Reading the latest news on Steve Marwell, owner of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS), made me realize once again how few of us have actually spent time asking how this all came to be in the first place.
How did a man who had never registered his charity with his state, and who collected donations but never made any of the required disclosures needed to maintain his good standing as a rescue or sanctuary, able to fool so many rescues and animal shelters into sending their unadoptable dogs to him?
How did no one know about all the dogs living in crates and kennels and in extreme conditions, with little to no food? How did this place pass as a sanctuary and continue to receive dogs for years?
The whole awful and disturbing story brought to mind a blog post I had read back in 2012. Written by Jessica Dolce, “How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary“, was a sad, but very insightful look into something that happens so often in rescue – we push it on down the line.
As Jessica wrote:
We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.
We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.
We all push until we find sanctuaries who say yes. (How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary by Jessica Dolce, Notes from a Dog Walker, July 21, 2012)
But the responsibility isn’t the person on down the line is it? No. The responsibility is ours, the rescuer’s, and we should be taking it more seriously.
I wonder… Are we asking the right questions when we decide to pass a dog off to someone else? When we choose to ship a dog off to a sanctuary to live out their lives, do we do our due diligence? Do we ask around for references? Do we go visit the facility ourselves? When we choose to save a dog that cannot be placed, are we really “saving” the dog? Or, are we just making ourselves feel better?
Recently, I said NO to someone who wanted help in finding a home for an unwanted dog. The dog had an extensive bite history (with several owners) and was scheduled to be euthanized in three days. The person wanting to “save” the dog could not take the dog herself, but wanted desperately to find someone else who would. I could not help but be angry. She wasn’t willing to take in the dog in herself, but she wanted someone else to take on that risk? Really? It very much felt like she was passing it on down the line, leaving the dog for someone else to deal with it, all the while patting herself on the back for saving a poor dog.
I won’t lie. I recommended the dog be euthanized. With so many dogs out there in need, and so many of them without a bite history, why would we save this one dog? Why save this dog who has bitten several former owners in the past?
Desperate to save the dog, the woman ended up taking the dog where? A sanctuary for difficult dogs. God only knows if it is a “good one” or it it willbe one that we will one day see in the news, like OAS. I can only hope it is a good one and the dog is receiving great care, and hopefully, some retraining. I can’t help but wonder if the “rescuers” have bothered to check in to see how the dog is doing since they “saved” her? I would bet the answer is no, which is precisely the problem. Out of sight, out of mind.
What happened at OAS should never be allowed to happen again. And yet, I know it will.
As rescuers, we need to get better at doing our due diligence. We need to visit the places we send our unadoptable dogs. We need to inspect, ask for references, ask questions (lots of them) and follow-up regularly. But most importantly, we need to stop passing dogs (who cannot be re-homed or who are unsafe in a normal home) down the line.
We need to be honest and ask ourselves if euthanization wouldn’t be a better solution in these types of situations rather than passing the dog off to a sanctuary where they could suffer unimaginable cruelties for years on end.
Because the truth is, that kind of solution is not rescuing, it’s passing the buck. It’s contributing to animal suffering, not saving them from it.
April 15th is Blog the Change for Animals Day. It’s a day when bloggers unite to bring attention back to an animal cause they care deeply about. It’s also a day in which you, our friends and readers, can also do something small to make the difference in the life of an animal.
It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a Blog the Change event, but even with the distance of time (6 months), I knew fairly quickly what I wanted to blog about today… organizations that helps pets and their people.
It’s been something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Pamela from Something Wagging This way Comes first brought it to my attention with her Blog the Change post “Want to Protect Animals? Care About People. “ In it she talked about the connection between animal welfare issued and people in need. It’s probably something we don’t often think about, but as she pointed out, animals don’t thrive where people don’t. We are dependent on one another in so many ways. By focusing on only one we neglect the other, and in the end, both fail. She encouraged us to find the “ways helping animals also helps people.”
This mindset has started to change how I look at animal welfare issues. Yes, I can rail at the injustice done to animals. I can complain, bitch and moan about the fact that so many people surrender their pets at kill shelters when the going gets rough, but the reality is that is ALL I am doing. Nothing more. I am not making a difference in changing the reality. In effect, I am whining.
