Archive for the ‘animal control’ Tag

Who am I to think?

One of the striking things for me at the recent BlogPaws conference was not only the number of people willing to go out on limbs for animals (or swing from dangling fabric), but how young many of them were. When the pre-teen took the stage and shared her dream of helping animals I wanted to hug her mother. After passing the half century mark I am beginning to lose the voice in my head that whispered, and sometimes shouted-

“Who are you to think you can ______(fill in the blank)?”

There seems to be no shortage of other voices echoing that question and providing me with reasons why I shouldn’t think I can. Knowing that there are young people who not only ‘think’ they can, but ‘know’ they can, is heartening.

I am no longer surprised by how startling few voices there are to encourage people who want to step out, try new things, make a difference. I’ve wondered if some remain quiet because they do not realize the power the sound of their encouragement can have. Even a simple ‘Go for it!’ can fuel someone for the next step in the process and a ‘How can I help you?’ lets them know they’re not alone on the journey.

When I worked with rescue groups in Puerto Rico, bringing street dogs to Vermont to find homes, I would hear criticism of the practice.

“Aren’t these dogs taking homes away from local dogs?”

Good question, but no, they are not. We brought over small dogs, of which there were few to none available at our local shelter. The people who came into the shelter and adopted the 5 lb Chi mix were not going to go home with the 70 lb lab in the run next door if the Chi wasn’t there. In fact the Chi got them into the shelter and may prompt them to make future donations. No local dog was not accepted into the shelter or put down because of lack of space. Also of note was that many of the stray dogs in Puerto Rico could trace their ancestry back to a puppy mill in the United States, or they themselves were products of these mills. They had been flown to Puerto Rico and sold in a pet shop, information the people complaining about getting dogs from outside our area were unaware of.

There were people who were incredulous that someone would be asking for donations of time or money to rescue and feed dogs when there were so many children who needed help. They asked why wasn’t I focusing on helping these children?

To this my response was, “There is lots to be done to make the world a better place. No one of us is able to do it all but each of us can do something. Find what moves you and act on it.”

Many of the people who took issue to the energy I put into dog rescue, were not doing anything themselves for the children they felt I should be putting my efforts into instead. Some were, but most were not, and of these many did not appreciate the irony of their reaction. Apparently it was easier to find fault with the work that someone else was doing rather than do some of their own, for the recipients of their choice. I am not saying this with any rancor, knowing that I can be guilty of this kind of reaction as well. I remind myself that just because I may not be interested in saving a centuries old building, preserving habitat for a rare slug, or care if a particular intersection has a stop sign or blinking red light, doesn’t mean that someone else cannot feel strongly, even passionately about these issues.

I try to offer encouragement to anyone putting time and energy into making positive change in the world. It’s the least I can do, don’t you think?

Be the change you want to see in the world.


How To Help A Fearful Dog? Stop Scaring Them!

They grew up too quickly!In a blog about fearful dogs you wouldn’t think that I’d pay so much attention to this whole dominance virus that has infected the health of our relationships with our dogs, but it’s major. I run an in-home boarding business for dogs. It’s a nice set-up for the dogs and the owners that use my services are conscientious pet owners. It’s not a scene that every dog would appreciate, but for those that do, it’s not only a nice way to spend a few days, it helps them brush up on rusty social skills since most live as solo dogs.

A potential client and I had an email exchange recently about her dog. She described him as a friendly, good natured dog that had some issues with select dogs when he first meets them. He barks at them. She went on to say that she never had an ‘alpha’ dog before and was learning how to deal with it. Certainly a dog that sees other dogs and barks at them must be trying to dominate them right? Ah…no.

Confident dogs, or dogs that are intent on being the big dog on the block rarely spend a lot of time barking at other dogs, far from it. They get their point across with their bodies and their eyes. Well socialized dogs, even in situations in which they are establishing their place in the playground hierarchy, rarely even fight. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a group of socially adept dogs determine ‘who I am to you’. With looks, stances, paw & head placements, the messages are conveyed and then the games can begin.

