Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hubby brag: Tim the Carver.

An article came out about my hubby today that had (almost) nothing to do with pit bulls. Almost! We can't get away from them completely. The sfgate piece was about what Tim calls his "real job."


Some may know that Tim is a wood sculptor and he's usually creating dog portraits in between his never-ending duties with BR, but you may not know that when he first told me that he wanted to carve dogs for a living, I broke down and cried. ("You want to do WHAT? How will we survive? - Sob")

Then again, I have a feeling Tim may have wanted to cry when I told him we were going to start a pit bull advocacy group. Ha! Oh blissful ignorance.

Our girl Sally was his first model. Like so many pit bulls, it's hard not to marvel at her gorgeous body - especially for a trained artist like Tim who has a keen appreciation for form. He chased her around for days on end when he decided to carve her, studied and measured every nuance of her frame, then he got to work. Once his carving was done, it was pretty clear that he'd found his medium, and that I didn't have to cry anymore.

He still struggles to get his "real work" done though; each piece takes up to 700 hours to complete, and those hours are usually spent very late in the evening, long after the phones have quieted and BR's work is done. With all the recent pit bull-related dramas and demands, that means he's usually only able to get two to three pieces done a year. Although he's hell bent on increasing his numbers in 2010 ... Once the barn is ready and the dog fight busts slow down just a wee bit, that is. Riiight. Like our Pit Ed classes, there's a wait list for Tim's art and he's always a little bit stressed about keeping a healthy balance. Such is life, eh?

Photo below; Anne Truitt

Then there are always the foster dogs who live nearly full time in his shop and bring a mix of big fun and major frustration. They help themselves to wood chip chew toys and run zoomies around his workbench. He's gotten used to setting his chisels down to wipe up pee or to mitigate a rowdy play session. And no, so far nobody's been accidentally stabbed by a sharp chisel, although that always amazes me considering the mix of rowdy dogs and sharp carving tools in a relatively tight space. Occasionally the dogs do something really naughty though, like steal an important drawing and turn it into confetti. Those are the days that we get really reeeally excited about watching the barn's (slow but steady) construction progress, altho even when the barn is up and running, I'm betting there will always be a dog in Tim's shop, at least for a small part of the day.

Right: This is a carving of Jane Berkey's girl Petal. Painted by the inimitable artist, Pam Hessey

I was peacock proud when this article came out about Tim as the artist rather than Tim the pit bull guy. It feels great to see him appreciated for his other, artsy fartsy side. Yep, that's my guy.

Here's Tim's website for more peeks at his late night creations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yes - It was all an evil plot

We fell hard for Phatman when we first spotted him as a dirty stray at Oakland Animal Services.

Big, luggy, mixy Phatman. What a mench he was. He charmed us with his warm enthusiasm and melted us all over the floor when he greeted a group of visiting autistic kids like the world's best ever amateur therapy dog. When he started getting depressed at the shelter, Tim and I took him home to let him chill out while we looked for a foster spot.

Luckily, his next stop was with Cindy. We sorta knew that when he went off to live with her "for foster" that he was home for keeps, but we tried really reeeally hard not to make it sound like one of our evil plots when we turned him over.

Okay - Cindy - I have to confess in public in front of doG and everyone, that it was a plot. This treasure of a dog had had a few near-miss adoptions but each time, he told us that he was supposed to be with somebody else. Tim and Linda and I scratched our heads to figure out who that might be and then one day, after Squeeks had been placed and you were ready for a another - voila! - it hit us. Yeesssss. Cindy. Warm, sensitive, big hearted Cindy for the warm, sensitive big-hearted Phatman. But of course. Exxxxcellent.

So Phatman went home to be * cough cough * fostered, and we stood back and smiled big each week in class as they became more and more bonded. He gooed for her and smiled at her and leaned into her in between class drills like a lovesick pup. Perrrrfect...Muahahaha.

