Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

milestones and transitions for notable 'bust dogs'

Dogs that were once passed over as too broken to be helped have been passing milestones and making news. Here are a few must-mentions from recent days and weeks...

Audie - the Vick dog survivor who inspired the children's book listed in our sidebar- could care less about his past and is anxious to tear up the agility course now that his once-faulty knees are fully healed.

He competed in his first AKC sponsored show last weekend at the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of America Agility trial and did very well. Lookit that proud boy and his ribbons. Who would've guessed?

To add to his happy day, when Audie and his handler Linda Chwistek were driving home from the trial, they learned that Audie had been announced as the high scoring Novice Staffordshire Bull Terrier of the weekend. Not bad, little man!

Pretty Gigi is finally home for good. She came to us via the large dog fighting operation known as the 'Missouri 500' bust, named in honor of the 500+ victims pulled from various dog fighters around the midwest in the summer of 2009.

What took so long to get home? Gigi's story is especially sad. She was one of several dogs who were hurt very badly by Missouri-based humane investigators who fought dogs during their undercover investigations in 2008. (Video and Story) Gigi's scarred body tells the story of numerous fights during the time period that she was owned by investigators. After they were done with her, she was transferred into our program along with nine other dogs - most of whom did not survive the transition to real life. Just a Dog Rescue in San Diego then opened their doors to her and provided ongoing support for her health care needs and rehabilitation. It was a rough road for this little one. She suffered from an advance case of heart worm and several injuries including the mental damage that comes from a life of mishandling and abuse.

Several months into her recovery, Gigi's foster parents confessed that they couldn't imagine being without her in their lives, and signed adoption papers to announce their commitment. She enjoys the beach as part of her new life, and attends Just A Dog's obedience classes to visit her old friends and forever saviors. Welcome Home, Gigi.

Please thank Just A Dog for all they did for Gigi on their facebook page: here

Leo - once known as Bouncer - has died of natural causes after several years of service as a therapy dog. He was the lucky resident of Hopewell Animal Control in VA when we met him - the only Vick dog in their shelter and a certain celebrity. Thankfully, he was never fought by Vick and received daily outings and kennel enrichment at Hopewell, all of which allowed him to streamline right into real life when he was transferred to Our Pack. He is one of five Vick dogs to have died since their rescue in 2007 and follows Aretha/Seven, Sweet Jasmine, Bonita and Red. He will be dearly missed by the world of Vick Dog fans. Right: Guardian Master Rebecca Huss enjoys Leo during his evaluations in VA.

Mikey - another survivor from the Missouri 500 case - flew back to Oakland with us after we met her during our evaluations of dogs sent to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. Full of spirit and drive, she was accepted into the Washington State Patrol as a bomb detection dog, but budget cuts in WA grounded her in Oakland. Not to be discouraged, she was adopted by our Ambassadog trainer Sara Scott, who has been competing her in nosework trials. Mikey recently earned her NW1 title in a nosework competition, along with the 'Harry Award,' which is given to rescued dogs who impress the judges. Way to go Mikey!

Another happy note: Inspired by the MO500 dogs who did so well post-rescue, the Animal Welfare League of Iowa lifted its ban on pit bull adoptions and has been enjoying great success and happy adoptions ever since 2010 through the ARL Pit Crew Club. Visit their dogs on this project's facebook page here.

Finally, ten of the Vick dogs including Hector, Jonny Justice, Uba and Teddles are appearing in the very luscious photo book by Melissa McDaniel. This edition of 'The Photo Book Projects' highlights pit bulls and pit bull type dogs. Melissa shot the dogs on a white background so viewers are treated to nothing but a big blast of DOG on every fabulous, glossy page. Her work is exceptional - We hope a copy lands in your hands so you can enjoy! More Info Here

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Home for the Holidays

Except for those cases where photo evidence is needed for cruelty charges, I don't have the heart to point my camera at dying or suffering dogs. I think it's unnecessary and rather exploitive and we see far too much of that in the constant "Save This Dog!" posts that get cross posted round and round and jam our mailboxes. But I bit the bullet and took this photo of Miss Birdy when she first came to us, hoping we'd be able to post it with a happy ending at some point. We are.

Birdy was found as a starving stray in late October - a Halloween skeleton, barely making it down a street in Oakland. A very lost dog or the victim of the foreclosure trends in Oakland? Possibly. Her finder was on her way to work, but pulled over without a second thought. She phoned for a friend to bring kibble - hurry! - and laid a bread crumb trail back to her car. Miss Birdy happily obliged and pulled herself in to the car, nearly dead from the starvation. (photo below after a week of food, if you know what I mean)

She did a detour in the parking lot of Oakland Animal Services where an officer winked the finder off to Berkeley Animal Care Services. And so off she went to BACS and then to our barn to enjoy many, many tiny meals, warm raincoats and new friendships.

We hold our breath with dogs like this. She's a senior dog with a list of health issues, and we won't know 'who she is' until she feels better. Will she die on our watch? Will we have to make a difficult decision and let her go? How much should we budget for her care? How long will she need us and how do we plan for her? A veterinary exam revealed that Birdy has lymphoma, and while she isn't suffering, her days would be limited. Weeks? Months? A year or more? All we knew is that Birdy was very very grateful for any and all attention. She gained weight, demanded affection and even flirted a bit with the boy dogs. The longer she was with us, the more we realized we were helping a living dog, not a dog who needed us to fuss over her end.

Here's the happy part -- And where I can finally justify taking that awful photo when Birdy was at her worst. The former street stray went home yesterday, and her adopter Anneke is just thrilled about her new pet. She asked, "What should I feed her?" My answer: "Anything she wants." They shared a burger on her way home from the barn, and we're quite sure they're going to be living a very, very nice life together. Miss Birdy is home and all is right with the world.