So what difference does it make if someone mistakenly believes that their dog is trying to be ‘alpha’? It matters because our responses are usually based on what we think is going on, AND how we feel about it. The results of our responses to our dog’s behavior may or may not be what we were after, and if our responses don’t make things better, they can make what we see as a problem, worse. It is probably not far off track to assume that most of the behavior problems seen in dogs relinquished to shelters or by trainers, have been caused by inappropriate responses to their behaviors, by their owners.

Fearful dogs that never bit anyone in their life can be provoked into biting by a handler assuming that the dog’s behavior is a challenge or attempt to dominate the situation. Physical intimidation, promoted by National Geographic’s Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, is exactly the stuff that can make this happen. Remember that one does not need to hit or touch a dog to scare or intimidate them. I remember cringing through one episode in which a dog that was afraid of the bathtub was man-handled until it finally bit Millan. His response to this bite was along the lines of ‘good, he was just having a tantrum’. Someone like Millan who doesn’t seem to mind the occassional bite can intimidate a dog enough so that it does not learn that biting works to keep scary things away. But for most of us the prospect of being bitten makes us back off, which is what the dog has been trying to communicate all along by cowering, growling, lowering its head, rolling over, etc. Now an owner has effectively taught their dog that biting works, that the dog basically needs to shout since the owner has proved themselves hard of hearing.

The dog whose owner believed it is trying to be an ‘alpha’ dog is one of the lucky ones. This owner is not into harsh or intimidating techniques of managing her dog. But what of the other scared dogs that are not so fortunate? Many defenders of trainers like Cesar Millan will say that it’s not his fault if people do not use his training techniques appropriately (even used as directed they can have disasterous results). I disagree. He is promoting the domination of dogs and is responsible for the outcome from that. Supporters seem to be willing to give him credit when the outcome is positive but not when it isn’t. When a leader of a country says publically that AIDS is not a sexually transmitted disease (as has happened) and therefore people do not need to take the appropriate precautions to prevent contracting the disease, I believe that he is responsible for the potentially deadly results of his actions.

The results of the belief that dogs need to be dominated can be deadly, especially with fearful dogs.

Off-topic on Adoption

I am straying from the fearful dog theme for just a moment. I have been looking at a lot of shelter and rescue websites. Some are fabulous, many are the obvious and well-intentioned efforts of people who are website novices, too many feature auto-music that starts blaring as the site loads (how can you expect someone at work to sneak a look if they’re likely to be caught out by the refrains of ‘Rescue me!’ blasting from their computer) but design flaws aside, the most egregious flaw is the tone of the content I found often enough to prompt me to write about it.

One site warns that if they deem you ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ they may adopt one of their dogs to you. Another contained a list of 25 reasons why you should NOT call them, the personal pet peeves list of the author which included the lame excuses people give when getting rid of a dog. Having volunteered at our local shelter for years I was exposed to the attitude that many rescue and shelter staff have toward the general pet-owning public and that is that they are the genetic equivalent of a combination of Mike Vick and Elmer Fudd. If they are not outright villains, they are buffoons who don’t know why their dog keeps having puppies.

Doing rescue or working in a shelter is a tough job and I’m grateful that someone is willing to do the hard physical and emotional work of helping homeless animals. But maligning the very population, that being the general population, of people that you hope are going to reach into their pockets to make a donation or open the doors of their home and heart to an animal, is not a good strategy for success.

We know that there are bad pet owners out there, but it’s unfortunate to use the same broad brush to paint all owners because of them.

**It has gotten even weirder! I found one site that will adopt to single people or married couples, but not unmarried couples. They want to ensure that there is stability and commitment for and to the dogs. I suppose that means gay men or women who can’t marry, can’t get a dog. Haven’t these folks ever seen the stats? Married people get divorced, single people lose their jobs and need to move. I’m turned off just by the policy itself.