Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Interview with Laurie Adams: Lessons from the custody dogs

Shelter workers can tell you that there's nothing more painful than watching a nice little dog deteriorate after being kenneled for several weeks or months without relief. In the past, a long-term custody dog's mental state was a non-issue since most were hidden out of sight and eventually euthanized.

But as rescue and adoption efforts for pit bulls especially gain acceptance, we're obligated to take a close look at how dogs are being treated while they wait for their outcome. Even those dogs that are too behaviorally unsound for the real world deserve our efforts to keep them as comfortable as possible during their confinement.

Laurie Adams - Animal Control Officer for Indianapolis ACC and volunteer with Casa del Toro pit bull rescue - caught our attention with the work she did organizing a team of volunteers around the needs of over 100 dogs seized in a massive dog fighting bust in Indiana this summer. Her quiet behind-the-scenes devotion is impressive and earned her an award from Partners in Shelter Services for her environmental enrichment work. Anyone who cares for groups of pit bulls knows that keeping dozens of terrier-minds from going bonkers during lock-down would be no small feat. We've been fascinated by what she's been doing and what she and her team learned from this experience, so we asked her to tell us her story in this interview. (Make sure and click the 'Read more' prompt below!)
"No longer should it be acceptable for them to just sit there and deteriorate. Some of these dogs, given some enrichment, just may find themselves in a position of being given another chance at a brighter future with an adoption." - Laurie Adams

D: We know you've been busy with a larger-than-life project that started this summer ... Please tell us what you've been doing.

Laurie: This summer we've began working on creating and implementing a kennel enrichment program for long-term investigation/custody dogs for (Indianapolis) Animal Care and Control.

While doing day to day operations at animal control, the rescue found itself assisting the dogs from a dog fighting operation in southern Indiana (Link News), over 100 dogs were seized during raids at two southern Indiana sites where they were suspected of breeding and training dogs for illegal fighting.

At the same time this was unfolding, Missouri was dealing with the largest dog fighting seizure in history. Casa Del Toro had every intention of trying to help rescue a dog or two from that case when our own bust landed in our back yard. It didn’t take us to long to realize what we had to do, we rolled up shop and headed out to help in our own state. Having run our own rescue here in Indiana we knew there just wasn’t a whole lot of available resources here for these dogs, so it just seemed fitting that we do what we can.

We didn’t have the room here to fit over a 100 dogs. That was our first obstacle. Where do we begin and how? We stepped back, counted to ten, said a couple of "WHOOOSAAAAAS, WHOOOSAAAAAS!" and a cocktail or two cleared our minds enough to stop and think about the entire picture. Realizing there was no way we could take on 100+ dogs we knew that the most we may be able to do is go to travel to the locations where they were being held and assist in handling and assessing - whatever we could assist with. We just knew there had to be something we could help with, doing nothing wasn’t an option for us.

Just the sheer sound of all the dogs barking in unison was overwhelming to my soul. As we walked the rows of kennels just looking at all the dogs there, some with various injuries, evidence of the once embedded chains to the necks, others just withdrawn and huddled back into the corner shaking, I was overcome with a great sadness. “Shake it off Laurie, you’re not going to do these dogs any good coming in wearing your heart on your sleeve,” I said to myself. We continued walking down the rows just looking, watching and taking our initial notes. After that day was over we went home to gather our thoughts.

Right off the cuff we identified a couple of cases that needed out for immediate assistance, but again we couldn’t do this alone, so we reached out to our fellow animal welfare friends and groups for assistance. We were overcome by gratefulness when our friends over at Indy Pit Crew, F.I.D.O and SNSI reached out to give us the assistance we needed to pull this off. We started the construction of some kennels; volunteers came early every day and worked until night time to help construct kennels to house some of the dogs here with us. (Note from BR, Laurie housed some of the more troubled dogs at her rescue facility in order to calm the shelter kennels, and to give those dogs the special attention and decompression time they needed.)

