Archive for the ‘rescue’ Tag

Caribbean Volunteer Vacation-Changing Our Lives

happy dog running on beachI suppose that when one has lived long enough it’s easy to slide into waxing philosophical about life, and I have definitely stepped onto that slope. Having been fortunate to have what I needed in life as far as my physical needs being met–safe home, food, medical care, etc., I have had the luxury to invest time, money and energy into the things that bring joy, add adventure and more often than not, have me looking forward to the future. As much as I appreciate the “stuff” I have in my life I am far more grateful for having discovered something that motivates me to act, to plan, to dream, to change.

Like many others I enjoy the company of dogs, feel pity, sorrow, and compassion when I see them in distress. For much of my life I felt too small and insignificant to make much difference in a world that seemed too big, busy and racing toward a variety of disasters. Comparing myself to others with more energy, education, andfuzzy creativity left me feeling that I came up short. I waited for acknowledgement, affirmation and support from others, getting it enough to keep me plodding on, but not enough to make me feel completely confident in my efforts.

Years ago a friend told me that during an audience with one of her chosen gurus she was told to “find your work and do it.” I want to extend a huge THANK YOU to all the people who have made it possible for me to do the work I feel passionate about– helping people learn about the most humane and effective ways to work with fear-based behavior challenges in dogs.

Most recently I had the good fortune to travel to the islands of Puerto makingpouchRico, Culebra and Vieques with a group of passionate and committed dog trainers and enthusiasts. Like missionaries for the humane and ethical treatment of dogs we; sang songs with toddlers, colored and glittered with children, demonstrated that a dog does not have to demonstrate its intelligence by figuring out how to avoid being punished faster than other dogs, and witnessed the struggles of people on the horsefrontlines of rescue and sheltering homeless animals. I am already looking forward to next year’s visit to continue with our work.

Images by Timothy Wheelerwearingpouchdoxie


Fostering Success

sheepGiving a dog an interim home while they are in the rescue system is a kind and generous act. Few who do it seem to realize how important the role they play is. It goes beyond providing a safe and comfortable place for a dog to reside while a permanent home is sought for them.

Though they are not pack animals, dogs are social animals. For social animals one of the most stressful events they can experience is the loss of their familiar social network, i.e., moving. Even if a dog appears to be happy and outgoing when they arrive in a foster home, we should assume that their level of stress is higher than it would be otherwise. Many dogs are able to cope with this and settle in with little trouble as they navigate their new surroundings and the expectations put on them by people and other dogs. But foster caregivers would be wise to consider how stress and relocation can impact a dog’s current and future behavior. Stress alone does not cause disease or inappropriate behavior, but it can contribute to the equation that produces it.

A dog who in their former life never put a tooth on a person or other dog, even though the opportunity existed, is less likely to do so in a new home than a dog with a history of biting, but add a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of stress and the odds that we’ll see this behavior increases. Within the shelter and rescue system people will look at a dog’s “bite history.” In many cases there are no opportunities for a dog to make an appeal once they have bitten a person or pet.

“But your honor he pulled on my ear and I have a raging infection in there!”

“She sat on me!”

“I was being threatened by another dog and the woman grabbed my collar.”

“I was eating that bone.”

“It was small, fluffy and ran right under my nose so I grabbed it.”

Foster caregivers have the responsibility to ensure that at the very minimum they do not add to the list of things that upset a dog, or provoke a behavioral response everyone will regret. One of the privileges I have is consulting with rescue groups pulling dogs out of shelters where many are euthanized. I see the important role that foster caregivers play. In some cases they literally save a dog’s life by providing a place for the dog to go when its time is up at an open-door shelter. This blog is one in a series which I will write addressing how foster caregivers can move a dog in transition away from the edge of the cliff, and avoid pushing them off, as they begin their journey to safety.

Nibbles-the journey continues

So yes, Nibbles in now my dog. I didn’t want a 4th dog, I didn’t want Nibbles, but when the head of the rescue group responsible for him (legally that is) told me they were going to send someone to my house to pick him up and transport him a 7 hour car ride and plane or ferry ride away, I panicked. I had been in communication with the person who was going to adopt him. She’d never met him, and despite my efforts did not seem to understand that I was not just a fussy foster mom worried about her fur baby.

