Rupert, A Shelter Dog

A week ago, I received the best news. One of the dogs that had been at my shelter for eight months was finally adopted. I was ecstatic. I cried a mixture of happy and sad tears.  Happy tears because this little guy, Rupert, was so deserving of a loving family (they all are), and sad tears because I had developed a special bond with Rupert.

I was his handler for over five months of training courses. He wasn’t a very good student and together we failed the first Basic Training class, but in the second go-round we were head of the class. 🙂

Rupert had come to the shelter as a rambunctious 7 month old boxer/pit mix whose previous family used drugs in lieu of proper training to keep this energetic puppy under control. This lazy approach wasn’t effective, but with a lot of work from all the shelter volunteers, Rupert learned his manners and became a very polite little boy.

Three days ago, Rupert’s new family returned him to the shelter. I was shocked because I couldn’t imagine anyone taking this sweet baby home only to have second thoughts. But despite the tremendous strides Rupert had taken in his behavior, a chaotic life with young kids may have been too much for him. When Rupert saw the children playing he most likely got overly-excited, and when he decided he wanted to play too he scared one of the kids.

That was all it took for Rupert to find himself back in the confines of his little kennel. I went to see him today. He doesn’t seem too phased by what happened. Maybe he thinks he was just away on a mini-vacation. I hope that’s the case. The last thing I want is for this little guy’s morale to break. I’ve seen dogs shut down in shelters and it’s an awful sight to witness.

Until the day some other lucky family discovers this gem of a dog, I’ll enjoy whatever time I have left with this sweet baby and give him all the love I can.

If you’re considering getting a pet, please visit your local shelter. So many wonderful animals, like Rupert, are waiting for their furever home.

 

Advertisements

Don’t Just Read the Label. See the Dog!

The shelter I volunteer for caps how many pit bulls it will take in at one time.  I understand their reasoning for doing this, even though I don’t like it, but this practice won’t change until the stereotype changes. Dogs labeled “pit bull” take longer to adopt out because people are scared of them. Or their insurance won’t cover them. Or their city has banned the breed. (Technically, “pit bull” isn’t a breed. It’s an umbrella term that unfairly covers multiple breeds and mixes.) 

One of the pit bull mixes sitting at my shelter right now is named Gipsy, and she’s such a wonderful dog. If all goes right today, I will be with her in a few hours, playing with the tennis balls she loves so much. She is playful and sweet and loves human interaction, especially if that human has a tennis ball in his/her hand.

The second she walks into one of the yards, she’s searching for a ball, and if she doesn’t find one, she’ll walk to the fence and sit patiently in front of the toy box she knows her beloved balls are, on the other side of the fence. And if you aren’t quick enough in getting there, she may cast you an anxious look as if to say, “WTF are you waiting for? You know I only have fifteen minutes out here.”

It always amazes me how much dogs live in the moment. They take in every moment they have when outside. They don’t worry about when they’ll be taken back to their kennels, surrounded by other scared and anxious barking dogs. They just enjoy the time they have outside doing what they love.

It makes me reflect on how much time (moments) people waste worrying about what will happen three minutes, three hours, or even three years from now. Dogs don’t do that. They savor the moment they’re living AS they’re living it.

I hope all dogs in shelters find homes real soon because they’re all so deserving. We get dogs from all kinds of despicable situations – dogs picked up as homeless strays, dogs taken from neglectful or abusive homes living in vile conditions, dogs used as bait dogs, dogs who’ve been tied to a tree their entire lives. There are so many heart-wrenching scenarios and it’s so heart-warming when they finally find a loving furever home. But the dogs I wish for the most are the ones who have the most decks stacked against them – the pit bulls.

Gipsy shouldn’t be waiting so long for her furever home. She’ll make a loyal and loving pet for any lucky family out there. But instead of walking by her kennel, like so many people do, someone has to actually look and see her, instead of the label card hanging outside her kennel stating “pit bull mix,” and pass her by.

Gipsy is lucky to have ended up at my shelter because we are a no-kill shelter. So she will be with us however how long it takes for her to find a home, but so many pit bulls out there aren’t so lucky. They have no idea their time is about to run out. 

If you’re thinking about getting a pet, please consider adopting at your local shelter. Most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills.

