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.
I was kind of going to take a pass on a blog post today, but then, a friend sent me this… Tevlin: Rain or sleet can’t stop your mail, but a tiny dog can (Star Tribune, dated June 25, 2014, by Jon Tevlin). Seriously. I’m not even kidding.
Here is a quick synopsis of the story:
- 11 lb dog gets loose from its leash while out on a walk.
- 11 lb dog runs to mail carrier and jumps up on her and barks.
- Owner apologizes profusely and gathers dog up (one added detail) and she apologizes profusely.
- The mail carrier does not react or say anything to the owner.
- Next day, Minneapolis Animal Control visits owner and reports mail carrier claims she was bitten on inner thigh and has several puncture wounds.
- Mail carrier claims to have gone to Urgent Care for treatment, but no photos can be provided.
- Owner agrees to get dog trained and to keep her on a short leash and to keep dog inside when mail is delivered.
- Next day, mail delivery is stopped for the entire building where the owner and dog reside.
- Post office manager notifies residents that they can either get a P.O. box or get rid of Nano (the dog).
- Post office manager refuses to respond to resident’s calls to discuss the issue.
- Now owner must move out or euthanize her dog. (Her agreement with Animal Control forbids her from giving the dog away.)
I can think of all kinds of cuss words I could use to describe how I am feeling about this story, but really, all I can think of is “Where the hell is the adult in this story?” I mean I read this and all I can see is a lot of miscommunication, lack of communication and just plain old poor communication. I don’t see a whole lot of negotiation or reasonable boundary setting. I don’t even see proof of the actual bite being shared.
So here is what I would love to do today. Instead of posting this story and having a bunch of people angry people post negative and hateful comments on my blog, I would love to have you, the reader, offer ideas of how this could have been handled differently. How would you have handled this if you were one of the adults in this story?
Feel free to rewrite it in a way that you think it could have gone if people had communicated effectively. How could it have been handled in a way that was better for all involved? What would you have done if you were any one of the parties involved in this situation?
I really look forward to hearing your ideas.
Have you ever had a dog escape your arms or car or home? What is the first thing you do? If you’re like most people, you chase after them. They run and then you run. It seems almost instinctual, doesn’t it?
I’ve come to believe that it REALLY IS INSTINCT that takes over when we chase after our loose dog(s). It’s not just something we do when our own pets get loose, but something we do when a friend’s dog gets out of the house or when we see a stray dog running down the street or the highway. There is even a recent video showing police officers chasing after a dog on a highway in California. They never even had a chance of catching him. It was a losing proposition.
The problem with our first instinct (to chase) is that it rarely gets us closer to getting them. In fact, the more we run the more they run, and in most cases, they run even harder and faster. It must be pretty scary seeing a bunch of people chasing you. (Heck! It’s scary being a human and having a bunch of people chasing you! I would run too!) I don’t imagine a dog is likely to stop and ask itself “Does that person mean me harm?” No. They’re probably thinking “I am in danger. I need to run!”
The truth is it can be pretty hard to go against the instinct to chase a loose dog, but we really must learn to so, because when we chase we risk putting ourselves and the loose pet in danger.
This past week, a lost dog was lost forever when a good samaritan gave chase. The person was only trying to help. They saw a lost dog and wanted to reunite him with his owners, but in giving chase, they put Marty in more danger and sadly, he was hit by a car and killed. I cannot imagine how the person chasing him must have felt. One never expects to do a good deed and end up feeling like they did the opposite. I feel badly for both Marty’s family and the good samaritan. How could the person chasing Marty know what would happen? He/She was doing what was instinctual.
But what is instinctual is exactly what is most likely to put the dog in more danger.
There are a great many things I learned while working at our local animal shelter, but among the most helpful were the tips we received on how to get a loose dog back once it has slipped its leash or collar. I thought it might be helpful to share them here in the hopes that it will prevent one more family and good samaritan from feeling the pain of what happened to Marty. (Please note: These may not work with every dog, but they have worked with many.)
What to do if a dog gets loose:
- Stop, drop and lie down - It might sound silly, but dogs find the behavior odd. When you don’t give chase and instead lie down and lie still, a dog will get curious and will often come back to see if you are okay or to see what you are doing.
- Stop, drop, and curl into a ball – This is also a curious behavior for a dog. Because you are not moving and your hands are closely wrapped around your head, they see you as less of a threat and will come to check you out. This gives them a chance to sniff you and realize it’s you, their owner, or to allow you to pet them and grab their collar.
- Run in the opposite direction – What? Run away from the dog? That’s right. Some dogs love a good chase. Instead of you chasing them, let them chase you. Even if the dog is not up for a good chase, he may be curious about your odd behavior and follow along until you can get him into a building or car or someplace where it is easier to corral him.
- Sit down with your back or side to the dog and wait – Again, dogs are thrown off by this odd behavior and will become curious and approach. The other advantage is that by sitting down with your side or back to them, you appear less threatening and they are more likely to approach. If you have good treats, place a few around you to draw them near.
