Thursday, December 31, 2009

Celeste Goes Off-Leash


Most dogs are happiest with some off-leash time and, amidst concrete and urbanization, it is hard to find a place to safely let them roam. A dog knows when he's wearing a long line, knows that he's tethered and reliant on your choices instead of making his own. It's one part of dog guardianship I hate, these restrictions and choices denied.

There's a beautiful off-leash park near my parents' home. It's adjacent to the smaller dog park. The off-leash area is more than a 100-acres of grassland, nestled amongst vineyards. I used to love taking Mina there, watching in humor as she dug for squirrels, chased after other dogs, searched high and low for new scents. When it started to become more popular, I stopped taking Mina - she's great in small groups, especially wonderful one-on-one, but in large groups she is overwhelmed and becomes easily aroused and prone to cattle-dog heel nipping.


My dogs are special. Mina likes other dogs, but she is easily stimulated, prone to acting like a buffoon in high-energy situations. She doesn't fight back, which is fine and dandy, but her behavior is likely to get her attacked, which is not so great. Celeste used to like dogs as a puppy, but a poor interaction with a humping Golden Retriever left her prone to grumpy, snarky behavior when dogs try to sniff her butt. She had ehrlichia at the time, a tick-borne disease common to dogs from Mexico, and it can cause pain in the legs and hip - she was very sensitive and having an 80lb dog mount her was actually painful.


Yesterday, when my friend arrived with her dog George, I decided to push Celeste. We didn't let the dogs meet too much, choosing to first walk around the block. Celeste snarked off a couple times, I reinforced when she came to me. When Celeste stood next to George and shared a sniffing fest of grass while maintaining a relaxed posture, I gave her a jackpot of treats. She soon thought sniffing grass with George was an awesome idea. George respected her space and went with the flow - it was important for Celeste to initially work with a dog who is laid-back and completely okay with a few snarks.

We then went to the 100+ acres of off-leash park. There were a lot of dogs. I had to body block the first large dog who ran up to us while we were in the parking lot. It boggles my mind people allow their dogs to run loose in the parking lot. The dog backed off and sniffed George, although he did try to re-approach when we started up the trail. I protected Celeste and we moved on with life.

People who take their dogs to the off-leash hiking area generally have two things in mind: exercise for their dog and exercise for themselves. They are not interested in the politics of the smaller dog park, where cliques abound amongst the humans and where dog fights are far more common. I've only seen one minor skirmish at the hiking area, but dozens at the dog park itself. The dogs who enter the hiking area are generally better behaved and far more dog-savvy than dog park dogs.

Celeste did so well. I can't even begin to express how happy I was with her. She played with George a little and only snarked at one Samoyed who immediately backed off and went on his way. I don't punish for that behavior - it's her coping mechanism and, really, I felt this was an opportunity for her to make some choices in a safe environment with well-behaved dogs. On-leash, she'd never feel this comfortable, always tethered, always certain she had no escape. Off-leash, freedom, choices, the ability to move away or move towards. It was great watching her.

At the end of the walk, there was a 35-lb, black, hairy, collie-ish looking dog who would be the kind of dog to instigate fights in the dog park but would inspire a beautiful chase here. She was fast, submissive, and had the high-tension energy of a collie. She was a beacon - literally every dog within 500' flew at her, ready for the chase. Five dogs, including Celeste, ran like the wind, but she ran faster. There were a couple points when I thought about calling Celeste over, unsure of whether she was playing or entering true predator mode, but then the collie would stop, snapping Celeste out of her stupor and the chase would start again.

I'm learning a lot about Celeste. I learned so much more yesterday than I have in the 2.5 years I've had her and the years of leash-training and trying to get her accustomed to dogs on leash. She likes to chase dogs. She likes really calm dogs. She doesn't like butt-sniffing, but she'll let a dog get a quick sniff in before she tense up, arches her back, tucks her tail, stiffens and then curls her lip. Unlike really frantic, fearful dogs, Celeste is controlled with her movements - this helps prevent really predatory or annoyed dogs from reacting to her displays. They know what it is she does and they know it's show. Not once did any dog take offense to her behavior.

Celeste and I both couldn't have learned and moved forward without this experience. I'm not expecting Celeste to be a perfect angel, happy to meet and greet all dogs. Yesterday, though, she had a lot of positive experiences that helped her push past her comfort zone and into a new zone, where dogs can run and play and sniff and touch without it being a scary experience. She got to be a dog and, because the humans in the hiking area are a different breed than the tense, fearful humans in the dog park, when Celeste reacted fearfully or barked crazily while chasing, no one batted an eyelash. Normal dog behavior wasn't treated as shameful or frightening but part of being a dog. Everyone could see easily that the dogs were having fun, even if they were being loud. And everyone could accept that dogs get rough, they show teeth, they body slam, they do a lot of things that make us cringe inwardly but are integral to being a dog.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Madison County Humane Society - Creative Fundraising

An adoption counselor for the Madison County Humane Society in Indiana has been in lock-down at the shelter for the past twenty days to help raise funds for the small, nonprofit shelter.
The original goal was to raise $10,000 in a month. So far, in the first twenty days, the shelter has raised $22,000!
Now, I think this is very creative fund-raising and obviously effective in the short term. I hope the shelter is able to retain fiscal solvency in the long term.
If you are in Madison County, IN, visit the shelter and adopt an animal! There are some cute Pit Bulls, Labs, Boxers and floppy-eared Hound-dogs. There are also cats, if you are a cat person. Or, if you would like to support the shelter through a financial donation, click here and then click on the donate button. This is not my endorsement of the shelter, and I'll assume you'll do your due diligence when it comes to your own money.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bay County Animal Control - Still Doing Something Right

In 2007, animals entering the Bay County Animal Control in Florida had an 80% chance of leaving dead. July, the worst month at the shelter that year, animals had a 90% chance of being killed. Pit bulls were not adopted and generally were killed.

In February of 2008, Jim Crosby took over as director of the shelter. Between February and December of that year, he reduced the kill rate from 80% to 56%. It has remained at about 56-58% in 2009. Adoptions have tripled since 2007 because of the efforts the shelter put forth. Crosby stopped the killing of pit bulls and started adopting them out.

Yep, more needs to be done. Killing more than half of the animals entering the shelter system is unacceptable. But I think this is a great example of what *can* be done in a short period of time within the municipal animal shelter system - a huge reduction in killing and a dramatic increase in adoption.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays from the DOGS

Mina is ambivalent about Christmas. She likes her stocking alright, but no way is she going to get out of bed for it. Celeste is the 5-yr-old kid who wants to get up at 1 am, then 4 am, then 7 am. But she's like that every day.

Mina embodies Tragic Heroine like no other. Pit bulls are, in my opinion, some of the most expressive dogs...mostly they are good at woe-based emoting. Evidence here:
WOEFUL PIT BULL
They also have a very serious look. This is Mina's. It shows off her beautiful, perfectly symmetrical ears. Few dogs have such perfect ears. Mina is one of them. She wears her jingle-jangle collar proudly in this photo, ready to leap off the ottoman and chase after the scrub jay invading her lawn.
Queen of the Christmas jingles
Then there is Celeste. She has a perpetually confused-looking face. Perhaps she emerged from the womb this way, so shocked by the sudden turn events that the awed visage has remained.
NO!
But sometimes she throws down a serious stare, especially if there is a hint of food. Rustling of bags, movement toward the kitchen, even the mere thought of food will garner you this look from her. I'd like to blame her street-dog heritage, but really, she only lived on the streets for the first 7-8 weeks of her life. I know those are impressionable times, but come on Celeste, it isn't as if you are being starved. Yet.
YES?

