Friday, January 30, 2009

one year ago

One year ago, this fine young dog went to live with his fine young adopters and pretty soon everyone forgot all about what it was like before they were a family. Happy one year anniversary, beautiful Winston.

Photo: Proud adopter, Suzanne Joncoaltz

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chicago Good Guy

Thank this man.

Sheriff Thomas Dart of the Cook County Sheriff's Department was good enough to champion for the cause of getting a pit bull onto the force to help his officers do their job. This week, he helped introduce 'Elliot' to the country as Chicagoland's first ever dog trained to locate cadeavers. Many saw this wonderful news piece, but here it is again: Canine cops help police.
“So many people have misconceptions about pit bulls and similar dogs and because of that, many never get adopted from shelters,” Dart said. “Many of these dogs, like Elliott, can be saved and worked with to lead happy, healthy, productive lives.” - Sheriff Dart

Elliot's human partner Deb Thedos is smitten and calls herself "Elliot's driver." We met Deb when she came to visit us back in the spring, during a wide search for a fitting police dog. As luck would have it, their Best Boy was back home in Illinois (natch!) We're woofing happy 'HUZZAHs!' and sending virtual high fives to Chicago's sheriffs today. Good on you!

Send thanks:
Sheriff Thomas Dart, Cook County Sheriff’s Office
50 W. Washington, Chicago, Illinois 60602

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Legs, noses and a book deal for Jim Gorant

The Vick dog saga sure has itself some legs. Uba's adopter Letti pointed out a news blurb today that surprised us all....

Sports Illustrated writer Jim Gorant just signed a BOOK DEAL to write a book about the Vick dogs, entitled "The Lost Dogs." According to CNBC, "The book is being billed as an inspirational account of the rescue and "adoption" of Michael Vick's abused pit bulls." Holy crap!

Based on Jim's even-keeled approach to the recent magazine story, we expect this is going to be a very good thing for the dogs. The release date is expected to coincide with Vick's release from prison. Above: Jim Gorant, in yellow, ponders the crazy dog people during Pit Ed class.

EDIT: It seems someone jumped the gun on this. Gorant told us by phone that he has not signed a deal yet, but is working out terms. Looks like it will go thru, but he was a little upset that news leaked before he'd made contact with his contacts. Oh well. We'll take the good news just the same.

Whoa Nelly.

This is Sweet Nelly, from the Oklahoma case. I love that she's so happy in this photo. She's been battling pneumonia - not easy to do when you're born without nostrils. But things are looking up for her now. 

She's on the mend, and our vet believes she can slice brand new nostrils for the girl in the same way that brachycephalic pugs get help for their breathing problems. Nelly delights in life and seems utterly blissed out about EVERYthing, even when she's gulping air. I can't begin to imagine how happy she'll be when she can breathe. Stay tuned for more word on that.

We look forward to matching Nelly with a new home when the time is right. And yes, she can happily live with other dogs.


Is this one of TugTug's close relatives? (Photo of stud dog 'Sensational Intrepid Floyd' from

...Staffy bull people are wondering.

They're especially interested to learn why their breed has shown up in two of the most recent bad-boy busts. Is this a new trend or have staffy bulls been showing up in lots of  busts, but lumped together with (and destroyed alongside) American Pit Bull Terriers all this time?

Monday, January 26, 2009

What the Hector?

Roo (of Wallace Fame) put together a little video of his trip to SF and first date with Hector. Dontja just love a sentimental dogman?

If you don't already visit the Vick Dog Blog, take a look. It's a great place to grab a big fat smile.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bully for You

The American Bully fad is alive and well in CA. American Bullies are a new mixed breed invention that sprang from mixing English Bulldogs and sometimes Neos - and lord knows what else (!) - with pit bulls to get a low-rider style brand of dog.

People either love'em or they hate the fact that they're sooo not a pit bull anymore.

We went to check out the scene at the Come Wit It Fun Show in Dixon this weekend. Hundreds of AmBully owners were there, comparing dogs' head sizes and browsing the wares of the kennels and dog suppliers, including mega-spike collars and some of the roundest puppies known to Planet Earth. The short squishy babies are obscenely cute and grow into Jabba the Hut look-alikes ... like this guy here --->

Want one? As expected, the overflow is already landing in shelters. Check Here


Vaya con Dios, Paco

Badrappers are grieving the untimely death of a special homeboy this weekend. Ana Poe's best friend Paco died in a freak accident, and there's some big tears and a whole lotta hurt going around tonite. 

