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Posts from the ‘people problems’ Category

No Manners, Need Advice? Try Google, Not Me.

Hi there!

We’ve never met, but I have a dog with a ton of behavior and medical problems and I really need your help. I’m going to share three paragraphs of vague information that contradicts itself, and then ask you 82 questions. Also, my landlord won’t let me keep my dog. Can you help? I don’t want to give my dog up! And I also want to adopt a very specific kind of dog, but can’t find one at the shelters. Can you help me find a dog to adopt?  And btw my dog has diarrhea, a limp, and allergies. And I lost him. Can you help me find him and then recommend a good food? I love my dog!

Thanks,

Random Upset Dog Emailer

p.s. While you’re busy researching the answers and finding links to supporting resources, reaching out to your contacts in animal welfare, and writing a response to me, I’ll be Googling the answers. So by the time you respond to me, I won’t even bother writing back to acknowledge your thoughtful email.

p.p.s If you don’t answer me and I have to give up my dog/can’t afford medical help/buy a dog from a pet store instead of adopting/allow him to bite someone… I’ll probably blame you, because I asked you for help, but you didn’t get back to me. I’ll tell everyone how I reached out for help and you didn’t care enough to respond. You obviously don’t love dogs.  


Ask anyone who works with dogs and they’ll tell you: their inboxes are overflowing with requests for advice and assistance.  People want free help. That’s cool. We all need it at one time or another. No harm there.

That’s why Google exists.

But sometimes we skip Google and reach out to a person. When we choose to email another human being instead of searching online for the answers, we’re also making a choice to engage another person’s time and energy. That’s ok too.

But only if you appreciate it.

There are people who really do appreciate the helpful responses they receive. They write back with thanks, an update, and a virtual high-five to let us know that free advice from strangers rocks.  That kind of thing makes our day. We’re psyched we could help. But oftentimes, all we hear are crickets (or dogs snoring) on the other end of the interwebz. There’s no reply to our reply.

Here’s the thing: When someone takes time out of their life to offer assistance or answer your questions, they deserve thanks, at the very least. Choosing not to respond – leaving a helpful email dangling alone in the dark – makes those of us who are still answering emails feel like chumps.

It’s time consuming and often stressful to read and to respond to the many emails all of us get. Anyone with an email account understands how overwhelming email can be. We’re all drowning in comments, texts, Facebook messages….

But if you are considered an “expert” on any issue – in this case dogs – it’s likely that you’re not only receiving emails from friends, family, and co-workers, but also friends of friends, strangers who found your website, people who you went to middle school with who found you on Facebook, your dentist, and acquaintances of friends of strangers who found your name through an employee at the pet store. It winds up being a LOT of emails asking for help.

And most of us really want to help. Really we do. Being able to provide quality resources, point someone in the right direction, connect them to a local pro that can help, and assisting others is something that most of us are happy to do. We enjoy being a resource for others and sharing what we know.

We’re happy to do it…until we’ve written that 100th email that falls into the black hole of cyberspace. No response. No thanks. No time wasted on the other person’s end letting us know that our free, professional advice is appreciated.

Then we get real annoyed.  Like, I-want-to-write-you-back-one-more-time-and-call-you-a-rude-turd kind of annoyed.

cartoon: savagechickens.com

cartoon: savagechickens.com

Folks, the time is a-coming when no one is going to write back to anyone anymore. We just can’t take the abuse.

Here’s what’s going to happen one day:

Every single trainer, vet tech, advocate, dog walker, rescue and shelter worker, pet store owner, (fill in the pet professional here) is going to:

    • Start ignoring ALL the emails they receive requesting advice and help.
    • Send you an auto response with links you could have found if you took 5 seconds to Google your questions.  Then ignore your follow up questions.
    • Send you a PayPal link up front, so you can pay for the quality advice you’ve been receiving for free up until now. Many are already doing this (it’s called a “consultation fee”).


Combined with the sheer volume of emails we’re all getting, people with bad email manners are gonna blow it for everyone.

We don’t actually want you to stop reaching out for help. We WANT to help. We’re doing our best to get back to people who need a hand. We wouldn’t be in this business (or volunteering in it) if we didn’t want to make things better.

But damn.

We’re not bottomless wells. We’re people with a few jobs and poop that needs to be scooped (literally and metaphorically). Email eats every last morsel of our time. It’s actually kind of amazing that anyone writes back to anyone anymore.

So if you do get a response from someone, go on and throw us a “Thanks! You’re a Baller!” email and keep us from going over the email edge, ok? It’ll go a long way.

Here are a few specific ways we can all help each other out of the email apocalypse:

    • When someone responds to your email, write back thanking them for their time. Acknowledge them, even if the advice isn’t exactly what you had hoped for. They could have ignored you, but they didn’t.  Just let them know that you received the email and appreciate that they got back to you.
    • Or hire a professional to assist you with your needs. Pay for the advice you want.
    • But if manners aren’t your thing and you can’t afford to hire a pro: Use Google. You can’t hurt Google’s feelings. You can’t waste Google’s time. Ask all the questions you want, and then walk away. It’s ok to dine and dash on Google.


Hey, none of us are perfect and we’ve all dropped the ball on an email or ten, so no hard feelings. And we all need to be reasonable and realistic about just how much time we can expect any busy organization or individual to spend answering emails. For many groups, they wouldn’t be able to do the work we admire so much if they answered every email they received.

But it’s important to remember that when we do choose to engage other people in our search for help, we owe them a quick thanks when they respond. Just a few words to let the other human being know their time and thoughtful advice is worth more than the info found on a free search engine.


Note to all you lovelies that write to me: keep writing. I love hearing from you and I’m happy to help if I can. I may not get back to you right away, but I’ll try my best.

The Secret Life of Dog Catchers

When I came across the book, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officers Passion to Make a Difference, I wasted no time in reaching out to the author Shirley Zindler to ask if she’d like to send me a copy for review. She generously did and when I got it, I gulped the book down in three fast sittings.

cover book

Shirley is an animal control officer in Northern California, and in addition to her demanding job, her family has fostered and rehomed more than 400 dogs. Wow-wee. She blogs for Bark Magazine, has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Shirley is one busy woman.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a few fantastic Animal Control Officers (ACOs). In addition to their incredible skills (with animals and people), bravery, and professionalism, these good eggs have all had two things in common: endless compassion and a wicked sense of humor. Shirley has both in spades. In her book, she shares stories from the field and her home life that will make you tear up, bust out laughing, get angry and frustrated, and then get inspired. I suspect that Shirley feels all those things in the course of just a single day, judging by her heavy and varied case load.

Through it all – from comical calls in the middle of the night to heart breaking neglect cases and frightening stand-offs with criminals –  Shirley’s stories reveal she’s one of those rare people that can stay positive despite the never-ending challenges that she faces. When the rest of us would be throwing in the towel, Shirley keeps going, and then writes about her experiences so that we get to walk in her capable shoes for a while. You’ll happily go along for the ride as she investigates hoarders, raids a cock fight, rescues wildlife, and works with the coroner’s office.

If you’ve worked as an ACO or in a shelter, this book will be the perfect combination of the surprising and familiar. You’ll see some of your experiences reflected in her validating vignettes.  But whether or not you’ve worked in animal welfare, readers will be rooting for Shirley every time she steps up to the plate, trying to make her corner of the world a better place for animals.