Celeste is always wondering what Mina is up to and if it is something she should be up to as well. Like Mina here is playing with a strange, rubber basketball-like toy. Celeste hates this toy. But it becomes chic when Mina has it, it's in and cool. Celeste wants it bad.
Orange ball, please!

This is the only pictorial evidence you will EVER SEE in which Celeste and Mina are twintastic. Identical expressions, I have no idea why. No flash bulbs or shining objects blazing in front of them, just a moment in which both decided to squeeze shut their eyes and dip their heads forward, ever so slightly.


Mina & Celeste TWINS

So Happy Holidays from the dogs. They enjoyed their annual walk with "mom"(or minion if you're mina) and grandparents. They jangled the entire way, Mina in a lovely coat, Celeste with an extra red ribbon, jaunty and bright. Everyone found them amusing, except for two cattle dogs who found them ugly and evil, in their words anyways. Celeste made sure to convey her feelings on the matter, while Mina glared like no other, spearing daggers through their skulls. She managed to convey fifty-five million messages of 'DIE!'with that one look. Merry Christmas to me, for she remained quiet and serious, instead of dramatic and loud. The little things.

If you celebrate the holidays, may they be bright and full of love and compassion. If you don't, the message is still the same. Give your furry friends extra love, think of the unfortunate and neglected, spread a little joy in this world. Keep it going through the new year and beyond.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday, and my mom was kind enough to make some lovely vegan cupcakes. I did the frosting, because there is nothing I love more than frosting baked goods and then licking the spoon. Seriously, it makes me very happy. I took some photos of the cupcakes, because they were pretty. They tasted great too - just the right amount of moistness in the cake and the frosting was nummy. The cupcakes are orange cupcakes with an orange buttercream frosting.

Recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World:
Orange cupcake:
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c plain soy milk/rice milk
1/2 c freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp grated orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 350 F, line muffin pan w/ cupcake liners
Combine oil, sugar, milk, juice and vanilla, plus 1tbsp of flour and mix until combined
In separate bowl sift remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in three batches, mixing well after each addition, until smooth. Fold in the orange zest and mix to distribute.
Fill cupcake liner 2/3 of the way. Bake for 20-22 minutes, tops should spring back when touched.
Cool completely before adding frosting.
Birthday cupcakes'
Orange frosting:
1/4 c shortening
1/4 c margarine, softened
2 c confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tbsp finely grated orange zest (recipe suggests lemon zest)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream shortening and margarine until well combined. Add confectioner's sugar in 1/2 cup additions. After each addition of sugar, add a splash of orange juice and beat well w/ handheld mixer on medium speed. Add vanilla and beat for another 3-5 minutes until smooth, creamy and fluffy. Add zest at end and mix in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eagles honor Michael Vick for his courage

Hai guyz! How's this for irony? Michael Vick is getting an award (the Ed Block Courage Award) that was started because of a man who fought against child abuse (if only it had been against dog abuse, then that would be icing, cherry and soya whipped cream on top!)  Unbeknownst to you and me, it takes IMMENSE COURAGE (capitalized to emphasize the immenseness) to kill under-performing dogs with your bare hands, throw them in pools to be electrocuted, bet on their bloody fights and run an underground dog fighting operation. It takes a lot of courage to serve a few months in prison and arise, LIKE A PHOENIX YO, from the ashes of those dead dogs you killed and play football. It takes courage to hobble around the locker room after you get all injured and stuff...man, if he was a dog of Bad Newz Kennel he'd have to go ahead and choke himself to death!

I just cannot believe the adversity Michael Vick has had to overcome. It's mind-boggling, really. They should erect a monument in his honor, he's like a modern-day Dred Scott, fighting for his emancipation from all that dog killing and multi-million dollar making. Congrats!!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

coconut-using octopi, former fighting dog hugged, etc

The veined octopi are awesome because they use coconut shells as tools! The squid and cuttlefish are incredibly jealous of this feat.

Hector, one of 50 dogs rescued from Michael Vick's property in 2007 gets hugged on by some snot-nosed, hopefully adorable, little 3rd graders. DON'T GET SWINE FLU! Also, ignore comments, because they are stupid.

New Year's wish for Lucas County? Two new commissioners who don't want to kill puppies!


Pugs who ate dead owners adopted, new guardians eat a lot of cayenne to make their flesh unpalatable.

128-million-year-old turkey-sized poisonous raptor discovered. Says scientists, this news will "make a big splash". Love.

Chickens like to perch up high. Also discovered, dogs like to bark at squirrels.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nellie McKay

I remember this song and liked it very much. I like it all the more after learning McKay rescues pit bulls. She has a pit bull of her own, Bessie, a little Little Rascals type of lady.




This is Nellie with Bessie, an adorable harlequin-style APBT. ;)

She has a new album out, Normal as Blueberry Pie (A Tribute to Doris Day) Here's a track from it, I love McKay's voice.

Tell Me Where it Hurts - Nick Trout


Dr. Nick Trout is a surgeon at Boston's Angell Animal Medical Center. He combines decades worth of stories into "one day", which I suppose emphasizes the fast-pace and crazy nature of his work (for some readers, it will just leave you wondering when Trout ever sleeps).

I think most people will either love Trout's writing or find it too much. He is an adjective-lover, wordy, descriptive. I like that style of writing, so I wasn't put-off by it.

The book felt disorganized, Trout bringing up topics (like death and loss) in later chapters even while spending lengthy time in previous sections on the subject. Books that are not in a cohesive, understandable order are generally hard for me to get through, but Trout's voice, which is sarcastic, funny, gentle and insightful kept it together.

Trout is a man and, as such, is sharing this world through his, unique eyes. And I have to admit, sometimes I found it a bit sexist or inappropriately lascivious, the entering of sexual fantasy into a blood-and-guts world of animal surgery. Most probably won't notice it, so perhaps my sensitivity to the issue is shining through here.

Overall, I enjoyed the read. I read it in two days, an easy, curl up with your dog, sit by the fire type of read. I cried and laughed, so his voice was able to inspire empathy and emotion...in me, at least. I love how he incorporated the dogs of now with the dogs of his past, all the many furry reasons why he chose to become an animal surgeon. He's sensitive about both the animals and people he encounter, and I think he paints a fair description of what being a veterinarian is about - working for people, working with animals. It's a lesson I learned after working at a veterinarian, and the primary reason why I ceased my ambitious dream of becoming one. Trout makes what being a veterinarian and, specifically, a surgeon real, giving readers access into a rather hectic, emotionally-draining, physically-numbing world.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Queen of the Woe


Mina would love for someone to play a violin for her, maybe tear-up a river. She's sad, tragic and emo wrapped up in a black ball of melancholic. She has looked away for I have denied her her Canine-Given duty to yell at the neighbor's dog. Poor Mina.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sparrow stills


The feeder was hopping this morning. Well, actually the ground below the feeder was hopping. Ten house sparrows, two white-capped sparrows, one scrub jay and three california towhees were partying hard, vying for the fallen seed. I had to give in and toss a cup of seed out there for the growing crowd.

My entrance inspired great ire from the birds and most of the sparrows ended up in a nearby tree.

Celeste was transfixed and hoping against hope that I would just open the damn glass door so she could make the birds fly. I didn't let her do this, and she is currently sulking or sleeping. It's hard to tell the difference with her.

Here's one more shot:


Luisa over at Lassie, Get Help posted about Cornell's Project FeederWatch. I've finally been able to start participating. It took me forever to figure out the matte brown birds with a dusting of rose were California towhees, but once I did, VICTORY WAS MINE.

Also, I really need to get a teleconverter for my 200mm lens. The birds are flighty and, well, unlike my dogs won't let me get three feet from them. My pleas fall on deaf avian ears and so I'm just going to have to suck it up and get me a teleconverter so I can get better close-ups of these nifty little creatures.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Do you think these are pit bull puppies?