More and more I am taking a look at how I can contribute to making a difference that helps both the animal and their person. Sometimes it’s helping a pet get into rescue instead of being sold on Craigslist (much to the relief of the owner), sometimes it’s bringing attention to an organization that treats both the person and their human (like Downtown Dog Rescue) and sometimes it’s contributing money to the group that is making a difference and needs funds to continue doing so.
Solving the pet overpopulation problem and animal welfare issues cannot be fought on any one single front. It must include a more holistic approach. One only has to hear about battered women shelters starting to accept the battered woman AND her pet to know that they are connected. Hurricane Katrina changed how states and the federal government handle emergency evacuations. Pets are a part of the process now.
So today I would like to encourage you to support those organizations that make a difference in your communities. Care about animals? Great! Look for groups who make a difference in helping animals, but also help the people who own them. I guarantee you there is probably one in almost every community. They are out there, doing the hand work. Go find them. Support them. Volunteer for them. Share their work with your friends and family.
Don’t have any organizations in your area that fit the bill? Then consider starting one in your own community.
Need some ideas? Here are just a few organizations that make a difference in their own communities. I hope they will serve as inspiration for all of us.
Downtown Dog Rescue – This is a great organization located in Los Angeles County, California. They focus on rescuing dogs, but they do so in a way that looks at the problem holistically. They provide services for low-income pet owners and help in ways that allows them to keep their pets.
“…volunteers will fix a fence to secure a yard, foot a vet bill, teach a family to housebreak their dog. They offer low-cost spaying and neutering, and hold training classes for dogs and owners in a nearby vacant lot.” Program with tiny budget makes huge difference for pets, owners, Lost Angeles Times, dated May 11, 2013
The Pet Project - This is a local Minnesota organization that, like Downtown Dog Rescue, focuses on keeping people and their pets together by providing pet food to food shelves and offering assistance with veterinary care whenever possible. They provide resources and information on housing, local food shelf locations and veterinary care. They would love to receive your donations (monetary and otherwise) so they can help more people and pets in need. It’s all about keeping pets with their people whenever possible.
“It’s part of a fledgling movement nationally to make sure people don’t have to choose between keeping food in the kitchen or Fido in the living room.” Kibble with a cause fills Fido’s bowl, StarTribune, dated September 13, 2009.
Animal Care Network – Be The Change for Animals featured Pam Porteous and the Animal Care Network in the 4animals section back on April 30, 2012. That article highlighted the work that Pam is doing in her community of Flint, Michigan. Focused on keeping owners and their pets together, Pam and ACN have ensured pets made it to spay/neuter clinics by picking them up and delivering them to the clinic and then back home. They have conducted home checks on animals, done wellness checks, offered low-cost spay and neuter clinics and Pam her self “educates families and distributes food, water, hundreds of doghouses, thousands of straw bales and other supplies.” She also offers neighborhood talks on how to care for pets.
“Her neighborhood talks cover the importance of spays/neuters, vaccines, and the dangers of cold weather, hot weather, and chaining.” 4animals: Stories to Inspire, dated April 30, 2012
I’ve been wanting to give a shout out to my dog’s veterinarian for some time now. She is truly one of the best, especially if you have a shy or fearful dog. My visit with her yesterday just reminded me why I love her so much.
I first discovered Dr. DeWoskin back when I first adopted Daisy (almost 7 years ago). In those days, Daisy was a very scared puppy mill girl. She was fearful of people and new places, and cowered at the slightest sound. Dr. DeWoskin and the staff went out of their way to make Daisy feel more comfortable. They gave her space, shared treats to help make things a little less scary and used slow movements to check her out. Because of their efforts and kindness, Daisy now looks forward to going to the vet. She is only too happy to see Dr. DeWoskin or the staff because she knows yummy treats and gentle hands will be the experience of the day.
Yesterday was Maggie’s first visit with Dr. DeWoskin, and once again she reaffirmed to me why I continue to bring all my dogs to her. Here is how Maggie’s first encounter went with Dr. DeWoskin:
- She came into the exam room and instead of coming right over to Maggie, she sat down on the floor opposite from her.
