Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grateful - For everyone who steps outside of their comfort zone

The world is not a safe place right now for people who've lost their income. It's important for those of us who have incomes to stay optimistic and to use our resources wisely to grow a sustainable future, but that optimism should never be allowed to blind us from the realities that too many less fortunate are facing. This is equally true of dog owners who are having a hard time meeting the needs of their pets.

On behalf of those people who are committed to their pets in spite of their hardships, we want to thank every volunteer, rescue group and granting organization who've made giving to low income dog owners a priority in their mission this year. We simply can't help the dogs we've assigned ourselves to help without addressing the needs of their owners first. We have to put blame and judgement aside and value the bond every pet owner deserves to have with his pet, even if he has to make decisions that more privileged dog owners might disagree with. Selling puppies to keep the lights on and feed the kids. Wouldn't you?… Giving your dog away on craigslist when too many landlords turn you away? What choice do they have? … Sleeping outside on the cold cement because local homeless shelters won't allow pets? You know you'd do the same.

The photo on the right has served as a wake-up reminder to me since badrapper Christine Allen snapped it at one of our owner support events. Clearly not a woman of means - it doesn't look like she can afford dog sweaters from etsy much less obedience lessons much less quality vet care. To make sure her puppy got her (free) vaccinations, she showed up four hours early to one of our events in a not-so-safe East Oakland park to secure her place in line. Whenever I find myself slogging to muster the energy to sew together the pieces of another shots fair, I call her image up and presto, my attitude gets itself in line.

We're incredibly grateful to PetSmart Charities, who "gets it" - that dog owners need support, and who helped us help hundreds just like this lady in 2011. And to our diehard volunteers who've perfected the art of compassion in these communities. And to everyone reading who nods 'Yes' when we mention the need to extend ourselves outside of our comfort zone in order to help the dogs by helping their people.

Below is a thanksgiving story from a cyber friend Amanda Verlander in Massachusetts about a moment when she realized how lucky she was. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Hi BadRap Friends:

I am a follower of yours from way out here in Massachusetts. I had to share this story – well – some reflections on a chance meeting really, in New York City last week.

I was in NYC last week on business, and I was walking up Sixth Ave around 5pm on a crazy cold and busy Friday night. There, on the ground, propped against the wall of a bank, was a homeless woman sitting with a sign asking for money to feed her dog. As I got closer, I saw that covered in a blanket next to her was a very tired, white pit bull. The dog lay, its belly against the cold concrete, quiet and almost unmoving, as the thousands of rush hour footsteps brushed past her curled up body.

I spoke to the woman – her eyes fluttered open. I said that I have a pit bull too, and handed her some money. I noticed one tiny star tattooed under each eye on each cheek. Really? She asked, as she emerged from a kind of trance. Then she laughed – do you dress yours up in silly outfits too? I looked and saw that her dog had a little wool hat pulled down around her bully ears. A pool of wet saliva or drool or something lay on the ground beneath the dog’s nose. I said a quick prayer inside – please don’t let it be from a respiratory infection. It was such a cold night. I laughed and said that my girl has a banana costume that we dress her up in it because she loves bananas. The woman smiled – Really? Bananas, she asked? MMM hmmm – take care of your momma, I said out loud to the dog, as I walked away.

I ran back to the building where I’d been working all day and grabbed two leftover turkey sandwiches from lunch – and then jogged back to where the woman sat outside. I bent down and she opened her tired eyes again. I said, here – take these – and she said, I’ll only take one. I said, no – please – take one for you and one for your dog. That’s why I brought the turkey. She said ok – the dog lifted its nose for a moment, sniffing, showing a mild interest in the plastic box containing the sandwiches. Then she put her weary head back down on the sidewalk. What’s her name, I asked – her name’s “Keelo,” the woman said.

I said good bye again. I wished so much that I had a camera at that very moment, to capture their picture and this moment in time, before I walked away. I would send it to every person who has ever doubted the souls of these dogs. To the same people who doubt the souls of those who love and need these dogs, and who try so hard to care for them, even under the most desolate of circumstances.

A train ride and six hours later, I climbed out of a cab in my small town in western Massachusetts, I looked up gratefully at my little, one hundred year old brick house, so warm and strong against the cold, clear darkness. Within these walls, I knew that my little girl and sweet husband lay sleeping, peacefully. I unlocked the door and tiptoed inside, waking my 9 year old dog, Rosalind. . .who may be getting grey around the muzzle, but she is still the most energetic and pushiest broad I know (besides my 5 year old human daughter). And yes, she is a pit bull type dog – more of a staffy – squat and chesty – I bent down to give her a big juicy kiss on her soft black cheek, scratched her ears, and said, I missed you my girl. . .thank you thank you my lovely girl, for always being there for me – for all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving, Bad Rap. Thank you for all that you do for these dogs and for the people, rich or poor, who love them.