I'm just hazarding a guess, but I don't think these are pit bull puppies. Or at least not purebred American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) puppies.

I ask because the tone of this article, while saying nothing about the breed itself, ends on a cautious note: "The pitbulls will stay at the clinic for another couple of days before a decision is made about their future."

I'm pretty sure Darwin and the Northern Territory don't have breed-specific regulations (I couldn't find any in their Animal Welfare Act). I'm hoping that cautious optimism is based on health prognosis and not on the fact the dogs might (and in my eyes, probably aren't) be pit bulls.

More importantly, get them out of the laundry basket, peoples!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Calgary Zoo Failure to Provide


After killing off 50 of its animals, the Calgary Zoo has decided to bring in a panel of outside experts. Well, it decided to bring in experts because of bad publicity, not because they think they've done anything wrong.

From the article, "The review comes as the zoo also revealed that another capybara died in the summer after being attacked by one of the other giant rodents."

Well, here's the thing. The Calgary Zoo had three capybaras. Now they have one. Two of the capybaras arrived in August from the Buffalo Zoo. The Calgary Zoo defied the odds and managed to kill 2/3 of the capybaras before 2010. 

Since 2004, two elephants, one Turkmenian Markhor goat, 41 cow-nosed rays, two capybaras (only one publicized), an unspecified number of gorillas, and at least one hippo have all died. Most since 2008. Since the Zoo neglected to mention the other capybara death, it seems plausible that other animals are dying without the public knowing.

The CEO of the zoo says this, "To continue their support for this institution, our community needs answers — no more accusations, no more allegations, no more irresponsible criticisms, but documented facts that will give them good reason to maintain their confidence in us."

Mr. Lanthier, I think the numbers speak for themselves. Accidents, horrible, awful things happen, but in an institution that bills itself as a world-class leader in animal stewardship...well, the accidents should be kept to a minimum. If 50 deaths in the past two years, many from human error, are the apex of zoo animal stewardship, that makes me cringe.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bait and switch


If you find an American Pit Bull Terrier covered in more than 60 bite wounds, some old, some new - what do you assume?

A) Dog was fought;
B) Dog was used as bait;
C) Dog got into a lot of fights
D) Other (please describe)____________

The Animal Rescue League of Boston (where pit bulls must be muzzled, by the way) went with option B.

Certainly, it is feasible this dog was used to spar with experienced fighters. It's also as feasible to assume she fought other dogs, maybe on leash, maybe off, while her incredibly selfish, arrogant, disgraceful excuse of a human being watched on. I find the latter a little more likely, but hey, that's me.

The assumption, though, leaves me troubled. In the Boston Herald's article, we have this gem of a quote: "a good-natured female whose temperament made her a natural as a “bait dog,” a canine punching bag used to train vicious pit bulls for their deadly competition." Like hey, BH, those vicious pit bulls conditioned for deadly competition turn out to be not so vicious after all. Let's stop painting "fighting dogs" as vicious while "bait dogs" are innocent victims - they both are victims of human greed and cruelty, and they both deserve a fair chance at a new life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reaching the Animal Mind - Karen Pryor


Pure luck united me with Karen Pryor's book Reaching the Animal Mind. I was picking up a library book when I glanced over at the new books. There was this dog looking back at me - I probably would have grabbed the book on cover alone. That it happened to be by Pryor, who's book Don't Shoot the Dog! opened my mind to operant conditioning and marker training, was a super-awesome bonus.

Don't open up this book expecting a treatise on clicker training or a manual on how to modify behavior. And if you've never heard of marker or clicker training, you might want to read up on the matter beforehand. You won't be missing out, of course, but I think you'll have a greater appreciation for the content if you have a basic understanding of the subject.

Anecdotes of the efficacy of marker training abound - from errant dogs to hard-headed horses to stubborn dolphins, Pryor weaves in decades of experience with the message, it can be done. It being that magic spark, that dance, that special relationship most people want from/with their companion animals. It can be fun, and anyone can do it!

While I thoroughly enjoyed the story-telling, as a person who feels other nonhumans are beings, not things, I had a hard time getting past the lack of personal pronouns. Clearly engaging, thinking animals are continually referred to as "it", with few exceptions. I have yet to meet a sofa or blanket who can problem solve like a dolphin or even show pretty neat cognitive abilities like the hermit crab and damselfish Pryor teaches. It was also hard for me to stomach all the dolphin stories. Most of the dolphins Pryor worked with happened to be wild-caught animals. These are animals who are generally incredibly social, who spend their time swimming great distances, and Pryor has a seemingly blase attitude about the capture and confinement of these animals while simultaneously expounding on their incredible intelligence and complex social structure.


That aside, the book also delves into the science behind why marker training works so well, why animals trained with clickers or cues learn twice as quickly and retain that information for longer periods of time than animals who are trained via compulsion, fear or, yeah, even positive reinforcement w/o cues. The amygdala and hypothalamus make an appearance

From the book, "Dogs that are working for cues don't act like dogs that are working for commands. They are merry and enthusiastic rather than somber and cautious; I have heard traditional trainers complain that these dogs are undignified, that they 'act like puppies.' Traditionally, I guess, highly trained dogs should not give the frivolous impression that they are also having fun!"

I've seen this in my own dogs. Mina has been worked with both positive and traditional methods. She worked okay with both, meaning she'll avoid unnecessary discomfort (from a prong) and seek out pleasurable things (cookies). But now that she's working with me on clicker training, the transformation is amazing. She's learning behaviors ten times quicker than with luring and cookies, far quicker than she'd probably learn if I was into physical manipulation. Mina's "working" pre-amble is "let's play" and then we clicker train for five-ten minutes. We do this twice a day on weekdays and four-five times a day on weekends. She is joyous. And intent. All that terrier intensity and bulldog stubbornness focused on figuring out what she needs to do to get that marker which gets her that treat. She's learned to put her paw on the sofa for a two-fingered cue, stand on blocks and wave her paw. This is about her choosing, and the choices she makes determines whether she gets what she wants or not. I love watching another animal (humans included) learn!

(As an aside, those of you with super leash reactive dogs - how successful have you been w/ the sporn-type harness? Mina sprained her back doing a back-flip with a head halter. It also increased her aggressive behavior than on a flat buckle or, yeah, prong collar. I've tried the regular halter w/ the leash hooked up to the front o-ring - not helpful. Right now, she works well on a prong. She may have a great heel, and she naturally walks a loose-lead, but when she sees another dog, all bets are off and she is in the zone. I haven't tried a real anti-pull halter, though. I have a feeling the clicker isn't going to be meaningful to Mina when she is in the zone, but on our next walk, perhaps I'll try.)

Celeste is equally joyful. She is a lot more forceful and excitable about the whole process. She takes a little longer than Mina too (who says old dogs can't learn new tricks? Mina's 11, Celeste is 2!) Right now we're working on "touch", which involves her nose touching my hand - it will help with heel, luring, etc. She gets far more frantic and a little nippy, so we've been working on gentle food scarfing. I just love the intent, serious look she gets on her face while we're working.

And I have to work too! I have to think about what I want the dog to do and how to convey that message to them. I have to be careful about what I mark. It's okay if I screw up, though - no one will be left scarred! I only have to reinforce the correct behavior 75% of the time for Mina or Celeste to learn that behavior. If I mess up 15-25% of the time, no harm, no foul. I like that about marker training.

If you have an interest in anecdotal stories with humor interjected about marker training, I really rec'd this book.