Paco inspired Ana in so many ways and is most famous for his role as the ever-patient mascot for Paco Collars. 

Godspeed, little guy. You will be sorely missed.

Friday, January 23, 2009

the Blame Game

Oakland Animal Shelter's numbers for 2008 are in. They tell us that we're intaking more dogs (a 30% increase since 2005), adopting more out (dog adoptions are up 63% from 2007) and euthanizing, well... a LOT of adoptable and treatable dogs are still dying.

In short, there were more dogs-in-crisis in 2008, so keeping euthanasia numbers from skyrocketing right along with the intake increase meant running faster/harder on the daily treadmill.

We'd all like to take a little credit for the good stuff: the bulk of BAD RAP's celebrated shelter dogs came from OAS in '07-8, and the staff worked ball-busters to advertise pets, recruit volunteers and generally kick ass in the adoption department.

But certain realities keep dogging us. Despite best efforts, adoptable larger breeds including pit bulls and scared, undersocialized small dogs are the most likely to be walked down to the e-room in our fair city. No sooner are two dogs placed when 10 more come in the door. Ditto for most other urban areas. It's hard to know who to 'blame' for this trend, although it's not too far off to point to the ever-busy fad train for feeding impulse purchases to uncommitted homes. This, at a time when the housing crisis is giving even the most committed homes the tightest squeeze seen in many years.
Below. Once upon a time, adopters & rescue groups literally fought over hard-to-find small dogs in Oakland, but in '08 they came spilling out of the rafters, forcing staff to invent new ways to house and promote the growing numbers....

Some say blaming breeding trends is misdirected. The popular Pet Connection blog ran an interesting entry this week entitled - ironically - "Finding a nice puppy should not be this hard."

In discussing VP Biden's decision to buy a puppy, Christie Keith sympathizes with breeders who've apparently been shamed into secrecy due to popular catch-phrases such as "don't buy while shelter animals die." She argues that, according to 'No-Kill' philosophy, "dogs die in shelters not because of “irresponsible pet owners” or “greedy breeders” but because of the shelters’ own policies and actions."  She tells us that pet overpopulation talk is "big huge heap of propaganda" meant to push "home-based" breeders underground.


Above: Tight belly. They're a rare sight in shelter populations. The majority of mature females that came into OAS in '08 had previously whelped at least one litter for their home-based breeders.

So, do we suck? Are we to blame for dying dogs? ... Er. Is assigning blame even helpful?

Or. Maybe pit bulls don't get to be counted in this discussion (and if not, WHY not?)
Overpopulation is a condition where an organism's numbers exceed the carrying capacity of its habitat. - Wikipedia

Clearly, we live in a different reality from dog shoppers like VP Biden. Woe are the fad breeds who spill outside of a community's capacity to embrace them for their full natural lives. Urban breeders - especially those who cooly reject shelter realities and/or who surrender their unlicensed pets to be destroyed rather than reclaim them altered - are a mysterious bunch. Are they exploiting their brood stock for purely selfish purposes, or simply trying to pay the rent & feed the kids? Are they faithfully following cultural norms? Working to improve the breed? (A surprising number of OAS dogs are surrendered with their pedigree. Owners presume the papers will improve their adoption potential.) Maybe they're people who simply can't afford to fix their pet? Or fanciers who want to ensure that their breed survives into infinity, offering up individual dogs as war time collateral to the purpose of spreading their favorite dogs' genetics far and wide. Most likely, they're all the above, and then some. Above: We tried, but the breeder of these pups wanted to keep them intact to increase their street value.

Whatever your theory on the whys of the incoming, it's comforting to see a new trend in the shelter world that embraces pit bulls and works to find them homes. The dogs may be overpopulated, but they also have good soldiers on their side who are working hard despite the sadness and pressures and - more recently - divisive blame tactics that condemn them for not doing enough.

I won't give OAS's exact "kill" numbers here because, like many shelters today, they're understandably sensitive about being blamed for having to PTS for space. Besides, numbers tend to mire us down and lock us inside our busy little heads. The dogs deserve more action; less talk.

