Sunday, January 29, 2012

Olive, interrupted. When a shelter's mission loses sight of its dogs.

This is Olive.

She has a bit of a story to tell: In August 2010, she entered a Southern California shelter as a stray with puncture wounds on the back of her thigh. We're assuming a dog grabbed her from behind when she was out on the streets, most likely as she was trying to get away from those teeth. It's anybody's guess what happened to her, but her shelter intake notes tell us that she was quite shaken when she arrived. Four days later, she stared pointedly at a dog during her evaluation. She stiffened, gruffed and threatened, "Back off, or else." Based on that reaction and her general discomfort around dogs, her evaluator determined that she was dog aggressive.

Because this shelter embraces a no-kill mission, she was set to live out her life in the kennels until she could be adopted. Because she was labeled as dog aggressive, it was going to be a long looong wait.

As far as we can tell, there was no game plan for socializing Olive to other dogs once she flunked that part of her evaluation. There would be no training classes, play sessions, group walks, off site visits or quiet time next to quiet dogs. A note on her intake form revealed that Olive was sensitive and flinched at loud noises. She was kenneled in the middle of the usual shelter chaos, with clanging kennel doors and barking dogs on either side of her and across from her. A half wall separated her from her neighbors, just tall enough so she could argue with them if she jumped - or, if the other dog jumped up to argue with her.

Olive was isolated in a secluded location in the back of the shelter. Because of her presumed behavior with dogs, no one was allowed to take her out without special permission. Her only daily exercise was a quick 15 minute visit to a small side yard. As the months wore on, she would flatten herself to the ground as she was moved from the kennel to the yard, shrinking from the barking along her path. She was shut down and would not return her handler's affection, but she would roll over for belly rubs. She would ignore the toys they offered her. She would then slink back to her sterile kennel and wait another 23 and three quarter hours to go outside again.

She didn't attend adoption events, and families that spotted her photo on the shelter's website were warned away because of her initial evaluation. During these months in isolation, she was only able to interact regularly with three people. She had no toys or bedding in her kennel, so she relieved her tedium by jumping up and down and barking at neighbor dogs, nearly tearing a ligament in her knee.

Olive's shelter file lacks any notes on behavior and training efforts, but is thick with info about vets visits. It seems her health suffered during her internment. She developed a rash on her belly and an infection on her vulva from sitting on a urine soaked floor. Her toes became swollen. Her eyes were constantly running. She battled multiple ear infections. She was treated for these issues and received pain meds for the knee tear. She was spayed and microchipped. The vet was alerted in big bold type to be aware that she was 'DOG AGGRESSIVE USE CAUTION.'

After nearly two years in this situation, the shelter's board started wondering what to do about Olive and five other dogs who were in the same boat. A solution was found: As part of their mission she could not be euthanized, but she could be moved to a place that would kennel her for life. A 'no-kill sanctuary' was identified just outside of Houston, Texas. For a sizable down payment plus eighty dollars a month, Olive would live in a dirt floor pen with a plywood doghouse, surrounded by similarly rejected and kenneled dogs. If she lived out her life expectancy, she would spend the next dozen or more years inside this pen. She would never leave it for training, exercise, walks, new adventures, socialization, or adoption events - but because she was still alive, the arrangement would fulfill the shelter's philosophy and monthly upkeep checks would be sent.

So long story short, Olive's five neighbor dogs were sent to Texas, but just before she was supposed to follow them, fate intervened and she ended up in our Rescue Barn.

She arrived here Jan 5th, so is three weeks into unraveling from her ordeal over the last 18 months. We've been watching her melt off stress like a snowman in July. She was initially guarded when she arrived and flinched easily. She stared our dogs down as if waiting for them to launch (they didn't of course). She ran her first zoomies in months, then tail tucked and darted away from some unseen danger. She fluctuated between being ridiculously happy and stiff and wide-eyed worried, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. She was essentially acting like a crisis survivor with post traumatic stress disorder.