With many thanks to Erin G. for saving this girl when so many others kept on driving.

More (early) photos of Miss Birdy here from the very talented creator of the Love and a Six Foot Leash blog Thanks again, Aleksandra.

Anneke has promised us a blog of Miss Birdy's exploits, so we'll post that link here if and when she does. And more early niblets of our team helping Birdy get acclimated are lined up in our Barn Dog Blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grateful - For everyone who steps outside of their comfort zone

The world is not a safe place right now for people who've lost their income. It's important for those of us who have incomes to stay optimistic and to use our resources wisely to grow a sustainable future, but that optimism should never be allowed to blind us from the realities that too many less fortunate are facing. This is equally true of dog owners who are having a hard time meeting the needs of their pets.

On behalf of those people who are committed to their pets in spite of their hardships, we want to thank every volunteer, rescue group and granting organization who've made giving to low income dog owners a priority in their mission this year. We simply can't help the dogs we've assigned ourselves to help without addressing the needs of their owners first. We have to put blame and judgement aside and value the bond every pet owner deserves to have with his pet, even if he has to make decisions that more privileged dog owners might disagree with. Selling puppies to keep the lights on and feed the kids. Wouldn't you?… Giving your dog away on craigslist when too many landlords turn you away? What choice do they have? … Sleeping outside on the cold cement because local homeless shelters won't allow pets? You know you'd do the same.

The photo on the right has served as a wake-up reminder to me since badrapper Christine Allen snapped it at one of our owner support events. Clearly not a woman of means - it doesn't look like she can afford dog sweaters from etsy much less obedience lessons much less quality vet care. To make sure her puppy got her (free) vaccinations, she showed up four hours early to one of our events in a not-so-safe East Oakland park to secure her place in line. Whenever I find myself slogging to muster the energy to sew together the pieces of another shots fair, I call her image up and presto, my attitude gets itself in line.

We're incredibly grateful to PetSmart Charities, who "gets it" - that dog owners need support, and who helped us help hundreds just like this lady in 2011. And to our diehard volunteers who've perfected the art of compassion in these communities. And to everyone reading who nods 'Yes' when we mention the need to extend ourselves outside of our comfort zone in order to help the dogs by helping their people.

Below is a thanksgiving story from a cyber friend Amanda Verlander in Massachusetts about a moment when she realized how lucky she was. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Hi BadRap Friends:

I am a follower of yours from way out here in Massachusetts. I had to share this story – well – some reflections on a chance meeting really, in New York City last week.

I was in NYC last week on business, and I was walking up Sixth Ave around 5pm on a crazy cold and busy Friday night. There, on the ground, propped against the wall of a bank, was a homeless woman sitting with a sign asking for money to feed her dog. As I got closer, I saw that covered in a blanket next to her was a very tired, white pit bull. The dog lay, its belly against the cold concrete, quiet and almost unmoving, as the thousands of rush hour footsteps brushed past her curled up body.

I spoke to the woman – her eyes fluttered open. I said that I have a pit bull too, and handed her some money. I noticed one tiny star tattooed under each eye on each cheek. Really? She asked, as she emerged from a kind of trance. Then she laughed – do you dress yours up in silly outfits too? I looked and saw that her dog had a little wool hat pulled down around her bully ears. A pool of wet saliva or drool or something lay on the ground beneath the dog’s nose. I said a quick prayer inside – please don’t let it be from a respiratory infection. It was such a cold night. I laughed and said that my girl has a banana costume that we dress her up in it because she loves bananas. The woman smiled – Really? Bananas, she asked? MMM hmmm – take care of your momma, I said out loud to the dog, as I walked away.

I ran back to the building where I’d been working all day and grabbed two leftover turkey sandwiches from lunch – and then jogged back to where the woman sat outside. I bent down and she opened her tired eyes again. I said, here – take these – and she said, I’ll only take one. I said, no – please – take one for you and one for your dog. That’s why I brought the turkey. She said ok – the dog lifted its nose for a moment, sniffing, showing a mild interest in the plastic box containing the sandwiches. Then she put her weary head back down on the sidewalk. What’s her name, I asked – her name’s “Keelo,” the woman said.

I said good bye again. I wished so much that I had a camera at that very moment, to capture their picture and this moment in time, before I walked away. I would send it to every person who has ever doubted the souls of these dogs. To the same people who doubt the souls of those who love and need these dogs, and who try so hard to care for them, even under the most desolate of circumstances.

A train ride and six hours later, I climbed out of a cab in my small town in western Massachusetts, I looked up gratefully at my little, one hundred year old brick house, so warm and strong against the cold, clear darkness. Within these walls, I knew that my little girl and sweet husband lay sleeping, peacefully. I unlocked the door and tiptoed inside, waking my 9 year old dog, Rosalind. . .who may be getting grey around the muzzle, but she is still the most energetic and pushiest broad I know (besides my 5 year old human daughter). And yes, she is a pit bull type dog – more of a staffy – squat and chesty – I bent down to give her a big juicy kiss on her soft black cheek, scratched her ears, and said, I missed you my girl. . .thank you thank you my lovely girl, for always being there for me – for all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving, Bad Rap. Thank you for all that you do for these dogs and for the people, rich or poor, who love them.

Amanda Verlander
Greenfield MA

the problem of police and dogs

A puppyish foster dog from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue getting his photo taken with a stranger at the at the Adams Morgan festival in Washington, D.C on September 12, 2010.