Sadly, Cindy's husband Neil suffered a bad injury in a bike accident and wound up in the hospital for an extended stay. She found herself spending many lonely nights alone, worried about her man who'd just had the biggest scare of his life. Phatman, who had always kept vigil outside the bedroom door, decided it was time to come on in and lay down next to mom and comfort her. What a good boy.

Neil made a full recovery and walked out of the hospital with a plan. He announced (paraphrasing here) "I've been given a second lease on life. We need to travel and see the country." And so they are. They gave up their house and jobs and got themselves ready for a big cross country adventure. Cindy was nervous about asking us if we would mind if Phatman came along on their journey. Are you kidding? It's every rescuer's dream to see the dogs move on to live life large and happy.

And so off they go, to brave new adventures. We said good-bye to them on Saturday and don't really know when we'll see them again. We kissed Phatman and told him how proud we were of him, and of course his new mom Cindy got a big round of hugs. It feels so good.

Bon Voyage to this road ramblin' family! We're so happy to know that you'll be seeing the world together.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More history making. This time from NACA

NACA = National Animal Control Association
In this blog post, an interview with NACA Rep Mark Kumpf about a progressive new position statement that will help bring victims of cruelty out of the dark shadows and into a new age of compassion. Big stuff here, guys.

You may have heard us lament about some of Vick's shyer dogs who were further compromised by their long and stressful six month confinement in the shelter that housed them. Without enrichments, human companionship or a chance to exercise, high drive Uba, for example, was so emotionally fried that he pancaked to the ground in a low-grade panic when he finally got out of his kennel.

And Best Friend's handsome 'Oliver' (above) was so stressed that he literally vomited when the eval team first brought him outside. These boys have each been adopted and are making dramatic improvements, but we always have to wonder "What if?" their time in lock-down had been shorter and/or had included some comforts while they waited?

Their shelter was following an old school belief that saw bust dogs strictly as inanimate evidence - meant to be gathered, stored, and destroyed once legal proceedings wrapped up. That viewpoint was so ingrained that it took the push of the fed gov't via court appointed special guardian Rebecca Huss to convince the shelter management that, Yes, they really did have to allow BR volunteer Nicole Rattay (above) in to offer enrichments during the final leg of their wait.

Times are a changin' though, and more and more shelters that house animal victims of cruelty are voluntarily exchanging outdated ideas for healthier, more progressive practices that give dogs comfort, provide for evaluations and, in many cases, an opportunity to join an adoption program.

That trend is about to get a big boost from NACA - National Animal Control Association - the guiding leader in animal protection and control. NACA sets the tone for public shelters especially around the country. Their stated mission "is to define and promote professionalism in the animal protection care and humane law enforcement field by providing quality services, education, training, and support."

We first met NACA's then-president Mark Kumpf at a meeting at the 2009 Humane Society United States Expo in Las Vegas. As many know, this meeting signaled HSUS' new policy that (now) supports evaluations for bust dogs, and it resulted in a coalition called Victims of Cruelty Working Group. We didn't have much experience with NACA leadership at the time, but knew their perspective was one of the most important viewpoints at the crowded Vegas table due to the simple fact that they represent the thousands of shelters around the country that are charged with housing dogs right after a cruelty bust, sometimes for months or years on end while court proceedings drag on. It was music to our ears then when Mark spoke up for changes and passionately advocated on behalf of the dogs who suffer their circumstances through no fault of their own.

That compassion for the dogs rolled into several task force meetings and discussions about the need for guidelines that promote better practices. Inspired by a draft now being penciled by the American Bar Association, NACA has launched a most progressive set of guidelines for the disposition of animal cruelty victims.

Read in full here, but before you let your eyes get sleepy - remember! - as dry as policy can sound on paper, this position statement is an important piece of animal welfare history, for targeted breeds like pit bulls especially. An animal control directive that treats victims of fights busts just like other cruelty victims and urges enrichments, exercise, evaluations - and whenever possible, rescue or adoption placement - would have been unheard of just a few years ago. It's a great day to see pit bulls get a seat on the bus as NACA raises the bar for the animal welfare community.