Check out this cutie below. Gipsy knows how to play, (see how agile she is!) but she also knows how to chill. Plus, she’s got the best darn eyes I’ve ever seen on a dog.

Don’t Bully My Breed

I got into an argument today with a stranger on Twitter about BSL – Breed Specific Legislation. BSL is legislation cities can pass directly targeting a specific breed of dog. Some ordinances completely ban a breed from an entire city (Denver and Miami has done this).

The person I was exchanging words with was in support of banning pit bulls (which technically isn’t a breed).  “Pit Bull” is commonly used as an umbrella term for dogs with boxy-shaped heads, are stocky, appear strong in stature, and, of course, look “mean.” The term “pit bull” generally covers a few types of breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, and Bull Terrier.

If found as strays, or rescued from abusive and neglectful situations, these dogs will be categorized as “pit bulls” and with it, in some situations, a death sentence will be imposed upon them because not many people, it seems, are willing to bring home a dog labelled “pit bull.” Most of these dogs will never leave the shelter they are dropped off at alive. 

BSL is another obstacle these already abused and misunderstood dogs have to endure when trying to find a home. At the local shelter I volunteer at  there was a pit/lab mix named Sable. She was a loving dog who wanted nothing more than to have her belly rubbed and to play with a hose. A family wanted to take her home, but found out their home association didn’t allow pit bulls. Sable would have to wait nine more months before she would finally leave the shelter.

But while she was there, I’d hear other volunteers ask, as they’d pet Sable through the cage with her body pressed against the bars, savoring the attention, “Why are you still here? You’re so adorable. Why are you still here?”

I remember wanting to yell, “Because she’s a fucking pit bull! And people are afraid of pit bulls no matter how sweet they are!”

Of course, I didn’t yell that. I didn’t say anything. I walked away, pissed that there is yet one more obstacle these poor dogs have to fight to find a home. Sable was forced to spend her days in a kennel instead of a home because of BSL. And that isn’t fair or right.

I was arguing with this person on Twitter that BSL kills pit bulls because it makes it harder for them to find homes. When pit bulls don’t find homes, they die. My shelter is a no kill-shelter, but if it wasn’t, Sable would have been put-down. Killed. And she deserved to live. They all do. Thankfully, Sable did find a home, but most are not so lucky.

To me, BSL is straight-up discrimination. We are blaming not just one breed of dog for the aggressive actions of a few dogs, who were made to be mean, but five breeds. How can that be right? I’m always leery of media reports of pit bull attacks because how do they know for sure it was a pit bull? Since “pit bull” is already categorized to include five breeds, throw in mixes, and it’s nearly impossible to know for sure the exact breed of dog.

The probability is that the media doesn’t know for sure the dog is a pit bull. But that doesn’t stop the headlines that target pit bulls, because those headlines sell newspapers. Those headlines get people’s attention more than “Some Type of Mix Dog Attacks Man on Train!”

I think pet owners should be held accountable for what their animals do. A dog doesn’t just maul a person out of the blue. There are signs of aggression before that happens, and I’d bet everything I have that it was the owners who made those dogs that way.

I adopted a pit bull mix. I didn’t have to train him to be the sweetheart that he is. He came to me that way. Dogs labelled “pit bulls” are not born mean. They are loving dogs who deserve to live. They deserve homes.

If the town you live in is considering BSL or currently has BSL, please do all you can to stop or end it.  It is wrong. And it kills. These dogs need more people to advocate for them. They don’t need any more adversaries. They already have enough of those.  If you can, adopt a pit. Give a “pit bull” a chance. I can say from experience that you won’t be sorry.

 

Sable, the chocolate lab/pit mix and my baby, Phil. Two “pit bulls” who found loving homes. I wish they all do.

Save Two Lives. Adopt a Shelter Dog.

When I adopted my dog, Phil, almost five years ago, I didn’t have a specific breed in mind during my search, (although I’ve always had an affinity for Labradors, all labs, Black, Chocolate, and Yellow). So, it was no surprise when I went scouring the Internet for shelter dogs, and my eyes fell upon a beautiful yellow lab mix, that I was instantly smitten and knew he was meant to be my baby.

