Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When finding a home just isn't enough

Over thirty people showed up in chilly temps last month to attend our orientation for Pit Ed Class. It can be hard to hear through the winter winds in this outdoor space, but the crowd leaned in close to soak up the first important lesson. Some had been waiting for up to six months for a spot in this class, so were understandably ready to listen up and get on with this thing. Most wanted help for the same kinds of issues - their dogs were spazzing out on leash, ignoring direction, reacting to other dogs, or getting destructive at home, etc - You know? those normal things that nearly every home struggles with at some point during their dog's adolescence.

No one really wants a dog that acts like an ass, pit bull owners especially. Non-pits might get a free pass from animal control and/or their neighbors for first offenses, but the same will put a perfectly wonderful pit bull in dangerous cross hairs, especially if his owner is anything less than stubbornly committed to working out the kinks in his stewardship. Breed scrutiny is so not fair, but it is a reality still.

We run five separate classes each weekend, and see up to 60 dogs on busy days. With so many people moving through, we get to enjoy dogs from every corner of the bay and every situation imaginable: Found dogs, inherited dogs, big money purchased dogs, fostered and adopted dogs, mixy dogs, stable dogs, sketchy dogs, my-brother-went-to-jail dogs and lots and lots of my-kid-moved-out-and-left-me-with-this-big-unruly-problem dogs (those are usually attached to pissed off and very determined middle age women who kick ass and excel in class).

As much fun as it can be, Saturdays never come without a few disappointments, especially with dogs that are in danger of losing their homes. We want so much for everybody to do well, but some owners struggle more than others and occasionally, class is too little too late. You might guess that our bigger challenges might come from the street kid with the beefy he-man dog, but, not at all. We love having these guys in class and we share their pride in owning a big sexy, well trained dog that turns heads.

Great expectations...

Our toughest cases tend to come from a whole other subset: the well intentioned but totally mis-matched shelter adopters and their new-ish dogs, many which are scooped up in a brave and exciting rush to save a life. This honorable approach to getting a pet has gotten more popular as rescue dogs earn status in the public eye. But a rushed adoption can bring big headaches if a home isn't fully prepared and supported. In some cases, an adopter's expectations can be overly romantic and wildly unrealistic and can domino them into all sorts of avoidable problems with their dog. They might find themselves struggling with a personality that is beyond what they can handle and not even realize that they need help until after their new dog gets into trouble a few times. Even sadder, they may have actually selected this pet out from a line-up of hundreds of more appropriate personalities. Life seems to like lobbing curve balls at people just to keep things interesting.

Don't get me wrong. We absolutely love helping people get on the right path with their dogs - sometimes all the way to CGC fame - but it can be discouraging to count the number of homes on our Pit Ed class wait list that need emergency support so soon after "saving" their dogs from a local shelter or rescue group. It's fun to think of shelter adoptions as a blissful event and walk into the happy sunset for both the dog and his new family. But their honeymoon can end days or weeks after the fact when untrained dogs fall back into some of the same behaviors that caused their original homes to give them up in the first place.

We're resigned to spending a part of our week on adoption clean-up duty, and we do our best to help struggling owners get the information they need to be good stewards. In many cases, the classes make all the difference but sometimes we're not so lucky and a home gives up on its pet before we can help them with changes. Those are the situations that twist our stomachs in knots and drove me to write this particular blog.

Of course it's never a dog's fault when an adoption goes south. Overwhelmed shelters can get itchy to move dogs out, and adopters know how to say all the right things to someone who's worried about a stressing dog and/or dwindling kennel space. And rescues know that promoting death row dogs with pleading ads can bring last minute miracles from big hearted sorts who graze the Craigslist Pets page. While these approaches can certainly get dogs into homes, they can also set an adopter on a very difficult path that they may or may not be able to navigate.

Whose job is it to keep dogs in their homes?