After I finished the book, I was left wishing I could take Shirley out for a margarita. I have no doubt she has so many more great stories to tell!  Since we couldn’t meet for drinks, Shirley was kind enough to answer a few questions for me  about The Secret Life of Dog Catchers and her work:

shirley and her pets

Photo credit: Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat


Jessica: There are a lot of misconceptions about what an ACO does and what they have the power to do. From some of the stories in the book, it’s safe to say much of the public thinks that if a pet is in less than ideal conditions, ACOs can swoop in and remove the animals immediately. What would you like the public to understand about your ability to intervene?

Shirley: I often have to tell the public that I can only enforce the law. I try to educate people, but I can’t make them care for the animal the way the concerned party, or I, want it cared for, only the minimum that the law requires. I do everything I can to make a difference, but I often lose sleep about the things I can’t change.


J: In your work you have to enforce the law and hold owners accountable, yet in many of the stories you write about working to provide resources, education, and support to families who want to do better, but need assistance. How do you determine when it’s the right time to provide education vs. punishment?

Shirley: I almost always try and help if the person is willing to work with me to improve the animals conditions. Many people want to care for their animals, but lack the knowledge or finances to do it right. I can sometimes provide the things they need to make things better. It might be management, training or nutrition advice, help finding a new home or occasionally, money out of my own pocket. I don’t want to seize their animal, I just want them to take better care of it. If the situation is severe, or if the person is unwilling to work with me, then I may seize or prosecute or usually both.

 

J: Have you found that when people know better or have access to affordable resources, they do better?

 

Shirley: Many people do just need educating or help and I’ve seen things greatly improved plenty of times. Some people have no interest in doing anything different, so we use the law where needed to provide compliance.


J: In the book, I was really struck by how the calls you receive often seem to be so subjective: reports of attacks, abuse, and grave injuries often turned out to be really minor, almost comically so – for example, a dog attack turns out to be a loose, but happy Mastiff. Or a dog dying from being hit by a car turns out to be a dog with a broken toe nail found by the road. In many cases the public’s perception of what they’re experiencing doesn’t match reality! How does that have an impact on your work?

Shirley: We get so many calls that are misinterpreted that sometimes we forget how serious a call can actually be! Its important to stay alert to the dangers and to the possibility of serious neglect or abuse.

 

shirley zindler

Pelican rescue: All in a day’s work for Shirley!


J: Leash laws are a hot topic with Team DINOS. Many of us live in communities with leash laws, but they’re not enforced, making it difficult for us to safely walk our dogs in public spaces. Do you have any thoughts on the effectiveness of leash laws?

Shirley: Our leash law fine is around $250, so that gets peoples attention, but we don’t have the staff to patrol every problem area all the time. Our community has lots of great dog parks and one amazing dog beach so I always try and direct the off-leash people there. I will cite people who are repeat offenders, but often verbal warnings and making a show of presence in problem areas is helpful.

I spent many years taking my dogs to dog parks almost daily and had almost no problems. I presently hit an off leash beach several times a month with my four dogs ranging from 18 pounds to 120 pounds. My dogs absolutely love it and its a great way for me to blow of work stress, just watching a bunch of loved dogs running free and playing with each other. My dogs (mostly rescues from bad situations) have always been very well trained and well socialized, but of course some dogs don’t appreciate strange dogs regardless of their history.

I have seen problems with off leash dogs charging up to leashed dogs who are not comfortable with it, and some fights have resulted. I do what I can to get people to follow the law and be more respectful of others, but some just don’t care. And of course many of the dogs are completely out of control and the owners have no idea how to fix it.


J: I’d love to hear your thoughts on dealing with loose dogs. We all run into them while we’re out walking our dogs and it puts gray hairs on our heads! What are some of your tips for safely evading loose dogs? How can we work with our neighbors and ACOs to get folks to properly contain their dogs?

Shirley: As a teen I had two large aggressive dogs run out of their yard as I was passing by and attack my small dog and nearly kill him. Even the owner could barely get his dogs off and it took a long time. They just hung on and pulled from each end. Truly horrifying. There probably wasn’t much I could have done in that case except maybe pepper spray, if I had had it.

Most cases are not nearly so severe but a few times when confronted with a truly aggressive dog I have removed my dogs leashes to use as a weapon, also freeing my dog to do  normal greeting behaviors, or possibly outrun the other dog if needed. I do think it’s important to stay calm and keep a loose lead if at all possible. I often see people getting hysterical and yanking their dog away from an approaching dog, causing an increase in agitation, disruption of normal greeting behaviors, and sometimes resulting in a fight that could have been prevented.

Teaching appropriate behavior to your own dog is helpful too. When a dog is lunging and snarling on leash, it may bring a fight from an off leash dog that might not have happened if the dog was taught to walk calmly. Thankfully my dogs all enjoy meeting new dogs and are very smooth with great social skills so they rarely have issues. I have had dogs in the past that didn’t like being approached by strange dogs, so I’m sensitive to those concerns.

Repeated polite calls to animal control can sometimes be helpful in bringing more enforcement. Sometimes it takes just the right person, timing, luck, or officer to make a difference. Many departments are understaffed and some ACOs have very little training. It’s important to try to work together rather than just berating the department for a lack of response. There are some uncaring ACOs out there, but most are doing the best they can with limited resources. In some cases, we cannot pursue an issue without written statements, but no one is willing to provide them.


J: Your work often brings you into contact with dogs that are terrified and/or injured, which manifests as aggression. How do you stay calm and safely work with dogs in those scenarios?

Shirley: Some of my most rewarding calls are dogs that are aggressing because of fear (or pain, or both), but respond well to cookies and sweet talk. Most aggression is fear based. The dog is afraid so he charges, or even attacks to make you go away.  I have spent my life working with dogs and I have learned something from every single one. I love dogs, and respect them and do everything I can to make things less stressful for them. Dogs are far more predicable than people in most cases. Patience, knowledge and cookies go a long way in this business. For those few dogs who can’t be convinced, I usually have the skills and tools to confine them safely and humanely.  Often once you have a hold of them and haven’t hurt them, they come around anyway.


J: Dog Bite Prevention Week is almost here, do you mind sharing any advice for how the public can avoid dog bites?

Shirley:  Here’s a link to a blog I did last year for Bark Magazine regarding dog bites. I investigate so many preventable dog bites each year and it’s unfortunate that dogs and children most often suffer the consequences of our lack of knowledge or understanding of canine behavior.


shirley after the raid


J: I think many animal welfare workers (myself included) really struggle with compassion fatigue and/or feeling overwhelmed. How do you keep from burning out?

Shirley: I have my days where I can hardly bear the sadness and hurt that people wreak on their fellow people and animals. Dealing with the broken and neglected day after day takes a toll on the heart. Still, I feel like I’m making a difference. The smallest success is so encouraging.

I had some young teen girls call recently about a bird with thread tangled around its leg and then tangled in tree branches. I had one of them hold the bird while I spent about 5 minutes unraveling the thread and then let her release it. It was so great to see how helpful and kind they were, and so rewarding to watch the bird fly away unencumbered. It’s critical in this business to focus on the positive.