National Animal Control Association Guideline Statement
Disposition of Animals - Cruelty Cases

Animal control agencies should implement comprehensive policies for the seizure, care and disposition of animals resulting from all types of cruelty cases recognizing them as victims of crimes including but not limited to abuse, neglect, hoarding and animal fighting. Such policies should address care, housing, evaluation, treatment and disposition utilizing all available resources in cooperation with .... MORE

Tell us more.

We were so encouraged to see NACA's statement and asked Mark to help our readers understand some of the nuances. In this short interview, he calls for balance and agency cooperation. And he explains why local animal lovers (you, me, our homies) need to be proactive partners when shelters absorb cruelty victims in order to help them shoulder the often enormous task of meeting the needs of animals. In some states, that will involve educating district attorneys and judges, and even working to change laws that now bog the process down, forcing dogs to suffer lengthy confinement before finally being euthanized in many cases ... But, let's let Mark explain:

BR: What was behind NACA's decision to create a set of guidelines for the disposition of cruelty case victims?

Mark Kumpf: NACA has long advocated for positive outcomes for the animals our members deal with on a daily basis. Animal victims of cruelty cases present the greatest challenges to the agencies charged with enforcing animal laws. Up to this point, no major organization has advocated for a comprehensive guideline addressing the disposition of animals from these cases. NACA's involvement with the Victims of Cruelty Working Group has clearly identified a need for a guideline that agencies nationwide can use as a template for dealing positively with these types of cases.

In the past and even now, the agencies handling the enforcement have faced criticism from all fronts as the unfortunate result for most animals has been euthanasia. This guideline seeks a balance so that all groups can work together and recognize that euthanasia is not the only outcome. Cooperation is the key to seeing more animals successfully placed but it is also the key supporting the agencies who face these cases every day.

Above: Lara Peterson from A Rotta Love Plus examining a fight bust victim at Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

BR: These are industry best practice standards, not mandatory regulations. Outside of circulating this document, how will NACA encourage and support its members to implement these practices?

MK: NACA will promote this guideline in future editions of the NACA News as well as online at our website. As members and agencies encounter these cases, they can seek written support from NACA which, in keeping with our guidelines, can be offered to administrations, law enforcement, the judiciary and others to educate them about alternatives and options that are available. NACA has always encouraged its members to be proactive and creative to improve conditions for our members, their communities and the animals they protect.

BR: The document encourages minimizing animal holding periods. Can you describe a "best case scenario" for expediting the legal process for seized animals?

MK: When dealing with animal holding periods, the best case involves prompt collection of any evidence needed including forensic, photographic, or medical. Animals themselves should not be considered "evidence" past the point that all of the needed materials are gathered. Unlike inanimate objects, long-term care for animals is often detrimental. Agencies should seek custody of any animals seized through a legal forfeiture process established for that purpose and, if custody is gained, them make prompt arrangements to evaluate each animal individually to determine if it can be placed. Other animal organizations need to be ready to immediately support these actions and assist with locating appropriate placements. If placement is not forthcoming, again, both the investigating agency and the other animal organizations need to have a professional approach when discussing outcomes.

Expediting the legal process may actually require legislative changes. Agencies and organizations should review their existing laws and then look to states with procedures already included in law such as Virginia and Ohio. Setting a time line for hearings and such helps reduce the amount of time animals spend in limbo waiting for a final disposition. It is also critical that the judiciary (Judges and Prosecutors) be educated on these issues. Often, they only deal with evidence that does not require care and feeding; therefore, their rulings (and delays in same) frequently overlook the animals themselves. Citizens often have more impact when contacting legislative representatives and are encouraged to meet with their local animal care & control staff to see what changes that they could be most helpful with based on needs in the community.

BR: Which part of these guidelines do you anticipate will be the hardest for shelters to meet, and what can communities do to support their efforts?

MK: Many communities will be hard pressed to find resources and appropriate placement for victims of animal fighting ventures. Often these dogs face the most negative publicity and are difficult to place in appropriate homes. The guidelines overall should not represent any insurmountable obstacles as they are founded on the obligations that any responsible owner should provide for their personal animals. Humane care, proper food, exercise and medical treatment are all things that should be provided by law.