I had to wonder if animal behaviorist Ian Dunbar has been experiencing some of the same failed-adoption frustrations when I read his January column in Bay Woof. He wrote that last month was "National Train Your Dog Month," but instead of pointing his message at dog owners, he put out a compelling challenge to shelters and other dog advocates.

He said, "To minimize the unnecessary deaths of countless dogs, all Bay Area doggy professionals must unite to proactively educate.." We always perk up for a call to arms for proactive education and Dunbar's words couldn't have rung truer.

"...far too many dogs are surrendered to shelters because their owners were unaware of how to prevent predictable puppy/adolescent behavior, temperament, and training problems. Without appropriate education, unlucky pups are likely to be surrendered to shelters before their first birthdays. Today's science-based dog trainers have all the answers, yet, sadly, few people seek their advice until problems develop.

We can only decrease euthanasia in public and private shelters by decreasing shelter populations. This can only occur when we Increase Shelter Output (adoptions) by refining behavior rehabilitation programs in shelters AND Decrease Shelter Input by teaching prospective and new puppy owners how to raise their pups to be charming and cherished companions. The latter option is quicker, easier, and cheaper." - Ian Dunbar quoted in Bay Woof

The behavior mod programs he's promoting may look like an unreachable luxury to busy shelters whose main goal is to get dogs out the door. And teaching prospective dog owners how to prevent classic behavior problems can certainly seem like "someone else's job" to an organization that's flooded with animals. But as difficult as these goals can be, embracing these efforts is vital to keeping disenfranchised dogs - pit bulls especially - safe and supported and out of the shelters a second or third and final time. In some cases, shelters are unaware when some of the favorite dogs they worked so hard to save end up back in danger of dying in another overwhelmed shelter, in another county with never enough adopters. It happens often enough for us to join Dunbar's trumpet call to animal care professionals to reform ways we all work to adopt out dogs and - especially - to help them stick in their new homes.

Berkeley gets it.

There are reasons to feel optimistic about possibilities. One of the best examples is in Berkeley - the town that we bragged about some time ago for its ongoing work to help pit bulls and to create a sustainable balance for the pets in its community.

Berkeley can drive me nuts at times (It's still legal to walk your dog on an invisible voice-command-only leash. Yep, for real), but we have to give this city of idealists a mountain of credit for actually wanting a system that supports pit bulls and other pets in crisis, and then for keeping that goal front and center for several years until it started to gel. That includes everything from working to meet dogs' needs while in the shelter, supporting home visits and owner education in front of adoptions, and training and information after the dog goes home. Their system is far from perfect, but they continue to offer one of the best Shelter Adoption models we've seen for pit bulls, and we stay committed to giving them a good chunk of our weekend for that reason.

The alternative is just more of this. From a recent email to BR (names deleted to protect the well-intentioned):

"Hello. I adopted my dog from the ____ shelter 4 months ago. The volunteers showed her to be fun-loving and sweet around children, so we brought her home. However, we are seriously considering turning her back in based on her repeated door dashing and attacking cats and dogs in the neighborhood. Just Saturday she attacked a dog walking on a leash and the woman walking her was frightened and angry. She is very difficult on leash and I'm at my wits end." - shelter adopter

It's doubtful anyone would want a dog that's this poorly managed in their neighborhood (I wouldn't), but a simple home visit and fence check would've helped the dog and her new owner tremendously. And at least one mandatory training class. Why not? Especially if it saves a life. In the meantime, this dog is in danger again and other pets have been put in harm's way. (Note to any pit bull haters who may be grazing: This situation isn't a "pit bull thing." Trainers get these kinds of notes every day from owners of every breed imaginable ... but only one breed will be systematically singled out and condemned for it.)

Here's a scenario we love to see:

Kim wanted a pit bull but also knew that she'd need support since she was new to the breed. A Berkeley Shelter staffer considered her wish list and intro-ed her to an immature male named Jake. She fell in love, got home checked, adopted, then started BR's Berkeley-based classes and got her boy trained and socialized. Nice.