That is all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quail: Don't Bother Me


A male quail and his mate were hanging out in the backyard at my parents home. They were enjoying the birdseed I had thrown on the ground just for them. Earlier, they eyed the feeder, which was dangling precariously from a wobbly plant hanger. The male would walk on the fence right behind the feeder, glaring, chirping, glaring more, doing his best to will the birdseed into his belly. The sparrows laughed at him, they were light and bold enough to balance on the feeder. Damn you, said the quail.

An hour passed, I forgot about the quail and when Celeste wanted to be let out, I obliged.

The horror! Danger, danger, danger!!! A loud chorus of angry avians screamed obscenities at Celeste. She was overjoyed - birds to chase! She flushed out the quail, danced alongside the base of the fence, tongue lolling, eyes hoping - HOPING HARD - a bird might fall into her mouth. Then the allure of the dirt called to her, pee time!

The female quail perched up in this tree, shooting daggers at the canine below. She refused, absolutely refused, to move from her spot, even if there was a 45lb dog slathering to eat her up. Harumph, don't bother me, she said. Celeste lost interest quickly, as is her way, and quail let out a strange call. I took it as a triumphant sound, but she was probably just sighing in relief and yelling at her mate for his quick abandonment of her (he was two houses away, yelling loudly for her to join him).

I'll remember to warn the birds now when I let the dogs out. Mina could care less, but Celeste is pretty certain I placed the birdseed out to lure food, also known as birds, to her pearly white teeth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gilroy, CA revamping dog ordinance


Gilroy hasn't updated their dog ordinances in fifteen years. Now, they are looking into revamping their animal control regulations.

Gilroy has one animal control officer responsible for all incoming calls regarding animals. This is down from nearly three officers (two full time, one part time) a year ago. All licensing for the city of Gilroy goes through the Morgan Hill police department who recorded 1,000 sterilized, 164 unsterilized dogs and 7 cats (seriously?)

The Gilroy Police Department has registered 36 dog bites inflicted on humans. Thirty-six. And 101 animal on animal attacks.

Let's say that 10% of Gilroy dog owners license their dogs - that means there are about 11,640 total dogs in Gilroy. There are 51,000 people in Gilroy. Let's, for argument sake, suggest that the 36 bites represent 10% of all dog bites (the remaining 90%, and I'm being WAY lenient here, go unreported) - 360 dog bites. Out of 51,000 people and 11,000 dogs. Does Gilroy really have a dog bite crisis? With the 360 total bites estimated, that's 0.7% of humans who can claim to have been bitten by a dog. And assuming all those bites were inflicted by one dog, that translates into 3% of Gilroy dogs who've bitten. I would wager, since getting a license through the Morgan Police Department is difficult and takes up to 6 months, that perhaps the 1,164 number represents less than 10% of licensed dogs, in which case the 11,640 number would be much higher.

The staff responsible for reviewing the current and other ordinances suggested the following upgrades:
- Require proof of registration on all animal calls
- Require all animals be microchipped when licensed
- Consider transfering the licensing process to Gilroy, instead of through the Morgan Hill PD
- Require all Level 2 or 3 dangerous dogs (these are dogs who have attacked animals or people) found at large be spayed or neutered at the owner's expense
- Require owners with dogs classified as Level 2 or 3 dangerous carry liability insurance.

A Level 3 dangerous dog is one who has been trained to fight (in addition to other stipulations), so I'm curious if all fight bust dogs rescued by reputable rescue organizations and placed would fall under this category.

Staff looked into regulating pit bulls, but it sounds like that won't happen, thankfully.

The real concern I have with the proposed updates come from the news article. It wasn't mentioned in the agenda or packet notes from the council meeting, and I don't have the time to watch the video of the meeting to see if it is brought up:

Other additions to the nearly 15-year-old ordinance include a "strict liability" provision, in which the owners of dogs who bite people or attack other pets will be penalized regardless of the circumstance.

There are numerous circumstances in which I expect my dog or anyone else's dog to consider using teeth. When an off-leash dog approaches my dog aggressively or, if my dog is aggressive but properly leashed and reacts inappropriately with teeth - I should not be held accountable for the inability of someone else to restrain their dog. When two-leashed or two off-leashed dogs meet and behavioral cues are missed or ignored, both parties should be held accountable for any transgressions. If a person enters someone's property without permission, even if they are an otherwise benign individual, a reasonable response by a territorial dog is to warn and then aggress, if necessary. While a home owner can be held accountable, there should not be strict liability - a judge or review council should have discretionary control. And if that person is not benign, perhaps a rapist, it seems crass to foist strict liability onto the victim.


I'm not averse to liability requirements at all, but they should be circumstantial not black-and-white. But more so, I don't think liability requirements are a deterrant or useful in reducing dog bites. Stricter enforcement of loose dog laws, better requirements on licensing and microchipping, and an excellent educational program for schools and dog owners are a lot more useful suggestions than mandatory castration or strict liability laws. It's also a little silly to expect owners to carry around registration or vaccination certificates. 


All in all, I think Gilroy already has decent animal control ordinances. They aren't having an upsurge in serious or deadly dog attacks. A better use of their time and money would be to re-hire another animal control officer to better enforce loose dog laws, increase education outreach efforts, improve the infrastructure for low-cost castration, increase licensing through spay/neuter/vaccine clinics and make it affordable, and integrate their licensing system so that it is through Gilroy and not another city's police department. Gilroy isn't an incredibly large city, and they don't have a huge dog bite epidemic, so improving public safety (which it doesn't seem to be that compromised by dogs) shouldn't be too hard. Hopefully, the council will eliminate the proposal for strict liability and focus on things that work instead of band-aid fixes that obscure.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiny rooster is tiny

Killer is smallThis is Killer. He is a Dutch bantam, a true bantam, no frills, no mid-sized nonsense, he's less than 1.5 lbs and proud of it.

The hen behind him is a smallish Rhode Island Red (a Rhodie I calls 'em). She weighs maybe 3 lbs.

Killer is probably about 10-12 years old. He's lived at the sanctuary since he was about a year of age, a dump off at a shelter.

He earned his name for the way he kills people dead. Hens can beat this guy up, roosters don't even bother what with his inability to even kick the ankle of a normal sized roo. So he takes all of his frustration at being the lowest-ranked rooster out on us humans.

People think he's adorable (he is). They love it when he rushes over and begins to pick up dirt pieces, moving himself squarely in front of unsuspecting bipeds. He'll pick up pebbles, drop them, pick them up, drop them. And then he will wait until you walk by him and swoop in for the kill.

Now, rarely does he cause any physical harm. But three years ago, when one of his spiky spurs (they stick out up on the leg and are used in fights) got accidentally sharpened, he gouged an inch-sized scratch down my leg. Ouch! However, it pales in comparison to the time I got bit by a pig. That story is for another time, though.

If you visit the sanctuary, I will pick Killer up. He's easy to catch, and he becomes hypnotized when held. You can even scratch his neck and, for one brief moment, he'll forgive all humans their trespasses (for being tall and all). Savor it, for when I put him down, he'll try to kill you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Way to Go UK - Police State Hard at Work

Just another day in the UK under the Dangerous Dog Act in which a dog, guilty of no crime except a fluke of genetics, was taken from his owner/guardian and summarily executed. Another family dog's owner was told - give up your dog or face prosecution. The 14-mos-old family pet was executed as well. In another part of the UK, a "tip-off" led police to raid a home with what the caller labeled "three dangerous dogs". None of the dogs were aggressive and, point of fact, only one was visually identified as a "pit bull". The dog is being held at a kennel until the owner decides whether s/he wants to face prosecution and fight the kill order or not.

The world is now a safer place with three nonviolent dogs not in it!

Monday, December 7, 2009

How Mina Greets Me


When I first "fostered" Mina, I was a college student. This actually worked out great for fostering and dog guardianship/ownership in general - I was home far more than I ever was with a regular full-time job.