Communities can support the efforts by being a positive, cooperative voice advocating for appropriate funding, housing and care for animals from cruelty cases. Supporting training and professional standards for animal care & control staff has a positive impact on cases as well. In many cases, animal shelters and staff are the last on the funding list for localities. NACA also supports animal shelters and their inclusion in facility updates and improvements. Animals, their housing and the staff charged with enforcement and care all need to be priorities for communities.

Photo above: A favorite toy for a waiting bust dog at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa

Thank you, Mark.
We look forward to working with NACA members to help reach the goals in this document.

Mark Kumpf is the Director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center in Dayton Ohio. He represents NACA on the six man Victims of Cruelty Working Group team along with the ASPCA, Animal Farm Foundation, BAD RAP, Best Friends, Humane Society United States.

For more reading:
Lessons from the custody dogs. An interview with ACO Laurie Adams on enrichment.
Partners in Shelter Services for training information.
Give A Dog a Bone enrichment program.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

a sad good-bye to two dear friends

We lost two special souls to health issues recently. Both were from the big bust in Kay County, Oklahoma in winter '08. They were everybody's favorite survivors, so writing this blog post was rather hard.


They say when you save someone's life, you're responsible for them for the rest of their life. That rang through my head recently when we heard that Effie was being returned by her Berkeley Animal Shelter adopter, who was unable to meet her needs. We went into fix-it mode when we got the news. What do we do? Who can make some quick room? The news was especially hard on Donyale, who took Effie off of a frozen chain in Oklahoma a year ago December.

Effie had to be the oldest dog in this horrific 2008 cruelty case. She was missing most of her teeth and was starting to show cataracts. There's no way she would've survived much more of this deep freeze if hunters hadn't stumbled across this massive yard full of chained dogs. But then, she had to survive us.

With a big storm behind us and another one on its way, we could only grab a handful of dogs out of harm's way. There was nowhere to bring them to thaw and sort out personalities, a big rig from Best Friends was caught in snow and still two days away. And the town's sheriff was there to remind us: With more bad weather on its way, it was time to shut the yard down - now. It was impossible to think of choosing dogs under these conditions, but impossible to sit home and let them all be lost. Thank god MABBR was there too, not only for moral support but with a van ready to take several dogs away to their program. Even so, selecting a small group of dogs and helping a local vet put the rest to sleep was an obscene assault on any rescuer's heart.

This was Donyale's first cruelty case but it was great to have her along because she knows the breed well, and she's able to think on her feet in really crappy and stressful situations. I knew she wasn't going to have a melt-down where we needed to be focused and make smart decisions, but I didn't expect her to say "Let's take this one!" when we passed the older red dog on the chain. She was right though - Effie wanted to connect in a big way, and she oozed into our arms all stinky and tattered, like only an old world pit bull can do. She was destined to come to California and the live the life of a princess, first in the shelter, and then perched on the sofa of a home that would later spoil her rotten.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. Surrendered by her sobbing owner (long story), Effie hopscotched over the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society where the shelter vet staff detected a time bomb: Effie had an enlarged liver and a telltale tumor on her vulva. Emails flew back and forth, and we worked out a compassion hold for the sick girl. She was going to spend a couple of warm weeks in front of the fire at Ana Poe's collar store, and we were going to get some time to fawn over here and take her for hamburgers and practice saying good-bye. But instead, her condition took a nose-dive and - just last night - the decision was made to let her go. She passed on in peace, and all around the bay area, Effie fans sobbed in their hands.

She was braver than brave, more beautiful than a champion show dog, and very much loved. Her abuser, who saw fit to leave a hundred dying dogs on chains with no food or water in freezing temperatures is set to be tried on May 25. I don't know how much Effie remembered from that place, but she refused to let it stop her from soaking up every bit of luxury in her new life. - Donna


We lost Nelly a few weeks ago, but it has been just too hard to talk about until now. I asked Tim to write her little memorial, especially since they adored each other. This has been a tough winter, my friends. We so look forward to happier days this spring.