- Open a car door and ask the dog if she wants to go for a ride – It almost seems too simplistic and silly to be true, but many a dog has been fooled into hopping into a car because they were invited to go for a ride. It makes sense, especially if the dog has learned to associate the car with good things (e.g., the dog park).
Although it is no guarantee, I can tell you that I have seen nearly every one of these work with one of our shelter dogs. The key is to fight your instinct to chase the dog and do something that is not as instinctual. Instead, do what seems counter-intuitive to both you and the dog.
Have you had luck catching a loose dog doing something counter-intuitive? Please share your own experience. I would love to learn from you too.
My condolences go out to Marty’s family and the person who tried to help. May what happened to Marty be a an inspiration and reminder to us all so we can help reunite other lost dogs and their owners in his name.
Note: If you are chasing down a dog that has been lost for a few days or more, then I would recommend your read my other post “Why your lost dog may not run back to you” for more tips on how to capture a lost dog.
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
If there is one thing that drives me nuts at the dog park it’s dogs mobbing the front gate, the gate through which dogs enter and exit. There is so much energy at that front gate. The dog coming in is excited and amped up and the ones inside are excited and amped up and become even more so when they see another dog coming in who is in the same state.
When there is a mob by the front gate, I wait for the other dogs to leave. If they don’t, I ask their owners to come and get them. If that doesn’t happen, I leave and go to another gate or leave altogether. I won’t put my dogs at risk for an attack.
Last week I witnessed two dogs start to fight after an excited setter entered the park and several dogs mobbed the gate. The owner really should have waited until the dogs had moved away or until the owners moved their dogs away physically, but she didn’t. She probably wasn’t aware of the dangers in not waiting. As was expected, the excited setter was attacked by one of the dogs on the inside of the gate as soon he entered. And as the two wrangled a bit, several other dogs decided to join in. Fortunately for the dogs, the owners were close enough to intervene and did so quickly, but for a second there I thought it was going to devolve into something more.
Entering a dog park can be dangerous if an owner is not aware and does not plan ahead on what they will do if there is a mob at the gate. Given my recent experience, I thought it might be good to share another video from Great Dog Productions showing just such a situation at a dog park. I am also including the slow motion version of the same video so you can see how quickly things can turn ugly. Watch as some of the other dogs join in after a black and white dog jumps the doodle that is entering the park.
Here is the slow motion version of the same video. Notice how the Lab is pushed away from the gate, but quickly comes back when the black and white dog goes after the doodle. Also notice the little Westie who started to join in. Watch the body language of the doodle. How is he feeling right about now? Scared? Nervous? You bet.
Trips to the dog park have been pretty rare lately. A combination of whole “fall back” time change and the extremely cold temperatures has made it near impossible to get there, except on the weekends. On Saturday it was warm enough to stay for over an hour. We saw lots of our friends and some new ones.
Towards the end of our walk, I was chatting with one of our friends when I noticed a yellow Lab running across the field with an Irish Terrier in hot pursuit. I watched as they had a fun game of chase, taking turns on chasing and playing.
Suddenly, two other dogs joined in on the pursuit and what was a fun game of chase quickly became harassment. The terrier, already over aroused and excited, amped it up, and then the other dogs joined in on the pursuit. Soon the Lab was running for his life and had one dog nipping at his side and two others on his tail.
I could tell the Lab wasn’t having fun anymore – his hackles were up and several times he stopped and rolled on his back in hopes of stopping the hot pursuit and harassment, but it only led to the terrier nipping at him continuously while the other two dogs barked and lunged and barked and lunged. He quickly got up and started running again.
Realizing that someone needed to intervene, I yelled “Hey! Hey! Three on one is no fun!” and started walking quickly towards the dogs. My shout got the other owner’s attention and they started running towards their dogs to intervene too. A couple of owners made a grab for their dogs and pulled them away from the interaction. The Lab ran back to his owner for reassurance and just like that, the whole incident dissipated.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s not often you see owners intervene like that on behalf of a dog. And yet in this case, all the owners intervened. It was awesome to see such involvement. I wish we all saw more of this type of owner behavior at dog parks.
Later, the Lab’s owner mentioned that he wasn’t sure what had happened because just before his dog had been playing chase very nicely. His comment was not surprising. All it took was an excited dog getting amped up and a couple other dogs keying in on that energy and joining in, and suddenly everything changes. It’s a great example of why owners must always be aware of what is going on and be ready to intervene if necessary.
This incident reminded me of another dog park video I had recently watched showing some great examples of dog harassment at a dog park and what happens when an owner intervenes. It’s a great reminder that we dog owners can help dissipate this kind of behavior by simply interrupting the behavior before it gets out of control. I hope you will watch and then pass it on.
Just a quick reminder – not all dogs should be at a dog park and not all dog parks are safe for dogs. You have to be your own dog’s advocate. Be aware. Be alert. Be ready to intervene.