Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RAVE: Volunteers who are making a difference, And how you can help.

We're getting to the point where we can say that - for the most part - highly adoptable pit bulls are not dying in our east bay shelters anymore. It took ten years of mind changing and networking and spay/neutering and educating and laying good resources out for adopters - but, we're just about there. We aren't completely out of the woods yet, tho. While the number of sheltered pit bull adoptions has skyrocketed in recent years, the quality of adoption matches varies widely, with some shelter dogs going to very prepared homes and many to not-so-prepared homes - and, everything in between. As a community of dog advocates, we gotta work on that - for sure. I spoke about that in this blog post since it's been one of our ongoing hot buttons.

While we puzzle over ways to influence stronger adoptions, we can begin the next important phase of helping sheltered pit bulls. That is, helping the dogs that were once the easy throw-aways. These are the dogs with workable behavior problems and/or the older dogs that aren't so pretty to look at. Right now - in the east bay - young and/or squishy marshmallow dogs fly out the shelter doors at breakneck speed. We barely look at 'em anymore since they don't need rescue. Isn't that a treat? But the others, man ... that's where our activist bones get a work out.

Care to help us help those dogs that need some fixin' up? Let me tell you what's going on in Berkeley...

Every Saturday, a group of dedicated dog handlers pours into BR's Pit Ed classes toting dogs from Berkeley Animal Care Service's (BACS) kennels. They're showing up to help make the dogs more adoptable. Dogs with bad manners like workable leash reactivity typically die in other shelters due to the difficulty in finding homes that can deal. The solution for Berkeley has been to give them better manners and then match them to supported owners. Simple right? The good news is that it's working. We're routinely amazed at what can be accomplished with a little elbow grease and are proud to be working alongside the volunteers that care so much.

It gets even better when the dogs' adopters start class and find out that their new pet once spazzed like a wild caveman during his early days at shelter... "Not my dog? Really?" Yep. Your lovely dog used to act like a weasel on speed, but this here volunteer helped turn him into a Super Star for you. Take a bow, volunteer -- you deserve it.

If you're looking for a way to make a stunning difference in a dog's life, consider joining the BACS team to help us train the shelter's many pit bulls. The staff will want to give you a brief orientation so you'll know how to get around the shelter, then you'll observe our Pit Ed class to see how we operate. Once you have a handle on things, we'll begin training you to train the dogs.

I have to be honest, this is hard work and it's not for everyone, but if you're the grounded sort who can think on his feet and is eager to absorb new information, it could be one of the most exciting things you do this summer. And if you really like the scene, we'll invite you to get more involved in BR's other projects.

Below are a couple of posts from the BACS Dog Volunteers Blog on their work with the dogs.

1. Mercedes at school. That's DeAnn with Mercedes in the photo, top of this page.

2. Azul working on his grades. Pictured with his handler Joel, right. Both pix snapped by Rob McNicholas (thanks Rob!)

Do it! We'd love to spend part of our weekends with you and the dogs.


Anonymous said...

Bless all of you for being so selfless and helping our beloved pitties.

The Foster Lady said...

Donna, If you could, could you provide a few more statistics? For the pitbull/mix population that comes into the East Bay Shelters, how what percentage are pits and pit-mixes? Secondly, of that number of dogs, what percentage is deemed 'highly-adoptable'? Lastly, for your readers, can you please define 'highly adoptable'? Is dog-selectivity in that mix, or only dog-social? Dog-aggressive (I know these homes are hard to find, even when the dog is a love-slut with people)? Thanks so much.


Donna said...

FL, the east bay shelters run anywhere from 40-80% pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Berkeley tends to run on the heavy side with pbs. You can see their population here:


A 'highly adoptable dog' is a decently socialized dog without any outstanding behavior issues that can succeed in a home with your 'average adopter.'

Dogs with dog selectivity are not in that mix, since they tend to need educated owners and training support to achieve better manners, generally, better leash manners.