One hour later, DC Officer Scott Fike has the same dog pinned to the ground with his knee pushed into his back. He then hurled the dog down a concrete stairwell, pulled out his weapon and shot the dog dead in front of shocked witnesses.

Police had been called when the dog (Parrot) and a second dog got into a fight at the event. The caretakers had broken it up and the trouble was over when police arrived and proceded to execute one of the most stunningly inhumane decisions ever captured in photos during a routine dog call.

According to change.org, "The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department "investigated" the incident, as did the Office of Police Complaints. Both recommended that the U.S. Attorney prosecute Officer Fike criminally. Unbelievably, the U.S. Attorney declined. Soon thereafter, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department dismissed Lucky Dog's complaint against Officer Fike. No action was taken against him." Their petition is asking the Metropolitan Police to "change your policies to prevent future tragedies like Parrot's death and once again instill trust in the police department."

We urge you to sign this: Petition

A long history of poor handling of dog incidents by police inspired a new booklet directed at this topic. The U. S. Department of Justice recently published "The Problem of Dog Related Incidents and Encounters," through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). It was created to help police departments examine and improve the same kinds of policies that rolled out into tragedy in DC in 2010.

Bernard K. Melekian - Director of COPS - states in his forward:
"In the United States, dogs are an integral part of society, which means police engage with dogs quite often in the line of duty. There are a variety of circumstances where a dog could be involved in a police call, and it is critical that police departments not only develop effective departmental strategies advocating for the proper handling of dog-related incidents and encounters, but also proactively create tactical-response strategies, ensuring humane treatment of dogs and safety for the public and officers."
According to COPS research, "In most police departments, the majority of shooting incidents involve animals, most frequently dogs. For example, nearly three-fourths of the shooting incidents in Milwaukee from January 2000–September 2002 involved shots fired at dogs, with 44 dogs killed by officers during that period. Information furnished by various California law enforcement agencies indicated that at least one-half of all intentional discharges of a firearm by an officer from 2000–2005 involved animals."

While reckless owners with problem dogs pose very real problems for officers, the shooting of a dog like Parrot demonstrates how easy it is for an officer to lose perspective and put family pets at risk. According to the COPS report, factors that contribute to the liberal use of firearms on a community's animals are "insufficiently trained police officers" including

  • Officers who make judgments concerning a dog they encounter based on its presumed breed or physical appearance rather than its behavior.
  • Officers who view a dog running toward them as a threat (the dog could be friendly and merely greeting the officer).
  • Officers who are unaware of leash laws or the laws governing potentially dangerous, dangerous, or vicious dogs in their city or state.
  • Officers who lack knowledge of available animal-welfare resources.
  • Officers who lack skills in handling dogs or reading dog body language.
  • Officers who lack needed canine-communication skills.

As police departments play catch-up with humane policies and their obligations to their communities, we continue to urge dog owners to use extreme caution in situations where police may interact with your pets.

To quote our legal affairs director Christine Allen in this blog post, written in response to a local shooting of a bull terrier puppy "... if the police knock on your door, don't assume they're going to be friendly to your dog. In general, if they want to enter your house, they need to knock, and announce who they are. Then, they're supposed to wait a reasonable time (or be refused entrance) before they can do anything else. So, if they come to your door, please put your dog away before you open that door. Without commenting on whether or not police officers are truly justified in shooting a pet because they felt threatened, suffice it to say that officers are granted great leeway in the eyes of the law as to whether their actions were "reasonable" depending on the circumstances. In these situations, oftentimes the only evidence you'll have is your word against theirs. I'm sure that we'd all prefer not to even get to that point. So please, as a matter of precaution, put your dogs safely away when you're not around, and before you open the door to any potential non-dog friendly strangers."

Please be safe and urge your locale police departments to use the COPS booklet to help educate their officers. We don't want you to be this guy: Parrot's foster dad below, just after the shooting.

For more info, Washington Post looked at the incident involving Parrot in this news article.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meanwhile, in Berkeley

Yes, Detroit's situation with its care of shelter animals is depressing. The shining light, the beacon for change is over 2000 miles and seemingly light years away.

Over fifty directors from animal welfare orgs including shelters from around the country descended on the sweet town of Berkeley yesterday to learn how one very motivated and passionate community of people helps its pit bull type dogs. Boasting a 98% live release rate of all dogs including pit bull type dogs, Berkeley is not a town to be ignored. (Nope - Detroit was not represented at this event. Maybe next time?)

We're so grateful to SAWA (Society of Animal Welfare Administrators) for including BADRAP in their field trip plans for conference guests. With a little luck and a lot of work, we know that Berkeley's example can become the mainstream.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ace: A fitting mascot for Detroit city policy

It's not hard to see why Detroit has an image problem. With a trashed economy, hungry businesses and hungrier residents, and approximately 40,000 abandoned properties within its borders, Mayor David Bing is attempting to run a nearly dead city. In the middle of so much desperation, we can imagine how easy it is for the leadership to let stray dogs fall flat to the bottom of their to-do list, especially those skinny pit bulls who routinely fill the dead barrels at Detroit Animal Control's city shelter. (City policy will not permit DAC to transfer pit bull type dogs out to even the most highly qualified shelters or rescue groups. Nope. Not one.)

Detroit's mandatory destruction of unclaimed pit bull type dogs has marched on for years with little protest until last week when a starving dog showed up in an Ace hardware store in need of compassion and help. Today, despite quick thinking and the best efforts of several organizations, citizens and a judge to save him, that dog is dead - destroyed by DAC. What happened between his original rescue and his death tells us more about the state of a visionless city than it does of so-called pit bull type dogs.