Dogs are better at letting go than we are though, and with a little support, we can help speed up the process. Within days, after a lot of sleep and some time taking stock of her new surroundings, she started greeting the on-site dogs with wags and friendly interest. Instead of loud barking, she listens to jazz on the radio, visitors' voices and the whirl of a washer/dryer now. She sleeps on a chair in her kennel fluffed with blankets. She nibbles on fresh grass. She tosses toys in the air and sparkles for her new human friends. She watches the sun rise through the barn window and as the day opens up, she peers out on the dogs' morning play sessions.

After proper intros, her first full contact (on leash) dog greet was with Elliot. She danced and wagged for his attention. She nosed small dog Blink through her kennel and softened. When she met new boy Clive through her kennel, she acted like a love sick school girl. "Squee! He's so sexy. He smells so good. I want to meet him!" A week after Clive was neutered, they had their first play date. A few days after that, she had her first play session with Blink. She hasn't been able to stop smiling.

Her play style is clumsy and awkward, but in true dog fashion, the others have been showing her the ropes. "This is how you play bow." "This is how I tell you that I want you to take it down a notch." "This is what the chase game is!" Because it's likely that Olive wrestled with her siblings when she was a pup, she remembers.

Olive's life was put on hold when she entered the SoCA shelter. Instead of finding comfort and opportunities to succeed with other dogs, she was asked to endure a very lonely, highly stressful existence that very well could've destroyed her mind. Our team is treating her as if she were from a cruelty case right now, since her initial behavior matches what we've seen coming out of these cases. Not unlike victims of hoarding and dog fighting operations, dogs from longterm kenneling situations can initially act unsettled, fearful, hyper-sensitive and undersocialized after lengthy exposure to noise and to other stressed dogs, especially with no chance to develop or practice normal relationships with dogs or people.

On a positive note, Olive loves to play and the happier she is, the more well grounded she seems to get. Whether she can get caught up with enough life skills to enjoy the bigger world is still an unknown, but we're hopeful. For now, we're just asking her to decompress and learn how to be a dog again.

The Five Freedoms

Progressive shelters follow the 'Five Freedoms' as a basis for humane care of their animals. It was originally drafted in Britain way back in the 1960's as a best practices guideline for housing farm animals. Zoos refer to it as a guidepost for their operations, as well. The Center for Shelter Dogs promotes the Five Freedoms and explains that understanding a dogs' basic needs "will enable shelter staff and organizations to not only manage the (dogs') stress, but all to improve their welfare by addressing their needs."

Five Freedoms for Captive and Kenneled Animals

1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Freedom to enjoy the company of an animal's own kind gets skipped in most busy shelters. Dogs are highly social creatures who've evolved as a species to depend on relationship for their very survival, not only with other dogs, but with humans. (Recent science tells us that their domestication started as long as 33,ooo years ago. Link) It's not surprising that behaviors will degrade when they're denied opportunities to socialize.

We need animal shelters, even though they really are one of the most unnatural places any dog can find herself. The constant stress and isolation can spiral any dog into anti-social behaviors, especially if the dog came from a bad start. Instead of blaming the dog (or the breed!), it becomes the obligation of animal welfare workers - especially those who profess to be no-kill - to work to meet all of their shelter dogs' many needs and to acknowledge when an environment is doing more harm than good. It's a challenge, for sure - This work takes an incredible amount of time, human resources and regular soul-searching reality checks. But simply kenneling dogs to keep them alive "no matter what" betrays the very mission of providing compassionate solutions to dogs-in-crisis in the first place.

Following up: The shelter that housed Olive is said to be reviewing their policies regarding their care of undersocialized dogs, and we support them in this endeavor. We hope Olive made a difference in some small way. Whether they decide to send more dogs just like her to the Texas sanctuary for a lifetime sentence is an unknown.

Meet Olive in this video, enjoying the tail end of her first play session with 'Blink.' Please wish her well. She's come a long way, and we'd love to see her go the distance.

UPDATE: Video below of Olive's first play session in a group, filmed in March 2012. And news. Olive has found a home. She's now living with a male elderbull named Zoolander and cats and a couple who are thrilled to have her in their lives. We are over the moon.