We shouldn't judge shelters based on numbers, but rather, their attitudes towards the dogs that depend on them. For example, readers know that we're less-than-impressed with No-Kill Model SF's approach that stereotypes pit bulls, but overjoyed by 'high-kill' shelters' work to debunk the tired myths that condemn the breed and discourage adoptions. When Hillsborough County Tampa agreed to offer two kennels for pit bull ambassadors, we cheered. Ambassadors! These few dogs didn't raise their live release stats in any significant way, but they signaled a wonderful shift in consciousness in that shelter, and ultimately, that community. Suddenly, pit bulls can be embraced rather than labeled and blamed. And now, the public can enjoy a shelter's pride rather than a society's shame. 

Even private shelters are getting caught up in the spirit of positive promotion: Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society deserves kudos for cooperating with Chicago Animal Care and Control to select and promote great dogs.
"This adoption program is designed to find some very special dogs new homes." - Bully Buddies page, Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society

"Special dogs" - not "high risk" dogs. And instead of "additional requirements," they receive "additional benefits." Rock on, Chicago. 

Next month, we'll be hosting a whole new crew of shelter workers from far away lands in our Pit Ed Camp. Indianapolis, New Orleans, Chicago and New York will all be sending some of their best to Oakland to study, discuss, practice and celebrate the breed we love -- Praise be!

Above: Chicago breed ambassador 'Mocha' needs a home. He's waiting at the Anti-Cruelty Society.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wus Oklerhoma? I neber hoid of it.

TugTug is enjoying his 70 degrees of sunny skies in Oakland CA today. Wethinks this tiny guy (who's most likely a staffordshire bull terrier) is starting to forget about his bad days in Kay County, he should.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

favorite people

Little Kinzie went to her new home this weekend, and a special friend received a bottle of red wine to help celebrate. Every foster family deserves a good neighbor like Carolyn, and good neighbors like Carolyn deserve so many thanks for their good deeds. She lives in the cottage behind our home and has become an integral part of introducing brand new BR dogs to the Good Life.

Carolyn greets the first morning sun on her front stoop each day with coffee in one hand and arms draped around the resident dogs, fosters included. As you can imagine, they all adore this quiet daily ritual. She keeps her cool when newbies sneak their way in and pee on her carpet, and she laughs out loud when they explode around the yard, kicking up debris in every direction. She patiently shepherds pit-bull-shy visitors past the menagerie and doles out treats in exchange for new manners. She always cheers when they finally leave for their forever homes; No tears, because their leaving means the cycle is about to start all over again with a brand new dog. (Oh no!)

Kinzie was from a cruelty case and hadn't been handled much in her past life, so it was a happy day around here when she finally climbed into Carolyn's bed for a morning snuggle and - siiiigh - relaxed like a real dog for the first time.

But the wine was meant more as thanks for putting up with the not-so-fun part of this project: Tip-toeing over the "gifts" they leave on her front walk. And with Kinzie, the ungodly wake-up calls that came when she finally earned open-door privileges to the yard. It took us a few days to realize that she was up with the dawn, dashing out the doggy door before anyone was awake and demanding that Carolyn get up out of bed and start the morning ritual NOW! That, and her overly-enthusiastic greetings at the back gate - armload of groceries be damned. It's not always fun to navigate that kind of attention and energy.

Dozens of dogs have graduated from Carolyn's little cottage charm school. Her home has become a virtual revolving door for homeless pit bulls on their way to new lives and dozens of lucky dogs are better for it.

Ledy Makes a Change: Best Friends Scores!

Legal dynamo Ledy VanKavage is an attorney and pit bull owner who's big on defending the breed and keeping people honest about dog owner rights & responsibilities. She's got a can-do attitude, loud infectious laugh and she's usually got her fingers in a thousand different projects; everything from teaching cops to chill out on breed profiling to helping cities develop dangerous dog laws that keep the focus on the right end of the leash. Busy Ledy. In short, she's a great person to have on our team, AND she's just moved away from the ASPCA to accept a position with Best Friends. We expect this means pit bulls will be getting even more help in the near future. Congrats Ledy.

Below. We ran into her getting her shoes polished up at Chicago O'Hare. She howled when I took this photo (Sorry Ledy - it's just too good not to share) She was on her way to a police training and explained that cop culture smiles on shiney shoes. Whatever works, girl.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fifteen years old

Wait. This is admittedly a very depressing post. It's meant as a vent and a way to share a reality that we don't always talk about. Please don't don't don't read it if you don't do well with sadness. I'll post something better in a day or two.