Amanda Verlander
Greenfield MA

the problem of police and dogs

A puppyish foster dog from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue getting his photo taken with a stranger at the at the Adams Morgan festival in Washington, D.C on September 12, 2010.

One hour later, DC Officer Scott Fike has the same dog pinned to the ground with his knee pushed into his back. He then hurled the dog down a concrete stairwell, pulled out his weapon and shot the dog dead in front of shocked witnesses.

Police had been called when the dog (Parrot) and a second dog got into a fight at the event. The caretakers had broken it up and the trouble was over when police arrived and proceded to execute one of the most stunningly inhumane decisions ever captured in photos during a routine dog call.

According to, "The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department "investigated" the incident, as did the Office of Police Complaints. Both recommended that the U.S. Attorney prosecute Officer Fike criminally. Unbelievably, the U.S. Attorney declined. Soon thereafter, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department dismissed Lucky Dog's complaint against Officer Fike. No action was taken against him." Their petition is asking the Metropolitan Police to "change your policies to prevent future tragedies like Parrot's death and once again instill trust in the police department."

We urge you to sign this: Petition

A long history of poor handling of dog incidents by police inspired a new booklet directed at this topic. The U. S. Department of Justice recently published "The Problem of Dog Related Incidents and Encounters," through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). It was created to help police departments examine and improve the same kinds of policies that rolled out into tragedy in DC in 2010.

Bernard K. Melekian - Director of COPS - states in his forward:
"In the United States, dogs are an integral part of society, which means police engage with dogs quite often in the line of duty. There are a variety of circumstances where a dog could be involved in a police call, and it is critical that police departments not only develop effective departmental strategies advocating for the proper handling of dog-related incidents and encounters, but also proactively create tactical-response strategies, ensuring humane treatment of dogs and safety for the public and officers."
According to COPS research, "In most police departments, the majority of shooting incidents involve animals, most frequently dogs. For example, nearly three-fourths of the shooting incidents in Milwaukee from January 2000–September 2002 involved shots fired at dogs, with 44 dogs killed by officers during that period. Information furnished by various California law enforcement agencies indicated that at least one-half of all intentional discharges of a firearm by an officer from 2000–2005 involved animals."

While reckless owners with problem dogs pose very real problems for officers, the shooting of a dog like Parrot demonstrates how easy it is for an officer to lose perspective and put family pets at risk. According to the COPS report, factors that contribute to the liberal use of firearms on a community's animals are "insufficiently trained police officers" including

  • Officers who make judgments concerning a dog they encounter based on its presumed breed or physical appearance rather than its behavior.
  • Officers who view a dog running toward them as a threat (the dog could be friendly and merely greeting the officer).
  • Officers who are unaware of leash laws or the laws governing potentially dangerous, dangerous, or vicious dogs in their city or state.
  • Officers who lack knowledge of available animal-welfare resources.
  • Officers who lack skills in handling dogs or reading dog body language.
  • Officers who lack needed canine-communication skills.

As police departments play catch-up with humane policies and their obligations to their communities, we continue to urge dog owners to use extreme caution in situations where police may interact with your pets.

To quote our legal affairs director Christine Allen in this blog post, written in response to a local shooting of a bull terrier puppy "... 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."

Please be safe and urge your locale police departments to use the COPS booklet to help educate their officers. We don't want you to be this guy: Parrot's foster dad below, just after the shooting.

For more info, Washington Post looked at the incident involving Parrot in this news article.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meanwhile, in Berkeley

Yes, Detroit's situation with its care of shelter animals is depressing. The shining light, the beacon for change is over 2000 miles and seemingly light years away.

Over fifty directors from animal welfare orgs including shelters from around the country descended on the sweet town of Berkeley yesterday to learn how one very motivated and passionate community of people helps its pit bull type dogs. Boasting a 98% live release rate of all dogs including pit bull type dogs, Berkeley is not a town to be ignored. (Nope - Detroit was not represented at this event. Maybe next time?)

We're so grateful to SAWA (Society of Animal Welfare Administrators) for including BADRAP in their field trip plans for conference guests. With a little luck and a lot of work, we know that Berkeley's example can become the mainstream.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ace: A fitting mascot for Detroit city policy

It's not hard to see why Detroit has an image problem. With a trashed economy, hungry businesses and hungrier residents, and approximately 40,000 abandoned properties within its borders, Mayor David Bing is attempting to run a nearly dead city. In the middle of so much desperation, we can imagine how easy it is for the leadership to let stray dogs fall flat to the bottom of their to-do list, especially those skinny pit bulls who routinely fill the dead barrels at Detroit Animal Control's city shelter. (City policy will not permit DAC to transfer pit bull type dogs out to even the most highly qualified shelters or rescue groups. Nope. Not one.)