I can go a long way on the good stuff: One good rescue, finding someone’s lost pet, removing an animal from a neglectful situation and finding a great home for it, those are the things that keep me going. I could (and sometimes do) torture myself with the ones I can’t help, but it doesn’t do any good and its harmful to me, so I try and focus on the areas where I can make a difference and work really hard on them. It’s helpful to have supportive friends and family. My husband of 22 years does a great job of helping me keep things in perspective and my kids, although pretty much grown, are terrific as well.

I get a lot of joy in fostering needy dogs (along with cats, wildlife and other animals). I’ve taken in dogs with health or behavior issues, moms with underage pups and orphaned pups. I stopped counting at 400 dog and puppy fosters over the last 25 years or so. In all but a very few cases, they have gone on to wonderful homes and lives. A few came back and were re-homed successfully and a very tiny number couldn’t be saved, but I get so much satisfaction from seeing them living the life they deserve.


Thank you Shirley!

Order your copy of the Secret Lives of Of Dog Catchers here and help Shirley reach her goal of selling 1,000 books. When she hits that goal, she’ll donate $500 to the Love Me Fix Me spay/neuter program.  

Shirley shared that several people have also pledged to donate to the program as soon as she reaches her goal, including an additional $1000 donation.  A good read and a good cause! Follow Shirley on Facebook to cheer her on as she reaches her goal.

Maine: Take a Stand Against Discrimination and Support L.D. 1192

I live in Maine and right now we have the chance to put an end to insurance discrimination based on a dog’s breed or breed mix. Will you help?

I’m asking all of my Maine dog-loving friends to take a moment to reach out and voice your support for this bill. If you own a pit bull, Doberman, German Shepherd, Rottie, Mastiff, Great Dane, Chow, Akita, or any other dog that’s been denied coverage, now’s your chance to stand up for the fair treatment of your dogs.

If you do not own a dog that’s been targeted, I hope that you will stand up for our families. We’re your friends and neighbors and we’re being unfairly discriminated against. Stand up for the dogs that are in our shelter system simply because their families couldn’t find an insurance company that would treat them fairly. There are so many dogs in our shelters that are safe, loved family dogs, but are homeless because families are forced to surrender them due to housing discrimination (largely due to insurance discrimination). Stand up for every dog that has been unfairly discriminated against because of the way they look, NOT based on their actual behavior or the behavior of their owners.

I’ve written about insurance discrimination before. It’s a serious issue for many responsible, dog-owning families.

Maine has the opportunity to become on the most fair, progressive states in the country when it comes to animals – help us get there!

Please support L.D. 1192- An Act Prohibiting Property Insurance Discrimination Based on Breed of Dog 
http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_126th/billtexts/HP083601.asp

This bill prohibits the refusal to issue or the cancellation or nonrenewal of a property insurance policy or an increase in the premium for the policy solely on the basis of a policyholder’s ownership of a certain breed of dog. The restrictions do not apply if a dog has been designated as a dangerous dog in accordance with state law.

Please support this bill by attending the public hearing on Thursday, April 25, 2013 1:00 PM, Cross Building, Room 220 

If you cannot attend – please submit written testimony to the committee members:
http://www.maine.gov/legis/house/jt_com/ifs.htm

Mailing Address: Committee on Insurance and Financial Services
c/o Legislative Information
100 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333

Here’s what I wrote to each committee member (copy it, if you’d like!):

Dear ____

I’m writing to ask that you support L.D. 1192 in order to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against dog owners. Insurance discrimination creates undue hardship on responsible dog owners, such as myself, and on our animal shelter system which must bear the burden of caring for dogs that are safe, loved, and wanted by their families, but cannot remain in their homes due to discriminatory insurance practices.

Research proves that dog behavior cannot accurately be predicted based on breed alone. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) exhaustive review of dog bite studies conducted in North America and elsewhere has concluded that separate regulation of “pit bull” dogs [or other breeds labeled “dangerous”] is not a basis for dog bite prevention. “Serious bites occur due to a range of factors,” conclude these authors.

Source: http://www.animalfarmfoundation.org/files/Community_approach_to_dog_bite_prevention.pdf

Please tell insurance companies that making sweeping restrictions and cancellations based only on a dog’s breed – rather than assessing an individual dog’s risk factor – is not a welcome business practice in the great state of Maine. Every dog must be evaluated for coverage based on their individual behavior and their owner’s behavior.

Please pass LD 1192 and support the fair treatment of all Maine families.

Thank you for your time,

_____

Here are the email addresses:
rodwhittemore@gmail.com,
dick@dickwoodbury.com,
RepSharon.Treat@legislature.maine.gov,
henry.beck@gmail.com,
RepTerry.Morrison@legislature.maine.gov,
RepJanice.Cooper@legislature.maine.gov,
RepJane.Pringle@legislature.maine.gov,
RepJoyce.Fitzpatrick@legislature.maine.gov,
RepMichael.McClellan@legislature.maine.gov,
RepRay.Wallace@legislature.maine.gov,
RepPeter.Doak@legislature.maine.gov,
RepPaulette.Beaudoin@legislature.maine.gov,
molly.gallant@legislature.maine.gov




Boogie and I thank you for standing up for us and families like ours!

boogie

Money Talks: Do You Support Companies That Discriminate?

I just broke up with my auto insurance carrier.

For years (long before I had dogs), I’ve been a happy Progressive customer – good rates, good customer service, no complaints. Until this year when I bought a house. Because we have a dog that is a pit bull , we planned in advance to get our home owners insurance through State Farm because they have a great reputation within the pit bull community.

When I contacted State Farm for a quote, I told them what kind of dogs we have. They didn’t care. All they wanted to know was if they had a bite history. Our dogs don’t, so we had no problems.

Boogie has a history of moping. State Farm didn't mind.

Boogie has a history of moping. State Farm didn’t mind.

Then, when it came time to renew my auto insurance, it got me thinking: I’d like to bundle my home and auto insurance. Does Progressive offer home owners insurance and, if so, would they insure my dogs, regardless of their breed?  I asked Progressive for a home insurance quote and found out that they do insure pit bulls, but only if I’m willing to pay a hefty “dangerous dog breed” fee.  Uh, no thanks.

Now, I appreciate that Progressive at least offers the possibility of home insurance for families with pit bulls (and other “dangerous dogs” like, Dobermans, Rotties, Chows, etc.), because there are many companies that flat-out do not. Many families are forced to give up their pets because they cannot find insurance that covers certain breeds or mixed breed dogs. So, in areas where there are no other options, at least Progressive offers families (the ones who are able to pay a few hundred extra bucks) an option.

But still. It’s a discriminatory fee. It punishes many dog-owning families, particularly lower-income ones who cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars extra each year, just because of how their dog looks. No fair.

Luckily, I do have options that don’t penalize me for choosing to love a little Boogie. And so, despite the fact that State Farm’s auto insurance cost a little bit more than Progressive’s policy, I dumped Progressive and bundled up over at State Farm. I could have kept Progressive as my auto insurance and State Farm as my home owners insurance.  I could have kept seeing both companies, juggling my affairs with two different agents, but I’m just not that kind of gal. I want a committed relationship where my agent accepts me for who I really am: a dog lover. An all-dogs lover.