Ace symbolizes Detroit in so many ways: Lost, forgotten - once beautiful, now dying. The untouchable dog that most would veer hard to avoid. He was destined to die on the streets without so much of a shrug, until a kind Ace Hardware worker noticed him and gathered the skeleton boy up from the corner of his store. (Side note: Detroit's citizens tend to have some of the biggest hearts you will meet. True grit and full of soul.)

Technically, he did the right thing when he found Ace. Just as you'd call an ambulance for a fallen citizen, you call the right city people who are charged with caring for its animals, right? Unfortunately that call sent Ace on a death march, and four days after he went unclaimed (DAC has stated that no one was able to satisfactorily identify him as their property, despite several failed attempts), he was duly destroyed at the shelter - business as usual. The Ace Hardware employee stated in a media interview how much he regrets making that phone call. Who knew?

Before Ace died - or maybe while he was dying - a miracle of sorts happened: Thousands of people found out about him through the Internet and, after learning about the city's 100% kill policy of all pit bull type dogs, pleaded for his life. Rescue groups raised their hands and lawyers were called in to request a euthanasia injunction from the courts. The large and influential Michigan Humane Society begged and pleaded and negotiated for his release (DAC refused their request). Even school kids got involved and sent letters to the mayor...

Dear Mayor Bing - My name is Veronica. I’m 9 years old. I go to The Roeper school. At my school we like to make a difference. Hearing Ace’s story broke my heart. I want to make a difference, that’s why I sent you this letter. Please save Ace because he is a innocent dog. Just because he’s a pit bull doesn’t mean he’s going to harm anybody. Please dig in your heart & think about how many people have sent you letters because they care about Ace & dogs like him. - Sincerely, Veronica

A judge agreed with Veronica - let the poor thing live so we can sort this mess out. (News Link) DAC has probably never heard such a racket (for a pit bull? good god), but the walls of the shelter must be pretty darn thick, because Ace was dead before the ink was dry on the judge's orders to keep him alive.

The city says it never received the court order, but Bruce King, general manager of the Environment Health Services Division explained in a statement why it was okay to kill Ace:

"If we grant this one exception, we are simply not set up for what will undoubtedly lead to overwhelming appeals in similar cases."

Read: "Screw the courts. If we let this dog be absorbed by people who want to take responsibility for him, we'll be stuck with helping other needy dogs find help too." Sadly, no one who's familiar with the city seems remotely surprised by the position it took, including the Michigan Humane Society. After all, it's Detroit and Detroit government has become a bit of an expert at allowing things in its care to die. Through his unnecessary death, Ace has unwittingly become a fitting mascot for the city leadership.

So what now? The cat's officially out of the bag about the city's inhumane policy regarding pit bulls, and everyone's rightfully pissed off, but reforming a city shelter in the middle of a collapsed economy with this kind of discouraging leadership would make anyone want to bang their head on rocks. We're certainly disheartened. Some are banging drums and vowing revenge, but to add to frustrations, some of the rescue groups in the Detroit area fight with other like cats and dogs. Their movement tends to be emotion driven, disorganized and territorial - a reflection of the chaos that reigns in a town without direction. Whether this horrible situation can evolve into something positive for the city animals is yet to be seen.

I'm so sorry about Ace - So sorry about Detroit. You were once beautiful (you were once my home) and you deserve so much better than what you've gotten: Arrogant, apathetic leadership, heartless policies, lost and ignored opportunities.

Rest in peace, little buddy. Good luck Detroit.

A revealing and important series in Time Magazine on why Detroit is so screwed up. The Tragedy of Detroit.

new feature: vintage goodies

Announcing our new Vintage Photo Gallery Page with great photos of dogs & their families that we've dug up along the way. Because while we keep our sights set on the future, these smiling faces from the past are constantly reminding us to enjoy the present.

If you have a favorite family photo or ebay treasure, first, lucky you! - Second, please consider letting it hang in our online gallery for all to enjoy. Thank you.

Vintage Photo Gallery

Sunday, October 30, 2011

using intimidation in Wilmington DE

According to the animal control officers interviewed in this news report, Wilmington DE has been rounding up dogs from low income people who can't afford special licensing fees and spay/neuter surgeries and warehousing them since 2000. Some are housed in overcrowded kennels for up to two years until they get too sick to keep. The euthanasia numbers must be staggering.

Mandatory Spay Neuter. San Francisco tells us that it's working for them, yet the city shelter recently alerted its public that it would not be able to accept any more dogs because of overcrowding. Pit bulls (as well as other breeds) continue to pour in the doors. SF-based rescues post desperate ads for foster homes on Craigslist, and dogs that can't be reached in time continue to die.

Are laws that target pit bull owners working? This report from DE is one of the most to-the-point demonstrations we've seen of the practice in action. Please take a minute to watch the video attached to the news report and tell us what you think.

Wilmington "crack down."

In the meantime, pit bull owners have been streaming in to fill appointments for free spay neuter surgeries offered at our recent Celebrate Your Pit Bull fair. From one event, thirty four surgeries completed on site and 58 are scheduled. One gentleman told me "Thank you. You saved my life. My female got pregnant by her son and I didn't have money to end the pregnancy." She was spayed during the event. Her son is getting fixed this week. Photos of the event.

When it's so easy to help under-served dog owners get their dogs fixed using a welcoming, voluntary approach, why would anyone want to use coercive laws and intimidation?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

alerting you about new posts

Someone asked why they haven't been getting prompts about new posts on our blog. Answer: I don't know. So to make sure you get 'in the system' I moved the email alert gadget up to the top of the page. See it? Sign up, over there --->

BR blog posts will come to you in email form, pretty pictures and all. Thanks for asking, btw. While you're at it, sign on for alerts for our Barn Dog Blog. There's always something going on in foster dog land and we don't want you to miss out on news. Like this weekend. Fun news coming up as a few special visitors stop by to say hello.