From that day on we said, “this is it man, this is it." Since then its been, get up every day, put the big pants on and get to work.

D: What drew you to wanting to help the long term custody cases?

Laurie: While working in Animal Control as a field supervisor, one of your jobs is to review all the case files that the officers write. When reviewing the cases you run the whole gamut of emotions. While you're happy that the officers are doing a great job at investigating and getting animals out of these neglectful cruel situations, there is also the flip side of that.

When the dogs are impounded some of them begin a very long road and play the ‘waiting” game. I have to say that by no means do I want them to NOT remove an animal from a cruel situation for fear they will sit in the kennels and deteriorate, I encourage them to remove them, but with the comfort of “knowing” that this animal will receive one-on-one attention and care while it's there. In some cases the animal may be released by the courts, surrendered and be placed up for adoption.

Having been an ACO myself, I know what it feels like to go through the whole process of having to be a first responder to the scene of these horrific situations, remove the animal, go through all the steps to prosecute then watch the animal as it deteriorates in the kennel while it awaits its day in court, then only to have the animal you rescued euthanized. That whole process is enough to kill a persons soul, and to have these officers have to go through this every single day, it's no wonder there is so much burn out in Animal Control Officers. The same can be said for the kennel technicians who feed these animals every single day. It's very hard when you see an animal every day talk to it, bond with it then come in one day to an empty kennel.

Then there are the dogs themselves, they come in and sit. Some can't be touched because they’re marked too aggressive, or they're quarantine cases, dog fighting or high profile cases ... For whatever reason these dogs aren’t made available for the public view, and often times they aren’t even made available to the “normal” volunteers to work with, so again they sit.

I’ve always been one to “go against the grain” of things and venture of the path of what’s “routine." I was always the kid who drug home the ugliest, rattiest, three legged, missing ear, no-tail animals while everyone else had the cute little smell good fuzzies, so it seemed fitting for me one day to just say, "Ya know, there just may be potential in the dogs in Kennel 4 that I’m sure are unintentionally marked as “The Forgotten or the Why Bothers.“" So one day as I was walking down the rows of dogs in Kennel 4, otherwise known as Investigations, I began just taking a look at each one, talking to them, getting to know who they were.

I would disappear for an hour or so and just walk the kennel talking to them, and in each one of them, I saw a dog that was confused, scared and obviously alone, and thought to myself, "this just isn’t right, they come in here and they wait, and in a lot of cases they just die, no one to talk to them, no one to engage them, no one to even try to engage them." I thought to myself, "How is this even remotely acceptable? Should we not try and make an already crappy situation at best tolerable for them?" Hell, we should at least acknowledge their existence beyond feeding and watering them.

So that’s where the “idea” sprung up in my head, to just talk to them every day, treat them every day, and if possible, walk them, just engage them. So I sat down and began researching the programs that were out there, and found little other than a GREAT program called Give a Dog a Bone by Corrine Dowling. I took what she had, read it and added a few things of my own and from then on we have taken baby steps to do what we can. The program is still very much in its infancy but we anticipate this will be a great success, as it's driven by the belief that this can and will make a difference in the lives of the dogs that sit .... and wait.

D: Can you describe some of the activities you've done with the dogs? What worked. What didn't work?

Laurie: Honestly at this point I cant say that anything HASN’T worked, everything seems to be working.

What works most I believe is communicating with the animal, using it's name if at all possible to get the dogs attention. If even for a split second in time, you have that dog engaged. A lot of what we have begun to do is walk, talk and treat. Again, we're in our infancy stage so were playing a game of ‘What we want to focus on and in what stages?' We're excited to get the frozen ice buckets up and going, we have already acquired a chest freezer that we hope to be able to “house” at animal control so we can keep a steady supply of frozen Pup-cicles on hand for the dogs.

D: What's been the biggest lesson in all of this?