But I also had to leave and come back more frequently than now (morning, lunch, back from work). This inspired a great amount of enthusiasm from Mina, who was very concerned that every time I left, I'd never return, and every time I returned, it was like being reunited after a 10-yr absence.

Mina's excitement was contagious as well as dangerous. I'd open the door, and there would be this dog, sliding across wooden floors with a stupid grin on her face. In her opinion, the appropriate way to greet a long-lost biped involved a great leap, followed by a bashing of heads (my head being the one to get bashed, mostly).

When she gave me a black eye and bloody nose, I figured she needed to learn a less violent way of greeting me. I noticed her affection for all things stuffed and a 100-watt bulb went off in my head. Figuratively, of course. I started to stock my car with stuffed animals. People probably thought I had a hoard of messy children, what with the elephants, bears, frogs and other assorted critters flung haphazardly across seats. Or maybe they thought I was crazy. Didn't matter to me so long as my facial features remained free of Mina's hard-head greeting.

Every time I entered the house, I'd hold out my offering, arms length away, praying that Mina would see fit to take the bait. The first time, she was quite confused - what on earth are you doing with my purple frog, minion? The second time, she was pleased to find me with her pink dinosaur, which at that particular moment happened to be her favorite toy. And the third time? Well, there wasn't a third time. I walked into the house, a stuffed bear at the ready, when who should I spy trotting toward me? Miss Mina with her purple frog in her mouth.

And from that day on, she has always greeted me with a toy. Always. Sometimes she isn't pleased with her toy selection and she'll spit it out, rush over to her tall, wicker toy box, stick her whole head in it and pull out a "better" toy. If I have recently put all the toys away, Mina gets herself in a tizzy if there isn't a toy within a 2' reach of her mouth - she'll spin, play bow, and then rush frantically over to the toy box. She'll turn back to me and bow, an invitation to rejoice. I can't help but tell her how wonderful she is, she can't help but bring a toy to receive such appropriate compliments.

There are dogs and then there are dogs. Mina is the latter.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vegan Cookies from Grandma

The strongest memories I have of my grandmother are in the kitchen, the sweet aroma of baking wafting through the air. We lived in California, she in Michigan, so my visits to her were yearly trips. I would have liked living closer, I think. The last memory I have of her is in a hospital bed, her lungs filling up with fluid, a grapefruit sized tumor obstructing her air passageways. She died while my mother and I were at the funeral home, preparing for the inevitable. Perhaps it is one of the reasons I hate snow - Michigan in February is hardly all that enjoyable...neither is watching your only grandparent die.

My grandmother loved baking. She also really disliked a lot of sugar. I can remember the tragic feelings only a five-year-old can conjure when she gave me sugar-free candies as a treat. I much preferred banana bread as a treat, it had real fruity sugar in it.

My grandmother wasn't vegan. But my mom easily veganized one of her cookie recipes, and the result is a low-sugar but delectable-tasting dessert. I realize it's similar to the last recipe I posted in that it has a lot of coconut. Which might give the impression that I am obsessed with coconut. I am not, but hey, a good recipe is a good recipe.


Ingredients:
Enough Ener-g egg replacer for 3 eggs (4.5 tsp Ener-G powder to 6 Tbs of warm water).
1/2 cup sugar
1 c chopped walnuts
1 c chopped dates
1 c flaked coconut
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Directions:
Add to the egg replacer the sugar, walnuts, dates, coconut, vanilla extract, almond extract. Mix together.

Place mixture into casserole dish and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Let mixture cool. When mixture is cool, form into small balls and roll in powder sugar. Eat.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

This dog is dead


While the largest dog fighting raid in history has received well-deserved national attention, including coverage in TIME magazine, the death of seven of 12 confiscated dogs went practically unnoticed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The dogs were rescued in November from the property of Ruben Hedgemon, all in varying degrees of ill-health, all tied down with large logging chains.

Flash forward - seven of the dogs were killed. Not because they hadn't recuperated physically. Not because they were human aggressive. Because they were dog aggressive. The only news story to cover this case makes a point to mention four of the five who were spared the needle are "mixed breeds" but, hey, one's a "pure" whatever.

Things have gotten better - ten years ago, not even the five remaining dogs would have been spared. But people are still screwing these dogs over at every turn - failed by their breeder, owner, shelter, society. The dog pictured is dead, even though she exhibited extreme human friendliness during a stressful and inappropriate parade in front of media immediately after her rescue. That indignity was repaid with death.

Don't misconstrue my reaction as an aversion to euthanasia. I fully understand there is a reality outside of my own heartfelt desire to see every dog in a home or appropriate sanctuary. There are bills to be paid, animals to feed, kennels to clean, and a struggle to find even the most adoptable animals homes. Few people are jumping at the opportunity to adopt a happy-go-lucky pit bull, let alone a battle-scarred one.

Still, I can only feel the wrongness of killing healthy animals who's only crime is that they have various levels of dog intolerance. By that logic, 75% of the dogs I know, most of whom are not American Pit Bull Terriers, should have been killed a long time ago.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Being a pig is hard work

Ben is hard at work, sleeping. He wouldn't even grunt his greeting to me as I meandered over to take his picture. I told him he would not be getting a belly rub with that sort of lackadaisical attitude. No response. No belly rub. That is the price you pay for snubbing me, Benjamin. And yes, it is true - pigs love belly rubs. More than any other creature on earth. They are more tactile than dogs, reveling in physical contact.
Ben, hard at work

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?


King, a pit bull in Worcester, Massachusetts decided to make a valiant leap into a stranger's car.

I had this happen once. I was nine, the dog was a Golden Retriever. The car contained a sleeping woman and then it contained a screaming woman and a 70 lb dog. It was then that I handed the leash to my dad, walked across the street and refused to be seen with such an unruly beast.

Back to King. Here's what's wrong with this picture: Dog is loose. Dog has no collar or id tag. Another picture shows him being led by the owner's shorts to his home.

The article mentions the city council had tabled a proposal requiring dogs to be confined on private property by a fence or leash. Which is not pertinent to this issue, as the dog was off his property- it's illegal for a dog to roam loose, according to their municipal code. It's a $50 fine, yet all the animal control officer appears to do is, you know, pet the dog. Which is fine, but I wish all parties involved (excluding the driver) would take this a bit more seriously (perhaps the article left some stuff out).


Photo credit: T&G Staff Photos / STEVE LANAVA

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This is a very rare Guinea Pig x Rabbit cross.

Guinea Pig Rabbit Hybrid Oscar
I kid. He's really a rabbit and his name is Oscar. Here he is being sleepy. I cannot say this is *my* rabbit, because Oscar is no one's rabbit. His current residence is the sanctuary with 24 other rabbits.

Neat shelter program

When I used to volunteer at a dog shelter, I had to drive off the main drag, down into the "municipal-zone". The shelter was located next to the waste water treatment plant, across the street from a large gravel and construction company, and near the court house. It was easy to miss, only a small brick sign indicating its presence. I used to think it was a silly spot for a shelter that needed to attract people for adoptions. It's almost a miracle the adoption rate was 40%. A couple years ago, I attended the orientation of a county run shelter. And I never went back - it was located in a highly industrial, sketchy neighborhood (it was also an hour away, which is the bigger reason for me not returning).

Which is why I love Kansas-based Animal Haven's program of renting a retail spot (you can get your book shopping done too) in a mall. Brent over at KC Dog Blog writes that 69 dogs and cats found new homes over the weekend!

