Friday, December 26, 2008

The anatomy of a rescue

Nelly here is adjusting well to life without a heavy chain around her neck ... and warm blankies and butt scratches and - dog help her - antlers. She's one special creature.

I'm still pondering the people we met last week as I throw in another load of laundry from our surreal mission to the great plains. Life likes to throw curve balls every now and then just to see if we're paying attention, and one of those came in the form of an email from an Oklahoma dog trainer in early December who wrote to let us know that nearly one hundred dogs had been found starving on chains in dropping temperatures. News Clip. Could we help? I wrote back, "Who's in charge?" The reply, "Who's in charge? They've never dealt with anything like this before. At this time they are trying to make it so the dogs stay living." Smack! Curve ball, right upside the head.

The sheriffs of Kay County were in a bit of shock still after watching dogs drop dead at their feet. Once the perp was in jail, they had the messy problem of deciding what to do with the survivors. Peta encouraged them to kill every last one - natch - while much of the public was crying 'Murder!' for headlines that suggested they were going to do just that.

Oklahoma has a sad history when it comes to animal abuse cases including hoarders and puppy mills. There are no licensing or inspection requirements, and zero agencies assigned to oversee large scale breeding operations. No wonder Jerry Southern set up shop in OK once he was banned from owning pit bulls in Kansas.

The Oklahoma Alliance for Animals knew that, based on prior cases, Southern's pit bulls could very well end up in all the wrong hands. So they smartly requested - and won - custody of all the surviving dogs. When Ruth Steinberger told her board they now owned several dozen homeless and starving pit bulls, their first question was obvious: "What are we going to do with them all?" Oklahoma had never saved pit bulls from a cruelty case before, and things started getting extra messy when local papers put out a general plea for help. Phones were ringing off the hook as well-intentioned folks from all corners offered to jump in and take dogs home. That was right around the time that we met Ruth, who was having a very bad couple of days. No, we can't take 90+ dogs I said, but we can help decide which lucky few can go into limited but reputable rescue slots.

The immediate problem was that Kay County doesn't have an animal shelter, the dogs were exposed and the weather was taking a turn for the worse. Local volunteers were essential in their survival: they trucked in food and straw to feed and insulate the plastic barrels the dogs called home. But theft and disreputable 'help' was as big a concern as the dropping temperatures, so decisions had to happen FAST.

This is where we call for disaster relief assistance. Could someone please (please?) bring in quick reinforcements so the dogs could get out of the cold, if only for a short time so they can be evaluated? Messages went out to all the large orgs. The HSUS said "No," citing a poor economy as their reason for staying home. Everyone's Best Friends waved a quick "Yes!" for transport help, and Homeward Bound Humane Society offered up a small but cozy spay/neuter van to help us get out of the wind. All we had to do was buy some winter gear and we were set.

We had to hop inside a small window of decent weather so we could get to know the dogs while they were relatively warm. Once selections were made, it was fast work to take them back off of their chains for good, weigh them in the screaming wind and spay/neuter them onsite in the crowded trailer. Since this rescue was such a precedent for OK, it was only right that OAA make sure the dogs were fixed before turning ownership over to rescue. This is when we witnessed the miracle of Dr. Terry Yunker and his vet tech Nancy. Yunker's an Oklahoma vet with a passion for curbing the overpopulation problem. He did a series of fast surgeries before our eyes in some of the most extreme conditions you can imagine: unforgiving winds, freezing temperaments, nowhere for the dogs to recover but our cars with engines running and heat vents set on full blast. I'm a huge new fan of the cool and composed Dr. Terry.

We're also big fans of the local lawmen: Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis. Both were honestly surprised to see so much fuss going towards helping pit bulls, but - we reminded them - that's what happens when you put out a call for help. Pit bull people are like that. To simplify this fast-track mission, BR accepted responsibility for all the rescued dogs from OAA, then transferred ownership over to three orgs: the up and coming Mid-America Bully Breed Rescue who helped immensely with the rescue; to a second rescue who's asked to remain nameless for now; and - a surprise - to open-admission Berkeley Animal Care Services (More later on the wonderful happenings in Berkeley that inspired shelter workers to say 'Yes' to Oklahoma bust dogs.)

I don't know how we managed to do what we did at the farm - the rescues as well as the euthanasias. The conditions were so horrible and the dogs were so brave despite their neglect and mistreatment. I'm still choking back that big ugly cry that needs to come out...(It'll probably wait until the Sports Illustrated buzz wears off and I hear some sappy music in some terribly inconvenient setting). Fearing more criticism from both sides of the fence, the authorities have requested that we not disclose the number of dogs that were rescued, but let's just say "an impressive number" of lucky dogs made it out. Let's just say that what happened was a miracle - because it really was. (Repeat: Slideshow)

Two sheriffs, a vet and vet tech, five rescuers, an animal activist from Oklahoma and two diehard drivers from Best Friends (left). We may never see each other again, but for that one weekend, the dogs made sure we were at our best. It's just another reason to fall even more in love with this breed.