Donna left me behind with a bottle of painkillers to nurse a frozen shoulder when she went out to Oklahoma with Donyale. She phoned when she was there to tell me about the dogs they'd found at the massive cruelty case mentioned above. There was a change in the tone of her voice when she began to describe one of the dogs ...

“Well I’ve never seen a dog like this before... she’s missing her nose. Her legs are bowed, she’s partly bald, her toes are splayed, and the guy cut off her ears in one cut so she looks like a gargoyle. She’s been bred repeatedly, is coughing and sick. We don’t have a spot for her, but I can’t leave her behind to die here after surviving this hell. We can at least give her a compassion hold for a couple of weeks if we can’t find a spot for her to convalesce."

I couldn't imagine what was coming, but she sounded very special. Below is a little video Donna shot in the hotel room that night. Nelly had only been off her chain a couple of hours. After a warm bath, this was her first experience with a bed.

When we got her back to California, Nelly tested positive for Babesiosis, an incurable Malaria-like blood parasite not uncommon to dogs used as fighters. This fact combined with her serious birth defect (she could hardly breath) made her survival nothing short of a miracle. Even with these problems, she gave us all the impression that she could live forever so we decided to believe her and committed to doing everything we could to improve her chances and give her a good life. A surgery to open her nasal passages failed, but Nelly reminded us daily that she could power on despite her discomfort.

The Dragon Princess went to live with trainer Sara and her beau Jared for her final months and played non-stop with their dog Leroy and Ambassadog Aberfoil. Her greatest day was at the San Francisco Pride Parade last summer as she walked to the cheers of thousands, in a pink tutu. She was accustomed to being fawned over and couldn’t walk down the street without attracting a small crowd - which she loved, of course.

Everyone commented on her eyes – those soulful saucers that looked right into you and patiently waited for you to bend down and give her what she had missed out on for so long. I can’t think of Nelly without picturing her wagging her entire torso. A tail wag was just not enough to express the joy this little girl had bottled up inside her. “Optimistic” is an understatement if used to describe the beautiful Nelly. She was a creature whose sheer joie de vivre cheated death for years and made it possible for her to live her final year in a relaxed, peaceful state of well being.

Many years ago in Jamaica a man speaking about Bob Marley told us “there will never be another Bob.” I’ll always feel the same way about Miss Nelly. Rest in peace, little darling. You were one of a kind. - Tim

big hearts, busy at work: 3 projects you should know about

We meet up with some incredibly kind and generous people during our work. Here are three projects that deserve support...

The Photo Book Projects

Photographer Melissa McDaniel is hoping to raise 300K for animal groups around the country with the sale of her new photo book. Right now, when you pre-order her dog book, BAD RAP will receive 30% of the proceeds. That's incredible. We love what her eye saw with V-dog Hector and look forward to seeing the other dogs in her book. The Photo Book Projects On behalf of so many animals, thank you Melissa!

The Unexpected in Haiti

You may know that the good people at the Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar donate all of the profits from their calendar sales to pit bull focused organizations. Their generosity is helping us buy the kennels we need for our barn project. (bless you sweet people!) Now they want to extend their compassion to Haiti. From now through the end of February, they are using the last of their calendars to help the animals of Haiti...

"While we've been so fortunate this year, there are others who have not been so lucky. Among those facing hardships this year are the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti. We will be selling our surplus calendars - which we usually print for promotional purposes - to raise funds for the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH). In order to sell as many calendars as possible for this cause, we will offer them at $10 each. 100% of the proceeds from all calendar sales through the end of February, 2010 will be donated to ARCH." - from the Unexpected Pit Bull homepage

-- Get the Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar here.

Grassroots Compassion in Iran

A favorite BR adopter has been helping wayward dogs since before we met her, so we weren't surprised when she started reaching out to the one and only animal shelter in her native country of Iran.