State Farm at an Indy Pit Crew Event

State Farm at an Indy Pit Crew Event: http://www.indypitcrew.org

I’d rather give ALL my money to a company that chooses not to discriminate. Money talks.

Of course, Progressive wanted to know why I left, so here’s what I wrote them:

“I left Progressive for only one reason: while shopping for home owners insurance, I discovered that your company considers my dog to be a “dangerous breed” and would charge me an additional fee in order to cover him. My dog is not dangerous and doesn’t have a bite history. Therefore, I took all of my business to State Farm, which does not discriminate against dogs based on how they look or their breed. Instead, they are only concerned with actual behavior and treat every dog as an individual. I was very happy with Progressive and would have loved to continue giving you my business – both auto and home – but I cannot patronize businesses with discriminatory practices, fees, or penalties. If you ever change policies and evaluate dogs based on their behavior, not their looks, I’d be happy to return.”

I haven’t heard back, but I’m not waiting by the phone at night. Breakups, right?

What about you? Does your insurance company discriminate? There are so many dogs affected by insurance discrimination: Chows, GSDs, Rotties, Dobermans, Akitas, Mastiffs, Great Danes, Boxers, Huskies, and many more. Are you giving your hard-earned bucks to an insurance company that discriminates against dogs based on what they look like? As a dog lover, how do you feel about supporting a company that would deny a certified therapy dog coverage because they’re a Rottweiler or an Akita? Or one that makes assumptions about my dog’s behavior just because of how he looks?

As dog lovers, we have to stick together. It’s the only way we can influence profit-driven businesses to stop discriminating against dogs based solely on how they look. To be honest, we also have to stick together to fight Breed Discriminatory Legislation in our local governments (how can we expect businesses not to discriminate, when certain governments are doing so?), but letting your wallets talk in the private sector is a step we can all take too. There really is no excuse for businesses not to treat all dogs fairly. State Farm is doing well financially, so insuring all these families with “dangerous dogs” isn’t ruining them. Why can’t other companies follow in their fair, profitable footsteps?

Please know that insurance is no small thing for many dog lovers. Housing is a major issue for lots of families. There are people who can’t find home owner’s insurance and have to give up their beloved family dogs. There are landlords that want to rent to all dogs, but their insurance companies don’t allow them to be fair. There are SO MANY renters that can’t find housing because of this issue and many wind up giving up their dogs.Those dogs don’t always survive being surrendered to a shelter. And, even if they did, is that really the best use of our animal shelters? As a refugee camp for dogs who are loved, wanted, and well cared for, but weren’t insurable just because of how they look?  Uh, a million times no.

So, I’m asking you, my fellow dog lovers: if your auto policy or any other insurance policy is up for renewal soon, would you consider taking your business to an insurance company that does not discriminate? Will you put your money where your heart is and stand with me and Boogie? I know it’s a pain in the tush to switch. It took me way longer than I care to admit to stop being lazy and do the right thing for my own family. But maybe, like me, you’ll one day feel compelled to deal with the temporary inconvenience of switching so that you can align your spending with your ethics.

And if you’re looking, you do have options. Here are some companies (it may vary from state to state) that are helping families stay together: State Farm, Farmers (see update below), USAA, and Travelers are a few.  There’s even this company with a pit bull on their website and a list from Bad Rap with options nationwide.

Why not get a quote from one of these and then reward them for treating all dogs and families fairly by giving them your business?

You’d be Boogie’s hero.

 

Update 2/12/13: Farmers has changed their policy regarding pit bulls, Rottweilers, and wolf-hybrid dogs. More on that here.  As of this date, the change is only in CA, however all families with Farmers insurance would be smart to look for an alternative to Farmers home owners insurance now. Additionally  I reached out to State Farm and today they confirmed that they are not following Farmers lead and will continue not to discriminate against dogs based on breed. 

It’s Not How They’re Raised, It’s How Dogs are Managed That Matters Most

How many times have you heard someone say about a dog, “It’s all how they’re raised”?  Probably a lot. If you own a pit bull dog, probably a lot more.

I hear pit bull advocates saying it all the time, as a way to defend our dogs. I hear other saying it as a flippant remark about dogs in general.  This phrase gets tossed around all the time, but no one seems to be aware of what they’re really saying….and how damaging it can be.

This saying does have a kernel of truth  in it, of course, but “how they’re raised” is just one of the factors that contributes to who our dogs are. It’s not the whole story. 

When people believe that “It’s All How They’re Raised”, there are some real-life consequences for the dogs. So we need to check ourselves. 

Here are a few ways our words hurt:

People refuse to adopt adult dogs. This idea, that how they’re raised determines who a dog is, makes adopting out adult and senior dogs a real challenge. Why would adopters take a chance on an adult dog, who has been raised by someone else, when they could adopt a puppy and raise it “right” themselves? Some folks really believe this. Seriously, shelter workers are constantly confronted by this way of thinking. It stinks.

Shelters won’t place victims of cruelty up for adoption. If a dog has survived an abusive or neglectful situation, such as dog fighting, animal hoarding, puppy mills, etc., then it is known they were “raised wrong”. Some organizations use this as proof that the dogs aren’t safe or fit to be adopted out.The same thing goes for dogs that are suspected of surviving these situations. If the assumption is made that a dog with cropped ears has been fought, that assumption of their past may wind up costing the dog his life if policies dictate that fight bust dogs are not adoptable because they were obviously “raised wrong.”

Responsible dog owners feel like failures. People who have raised their dogs since puppyhood beat themselves up when they’ve done everything right, but despite their very best efforts, their dogs still have behavioral issues. I hear from a lot of you through DINOS because you feel ashamed and guilty about your dog’s issues, despite having raised your dogs right. Let me just say it now: it’s not all how a dog is raised that matters. You guys have to stop beating yourselves up (even if you’re a dog trainer).

Here’s the reality – dogs are who they are due to many factors: training, breeding, socialization, management, genetics, and environment. All of these things influence who our dogs are.

A dog’s past is a chapter, but it’s never the whole story. Let me show you:

“Raised Wrong”

Some dogs, neglected and abused their entire lives, are well-adjusted, social dogs. Anyone who has worked in rescue has met countless dogs who were not raised in the best circumstances, but despite this lack of early socialization or care (or worse) they turn out to be safe, family dogs. Many of us share our homes with dogs that were raised in less than ideal conditions, but are still wonderful pets.

One example of this scenario are the dogs rescued from fight busts or hoarding situations. Despite terrible beginnings, many of these victims of cruelty are ready to leave the past behind and enjoy family life. They may need training and structure to get used to living with a family in a house (what dog doesn’t?), but some of them are able to adjust to family life with relative ease. Their past didn’t help them do this, you dig?

Meet Jagger, the handsomest dog on earth! Visit his Facebook page to meet this sweet boy.

Meet Jagger, the handsomest dog on earth! Visit his Facebook page to meet this sweet boy.

“Raised Right”

Some dogs, purchased from responsible breeders and socialized properly from puppyhood, still wind up with behavioral problems. Many responsible dog owners, who have raised their dogs since they were puppies and did everything right, still find themselves with dogs who have a variety of behavioral issues. These dogs were “raised right”, but are still struggling, sometimes due to genetics.