The fact that Phil’s other breed was pit-bull (please note, pit-bull is technically not a breed, but a broad generalization to include dogs like, American pit-bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and Staffordshire bull terriers, and other terriers) didn’t even factor into my decision to truck down to the shelter and pick up my new bundle of joy.

Phil being part pit-bull didn’t deter me from adopting him, but it also didn’t play a role in my choosing him, either. I wasn’t making a stance of any kind. It wasn’t a conscious decision to rescue him because of his breed. I wasn’t aware most pit-bulls never make it out of shelters alive.

I didn’t know, at the time, that pit-bulls were the most euthanized dogs in the country. I didn’t know much about pit-bulls, apart from what I had heard in the news every now and then. But surely one can not reasonably judge an entire breed over the actions of only a few. (And the actions of those few were without a doubt instigated by neglectful and abusive human beings.)

But I was wrong.

I was ignorant at the time of the very real, and very strong prejudice against pit-bulls. I didn’t know, the day I took Phil home with me, the powerful stigma attached to this wonderfully loving dog.

According to a 2012 article by Save a Life Harbor Animal Shelter, in Los Angeles alone, two hundred pit-bulls are killed each day. ASPCA estimates that 3.9 million dogs (all breed of dogs) end up in U.S shelters every year, with only 35% of those getting adopted, and 31% being euthanized.

Latest data from ANIMAL PEOPLE shows that pit-bulls make up 60% of dogs euthanized every year. Easily over a million adoptable pit-bulls are killed each year because of ignorance, prejudices, insurance refusal to cover pit-bulls, and discriminatory bans on the breed.

This is a horrible shame.

All that I didn’t know about the unfair treatment toward pit-bulls, before I adopted Phil, that I know now, has made me a huge advocate for pit-bulls. I fight for this breed because I have to. I wasn’t looking for this job, and I didn’t ask for it, but I’ve turned out to be pretty damn good at it.

puppymill protest                                            dont shop adopt

big puppymill protest

*On a side note, ASPCA estimates that 70-80 million dogs are pets in the United States. That’s beyond the amount that could give EVERY single shelter dog a home, as well as the millions of strays in other countries. So much money is spent caring for animals in shelters. If America would only open their homes to all the homeless dogs here, then shelters can spend their resources on flying abused and hungry strays in from other countries, because the numbers show we have enough homes for them, too.

Please note, most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills. Please stop supporting these awful places. Adopt don’t shop.  Thanks!

P.S – Here’s a pic of my scary pit bull mix…..Shhhh…don’t wake the baby.

phil adorable nuzzle on blankie

Give a Pit Bull a Chance

In the summer of 2013 I started volunteering at an animal shelter near my house. Volunteering my time with animals was something I’d wanted to do for years, however my lack of good health had gotten in the way. But as soon as my body allowed, I hurried at the chance to focus my attention on something other than myself. I had suddenly felt normal again.

Since that summer, I have gone from volunteering 1 1/2 hours a week to 8 – 10 hours, and hope to commit more of my time in the future because I love what I do.

There is a dog at the shelter I have bonded with named Sable. I go to see her on days outside of my “scheduled” shift because she has created for herself a permanent place inside my heart. She is an amazing dog who has been at the shelter longer than she should be because unfortunately for her, she is part-pit bull. She isn’t unfortunate because there is anything inherently wrong with the breed. Sable is unfortunate because there is everything inherently wrong with the stigma humans place on pit bulls.

Just this past week, Sable was twice passed-up because she is part-pit bull. I was told one woman took a fondness of her while watching Sable through her kennel, but when told of her breed, the woman balked that she would never take a pit bull home, and then moved on to the next kennel. And then there was a family who were very interested in giving Sable a home, but found out their apartment complex has a no bully-breed dog policy. This is a big reason why pit bulls and pit bull-mixes are the most-highly euthanized dogs in the country – they are discriminated against by both people and businesses. Statistics vary, but the most solid report is 2800 pit bulls are killed each day. That’s over a million a year.

However, the fate isn’t much better for the pit bulls who do manage to live because this breed is probably the most abused dogs on the planet. With the internet and social media, it’s hard to escape the images of the consequences of dog-fighting. And you know what? It should be hard to escape these images because they show the reality of what horrible and cruel human beings create. And we need to see these images every…single…day because these gruesome acts occur every…single…day.