- She talked with me and watched Maggie as she opened a package of string cheese.
- As we talked about Maggie and how she was doing and where she came from, Dr. DeWoskin tossed her pieces of the cheese.
- Maggie might have been unsure about the room and the sounds in the clinic, but she was more than happy to eat the cheese. (Serious progress for a puppy mill girl!).
- Dr. DeWoskin didn’t stand for some time, but when she did she moved slowly and watched Maggie’s body language the whole time (Oh yeah. Did I mention that both she and the staff make an effort to understand dog body language? That is such a huge a win for the dogs!)
- She then laid a mat out on the exam table, so Maggie wouldn’t slip and slide, and examined her slowly while sharing cheese bits with her throughout the exam.
- When she was done, she gave Maggie her space and let her settle in.
As a result of her efforts, Maggie left her office much calmer and comfortable than she had been when we first got there.
I could be totally generalizing here, but I think it is pretty rare to find a vet who understands shy and fearful dogs. Dr. DeWoskin just “gets” it. I never feel like I am putting my dogs in a situation where I end up feeling guilty for subjecting them to their care.
I love that she watches a dog’s body language before making a move towards them. I love that the staff are as gentle as she is in caring for my pets. How often do you hear about veterinarians and their staff studying dog body language as a part of their day-to-day work?
So a big shout out to Dr. Melissa DeWoskin! This is why I continue to drive across town to see you. You totally rock!
I should also mention that Dr. Lillie and Dr. Mead are great too!
That is the question I asked myself as I read some recent data on dogs and canine cancer. The data was posted on The Institute of Canine Biology but came from a scientific veterinary review article by Jane Dobson titled “Breed-Predispositions to Cancer in Pedigree Dogs”.
The data was both interesting and sad. In breeds where the prevalence of cancer is high, the attributing factor is most likely genetics. Certain breeds of dogs are just genetically pre-disposed to get cancer more than others. Whether this is due to closed breed registries I cannot say (I’m just not knowledgable enough about dog breeding to know) but it certainly does give one pause to wonder.
As I looked at the list of dogs, I automatically found myself scrolling down the list to see where Shetland Sheepdogs and Labrador Retrievers fell. Labs were higher on the list (31%) than Shelties (22%), but certainly not as high as the irish Water Spaniel (55.8%) or the Flat-coated Retriever (50.3%).
I found myself whispering a silent “Thank God” and then wondering to myself whether a higher-risk for cancer would change how I felt about a certain breed. If Shetland Sheepdogs were higher on the list would I feel differently about getting a Sheltie again? Would the data influence my decision to stay away from certain breeds? To be honest, I don’t think so, but then again, I am not the owner of a Bernese Mountain Dog or a Vizsla or a Rottweiler or one of the other breeds topping the list. Maybe I would feel differently if my favorite breed was one of these dogs. I just don’t know.
How about you? Would you choose another breed of dog if you knew cancer was more of a possibility?
PDAs. I don’t like them. No. Not those kind of PDAs (although sometimes they can be a bit much). It’s those kind that include public recognition – Employee of the Month, public awards in front of you colleagues, etc. I’m generally embarrassed and uncomfortable by them, at least when I am the recipient.
I also don’t like pandering for votes. It also makes me uncomfortable. It feels like I am saying “Rah! Rah me! Pay attention to me! Vote for me!”
However, today I am going to do a little pandering. Well actually, I’m going to pander for your votes for Cupcake AND for Benny of Two French Bulldogs. He has liver cancer and your votes, and the result it will bring, will help money to pay for his treatment. It’s a cause I can fully support.
So what do you have to do?
Vote for Cupcake.
Vote for other dogs.
Vote for Benny.
You have until September 1st.
About the voting process. Voting opened Sunday at 12:00 noon Eastern Standard time (NYC) and is limited to one IP ADDRESS per 24 hour period. For those of you with multi-computer households it is important to remember that any smart phone, tablet, computer that shares a network also shares an IP address. If you vote on your computer then try and vote on your phone, chances are it won’t work, unless you disconnect from your network. If someone tells you they tried to vote and they can’t, then that is probably the issue.
