Thursday, July 29, 2010

Open House - This Sunday

We're going to open our doors to Pit Ed class this Sunday, August 1st, and invite visitors who want to greet, question, stare, marvel, or just snuggle the remaining barn puppies who are still looking for homes.

Our volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about the classes that will be in session during this hour. If you're thinking about volunteering yourself, this is the place to be. And if you're looking to adopt, you'll see a smorgasbord of dogs of every age, size and color from both BADRAP and Berkeley Animal Care Services. In fact, BACS is running really full right now, so if we see a couple or more adoptions from this event, we'll be doing cartwheels.

Please leave your dogs at home for this one, but bring your cameras! Sunday August 1st from 11:30-12:30. Training grounds are at Second Street and Addison in Berkeley, one block south of Berkeley Animal Care Services. Hope to see you soon!

Click on map to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

listing out warning signs - a media first?

The situation with last week's dog fatality in Concord has been unusual because of the dog owner's willingness to talk candidly on camera about the circumstances that led up to the deadly attack on his young grandson. If you've been avoiding the news, you'll be encouraged to know that the media has been dutifully reporting that one or more of his dogs had been offering "warning signs" that were ignored. It's a new day when this kind of information comes to light on the heels of such an emotionally charged story. Because some of the signs that are being listed have the potential to be misapplied to other dogs in perfectly healthy situations, we wanted to highlight them here before we move away from this sad topic.

  • The dogs' owner - Steven Hayashi - has admitted that one or more of his dogs killed the family chihuahua. Killing a small animal in the home is not necessarily a 'sign' that a dog is troubled or on his way to harming children. (Raise your hand if your dog ever cornered a squirrel in your yard or grabbed a gopher at the park). It does indicate however that the owner is unaware of dog behavior and has been far too lax in managing his animals. Toy sized dogs can't be expected to stay safe mixing with a group of young, pent up dogs - especially without supervision.

    EDIT And, as is so often the case, more info surfaces from this tragedy: According to news sources,Mr. Hayashi later confessed that, in addition to showing aggression towards the young children in the home, his dogs had killed a pet Akita that stepped into the same garage where Jacob was killed. Things were clearly out of control in that home.

  • Keeping intact dogs is not necessarily a sign of an irresponsible owner. Many show and working dog homes live perfectly safe lives with multiple, well-managed, intact dogs. However, letting intact dogs run loose together and allowing accidental, unwanted litters is hugely irresponsible.

  • Keeping a dog in a garage is not a sign of an irresponsible owner unless the dog lives full time in the garage, away from the family. Dogs learn appropriate behaviors by interacting with people from an early age - with kids especially. The most well balanced, well socialized dogs get opportunities to spend structured time indoors as cherished members of the family..."family dogs." Keeping multiple resident dogs that are largely unsocialized to people so close to young children is terribly irresponsible. It’s also irresponsible to neglect the exercise needs of young, growing dogs. Under-exercised, under socialized, pent up dogs are not going to act like happy, trustworthy pets.

  • Having more than one "pit bull type dog" is not a sign of being irresponsible. A good leader can manage a bigger group of dogs and keep everybody on their best behavior. I'm having visions here of Cesar Milan walking his huge pack of dogs ... But, consider some of the dog walkers you see on the trails, or the rescuers who balance multiple dogs at home without incident. However - allowing a situation where unsocialized, pent up dogs can trigger into pack aggression is the sign of an incredibly reckless dog owner.

  • Pack aggression - where two or more dogs gang up and attack a victim - is not a breed specific behavior. Sadly, dog pack attacks factor into a handful of the 30 or so dog related fatalities that happen in this country each year and they can include any breed type of dog. Oberlin, Ohio just had a sad case last month involving what was reported to be several large mixed breed dogs. Even small dogs weighing less than 27 pounds have participated in killing people, according to a 1983 study "Attacks by Packs of Dogs Involving Predation On Human Beings," by Borchelt et al., published in the journal "Public Health Reports." It's not happy reading, but worth the understanding. According to the Borchelt study, "The past history of the social interactions of dogs with people in a variety of circumstances is probably an adequate predictor of whether these dogs are inclined to bite someone." In other words, if dogs aren't socialized to people properly (ie, they're kept as resident dogs in garages or yards instead of as family pets) they're more inclined to revert to unruly and sometimes dangerous pack behavior when the situation presents itself.

