of a troublesome label.

Dog rescuers have been shaking their fists at this breeder ever since her dogs started falling out of ill-prepared homes and into overcrowded animal shelters. So understandably, many scoffed at the news that she wants to retire and seemed to believe it was a ruse.

The Aftermath

Animal shelters and rescues in many parts of the country are reporting a sharp increase in the number of homeless huskies and dogs identified (correctly or incorrectly) as Wolfdogs. We've walked this difficult path with pit bulls when Pandora's box first opened in the late 80's, so decided to contact the breeder last spring to learn about her plans and offer some help towards closing shop. She responded immediately.

Getting to this kennel from the SF Bay Area requires a lot of driving and at least one overnight, so we dialed up rescue friend Shirley from Dogwood Animal Rescue, drove the distance and secured a veterinarian to join us. After introductions, we surveyed the endless rows of haphazardly built pens filled with dozens of bouncing, barking dogs and did a head count while trying not to look too shocked. On that day there were two hundred and twenty two (222!) dogs and puppies. As you can guess, with only two people on-site to provide care, the conditions were less than ideal.

Before you curse the breeder, remember that this situation is alive and well because it's been supported by hundreds of buyers over the years who desire her product. No buyers, no producers.

While we were there, we watched a buyer trade a frightened pup for fencing material and we held the space as the veterinarian euthanized eight troubled dogs at the owner's request. It was a tough day. Shirley unloaded a car full of donated kibble and filled it back up with four scared-to-pieces pups and one adult to head back to her rescue for TLC and rehoming. Since that visit, we've organized the spaying and neutering of the small group of adults the breeder is intending to keep. We started lists of dogs from the site titled, 'Possible Rescue Candidate,' 'Not Adoptable,' and fretted over the impossible details with our most experienced rescue and disaster response colleagues. No one seems to know how to help, to be honest. The skittish behavior of so many under socialized, escape prone dogs requires special management, but rescues are already overwhelmed with sheltered husky type dogs who've been falling out of homes. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is full and the very real problem of hoarding in lesser known sanctuaries is pushing responders to the wall. Funders we spoke with were unwilling to engage due to the high number of dogs who would likely be euthanized due to lack of rescue options. Some suggested that the breeder's dogs could only be helped if they fell into extreme health crisis. Then, they said, funders would allow for a disaster relief response. Until then, there were basically SOL.

Puppy Mill Behavior

In July, a transport brought eight of the breeder's puppies down to Oakland. They'd been destined for sale in a Walmart parking lot - it's how the breeder buys kibble for so many hungry adults - so we took them on to help them out, but also as a bit of an experiment. What would they be like? What kind of owners do they need?

It was clear from day one that the pups were feral and we had a big job on our hands. Wolfdog behavior? They barely look the part. Trusted Wolfdog experts believe that most of the dogs from this kennel show "low or no" wolfy content. They're mostly husky-german shepherd mixes, they tell us. And boy are they shy. It's not uncommon for generations of tightly bred dogs who have no life outside of their pens to produce timid, socially insecure pups. 'Puppy mill behavior,' it's called.

The pups ran and hid from us like wild raccoons their first days here and screamed all night for their mama. It was a long first few days. To wriggle their confidence up a notch or more, we brought in the best reinforcements: Cans and cans of soft food, spoons and human vending machines, and our secret weapon - some of the most human friendly dogs known to humankind. Pit bulls, of course.

Since day one, social butterflies Scamp (below), Hennie and Bernadette have been modeling the most ridiculously friendly behavior towards humans imaginable. While the pups now ADORE the dogs, humans are still relatively low on their list of must-haves. Except when we have food, which makes us extremely popular with them several times a day. Baby steps - but progress.



A Label's Curse

Our modest attempt to help another misrepresented 'breed type' has been educational, to say the least. Wolfdogs! The name alone brings bragging rights to starry-eyed buyers, but sets their dogs up for real trouble with animal control agencies if they find themselves loose. Many animal shelters opt to euthanize dogs who they suspect may be a Wolfdog, and base their decision on nothing more than what they perceive to be a wolfy appearance.

This no-mercy trend has been fueled by negative messaging in much of the language currently used in animal welfare circles. The ASPCA for example, who helped break huge barriers for pit bulls with their work on the Vick case,  recently assisted with a well publicized rescue mission of husky looking dogs in Wisconsin. They described the seized dogs as 'Wolf hybrids,' and suggested their gene mix made the animals potentially unpredictable and dangerous.  The problem is, the dogs who go along with those warnings can look very much like companion animals many have in our homes - including our own. How do we tell them apart? It may be impossible.

The ASPCA contradicts their warnings by pointing out the fallibility of using visual examination to determine content in their same statement - A reminder that the animal welfare world is still trying to figure it all out. In instances where a dog's breed mix is questionable, some animal control agencies will fall back to the label that the owner chooses to use. A dog owner who brags that his husky is a 'Wolfdog' can be condemning his pet to death if that dog is seized.

DNA tests that look for wolf content markers have become popular, but are not 100% reliable. Their use has fueled passionate debate when dogs like Karma, who for all intents and purposes appears to be a full breed husky, came up positive for a trace amount of content. That trace amount nearly cost Karma her life.

Remember the days when any dog suspected of having a trace amount of pit bull was labeled and widely condemned by municipalities and animal shelters with breed bans?

The What-are-they? and How-do-we-describe-them-to-adopters? dilemma of our current batch of pups tossed us right back to lessons from our history with pit bulls. They taught us that, regardless of labels or genetics, dogs are first and foremost individuals, not cookie cutter copies of our most stubborn stereotypes. Their individual behaviors, including challenging ones, are either manageable or they aren't. Those lessons have asked that we view these pups with fresh eyes:

Who are you? What makes you tick? And, especially, What do you need to succeed? 

With help from other rescues (thank you Family Dog Rescue and Norsled) we were soon left with four pups: The intelligent Stella, the gorgeous, impulsive Winter and their still-figuring-it-all-out sisters, Foxy and Baby Face (right). The girls require special placements, including patient, husky-savvy humans, one or more well socialized dogs to serve as their anchors, and escape proof homes (ie, proper containment and good fences).

Whatever we decide to call them, dogs who've been labeled correctly or incorrectly as Wolfdogs are being exploited and harmed by their label. They deserve our compassion and the very best game planning from the animal welfare world who is ultimately charged with dealing with them when they fall into crisis. Pit bulls, after all, hammered the lessons home by showing us that condemning any breed 'type' based on nothing but physical appearance and negative stereotyping is inhumane and does nothing to push the needle to a better place.