EDIT: Rochelle tells us that she organizes her daily reads on Bloglovin. Nice.

And can I just say how much we love Jondi? Her story is excruciating, but things have been looking up for our red girl.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ta Da! - New Website

We've lived with our old website for nearly 12 years so it was an interesting walk-down-memory-lane experience to revamp and redo a new site. Back when we originally built it (thank you Heather Capp), we had a very small roadmap for doing this work and no idea what the future would hold. We went into this project with a blind optimism that if we did some good work, some good things would happen for the dogs and their people. We were a pee-wee rescue group only trying to find a way to help the dogs that were standing right in front of us.

Building the new site has made me ever more appreciative of how much has changed over the years and the people we've met along the way. Jane Berkey and Stacey Coleman of Animal Farm Foundation, Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society, Don Cleary and Karen Delise of National Canine Research Council - their bones and their wisdom are now a part of who we are and though you may not see them in our website, their good influence is inside so much of the content. So are the officers of our group who've been with us from the beginning and who embody the soul of pit bull activism: Christine Allen, Susi Ming, Linda Chwistek. And the diehard volunteers who are too big-hearted and too stubborn to walk away from this work: Kim Ramirez, Donyale Hoye, our incredible foster homes and dog handlers.

When the facebook based software company Zynga gave a gift to help us move our project into the future, it seemed like the right time to say good-bye to our past with a new and improved site. Your feedback is welcome as we pick at it, edit it, add to it and make this vision real. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

celebrate this

I need to preface this post by saying that it's very opinionated and may or may not reflect the opinion of others in our group ... individuals that we are.

I'll be the first to admit that I've never been very keen on the idea of Pit Bull Awareness Day. It's lovely, but it supposes that we need to market pit bulls to the world of (usually, white) people who (might) think they're scary. At this point in time, if people think dogs or people for that matter are scary based on what they look like, there isn't much we can do or say to help them see their way out of that mindset. But we'll keep keeping on with our events and activities and maybe those folks will notice how much fun we're having with our dogs - or maybe they won't. I sincerely believe that it's not up to us to change anyone's mind. We're here to have a good time with the dogs we call family and do some good work with the dogs and people who aren't so lucky.

On that note, as an animal welfare group, we do believe that it is up to the collective 'us' to look for ways to help the tens of thousands of pit bull owners in our home counties get what they need so they can enjoy their dogs. Which isn't easy considering dog owner resources are few and far between, and the economy has certainly forced many to make incredibly difficult choices, including surrendering their dogs on the heels of misfortune including foreclosure. So to celebrate the dogs the way we love best, we went out to under-served Pittsburg last Saturday and teamed up with Well Pet Vet Clinic to help people get their dogs fixed, vaccinated, microchipped and trained. There was no need to convince this crowd that pit bulls can be valued family members. There wasn't even any need to convince them that spay/neuter or training was beneficial. They were here for all kinds of help, and everyone was very grateful to get it.

The event officially started at 11am on Saturday. At four in the morning, people started lining up to make sure they were able to get what their dog needed... Four in the morning. At 8am, over 75 pit bull type dogs were in line to get spayed/neutered. By the end of the day, that number rose to 90 and we started wondering how far over budget we were going to go. A good problem to have, actually!

When you see a line like this, you have to wonder: Why would anyone in the world think that mandated spay/neuter laws would be practical or even necessary?

All in all, a hugely successful event that took a relatively minimal amount of planning. All advertised via flyers and word of mouth in under-served communities by fellow dog owners in the community, and staffed by volunteers who value this work. We are enormously grateful to PetSmart Charities for allowing us to buy so many surgeries (even though - gulp - we might've gone a little over budget on this one). And to Well Pet Vet Hospital for not passing out when the line grew around the block. You people rock in ways we didn't know people could rock!

Finally, huge thanks to our volunteers for your heart and tenacity and to Best Friends Animal Society for sending shelter workers from out the area to witness the way we like to celebrate pit bulls.

Finishing off with the best photo of the day. Thanks for your photography Brian George!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

finding Penny - lessons from a misadventure

Chris and Tina van Wolbeck sent a donation this week in honor of Kate and Marshall Reed's recent kindness. What did the Reeds do to inspire such a generous gift to the dogs? Chris tells the story himself, along with the lessons that came out of a very scary experience.

My wife Tina and I recently learned a lot about what to do if a dog goes missing. I am writing this in hopes that it may help someone else who loses their dog.

On Saturday, September 24, 2011 we were camping in the Lakes Basin area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We left Penny, our beloved pit bull mix, behind to watch our motor home while we went for a hike. When we came back we found that she had escaped through a window. Penny came to us from the Oakland Animal Shelter, so we don’t know what her previous life was like but we do know that she is very shy and depends heavily upon us for her emotional stability. I believe that she escaped to come looking for us. She didn’t find us for six days.

We were devastated when we found her missing and immediately began searching the area for tracks and calling her name until we were hoarse. When it became apparent that she was nowhere nearby, we widened the search area and began putting up signs at campgrounds, stores, post offices, turnouts and everyplace where we thought people might see them. We did this until 1 a.m., when we decided that we had covered an area wider than we believed she could cover in that amount of time. Sunday morning, we resumed the search and widened the area to about a 30 mile radius, putting many, many more signs out and talking to everyone who would listen. There is no cell service up there, so we didn’t get the message until about 5 pm that the Sierra County Sheriff’s officer and two other people had seen Penny at about 9 am, about 5 or 6 miles away from where she disappeared. We immediately went to the area and began calling again. We didn’t find her.