Nibbles and the other dogs from his breeder who were ‘rescued’ went through hell. It was not meant to be hell, and as far as ‘rescues’ go, it wasn’t as bad as some, but for dogs who had never been away from their home, or the dozens of other dogs in it, being put into crates, transported and left alone in barn stalls, it was pretty darn scary. Some of the dogs managed well, others not so much. Of the dogs that I knew or or heard about, at least 3 had run away from their new homes, including Nibbles. One was found a few days later, Nibbles 3 weeks later, and one-never. It’s fair to assume she is dead. Small dogs afraid to approach people don’t stand much of a chance in the woods of Vermont.

I had worried about Nibbles for the weeks he was missing and when he was found offered to take him on and see if I could help him with his fears. For months I worked with him and never heard from the rescue group claiming ownership of him. It wasn’t until someone decided they wanted a fearful dog, just like the one their friend had adopted (another from the same breeder bust) that I was told to either deliver him myself, which I would have done to help him through the transport and transition into a new home, or hand him over to strangers. But when I couldn’t do it ‘right away’ I was told that he would be picked up, and that was that. When the adopter told me ‘not to worry, he’ll be fine’, I felt sick. There was a chance that Nibbles would be fine, but I had seen what ‘not fine’ looked and sounded like for him, and there was an even better chance that there would be a lot of ‘not fine’ first. Someone owed this dog for all the extremely ‘not fine’ he’d already endured. It might as well be me.

Life here would be easier without him. Just this morning he chased a jogger and I was on the phone trying to hire neighbor kids to go by the house so we could work on not chasing joggers. For the past two months we’ve been attending agility classes. There is a supportive trainer who lets me come to classes with my special needs dogs and work with them as I need to. The class also forced me into doing more work to help Nibs feel better riding in the car. Last week on our way to class #8, along with the help of an anti-anxiety medication we finally had a tremble-free ride. Hopefully with a few more of those under his collar Nibbles will be able to relax in the car, which will make rides more enjoyable for both of us.

Here’s a clip of Nibs at agility. Keeping track of little dogs is a bigger challenge than I imagined!

Sh*t happens

photo of bathroomIt’s true, sh*t happens and when it does it’s good to know about it. It’s like those fast food restaurants with the sign in the bathroom that says ‘Please let us know if this restroom does not meet our high standards for cleanliness’. If sh*t happens and you don’t know about it, how can you clean it up?

In the industry of animal rescue, and find fault with my use of the term ‘industry’ if you like, there is a lot of sh*t going on that doesn’t make it into the reports and stories created to provide PR and donations for the group doing the rescue.

I catch sh*t from people who insist that getting a dog into a home and out of a shelter is worth doing, whether there has been adequate evaluation of the dog’s and future owner’s needs and skills or not. Some will say that the odds are better for the animal, 100% chance of dying in a shelter vs. some unknown percent chance of suffering in a home, or wherever they end up. But make no mistake in plenty of cases they die anyway. They may suffer emotionally and physically while being passed from home to home or shelter to shelter. They may be forced to live a life of confinement or isolation. They may be ‘adopted’ by dog traffickers who sell dogs to labs or fight rings. If the dog is intact they may be used for breeding. They may end up as part of a hoarder’s collection and receive inadequate care. In a surprisingly high number of cases they may flee from their home and never be recovered.

How many shelters and rescue groups have statistics regarding how many animals are still in their original home, with contented owners, a year after being adopted? And if they don’t have them, why not? How can we raise our pompoms and cheer for dogs being placed in homes if those placements are ultimately unsuccessful? How can a group learn to improve their assessment of dogs and potential owners unless they can see the results of their current practices and procedures? I already know all of the excuses for not doing this kind of follow-up, time and money being high on the list. But I just don’t buy them. If we seriously want to declare ourselves ‘animal advocates’ then the ‘out of sight out of mind’ rationale doesn’t hold water.

If we are committed to the animals in our care we can find ways to ensure that we are doing the best we can for them. But we’ll never know how to do that until we are willing to expand our vision to include the ‘big picture’ and not just the snapshot ‘feel good’ moment of adoption.

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.