Laurie: I’d have to say above and beyond everything the biggest lesson of this recognizing that there is a need for us to be more responsible about how we house these dogs when they are taken in and held for long periods of time, and that it does make a difference in the lives of these animals. No longer should it be acceptable for them to just sit there and deteriorate. Some of these dogs, given some enrichment just may find themselves in a position of being given another chance at a brighter future with an adoption. I have seen the positive effects it has on the bust dogs were are housing here. The results are nothing short of amazing!

I realize that our animal shelters are overburdened and understaffed already but that shouldn’t be the reason why we leave these dogs to live a lesser quality of life then those dogs who are allowed to be walked or taken out or interacted with. There are a lot of politics in many shelters all over that may prevent the access that needs to be granted to work with these dogs, but it shouldn’t stop at the 'red tape.' At some point we need to demand that these animals have a better quality of life. In our case were blessed with a great upper management team that sees this just as importantly as we do.

D: What's next for you and your team?

Laurie: I'm not sure what our next step will be. We hope to begin presenting monthly progress reports for these dogs in the monthly Animal Control board meetings. These meetings are televised, so hopefully we can catch the attention of more people who will see this as an item of importance.

Awareness, I'd have to say, is our next step. I just want people to be aware of these guys who are just sitting there, that when the cameras go off and the lights go down and the story of the cruelty wanes, that the victims are still “victims” unless we do everything in our power that we can to provide them with a better quality of life while they travel through the process and to provide a “humane and compassionate end," no matter what that end may be.

D: Can you tell us about a special dog that benefited from your enrichment work?

Laurie: April (photo right) came in as a severe cruelty case. She had multiple broken bones, deep scars both new and old. She was emaciated, dirty and covered in fleas, I was there when she was unloaded off the truck, I watched her as she sat there hunkered down, head dropped to the ground as if she was had given up on life.

I asked the officer to let me take her over; I would walk her back to the kennel. She slowly made her way down the hallway with me as we rounded the corner to her kennel I remember wondering "What now for this little dog?" As the days went by I would go in and sit with her, talk with her, give her treats to try and get her to come to me, I could tell she wanted to come to me, and in time she did. It took a couple of days for her to begin to come out of her shell and when she did she began to tell me who she was. From that day on we spent many hours just talking and getting to know each other, I would take her out for walks in the grass, something so new to her, but every day was a baby step in a forward motion.

I remember the first day she felt the grass under her feet and the wind in her muzzle, I just sat there watching her as she slowly stretched her body out in the sun, nose in the air and just taking in the fresh air, her eyes would blink in slow motion it seemed, the look on her face was one of just peace.

I remember after she had been there for some time, the day came that her "time was up," I was granted permission to pull her into rescue, where she would continue her road to recovery. Medically she had a long way to go, but I fully believe because of just a little bit of time spent with her every day, she was able to be resilient through the time she spent in a kennel situation. If I were her and had been put through what she had been, I would have no reason to ever trust another human being, but she did.

She made me see just how important it is to acknowledge these dogs when they enter our shelters, that no matter if they come in with the initial thought of being "Non Adoptable." She opened my eyes and made me see, just how much they need and thrive for that attention, her success did not take a degree, a certification, nothing like that. All it took was someone to acknowledge her existence and give her a little bit of their time. I knew from then on that if she could benefit from this than others would to.

I'm not saying that every dog that comes in will end up being adoptable. I am saying is that they respond to interaction and are more at peace with themselves for the time they are there. While I fully understand that in a lot of cases we have to isolate or quarantine animals off from the rest of the population for good reasons, I also know that we as human beings should not forget them. It's easy to do. When we get busy in our day to day shuffle, its very easy to just walk by.

In my case, April stopped me dead in my tracks, and made me see that It's just as easy to STOP and say Hello, "Who are you little dog?"

Thank you Laurie for inspiring all of us to do better.


Unknown said...

Such a wonderful article. Very inspiring :-) Thank you for bringing light to her wonderful works!

Anonymous said...