We were supposed to be back at work on Monday but took another day off to look for her. We couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her up there. Penny has very short fur and gets cold easily, even inside the house. We moved our motor home to the area where she was last seen. We visited every house in the area where people were home and continued calling her. We left that afternoon to come home. There had been no more sightings of Penny and knowing that she was lost in an area strange to her and that there are mountain lions and curvy roads with cars, we feared the worst.

On Tuesday I went back to my job as a high school teacher and told some of my colleagues about what had happened. Many of them encouraged us and told us not to give up and were sure that we would find her. I was not so sure.

One very helpful and compassionate couple, Jeff Torquemada and his wife Wendy know Penny and know what a wonderful dog she is. Wendy left Wednesday morning and spent two days searching for her. There were still no more reported sightings.

My friend, Chad Cochran spent hours on the internet, checking with animal control and shelters within a very large area. He actually found a dog in Reno who looked remarkably like Penny.

On Friday morning, my friend and Colleague, Don VanNess and I left to resume the search. Tina was planning to come up after work. We lost cell phone service at about 11:00 am. We began retracing the route which we thought Penny took from our campsite to the area where she was last seen. When we got to higher elevation, we got into cell phone range and I had two messages. The first one was from Kate Reed, who has a cabin about one half mile from where Penny was last seen. She had Penny. We called and got no answer. I listened to the second message and it was the sheriff’s office informing us that Kate had dropped Penny off there. Through the small town grapevine, our friends Glenn and Irmke, who live in Sierra City, six or seven miles away from where Penny was found, had already heard that the sheriff had her. They beat us to the sheriff’s office by ten minutes. Eventually we caught up with each other and we were reunited with Penny. Below - Penny with Chris and Tina's grandson Max.

So what did Penny teach us by getting lost? The first and most important thing is to get the message out as quickly and to as many people as possible that your dog is missing. Kate knew exactly who was on her porch Friday morning because she had seen one of our signs. We had given the sheriff’s office our phone number and a description of Penny, so they were familiar with the situation. Also make sure that local animal control offices and animal shelters have her description. The second thing and also very important is don’t give up. Keep looking and keep your dog fresh in people’s minds. Third is, rely on your friends for support and help. Don was absolutely sure that we would find her and we did. That kind of positive energy can only help! Fourth is get your dog a distinctive looking collar. The easiest thing to describe about her was her orange collar with daisies. Fifth is to make sure that your dog is micro chipped, so that if the collar is lost your dog can still be identified.


I have made a donation to Bad Rap in Kate and Marshall Reed’s honor. If they had not taken the time and effort to win Penny’s confidence, she would probably still be lost and it is snowing up there as I write this. - Chris van Wolbeck

Good work, everyone. We appreciate you sharing these important lessons - and huge props to everyone who stayed so determined to find sweet Penny, despite the insurmountable odds. In the spirit of helping more lost souls find their way home, your thoughtful gift is earmarked for a special stray on his way into our program. We'll holler when he gets here!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

photographing shelter dogs

When I shopped for our newest family member a little over a year ago, I was no different from scores of people who pour over hundreds of teeny tiny hard to see photos on websites in search of "the" dog face that would somehow speak them. What an enlightening but maddening experience!

It was easy to see why some shelters attract more rescue help and adopters than others - they know how to win hearts with a good photograph. Below are some dos and don'ts when capturing dog faces in hopes of attracting those solid homes.

Many thanks to Berkeley Animal Car Services, whose volunteers set the tone with some of the best examples of public shelter portraits on the Net. All of the appealing photos in this post are from their facebook page. I won't tell you where the not-so-great photos came from!

Above - Look into My Eyes - Which dog do you feel connected with? Unless you want to send potential homes running straight to the backyard breeders, avoid using photos of distracted dogs in bleak and dismal backgrounds. Eye contact is golden and easy to get with a dog treat and a silly sound at the right moment. Black dogs photograph best in the early morning or close to dusk. You might end up taking 20 photos to get that winning shot, but with digital cameras, who cares? That one winning shot you spent 10 minutes trying to get will empty your kennel much faster then the bad photo you grabbed in a fast hurry.

Above - Touch Me. Adopters are rightfully hoping to find family dogs who welcome touch, but institutionalized settings only serve up the heebie jeebies. Get that pooch outside where he'll look (and feel!) more like herself. If your subject is shy or uncomfortable with the camera, a warm embrace can make all the difference in her experience as well as the viewers' opinion of her.

Above - What a difference a pretty background makes. This photographer was smart - it looks like she waited until her subject was back from her walk and 'smiling' before she pulled out her camera. Dogs that are tied to walls might beg up sympathy from a select few, but the fearful body language that comes along with being tied will send the more discerning dog shoppers to websites where it "feels good" to look for dogs. You can't blame them.

Above - Ouch. Did that dog on the left do something bad to land him to jail? Probably not, but the chain link mimics the photos news outlets use of dogs who've been involved in bites. Compare to the photo of the happy dog who wants to show us how much fun her adopter will have with her.

Finally, I had to end on this most inviting shelter photo. It says, "Yep. I'm an older, brindley mixy girl. But I'm loved here at the shelter and I've got a lot of life left to give. Come on down and get me!" The gentle hand on her flank, the splash of color with the bandana, the smile that came from (probably) taking photos after she'd been exercised. And note how she's standing on her handler's shoe. Love it.

