Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Riverside County: The bite prevention effort that isn't

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

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

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

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 Naturally, the ordinance attracted heated criticism from the public who lamented the use of a tired, outdated strategy that targets under resourced dog owners.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

It's not working

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

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

“You need to be educated on it"

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

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

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

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

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

Dog safety. It's big picture.

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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



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


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


All dogs go home with cones and pain medication.


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


Thursday, July 31, 2014

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

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

PHOTO Album from the event.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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





Tuesday, July 08, 2014

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


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

Right: Graphic & Info Huffington Post & Sophia Yin

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

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

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

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

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

Pit Bulls: Top five most popular 'breeds'

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

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

Web traffic = Job security 

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

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

In a Hot Hurry

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

URGENT. I’m writing a piece on whether or not pit bulls are dangerous for 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.

UPDATE 9/14: The surviving dogs have all been released to rescue and the men who harmed them received their sentences for felony dog fighting. LINK

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.