Photo Right: Foxy and Baby Face are still available and looking for suitable homes. Born end of May 2017, they're currently what we consider special needs because of their skittish behavior. They resist handling but are now comfortable in the presence of gentle people. They thrive on routine, will respond to simple commands "Sit," "Look" "Touch" and will come when called, especially when treats are involved. There are many hurdles to go, but they're trying hard to make it work, and so are we. If you value the bond that comes from working with a special needs animal and are interested in one of these pups, please contact us via our website for more info: BADRAP  Thank you!

Photo Album of Foxy and Baby Face

Monday, August 07, 2017

Chappy and Crystal: A team like no other.


We couldn't be prouder of 'Barn Dog' graduate Chappy who first came to us from Contra Costa Animal Services and is now serving as a service dog for his adopter, Crystal.

Crystal is a war veteran and like so many coming home, she's challenged with navigating the world with debilitating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her time in Afghanistan.

Chappy provides comfort, but even more, his full time job is to keep close tabs on Crystal's emotional state and to signal to her when he notes that her stress is mounting to the point where she needs to sit down and regroup.

Chappy found his calling when Operation Freedom Paws came looking for a special dog for Crystal. They needed a dog who was comfortable with the world, relaxed around bigger distractions including other animals, and highly tuned in to people. They were also hoping for a snuggler with a goofy side to help lighten the mood when her painful migraines creep in.  As it turns out, this velcro clown had all the right stuff and took to his job almost immediately.

As a service dog who's been specifically trained for his job, his work is recognized by federal law and supported through the American Disabilities Act (ADA). He's allowed to accompany Crystal to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis, stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, etc.,as she moves about her day. Full time support.

I asked Janet Wenholtz from Operation Freedom Paws to explain PTSD and how dogs can assist their owners:

"When a person has PTSD, s/he scans, constantly looking for that threat. The least movement or sound kicks in the "fight or flight" process, which adjusts body chemistry and body language. Adrenaline is as addictive as heroin, and for a lot of people, living in that state of anxiety becomes their normal. Their bodies never stop producing it, so they never truly relax. Even when they're asleep, they're having nightmares, and rarely sleep more than a few hours at a time. Then they're awake -sometimes for days.

Trauma physically changes the brain. Basically, the conscious mind loses much of its control over their brain's natural reactions. Someone with PTSD lives in a state of constant heightened anxiety. Life in general is just too overwhelming and overstimulating. This causes them to isolate, sometimes for decades at a time. If they go out, even to the grocery store, it's at 3:00 AM. Usually the only place they go during the day is to medical appointments, where they're usually given meds to help them sleep, wake up, cope with pain, etc. These can add to the problems, especially for vets whose VA docs don't always talk to each other about patients they have in common. Psychiatrists at the VA see their patients about every 3 months, if they're lucky. Most self-medicate as well, with alcohol and drugs on top of their meds. It's a very dangerous situation for them and the people around them."

So where does the dog come in, and how does it help?

"First, when accepted to this program, they have to take the dog out for walks. We require in our contract that clients get out of their houses at least two hours a day, even if it's just to walk around the neighborhood. They have to be in our classes twice a week AND do their homework to solidify the skills they learn in class. And the dogs don't lie. We always know if they've been doing their homework or not, and we don't hesitate to call them out! This training is designed to create new habits to overcome the bad habits their brains & bodies have gotten into since they were injured.

During class, all of the instructors observe each team---the dog, the handler, and their interactions. If a dog is reluctant to do something we KNOW s/he knows how to do, we say, "What's your dog trying to tell you? Do your inventory. Are you in pain? Are you thinking about something you shouldn't be thinking about? Are you getting angry? Take five!"

When we visited class at OFP, we learned that some dogs will signal by nudging their people or by stalling out and blocking their path. Some will wake their handlers up from nightmares to comfort them. Each team works differently and relies on the dog's particular skills to surface as the pair begins to bond. One dog shoves socks into the hand of his person during particularly stressful episodes and another lies across his person's legs.

Below. After training drills, veterans practice what's called 'Doggy Yoga Hour' with their dogs and share personal triumphs from their week with the group. Yes, that's a bloodhound there!


Chappy was more at home and happier than we've ever seen him when we visited. "He has a purpose now," said Mary Cortani, who started the program in 2010.

Yes, he does. What a gift this program is to our veterans who participate and to the dogs who are lucky enough to find their destiny through serving them.

NOTE: Mary was named as a Top 10 Heroes in 2012 by the CNN Heroes program that celebrates ordinary people making extraordinary contributions to improve the lives of others. Watch this link to learn more about the important and life changing work of Operation Freedom Paws: CNN

Monday, June 19, 2017

ANNOUNCING: A photo contest to help Jonny Justice carving find a NEW (shelter) home!


UPDATE: The contest launch has begun! Thank you and best luck!

ENTER THE CONTEST

Who are the Good Guys? Do you know of an Animal Shelter that's been a champion for blocky dogs (ie, pit bulls and their mixes) in your community? Maybe you adopted your best friend from them. Or maybe you're a volunteer, staff member or rescue partner with a shelter who's gone the distance through word and deed to lead the dogs away from old days of negative stereotypes into a new era of enlightened compassion.

If 'Yes,' we want to thank them for moving the needle for pit bulls to a much better place.

October 27 of this year will mark the tenth anniversary that the federal government officially green-lighted the 'Vick dogs' release to new beginnings. Ten years! So much has changed for the better since the dogs showed us that rescued pit bulls deserve a chance to be seen as individuals and whenever possible, welcomed into caring homes.

To celebrate this special anniversary, we're giving a special gift to one lucky Animal Shelter 

BADRAP co-founder and celebrated sculptor Tim Racer has been busy carving a portrait of beloved Vick dog and Poster Boy Jonny Justice.  Our goal is to identify an animal shelter who will 'adopt' his carving and give it a permanent home. Photo of Jonny above from Melissa McDaniel's Photo Book Project.



This is a truly special gift. Tim's museum quality dog portraits are carved in the traditional old world Carousel style and are highly sought after by collectors of fine art. They've attracted national media attention and commissions from notable dog lovers including Animal Farm Foundation founder Jane Berkey (Josh & Petal, photo above) and Westminster ribbon winner Patricia Hearst Shaw (See: Frida).

Tim Racer Gallery Link

Creating a life size likeness of Jonny Justice will take hundreds of hours. It's a labor of love and a way to keep the Vick dog legacy alive long after the last survivor passes on from old age. Since this will be the first time that a non-profit makes a home to one of his carvings, the question we wrestled with: How do we possibly decide who should be the guardian of this special piece? Our best hope is that dog lovers like you will show up to make that decision.