But Chapter Two is even more important: Nature came calling as Jake was maturing from a young dopey pup to a strapping adult, and one day he decided to puff up and spark at another dog. No big deal -- it looks bad, but this very manageable show of bravado happens to the best of dogs. Our trainer Linda got to see the whole thing and gave Kim quick advice and a gameplan to help her be a better leader and to steer her boy off the path of being a nuisance. That support helped her take her commitment one step further and she and Jake soon earned a Canine Good Citizen title together. Without Berkeley's vision, Kim might've found herself alone with a dog that sparks at dogs as habit, the breed would've taken a hit ("bad, scary pit bull") and in the end, a shelter might've received yet another out of control adolescent that staff decided to euthanized. But they won't. Thank you Berkeley.

Maddies Fund is Watching

Maddies Fund recognized Berkeley's shelters recently, and promoted their effort with this lovely article. We were so happy to see the template spelled out so cleanly. Berkeley Jams on Pit Bull Adoptions
"The biggest problem facing homeless pit bulls is the lack of accurate information," said Kersey. "How you educate people is crucial, so it's equally crucial that you first educate your staff and volunteers to do a good job talking about the dogs." - Sara Kersey, Berkeley East Bay Humane Society

My one quibble is the headline: "Solving the Pit Bull Problem." Maddies, with all due respect, pit bulls aren't the problem. But they certainly experience problems when their people fail them. Other than that, some great quotes and hopefully, some inspiration in here for other shelters who are struggling with similar issues.


Anonymous said...

"pissed off and very determined middle age women who kick ass"... I'm sorry, I don't recall that we've ever actually met in did you know to describe me so accurately???

A very well written and interesting blog.

BTW: My Bunny is an alumni of BACS. She was in shelter almost 4 months, stressed and needing to get adopted or fostered ASAP. Fortunately she adopted me and the rest is history.


pitbull friend said...

What a great article, Donna! Tough slogging as this stuff is, it lifts my heart a little to know that, thanks to some super hardworking people, there now ARE good examples to follow on these issues. Having some examples of how to do it well is a large part of the battle. (A large part of my own personal battle is fighting not to criticize adopters who want a dog -of any breed - to be perfect from day one and are not willing to put in the work to get a great dog. As far as I'm concerned, the Serenity Prayer was written for that situation.)

Boris said...

Hey Jake's Kim,

Wow, your red boy so looks like my family's Ol'Jake. He knew how to Be-a-Have. However his juvie stories are legends - eating open french doors and wearing a cat door collar after it 'came' out of the wall. If yours is an ounce of the loving dog Ol'Jake was, you're blessed.

I'm so proud of my fosters and folks that got me over my 'sparks'. I'm such a good CGC role model now for our foster JR. I can't understand why he pulls towards those passing pups and has to bang into me on walks. O.K. he's cute and fast, but I'm better educated.

Remember -
Preparation, Participation and Perseverance ... what rescues need.

Cal Land and BadRappers, keep educating and inspiring!

I'll check-back, Boris

Anonymous said...

I have to admit when I adopted my 'terrier mix' from the shelter in Baltimore, MD and realized I had a real live pit bull puppy snuggled in arms. I was stumped. I was not about to give up my boy. But after the hundredth night of chasing the imp through my apartment with my unmentionables waving from his triumphant jaws, I entertained a few fantasies of ropes and hobbles.

All this being said. I went into adopting a dog with a plan. I knew that training would be a big part of it. I just realized that as a pit bull owner the training would be more specific and a the work involved in creating a positive view point about my dog would take an amazing amount of dedication.

We both survived doggie adolescence. He has grown up to be an example of a loving dog, good with children and other pets & dogs. But it has taken time and effort. As you pointed out in the blog, time and effort is necessary in the addition of any dog in a family. Particularly with a Pit Bull. I didn't have the learning resources that I have now. But I wouldn't trade a minute of the journey.

Leila & her best friend for almost 6 years, Quizz
Richmond, VA

TDY said...