Sable has no idea how close she had come, this week alone, to finding her furever home. She is unaware of any “pre-determined prejudice” against her. She’s as happy-go-lucky of a dog you’ll ever meet. When I am with her, her body language doesn’t scream out “poor me” or “nobody loves me” or “why am I still here!”

Sable lives in the moment, as most dogs do. When I make my way toward her kennel, (she’s about five runs down from the entrance) and she’s curled up sleeping sweetly on her bed, I’ll squat down quietly and whisper, “Hello pretty girl. Are you ready?” Sable jumps at the sound of my voice and wags her tail madly because she knows it’s time to play in the yard. She’ll lick my face through the cage and then spin her body toward the doggie door, waiting impatiently for me to open the run.

Aside from being part-pit bull, Sable is also half-lab, and it is the lab-side of her that’s been showing a lot this summer as we’ve been playing with the hose. Sable absolutely loves water and I dare anyone not to crack up while watching her leap high to catch the water sprinkling in all directions. She never tires of jumping into the fountain of water I create by sticking my fingers against the opening of the hose and spraying it toward the sky, splashes form all around us.

Sable’s favorite game with the hose is when I spray the hose directly at her face and she tries to catch the water with her teeth. Spending these days with her is the epitome of what summer should be – hot, laughter-filled, care-free days playing with a hose.

When it’s time to put the hose away, I dry her off on a porch in the yard with a towel. Although she will attempt to lunge toward the pool a couple times, when I give her a stern “no,” she knows play time is over and lays quietly beside me and lets me dry her off. I think she enjoys the gentle massage as I rub the towel over her body. Dogs love being pampered…maybe shelter dogs the most. Before I bring her in, we lie across the porch, Sable cuddled against me, and we rest in the shade of a gorgeous summer day.

When I take Sable, or any other dog in the shelter, out, they leave their kennels behind. Each dog is completely committed to enjoying every second out of their cages. They don’t waste precious moments worrying about when their time will be up, and they’ll be back in their small cages with nothing but a bed, a bowl of water, and a nyla-bone to occupy their time.

Once outside in the yards, the dogs are too busy having fun living in the moment to waste their time lamenting about where they’ll be twenty minutes from then.

People, who almost always carry our heavy burdens with us everywhere we go, can learn so much from these loving animals.

Below is a link to a video of me and Sable playing with a hose.

To know a pit bull is to love a pit bull.  sable with ball and tongue

Sable smiling Sable with ball

Sable with tongue out

If you’re looking for a pet, please consider visiting your local animal shelter. Animals at shelters are not broken. They are not “dirty.” Most puppies from pet stores come from puppy mills where their mothers live in horrible condit Please visit thepuppymillproject.org for more information.

Also, if possible, please don’t overlook an animal just because he or she may be a pit bull or pit bull mix. I know first-hand these dogs make great companions and are loving and loyal animals. I’ve had a pit bull-mix for five years and there is no better dog out there – well, maybe Sable runs a close second. 🙂

Life Gets Better…Thanks Sandy.

Two years ago this month I started volunteering at an animal shelter. The first dog I bonded with was a Collie mix named Sandy. Sandy was an owner-surrender. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the surrender, but Sandy was very depressed. Her sadness showed in the way she moved – slow and heavy. Her body weighted, not from the extra pounds she carried, but from the confusion I suspect she felt when the shelter became her new home.

I’ve been told that for a dog to go from a home to a shelter is as much of a shock as a free-living human-being waking up suddenly in a prison cell. Although the animals at my shelter are loved and well-taken care of, it doesn’t compare to a home once an animal’s lived in one. The confinement of a kennel, even one attached to a dog run, is jail to an animal accustomed to having free-range of a home.

Animal shelters, no matter how well-tended to, are loud. Dogs who are nervous bark. Dogs who are scared bark. Dogs who are anxious bark. And dogs who are just tired of being somewhere (we’ve had animals who’ve waited a year or longer for homes) bark. So when a dog like Sandy comes to the shelter, and is greeted with chaos she is not used, depression often sets in. Adjustments need to be made and these are abrupt for animals who knew a better life.