Unfortunately, the shelter where she came from continues to send dogs in their care just like Olive to the Texas sanctuary (Smiling Dog Farms). The public is not allowed to view the dogs that live there, so the conditions that they endure are an unknown.

And a VIDEO - Lessons from Olive - . that outlines the steps we took to help her learn how to be a dog again. Thanks to all who cheered her on from your corners.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cabin Fever: What your (Unexpected Pit Bull) Calendar bought!

With so many dogs in need, we learned long ago that a rescue-only focus was going to bury us quick and burn us out even faster. So our 'teach a man to fish' philosophy was born: As much and as often as we can, we share what we know with animal care professionals around the country in conference presentations, workshops, articles, mentorships and internships that we call Pit Ed Camp.

The work intensive jam sessions of 'Camp' have been especially gratifying because they give shelter staffers hands-on opportunities to work on learning projects that matter: Everything from exercises to keep kenneled dogs content and well socialized, to setting up dog play dates, to running a public training class and a spay/neuter outreach event in low income neighborhoods. Then the real fun happens - After our guests go home, we get to watch them implement lasting change in their home shelters as a result of what they learned.

Budget Challenges

With shrinking animal control budgets, covering the travel/housing costs of internships can be the biggest obstacle to seeding progressive bay area practices in other cities. In 2011, we were honored to receive a grant from PetSmart Charities to bring shelter workers here via a partnership with Best Friends Animal Society for a busy four days of instruction. But the cost to house them ate up a big chunk of the budget (over 10K) - money that could've gone to other pressing needs - like, providing more free spay/neuters for low income neighborhoods.

Enter the Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar. This generous group of dog loving photographers from organization HeARTs Speak pour their hearts into incredible calendar photos and then give 100% of the profits away to rescue groups. One hundred percent of proceeds donated!

Last year, the UPBC helped us build an addition on our Rescue Barn, which gave us laundry and allowed us to save the lives of some very special dogs including Star.

In the new year, their generosity continues. Thanks to the UPBC's vision, we've been able to buy ... drumroll please ... on-site accommodations for interns in the form of this small guest cabin! How fabulous is that? The cabin will make Pit Ed Camp more affordable and will also allow us to welcome out-of-area adopters and other special visitors. Look how cute this thing is! It will live right next to the Rescue Barn so - of course - the foster dogs will also get a chance to try out real world house skills with visiting guests. Would we have it any other way?

We're thrilled, delighted and downright giddy about the chance to continue this important work and help other communities get the info they need to help their dogs back home. Thank you Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar!

A note about internships: Although the cabin won't be here until after our winter rains end, we're happy to hear from shelter workers and rescue groups who hope to gain experience in favorite methods and polices practiced by BADRAP and our community partners. One of our criteria is that attendees have the authority and their supervisors' blessings to make changes in their shelters based on what they learn in camp. If you have interest, please let us know so we can alert you to dates in 2012.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vick Dogs 'sign' books in Pacifica this Saturday - Come join us!

(Press Release January 18)

A benefit book launch at Pacifica dog boutique AnnaBee's will host three former 'Michael Vick dogs' on Saturday, January 21 from 1-4pm. The dogs appear in photographer Melissa McDaniel's newest book titled, "Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs - 82 Dogs the Media Doesn't Want You to Meet."

Bay Area dog fans will have an opportunity to meet three dogs who survived Michael Vick's dog fighting operation on Saturday, January 21, from 1-4pm. Dogs Jonny Justice, Teddles and Uba will be offering paw print autographs, friendly licks and photos in celebration of the launch of Melissa McDaniel's third and newest book in The Photo Book Projects series, titled: "Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs - 82 Dogs the Media Doesn't Want You to Meet."

