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Roots, Rescue, and The Jam: Lessons from BAD RAP

The other week I got to attend BAD RAP’s 2nd Annual Rescue Jam in Oakland, CA. The Jam was the JAMMIEST. 

It was one hot weekend, filled with good people, powerful presentations, and complex questions about rescue work. We covered legal issues and contracts, the rising epidemic of hoarding and failed rescues, effective advocacy and community building, harm reduction as a model for pet owner support, media training, and so much more.  I’m taking some time to process it, so expect to hear more from me about these topics in the coming months.

Anywhoozle, I was there for two reasons. One was to talk about Compassion Fatigue and the non-negotiable self-care all rescue and shelter workers need to engage in pronto. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

BAD RAP Rescue Jam | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

The other reason I was invited to the Jam was to talk about my project DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space.

And so, my first DINOS PowerPoint was born. It was heavy on the silly and filled with cartoons (is it just me or does anyone else believe that single panel cartoonists are the truthsayers of our day?). I got to read My Dog is Friendly: A Public Service Announcement out loud which was super fun – we all shouted “My Dog is Friendly!” together a bunch of times. Very cathartic.

After that, I told the rescue groups about the message of DINOS and what they could do to support us. Specifically, I asked that, as animal care experts, they share dog walking safety tips with their community and adopters, so that being respectful of a dog’s need for space becomes common knowledge.

I also told them that you guys are AWESOME.

Team DINOS is one of the smartest, most compassionate, respectful, and helpful online communities in the whole interwebz. I shared that it’s my privilege to be able to crowd source Team DINOS and curate the knowledge that you’ve earned the hard way, so that others (like their adopters) can benefit from what you’ve been through.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

Me at the Jam (am I giving myself a fist bump here? perhaps.) | photo credit: Maggie McDowell

 

It was a good time all around and I met tons of inspiring people from all over the country. There were lots of Team DINOS members at the Jam and meeting them in person was super cool for a Maine-based hermit like me.

Fact: It was a huge honor to speak at a BAD RAP event.

 

Gang, these guys are my teachers. Over the years, Donna and Tim (co-founders of BAD RAP) have had a tremendous influence on the work that I do. Truth is, I’m not sure that DINOS would exist without BAD RAP. For serious.

So it was a real trip to be in their house, sharing what I know and my message, when so much of it is rooted in BAD RAP’s work!

Let me explain how they’ve influenced what I do. Here are a few things I’ve learned from BAD RAP:

A dog’s social tolerance of other dogs is a fluid thing. Their dog tolerance level information was a light bulb learning moment for me years ago – giving me the language to explain what I had been experiencing as dog walker. They taught me how to better understand and talk about the individual social needs of dogs and the important role we have in protecting our dogs from rude, rushed dog-dog greetings. They taught me to stand up for my dogs.

Learning how to walk politely on leash can be a matter of life and death for many dogs. Their Pit Ed classes, where they run multiple dog training classes at the same time (we’re talking 60+ dogs/handlers!) are a joy to watch.  Many of the dogs attending class are reactive shelter dogs who have not yet been adopted and are there to learn the leash manners they desperately need, so that they can make it out of crowded, urban shelters alive. The volunteer handlers are dedicated to changing the outcome for these dogs in the limited amount of time they have to make a difference for the dogs. This taught me that smoothing out reactive leash behaviors can be the difference between leaving the shelter through the front or the back door.

Working with reactive dogs can be super fun. By watching and participating in these classes, I learned to find the joy in working with a variety of reactive dogs – especially the large, strong, and fearless ones. BAD RAP taught me how to appreciate their sass. To be fully present to the dogs and mindful of my own body as I moved with them. To reward the dogs generously with treats and praise. To not let my own fears of looking stupid prevent me from engaging and being enthusiastic with the dogs. To brush it off quickly when I bomb and keep trying. They taught me how to build better relationships (complete with soulful eye contact) with the naughty clowns dogs in my life.

Positive, long lasting, meaningful change doesn’t grow out of polarized, judgmental, either-or thinking. Five years ago I attended a BAD RAP community event serving low income families who, if judged by the standards of many of us in animal welfare, would not be considered ideal dog owners. Rather than chastise them, I saw how BAD RAP chose to connect and collaborate with the crowds of people lined up for help. They met them respectfully, as equals, offering care for beloved family pets without conditions. They taught me to look for the common ground – the love we all have for our dogs – even if it that love looks different on the outside. And to celebrate what people are already doing right, while offering assistance. Through their continuing owner support work, they’ve taught me the power of compassionate action and a positive approach with people (in real life and online).