It's hard to pin on a number on such an organic population, but I would venture to guess that about 1/4 to 1/3 of the pit bulls and mixes that come in our local shelters are highly adoptable. These tend to be the young dogs of course...And the well socialized adults that came from a home where they recv'd a proper upbringing.

That leaves a lot of dogs that need a little help to find their place in the world, and a lot of adopters who need support.

Dianne said...

Thank you so much for shining a rosy light on these volunteers in particular and volunteers in general. I think you know that the best volunteers really put their hearts into their work, and as a result we get burned out. It is nice to hear someone say thank you!

You know I am there at pit bull class every Saturday morning in spirit. I hope we can get our CGC class started up again soon.

While we have good luck with our puppies, we have a recurring problem with the cute puppies who are edging into the "adolescent punk" arena. The communications folks have spent some time making videos with a Flip camera. This video brought in this dog's adopters. They were looking for a dog with focus to train in agility and as a therapy dog. When they came into the shelter they were very excited by what they had seen, but they said "we know nothing about pit bulls." Ah ha! A blank slate on which to write.


T proceeding to go from person to person and untie their shoes! Talk about focus.

Donna said...

Thanks for the update, D. T-bone is adorable.

'Adolescent Punks' are our specialty! .. by default of course since there are so many in need. They've taught us so much .. the brats.

Joel said...

Thanks for the nice writeup Donna. I would have combed my hair had I realized you were going to post a picture. It's easy to make the choice to volunteer with these animals when it is something we want to do rather than something we feel compelled to do. Many devoted volunteers at BACS find that other hobbies and interests begin to take a back seat to working with shelter dogs.

I think I can speak for the other volunteers when I say I am extremely grateful for the relationship between BACS and BAD RAP. It helps us make the adoptable pitties more adoptable, gives us knowledge that we can use with ALL the dogs at the shelter, and also gives me free tips for use with my own dogs (which I wish I had had when they were younger!)

Regarding the adoptability of the pits, I don't have any statistics but we have a portion that are adoptable, some that are OK to go to more experienced handlers (which is made clear), and some that unfortunately are not adoptable. The dogs that go to BAD RAP are the ones that have some rough edges to smooth out. It's not a place where we try to take unadoptable dogs and turn them into adoption candidates.

After making presenting to a client's CEO during the work week, it is a little humbling to have Donyale or Tim tell me that my dog is not responding to me because my baby talk is not animated enough. No idea why this is enriching for me but something makes it enjoyable.

Mia said...

You all are doing a great thing!! It's uplifting to see someone helping these amazing dogs instead of giving up on them!!


Donna said...

LOL Joel.

Thanks for reminding me about one of the bigger requirements for these classes: The "psycho cheerleader voice." We all find ours eventually!

Maureen said...

Thanks for posting this info Donna. I'll be calling BACS tomorrow for an application!! Woo!!

PS - Are they affected by this morning's fire?

Anonymous said...

I believe the Pit Ed classes have changed to Sunday, so you might want to update this blog posting. So people can PLAN better/ just a thought. WEi benefittedgreatly from your classes! Thx!

Donna said...

Hi Anon. Classes are still on Saturday morning. Thanks for checking.

Mary R. said...

I would LOVE to help by volunteering, but don't know where to start!
Please email me @ noname123456789@ aol.com
Thank You! Mary

amber said...

I've been a heavy follower of your website & blogs since the Vick bust & would love to volunteer someway, somehow.. I'm a certified animal behaviorist & trainer from Michigan, but I've been in Colorado for the past 27 days, furthering my skills and learning from Aimee Sadler at the Longmont Humane Society. When I get back to MI, I'm going to start volunteer work at the shelters there, specifically to help pits. I'm a big advocate for the breed, and have followed other advocates to attend city council meetings to fight BSL. Do you think there's anyway you would ever expand your name and resources if you had more people across the country interested in educating about pits and advocating for the breed?? I want to help in any way I can and if you have any ideas or suggestions on what I could do on my part, I would thoroughly appreciate any feedback!!