Great post. Rescue/shelter workers straddle a fine line between implying a prejudice against the breed while clearly communicating to potential adopters that pit bulls are for everyone. The fact that pit bulls are constantly under so much scrutiny means owners have to be committed to having a well-behaved dog on the end of their leash, more so than any other breed. They're not the breed for the lazy owner, that's for sure! Thanks so much for your commitment to educating owners, and ensuring there are more ambassa-dogs out there promoting how amazing these dogs can be!

TDY said...

Er, that should read "NOT for everyone..."

Donna said...


and, well said (both times!) TDY!

Unknown said...

great post, donna.
i squirmed with discomfort when it read it because i too fall into the "pissed off and very determined middle aged" women category whom you laud but alas, I also reside in the under-educated, over-enthusiastic impulse adopter category as well. I wanted to Save A Dog From Death Row (the amount of stuff I didn’t know six years ago is legion) and I didn’t. instead, I agreed to foster a 10-month old pit-mix for “two weeks” when someone needed surgery. With the passage of a few short months, two things were clear: (a) I was oxo’s owner and (b) I had indeed rescued a dog from death row after all. Oxo became alarmingly dog reactive at social maturity---to every dog, on every walk, and from six blocks away. Living in dog-dense manhattan, yard-less and car-less, the experience was excruciating, exhausting, and emotionally-draining. With a second round of obedience classes, every book I could find, a treat-bag constantly replenished, and as much pissed-off, kick-ass determination as my middle-aged self could muster, oxo’s behavior gradually improved. Oxo turns 7 in the summer and it’s been three years since she was diagnosed with anxiety-disorder---I didn’t need the behavior vets at UPenn to tell me that but I did need them to prescribe calming meds for her---and she remains a handful at times. I love her dearly, flaws and all. My next dog is going to be pit bull too. Only this time, I know exactly what I want. Pinky Deluxe!!!!

Unknown said...

GREAT post, Donna. BAD RAP helped me with my girl Ginger after I adopted her from a shelter nine years ago and found myself unsure of how to manage a zealous young pit bull. You saved us and I will be forever grateful for all of your tramendous work for these special dogs and for helping guardians like me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! We're celebrating Ginger's tenth birthday this year and we will say a cheers to all of you awesome folks at BR. You are the BEST!

Anonymous said...

Yikes...this was a great article and hit a nerve with me too. I've seen dogs pushed on people out of desperation by volunteers and shelter workers and it has turned out badly for the dog. The matchmaking process is serious business. I adopted a sweet young pit pup (approx. 12-18 mos.?) who had recently had a litter (no one knows what happened to the pups) thinking I was well equipped to handle her based on my years of volunteering at the county shelter and ability to handle the strong dogs. We also have a pit mix who earned his CGC and passed his Delta Society test for pet therapy. With time and effort he became a super dog. He was a real handful when he was about the same age as the new pup so I felt I was up to the challenge of an, ahem, wild little dog. But he was nothing compared to our new pup! The new pup is more difficult because she's a fence climber. Luckily she's not dog aggressive and I've retrieved her STAT the times she's gotten over it. (God forbid she sees the neighbor's cat -- that could be very bad!) Needless to say she now has to stay on a pulley while in the yard. We are working on leash manners about to start round 3 of obedience classes. Does anyone have any suggestions for fence climbers? If she could run around our fenced nearly an acre of property with our other dogs, she might burn off some of that energy. Once I get her better trained on leash, she will get plenty of walks but now she is almost impossible even with a gentler leader. Walks are not fun for her or me now. She's smart and I know that she will eventually come around and learn her leash manners but until then...the world is so exciting...gotta pull, gotta go, gotta get there, gotta smell it, see it, pant, pant! I suspect she may have been confined to a basement or closet in her early months and now has such joy when out discovering the world at large. Too much joy for me to handle at the moment! Maybe in the spring installing an electric fence inside our permanent fence? I hate to have to keep her tethered but we have no choice in being responsible owners. Does anyone have any suggestions/solutions for fence climbers? We've already tried extending the fence with chicken wire at a 90 degree angle and unfortunately our town has 4 foot fence height restriction. She's very agile and athletic and would be a great candidate for agility once we get her under control. Thanks.