Monday, January 12 2:30 pm. The thing that really kills us is that you didn't want to say good-bye to your dog...

... Your overweight senior who took a bullet because you thought it was just fine that she run loose in the neighborhood. The fat toothless dog who you allowed to run free: charging the garbage man, scaring the kids, evading animal control again and again. This once beautiful, cropped blue fawn who was lying in her kennel, grimacing in pain, her wrist pulverized by a bullet. Just steps away from you.

You said you'd had her her whole life; bought her "with papers" some fifteen years ago. A family pet. Whelped you many litters. Her wrist exploded when the bullet smashed through it. The cop had no choice, and we don't blame him. Twenty officers responded to the call. She was good at scaring people away from your home ... You wanted her to do that. They'd always turn and run away. Not today.

She bled like crazy in the animal control truck. Tim carried her inside: she was rattling with pain. He told her he was sorry, that she was a good girl, that she would be okay. Megan rushed to fill her with the drug that would dull the pain. Her eyes were wide with fear. She leaned back and stared Tim in the eye; she kissed him. We thought about her all night; knowing she wouldn't be able to get herself up and pee (she held it - all night, all day). We got there as you were at the counter, arguing your fines. You turned on your heels and stormed off.

She was still grimacing in pain when we saw her again; the corners of her mouth pulled back like she wanted to vomit. We coo-ed to her, tranquilized her. I held her head, rubbed the inside of her left ear while Tim held her vein. Megan slipped the needle in and her blood shot back into the blue juice as it moved into her vein, bringing an end to her fifteen years. We didn't know her name. She left this world hearing us tell her that she was a good girl.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Good news from UK: RSPCA calls for end to BSL

Calling for the end of a bad law is the first step: The RSPCA, UK's largest animal welfare org, has gone public to demand the immediate end of BSL in the UK
Many experts, law makers and dog lovers from around the UK and globally have seen the devastation caused by breed specific legislation - which outlaws dogs by ‘type’, meaning a dog is deemed ‘dangerous’ and illegal simply based on what it looks like and not because of any offence caused by the dog. As a result of breed specific legislation (BSL) in the UK, many innocent dogs have lost their lives since the law was brought in by Ken Baker in 1991. -

Gives the words 'Happy New Year' a whole new meaning. Keep your paws crossed that other UK animal welfare orgs will be inspired to join the RSPCA in this statement.

News from Home
The Oklahoma dogs are settling in. Tiny TugTug (right) is battling an ear infection and the tips of his ears are starting to scar over from the frostbite he endured, while Nelly is being tended to for a case of pneumonia. Life in the cold was hard on these guys! We're getting ready to post photos of 'Goji' one of the females that came to live in CA.

The Berkeley Animal Care Services made room for two dogs from Oklahoma ... a brave move for an open-admission shelter whose dog population is generally over-represented by local pit bulls. But Berkeley has been working steadily on their overpopulation issues and with adoptions at an all time high and kennels at an all time EMPTY, they were moved to help these out-of-state dogs in crisis.

Effie here is one of the two females now being cooed and adored by staff and volunteers. We knew they liked her when ACO Johnny dragged an office chair into her kennel to make her feel more at home. Thanks Johnny. Senior girl Effie is all about the love. She's dog tolerant (may even be dog social), adores people and flashes her toothy "Love me, Love me" grin to anyone who smiles in her general direction.

BACS is one of our favorite shelter partners and a must-do destination for Pit Ed Campers. We love showing out of town shelter workers that it really IS possible to increase your pit bull adoption numbers, support their owners and enjoy empty kennels.

Address for Dr. Yunker
As promised, the address to the unflappable Dr. Yunker who did fast and fantastic surgeries in unimaginable conditions in Oklahoma. He really deserves pit bull lovers' thanks for going waaay out of his way to help these dogs....
Dr. Terry Yunker, DMV
Animal Welfare, PO Box 20061,
Oklahoma City, OK 73156

Below, 'Turtle' from the Oklahoma case is reunited with her puppy in Oakland. Turtle is waiting for a home at BACS and her pup will be on our Available Page shortly.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008: Stubborn Hope!