Here are more tips from fab photographer Lori Fusaro on ways to grab a digital masterpiece. And, more examples from Berkeley Animal Care Services. Good luck!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

treadmills - dog powered fun

If your dog has a lust for life, you might really like a treadmill for days when a quick winter walk just isn't going to cut the mustard. Physically confident dogs can take to them almost immediately (Star did!) Other dogs need days or weeks of mini-sessions around and finally on the mill before they feel comfortable enough to jog with joy. Once they get it, you can get them dog tired in just 10-20 minutes time. Priceless.

The video shows a (dog powered) carpet mill. We've had the most experience with these, although some homes like the motorized treadmills. If you do a search on Amazon.com for 'dog treadmill,' a few motorized options will pop up. We prefer the quiet of the dog powered mills. The one in the video is a Grand Carpet Mill. We can also recommend the Colby Carpet Mill.

One harness option comes from the sled dog folks - here - and the one Star was filmed in came from here.

Many thanks to Letti de Little for the demo, and to Uba for loaning his precious mill to Star while he recuperates from knee surgery.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

an updated hand-out: bringing home a new dog

We spiffed and relaunched an all time favorite hand-out for adopters: A New Dog in the House.

It's as much wisdom as we can possibly squeeze into four pages for introducing a new dog into the household. Good enough for pit bulls - good enough for all breeds! Use it, Copy it, Share it, Link it. Spread the knowing.
A New Dog in the House

Right: Oh the misery. Patsy the Pup learns about tie-downs and rules.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dog vs. Dog - What former 'fighting dogs' have taught us about dog behavior

We all know dogs will fight, but what about when they don't fight?

'Fetch' - a SF-based paper that catered to dog issues - has folded, but we're still grateful to them for running this piece on lessons from the Vick case. Since the info is still contemporary, I'm re-posting it here so it can be shared around as needed. (That, and because the hand out from the article has such small type that it makes my eyes hurt!) It's understandably popular for breed advocates to point out the growing number of Vick dogs who've earned therapy dog titles. Another stunning but often overlooked lesson they brought to the dog world comes from the undeniable success the adopted dogs have been enjoying with other dogs. Their lessons can be applied to ALL breeds when contemplating the all-too common behavior of canine interspecies aggression. Enjoy.

Right: Former Vick dogs Grace and Audie enjoying a first play session after leaving VA. Photo: Nicole Rattay.

Dog vs. Dog - Donna Reynolds. First published in Fetch the Paper May 2008

Dog on dog aggressive behavior has become a hot topic in recent years. Entire workshops, obedience classes, and pet columns have been devoted to discussing the nuances of this natural, but challenging canine behavior. It's hard to know if our pets are being positioned to argue more with other dogs or if society is just becoming less tolerant when they do.

We can certainly blame the rising popularity of housing multi-dogs in tight urban quarters for some of the strife. Smaller living spaces and less-than-responsible dog owners serve to create the same kinds of stress and challenges that we humans face when struggling to live peaceably with our own kind. Dogs are only human, after all.

Added dilemmas to dog-dog harmony: The now-raging chihuahua fad is amplifying the age-old tensions between tiny dogs and large dogs (ouch!), under-worked canines are taking matters into their own paws and creating their own entertainment, and chaotic dog parks are creating as much trouble as benefit for all breeds. Perhaps the biggest set-back of all is our loss of understanding of canine behavior. As society becomes divorced from our roots on the farms and ranches of yesterday, we're quickly losing the wisdom that used to guide us in all-things-animal.

Blame it on progress. Our great-grandparents' rural perspective afforded them a highly practical and realistic understanding of natural law, including animal law. We can't go back, but how do we swing our dog-think into balance and apply it to today's world so our dogs can succeed?

As it turns out, pit bulls may be the perfect teachers to help re-educate society on the finer points of managing and avoiding dog-dog aggression. They're especially good at challenging our ideals on just about everything. When it comes to current notions about canine inter-species aggression, the Michael Vick dogs got busy with breaking all the rules: They weren't supposed to be salvageable, they weren't supposed to be safe with kids and they certainly weren't supposed to be able to co-exist with other dogs. After all, these were reported to be fighting dogs, hard-wired for battle and hell-bent on anti-social behavior with dogs. (New York Times) But are they? Almost one year (edit: four years) after the initial fight bust, over two dozen Vick dogs are living in homes with other dogs and succeeding as normal, every day family pets.

So what happened? Why aren't they following "the rules" about fighting dogs and dog-dog aggression?

The answers are easy: Dogs are individuals and many defy the selective breeding efforts meant to create certain traits. We humans have been too busy blaming dogs for behaviors that we ourselves set into motion.

The families now enjoying the Vick dogs understand this. When any dog fights, it's because a careless or heartless human has accidentally or intentionally set them up to engage in combat. That situation could be a staged battle in the pit or a rushed greeting with an inappropriate play partner at the dog park. When dogs DON'T fight - as in the case of the Vick dogs now living in homes - they're following the designs of a good leader who is consciously setting them up for nothing but success. The mechanics of this success involve respecting each dog's individual limits with other dogs, proper socialization to increase dog tolerance, and clear guidance so each dog knows what's expected of him. It's not entirely unlike dealing with with a boisterous three year old child in a rough and rowdy play group.

Above: Former Vick dogs Uba and Jonny Justice have maintained a friendly relationship since they were (properly) introduced by their adopters in 2007. Below: Despite Hector's fighting scars, he was one of the most dog social dogs that came off of Vick's yard. Shown here with his adopters, Roo and Clara Yori and their dog family.

