Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lessons from BB and Gemma

This is BB (BeeBee), one of the first dogs we absorbed from a larger fight bust, back in 2001. Way back when ... you know the story ...

 ... an HSUS rep following policy tried his best to convince the agency holding the seized dogs, the Bakersfield SPCA, that each one should be destroyed. The key to BB's salvation was a bully tuff District Attorney named Bill Woodruff who insisted they have a chance to be evaluated. He wanted this so badly that he decided to go to the media and make a case for the dogs' lives. Talk about sticking your neck out solo-style. Then, he had to find rescue partners with space available. Not an easy task, but he's a resourceful guy. And so - miracle of miracles - the door opened for the dogs and eleven out of thirty nine were saved.

I was never able to thank Bill in person for tackling that enormous job - including the bust, mind you (cyber wave to Bill) - or the anon amstaff breeder who paid for the dogs' neuters, or the kennel staff who took care of the dogs and, I'm supposing, secretly cheered when the Lucky Eleven walked out alive. I wish they knew how much they did to inspire us back then.

BB went on to live a sweet life as a pampered pet (aka 'Baby BB') and finally died a couple of years ago of natural causes. We've worked with numerous agencies on cruelty cases including fight busts since then and continue to learn from each. One of the most important lessons has been that, typically, one organization does not call the shots. In any given case there can be several voices, incuding heroes like Bill Woodruff or Brian Whistler and Mike Gil (both Vick dog D.A. heroes) on the ground who want to see the victims saved, but who need to know how to get to the right people who can help.

In short - despite common misperception - the HSUS has never been in full control of the outcome of bust dogs. But rather, they have the ear of the authorities including and especially the shelters who trust them to know what they're talking about. Which is why it has been so incredibly important that the HSUS voice support for those of us who know the rescue angle. 

In the spirit of fine tuning our collective ability to say 'Yes' to bust dogs and to bring compassion to the dogs that can't be helped, I'm looking forward to working as part of the effort now officially known as the 'Victims of Cruelty Working Group.'  The six participants all have hands-on experience and include reps from: the ASPCA, Animal Farm Foundation, Best Friends, NACA and - Yes, even the HSUS rep, now guided by their new policy to support evaluation and rescue efforts.

I have to say that the original HSUS rep who tried to block BB's rescue has since changed his tune and recently shook hands on BR's mission. It took years of dialogue, but I've really grown to like the guy, even tho' early on I wanted to kick him hard in the shins. I hope we get to work together on the next bust in CA because he's a good sort with a thousand good stories and I would love for at least one of them to be about the next BB that he helped save. So yeah - I'm an optimist. After all, pessimism doesn't do justice to the dogs we've been called on to help.

Let's be real though. Despite all our best intentions, the hardest part of this work will continue to be space issues in shelters as well as rescues. Busts happen year round (heads up east coasters: Boston Bust) ... and the rescues who routinely squeeze, rearrange and beg up foster care & boarding options know all about the dilemma of taking on too much. But it sure will be nice to have one less obstacle in the way when we're ready and able to help a few good dogs.
Want more inside scoop? Here's a lovely article from Best Friends on the Victims of Canine Violence

Keep those home fires burning.

Despite the recent focus on bust victims, dog lovers need to continue supporting efforts to help less glamorous but equally deserving victims of urban realities. Foreclosures are still shaking dogs right out of their homes in depressing numbers. Every week, owner surrender forms filled out at Oakland Animal Services cite "Forced to move" or "Foreclosure" as the reason for surrendering beloved pets. It's as heart wrenching as a bust, I tellya.

On the right is 14 year old Gemma. We aren't sure why her family had to give up on her, but in a shelter popping full of homeless dogs, she was not going to be able to beat out the younger, healthier dogs vying for the hard to come by kennel space.

Hats off to BR dog Tyson's adopter Kerry O'Connor (shown left on CGC Day), who made room so she could give this old gal comfort in her sunset days. Kerry gets it -- Talk is cheap to dogs like Gemma and BB.  Now, as always, the true fate of these dogs will be in the hands of those who are willing to make room in their hearts as well as their homes.


Bethany said...