If the new year is half as good as 2008 was to us, we aren't allowed to be cranky in '09 -- too much, anyway. Here are some of the good news surprises that laid a foundation for better days for our dogs.

January, 2008. The Associated Press was the first news media org to introduce the recently rescued Vick dogs to the world, displaying 20 photos of the dogs being trained, cradled and enjoyed. The AP article ran in over 200 publications around the world (we stopped counting after 200). Other news agencies faithfully filed their own stories including the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Fox News, SFgate, and numerous local papers and 'zines. CNN devoted nine minutes to the story with this interview with Tim, who explained that foster care status dogs did not need to be "rehabilitated."

February 2008. The Humane Society Missouri, following the federal government's lead, made the decision to evaluate their own 22 fight bust dogs - A first. One third of the dogs found new lives in pet homes. May 2008. One of the Missouri bust dogs made her video debut at the HSUS Expo, as part of BR's presentation on identifying breed ambassadors. Other law enforcement agencies join in aiding their own bust victims, including Los Angeles and South Holland, IL
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.” - Anne Lamott

Photo Above: Oklahoma dog about to released from his chain.

BSL WINS in 2008. The wins are ever sweet, despite the constant work of battling BSL threats. Thank you Marcy Setter for faithfully recording each and every win and loss, and to everyone who busted your balls in this fight. A biggie: In June 2008, the Netherlands announced a total removal of their 15 year breed ban.

July 2008. Photos of the Vick dogs captured by Pulitzer prize winning photographer Carol Guzy appeared in the the Washington Post with a nearly full front page photo of Our Pack's Leo, a therapy dog.

September 2008. Inspired by the groundbreaking victim advocacy work of Special Master Guardian Rebecca Huss, the American Bar Association promoted the lessons learned from the Vick case as a legal precedent. In October 2008 the precedent is promoted in Lewis and Clark Law School's annual conference. The ASPCA included 'happy endings' photos of the dogs in their training manual Investigating Animal Abuse for Law Enforcement and the USDA Office of Inspector General has plans to highlight the same Vick dog successes in a federal law enforcement conference in April 2009.

STUBBORN ACTIVISM: CA group Roverlution organized the Second Annual Pit Bull Awareness Day in October, shining positive media attention to pit bulls through 78 organized events in 33 states...Monthly Pit Bulls Pounding the Pavement parades took hold in central Florida. A Rotta Love in MN perfected the art of educating kids about dog safety. ...BR partnered with several agencies in Vallejo to bring resources, including training and owner support to over a hundred grateful pit bull owners. The City of Vallejo awarded BR for the "Celebrate Your Pit Bull" event in a presentation at a city council meeting. BR's Pit Ed Classes tripled in size, and over 25 pit bulls earedn their Canine Good Citizen certification and therapy dog titles.... Wallace the Disk Champ got a new housemate when Roo & Clara Yori gave a home to Vick dog Hector, creating exciting new opportunities for pit bull PR in 2009.

MEDIA DARLINGS: The Vick dog successes appeared all over the airwaves including specials on Nat'l Geo Special "Dogtown" with Best Friends, on the Animal Planet Witness show with BR dogs, on the Rachael Ray Show and the Ellen Degeneres Show.  They're highlighted in People Magazine, Bark Magazine and at the end of the year, the much celebrated cover story in Sports Illustrated.

Photo Right: Teddles on his Adoption Day.

PROGRESSIVE SHELTERS around the country began new or strengthened existing Breed Ambassador Adoption Programs in 2008, including the Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County, Hillsborough County AS Tampa, Anti-Cruelty Society Chicago, MN Tri-County Humane, Corning Animal Shelter, Oakland Animal Services, and many many more. The ASPCA celebrates pit bull adoption matches with the Adopt-A-Bull Contest. In December 2008, still enjoying a reduced shelter population after eight years of hard work, Berkeley Animal Care Services offered to fill two of its empty kennels with dogs from an abuse case in Kay County, Oklahoma. The case represents the first time multiple agencies came together to rescue abused pit bulls from a large scale bust in Oklahoma.


I'm sure readers have more to add to this list of Good News. Please, bring it on. We still have so much work to do together, but for today, we're wishing Happy Tipping Points to everyone who cares enough to insist on better days for all creatures, including and especially the pit bulls!