Melody said...

I'm so excited for the orientation this Sunday, it's been a good 6 - 7 month wait but I KNOW it's completely worth it! When I got the email I was like a little kid in a candy store, serious! I'm so happy, really want to learn more on how I could better manage and have my dog be a great ambassador for the breed. (= Yay!

Donna said...

Such great stories here. Thanks to everyone - especially you pissed off middle agers ;-) - for sharing your challenges so eloquently.

Anon 3:53. Hate to say it, but now that your girl sees your four foot fences as agility jumps, she'll always be tempted to hop. We've never known electric fences to be a help with the pushy balls-out gotta-go style pit bulls, either. It sounds like you have a wonderful working style dog with drive to spare. Those personalities can bring as much headache as joy, so you'll have to get creative to make this work. I might get her going on a treadmill just to give her that exercise that she craves. A running trolley system in your yard can be a help, too. Or at the very least, a secure kennel so she can get some outside time without you needing to worry about escapes. Try a micro-prong for your walks and back it up to her flat collar with a carabiner so it's secure (the prong goes above the flat and needs to be fitted well). It'll be easier to train her on leash after she's had a good run on the treadmill, too. To sharpen her focus (and help wear her out) you might want to try the tracking work that Linda is promoting for pit bulls. Linda gave out this website recently: I know just the kind of dog you're struggling with and wish you the best of luck. She will challenge you while making you once hec of a good dog handler, and if you find your groove with her, you may discover that no other kind of dog suits you since she's so much damn FUN!

April - thanks for the nice words. Wow - you must've been one of our first victims in Pit Ed nine long years ago (with Amber maybe?). How very cool. Send us a photo of Ginger to jog my memory, k?

Bethany said...

Do you know of any shelters that do pre-adoption classes for new dog owners? It's something I've been thinking of suggesting to my shelter for the reasons this post points out--there are a lot of people who want to do "good" but don't have the experience and knowledge. Currently we offer training classes after they have their dog and do a short home visit with basic advice, but nothing extensive to explain how to handle basic behavior issues (with any dog). The closest thing we do is offer free training classes for "difficult" but non-aggressive dogs (pullers, jumpers, etc--sweet but no manners whatsoever).

Donna said...

Hi Bethany
I'm sure there are shelters out there that offer pre-adopt classes - And if so we'd love to hear from them - but I can't name any good examples right now. I do know that many shelters use BR's website as 'homework' for pit bull adopters in advance of an adoption and some even quiz their applicants to make sure they absorbed the content. lol

I tried sit-down pre-adoption classes at Oakland Animal Services, but I have to admit they bombed. I found that many people were so excited about getting a new dog that it was hard to sit in a chair and focus. They just wanted to get that dog home! I can't blame them one bit, and came to the conclusion that a snazzy video might be better than talking head.

One of our favorite ways of helping pit bull adopters see what they might be getting into is to have them come to our training class to observe and in many cases, handle a dog. As you know, it's one thing to love up on a dog in a quiet setting, but quite another to navigate it around real world distractions. In many cases, this has helped people recognize that they just aren't ready for the training commitment a pushy terrier might need. We love when that happens.

Bethany said...

Thank you! Maybe a little pit bull packet of info with a pre-adoption training session with the dog they want could help.

I know it's part of why I started volunteering--because I eventually wanted to get a pit bull but knew I needed more guided experience. We're great at training volunteers, but now we just need to train adopters to the same level.

Donna said...

Love the idea of giving a home a little leash lesson before you sign papers. Love it.

That should really help you identify bad matches or gonna-be-trouble matches before they get in too deep!

Dianne said...