Farah Ravon is headed back for another visit next month and is asking fellow dog lovers to help her help this country's critically under-resourced shelter. She's planning to bring two dogs back to waiting homes and is currently in great need of two 400 series vari-kennels for their flight. On her way out, she hopes to stuff those crates with things the shelter can use: dog toys, leashes, collars. And of course, they can always use monetary donations to buy the food and the s/n surgeries that are so desperately needed. Won't you please help her? She's one of the most generous people we know and this is certainly a deserving project. This compelling slideshow from the shelter makes me want to put my life on hold and dash out there to help...
Vafa Shelter
Here is the facebook page for Vafa's ongoing efforts - Vafa Facebook - so you can watch and see where your donations are going. Contact Farah about helping with a vari-kennel and/or gifts to the shelter. Thank you.

If your pockets are too lean at the moment, thank you for sending your good vibes and for sharing this blog post around to other animal lovers!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

wednesday repeat: Newman does a handstand

It feels like a good day to do a handstand. Again. This blog post favorite shows BR Ambassadog trainer Sara Scott keeping Newman entertained with a new - ahem - trick(?) while he waited for a home in the Oakland Animal Shelter. We think it worked. Newman kept his little brains together until he was adopted, shortly after mastering this zen master yoga move.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Talk to us. Valentine's Day chat on 9pm ET

Tim and I will be joining Christie Keith for a streaming audio chat on all things pit bull this coming Sunday, Feb 14. 9pm ET

This should be fun. Many thanks to for giving pit bulls a seat at the table. Chat Info

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When finding a home just isn't enough

Over thirty people showed up in chilly temps last month to attend our orientation for Pit Ed Class. It can be hard to hear through the winter winds in this outdoor space, but the crowd leaned in close to soak up the first important lesson. Some had been waiting for up to six months for a spot in this class, so were understandably ready to listen up and get on with this thing. Most wanted help for the same kinds of issues - their dogs were spazzing out on leash, ignoring direction, reacting to other dogs, or getting destructive at home, etc - You know? those normal things that nearly every home struggles with at some point during their dog's adolescence.

No one really wants a dog that acts like an ass, pit bull owners especially. Non-pits might get a free pass from animal control and/or their neighbors for first offenses, but the same will put a perfectly wonderful pit bull in dangerous cross hairs, especially if his owner is anything less than stubbornly committed to working out the kinks in his stewardship. Breed scrutiny is so not fair, but it is a reality still.

We run five separate classes each weekend, and see up to 60 dogs on busy days. With so many people moving through, we get to enjoy dogs from every corner of the bay and every situation imaginable: Found dogs, inherited dogs, big money purchased dogs, fostered and adopted dogs, mixy dogs, stable dogs, sketchy dogs, my-brother-went-to-jail dogs and lots and lots of my-kid-moved-out-and-left-me-with-this-big-unruly-problem dogs (those are usually attached to pissed off and very determined middle age women who kick ass and excel in class).

As much fun as it can be, Saturdays never come without a few disappointments, especially with dogs that are in danger of losing their homes. We want so much for everybody to do well, but some owners struggle more than others and occasionally, class is too little too late. You might guess that our bigger challenges might come from the street kid with the beefy he-man dog, but, not at all. We love having these guys in class and we share their pride in owning a big sexy, well trained dog that turns heads.

Great expectations...

Our toughest cases tend to come from a whole other subset: the well intentioned but totally mis-matched shelter adopters and their new-ish dogs, many which are scooped up in a brave and exciting rush to save a life. This honorable approach to getting a pet has gotten more popular as rescue dogs earn status in the public eye. But a rushed adoption can bring big headaches if a home isn't fully prepared and supported. In some cases, an adopter's expectations can be overly romantic and wildly unrealistic and can domino them into all sorts of avoidable problems with their dog. They might find themselves struggling with a personality that is beyond what they can handle and not even realize that they need help until after their new dog gets into trouble a few times. Even sadder, they may have actually selected this pet out from a line-up of hundreds of more appropriate personalities. Life seems to like lobbing curve balls at people just to keep things interesting.