To be fair, this success-through-management drill is as true for our ball-possessive Husky as it is for the Vick dog in an adopter's house, as it is for the __name your breed__ dog in your house. All breeds can fight, and all can be managed so that potential never surfaces. The choice is ours. Some dogs need more management than others and because all dogs are individuals, it's true that some yellow labs need more management than some pit bulls - without question.

One way to make peace with this big responsibility we've taken on is to dig back into our cellular memory to a time when wild wolves first came to live in our camps. No matter how we dress them, our foofoo pets are still wolves at heart, and we're still the ones that decided to wrangle their animal instincts so we could co-exist. You can take the dog out of nature, but you'll never be able to take nature out of the dog. Nor would we like them much if we could!

Everybody Calm Down! 8 Tips to Avoid Dog-Dog Conflicts

1. Spats Happen! It's a fact of Dog Life; even those dogs that generally get along can break into an argument if one or both are offended or challenged.
2. Study your dog. Understand his body language so you can know when he might be reaching his limits with another dog. If a real fight does happen, learn from it so it doesn't happen again.
3. Prevent triggers. As with children, fights can spark up from the most seemingly insignificant triggers, even between dogs that are buddies. Some common triggers: Arguments over toys, food, favorite dogs or even favorite people (resource guarding). A perceived challenge such as intense eye contact, tug-o-war game or rough play can set a dog off. Know your dog's triggers and work with a trainer to desensitize him to these as much as possible so they lose their charge.
4. Nix nose-to-nose greets. In the quest to make dogs more dog-social, resist the temptation to allow your dog to do rushed nose-to-nose greets between dogs he doesn't know. Instead, create a ritual of slow, uber-relaxed intros that include side-by-side walks in neutral territory. Taking your time will give you the chance to read signals that say, "I don't really like this dog."
5. Be leash savvy. Leash reactivity - an annoying behavior of lunging at dogs or growling on leash - can start when dogs become ever more frustrated about greeting other dogs. Handlers can create fast improvements by curbing leash greets and taking on the new role of confident clown and animated leader. Look for training classes that teach pet owners how to motivate their pets and capture their attention with fun and rewarding distraction exercises that teach a dog that other on-leash dogs are off-limits.
6. Know the realities. Studies (Cornell University, NY) have shown that same-sex housemate pairs, especially females, have more problems than opposite sex pairings. Excitement is one of the biggest fight triggers between dogs of all breeds. The same study indicated that conflict in the home is much more common between female dogs while males were more likely to instigate fights outside of the house. Treatments most often recommended for household aggression are desensitization with counter conditioning and obedience training.
7. Know your dog's tolerance level. Do you know your dog's limits with other dogs? Does he has a short fuse, a long fuse or somewhere in between? Be realistic about what he can put up with from other dogs and what kind of play or behavior he will not tolerate.
8. Protect your dog from a bad dog-dog experience. Not all dogs want or need to be friends with other dogs. Smart socializing involves respecting your dog's quirks and and limits and setting him up for only success with other dogs. Appropriate play partners and positive dog-dog interactions will increase his tolerance for all kinds of dogs and dog behavior. The more positive interaction any dog gets with other dogs, the more likely he will develop and maintain dog-tolerant behavior for life.

With many thanks to the survivors of Bad Newz Kennels for reminding us all of what we already knew to be true about dog behavior.


The Vick dogs' integration into real life has been meticulously covered by all kinds of media. We try to gather up most of the stories about the 10 dogs that moved though our program here. For more tips on managing the dogs in your life, check our collection of links at the top of this blog: Favorite Links

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Philanthropedia - an honor for BR

Recognition from colleagues and peers has to be one of the most encouraging moments a non-profit can experience. That's why our jaws hit the ground when we learned that BADRAP was ranked as the top high-impact nonprofit for Local Animal Welfare, Rights, & Protection in 2011 for Guidestar's Philanthropedia.

We are incredibly grateful to the panel of experts who value this work and who put our group on this prestigious list. This honor certainly fuels our fire to move this organization forward into the future. Our best hope is that this recognition signals a collective wish from the animal welfare community for a better day for dogs we call "pit bulls."

Monday, September 05, 2011

Free Support for Good Samaritans

A chance meeting with the wonderful Corinne and a dog she saved from the streets reminded us how important it is to support Good Samaritans with training help and general support. We don't generally advertise this service openly, but "Lady's" happy story reminded me to put this out there...

That is, if you live in the SF bay area and find a lost pit bull type dog on the streets, our trainers will support you with free classes in our weekend Pit Ed classes should circumstances allow you to foster her rather than take her to the shelter. All we ask is that you do your due diligence first: File a "Found Dog" report with your local Animal Control, then show us a photo-copy of the notice along any flyers you've posted as proof that you're working to reunite the dog with her owner. We'll help you get a free spay or neuter if and when you gain ownership of the dog from the city.

So often, that little bit of support makes all the difference in a dog's survival. Corinne was never able to locate her foundling's former home and then couldn't find a suitable adopter. She was overwhelmed by her initial behavior with other dogs, and after Lady did a quick stint in her local shelter, was told by animal control staff that she wasn't kenneling well enough to stick around.

And so they came to Pit Ed, very discouraged but determined. After enjoying impressive success with building new manners, Lady went on to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification. As you can probably guess, this orphan found a home for keeps with Corinne, thanks in part to her improved manners. We like to think they were always meant to be together. Corinne brought us a bottle of champagne on the day Lady earned her CGC ... The bubbly and happy ending never tasted so sweet.

Motivated Good Samaritans sure enough make the world a better place. If you're one of the good guys trying to help a dog in need, contact us here: Found Dog.
More info if you've found a stray and aren't sure what to do: Help for Strays