Bravo Laurie! and thank you for voicing that every creature matters and deserves our kindness -
Thank you Bad Rap for a rich interview that we can use to re-energize ourselves whether we're working with bust dog victims, quarantined, isolated dogs or just when there are just so many - each one really matters. Sometimes we forget to speak to each one. Thank you.

Lynn in N. Cal

Sally's mom said...

This should be required reading for every single person who works in a shelter. Laurie is a hero! Thanks for this.

ingrid said...

Wonderful Wonderful article.

I don't think I realized how isolated and ignored our bust dogs actually are. In my mind, they'd require MORE interaction, not less!

I don't think we can ignore nature- socialization is so important to mammals, especially pack animals. Isolation can actually be dangerous. It's not normal in any way. I understand the need for separation and confidentiality when dealing with bust dogs, but isolation? That seems like it would do more damage.

I commend Laurie for her grasp on reality and commitment. Thank you.

Kevin said...

I agree, Laurie is going above and beyond to help these dogs. Hats off to her and her volunteers for doing this. Great Story.

Amanda said...

This is awesome, thanks for sharing! I remember hearing about that bust, and have wondered many times what came of that group of dogs. THANK YOU to Laurie and all the other kind hearts working with her to provide these dogs with some love, enrichment, and understanding. I hope we hear more good outcomes as time allows.

This is a real eye-opener about what seized dogs go through. =(

pitbull friend said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful interview. Laurie, your work is the essence of compassion. Just beautiful!

Dianne said...

Thanks for this. The shelter where I volunteer now requires all staff to carry (and give) treats. We are doing agility with some of our long-time residents, taking dogs for walks in the community, and of course adoption events. It helps us stay human as well as humane.

Catherine said...

Laurie, and the rescue she founded, Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Rescue, are amazing!
Bust dogs deserve just as much of a chance as any other dog!
THANK YOU, Laurie!

Anonymous said...

you all are so great! thank you for the heartfelt & supportful words, I attended a Animal Control board Meeting last night and talk to everyone about the program, It was nice to see some of the newer folks who sit on the Animal Control board light up about it Again, were still in our infancy but its comming along nicley.
Were moving our freezer in this weekend!!! WOOo HOOO

Take Care all & Happy Holidays,
Donna, thank youi again for so much!

Laurie A

Desiree Bender said...

Laurie and Anne Sterling, Indiana state director for The HSUS did an incredible job with the dogs in this case. Anne Sterling had never had experience with pit bulls before and she jumped right in to make sure these dogs got what they needed by recruiting Laurie. In addition, The HSUS funded everything with this project; medical needs, toys, hourly pay, boarding fees, and anything else these dogs needed. Great team work guys!!!!
This is a grand example of Compassionate Sheltering of seized fighting dogs and it is a huge step forward for the dogs!!! A year ago this would have been unheard of with seized dogs. Now it has become a reality thanks to so many people coming together and working as a team for the dogs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all involved for all of your hard work on behalf of these deserving dogs. So much progress on this issue has been made as a result of so many individuals and organizations coming together.

I was wondering if BADRAP is going to have room to be able to take any of the Missouri 500 dogs. Word is that there are still lots of dogs there that passed their Behavior Evals that need rescuing. I thought I heard early on that BR was going to be taking some of the MO 500, but maybe I got that wrong?

Donna said...

Anon 10:35 - BR has been working closely with federal authorities and shelter officials since July to help several dozen of dogs from this case. Because a large part of our work has involved making recommendations to the courts, we need to maintain some confidentiality until the perps have had their trial. For now, yes, we've been able to absorb numerous dogs and orchestrate the rescue of many others. Our work is ongoing and more behind-the-scenes than other groups, which is a bummer for our supporters since they aren't able to know what we've been busy with -- But please know that we're in deep and a lot of really exciting things are happening that we'll be able to talk about very soon!

Unknown said...

Anyone in the SF bay area interested in volunteering for a similar program?

please visit www.gadab.org

Unknown said...

loved this article. a new great way to gain exposure for sheltered dogs and raise money for shelters is http:www.whatsmypuppy.com

its a great idea!