Calendar photo contest to determine Carousel Jonny's new home
Because a shelter's heart can be seen in the faces of their dogs, we've decided to rely on a calendar photo contest to help us identify a 'winner'.  So just after Labor Day, we'll be accepting online submissions of photos of blocky dogs who came through shelter adoption programs - adopted dogs or those who are still waiting for homes. Voters (You!) will help us identify the winning shelter through an accumulation of $1 votes for their favorite submission. The photo with the most votes will determine the shelter who will receive the Jonny art. It's a fundraiser for BADRAP and a way to signal our collective applause for all the shelters who've brought the last decade of Vick dog lessons home to their own corners.

Yes, this IS a big deal. Here's some of the nitty gritty for participating:

  • You have time to capture your winning image: We'll start accepting photos online on Sept. 7 and the contest will run for three weeks.
  • The shelter dog photo with the most votes will win the Jonny Justice carving for his or her shelter and the cover of the 2018 Shelter Dog Celebration Calendar produced by BADRAP.
  • Anyone can enter, but the entries must be submitted on behalf of the specific animal shelter where the dog in the photo came from.
    Thanks for understanding that we reserve the right to request documentation to demonstrate the shelter of origin for dogs submitted.
  • For the purpose of this contest, an 'animal shelter' will be defined as a public or private non-profit in the United States or Canada with an active adoption program for homeless dogs and an indoor location to safely house and display the life size Jonny Justice carving (lobby, community room, etc.). The winning shelter will agree to make the carving accessible to the general public for viewing and will display signage detailing the historical significance of the Vick dog case. If the winning shelter declines the carving or is not able to meet our display requirements, it will be made available to the next shelter in line with the next highest tally of votes.
  • Rescue groups? We welcome contest entries of dogs from non-profit rescue groups,  however, if the rescue group does not maintain a brick and mortar facility that will allow public viewing, the carving will be gifted to the animal shelter where the dog originated from.
  • In the spirit of supporting shelters who embrace non-discriminatory laws and practices, participating animal shelters must 1) actively include pit bulls and their mixes in their adoption program and 2) if they exist in a municipality that restricts 'pit bulls' through BSL, must have an anti-BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) position statement published on their website, etc.
  • More than one photo can be submitted on behalf of the same shelter(s). 
  • Photo submissions can be taken in any location - inside or outside of the shelter. Your adopted dog in your home? Fine. A gorgeous image captured while she was living at the shelter? By all means, Yes. 
  • The top twelve photos with the most votes will place in the same calendar.
  • 'Runners Up' prizes will happen. Stay tuned for details.
  • BADRAP will cover transport arrangements and hand deliver the finished carving to the shelter. And - BONUS! - if the shelter is within driving distance of the SF Bay Area, it may arrive with a visit from Jonny Justice and his adopters Cris Cohen and Jennifer Long.  
Photo Right: Kathy Kinnear's photos of shelter dogs who live at Contra Costa Animal Services always take our breath away. Keep your eye on Smart Paws Pet Resources to for more inspiration from this inspired volunteer photo project. 

Get Your Game On! HeARTs Speak's got the goods

Want to get a winning photo? You've got a few weeks to get your game on for an awesome submission in September. A great resource for getting eye-catching pix of shelter dogs is HeARTs Speak. Their Perfect Exposure Project has been offering hands-on instruction, donated photography equipment, training and inspiration to "positively and effectively promote the animals" in animals shelters' care. Look'em up!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cartoons to the Rescue! (Info-Videos for Adopters of Every Breed)

BADRAP's website is getting a scrub and an update this summer so the mega-ton of content that's been piling up is easier to find. Can't. Wait.

Here's a sneak peek of some of the ways we're working to put good info into the hands of rockin' dog owners...

1. Understanding Dog Tolerance Levels.  How does your dog feel about other dogs? Some of our most-shared material turned into a two minute animated teach-in. Live it, share it.



2. Dog Intros at Home - For the Win. A new dog is moving in. Exciting! Got three minutes to learn how to do it right? Here are our best tips for making those crucial intros go smoothly so the friendship starts off on the right paw.




Shelters, Rescues and Every Day Educators: These videos are meant to be shared, so feel free to grab the embed code to help dog owners in your corners find the best success with their buddies. Thank you!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Matzo meets 'his' cats: Slow and steady wins the race

When Amy and James asked to adopt Matzo Ball, they told us they had two cats at home, in addition to their two dogs.  Would it work?

The dog part would likely go smoothly but the cats were a concern. We were very honest: “He can be an excitable guy and he’s shown some prey drive towards squirrels and birds. We believe he could injure your cat if intros go too fast. BUT, if you take intros nice and slow – and in, weeks-slow rather than hours-slow, and if you stage your intros and monitor every step, we think he could eventually learn to live nicely with everybody.”

The cats’ personalities factored in to the equation as much as Matzo’s. Amy and James told us that one of their cats was fearless and would likely rush Matzo, while the other cat would probably be nonplussed. Knowing that a rushed intro would be more than Matzo could handle, they set up a plan to create the best success. During this intro period, Matzo was with them under a foster/adopt contract and he was marked as having a ‘pending’ adoption. We agreed to hold off on going full adoption until the household had found a healthy and successful rhythm between all the various creatures.

Long story short, it worked. They did such an impressive job making it work that we asked them to bullet out their step-by-step for future adopters. Here’s how they got success:

Amy and James broke their intros process down into separate phases and waited to see solid success before pressing on. Smart. They said.  "Philosophically, we followed similar guidelines to introducing our cats and Matzo Ball as this BR post. We tried to make sure that all interactions, however brief, were positive for both Matzo and the cats. We tried to set things up so that the cats could end the interaction whenever they wanted to, and only moved on to the next phase when Matzo was consistently appropriate at each level of interaction.”

Ingredients for their success:  
Doors and a dog crate for safe separating
Leashes and a Tie-down for managed intros
A squirt bottle for corrections
Training lessons for Matzo (distraction work)
Places for the cats to retreat to
A good game plan, good communication between the humans.
Plenty of patience, time and a can-do attitude.  

Phase One: ‘I Smell You’

"Matzo had no visual contact with the cats at first -- We wanted him to just get used to their smell. We closed off the room with Matzo’s crate so our cats couldn’t get in and so he couldn’t see the cats. The way our house is laid out allowed us to also vary the amount of space between Matzo and the cats -- we started with three sets of closed doors between everyone, then went to two, and then one (plus a crate). We’d also periodically bring Matzo into the rooms that the cats had been hanging out in so he could investigate their smells, and brought some of the cats' beds to him, too.