    After a horrible fatal attack involving a pack of dogs in GA last year, Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University and an expert in pack behavior, explained that when pack mentality takes over "they do insane things that they would not do" under normal circumstances.

    Again ...not a breed specific behavior. Skeptics can visit the link that shows two of the dogs involved in the GA incident. news: cnn

    The ASPCA tells us that "Aggression is the most common and most serious behavior problem in dogs. It’s also the number-one reason why pet parents seek professional help from behaviorists, trainers and veterinarians."

    Unfortunately, Mr. Hayashi didn't seek professional help for his troubled pack of dogs, even when he knew at least one dog (Kiwi) was - his description - "aggressive." If only we could go back in time and find a way to red flag him about the warning signs that were spelling disaster in his home. In memory of Jacob Bisbee, animal welfare advocates have an obligation and a responsibility to try even harder to bridge the gaps between communities so we can be the resource inexperienced dog owners and their families need us to be.

    More info on warning signs and behaviors that warrant quick, proactive solutions listed here on the ASPCA's website

  • __________

    For More Reading

    Brent Toellner's blog - KC Dog Blog - is always a good source for the nitty gritty on dog bites and fatalities.

    Malcolm Gladwell's article from the New Yorker on breed profiling. Troublemakers

    The Pit Bull Placebo in a free downloadable PDF from the National Canine Research Council.

    Monday, July 26, 2010

    four days after

    This past Sunday, underneath more than three hundred headlines that outline a Concord tragedy and suggest pit bulls are dangerous, dozens of families owning pit bulls gathered for class, as they do every weekend. We tell stories about our dogs, laugh, hug each other's pets. Many shrug off the bad news, knowing that news fades with the seasons. All are anxious to get on with the day ... A cruelty survivor from Oakland finds a new home today. He yodels across the parking lot for his absent foster mom, but his hopeful adopter soothes him by scritching his scrawny red teenage chest ... A homeless dog arrives with his overwhelmed rescuer for an evaluation. Everyone tugs at his floppy ears and chuckles at his big luggy head. We make plans to give him a safety net ... A single mom comes back for her third lesson. Her once-willful dog falls into line today. Her father videos them both, smiling ... A shelter volunteer announces her progeny's good luck: Mercedes scored and will be in class next week with her brand new adopter, ready to learn ... A new foster home laments her project dog's first week of relentless barking. We commiserate on the trials of fostering ... One of the instructors winces at the pain in her back; a work injury that's still raw. She pushes on through and rallies 12 handlers into formation. "Remember to use your dog's name!" ... An approved applicant announces that they broke their discriminatory lease and signed on with a new rental. "Screw you landlord. My dog is family." They get ready to bring their new puppy home and we sort out the details ... Off in East Oakland, five people gather to distribute fliers that advertise a free shots fair to low income homes. A random woman rants at a BR volunteer: "Didn't you hear about that little boy? All pit bulls should be killed!" The volunteer shrugs it off and marches past house after foreclosed house, looking for pit bull owners that need resources and help. It's not until she gets home to her dogs that those hateful words sink in. We type out our day on our message board, check emails, smile at news from pit bull friends around the country, pull our snoring dogs into bed and fall asleep, tired, but content. Life carries on - Yes it does.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    The media has a field day

    "Having dogs is my fault. That is my burden I will carry for the rest of my life," Hayashi said. "It's my responsibility to make sure things like this (do) not happen." Source San Jose Mercury News.

    The step-grandfather of young dog attack victim Jacob Bisbee has admitted fault and acknowledges that he knew at least one of his dogs was aggressive. He explained that he wouldn't allow the children around the dogs without supervision. He's cooperating with authorities and is behind bars today, facing two felony charges.

    Meanwhile - as of 9am Friday morning - over 263 news sources have grabbed onto the story of the Concord boy's death.