Hi, I am just getting to this after spending 4 days snowbound in DC. I volunteer at the Washington Animal Rescue League (
and do not speak for the shelter officially. We have been using the ASPCA's Meet Your Match program for about two years now.

This helps us give potential adopters an idea of what the dog will be like when they get it home initially. Most of our pitties will be green, which means they are highly socially, very persistent, and high energy. That, rather than breed, helps me as an adoption counselor to
steer people to the right dog for them. Sometimes people ask specifically for a pit bull, but most of the time they stumble on them.

I tell them you will have to train your dog, and it will have to be

The Best Dog

on your block. This summer, I had one young man (around 12-14) tell his mom he would give up a sports so he could train his dog.

I would never ever try to "force" a dog on a potential adopter. In
fact, what I have done, is suggest that some of our shyer dogs might be seen as a challenge, to get them to come out of their shell. Some people are very receptive to that idea. The hardest to place right now are the puppy mill dogs. Also, the Last Puppy. The one who is not as outgoing as the others in the litter, and is now is danger of growing up in the shelter.

I also help with training the dogs. Quite a few volunteers also serve as trainers and go throught training with our CPDT. There is a group of about 13 of us who are working on CGC certification. Right now we have three pit-mix dogs under 6 months old that we are training to be CGC certified. This was inspired in part by the open admissions shelter run by WHS for the city, who got their first CGC for a pit-mix in December.

When I show a dog to a potential
adopter, I can usually "train" them to sit while I am talking with them. (The dog, not the
people!) The people claim that I "know" the dog or have some special relationship with the dog, and then I give them some treats to use with the dog and show them how easy it is. We are offering a free class to new adopters which is about an hour and a half, people only class, taught by a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and using only positive reinforcement. I have assisted with this class a couple of times. I have had adopters take me aside afterwards and say basically - oh wow, I had no idea I would learn so much! We also offer hands-on with your dog classes. We have made special arrangements for dogs who are very
reactive and are able to train them apart from the rest of the class. We have offered these classes for free with certain dog adoptions as an incentive to place a harder-to-place dog. The return rate for our shelter is about 8 percent.

I also probably qualify as one of the "pissed off and very determined middle age women who kick ass"... except I hardly expect to live to be 112!

I'm sure I've forgotten something, just let me know.

Anonymous said...

I adopted a pit bull to save his life after he had been at a l.a. city shelter for 6 months and was on his final euth date. L.A. city shelter don't care who you are as long as you pay and show ID and they give no pre-adoption counseling or even suggest any training or anything. I've had more guidance and question asked of me when buying furniture.

But I fell madly in love with this particular dog and knew that he couldn't die so I read every single thing I could at the BR website and PBRC and got him into a class taught by Tia from Villalobos and just went along for the ride. Adopting him was a hugely emotional, not super logical, decision and there was no joyous "yay I adopted a dog!" feeling just a "I can't leave him there to die, he deserves more than that". I did have sense enough to decide that if he proved himself to be a man-biter, I would have him put to sleep--at my vet, not in the shelter. Luckily, he just proved to be a too smart for his own good rascal who is dog reactive.

I don't recommend adopting the way I did--but I also know that most people give up their dogs too easily and would not got to the lengths my family has to keep their pittie out of trouble. That includes having to leash him whenever he is outside --even in our fenced yard--as he is a fence jumper. He made it out once (and was caught less a minute later across the street) and attempted another time. That was enough. Now we we take him out to potty and do numerous laps around the yard, at minimum 3x a day and often more. Because of so many unleashed dogs in the neighborhood and at the popular parks, he can only go for walks at a certain park that is almost always empty and totally flat so I can see if there's trouble (in the form of some stupid person with their dog offleash) coming.

The Captain said...

As a vet tech and a veteran rescuer, I should have known better, but I fell for the trap of impulse adoption too. I wound up with an exuberant JRT mix, and I've had to re-vamp my couch potato lifestyle to fit his needs.