Yesterday I read a painfully poignant post by Phyllis DeGioia about her dog, Dodger and her decision to put him down due to his aggression (“Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It’s the Best Choice“). Her words were not only powerful because they came from her own experience, but also because they so clearly articulated the conflicting emotions and guilt one feels when faced with euthanizing a dog due to aggression.
Societally, it is so much more acceptable to euthanize a dog for old age or illness than it is for a dog with behavioral issues. And yet, many a pet owner has had to face making this type of decision. I admire Phyllis for her courage in writing about her decision to euthanize Dodger.
In 2011, I wrote about a dog park friend who had to make this difficult decision after her cream-colored Golden Retriever showed serious signs of aggression at just 11 months old. After trying to resolve the issues herself, then seeking out a trainer, and finally taking Sally to a veterinarian animal behaviorist at the University of Minnesota, she was faced with two options, constantly supervise and manage Sally around her two young children or put her to sleep. The veterinarian made it very clear that Sally’s aggression was not something that would ever get better. It was not her or her husband’s fault. There was simply something wrong with her wiring. And so, she made the difficult decision to put her to sleep. I cried with her as she walked with Sally one last time around the dog park. It was a heartbreaking a decision, but I supported her.
Sometimes something just goes wrong with a dog. He is born with genetically bad wiring or is mentally ill or has suffered so much from abuse, that euthanizing him is almost a kindness rather than a cruelty.
I feel for the pet parent who has ever had to make this type of decision. It’s never an easy one. There is so much guilt, shame and fear. Guilt because you feel like there was something more you could have done or that you somehow failed your dog. Shame that others will think you a bad pet owner. Fear at what might have happened if you hadn’t made such a difficult decision.
I used to be one of those people who thought every dog could be saved, but my experience as a shelter volunteer has taught me otherwise. Probably one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make was to recommend a dog I loved, one I had worked with for weeks, be put to sleep. His aggression had reached such a level that even I, the one who loved him most, became afraid of him.
Phyllis’ own words from her experience with Dodger summed up exactly my last experience with him – “Being attacked by someone you love is a visceral slam to your gut. For a short while, rational thought is gone. It happens so quickly. Your body shakes, and your heart pounds as the instinctive fight-or-flight response is set off.” My recommendation to euthanize him was not an easy one, but I don’t doubt my decision to do so. Sometimes, the most difficult decision is the right one.
Reading Phyllis’ piece made me think of one I had recently read on Patricia McConnell’s blog titled, “Love, Guilt & Putting Dogs Down.” Although Patricia’s post was addressing the guilt we all feel as pet owners when we have to say goodbye to beloved pets, I think these words were particularly applicable to those who must make the difficult decision to put an aggressive or damaged dog down.
“It is easier to believe that we are always responsible (‘if only I had done/not done this one thing….’) than it is to accept this painful truth: We are not in control of the world. Stuff happens. Bad stuff. As brilliant and responsible and hard-working and control-freaky that we are, sometimes, bad stuff just happens. Good people die when they shouldn’t. Gorgeous dogs brimming with health, except for that tumor or those crappy kidneys, die long before their time. Dogs who are otherwise healthy but are a severe health risk to others end up being put down. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it hurts like hell. But please please, if you’ve moved heaven and earth to save a dog and haven’t been able to… just remember: Stuff happens. We can’t control everything. (Difficult words to dog trainers I know. . . Aren’t we all control freaks to some extent?) You didn’t fail. You tried as hard as you could. It’s okay.” (“Love, Guilt & Putting Dogs Down“, by Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash)
If you have ever had to euthanize a pet for reasons other than illness or old age, I feel for you. You carry a burden that is more difficult to bear than most. It’s hard enough to euthanize a pet when they are ill and you know that you are easing their pain, but harder still to do so when it involves dog aggression or mental illness. Shame and guilt might be feelings you have, but they have no place here.
Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes doing everything you can to save a dog is just not enough. You did your best. You did not fail.