The event is a fundraiser for BADRAP, the Oakland-based non-profit that participated in the landmark animal welfare case through the evaluation, rescue and recovery of Vick's former dogs. BADRAP brought 13 of the dogs back to the SF bay area after a federal judge in Virginia cleared their release. All of the dogs - including Jonny, Teddles and Uba - have been adopted by local families. Each dog has earned his Canine Good Citizen Certification and Jonny went on to become a therapy dog, helping learning disabled children find the confidence to read.

Philadelphia-based portrait photographer Melissa McDaniel first spent time around pit bulls when she volunteered to photograph dogs at her local shelter several years ago. "I admit I was a little hesitant around these dogs at first since I had never spent much time around them and I believed the negative media hype. However, after the third or fourth pit bull type dog I photographed wanted nothing more than to wag his tail and lick my face, I quickly realized that the media has it all wrong."

To create her latest book, McDaniel toured the US for six months, traveling 12,550 miles to photograph 82 pit bull or pit bull type dogs. She said, "Ever since I decided to create a series of photo books on dogs, I knew I would be devoting an entire book to pit bulls. You only have to visit your local shelter to understand why."

BADRAP Director Donna Reynolds noted, "Watching Melissa work with the dogs was fascinating. She drew out their joyful natures and just poured their personalities into her photographs. These photos can probably do more to help the public see the souls of these dogs than just about anything we could ever hope to say or do!"

The event is Saturday, January 21 from 1-4pm at AnnaBee's in the Pedro Point Shopping Center at Linda Mar Beach. Suggested donation five dollars.

Directions to AnnaBee's

About AnnaBee's
Established in 2009, AnnaBee's Doggie Boutique & Cafe is a pet fashion boutique and indoor cafe for dogs located in the Pedro Point Shopping Center in Pacifica, CA. AnnaBee's boutique offers ready-to-wear couture garments for dogs of all sizes and a unique selection of handmade accessories and eco-friendly toys for cats and dogs.

BADRAP formed in 1999 to tackle the difficult issues that had been bringing early death and suffering to San Francisco bay area pit bull type dogs. They soon developed into a nationally recognized resource for both dog owners and shelters, offering desirable pets for adopters, training classes for dog owners and presentations and professional consultations to animal welfare leaders around the country.

About The Photo Book Projects
The Photo Book Projects is a series of photo books (and more!) designed to raise awareness about companion animals in the U.S. and Canada today, especially those that are mistreated or abused. Issues addressed include the pet overpopulation problem, breed-specific legislation, puppy mills and myths about deaf dogs. A percentage of the proceeds from the first three photo books, Deaf Dogs, Rescued in America and Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs, is donated to animal rescue and advocacy groups.

Maureen (Mo) Murray, owner AnnaBee's
tel: (650) 735-5566
email: annabeesboutique(at)gmail(dot)com

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Progress in Ohio (HB14) - What could change?

The state of Ohio is a few short steps away from dismantling a dog control law that has defined "dogs commonly known as pit bulls" as "dangerous and vicious" for the past twenty five years. House Bill 14 - which would remove the breed-specific definition from the Ohio state law and make much needed improvements to the dangerous dog law - was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday 1/10 and is expected to move through a Senate vote as soon as next week before heading to the governor for his consideration.

EDIT: The Ohio Senate approved HB14 on 1/31/12
EDIT: HB14 was signed into law by Ohio's Governor on 2/21/12
EDIT: The breed neutral state law begins on 5/21/12

The current law that singles out pit bulls for discriminatory treatment has been around so long that most animal care professionals and dog wardens we polled had no idea what caused it to end up on the books in the first place, but most everyone agrees that it's done nothing to reduce dog bites, decease shelter numbers or make communities safe from the deeds of irresponsible and reckless dog owners. Just the opposite: Pit bull popularity flourished after Ohio's state law condemned the dogs, shelters have stayed crowded, euthanasia rates are depressingly high and the dogs continue to cycle through some of the most irresponsible hands in Ohio communities. The outcry against the current law has been gaining momentum since notorious pit bull-hating dog warden Tom Skeldon resigned from his position as dog warden in Lucas County. Progressive voices agree: The current law is defective, it's discriminatory and it's gotta go.