One example of this is illustrated in an article written by a dog trainer who shared her problems with her own dog. Despite her very best professional efforts to train and socialize him, aka raise him right, he has significant behavior issues which may be caused by a medical condition. It’s not how he was raised that’s causing the problem. Read it here.

Puppies. It's not just how you raise them.

Puppies. It’s not just how you raise them.

In both of these cases, the common denominator that is actually determining the success of these dogs as family pets and their safety in the community isn’t how the dogs were raised: it’s responsible management.

Whether they were raised “right” or raised “wrong” in the past, no matter what behavioral problems a dog does or doesn’t have, when owners recognize their dog’s individual needs and provide them the right care and management tools, dogs have a chance to succeed in our crazy world.

More Present, Less Past

So, it’s not “how they’re raised” (what happened in the past) but rather, “how they’re managed” (what’s happening in the present) that needs to be our focus, if our goal is to help our dogs and  also create safe communities for us all to enjoy.

We can look to their past for clues and guidance, of course. I don’t mean ignore it all together. But we do more for our dogs when we look at them right now, without the haze of a bad (or good) past fogging up our thoughts.  Who are they right now? What do they need to succeed today?

Whoever they are, dogs always exists and act in the context of human beings. They don’t live in a vacuum. They live with us. We need to recognize dogs as individuals, then determine what they need from us in order to succeed in the world.

What this means is that when dogs are properly managed by a human, a dog with or without behavior problems has the opportunity to be a safe, family dog. Dogs may need a variety of management tools, depending on what behavioral issues (if any) they have.  Beyond training, various management tools might include: space management (crates, gates, etc.), muzzles, leashes, fences, proper supervision, etc. I’d also include medication in this category, if it’s necessary. When these tools are used, owners are setting dogs up to be successful.

This also means that any dog that is not managed properly can be a nuisance to the community or a danger to others. We see this often in the case of dogs that are running loose in neighborhoods. The dogs may be friendly (or not), but by allowing them to roam the streets or chase other dogs, their owners are setting these dogs up to get into trouble. They are not managing them. They are setting them up to fail.

side note:  This is why I’m such a stickler for obeying leash laws. It’s a management tool.  I just wish the laws were enforced.

leash sign

 

I think that dogs are only as successful and safe as humans set them up to be – no matter what their past may be. When a dog gets in trouble or acts dangerously, somewhere along the line, a person has failed to make the right choice. But that’s not the same as “how they were raised”.

How they’re raised may be one factor that influences dogs, but it doesn’t determine the whole being of a dog. Perpetuating this idea only winds up hurting dogs with less than perfect pasts and shaming people who own dogs they’ve had since puppyhood.

The truth is that it’s how we currently manage dogs that determines how any dog interacts with the world. When we focus on managing them in the present, based on their individual needs, we can set dogs up for success despite what may have happened to them in the past.

So can we trash “its all how they’re raised” once and for all? It’s such a drag for dogs and their owners.

Let’s replace it with the truth:

It’s all how they’re managed. Dogs are only as successful as we set them up to be.

PDF version here: It’s Not How They’re Raised

Book Review: Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know

Generally speaking dog humor books never make me laugh. There’s usually a lot of jokes about dogs eating trash and looking guilty and contrary to what the titles may imply, they actually slay my soul. I try to avoid them.

So, when I got asked to review a copy of the book Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know, I wanted to say no, but wound up saying yes for two reasons: there is a quote from Steve Martin on the front and I read an excerpt entitled, “I Can Poop The Second I Start My Walk.”

Steve Martin is one the funniest people of all time. Even if he never actually read this book, just the idea that he may have looked at the cover or tripped over the book, is enough for me. And once I read that “I Can Poop” line, I knew the writers must know something about dogs.

 

 

Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know is a collection of stories from eleven fictional dogs who reveal what’s really going on in the minds of dogs. Among others, there’s Orson the Bulldog who has an eating disorder, Tinkerbell the passive aggressive Chihuahua, and my two favorites: Sarge the working GSD who gets fired a lot and Rufus T. the Bloodhound that dreams of making it on Broadway.  It’s a fun crew.

What I enjoyed about this book is that it was really obvious that the writers not only love dogs, but understand dogs and what they’re up against having to live with humans. Without going straight for the teachable moment, the authors wove all kinds of helpful tips, advice, and dog logic into their stories.

The dogs, in telling some really funny stories, subtly teach readers that dogs see the world differently than we do and that they’re  totally justified when they do something “bad”, because it makes total sense. You just have to look at it from the dog’s perspective.

If a couch is made of leather, why would a dog think it’s any different from a rawhide chew toy? Axelrod the Lab tries to explain why so many dogs make this mistake in “Why I Ate the Sofa” and other stories about misunderstandings.

 

 

If you have a new dog owner in your life – one that’s trying to figure out how to speak dog – this would be a good gift to give them (along with some Nature’s Miracle). They’ll get the answers to all our burning questions: why do dogs eat grass? jump on us? dig holes? steal our weed?

The book also serves as a reminder to humans that we should never judge a dog by his looks, as in the case of Rufus T. the Bloodhound, a dog with a secret fantasy of making it on Broadway. His people assume he wants nothing more than to go hunting, but  Rufus reveals that when he’s dreaming, those jerky movements and whimpers aren’t from squirrel chasing, he’s dreaming of dancing in the musical Annie. My kind of Bloodhound.

And there are a few story lines that are genuinely touching for any dog lover, like Sophie the Cocker Spaniel, who is at the end of her life and wondering, in stories like “I’m Getting Too Far Ahead” how it came to be that she’s aging faster than the humans in her life. Sophie’s entry is the final chapter and there was a profound little nugget that ended the book.

 

 

So here’s what Steve Martin left out when he wrote his blurb “I laughed, my dog howled” for the book cover: the authors behind the stories love dogs and want them to succeed in our crazy world.

Cheers to humor being one of the best teachers.

And yes, if you’re wondering, there is a DINOS in the book. Moonbeam the Mutt writes, “You’re Not in My Pack” and ‘Why I Hate Dogs”, for all the dogs out there that need a little space.

To get your copy or to read some stories, check out the Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know website and Facebook page!

 

The DINOS Message or All Jacuzzis are Hot Tubs, but Not All Hot Tubs are Jacuzzis*

One of the very cool, and truly unexpected, things about DINOS is how crazy popular the term DINOS has become in the last 10 months. When I was sitting at my desk last year, totally annoyed after a difficult dog walk, and coined the term DINOS/Dogs in Need of Space, it never occurred to me in a million years that DINOS would become a commonly used term to describe dogs.

In particular, DINOS has come to be synonymous with “reactive”, and since I work and live with reactive dogs, that’s pretty ok with me, most of the time. I love that having a term, other than reactive, helps dog owners feel better about their dogs (and themselves). Trainers have told me that talking to owners about DINOS is a way to break the ice about reactivity, without freaking their clients out. Most of all, I love that being a DINOS means you have a team now. You’re not alone if you have a reactive dog: there are so many of us we could stage a DINOS-only Olympics. We would, of course, need a lot of space.