    We're reminded of NCRC's work tracking media reporting on dog attacks. From their most recent hand out on Media Reporting:

    Consider the extreme differences in the media reporting of four separate fatal dog attacks in 2008

    December 2008

    An Arizona woman was killed by one or two dogs identified by authorities to be Labrador retrievers. One local newspaper published an article following the discovery of her body.

    A California man was attacked and killed by one or two dogs that the media identified as his grandson’s pit bulls.
    This incident was reported by at least 285 media outlets, both nationally (in 47 U.S. states) and internationally (in 8 other countries). MSNBC, Forbes, USA Today, Fox News, CBS News, and ABC News all picked up the story. (One dog was later reported to be a mastiff-pit bull mix)

    September 2008

    A New Jersey infant was killed by a dog reported to be a Siberian Husky.
    The incident was reported only in the local media, in approximately a dozen articles. All reports described the incident as an unfortunate accident. The infant was reported to have been simply “bitten” by the dog. The dog was described as “non aggressive.” One headline read “Dog that killed infant only intended to be playful.”

    A Nevada infant was killed by two dogs reported to be pit bulls.
    More than 200 outlets around the world reported this incident, most with the words “pit bull” in the headline. Television news reports and a recording of the 911 call are still available online. Stock photos of pit bulls baring their teeth illustrated many of the newspaper accounts. All articles reported the dogs to be “vicious,” and/or “aggressive.” The dogs were reported to have either “burst,” “barged,” “forced,” or “broke” into the home from the backyard, in order to “maul” the infant. (One month later officials revealed that the dogs had gained entry into the home after one dog, “used a paw to open the living room sliding door.”

    And here we go again.

    Our hearts go out to the family of Jacob Bisbee. Not only for this horrible loss, but for the exploitation that is taking place right now as this boy's sad story is jetted around the world in hundreds of news stories.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Concord tragedy - The phones are ringing

    The media is reporting that a toddler was killed by three dogs in Concord, CA today. While a grieving family is obviously in the middle of shock, the reporters - who flock to tragedy especially when it involves a dog - are hot to push headlines out there faster than their evening competition. That leaves little to no time for gathering facts.

    As you can imagine, our phones are lighting up. A breathy reporter just left a message on my voice mail; she needs a quote from "the pit bull people" FAST because she's on a deadline. Some reporters expect us to defend the dogs, or apologize for them when a dog that looks like our pets hurts a child. We tend to disappoint reporters a lot.

    It's not reasonable or wise to comment on dog-related cases while investigators are still trying to decipher who/what/why. Some things we do know: The media is not a reliable source of information on dog breeds or the circumstances surrounding dog attacks. And since stories change constantly, what seems apparent today will have shifted ten times by next week.

    We do know that any large dog that acts scary is considered a pit bull by many, especially those in the media. We do know the media has a bevy of snarly toothed graphics in their image files (that may or may not be pit bulls) that they attach to their stories, as if to confirm our worst predator phobias. The media will try very hard to sharpen our fear with this story. We do know that those of us who own dogs that look like pit bulls will be pressed to explain this situation to people who do not support you for owning a pit bull.

    My advice: Don't.

    The dogs in this situation may or may not be pit bulls or pit bull type dogs. But in the end - the breed type is irrelevant. A little boy is dead today because something went terribly wrong in his home, probably, a number of things went wrong all at once. We may never know all the details, but we do know that tens of thousands of families in the SF bay area love and enjoy dogs, including pit bulls, as cherished family members without incident ... Which is why it's especially shocking when we hear about a tragedy.

    We challenge the SF bay area reporters and others to think, to question what can be learned from this incident rather than who or what we can blame.

    No doubt this will play out for days or weeks as pertinent info and analysis come streaming in. Take a breath. Say a prayer.


    Critical Thinkers

    The National Canine Research Council has been teaching all of us how to ask better questions when dog related incidents come into view.
    Some questions we'll be asking as this case unfolds... Were the Concord dogs family dogs or resident dogs. And what's the difference?