It turned out to be a good thing for me (I exercise now more than I ever had) but the first 18 months or so were the most exhausting of my life I love my Jasper though, and I am glad we ended up together. Next time I go looking for a dog though, I'll be looking for a lounging buddy rather than a tazzy devil. ;)

Anonymous said...


Great blog and comments!

I especially like the idea of giving a training class by a professional trainer to all new adopters. At the very least they can see how training works and it might get them to continue. As a volunteer at a shelter in Jersey City, NJ I see too many well meaning but clueless people who adopt and since the majority of our dogs are young pit bulls and mixes this creates more returns and behavior problems.

Our shelter tried offering inexpensive training classes by a professional dog trainer to recent adopters, but did not get much of a response. I think if the classes were free and mandatory for adopters of pit bulls and other strong breeds, it might make more of a difference.

Dianne said...

Hey, Anon
I think if you make the class free and offered at a convenient time (weekends and evenings) you'd be surprised at the turn out. Our free, evening class is always oversubscribed.

Dianne said...

I don't think you need to make training mandatory, just free and convenient (evenings and weekends). The free classes offered on Friday evening and taught by a CPDT are always full. You don't make your money off of adoptions or training tuition -- you make it off of goodwill.

Donna said...

Everyone has to design their program based on their particulars - especially, the styles of dogs that are getting adopted.

Our classes for adopters are always free and definitely mandatory. Most would be there even if they weren't mandatory, but occasionally someone needs this (contractual) requirement to nudge them out of bed on Saturday mornings.

We deal with so many dogs from fight busts and/or dogs that have been horribly unsocialized, so as you can imagine, it really helps the breed to make sure everyone is stepping up 100%. It may be different if we only dealt with ding-dong youngsters, but we love our spicey pit bulls way too much to soften the program.

The public typically pays for class because, after several years of offering classes, we've found that people are much less likely to give up if they've made a financial investment. Isn't that the way it goes?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post. My little man is at that sassy spark plug phase. We're headed to orientation tomorrow and I couldn't be more excited some new skills to better prepare both of us for those scenarios!

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna

I'm one of the people who completely support Berkeley's progressive and smart leash law which gives the owner the possibility to walk their dog off leash if under voice control within a certain distance. Like many progressive laws, this involves all parties involved taking some personal responsibility. I get that if you are walking a dog aggressive dog on leash you don't want a playful pup running up to your dog, but the presence of so many dog aggressive dogs in our community is what leads to a bunch of unwarranted and often brutal attacks by dogs on other dogs that the owners seem powerless to stop, even between dogs on leash. The off leash law isn't the problem - it's what happens when those dogs at the shelter leave to go into homes. Just because great BACS volunteers can walk one of 'red dot' dogs at Berkeley shelter, doesn't mean the average dog owner can handle them.
Jill Posener

Susan Cava Ruimy said...

What I wouldn't give you for you to run a seminar not just for adopters but for inexperienced, but well-meaning, rescuers in NYC. COME TO NY!!! =) I swear I will get you here sooner or later hosting a seminar...even if we are all 80yrs old when it happens! =) Happy V Day!

Donna said...

NYCKitten - thanks for the nudge to get out to NY! We'd love love love to do that sometime, and have gabbed with Animal Farm about possibilities. It may happen yet. We're keeping our eye out for good opportunities.

Dianne said...

Hey, we'd love to have you in DC, too. Ask Animal Farm folks to give our little "Trudy" some special hugs... she was pulled from a dumpster where she had been left for dead and they are rehabbing her.

PS I'm just 2 blocks from Wayne's office LOL.

Donna said...

Hi Jill

Maintaining leash laws is a matter of public safety. We can't blame the dogs (the number of dogs or type of dogs or behavior of dogs) for the irresponsible behavior of clueless dog owners.

Our leashed, dog-social male (a BACS alumnae) was attacked recently by two off-leash dogs (a schnauzer and a chow/something mix) and their owner swore up and down that they "usually don't go this far with dogs" (they'd attacked before) and - the kicker - "that pit bull must have done something aggressive to stir them up." Right.

