Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bungee Jumping in Ohio - When smaller events are bigger than life

Twelve plus years into this project, and so much of our work feels routine that activities that used to get our blood going seem like no-big-deal anymore. Like, giving interviews or arranging tricky long distance transport for dogs or massaging dicey play sessions between unlikely dog pairs until they form lasting, trustworthy friendships. Very fun and fulfilling, but not roller coaster thrilling like in years past. These things are part of the job, so to speak.

So lacking bungee-jump moments, it's fun to feel that occasional gut twist now and again just to remind us that much is still new in this work, and to keep us on our toes of course. See that (bad) photo of me? I may look composed but a quiet freak-out is slowly bubbling its way to my surface, just out of view - I hope.

Tim shot it in Cleveland last week, where we were kindly hosted by the Cleveland Animal Protective League to present a three day Pit Bull Summit. As you must know, pit bull type dogs born in Ohio are uniformly labeled vicious by state law based on nothing but appearance. So an opportunity to share our programs and information was a most excellent reason to part out our foster dogs and hop into the biting mid-April wind of the midwest. The bigger part of the event was an education session with key stakeholders: city and county officials, APL's board of directors, other humane society leaders in the Greater Cleveland area, county dog wardens, local rescue group leaders. They filed into the room - each representing an unknown opinion about pit bulls and the law that condemns them and their owners to impossible restrictions.

This is where my knees got weak and my head started swirling. "Oh wow. This is big. Oh man. Oh wow." My sister Diane, who lives in Cleveland and was there to support as well as to learn how she can help, said I didn't look nervous but I don't believe her. We were jumping off a bridge with nothing but thin elastic bands tied to our ankles and it was a long way down, man.

Out of respect to the ongoing dialogue that is rolling out between Ohio shelters, dog wardens and general stakeholders, I won't give you the nitty gritty details on what went down in that room in regard to changes on the horizon for pit bulls. But you can know that my near-nausea melted into gratitude and hope while we were there. Gratitude - for the dog warden who's been putting pit bulls to sleep for years and years, but who tries every trick in his back pocket to get them out to rescue when he can, to the rescues who struggle against all odds to find them homes, to the shelter worker who melts with a floppy pit bull in her lap and declares her "very adoptable," to the politician who understands why stereotyping will always work against building safe, humane communities. Melting.

We brought this little political refuge home from Cleveland to help keep the movement in Ohio front and center to us when we get up every day. She (now named Ayse) didn't stand a snow ball's chance in hell of surviving the city shelter under Ohio's current law, but the stars lined up right for her to be in the right kennel at the right time when our plane landed. Purely dumb luck. No doubt her kennel was immediately filled with an equally wonderful dog who doesn't have the luxury of a Pit Bull Summit on her side, but don't think we aren't thinking about that anonymous sweetheart, as are most of the people who sat in the room with us last week during the summit.

There will be more to report as Ohio agents of change continue to show us their balls and push on through the changes that are so very necessary for dogs in that state. Hang tight.

In other bungee jumping moments, we're happy to report big news that may feel anti-climatic to some since so much time has passed: We finally marked Grace (below) with an Adoption Pending notice on our Available Page. Yay.

We've been getting to know her family since back in January, a long slow friendship that has been building with each phone call, email and meeting. You might know that Grace is a former Vick dog, so the pressure to find that nearly perfect home (is there such a thing?) claws at us with each media inquiry about the Vick dogs. Thanks to her ridiculously cute face, the little imp has had dozens and dozens of inquiries from all around the country, but we've been especially picky about her home to the point that I think we were all wondering if we were ever going to place her.

We're thrilled, relieved, excited and a little nervous too. She's in the barn this week while her devoted foster dad is out of town and we expect she'll be going home rather than back to her dog friend Gulliver in just a few short days. *Gulp* A door closes and a new door opens for this unassuming little celebrity dog. Falling, falling, falling -- and it feels so good.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shoot puppy first. Ask questions later.

A two year old pit bull mix, and a twelve-pound, five month old, bull terrier puppy rush to a waist-high retaining wall, barking at a pair of police officers who were knocking at their door to do a probation check on their owner. One of the officers pepper sprays the puppy, and then pulls out his gun, and shoots her. A twelve-pound puppy. This has got to be a joke, right?

Sadly, it's not. Within the past two weeks, there have been two incidents in which police officers have shot at, and killed, a bull breed dog on its own property, in front of its owner and other witnesses. Two incidents in which the owners had no idea officers were coming to visit, and who had woken up that day as if it were any other day. I can't even comprehend what happened in either situation.

I'm not one to jump on the paranoid wagon, but please, bring your dog inside if you're not there to supervise. And, if the police knock on your door, don't assume they're going to be friendly to your dog. In general, if they want to enter your house, they need to knock, and announce who they are. Then, they're supposed to wait a reasonable time (or be refused entrance) before they can do anything else. So, if they come to your door, please put your dog away before you open that door. Without commenting on whether or not police officers are truly justified in shooting a pet because they felt threatened, suffice it to say that officers are granted great leeway in the eyes of the law as to whether their actions were "reasonable" depending on the circumstances. In these situations, oftentimes the only evidence you'll have is your word against theirs. I'm sure that we'd all prefer not to even get to that point. So please, as a matter of precaution, put your dogs safely away when you're not around, and before you open the door to any potential non-dog friendly strangers.

Our hearts go out to both Mr. Yishay and Mr. Locatelli.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

introducing dogs

We love doing new dog intros because you never know exactly how they're going to go, so they always bring excitement and surprises. It's key to keep our own body language and voices happy so the dogs don't signal off of any stress we might have about a match up. If it doesn't go as well as we'd like, we know we've just moved a little too fast, so we usually try again on another date. In our experience, most boy-girl matches can succeed if both dogs are reasonably well socialized and the intros are done at the right pace for the dogs involved.

Winnie was pulled from a dog fighter's yard in Florida and Angus is a rowdy little staffy bull from South Africa. Despite Winnie's initial apprehension here, this first meeting was full of happy signals and loose body language that told us they were on the fast track to friendship. The home did not end up opting for a second dog unfortunately, but both Winnie and Angus gained more skills that will come in handy for future greets.