Our biggest challenge during this phase was actually our brave cat, who wanted to see Matzo so badly he tried to sneak into the rooms he was in. We didn't want Matzo's first face to face with the cat to be when he was excited, so having a cat run at his crate head-first was not part of the plan."

Phase Two: Closed door ‘Greetings’

"Once Matzo thought smelling cat bedding was boring, we had our cats in adjoining rooms so he could get used to their sounds without actually seeing them. Any extreme excitement -- attempts to paw at the door, whining, or get into the room with the cats, for example -- were discouraged immediately with a sharp NO and, if he persisted, a quick spray bottle squirt.

The challenge with this phase was again our brave cat: when she heard Matzo sniffing the door, she would stick her paws under the door to get at him.

This was the longest, most challenging phase for everyone; the cats didn’t like being cooped up, and it was difficult for Matzo not to get excited when our cat initiated a game of Whack-a-Mole under his nose."

Phase Three:  ‘I See You and I’m Trying to Stay Calm!’

"Once Matzo was consistently showing appropriate interest in the cat paws emerging from under the door -- polite sniffing, but no whining, pawing, barking or fixed staring -- we let Matzo see the cats for the first time. We started with him in his crate allowing him to see us holding a cat through a glass door in the next room. If the cat wanted to leave or if he showed any overt excitement -- barking, whining, panting, pawing, fixed staring -- we told him no, removed the cat and redirected his attention."

(Note from BADRAP: Matzo was learning how to stay calm and focused on his handler around exciting distractions during Saturday Pit Ed class exercises. )

"Once he was appropriately calm when he saw a cat through the door, we tried bringing the cats into the same room with him while he was in his kennel. Next, we had our cats in the same room as him while he was on at tie-down. And then finally, Matzo could be on leash with the cats in the same room.

This phase didn’t actually last long. Again, our brave cat was more of a challenge than Matzo. When she saw the dog, she’d try to get away from us and run over to him.

When Matzo was calm on leash around the cats, we allowed him some off leash time in the room. We made sure there were always places for the cats to retreat to if interacting with Matzo was too much, and supervised these interactions extra closely.

We were lucky that our cats were already very calm around dogs -- they don’t run away when they see a dog, which means that there are few opportunities for Matzo (or our other dogs) to chase the cats. Being around our other dogs who knew the rules about cats also helped Matzo learn pretty quickly."


Important Info from Amy & James: 

"Our cats are also indoor-only cats. Matzo will still bark at and chase the feral cats in our neighborhood that wail on our fence. He still doesn’t have unsupervised interactions with our cats. When we’re not at home, he stays safe in his crate… although our brave cat’s favorite sleeping spot is on top!"

Three cheers for smart adopters and their agreeable animals.

Follow Matzo's Instagram Updates: BlanketMonsters




Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Resisting Stereotypes and Bans: True then, Truer now.

Dealing with hate-think and discrimination is familiar turf for many pit bull owners. We’ve become pros at navigating situations where fear-based judgment can pose real threats to our canine family members. We fight breed bans by wearing thick skins and arming ourselves with facts to help educate, and we participate in creating effective animal laws and policies that reflect contemporary science while embracing canines as the individuals that they are. The animal welfare community as a whole has done beautiful work to disarm the stigmas and stereotypes attached to blocky headed dogs, and trends are swinging towards game changing Owner Support programs that are fueled by empathy for families in our communities. We’re evolving … At least in some corners.

In recent months, some of our rescue partners have been hit with a different form of stereotyping crisis in their personal lives. As animal advocates, they’ve been heroes. But as immigrants, they’re in the crosshairs of dangerous ideologies of people who condemn their religion, home countries and/or skin color. Who knew we'd see efforts in our country to ban humans based on nothing but their parentage? These trends are so un-American that it seems unbelievable that this is surfacing as a topic on our blog today - but once you see the parallels, you can't un-see them.

In the interest of inviting a broader dialogue that takes the lessons we’ve learned from pit bull advocacy to a new level, we’re sharing the viewpoints of three valued rescue friends.

******************

Freba Maulauizada was a pit bull owner (shown with Ariel), a shelter volunteer, a dog rescuer and a vocal city activist who went to bat for Oakland Animal Service’s budget and program needs when we met several years ago. She still rescues dogs in Louisiana where she now lives with Tammy Murray, her life partner of 16 years.

I have all the strikes against me.
My name is Freba. I am from Afghanistan. I am a woman.
I am Muslim and I am also gay.
I now live in a red state.
Well, one can just imagine how I feel.
I feel like a pit bull. All odds are against me.
But just like a pit bull, I like to make sure that other’s ignorance will not belittle me.
I know who I am, and I will fight against hate and ignorance
by being a shining example of my Roots.
Love to all.
- Freba 

******************

Berenice Hernandez is longtime BADRAP team member. ‘Zippy’ - one of the celebrated survivors from M. Vick's dog fighting operation - found a home with their family ten years ago. This is what Berenice wants you to know about being an immigrant in today’s America.

"I walked into a local sandwich shop to pick up lunch before I headed to work; it was a few days after the elections.  I noticed the young girl helping me had different energy than usual. I, having a heavy feeling, ask her how she is holding up.  She looks at me with a sigh of relief and says “as best as I can, given the situation.” She tells me how someone with a Trump button had come into the shop and told her she had voted for him to get rid of people like her. The young girl told me that this wasn't her first encounter with someone like that. This girl of Mexican descent was born here, in this country. We talked for a bit about our fears, our worries and also our strengths. I understand that not all Trump voters feel this way. I know that. I really do. However, my sense of safety and trust is affected by hearing these words. Complete strangers hating on you without knowing you, sure makes you feel uneasy.

I am an immigrant. I have lived in this beautiful country for over thirty years. I am proud of my heritage, as I am proud to be an American.  I wasn’t born here but I worked hard to become an American citizen, to adopt this country as my own. My parents have worked hard to build a life for them and their children. My mother escaped a civil war in El Salvador (worth looking it up for details). She is a business owner, my father a Postal service worker for over 25 years. I have built a family here. I have a job here. I have volunteered my time and money to organizations. My children were born here. My husband is second generation Chicano, part Native American (Yaqui). His family lived in New Mexico when New Mexico became part of the U.S.