As the term becomes more popular, as it spreads from country to country, I’m starting to see how various animal welfare groups, writers, and other organizations are relaying, repackaging, and relating the DINOS message. It’s very exciting stuff, but it occurred to me that it might be time to have a little pow wow about communication, messaging, and language choices because if we want the dog-owning public to understand and respect our DINOS wishes, we need to consider our messaging.

(p.s. this is aimed at groups or writers who are speaking on behalf of ALL DINOS – not so much about individuals talking about their own dogs.)

Marketing business sales

 

So, let’s get clear on one big thing:

All reactive dogs are DINOS, but not all DINOS are reactive.

Understanding this will help us to spread the message more effectively.

There are so many reasons why a dog might be a DINOS (for life or just for the day). Let me recap, for anyone new to the blog. A dog might be a DINOS because:

-They are injured

-They are seniors

-They are contagious

-They are working

-They are recovering from surgery

-They are learning how to politely greet other dogs

-They are service dogs

-They are afraid of people

-They are blind or deaf

-They have a medical condition

-They are being walked by a person that is a HINOS (a human in need of space)

Now let me ask you guys something: If you were a MDIF, someone likely to let your dog run up, on leash or off, to an unfamilar dog, which dog would make you more sympathetic, and therefore more likely to listen to the DINOS  message:

 

A dog that is 16 with bad hips and needs space to avoid injury

or

A dog that is reactive and needs space to stay calm

 

What about this?:

 

A service dog who needs space to do her job properly

or

A dog that is fear-aggressive and needs space to keep everyone safe

 

Now, I know all you DINOS owners will say that it doesn’t matter what the reason is for a dog to need space. They need it and they should get it. Indeed, you are correct!  But being right is rarely the most effective way of changing other people’s behaviors (think: dieting, smoking, wearing jeggings).  If we want to reach the most amount of people with the message that many dogs need and deserve space, we should consider how we market our plea for space.

Here’s my 10 second p.r. lesson on the topic:

reactive dogs = no sympathy

old, injured, one-legged service dog with epilepsy = give that poor baby some space!

 

This dog clearly needs our help!

 

Ok, maybe one nice lady will have sympathy for the reactive dog, but how many of you have been told, usually be some dude who’s screaming in your face, that if your reactive dog needs space, you “shouldn’t be out in public with that nasty dog” or “It’s not my problem.” Or we get cursed at and told, “Train your dog!”

People who have never lived with a reactive dog just don’t get it.  But they’re the ones who need to hear our message the most. Which is tough, because they have very little sympathy for our dogs.

As far as they’re concerned, if our dogs are so “bad”, then we don’t have a right to walk them in public. Lost of folks believe that a friendly dog should have the right to go up to any dog it sees. If the other dog doesn’t like it, then they have the problem and shouldn’t be allowed out of the house.

So how do we reach these people – the ones we’re really hoping will hear the DINOS message?  We need to make DINOS sympathetic and more relatable. We need to make sure that the world hears that a dog can be a DINOS for lots of reasons. Many of which are no one’s fault, have nothing to do with training or behavior issues, could happen to them even, and therefore, these dogs have the “right” to be out in public and have space.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some sort of attempt to shove reactive dogs into the closet or deny that some DINOS are dog-aggressive.  This is about how to get our message heard by the largest number of people and move them to change their deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviors.

Because if a lot of people get the message, reactive dogs will reap the benefits. It won’t matter to Boogie if someone gives him space because they understand reactivity or if they’re just being polite because they now understand that dogs needs space for lots of different reasons.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the average dog owner is at all interested in learning about what reactivity is or how it works. Trying to explain DINOS by focusing on teaching the world about reactive dogs is a sure way to lose a sizable chunk of our audience.

On the other hand, if I tell people that Birdie’s back is really sore and she’ll snap at a strange dog who jumps on her: they get it. They’re nice people and they don’t want my old dog to get hurt. Maybe they had an old dog once or are saddened when they think about their own dog aging. If I say the message right, they might even remember what I told them the next time they’re out walking their dog.

 

I’m old and my back hurts. What’s so hard to understand about that?

 

So, if you’re like me and you’re trying to get as many people as possible to understand that some dogs needs space, leading with reactivity isn’t the way to go.

If we lead with the message that some dogs are “damaged” or traumatized or have “issues” or something else considered negative, DINOS will likely become synonymous with “dangerous” or “bad” and then, trust me, no one will give a turd about respecting our dog’s needs. They’ll just want our dogs banned/muzzled/etc.

So for everyone out there spreading the message that dogs need space, I’m asking you to consider your words, your messaging, and your approach to relaying this idea to the general public. In order for the message to be effectively heard, we need to capture the public’s sympathy and help them understand that many dogs are DINOS (or will one day become DINOS), and since you can’t always tell just by looking at them, it’s best to give ALL dogs some space.

So go forth, spread the message that there are Dogs in Need of Space. Tell the world that DINOS are GOOD dogs. And don’t hesitate to throw in that reactivity is common and pretty normal. But always remember who your audience is and try to tailor the message to them.

The more people who understand and respect that many dogs need space, the more all dogs will benefit, reactive dogs included.

**Why yes this is a Big Bang Theory reference. Bazinga!

Yellow, But Not Mellow

Author’s Note: I am not responsible for the Yellow Ribbon campaign and it’s not officially associated with DINOS™ or Notes From a Dog Walker.  If you’d like to learn more, here’s the source of the project and the newer Yellow Dog project. Those hard-working folks deserve all the credit – not moi!

While I was away on vacation the other week, I got about ten thousand (give or take a few) emails and Facebook posts about this image:

 

To say that folks are excited about the color coded system is an understatment – social media is bubbling over with dog  owners who have raided craft stores for yards of yellow ribbon. I’m expecting to start seeing dogs wrapped completely in yellow, waddling down the street like little sunshine colored mummies!

For those of you who missed it, I weighed in on this topic the other month when I wrote about color systems in Color Me DINOS and here’s the short version of what I said:

I think color coded systems are a MUST HAVE for any closed group: dog walking clubs, sporting events, camps, etc. Any place where everyone is on the same page and fully understands what the colors signify. Many groups, like Chicago SocialBulls use a fun combo of bandanas and various flair, to help dog walkers communicate with each other. It’s very effective in a closed group. I totally recommend it.

When it comes to using the color system in public, I say go for it, but with some concerns (see below).

I have no doubt it will help some people  communicate with some strangers while they’re walking down the street. I’m thinking in particular of dogs with medical conditions, like my pal Taz who has epilepsy and needs space from other dogs to avoid having cluster seizures. A color system that can help Taz get the space he needs? Super awesome.

I’d really love to see this work, so I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I do have a few concerns about the color system. Humor me:

1. This won’t do much, if anything, to help us communicate with dog owners that just don’t care. That includes people who ignore leash laws or let their dogs wander loose, people who let their dogs charge into our yards, people who think that our dogs will learn to like other dogs if they just meet their friendly dogs, people who ignore the “Do Not Pet” patches on Service Dog vests, the people who don’t listen to us say “No” now..and others. That’s a pretty big group.