My fellow volunteers at the shelters love the animals they care for, and talk sweetly to them, but we are strangers to the dogs. And the ones who had an owner, and faithfully loved that owner and lived in a stable home (for at least a little while), being in a place with so many different hands touching you, no matter how gentle, can fill a dog with stress it never knew before.

Sandy wouldn’t eat, and as weeks went by her weight gradually dropped, but she still moved slowly and wasn’t enthusiastic about anything. There were special notes on her cage and on the dog’s track sheets that Sandy was only to be taken out in the grassy yard, and not the cement and pebbled ones, because all Sandy wanted to do was lay down. I’d lay with her in the grass, pet her, and take her head in my arms, and promise her that things would get better. She’d look at me with sadness in her eyes so deep and profound that I’d challenge anyone who dare say animals don’t have a soul.

I felt close to Sandy and bonded quickly with her because she resembled on the outside exactly the way I was feeling on the inside. I had been laid-off from my job a few months before and battling an illness that was threatening to flare-up again, and I was scared and lost in such profound hopelessness that I desperately searched for any sign that promised better days ahead.

“You’re gonna be okay,” I’d promise while kneeling in front of her and holding her head in my hands. “We both are.”

I kissed her a lot, comforted and reassured her, the way I needed someone to reassure me.

Soon, Sandy was adopted. Her life was going to get better and I was so happy for her. She gave me hope that my life would get better, too.

Last summer I took my dog to a fundraising event for animal shelters. There were all kinds of doggie-themed tents there and as I made my way toward one of them, I stopped near a spectacle of people surrounding a closed-off area. I found a spot and watched as dogs performed tricks and ran through obstacle courses with their trainers, or owners, by their side. The happy dogs circled cones, ran through large cylinder-like tubes, slid down little slides, jumped over rope, and maneuvered across small teeter-totters.

One of the dogs looked a lot like Sandy, but i knew the dog now running excitedly through an obstacle course couldn’t be the same sad dog who ignored the toys scattered in the shelter yards and only wanted to lay down, or the over-weight, depressed dog who moved so slowly I often had to take half-steps when walking beside her. It couldn’t be that dog, and I was ready to walk away believing it wasn’t her, when a man holding a mic said, “Let’s give a big hand to Sandy!”

It was Sandy! My Sandy. And I was stunned. I couldn’t even move. The transformation was incredible. She was a completely different dog.

I couldn’t get to her. The crowd was too big. But I wanted to reach her and pet her again and look into the eyes I was sure showed no more signs of sadness.

I wanted to tell her that I was happy her life was better, and let her know that mine was too.

Sadness doesn’t have to last forever. Life can, and will, get better.

Lost and Scared

It was cold last night in Chicago. Real cold. Factor in the wind chill and the temperature fell to a brutal degree that no living being could ever survive, at least not without every inch of their flesh covered under thick layers of heavy clothing. But even that probably wouldn’t have been enough to take the chill away.

Last night was the kind of night you go to bed, pull the covers up to your chin, and say a prayer for anyone who has no other place to sleep but on the streets.

I follow a Rescue group on Facebook and on my newsfeed was a post about a woman who had found a dog, all by itself, while waiting for a bus. The dog wouldn’t leave her side, but she couldn’t take him on the bus with her. So she called a friend. Explained everything. And that friend took to Facebook. She gave the intersecting streets where the dog currently was, somewhere in Bridgeport, and an immediate outpour of responses flooded the thread.

My eyes were glued to my computer screen while I frantically read comments asking for confirmation the dog was still at said location, another stating that a woman was on her way, another, from the original poster, urging swift action because even though the dog seemed attached to the woman at the bus station, the woman still needed to keep a secure grip on the dog, and because the dog had no collar, this wasn’t an easy task with a sixty-plus pound dog. The dog was scared. And scared dogs usually run.

I read the thread as though it were a captivating suspense novel, and I was gripping at the cusp of anxious uncertainty of how this would end…….

I held my dog a little tighter that night as I imagined him wandering those same lonely and cold streets, terrified. And I silently prayed that if I should ever lose him, someone would come to his rescue the way those “angels” on Facebook did for this sweetheart found last night.

This scared baby has been reunited with his family. Humanity at its best. 🙂