Don't get me wrong. We absolutely love helping people get on the right path with their dogs - sometimes all the way to CGC fame - but it can be discouraging to count the number of homes on our Pit Ed class wait list that need emergency support so soon after "saving" their dogs from a local shelter or rescue group. It's fun to think of shelter adoptions as a blissful event and walk into the happy sunset for both the dog and his new family. But their honeymoon can end days or weeks after the fact when untrained dogs fall back into some of the same behaviors that caused their original homes to give them up in the first place.

We're resigned to spending a part of our week on adoption clean-up duty, and we do our best to help struggling owners get the information they need to be good stewards. In many cases, the classes make all the difference but sometimes we're not so lucky and a home gives up on its pet before we can help them with changes. Those are the situations that twist our stomachs in knots and drove me to write this particular blog.

Of course it's never a dog's fault when an adoption goes south. Overwhelmed shelters can get itchy to move dogs out, and adopters know how to say all the right things to someone who's worried about a stressing dog and/or dwindling kennel space. And rescues know that promoting death row dogs with pleading ads can bring last minute miracles from big hearted sorts who graze the Craigslist Pets page. While these approaches can certainly get dogs into homes, they can also set an adopter on a very difficult path that they may or may not be able to navigate.

Whose job is it to keep dogs in their homes?

I had to wonder if animal behaviorist Ian Dunbar has been experiencing some of the same failed-adoption frustrations when I read his January column in Bay Woof. He wrote that last month was "National Train Your Dog Month," but instead of pointing his message at dog owners, he put out a compelling challenge to shelters and other dog advocates.

He said, "To minimize the unnecessary deaths of countless dogs, all Bay Area doggy professionals must unite to proactively educate.." We always perk up for a call to arms for proactive education and Dunbar's words couldn't have rung truer.

"...far too many dogs are surrendered to shelters because their owners were unaware of how to prevent predictable puppy/adolescent behavior, temperament, and training problems. Without appropriate education, unlucky pups are likely to be surrendered to shelters before their first birthdays. Today's science-based dog trainers have all the answers, yet, sadly, few people seek their advice until problems develop.

We can only decrease euthanasia in public and private shelters by decreasing shelter populations. This can only occur when we Increase Shelter Output (adoptions) by refining behavior rehabilitation programs in shelters AND Decrease Shelter Input by teaching prospective and new puppy owners how to raise their pups to be charming and cherished companions. The latter option is quicker, easier, and cheaper." - Ian Dunbar quoted in Bay Woof

The behavior mod programs he's promoting may look like an unreachable luxury to busy shelters whose main goal is to get dogs out the door. And teaching prospective dog owners how to prevent classic behavior problems can certainly seem like "someone else's job" to an organization that's flooded with animals. But as difficult as these goals can be, embracing these efforts is vital to keeping disenfranchised dogs - pit bulls especially - safe and supported and out of the shelters a second or third and final time. In some cases, shelters are unaware when some of the favorite dogs they worked so hard to save end up back in danger of dying in another overwhelmed shelter, in another county with never enough adopters. It happens often enough for us to join Dunbar's trumpet call to animal care professionals to reform ways we all work to adopt out dogs and - especially - to help them stick in their new homes.

Berkeley gets it.

There are reasons to feel optimistic about possibilities. One of the best examples is in Berkeley - the town that we bragged about some time ago for its ongoing work to help pit bulls and to create a sustainable balance for the pets in its community.

Berkeley can drive me nuts at times (It's still legal to walk your dog on an invisible voice-command-only leash. Yep, for real), but we have to give this city of idealists a mountain of credit for actually wanting a system that supports pit bulls and other pets in crisis, and then for keeping that goal front and center for several years until it started to gel. That includes everything from working to meet dogs' needs while in the shelter, supporting home visits and owner education in front of adoptions, and training and information after the dog goes home. Their system is far from perfect, but they continue to offer one of the best Shelter Adoption models we've seen for pit bulls, and we stay committed to giving them a good chunk of our weekend for that reason.