I am a volunteer, an advocate for animals. I have spent time educating against Breed Specific Legislation. I have met with politicians to advocate for our beloved misunderstood dogs. I became involved with Pit Bulls 17 years ago, when a 4 week-old pit mix landed in my hands. She needed my help, so I stepped in. I had no clue that I would learn so much about people’s biases. After all, I had no idea what a pit bull was. All I saw was a dog that needed help so I helped her. Over the last 17 years I have had my share of foster dogs, some which have ended up as permanent family members. Back in 2007, I ended up with a new foster, this foster was different though. Not because she was different as a dog but because of her circumstances. As you know, before the Vick dogs, all fight-bust dogs would be euthanized. Automatically labeled and fate sealed. We have learned many lessons from the Vick case. An accomplishment we can celebrate because barriers were broken. These dogs once viewed as vicious, now exposed for the world to see. They are now seen as what they have always been: just dogs.  Dogs victimized by greed.

I am a mother. My children know what it’s like to not be able to have friends over because the parents don’t approve of our dogs. My children have shed tears because they just didn’t understand how someone who didn’t even know our dogs could have such fears and dislike for them. They learned from a young age a lesson about labels, exclusion and misunderstanding. They have also learned to have empathy, sympathy and compassion, not only for dogs but also for the misplaced fears of people.  My two oldest daughters are now 17 & 14.  Sadly, they have been experiencing those same feelings lately. They have been told that Trump will build a wall to keep people like them out of “our country”, they have seen confederate flags displayed from the back of pick up trucks in their school parking lot. They have had to stand up to friends because those friends have made hurtful comments regarding the immigration ban. This ban affects family of friends they know. While my children understand that comments like these often come from a lack of understanding, they refuse to accept that saying such things should be okay.

Think about times when you have been made to feel like you don't belong simply because you didn't speak the language, or you wore the wrong outfit or you walked your big dog down the street and people were scared. I know, in some ways these don’t compare to what we are experiencing these days but you get the idea. This is how some of us are feeling right now.  Anger, fear, lack of information hurts people.

For my fellow immigrants, I want you to know you are not alone. You belong here, I belong here, our families belong here, and our dogs belong here! Here in America! We are a nation of love, understanding and compassion.  I truly believe that.  To those who may feel that immigrants as a whole are a threat to you, look around.  Look at people like me, my family.  We are hardworking, good-hearted people, advocates, just like you. We want better for our children and the world. Just as we unite to do right by animals, fight battles like BSL, fight-bust victims and dedicate our time to better the life of animals and people, I ask you to please stop for one minute and practice empathy for all humans.

No walls, no barriers, no assumptions, no hatred just because we may look different. We are not that different after all." - Berenice Hernandez

Photo top: Carol Guzy for the Washington Post.  Second photo: Deanne Fitzmaurice for Sports Illustrated.

******************


Farah Ravon adopted BADRAP dog ‘Rosie’ when we were still a young org. She later became a key US-based support member for one of our favorite animal initiatives - Vafa Animal Shelter. Vafa is a brilliant, non-governmental organization that was created to protect animal rights in Iran. Iranian-Americans among others are critical to Vafa’s ability to save lives. They bring supplies with them when they visit, and chaperone one or more dogs back to waiting US adopters when they return home. As you can imagine, traveler bans will have a devastating effect on this struggling animal shelter.

"My name is Faranak, aka Farah, and I am an Iranian-American, but I am more than just an Iranian-American; I am a daughter, a wife and a sister. I define myself most strongly as an animal rescue worker. 
I left Iran when I was 12 and have lived in the United States the majority of my life. This country has always been my second home. 
Suddenly all of that has changed. Suddenly I feel like an outsider, like I don't belong. I am confused, scared and feeling helpless. My friends and family are also confused, scared, and feeling helpless. 
The rescue work I have done over the last 15+ years has opened me up to the beauty and diversity that is the United States. I am proud to say there are many more Iranian-Americans just like me, who also love and rescue animals.
 
The travel ban has not only impacted the lives of human beings from Muslim countries, it has already had a damaging impact on our ability to help animals who are desperately in need. We depend on kind souls traveling in and out of the country to accompany our dogs and cats to the United States. Without them, our efforts would fail. 
Because of the ban, there is a very real possibility the people who have volunteered to do this work will be detained at the airport. As a result, our dogs might have to spend 48 hours or more in a crate. Sadly, this is not simply a hypothetical scenario. Just last week we made the very difficult decision to postpone a rescue because of these circumstances. 
How many people traveling to the states, even citizens, will be willing to assume the risk and added stress of accompanying a dog when they might be subjected to delays? How many dogs will suffer? I speak to you now as one animal lover to another. 
We can agree, the intense love and loyalty of an animal has no bounds, sees no color or race. All that is required to feel these truths as a human being is an open heart."

Talk to us. We welcome respectful, non-inflammatory comments.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Women's March and companion animals: Why human rights matter.

This post was written in response to those who asked why representatives from dog advocacy group BADRAP chose to participate in the Jan 21 Women's March.

Last Saturday
, we canceled classes and lifted foster dog Lolo into our car along with some quickly made signs and headed downtown to Oakland's Women's March. We didn't know what to expect to be honest, but - serendipity - the first people we ran into were former adopters with their three young kids. Kids and families with handmade signs were everywhere, in fact. We were definitely at the right place.

We soon had to give up on keeping track of our friends - The crowd was just too massive. (One in 45 California residents marched. An estimated 100K counted in Oakland and upwards of 4.6+ million just in the US). While waiting for some kind of announcement to signal the start, we were squeezed into a shoulder to shoulder, slow motion lava flow down Madison Street with the impressively resilient Lolo. Drums were beating, people bopping up and down, pink hats, strollers, kids on parents shoulders, a cornucopia of signs. Everyone smiling and there was chanting and high five-ing and hugging. Wait. We're crammed like sardines, we don't know what the plan is or where the next bathroom will be. Why are we all so HAPPY? Then the realization that the march had started, and without knowing it, we were already in way deep.

Technically, we've been in way deep since our group was birthed in 1999, even more so since our KeepEm Home mission found its legs. Our nation's pets - pit bulls in particular - will just keep falling into crisis until we tackle the perennial obstacles that block their humans from the support and resources more fortunate dog owners take for granted. Let's be real; we can't begin to save all the sheltered dogs that need to be saved, especially while outside pressures push animal shelters into a constant state of overcrowding and crisis. Something's gotta give.

The Woman's March was an affirmation of what is sacred and what needs support and tending to in our country.

What do we want? Safe, humane communities for all. 
How do we get it?  By acknowledging our neighbors' struggles. By taking a stand when fundamental human rights are threatened.