Will breed specific legislation end in Ohio the minute HB14 becomes law? Well, no. HB14 is not a magic wand that will wave BSL away in cities that have it, and it won't stop municipalities from enacting it. Fighting those battles will take the usual blood, sweat and tears - one city council meeting at a time. But without the state mandated definitions that currently malign "dogs commonly known as pit bulls," it will make for a much easier fight.

So if it can't bump BSL, what's HB14 good for? Passage of this legislation will ring in a new era of common sense and will allow Ohio to tackle dog issues more effectively and without victimizing typey dogs and responsible owners. It will signal to the public, to local law makers, and even to our friend the media, that the state regards dogs as individuals whose behaviors cannot be pre-determined by breed make-up - All of which will make room for strategies that directly target the human element in dog ownership.

Insurance obstacles will be neatly removed. Without the dangerous/vicious label and its built-in liability factor, companies like State Farm will be able to fully embrace pit bulls and write non-discriminatory policies just as they do in the rest of the country, allowing more responsible homes to own the dogs. Shelters that have held off will finally get the green light to promote pit bulls for adoption, stealing business away from the backyard breeders who've been so busy all these years.

Right - This 17lb mixed breed adult dog was caught up in an Ohio shelter's pit bull adoption ban and set to be destroyed. Needless to say, Blink came back to Oakland with us after we met her. She's another reason that breed discriminatory policies victimize perfectly adoptable dogs whose only sin is being born with short fur and a blocky head.

An important piece of HB14 will give Ohio dog wardens more tools to seize and hold dogs whose behavior defines them as dangerous or vicious - regardless of breed type. Once this piece was added to the bill, the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association signed on with its support - an important endorsement for obvious reasons. It also restores the responsible dog owners' ability to enjoy their pets, comply with licensing requirements, and reclaim strays without fear of penalties, restrictions, or loss of insurance. New adoptions, increased licensing, more owner returns and fewer enforcement headaches will be a boost to dwindling animal control budgets.

Like a dress rehearsal for HB14, The City of Cleveland stuck their necks out last June by amending their vicious dog ordinance, removing its definition of pit bulls as "dangerous" and classifying dogs based on behavior rather than appearance. (News) Cleveland Councilman Matt Zone explained, "The breed of a dog is not an indicator of its personality. Any dog who is poorly trained and neglected can be vicious and a threat to our community. These revisions shift the focus from the type of dog to its behavior and neglectful actions of its owner." Animal pros in that town pushed the progress one step further when Cleveland Animal Protective League (CAPL) lifted its 20-some year ban on pit bull adoptions. Since they put their first pit bull on the adoption floor in June ('Joliette' - right), they've enjoyed steady adoption success with at least one pit bull type dog going home every week. Not bad for a shelter operating in the shadow of Ohio's discriminatory state law. CAPL tells us they expect to be able to save many more lives once insurance obstacles are removed through the passage of HB14.

Another shelter that deserves a big bow for embracing pit bulls is the
Humane Society of Greater Akron.
They never wavered in their commitment to helping the neediest dogs in their community and have absorbed numerous victims of cruelty over the years, regardless of breed. They're also very excited about the prospect of easier adoptions when HB14 passes and insurance obstacles are removed.

We spent two of our most exciting weeks of 2011 in Ohio, working with CAPL to noodle best practices for their adoption program, meeting with city officials and later presenting to Ohio dog wardens in preparation for big changes ahead. This spring, we'll be back yet again to help another shelter take the leap and put pit bulls on their adoption floor. The invitations extended by these agencies reflect an encouraging optimism that a new era has indeed come to Ohio and especially, to the pit bull type dogs that have suffered and died for over two decades.

While we celebrate the progress made, it's important to remember that good news will come with an incredibly big workload for dog advocates in Ohio. Re-tooling shelter policies, re-educating the public, re-distributing the resources in a way that advances the cause of building safe humane communities will take ball-busting efforts. From our vantage point, Ohio's players are more than ready.

* Visit this site for a break down of dangerous/vicious definitions under HB14.