I love this idea a lot - bring animals to the people and do it in a high-traveled, well marked spot. I'm sure there are pitfalls, but it's still smart marketing. It should be a year-round thing, in my opinion. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Joys of Children


As much as I complain (not here) about what I half-seriously call the Halfway House or Where I Currently Reside, I have yet to meet a completely dog-stupid child here. The ladies and I just met our newest upstairs neighbors - Andrea and Ethan, ages 11 and 9, respectively.


I have a can of Pringles to thank for the meeting. As I was trying to lug my 40lb box of farm fresh produce, my lone stand of Pringles fell to the earth, succumbing to gravity and improperly secured tops. It's entire load cracked and crackled across the tile outside my apartment's front door. Woe!

After the ladies did their business, Celeste relayed the message that she was going to take care of them chips. Mina was having none of that - the "foyer" was a dark, scary place and who eats off of the ground anyways? (Mina does, but do not tell her I told you this). So it was just me and Celeste, hanging out in the dark, the only sound a constant crunch, snap, crunch.

Celeste heard her first, those wayward ears far more attuned to faint sounds - like the clomping of a pre-teen's shoes - than my apparently deaf ears. And thus I met the newest upstairs neighbors.

Girl: Is that a German Shepherd? *awed*
Me: She's a mix.
Girl: May I pet her?
Celeste: YES, YOU MAY TAKE ME HOME!!!! PET ME!!!
Me: Yes.
Girl: We have an American Staffordshire Terrier named Nina.
Me: Mina?
Girl: Nina. She's three, we got her when she was four-weeks old on Thanksgiving.
Me: I have a little pit bull too.
Girl: How old are your dogs?
Me: 2 1/2 and 11.
Girl: *big eyes* ELEVEN? Can we meet her too?
Me: Uh, sure!
Then I had to convince Mina that there was something worth her while outside the apartment.
Mina: You want me to go back out there? I believe I just shat and peed, thanks.
Me: Come on, missy! Mina, seriously, come here.
Girl: Your dog's name is Nina?
Me: Mina.
Girl: Nina?
Me: Mina, with an M, like Magellan.
Girl: *blank stare*
Mina: *trots past the kids, down to the lawn* Um, what have you brought me out here for, minion?
Me: Mina, come meet the kids!
Mina: What? You brought me out here for a couple of rugrats?
Boy: *pets Mina*
Mina: Oh. This isn't so bad. Little to the left, kid. *cocks head to side*
Boy: This is the cutest dog EVER!
Mina: Cute? Uh, hey kid, hate to break it to you, but I don't DO cute. I do beautific. Or magnificent. Sometimes I'll even do gloriously amazing. Never cute.
Girl: *pets Mina* She's pretty!
Mina: That's a bit better, taller kid. *trots back into apartment* See ya, I'm done here!
Celeste: PET ME, I WILL DIE FROM LACK OF PETTING!!!!!!! OH MY GOD THERE ARE CHIPS!!!!! *eats some more chips*

And then, get this, the girl shook my hand and announced she was happy to have met me and hopes to see me again.

There are a total of four pit bulls who live in my pseudo-complex. I say pseudo, because it's really a converted neo-Victorian mansion. Nine apartments, and perhaps the only landlord in my town who is pit bull friendly. These people have Mina to thank for that - she wasn't the first pit bull, but she was the only one to come with her own folder, two letters of reference, and a resume of accomplishments. She set the bar real high.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Coconut Cream Puffs

I was going to post a couple pics from the Thanksgiving meal, but instead I'm posting this pic of coconut creamy things that are quite delicious. It's an easy recipe to make. The texture is a little thicker than pudding, and it has a vanilla-coconut flavor due to the epic amount of coconutty goodness in it. Yes, it has tofu. Unless you are allergic to soy, you will survive and find yourself unable to detect any tofu-taste. If you are vegan, Keebler's has vegan graham cracker mini-pie crusts. If you're not, any small pie crust should do.


Recipe from Vegetarian Times - full of coconutty goodness!

Ingredients:
1/3 cup sweet flake coconut
6 oz soft silken tofu, drained
1/3 cup sugar
5 Tbs cornstarch
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp coconut extract (tastes fine without it, just fyi)
6 mini graham cracker pie crusts

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread coconut flakes on baking sheet and toast 5 minutes. Shake pan occasionally or until golden brown.
Blend tofu in blender/food processor 2-3 minutes or until smooth. Set aside.
Whist together sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Whisk in coconut milk, and cook over medium high heat 8 minutes or until thickened, whisking constantly.
Remove pan from heat. Fold in tofu, vanilla and coconut extracts, and coconut (save some for topping). Divide among mini pie-crusts and chill.

Bonus: Classic Mina & Celeste Moment! This is Celeste showing the best method of getting a toy away from Mina. It was her first technique too - she paws Mina in the face, then bites her toy, growling fiercely and tugging hard. This has remained Celeste's favorite tactic in her ongoing battle of "Stealing Everything that is in Mina's Mouth except for Mina's Food". She learned very early on that stealing Mina's Normal Food is a great offense and should never, ever be done. Stealing Mina's plain food, like bread or broccoli, is perfectly acceptable.

As an aside, this picture reminds me of how excited I was to have a second dog, a smallish second dog. I was hoping for a 20-25 lb dog. I got a 45 lb monster with crazed blue eyes and stilt legs. But she loves Mina, Mina loves her, and I adore them both immensely. I suppose it worked out just fine.

On Police Dogs

This morning, a German Shepherd used by the Minneapolis police department fell off a roof and died.


The final line bothered me: "Canines are called in during assignments the MPD deems too unsafe for their human partners"

Oh how we expect so much from dogs. They cannot give true consent, yet we send them into situations considered too dangerous by human standards.

I have never met a drug-sniffing dog, but I have met several K-9 police dogs. All were stressed out, slightly unpredictable, high-wired, highly reactive dogs. It isn't just breeding - I've met some of their siblings who live in companion homes and their behavior is far different. I do wonder if it is partially the result of being exposed to highly stressful daily activities. I am certain there are dogs who are far different than the police dogs I've met, and really, I'd like to meet more of them. Because from what I've seen, being a police dog isn't just dangerous work, it can be mentally and physically unhealthy for the dogs.

A note about the picture: This is one of the police dogs who patrol the streets in my town. She's a 6-yr-old German Shepherd. She would not let go. Her handler nearly had to beat her off to loosen her grip. After this public demonstration, the handler gave her a little time to calm down and then invited people to pet her. I wouldn't touch her with a 10-ft pole. She was tense, nervy, and looked ready to bolt or bite. She didn't do either, but her body language screamed "I am not comfortable with this". We also have a K-9 Malinois who is beautiful to watch work sniffing out contraband, but who is also highly reactive, dog aggressive and ready to chomp on anyone's arm who looks at him funny.

 At the same event, there was King. He reminds me a little of a picture Retrieverman recently posted of a 1915 German Shepherd. King was imported from Germany and weighs about 65 lbs. He has a pretty straight top line and was is this lithe, rangy Shepherd. I had been so used to seeing thick, large, slope-backed GSDs, I never realized they could look so athletic. I wish I had gotten a standing, profile picture, but he was far too interested in lounging. His owner/guardian gushed about him, his temperament and personality, his solidness and joy. Oh, pride! I was permitted to not only touch his soft head but hug him, I do so love a dog who permits the rude behavior of hugging with dignity and grace. :) From a perfect stranger, no less!

King's guardian was not impressed by the police dog. He wouldn't let his kids go near her, and suggested I do the same (I agreed). King did protection work, farm work (his guardian says he was a little bit of a mouthy herder, though), and home work (raising his kids right, heh). He never wanted to see any of King's pups become police dogs. At the time, I didn't think to ask why (it seemed glaringly obvious next to that crazy beast of a police dog, tense and alert nearby).