So why did we march?
We marched for women, including victims of domestic violence. Because when an abuser threatens your dog's life, finding safe places (women's shelters, hotels, even friend's homes) that can or will accept pets is nearly impossible - even more so if your dog is a pit bull. The links between animal abuse and family violence are well known, and while society tries to get a handle on reducing these crimes, we need more safe options for women who need to escape. Violence Against Women programs? They need support, not defunding. Photo right: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

We marched for worker's rights, including the compelling need for a living minimum wage - because when families are forced to piece several jobs together just to cover their basic necessities, everyone suffers including their children and pets. (Don't tell me that struggling families don't deserve pets - don't even go there). Throughout history, nice families have sold puppies to help keep food on the table and that practice continues today. Affordable vet care and training classes are in short supply. Affordable housing shortages plague our cities; now more than ever, large numbers are relinquishing their pets when they can't find rentals that will accept them. Our animal shelters are a living museum of these disparities, and they struggle daily with the overflow.
Suicide. The trends that contribute to pet homelessness are inhumane to everyone, including animal shelter and rescue workers who deal with such high intake numbers and so much burn out that they face the highest suicide rate among US workers: 5.3 in 1 million workers - a rate shared only by firefighters and police officers. Link: The fatal epidemic no one is talking about.
We marched for affordable health care for all. And paid sick days, because when the key provider of a struggling family falls ill and bills can't be paid, gut wrenching decisions to surrender pets naturally follow (See Mila's story).

We marched for the environment, because as animal lovers, we root for nature and we understand that the welfare of animals and the health of our planet are intrinsically connected. And because we trust the science behind climate change as well as we trust our own eyes, we know that US support for peer reviewed research and fast action is critical (Note: Keep your eye out for the Scientists March on Washingon.)

We marched for the rights of indigenous peoples, including the peaceful, prayerful water protectors of Standing Rock who've been working tirelessly to block the Dakota Access Pipeline from destroying their sacred lands and poisoning a river. Their courage and vision inspires us and is echoed in struggles of indigenous peoples around the world.

We marched for People of Color, and the need to address racism in all its forms. Because when you own a pit bull and your skin is brown or black, just imagine the ways that the world (strangers, potential landlords, law enforcement) can judge.

We marched for refugee and immigrant rights, because they're our neighbors, friends, co-workers. And we marched for Muslims, because our dogs have taught us that stereotypes lie and fear cripples us all. We marched for LGBTQ rights as we do every year in SF's Pride Parade, not just because many of our volunteers and adopters are gay, but because the LGBTQ community was the first to extend a welcoming hand to us 18 years ago, back when BADRAP was a young org and pit bulls were widely rejected and stereotyped. They get it.

Finally, we marched for ourselves. Because it felt so completely right to be surrounded by thousands of positive, supportive, decent human beings who believe in participating in a hopeful future.

People First

The wake up call was just what we needed. Animal welfare world, this is long overdue: It's time we connect the dots and acknowledge the undeniable connection between human rights issues and companion animal issues. Fundamental human rights must be ardently defended if we truly care about companion animals.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Stories from Our Streets: A front row seat to what's real and what matters


A first ever show highlighting dog owner support work

Patrons of the busy community-based Zocalo Coffee House in San Leandro have been enjoying their coffees and convos next to 19 oversized images of what are very likely their neighbors and their neighbors’ dogs. We couldn’t think of a better place to launch our ‘Stories from Our Streets’ Photo Project, which was created to celebrate the human-animal bond in our community while raising awareness about the obstacles many pet owners face when trying to keep their dogs during disruptive times - pit bull owners especially. Shot over several months during BADRAP’s owner support and pet wellness events, photographer Kathy Kinnear’s sensitive and candid images always seem to find the heart of the moment. A paragraph that explains the unique story, situation or challenge faced by that pet owner accompanies each photo.

Until December 30

The show stays up until the end of December and then will be moved to other venues in our quest to help people learn more about the current landscape of pet ownership in our communities – pit bull ownership in particular.



The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. - Pablo Picasso


Our best hope is that interest in these photos will bring understanding, and understanding will help to increase opportunities for pet owners including more landlord acceptance, and more support for those who are struggling to keep their dogs in their families, where they belong.

(Top Photo) Life Saver Dog: Leo’s person told us that he helped keep her going during some very dark days. Their bond was undeniable. "While many of us intuitively understand the benefits of positive interactions with animals in our lives, an emerging body of research is recognizing the impact the human-animal bond can have on individual and community health." - Pet Partners
Keep'Em Home: A challenge for our times

I can’t lie, the historic shortage of affordable housing in CA has made the ‘Keep'Em Home’ project one of the most difficult missions we’ve taken on as animal advocates. The Vick dogs? - Moving that mountain was a cake-walk compared to this work! But valuable missions are never meant to be easy, and while we're learning how to be better advocates for our neighbors, we're also encouraged by some of the plans that are underway to increase housing opportunities in CA.

Triaging the need

Requests for help from area dog owners file in almost daily, and while there is a limit to the number of cases we can take on, we’ve gotten better at triaging the need as it arrives: the home with the dog with the impending litter that they can’t afford gets a quick spay/abort, the grieving family who can’t afford a euthanasia for their suffering senior dog gets an immediate appointment with one of our compassionate partner vets, the Good Samaritan with the reactive dog gets a quick spot in our training classes, and the family who lost their housing gets peace of mind from knowing their dog will be safe in our Rescue Barn. Thanks to donor support, we've been able to organize ten larger public outreach events in 2016 and perform 166 spay/neuter surgeries thanks to our veterinarian partners (hats off to Well Pet Veterinary Clinic) while serving over 650 families with everything our team has to offer.

Our numbers feel good because so much is getting done, but we're humbled right down to size when we remember that that the population of the counties we serve (Alameda and Contra Costa) is 2.5 million people, and pit bulls are counted among the top five most popular breed types. That's a LOT of dogs. Thankfully we're not alone in our commitment to owner support. Paw Fund,  FOBACS, PALS, East Bay SPCA and Contra Costa Animal Services are among the groups working to serve pet owners, each of us specializing in some things with lots of overlap. The need is big, but because the SF Bay Area has a long history of valuing the search for humane solutions to difficult problems, it feels natural and necessary to embrace owner support work as the social justice work that it is.

The face of animal welfare work is changing, and the Stories from Our Streets exhibit offers a front row seat to some of the best changes. We hope that you get a chance to see it this December. Please tell us if you do. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Zocalo Coffeehouse
645 Bancroft Ave. San Leandro 94577

PHOTO GALLERY of a typical 'Nut Truck' event. All images c/o Kathy Kinnear.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Breed ban in Montreal: What we know. How to help.


We are consolidating some of the information that's surfacing regarding Montreal's ban on pit bulls and ongoing efforts being made to help the dogs and their families. Concern about Montreal's situation is massive and it can be difficult to keep up with the shifting news. We welcome your updates and corrections as we tend to the links and information listed here.