    Thank you NCRC. We have a lot to learn from your good presence of mind.

    EDIT: News sources are reporting that the dogs' owner was arrested today and charged on suspicion of felony child endangerment and possession of mischievous animals that result in death. We commend the authorities for the quick action that lead to this arrest. The name of the victim has also been released. Rest in peace, Jacob Bisbee.

    Wednesday, July 07, 2010

    Independence Day Celebrated

    One year ago today, these two dogs were removed from their chains by a variety of orgs including the Humane Society of Missouri, the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and the HSUS and shuffled to safe shelters in what's been called the largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history. What a difference a year makes.

    To celebrate their Independence Day, we popped a bottle of champagne in the heat of the day after Pit Ed class on Saturday and choked back tears while their new families of two of these survivors signed final adoption papers. "Thank you adopters for being there to give these dogs a home." What would we do without you?

    There are dogs all over the country from this bust celebrating their Independence Day today ... maybe some in your circles. If so, we salute them (and you!) for mucking through one hell of a summer last year and for getting the dogs to a safe home or - in many cases - a gentle death in the arms of a friend.

    You may have read about Oklahoma Daisy's new people. We were jumping up and down when longtime pit bull advocates Jeanne and Neil brought her home, but behind the scenes, a quieter adoption was going on. Beautiful, sporty, ever-ready-to-party girl 'Mikey' is a survivor from the same bust and she found herself at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, where we met her along with 33 other dogs. She came to us several months ago but has been sorta hidden in the background while we lined up the next phase of her life. A true working dog, Mikey was in need of a real job in order to channel her limitless enthusiasm and drive.

    We were thrilled when she was accepted into a police-run bomb detection training program but disappointed when her training class was canceled. That turned out to be big happy for her new person - Sara Scott. Sara has been getting deep into dog training and wanted to challenge herself with a working dog, when - Voila! - the ever-ready Mikey showed up needing a spot. It didn't take much to figure out that Mikey's detection training delay was Sara's green light to enter a new sport. Mikey is now Sara's official sidekick and is being trained for ring sports -- an obedience-based protection sport that doesn't typically utilize pit bulls, but this wild child's got way too much talent to deny. Go Mikey, Go Sara!

    We also clinked our plastic champagne glasses over the full adoption of the tender Brutus (below left), one of the handful of survivors from a cruelty case in Oakland this past spring. It was originally announced that all the dogs from this bust were going to be destroyed, but the four arms of this foster home-turned adopters flew up in the air so fast that Brutus was out of harm's way in no time flat. Now a teenager, Brutus lives with diehards Catherine and Brett and his beloved Tulip - the apple of his eye. Independence Day - yes. Welcome home dear Brutus.

    We also want to acknowledge the dogs that were saved from torture but who didn't find their forever homes. They were undoubtedly relieved to leave the difficult lives they endured before July 8, 2009. Violet, Freddy, Messy, Jimmy ... Sent here from the Humane Society of Missouri after their release from ... well, it's a long story. You were too broken to help but we embraced you til the end. Edison with your badly deformed knees...You broke our hearts. And the two overwhelmed males who we regret did not receive names.

    Recognizing them today as well as the many dogs in Iowa who we could not save but who won our hearts ...

    Dede, Fonzie, Hag, Harry, Johnny, Joy, Kenney, Liquer, Porter, Smiling Suzie Q, Sunshine, Thermite, Trooper, Tucker, T-Roy, Balto, Bootie, Carrie, CW, 'D,' Angel, Dusty, Jackson, Reggie, Rosie, Whitney. You're imprinted on our souls, sweet darlings.

    And to Snuggle Bear .. who made it to California for a compassion hold and many tears during her good-bye. Forever Independent.

    With hundreds rescued, there are so many more dogs to list who are celebrating freedom today, both in our corners and in homes throughout the country. Please list your dogs here in the comments with a link if you have one so we can give them a proper tip of the hat. You know who you are, and we thank you!

    Saturday, July 03, 2010

    mmm ... summer

    Happy Holiday weekend to all the beautiful bulldogs and their people. Keep it safe, y'all!