I realize I'm meandering. I was originally going to talk about both the Minneapolis police dog and another tagless, chipless drug-sniffing dog who was accidentally euthanized at a shelter. But I started thinking about King and the police dogs I've met and this is the result.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Pit Bull Versus the Pokemon

Mina decides what should be done with the yellow-colored creature atop her perfect white legs.

Decision made! Commence Operation Pikachu Consumption!

The end is near for the pokemon.
Swallowed in one bite!


Obligatory disclaimer: No pokemon were harmed in the making of this photo montage. Yet. It is only a matter of time until Celeste removes its eyes, then Mina takes the opportunity to remove its stuffing. But for now, it remains intact, staring blankly and smiling dumbly. 

TIME: Can attack dogs be rehabilitated?


The first time I met a dog from a fight bust was in the quarantine kennel at the shelter where I volunteered. I had been given the privilige of bestowing treats and love to the dogs languishing in the "bite kennel". Some were there because of court orders, others had bitten people or animals. Most were friendly or shy, few said no to the cookies. Even fewer made it out of the shelter alive. It was a sad place for me, and I did what I could to make their lives a little better.

Back to the fight bust dogs. There were five of them, lithe, agile pit bulls. One was incredibly cage aggressive, launching himself time and time again at the kennel door. I ignored him, randomly tossing treats into his kennel when he'd stop his aggressive overtures. He was not one who I could ever truly bond with, he was too frightened and reactive to tolerate even the most modest of advances. The other four were overzealous with their affection. They were covered in scars, jagged wounds evidence of the physical trauma they endured. Psychologically, though, they seemed at ease with their predicament, if not a bit under-stimulated and bored. One was extraordinarily dog reactive, the other three displayed modest levels of reactivity...all within what most would consider the range of normal dog behavior. One would spend her days play bowing to the dogs across the way, butt high in the air, whole body swaying side to side. She'd fling herself dramatically towards the other dogs, stymied by space and kennel walls. But she never lost her love for other dogs, and she would lick the face of the dogs who passed by her kennel on the way to their deaths.

For three years, these five dogs languished, mostly forgotten. No one was allowed to take them for walks, even though four of the dogs were incredibly human social. In secret, I would reach my hands into the kennels, stroking muscular backs, gently fingering scars and wounds, scratching under chins and massaging velvet-soft ears. I wasn't supposed to touch the dogs, but their plea for interaction - beyond tossed treats - demanded my response. They reveled in this contact.

Their "owner" was found guilty and the dogs released to the shelter. This was 2000, long before Vick and even before I was able to convince this shelter to stop automatically killing crop-eared pit bulls (it was assumed they were fighters *eye roll*). The automatic response of the shelter was to prepare the kill room for these dogs. In my heart of hearts, I knew this was wrong. It was a denial of life, a suppression of compassion, the wrong choice to make for, at the very least, three of the dogs. None would be given a pathetic excuse for a temperament test. None would be offered to qualified rescues for possible placement. It was assumed that, because these dogs had fought other dogs, that they were irreversibly scarred. Damaged goods. Unwanted. Unadoptable. Untreatable. Dead.

It was the first time I touched the dogs outside of their kennel. The really aggressive one had to be tranquilized before being carried to the kill room. I begged and pleaded with staff to let me hold the other dogs, at least before they were killed. I was lucky - on that day, a pit bull loving animal control officer allowed me to give those dogs their final goodbye. I touched each and every one of them, admired their beauty, trying in vain to calm their undulating, joyous bodies. I hugged the dog-friendly one, telling her how much I loved her. And then they walked themselves to their deaths. Oh, the violation of trust, the betrayal. It stings me even now. Back then, I was nineteen, foolishly believing what the staff told me, that it was a good thing, the kindest thing to do...killing healthy, adoptable dogs was kind? The truth is too painfully obvious - that was a coping mechanism. The reality is that those dogs did not deserve to die. Not at all.

Nearly a decade has past and now society expects shelters to try and salvage dogs from fight busts. Even while we ban pit bulls left and right, we express our schizophrenic desire to save the most abused pit bulls.

Things have changed and for the better, I think. TIME has an online article, entitled "Can Attack Dogs Be Rehabilitated?" Is that even a valid question anymore? Was it ever a valid question? It's an okay article, except for what I believe is the most fundamentally missing point - that these are still dogs. They are not mythical beasts of destruction, they are not cybertronic droids bent on world domination. Yes, they are generally more athletic than other medium-sized dogs and yes I'd agree their "bell-curve" reactivity is shifted a bit more to the reactive side. They are terriers, after all. But their temperaments and behaviors are not so different than most dogs, not off-the-richter-scale fantastical or bizarre.


So why must we still paint them as attack dogs, as unfit to be with other animals or children? The truth of the matter is that many pit bulls confiscated from fight busts and permitted to be rescued, they live with other dogs. And children. Somehow, they restrain themselves from eating everyone in sight. Some are so solid that "rehabilitation" is a non-word, a silly term that has no real-world meaning to these particular dogs. Some are shy, scared of their own shadow, where "rehabilitation" means earning trust and teaching confidence. Some are dog-reactive, where "rehabilitation" means management and properly supervised canine interactions. Some are fear-biters or resource-guarders and "rehabilitation" means, if a suitable foster home is available, redirecting behavior into appropriate actions, teaching boundaries or, if a suitable foster home or sanctuary is unavailable, it means death. Some are riddled with mammary cancer or other deadly diseases and "rehabilitation" in the physical sense is not possible. In the end, they are dogs with various personalities, different temperaments, myriad ways they cope with the world.

They are not so different from any other dog entering the shelter system, except that their tragic past is a known entity, a shadowy, nearly tangible thing. It seems only fair to give them a chance at life. Is that not something every dog deserves?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A memory of a dog and a girl


I've posted about Ruby before, but she's making the news again, because she is one cool pup. She had been left to die along with her brother, was saved, patched up and ended up in the home of Pat Bettendorf . And thus began her ascent into the world of therapy dog work. She visits nursing homes, mostly places of forgotten people. She gets them to talk and open up. Her perk is the attention she receives - happy pit bulls are attention seekers.

In a tangential way, the story reminded me of an experience I had about six, maybe seven years ago.I had just left a storage facility and was waiting for the gate to open. Mina was in the car and, for one brief moment, I let her splay herself on my lap, her mushy  head flung happily out the window. As I started to pull forward, a woman's voice reached me, "Excuse me, wait please!"

I stopped, peered around Mina's head for the source of the sound. A woman in her late seventies with brilliant white hair approached. She stopped and just stared at Mina, taking her in, nodding her head and finally politely asking if she could pet Mina. Oh, of course! Mina bestowed kisses as all happy pit bull are wont to do, and I learned all about the woman's old dog. And by old, I mean 1930s old. She was a spry, lithe farm dog who looked strikingly like Mina. She followed this woman everywhere, across fields and meadows, through the cattle pens, into the house, through the years. That dog was an icon, of her family and the hardships they endured, of lasting friendships and devotion. She never, ever forgot that dog. It was nice being part of that moment, to see her bond with Mina and imagine a Mina-dog doing for this woman what she has done for me - be a source of unconditional love, annoyance, fascination and fun.

Perhaps what I liked most of that encounter is the lack of supportive statements. There was no "Oh, they get such a bad rap" or "it's all how you raise them", no attempt at offering sympathy for choosing a type of dog with such an uphill road to travel. It was just me, Mina, this woman and the memory of a devoted companion. It's a small experience I will never forget, and it made me cherish Mina and the American Pit Bull Terrier all the more.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Strip club Newt Nook

Newt Gingrich refused to accept $5,000 in donations from a strip club. The club's owner was also dis-invited from receiving an entrepreneurial award. So, she turned around and donated the money to a Dallas based animal shelter to help build a climate-controlled building to house some of the shelter's dogs, with a particular emphasis on pit bulls. They are naming the building Newt's Nook.