Please consider sending thanks to the orgs that helped these dogs.
Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis would probably love getting New Year's greetings. They deserve to hear that they did the right thing.

Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis
Kay County Detention Facility
Newkirk, Oklahoma 74647

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sports Illus: A home run for pit bulls.

We've come a long way, baby!

Most pit bull owners know that in '87, Sports Illustrated went for the worst kind of cheap thrill by running this provocative cover story. The decision to titillate America back then about our still-rare breed set the dogs down a dangerous path. Within months, they were the 'in' dog for the bad guys, and the rest is history. So when SI writer Jim Gorant contacted us in mid-October about a follow up on the Vick dogs, we were skeptical to say the least. Never one to hold back, Jonny Justice's adopter Cris Cohen told him point blank, "You owe us the cover." But the hard-to-read Gorant was non-committal. We really didn't know what they were going to do to our dogs.

It was clear that Jim and his editors were intrigued with this story though, especially when their wonderful photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice kept returning for additional photo sessions. Things started looking good when they asked for family portraits of the dogs in their homes, and then, of Jonny working as a therapy dog in the Paws for Tales reading program.

We're as surprised as anyone to finally see the fruits of their labor: Five pages of in-depth, well written copy, good clean quotes, beautiful family portraits, and the best of all...The cover shot, highlighting Recycled Love's shy little sweetheart, Sweet Jasmine.
SI Online Story and Photo Gallery

Thank you for giving the dogs back to us, Jim. Steeling ourselves against the public disdain heaped against these wonderful animals sure takes its toll, and you just softened us all up for one the happiest Christmases we can remember.

The Sports Illustrated issue about the Vick dogs will be on newsstands starting Christmas Eve and available for two weeks. Grab a few copies for your coffee table and for your files. I tellya...this 'zine is a welcome piece of history for our breed.

Left: Zippy's foster family now includes tiny new brother Francisco Hernandez. Photo credit: Deanne Fitzmaurice for Sports Illustrated.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Slideshow of Kay County dogs

Warm and fuzzy thanks to everyone who's written with your kind words. Your support means a lot to us.

I'm gathering spellings of people's names so we can offer a proper thanks to all the helpers in this case as part of our online debriefing, but the dogs are set to pull up very soon and we have some work to do. For now, visit the site with us in this Slideshow of the Kay County dogs.

We hope the little girl on the right will approve of CA's weather. (Who needs a nose when you have eyes like that?)

Thank you,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A girl and her dog

Every great lady deserves a great dog. After a five month trial foster period, Cindy got what she wanted for Christmas and officially adopted Mister Ted. We signed him over on Saturday, in between the bustle of the thousand details that come along with doing Pit Ed class. It was fitting that Ted's big journey with our group end with the very low-key signing ritual; He's been at home in Cindy's heart since she first laid eyes on him, way back when she was still unaware of his rough beginnings (Photo: Michael Blackwell)
Welcome home, Ted. We sure do love you.

Ellen Meets Georgia

Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for Best Friend's Vicktory dog Georgia (who we'll always know as Jane!). She appears on the Ellen Degeneres Show on Monday, December 15. We hope they dance.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Top Ten Animal Stories

What is it?
Television producer Phil Boag studies the elusive canis familiaris fighting dog in preparation for filming a segment for a new Animal Planet TV special. It's called 2008: Year in Animals and will run down the top ten animal stories of the year.

The show will be aired several times, starting this Saturday, December 13.

Jonny Justice was filmed with his steady sidekick, Cris Cohen as part of the show. His story is up against a featherless SF penguin that was fitted with a wet suit, a dog that dialed up 911 for his person, few other animaly tales that slip my mind right now.

I wonder which story will make its way to number one? Whicheva! We're just glad that America gets to hear about the Vick dogs' success again...and that our homeboys are interviewed in front of Cohen's gorgeous '67 Nova. Check it out. And rock on with your bad self, Jonny Justice. Top Ten

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Pleasant Reminder

Scary fighting dog (aka Jhumpa from V-Hell). Now at home practicing the art of being a dork.

Thanks for the happy reminder why we all do this work, Kathleen.