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place.

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place for families who love their dogs.

 

BAD RAP has most definitely shaped my work. They’ve helped me to think about the big picture issues, but also to remember the needs of the people and dogs who are right in front of me.

Donna and Tim have been doing this hard work for a long time and are generous about sharing what they know. Getting to spend time with BAD RAP isn’t just fun, it’s an education in the history of our field for newbies like me who have only been around 2, 5, or 10 years.

I find it kind of odd – disorienting, really – to be in a business where there is so little discussion of our lineage as animal welfare workers: the origins of our field, the people who have stood before us, and the mistakes and subsequent hard lessons that have been learned along the way. I wonder if we’d be stronger and more effective as a community if we saw more clearly whose shoulders we were standing on, whose footsteps we follow in, and the work we are building upon every time we rise up to push for more change.

The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, you know?

I consider BAD RAP to be a significant part of my lineage as an animal care worker and educator. I’m still working to understand the paradoxes and profound truths of our work with dogs and people. It’s a slow and winding road, this education. But BAD RAP makes the journey all the richer for being ahead of me.

So here’s a cheers to BR for all the lessons and the laughs. And to all the work they’ve inspired me and so many others to do. I know that 70+ people left the Jam last week excited to make a difference for pets and people back in their hometowns. We’re all mighty lucky to have these compassionate, smart rescuers among us. Thanks to all of you!

 

Up next: Compassion Fatigue at the Jam and an announcement…

 

 

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14 Comments
  1. YAY! Love this!

    August 7, 2014
  2. What a cool opportunity! It looks like a great group of likeminded folks!

    August 7, 2014
  3. hmosbarger #

    I know that Bad Rap does amazing work. But I wish they would quit using prong collars. Pressure, discomfort and pain against the neck of a reactive dog doesn’t make them less reactive. For some dogs it makes them worse. It also can easily damage a dog’s neck. I am able to control and train my reactive pit bulls just fine with a Gentle Leader and counter conditioning. I tried to talk to BR about it but they think they know better. I was very disappointed in them.

    Looking forward to your piece on compassion fatigue.

    Heidi

    August 7, 2014
    • Thanks for sharing your concerns Heidi. I want you to know that I respect and understand what you’ve shared in your comments. I agree with you that for some dogs, prong collars can make their behaviors worse and that they are not always a good or safe choice. However, I prefer not to approach this (or any other issue) from a place of absolutes.

      Parker Palmer, a Quaker author and teacher, wrote, “In certain circumstances, truth is found not by splitting the world into either-ors but by embracing both-and.”

      I believe that some dogs can be harmed by prong collars AND that some dogs can be helped by prong collars. I believe that about gentle leaders and other tools too.

      What I appreciate about BAD RAP is their ability to look at each dog, their handler, and the specific environment they’re in and help determine which one of those opposite truths (is it harmful or helpful?) applies and move forward accordingly.

      When I see BAD RAP’s classes in action, I see dogs – wearing all kinds of collars and harnesses – being given the gift of their handler’s full attention. I see dogs succeeding and thriving in ways their handlers didn’t imagine was possible before coming to class. I see hope and possibility, where before there was real despair. The collar or harness alone doesn’t negate or explain these successes. I have to take in the entirety of what I’m seeing and that helps me to remain open-minded.

      This blog is a tribute to the people who have taught me so much over the years. I hope you all can understand why I’d rather not reduce their decades of incredible work – they have helped to change the lives of countless dogs and people through their advocacy and outreach work – down to a discussion about a single, optional, collar choice. They are so much more than that and I wanted to honor it here.

      For that reason, I’m closing this comment section to further prong collar comments (good and bad). We can save that passionate discussion for another blog! I’d be grateful if we could stick with my intention for this post – to celebrate all of you, BAD RAP and what they’ve taught me, and the many rescue groups that I met last week who are working so hard to make a difference in this world. All of you, no matter what your views are on this issue, are making this world a better place and I thank you!.

      August 8, 2014
  4. Thanks so much for the kind words, Jessica for being such a big part of the evolution that’s been happening for dogs and the people who love’em. We’re in such a better place than we were a decade ago and it’ll only get better if we continue to dialogue in the spirit of mutual respect. The Jam lit some important fires last year for the rescue/sheltering community and that fire got a little brighter this year, thanks to your power speak. Grassroots grass fires … watch out!

    August 8, 2014
  5. Denise #

    How can a group being something like BAD Rap in Atlanta?

    September 1, 2014
  6. What a great opportunity, wished I could have been there. Thanks for sharing – Johnson

    October 3, 2014

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