4/18/17 UPDATE: Quebec Gov't Intends to Bring Dog Ban to Entire Province (Link)
From the Montreal SPCA: "The Montreal SPCA is highly concerned by Bill 128, introduced this morning by our provincial government, which includes breed specific legislation (BSL), namely by targeting “pit bull-type dogs”, “Rottweilers” and any dogs resulting from a mix of these breeds.. We are currently taking the time to study the bill, consult with our legal team, and assess how this will affect our organization and the animals and communities across the province. Once we have a clear idea of our next steps, we will be making a public statement. For more information on why BSL is not a solution to the issue of dangerous dogs, please visit www.saferkindercommunities.com."

12/1/16 UPDATE: Quebec Court of Appeal Reinstates Modified Bylaw (Link)
The lifting of the suspension order means many of the bylaw’s provisions targeting pit bull-type dogs will come into force, including the muzzling.
10/5/16 BIG NEWS UPDATE - Pit Bull Bylaw in Montreal temporarily SUSPENDED by Superior Court judge.  

"During the hearing, Gouin said several aspects of the bylaw presented by the city raised troubling questions, particularly because they appeared to categorize a vast segment of the dog population as dangerous when most of them are not. Gouin noted as well that the city’s definition of “pit bull-type dogs” seemed vague and overly broad, which would unfairly target many pets and their owners." News Link.  

This means that pit bull owners will not have to apply for a special permit or muzzle their dogs, and Montreal shelters can continue to adopt out pit bull dogs while the Montreal SPCA unfolds its full legal appeal to have sections of the bylaw retracted.

UPDATE 10/3/16: Montreal Superior Court says bylaw lacks clarity. Suspends decision about injunction until Wednesday, Oct 5.  News

The Ban's Requirements

Under the new bylaw, owners of pit-bull type dogs, pit-bull mixes or any dog with similar physical characteristics have until Dec. 31 to apply for a special permit with the city, or risk having their dog euthanized. The dogs must be sterilized, micro-chipped and vaccinated for rabies by March 1, 2017. (All dogs regardless of breed must be sterilized and microchipped by Dec. 31, 2019.)

Pit-bull type dogs will have to wear a muzzle while on the streets and in their yards if their fence does not reach a required height. Their owners will have to provide proof they don’t have a criminal record involving violence. Licenses for the dogs will cost $150 a year. Source: National Post.

What we know / Dated October 3, 2016

Montreal has stated that its ban on unowned and unregistered 'pit bulls' will begin on Monday October 3.  However no information has surfaced to help citizens know how it will play out. For example: How will 'pit bulls' be identified? Can citizens request an appeal of their dog has been identified as a pit bull incorrectly? How do pit bull owners prove that they have no criminal record? How will the city enforce the law? - All unknown. News link.

A leading concern is how Montreal city leaders hope to identify pit bulls. Contemporary research has shown that using visual analysis to identify breed type is inaccurate and misleading, so all dogs with blocky heads and short coats could become potential targets for fines, expulsion and death. 

Why was a ban enacted? A woman was killed by her neighbor's dog in her yard in June 2016. The dog had two prior bites on record. Police assumed it was a pit bull however its breed type has not been confirmed. A task force committee was assembled to review contemporary expertise on dog safety and public policy. Their recommendations to seek out alternative solutions to a ban were rejected by city Mayor Coderre.

Information on effective public safety measures from Safer Kinder Communities. 

How can I help?

IMPORTANT: The Montreal SPCA needs financial support to pursue a legal challenge against the ban. Please be generous so they can build a solid case that presents contemporary expertise, peer-reviewed studies, and world trends to the courts.  LINK

UPDATE: A second court challenge is being planned by a Montreal-based coalition of lawyers and experts in animal behavior. LINK

How can I help save a dog from Montreal?

There are no large scale plans to move seized or unowned dogs out of the Province and into the United States as of today. We'll all know more after an injunction filed by the Montreal SPCA today is reviewed by the courts. A judge may agree to block the city's ban long enough to review their lawsuit. This is obviously the best case scenario. A good source for news is the Montreal SPCA's facebook page.

Within Canada: Some at-risk dogs have been moved to Nova Scotia and to Saskatchewan-based rescue groups Prairie Sky Dog Rescue in Regina and Prairie Pooches Rescue in Cando. Link

IMPORTANT: News of the breed ban has created a wave of panic on social media, and many rescue and transport groups have responded by offering to assist. Some groups have launched fundraisers for costs they expect to incur. While the outpouring of help is truly inspiring, be aware that there is no vetting of the groups that have offered to accept dogs, which opens the door to false claims and potential for harm. To ensure the safety of Montreal's dogs as well as the best use of your donation dollars, please be extremely selective with your support.

BADRAP is not currently planning to take displaced Montreal dogs because the number of local helpers is quite large and shipping dogs across the continent does not appear to be a necessary or practical response at this time

A First Goal: Keeping them Home

Prairie Pit bull Rescue in Lethbridge, Alberta announced that they will be working with Montreal-based activists to assist targeted dog owners with resources (spays and neuters, muzzles and financial support) so financially challenged families can keep their dogs. Efforts to keep dogs home - even during less than ideal circumstances - are always preferred over shipping beloved pets off to other places. (Note: Prairie Pit Bull Rescue is one of BADRAP's trusted rescue/transfer partners) PPBR also plans to assist in rescue/transfer efforts of Montreal dogs who do not have homes. New York Bully Crew made same announcement on their facebook page yesterday.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Slice of Summer

A little peek into the goings-on at the Rescue Barn this summer. 

Three of the pups are mixed-breed dogs who were found emaciated and sickly, but are now bouncing back. The husky-x pup - 'Chessa' - came from a breeder who has asked for help with placement and spay/neuter for Chessa's parent dogs. Adult pit bulls Snorkles and Mila make an appearance, as well as mentor dogs Eddie (pit bull) and Elliot and Billie (husky/shepherd mixes). Finally, in the last slide, is the tiny 'Lily,' who is new to our program. All photo credits go to Kathy Kinnear.

Enjoy.




Can't see it? Look here: LINK

Taking on the city: One way to get rabies exemptions for sick dogs

EDIT: This blog post was originally published in 2010. We hope this information is helpful to dog owners with questions about rabies exemptions for their dogs.

___

Several years ago, shortly after getting her vaccinations at a boarding kennel, our pit bull Sally experienced an immuno-collapse that sucked the life out of her and scared the hec out of us. Our once outrageously vivacious pit bull melted into a lethargic lump of swollen glands who could barely raise her head. She developed mast cell cancer soon after. Talk about owner guilt. Although she slowly recovered and has been boosted greatly with diet and holistic care, we decided to stop giving our sick girl her vaccines. None. Our vet fully supports our decision, although we are, technically, breaking the law.