2. This only works if people can see the yellow flag (and know what it means). So if they’re walking up from behind and can’t see the leash, it’s not going to help. Oh and some folks just won’t get it. My friend, who does not have a DINOS, saw this poster and commented that it looks like a poop bag is tied to the leash.

3. So, that means that the color system should be viewed as just one tool in a larger toolbox. If you’ve got a yellow tie on your dog’s leash, don’t assume the people around you can see it, know what it means, and/or care. So we still need to be proactive and on our toes. We can’t rely on a yellow flag to do the work for us. It might work sometimes, it might not. Ultimately, we are responsible for our dogs.

4. Which brings me to liability issues. I’m not sure if it’s the pit bull owner in me  – the one that is extremely wary of publicly declaring my dog might be “dangerous” in some way – but the language in these Yellow Dog posters worries me. If I were behind the Yellow Dog campaigns (some people think it is me, but I can’t take any credit – this isn’t officially associated with DINOS in any way), I’d run my language and messaging by a lawyer. Before I put a yellow ribbon on my dog, I’d want to be 100% sure I’m not making myself liable or seen as negligent if my dog gets into an altercation. (side note: can we please take the pit bull off of this poster? They have a hard enough time as it is. They don’t need to be the face of this campaign).

5. Finally, just because a dog doesn’t have a yellow ribbon on, doesn’t mean he deserves to have strange dogs up in his grill. Which means all of us still have to be polite, respectful, and responsible. Focus on the people. They’re the problem, not the dogs. People need to be responsible for their dogs. People need to learn that they should always ASK before they approach or allow their dogs to approach another dog. The only way to really ensure that everyone gets to safely enjoy public spaces is for people to take responsibility for our dogs and ourselves. You know the drill:

  • Control your dogs, on leash and off leash, at all times.
  • Always ask permission before you or your dogs approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Wait for an answer.
  • If the answer is no, allow others the space to pass.

No matter what’s hanging off a dog’s leash, if we all controlled our dogs and took a second to politely ask if we can approach, rather than assuming it’s ok, we’d all be doing each other a world of good.

I hope the yellow ribbon campaign is a big help to those of you that decide to try it out. Please let me know what your experiences are, if you do, ok?

In the meantime, I’m going to keep working with my friends at Design Lab (the folks who brought you the DINOS logo) on a complimentary project: we’re creating a poster that reminds people to always ASK, before approaching an unfamiliar dog. Hopefully, between the color coding and a campaign that encourages responsibility and respect for others, all of us with DINOS will get a little relief!

For more info on the yellow dog campaign, see the original source here!

How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary

This has been a heavy, heart breaking week in the world of animal welfare. A few days ago a formerly reputable sanctuary in Texas called Spindletop Refuge was raided by authorities. Close to 300 dogs, mostly pit bulls, were discovered living in terrible conditions. It was just one of many failures this week.

The reason why this particular case is so upsetting is that this was supposed to a “good” sanctuary. Rescue groups and families from around the country have been sending their dogs to live there, paying hefty boarding fees, in the hopes that the dogs would have a chance at another life out in Texas. Some dogs were adopted out, others lived at the sanctuary for life.

Apparently on the surface, this place seemed a like a good one. People have come forward to say that they visited Spindletop as recently as the first week of July and were satisfied that it was a safe, clean facility. Turns out they weren’t seeing the whole facility – only a small part of it.

The woman who ran the organization has a long and positive history in animal welfare and at one point, I believe this really was a good place for dogs, mostly pit bulls, that no one else would care for. But something went terribly wrong and the dogs kept coming and now rescues and families are scrambling in panic to get the dogs back.

They must feel beyond guilty for sending the animals that they love into this situation. I know I did.

Years ago in Philly I helped care for a small feral cat colony that had sprung up in a construction site across from the house of one of my dog walking clients. Not having much experience with ferals, I reached out for help and found a woman who would help me trap the cats. The construction site was rapidly tuning over into new luxury homes. The cats couldn’t stay there, so we had no choice but to remove them. The short story is that we trapped the kittens and I adopted them out. But the adult females were a different story. They were truly feral and suffering in the home of the trapper, an experienced feral handler. We came to the agreement that cats were miserable in her house, despite her best efforts, and we had to do something. We couldn’t return them to their former “home” – it was now the foundation of a townhouse. We couldn’t take them to the city shelter. They would be caged, stressed, then killed for being feral. So we looked into a sanctuary and found one in western PA.

The kittens from the feral colony all got adopted, but their moms weren’t so lucky.

We were as diligent as we thought was necessary about checking out a place that was a day’s drive away. I had multiple phone calls with the owner. We spoke to other people who had transported cats out there and seen it in person and they swore it was a safe, clean, enriching place for cats to live out their lives, if they were not adopted out. Desperate not to put these two cats to sleep (one of them now named “Dolce” after me), we arranged for a volunteer to drive them out to the sanctuary.

Those of you in animal welfare might be wondering: Yes, it turned out to be the infamous Tiger Ranch. A few years after we brought our two feral cats there, authorities raided this sanctuary and found dead cats and neglected animals everywhere.

I was sick that I had contributed to this and that’s when I knew: you’re only rescuing an animal if you see it through all the way to the end, whatever that end may be.  I had passed the buck onto someone else. And failed to take full responsibility for the lives I had “saved.”

Even though I was afraid it might be dangerous to send them to a sanctuary (and I knew I wasn’t doing my due diligence inspecting the property personally), I was more afraid to make the other choice – euthanasia.

Here’s what I know now, having worked at a shelter and in rescue: All animals deserve love at the end of their lives. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to provide a peaceful death. And a peaceful death comes from a human taking full responsibility for the life of that animal. I wish I had done that for those two cats.

Shipping animals off to live in sanctuaries, many of which are not being run particularly well (there are exceptions), is not necessarily saving them. It’s often the beginning of a life sentence. Time and time again, we hear about sanctuaries that started off ok, but due to a variety of circumstances the sanctuary falls apart and the animals suffer. It’s often the case that something like: terminal illness, natural disaster, financial ruin, mental illness etc. pushes the sanctuary over the edge and the animals pay the price.

Before you raise your pitchforks at the owner’s of these sanctuaries to call them monsters, I ask you to look at the whole picture. Where are these animals coming from?

From people like me: everyday people who “rescue” animals and desperately reach out for help once they realize they’re in over their heads. From no-kill rescue groups and shelters that don’t want to euthanize pets they’ve taken into their care, but have run out space or do not have resources for long-term housing. From families that for whatever reason cannot care for their pets.

We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.  

We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.

 We all push until we find sanctuaries who say yes.

Can you blame them for saying yes? How long could you say no for, when the world is banging down your door to help just “one more” innocent animal? The pressure on these people to say “yes” is enormous. No doubt about it – they should be responsible and limit their intakes and their behavior, in the case of Tiger Ranch and other similar scenarios, is criminal. But in reality their failure to be responsible comes at the end of a long line of people who failed to make responsible choices. We can’t turn the spotlight on their mismanagement and recklessness, without turning it back on ourselves.

We are so invested in the misunderstood idea of “no kill” that we will do anything to postpone the death of the animals we care for. And so the dogs and cats get shipped out across the country or driven across the state, packed with their paperwork and all of our hopes that there really is a happy ending out there for every single animal. And then they wait. In kennels and cages for months, then years. 23 to 24  hours a day in their kennels. No family to call their own. Warehoused and tucked away from the world.