The alternative is just more of this. From a recent email to BR (names deleted to protect the well-intentioned):

"Hello. I adopted my dog from the ____ shelter 4 months ago. The volunteers showed her to be fun-loving and sweet around children, so we brought her home. However, we are seriously considering turning her back in based on her repeated door dashing and attacking cats and dogs in the neighborhood. Just Saturday she attacked a dog walking on a leash and the woman walking her was frightened and angry. She is very difficult on leash and I'm at my wits end." - shelter adopter

It's doubtful anyone would want a dog that's this poorly managed in their neighborhood (I wouldn't), but a simple home visit and fence check would've helped the dog and her new owner tremendously. And at least one mandatory training class. Why not? Especially if it saves a life. In the meantime, this dog is in danger again and other pets have been put in harm's way. (Note to any pit bull haters who may be grazing: This situation isn't a "pit bull thing." Trainers get these kinds of notes every day from owners of every breed imaginable ... but only one breed will be systematically singled out and condemned for it.)

Here's a scenario we love to see:

Kim wanted a pit bull but also knew that she'd need support since she was new to the breed. A Berkeley Shelter staffer considered her wish list and intro-ed her to an immature male named Jake. She fell in love, got home checked, adopted, then started BR's Berkeley-based classes and got her boy trained and socialized. Nice.

But Chapter Two is even more important: Nature came calling as Jake was maturing from a young dopey pup to a strapping adult, and one day he decided to puff up and spark at another dog. No big deal -- it looks bad, but this very manageable show of bravado happens to the best of dogs. Our trainer Linda got to see the whole thing and gave Kim quick advice and a gameplan to help her be a better leader and to steer her boy off the path of being a nuisance. That support helped her take her commitment one step further and she and Jake soon earned a Canine Good Citizen title together. Without Berkeley's vision, Kim might've found herself alone with a dog that sparks at dogs as habit, the breed would've taken a hit ("bad, scary pit bull") and in the end, a shelter might've received yet another out of control adolescent that staff decided to euthanized. But they won't. Thank you Berkeley.

Maddies Fund is Watching

Maddies Fund recognized Berkeley's shelters recently, and promoted their effort with this lovely article. We were so happy to see the template spelled out so cleanly. Berkeley Jams on Pit Bull Adoptions
"The biggest problem facing homeless pit bulls is the lack of accurate information," said Kersey. "How you educate people is crucial, so it's equally crucial that you first educate your staff and volunteers to do a good job talking about the dogs." - Sara Kersey, Berkeley East Bay Humane Society

My one quibble is the headline: "Solving the Pit Bull Problem." Maddies, with all due respect, pit bulls aren't the problem. But they certainly experience problems when their people fail them. Other than that, some great quotes and hopefully, some inspiration in here for other shelters who are struggling with similar issues.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The nose knows! Space needed for nose work.

Canine Nose Work is all the rage in our corners. This fab new dog sport gives our furry noodle brains a real work out, which can only be a good thing. It's great for giving shy dogs a confidence boost and for breaking the doldrums of shelter life. It's also the perfect sport for dogs that can't go off-lead. (More info:

Trainer Linda Chwistek is getting ready to hold a workshop just for pit bull people, but first we need to find the right indoor space. Do you have any ideas? A warehouse type space or large training room? This is Linda's wish list, and below, a little video that shows her working her boy Aldo on a hidden scent. Thanks for any leads!

Nose Work Workshop Wish List
A large fairly empty space with floors that aren't too slippery.
Reasonable rent or - hec - we'll take free!
Available parking.
A bathroom would be nice (yes it would)
A small space outdoors for the dogs to relieve themselves.
Preference would be for Sat or Sunday afternoon availability, or a safe location if the building is available only in dark evening hours.
A location as far north as Vallejo, as far south as Berkeley, and as far east as Walnut Creek/Concord/Pleasant Hill.
Please contact Linda with any leads.

Nose photo snapped by Andre Hermann