I wish more rental housing allowed dogs. In the area where I live it will be at least a year or two before I can afford a place that will allow a dog as well as have savings to cover any doggie emergencies.
I do always feel a bit guilty when I'm showing a pit bull or other dog to a potential new family and they ask why I can't adopt the dog if I love him so much. I try to explain that that's why I go to the shelter because I can't take one home yet, but I always feel a little hypocritical because I can only foster cats right now.

Thoughts said...

Bravo to you and the HSUS for all you do. Thank god the HSUS finally changed their stance on this vital issue. Where would we be in terms of this fight without organizations like BADRAP...?


Melrose said...

Dog bless Kerry and all of you. . .

Snuggles said...

Let me take this opportunity to thank all of the unsung heroes of the Vick bust, the Newkirk bust, and all of the other busts both high-profile and low. You guys make life worth living!

Kirsten said...

I echo your optimism. If anything has taught me to be optimistic, it is working hands-on with shelter dogs. Shelters can be political and stressful, but you have to ignore all that and keep it upbeat to give the animals the care they deserve sans icky vibes.

And I agree that we all share responsibility. Many people still believe sole responsibility for animals rests with shelters and rescues, although shelters and rescue groups certainly understand how dependent they are on the wider community, and how their choices effect our work(load). Good foster homes are definitely worth their weight in gold, as are responsible pet owners.

We are steadily saving and planning in my household, so we can be somewhere we can lend a hand, and never, ever live with BSL again.

Anonymous said...

Bethany - I totally understand. I have dogs and have to look months in advance to find someone willing to negotiate taking me in exchange for paying a higher deposit etc. It's so sad that people have to give up their pets because of reluctant landlords. Honestly given the choice, I would live in a car/van/tent before giving up my pups, because they were already bounced around before coming to me and now they are getting up there in age. But I feel for those who don't have the luxury of making such a selfish decision like that.

One voice counts said...

Oh, GEMMA. I'm so happy TYSON's Mom Kerry gave you a home. You are so beautiful. I know Grandmother Earth and Grandfather Sky were keeping you close to heart when your other family had to turn you in to the shelter. They knew Donna would help you. When I see your face and read your story I know there is hope for this weary world. And BEEBEE - I'm so happy you were - and are - you. Because so many have lived - and will live - in your honor.

Donna said...

Thanks for the kind comments and, especially, your optimism.

Bethany brings up an important point about the difficulties of helping shelter animals in a rental market that rejects pit bulls especially. I can't imagine going to a landlord and asking permission to foster a dog from a fight bust for example - LOL!

As breed advocates, we all have a long road ahead of us. I appreciate that we aren't walking it alone.

Kembree said...

Just found you guys on here! I'm now a follower! I love all of you pictures on here!! :)

Bethany said...

I'm lucky that my building manager lets me keep my foster cat without paying another fee. I think the corporate owners would want me to, but he likes animals and told me that since I don't know how long the cat will be staying, it's not right to make me pay the fee in case he gets adopted in the middle of a month. He hasn't been able to convince corporate to allow dogs yet though :(

Anonymous said...

I would rather rent to a responsible dog owner than to someone with a bunch of punk teenagers any day!

Anonymous said...

As anon 11:27 says, individual landlords can be quite willing to rent to responsible owners of pit bulls. We rent in a rather competitive market, and our current landlord was more than happy to rent to us with two pit bulls, one of whom was a fight bust foster at the time. The only condition was that we provide proof of renter’s insurance. A year later we have four pit bulls in the house, and a happy landlord who knows he has stable, responsible tenants. Our previous landlord picked us over applicants who bought their pugs and chis to the open house because we provided appealing dog resumes and references for our dogs.

Donna said...

Thanks Letti.

One of the bigger issues we're facing is the expense of renting with pets. In some areas, it's nearly impossible to find a home for under 2K a month + substantial security deposits.

This has become a bigger problem keeping pit bulls in homes as well as fostering them when they're in danger.

Charles said...

Oh my gosh! Gemma looks so adorable. I love senior animals and will always adopt seniors.

I know what you mean about housing costs, I've had to mooch off family. I'd rather live in a van than give up my pets though.