Detroit's mandatory destruction of unclaimed pit bull type dogs has marched on for years with little protest until last week when a starving dog showed up in an Ace hardware store in need of compassion and help. Today, despite quick thinking and the best efforts of several organizations, citizens and a judge to save him, that dog is dead - destroyed by DAC. What happened between his original rescue and his death tells us more about the state of a visionless city than it does of so-called pit bull type dogs.

Ace symbolizes Detroit in so many ways: Lost, forgotten - once beautiful, now dying. The untouchable dog that most would veer hard to avoid. He was destined to die on the streets without so much of a shrug, until a kind Ace Hardware worker noticed him and gathered the skeleton boy up from the corner of his store. (Side note: Detroit's citizens tend to have some of the biggest hearts you will meet. True grit and full of soul.)

Technically, he did the right thing when he found Ace. Just as you'd call an ambulance for a fallen citizen, you call the right city people who are charged with caring for its animals, right? Unfortunately that call sent Ace on a death march, and four days after he went unclaimed (DAC has stated that no one was able to satisfactorily identify him as their property, despite several failed attempts), he was duly destroyed at the shelter - business as usual. The Ace Hardware employee stated in a media interview how much he regrets making that phone call. Who knew?

Before Ace died - or maybe while he was dying - a miracle of sorts happened: Thousands of people found out about him through the Internet and, after learning about the city's 100% kill policy of all pit bull type dogs, pleaded for his life. Rescue groups raised their hands and lawyers were called in to request a euthanasia injunction from the courts. The large and influential Michigan Humane Society begged and pleaded and negotiated for his release (DAC refused their request). Even school kids got involved and sent letters to the mayor...

Dear Mayor Bing - My name is Veronica. I’m 9 years old. I go to The Roeper school. At my school we like to make a difference. Hearing Ace’s story broke my heart. I want to make a difference, that’s why I sent you this letter. Please save Ace because he is a innocent dog. Just because he’s a pit bull doesn’t mean he’s going to harm anybody. Please dig in your heart & think about how many people have sent you letters because they care about Ace & dogs like him. - Sincerely, Veronica

A judge agreed with Veronica - let the poor thing live so we can sort this mess out. (News Link) DAC has probably never heard such a racket (for a pit bull? good god), but the walls of the shelter must be pretty darn thick, because Ace was dead before the ink was dry on the judge's orders to keep him alive.

The city says it never received the court order, but Bruce King, general manager of the Environment Health Services Division explained in a statement why it was okay to kill Ace:

"If we grant this one exception, we are simply not set up for what will undoubtedly lead to overwhelming appeals in similar cases."

Read: "Screw the courts. If we let this dog be absorbed by people who want to take responsibility for him, we'll be stuck with helping other needy dogs find help too." Sadly, no one who's familiar with the city seems remotely surprised by the position it took, including the Michigan Humane Society. After all, it's Detroit and Detroit government has become a bit of an expert at allowing things in its care to die. Through his unnecessary death, Ace has unwittingly become a fitting mascot for the city leadership.

So what now? The cat's officially out of the bag about the city's inhumane policy regarding pit bulls, and everyone's rightfully pissed off, but reforming a city shelter in the middle of a collapsed economy with this kind of discouraging leadership would make anyone want to bang their head on rocks. We're certainly disheartened. Some are banging drums and vowing revenge, but to add to frustrations, some of the rescue groups in the Detroit area fight with other like cats and dogs. Their movement tends to be emotion driven, disorganized and territorial - a reflection of the chaos that reigns in a town without direction. Whether this horrible situation can evolve into something positive for the city animals is yet to be seen.

I'm so sorry about Ace - So sorry about Detroit. You were once beautiful (you were once my home) and you deserve so much better than what you've gotten: Arrogant, apathetic leadership, heartless policies, lost and ignored opportunities.

Rest in peace, little buddy. Good luck Detroit.

A revealing and important series in Time Magazine on why Detroit is so screwed up. The Tragedy of Detroit.

new feature: vintage goodies

Announcing our new Vintage Photo Gallery Page with great photos of dogs & their families that we've dug up along the way. Because while we keep our sights set on the future, these smiling faces from the past are constantly reminding us to enjoy the present.

If you have a favorite family photo or ebay treasure, first, lucky you! - Second, please consider letting it hang in our online gallery for all to enjoy. Thank you.

Vintage Photo Gallery