Tim and I explained the nature of pack behavior, and warning signs and dog owner responsibility, all the while dialing our vet for an emergency appointment. This sad example of blinding ignorance is exactly why we need leash laws. We didn't blame her dogs for acting like dogs or for being owned by a dim bulb. They would've had just as nice of a walk on a leash, and they wouldn't have had to be kicked in the sides and punted across the sidewalks by the angry dog owners who were put in the terrible situation of having to protect their pet.

You're a good dog owner, I'm a good dog owner. But we're in the minority. Casual pet owners force us all to accept safety measures that ensure that all are contained equally -- especially since dogs certainly don't have the luxury of being trained or socialized equally.

DC would be fun, Dianne. So many faces to meet, so little time. The east coast is definitely calling, though.

Bethany said...

Dianne, Is Trudy Trooper?

Dianne said...

Bethany, Yes. Animal Farm and Washington Humane Society have both posted the same picture of her on Facebook. She seems to be doing great! She's up for adoption, contact Animal Farm.

Bethany said...

Unfortunately not in a place in my life yet where I can adopt a dog (I do volunteer though, foster cats, and have a dog in my 10 year plan--I'm a firm believer in over planning). Glad to hear she's doing well. The HLE officer who rescued her was a friend of mine and the story just about broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog Post. I think Bad Rap has done a great job supporting shelters and rescue groups through their courses and materials. Has Bad Rap ever considered putting a manual together for shelter pits? I often hear of shelters who simply don't have the knowledge or experience to evaluate or place pitbulls. It would be great if they could have a reference point, at least something general that could help them evaluate, train and responsibly place dogs.

Cait said...

I had a very frustrating experience over the weekend at a rescue fair when I (without thinking) corrected a rescue volunteer who said "Our dogs don't need training. They're so calm they fit in any home." with "ALl dogs need trianing- it's not just about listening, it's about teaching the dog and handler to speak the same language." Oops. But training and matching the right owner tot he right dog is so, so, so important!

Donna said...

Oops! - lol. Yes, frustrating Cait. And puts you in a very awkward position of having to correct a volunteer in front of the public. It might help to give new volunteers a little training in advance of an event so they can feel confident with all the right talking points.

anon 11:43 - Thanks for the nice words. We've gone round and round about manuals. Love'em hate'em - especially since materials would be so open to a variety of interpretations. A DVD might be a better way to go.

Bethany said...

Events can be rough. All our volunteers get training (disclosure, I am a volunteer, but have occasionally been asked to run events when staff can't for some reason) but sometimes they don't remember or they just say the wrong thing. I usually try to sort of "cover" my correction. "Well, they're certainly not aggressive dogs, but training is always encouraged. Let me tell you about some of our low-cost training classes and give you the email of our training director. He's a great guy, does amazing things. See this little gal here--she was so timid when she came in, now she can do agility because of him!" or some sort of friendly, upbeat correction that doesn't necessarily sound like a correction. I still wish I could say our classes were totally free.

Donna said...

Perfect, Bethany. Thank you.

Cait said...

The tricky thing was that it wasn't my group, Donna! :P It was terribly cold and they'd invited me to share a corner of their tent because I was out in the wind and my artwork was getting blown off the table.

I still stand by the remark, but it really wasn't the most diplomatic thing I could have said! :P And I hate that they may be discouraging people from finding out how much fun and how rewarding it is to train their dogs!

Anonymous said...

Donna-A DVD sounds like a wonderful idea! I would pick that up for the shelter in a heartbeat-at any cost.

I really hope something like that can be put together, I think it would help a lot of dogs and staff!

Donna said...

thanks for the pressure anon. ;-)

seriously, we appreciate the nudge and vote of support for a project like this.

Dianne said...

A DVD, yes. I'm always impressed with the video clips you post here. I have been having fun with my Flip camera and the software is easy to use to put together videos. I got it to take vid of our pittie puppies in CGC class.