I think this brings up an interesting issue - if you were running a nonprofit, would you say no to donations from organizations that, through their actions, perpetuated questionable activities? I'm not trying to be a prude here, but strip clubs, by their very nature, further the notion that women are objects, that their worth is how much skin they show, and even worse, women are arguably involved in their own self-oppression (though most never admit such a thing).

Perhaps that is not an accessible example. Let's say you worked for a Greyhound rescue group and part of your activities include legislative efforts to shut down racing tracks. Would you accept donations from breeders of racing Greyhounds? Or from tracks themselves? What about a horse racing track or a breeder of racing horses?

I work for a farmed animal sanctuary. Most of our donors are not vegans or even vegetarian. We certainly do not require anyone to adhere to any particular dietary habit in order to support the sanctuary's work. But we would not accept funds from the Milk Advisory Board or the United Egg Producers. We choose to draw a line when it comes to organizations that pursue goals completely opposite of our own and whose funds come from activities against our organization's mission. (Not that either of the aforementioned organizations would ever deign to donate funds to us.)

Where would you draw the line? Or do you think there isn't a line to draw and it doesn't matter who it comes from, as long as the money helps "your" organizations cause?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Vegan Thanksgiving

Do not fear, I am not about to condemn you to the depths of Slor if you do not believe exactly what I believe. For real.


This is one of eight turkeys at the sanctuary where I work. She's a total and utter delight. Five years ago, she was liberated by an individual along with eleven of her sisters from a turkey production plant. We accepted all 12 debeaked, de-toed (first digits of their toes are cut off to prevent scratching when removed from the shed) baby hens.

They sing songs and are joyous creatures. They cannot fly, like their wild brethren. They are bred to be too large for that...and too large to mate naturally, all are artificially inseminated.

So it is always an honor and joy to celebrate them on Thanksgiving. For me, that means not eating them. :) CRAZY TALK, I know. But you will survive.

Now, perhaps you might wonder what a vegan eats (at all?) during Thanksgiving. Well, certainly not turkey. Instead, we might make our own tofu turkey or purchase an alternative. There are myriad alternatives available now that can please the palates of most people. I love Tofurky, thought not everyone does. They are perhaps crazy, I am not certain. Even the most hardcore omnivore likes Tofurky gravy, so that's something. There is also Celebration Roast for people who have an addiction to salt. Like me. Or you could go all out for your turkey-loving friends and family by making these adorable tofu turkeys - they are so cute, you may be unable to eat them. Not me. I'd inhale them, post-haste.

The sides are pretty easy to veganize. Non-dairy butter and dairy mixed with mashed potatoes. Veggie broth instead of chicken for stuffing. Non-dairy butter on bread. We do not eat green bean casseroles around here, because my mom finds them repulsive...so we just eat fresh green beans, slightly crisp with lemon juice and non-dairy butter. Salads are easy. A vegan's Thanksgiving dinner is not so different, except the centerpiece isn't a bird. We are still grateful for all the wondrous things in our lives, and we still feel compassion for all those suffering in this world. At my parent's place, we are not pumpkin pie fiends, but that is super easy to veganize. My family are apple pie freaks and make three so we can survive days on apple pie alone, if necessary. Sometimes, when that womanly time of the month hits during Thanksgiving, I make a crazy chocolate pecan pie to kill for (if you died for it, you would not enjoy it half so much).

I'll take a picture tomorrow for show and tell. You can show all of your friends and be all "LOOK AT THE VEGANS AND THEIR VEGANY DINNER!" It might be amusing. It might not. And even without all the extra tryptophan, vegans can gorge with the best of them and become sleepy sloths ready for hibernation after Thanksgiving dinner. You might be interested to know that no group of humans on earth love talking food as much as vegans. Not even foodies. Or locovores. Get stuck in a room full of vegans, and all you'll hear about are cupcakes this, enchiladas that, OH MY GOD YOU VEGANIZED that? This is not true of all vegans, as I recently learned when a vegan friend of mine stared at me blankly as I tried to explain my love affair with cranberry-orange muffins and all of my attempts at creating The Best Muffin Ever. They thought I was weird and told me as much. Whatever.

In any event, Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Celeste & Mina enjoy new sanctuary property

When I'm not gushing about my dogs, I'm working for Animal Place, a sanctuary for farmed animals. We are moving from our 60-acre facility in Vacaville to a gorgeous 600-acre site in Grass Valley, CA. All of the new barns are up and the fencing is being put in as we speak (well, perhaps not literally). My parents and I headed up there to check out the barns and fencing. Of course, the dynamic duo had to come along - it's one of their few opportunities at being a dog. By that, I mean getting to run loose, unfettered by leashes and traffic and commands. Free to roll in poop, drink up disgusting water, leap through the tall grass. Maybe attempt to chase deer or rabbits or, in Mina's case, stalk lizards. I love, love, love seeing Mina and Celeste run amock. It's beautiful and natural and what I wish for every single dog.


Celeste had entered the pasture on the left, running alongside us until she realized that she and the rest of her group was separated. She looked up ahead, noticed that the fenceline didn't open up. She checked the fence's integrity. And when she realized there was no way out but the way she came in, she booked it back to the opening in the fence, and barreled to us with a wild grin on her face. Victory was hers!


Mostly, this is what I captured. Two butts. Two tails flying high. Two noses to the ground.


This is a beautiful moment. Mina leaping up and over Celeste during a full-throttle drive to the back of what is going to be the poultry enclosure. Celeste, determined to keep her nose to the groun, inhaling wondrously wild scents, manages to duck, tuck and avoid a fatal impact. I love her dedication.


Much sniffing of Very Important Stuff occurred.


Gross water was to be gulped down by Celeste, disdained utterly by Mina. Well, Mina would not drink the water, but she would roll in its murky depths. Such is the logic of Mina.


Oh, happy days! Big smile, ears up and back seeking and searching, eyes forward, nose twitching. Mission, forward, impetus, movement. Love, love, love!

It was a lovely day, perfectly warm and wonderful. The dogs tracked rabbit scents, marked ownership of scrub oak and dead grass, looked high and low for deer, and I reveled in their intense devotion to the carefree.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rape, aggravated burglary, drug trafficking - that's not lead news!

The Expositor has a story to tell. Is it about the gun found in someone's home? No. Is it about the 2,300 pills of ecstasy, three viles of hash oil, or the cocaine? No! Is it about the home invasion of an elderly couple who were tied up during the theft? No, you ninny! Is is it about the guy who sexually assaulted his wife? Are you nuts?

No, the lead line for this story starts out as, "A pit bull had to be removed". In fact, the title of the article is "Pit bull removed before search". Apparently rape, drug trafficking, violently tying up gramps and granny are all of less import than a docile dog who had to be walked out of a backyard by the SPCA. That's news, folks!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Celeste falls off the bed


Mina does not fall off beds. Ever. She doesn't even slide off of them. She does not roll off of sofas or slip off of chairs. Mina is a pretty grounded dog.

Celeste is unaware of everything when she is playing with you. The center of her universe is you, all else is unimportant rubbish.

Like beds, for example. See this photo? This is what Celeste was doing. I was sitting next to her, skritching her belly, while she bitey-faced the air and rubbed her back into the blanket. She was so happy, full of puppy vim and vigor.

And then I got up to do something. Celeste's body followed me right off of the bed. She flopped three feet to the ground and was quite surprised by the whole ordeal. I'm pretty certain Mina laughed at her. I did too, but only after I checked to make sure her doghood was intact. Thus ends the story of how Celeste fell off the bed.