While we need to keep our pet population healthy with standard immunizations, the question has come up: How much is too much? Christie Keith reported on the growing awareness of the downfalls of over vaccinating dogs recently in the SFGate. More and more dog owners are willing to curb some or all of their dog's vaccines - for chronically sick dogs especially - but the decision to stop rabies vaccines makes outlaws out of us in places where rabies renewal is mandated by law.

Solving this conundrum has to involve amending our animal laws to include exceptions, which is a tall order. This is why we were so impressed when one of our longtime friends - Susi Allen of Monterey - took on her city in order to save her sick dog from a potentially damaging requirement.


Susi's dog Bunny (above) was diagnosed with chronic colitis shortly after being adopted from an east bay shelter. Treating this uncomfortable disorder - which is an inflammation of the large intestine - can involve an exhausting search for solutions with frustrating set backs as the condition cycles through repeat flare ups. Susi found help with nutritional therapy, but she and her veterinarian both felt that a rabies vaccine would exacerbate Bunny's symptoms and make her sick all over again, so Susi decided to skip the shot when she was due. The problem was, Bunny's vet was powerless to help Susi sidestep the law that mandates rabies renewal for all dogs in her city. That's when this pit bull mama got busy. She was kind enough to outline her adventures with local legislation with us ...

"I contacted Dr. Ila Davis, Supervising Veterinarian for Monterey County, to ask about obtaining a medical exemption from the rabies vaccine. Dr. Davis was very sympathetic, but said a rabies titer would not be accepted in lieu of a vaccine shot. So I contacted the City of Monterey Animal Control Officer, Cathi Cristobal, and explained the situation. Not only did she completely understand the situation, she said she would accept a letter from my vet indicating a vaccine could be detrimental to Bunny’s health in lieu of a current rabies certificate and issue Bunny a one year dog license.

About a month prior to the dog license renewal, Bunny was given a rabies titer, which resulted in a 1:95 reading. The Centers for Disease Control considers a result of 1:5 to be adequate in humans. This was a 50 lb. dog with a 1:95! My vet wrote a letter attesting to Bunny’s health and requesting exemption from any further rabies vaccines.

I took a copy of the letter, the titer results and my dog license renewal notice to the city Finance Department and was told they would not issue the $9.00 dog license without the rabies certificate. There was nothing AC Officer Cristobal could do. At this point I decided my only option was to PANIC! I had to either have my dog injected with a vaccine that could potentially exacerbate her already severe medical condition (or potentially kill her), OR I could not license her and run the risk of having her confiscated under city ordinance for having an unlicensed, unvaccinated dog.

Officer Cristobal suggested I appear before the City Council, requesting an exemption to the city ordinance requiring rabies vaccines. I couldn’t do it because then I’m calling attention to the fact that I have an unlicensed dog and am violating the current city ordinance. And did I mention Bunny is a pit bull?"

Susi red flagged an email to Gary Tiscornia, Executive Director of the SPCA for Monterey County, asking for advice. She said, "He responded with several suggestions, one of which Dr. Carol Iida, the SPCA vet suggested: contact the state vet, Dr. Ben Sun. Amanda Mouisset, the Animal Behaviorist at the SPCA (and my supervisor), mentioned legislation she recently heard about which would allow an exemption from the rabies vaccine for sick animals: AB2000. After reseaching AB2000, I contacted Dr. W. Jean Dodds (Rabies Challenge Fund). Dr. Dodds was sympathetic but told me that even dogs with terminal cancer were not exempt from the vaccine. Her website states it’s possible to obtain a waiver from the vaccine, although they are often not permitted regardless of the justification. Dr. Dodds provided me with additional research material but not a lot of hope.

I contacted Dr. Ben Sun, the State Public Health Veterinarian, to explain my situation and ask, at Dr. Iida’s suggestion, how he felt AB2000 would be implemented if passed. I also asked about the rabies vaccine itself, which the manufacturers state should only be administered to healthy animals: what conditions or symptoms need to be present to constitute a legally un-healthy animal to which the rabies vaccine should not be given? I had read some of Dr. Sun’s work and knew he didn’t hold titer results in high regard.

Dr. Sun responded quickly and provided a lot of interesting, thought-provoking information. He said he was not aware of a list of diseases or conditions that would be a contraindication to rabies vaccine. There’s that Catch 22 again: the manufacturers of the vaccines state it must only be administered to healthy animals, BUT there is no method of defining a legal unhealthy, and thus, exempt, animal.

After a few more emails, Dr. Sun told me there were several cities/counties in the state that have exemption ordinances. What? Really? He gave me the list and I contacted AC Officer Cristobal, who had now announced her impending retirement. I volunteered to collect the information if she thought it would help. Within a day, I dropped off a large package of information for her at the Monterey PD, containing each localities’ ordinance highlighted and a suggestion that the exempted dog not be confined to the owner’s property, but allowed in public under constant restraint (a leash).

Officer Cristobal sent me an email stating Deputy Chief Phil Penko was drafting an ordinance for presentation to the City Council. A few days later she sent me a copy of the draft. It would be heard at the May 4th meeting, the day after Officer Cristobal retires. I attended the City Council meeting and the exemption ordinance was a consent item. The Mayor asked if any of the council members objected to any of the consent items, and no one objected to the proposed ordinance….so then it needed to be heard again at the next council meeting. I attended that one also on May 18th. Again, nobody objected and it passed! It passed. I still am in shock….it passed!

I have an email from Deputy Chief Penko stating Bunny is covered under the new ordinance and am awaiting a letter from the Police Chief. I carry a copy of the ordinance, the email from DC Penko, the letter from my vet and the titer results with me whenever I walk Bunny. There are duplicate copies in the glove box of the car. ..."

Shortly after writing her experience, Susi's hard work paid off .. She wrote again to say, "IT'S ON THE BOOKS! The City of Monterey Code includes the Rabies Exemption!! Sec 6-13 has been amended to include the exemption language. The new ordinance went into effect 6/18/10. I'm still waiting for a letter from the Chief of Police giving me the authorization to allow me to pay the dog license.....but hey, it's only been a month. It'll happen....!"

We have to salute Bunny for inspiring her diehard owner to step up and champion for sick dogs in her city. Rock on Susi! Monterey City - you got it right, and you didn't wait to see what Sacramento was going to do with AB2000 (below) before you changed your law. BRAVO.

The state of California is considering AB2000, a bill that would allow for an exemption of a rabies license with a veterinarian's permission. The facebook page of the Rabies Challenge Fund is posting updates.