Alive. But not living. 

We’ve passed the work onto someone else. And then, when those people crumbled under the weight of the pile we have swept upon them, we turn our fingers on them and say they’re the monsters.

I’ve come to think that we’re all just different parts of one dangerously ill body.

One part of this sick body is the public and our expectations of what no-kill sanctuaries can do for our pets. If you own a pet that you feel you cannot keep, please know this: you are your pet’s best resource. Very few people will care more than you about the outcome of your pet’s life than you. Invest your time and energy into properly managing, training, or seeking vet care for your pets. If that does not work, think very hard about whether or not your pet will be able to withstand the intense stressors of life in a lonely kennel, particularly if you are looking at a sanctuary. There are no easy answers or quick fixes out there.

I believe that the most loving thing we can do for animals is to stand with them until the very end. Sometimes the end is providing excellent life-time management, sometimes it’s rehoming them, sometimes it’s finding a good shelter or rescue that has a committed staff or volunteers, but sometimes the end is death. Putting them to sleep, in your arms, can be the greatest act of love you give to your pet. You are giving them an end with dignity. We need to consider this as part of our responsibility to our pets.

Before I go on, I’d like to make this clear: I believe in shelters and rescues and I support the “no kill”  approach as long as it’s done with the quality of an animal’s life in mind. I believe many, many places are doing good, responsible work and that the public should be encouraged to bring their pets to these places, if they cannot care for them any longer, so that the pets have a chance at a new life. I’m not trying to scare anyone away from surrendering a pet to a shelter or rescue. I am not saying that all animals are better off dead than at a shelter. What I’m talking about in this blog is our responsibility to animals, how we all contribute to this mess, and the misunderstood idea that saving an animal means just keeping them alive.

If you are a rescuer: saving an animal doesn’t end at pulling them off the euthanasia list or picking them off the street. If you cannot commit to the process of housing, managing, adopting out, and providing owner support to the pet that  you are “rescuing”, then you need to examine what it means to “save” an animal. The glory of pulling a dog from the “to be killed” list isn’t the end zone. The real success comes when the pet is in a home that you or your group is providing ongoing support for. If you can’t do that, do not point fingers that no one will help you. You committed to caring for this animal, once you saved it, so the animal is now your responsibility. See it through, even if in the end, there is no glory.

Cats and dogs live in the moment. They are not burdened with thinking about the future. That is our load, as humans, to bear for them. Instead of passing their suffering along to someone else, in an attempt to relieve ourselves of the psychological pain of euthanizing an animal or the physical discomfort of having to do the difficult work of management and foster care, I beg you to carry the weight for them. Do the hard work. But, if you cannot place them in another home, if you cannot provide the care they need to stay sane and healthy in a long term, no-kill shelter environment, if you cannot manage them safely around others, if they are suffering, you must take responsibility for their life: Love them until the very last minute and let them go.  

I don’t know what the solution to this huge, complex problem is, but we are all part of this problem: the shelters, the public, the rescues, the animal welfare organizations, the families, the sanctuaries. And we all need to work together to fix it. Every time we save a life, we have to commit to providing a level of care for that animal that makes their life worth living. It takes a lot of work. And a ton of resources. And it might mean saving fewer animals, but we’ll be providing a higher level of care for the ones that we do save. Simply keeping them alive, at any cost, is not a humane solution.

I know the rescues and families that sent dogs to Spindletop are beside themselves with regret and sorrow. And I’m sure this week’s events will have a profound effect on them. My heart is with those folks and the dogs they tried so hard to save.

I’m still so sorry for the suffering that I contributed to when I made the choice to pass the responsibility of the feral cats to someone else. I’ve never done that again. It means I’ve rescued fewer pets, but the ones that I have, I’ve seen through to the end – sometimes it’s been putting them to sleep and sometimes there are happy endings. Either way, I’m committed to taking responsibility for the animals I rescue, no matter what the outcome.

There are worse endings than humane euthanasia. Spindletop, Tiger Ranch, and all the others proved that to be true. May we all find a way to do the hard work, for the sake of the animals.

Color Me DINOS

In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a post called Swedish Yellow Dog making its way across social media. It encourages dog owners to use a little yellow ribbon on their dog’s leashes to indicate that their dog needs space. People really seem to dig the idea.  And for good reason – it’s a smart idea!

Yellow-Dog

On this side of the pond, my buddies over at Dog Flags introduced a handy color coded system for dogs that covers a variety of messages, from “Friendly” green flags to “Ask Before Approaching” red ones.

 

red

 

I’m a big fan of any system that helps people communicate with each other (especially from a distance), so that their dogs don’t have to deal with unwanted encounters. It’s a great way to “talk” to other people about your dog’s needs, without having to say a word.

Dog training centers, dog parks, pack walks, dog competitions and other dog groups have been using the color system to communicate their dogs needs for a long time, typically using red as the color for dogs that should not be approached without permission.

The DINOS logo dog (inspired by my Beagle mix Birdie) is wearing a red bandana for this very reason:

But there’s a little problem: only the doggiest of dog people know what these colors mean.

And only polite dog people care enough to respect the color system.

That’s why they work so well in closed groups, like pack walks or dog camps. Every one is on the same page and working towards creating a positive experience for all dogs. It’s responsible dog ownership and interaction at its best.

It seems that the only way a color coded system will work out in the wilds of the public is if there’s a huge PR campaign launched to educate the average person about the meaning behind the color system and what to do when they see a red or yellow flag.

Oh, and we have to settle on a color. I’m all for red, for DINOS, obvs.

This campaign would need to cross all sectors of the pet industry: dog trainers, vet offices, humane groups, boarding and grooming, pet publications, retail, etc. and would need to be promoted uniformly in a variety of mediums. The message would need to be clear, concise, and consistent. If various companies marketed their own color coded products and kept changing the messaging, it would confuse the public.

And even then, we’d have to be content with the fact that despite a big push, only a small portion of the public will internalize and respect the color system.

We know this because: half of us walk around with t-shirts that say “Keep Back” while our dogs are wearing bright orange flak jackets that read “GET AWAY FROM ME!” and shoot off warning blasts, but yet…people still come over to pet them, while commenting about their ritzy coats. Sigh.

And a color system won’t even put a dent in one of our biggest problems: off leash dogs that are not under voice control or are roaming unsupervised.

It’s a battle we’ll never fully win.

But should we try anyway?

If more people were aware that a dog wearing a red bandana, Dog Flag, or ribbon on their leash needed space and knew they needed to ask permission before approaching, I have no doubt that some dogs would be spared some unwanted interactions with other dogs and/or people.

But I don’t think that any dog should have to wear a color-coded item in order to be treated with respect by others. I’d rather teach everyone to be respectful of ALL dogs. 

So what do you think? Is it time for a color coded PR blast? Will people really get the message or is it just another layer of confusion in this dog-avoids-dog world? Have you tried a color system? Are there down sides to this idea?

December update: The color debate is an international conversation with many pros and cons. At this time DINOS™ is not officially associated with any color system. You can read more about the yellow ribbon idea here.