Yes, Oklahoma

We've made a commitment to Oklahoma to assist authorities with making decisions for the starving dogs that have captured dog lovers' hearts this holiday season. Hurricane Newkirk.
It's way too soon to say how many can be helped; First, the defendant has to face the judge, and the judge has to agree to release the dogs to rescue. It looks good, but just you never know.

Making sense of these kinds of situations can be very difficult. It's hard to know who's calling the shots and who's able to be on the ground to help with logistics. Hurricane Katrina taught us all that too many cooks in the kitchen can muddy a rescue and sour feelings, causing some to say 'No' to the next batch of animal victims. We can't have that.

But at this time - because this is the giving season - I wanted to give a shout out to Undersheriff Kelly who asked for help, and to all the Oklahomans who've poured their kindness into caring for the dogs while they wait. An Oklahoma-based group is currently providing the logistical support that we'll need to pull this off. We expect to offer up thanks to other orgs that we know are out there, poised to help the dogs, but let's get this thing rolling first.

If do get out there, we promise to do our best to help the most likely candidates for adoption programs. (And did someone say it was c-c-cold in Okahoma? Drat. I guess I gotta get me a winter coat.)


While the country is focused on helping pit bulls, please give generously so more of us can do more of this work. Our current Newsletter outlines ways to donate while you shop. On behalf of the dogs that are counting on all of us, thank you!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Rest in Peace, Petal.

Once in a while, a dog comes along who manages to find her way into the soul of the right person and helps to change the course of history.

Animal Farm Foundation's Jane Berkey is grieving the loss of the inimitable Petal this week, her best friend and steady confidant. Petal was key in inspiring her to build a rescue and foundation that celebrates and supports pit bulls and their advocates. Those who may have met Jane know that she's an unstoppable maverick (correct use of the definition here) on a mission to see pit bulls "included inside our circle of compassion." That kind of passion and generosity only comes from being sparked by one of the breed's best.

We were fortunate to know Petal, and kissed her one last time this summer knowing that cancer would soon take her home. Petal's spirit lives on in the hearts of everyone who is inspired by the tireless work of Animal Farm Foundation. Rest in peace, pretty girl.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Santa comes early to a shelter dog

With realities as they are, deciding which dogs to put to sleep - which pit bulls especially - is a daily chore that no one looks forward to in any open admission shelter. In Oakland, the decisions are usually made in the evening so the dogs can go to peace in the morning, altho' sometimes it can take days of exploring options. We've joined the staff with some of this burden and it's a responsibility that weighs heavy. Some of the questions that need to be answered: How many pit bulls are in the kennels right now? (OAS keeps room for 13 adoptable pit bulls + five kennels for BR) How many new pit bulls are about to become city property once their stray holds end? How many do we think we can place this week? Can this dog's health or behavior issues be resolved in a shelter setting? Do we have a foster home?...a spot for a compassion hold?

It's easiest when decisions are cut and dry; harder when the dogs are what we call 'grey area dogs' ... meaning, they're not the strongest ambassadors due to minor behavior or health issues or both. The gray area dogs keep me awake at night rolling over every possible possibility we can invent....And in the meantime, more and more dogs & pups keep coming in the door.

This little girl was a very gray dog for more reasons than her coat color: A bad knee. She's probably going to blow one (crap. or both), and need an expensive surgery. That's an easy one - She needs to make room for the healthier dogs that are coming in. But, I can't do it. I mean, lookit her. Sometimes you just need to wait a day or three, and let Fate have a say....

...So, an email comes in yesterday marked "URGENT!"... A fan of the breed all the way in NYC wants to help a needy shelter dog immediately, for a Christmas gift that's being presented today. Do we have any needy dogs that need a special sponsor?

Do we? and how.

Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus. Meet Lolo, a wonderful girl with a wonky knee and a good friend who believes in the spirit of helping pit bulls, even those she's never met.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's still about the dogs.

A standing ovation to Los Angeles authorities for doing it right with this latest dog fight bust. The bad guys were tossed away to three and five year sentences in state prison for 10 counts of felony dogfighting. Story

Their attorney tried to downplay the crime, calling it "a low-grade felony," and rationalizing that "it isn't like selling narcotics to children." ... Because torturing animals is so much more acceptable in the grand scheme of things?

But L.A. Superior Court Judge Bowers pulled out the whoop ass: "It is a felony and it is a serious matter...Mr. Counts, I think to say that you made a bad decision is an understatement."

Good bust, good collection of evidence, good ruling - and no mention of the dogs as evil doers. Instead, five of the 17 dogs were absorbed into local rescues. And you gotta love that photo as an antidote to the evil doings in Texas last week.

Above Lead investigator in the case, Los Angeles Police Officer Susan Brumagin at a press conference. Bless you Susan for reminding us why we should care about these cases.