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Dog body language – What do you see?

June 9, 2013 14 comments

The human brain can be a funny thing.

Back when I was a pet sitter, I found myself so aware of everything that was going on around me. I would capture the faintest smell of spring flowers as I walked by someone’s well-tended garden. I knew all the sounds in the neighborhoods where I walked my client’s dogs – a train, a car in need of repair, a bird singing in the trees, a dog barking in a neighbor’s yard. I even noticed when something was out of place or unusual.

Sunrises and sunsets were so much more spectacular then too. I noticed how the sun lit up the clouds and how it changed the color of the sky or how it reflected on the water or off the trees.

I was an observer. All of my senses were engaged. Everything was in technicolor and came with surround sound. I noticed when a dog I was walking was nervous or scared or excited. I watched his every movement – a prick of the ears, a change in breathing, a stiffness to their gait. I observed them all, and from those observations I found myself better able to assess what I needed to do to help them or encourage them or protect them from harm.

But now that I am back in the corporate world, I am finding my senses dulled once again. Instead of observing my environment as separate and distinct pieces, I find my brain trying to mush them altogether like some hazy, out of focus memory.

Now when I observe a dog’s behavior, I find myself rushing past the small, but distinctly different, components and making a summation of the dog’s behavior based on a few behavioral cues. Not a good thing if you’re trying to better understand dog behavior (yes, I really am that much of a dog geek).

That’s why I was excited to participate in a recent group discussion about dog behavior. Instead of trying to interpret what a dog was trying to convey, the only goal of the group discussion was to record your observations of the dog – a furrowed brow, dilated pupils, ear position, body direction, etc. It was amazing how much more was captured as different people joined in on the discussion. It was also amazing how much I had missed.  Yikes.

It made me realize just how much I had lost some of those skills I had honed as a pet sitter. How much easier it had become to skip past those small, little cues and head on over to making an assessment. It is clear that I have a lot to re-learn.

While I practice getting better at the observation part, I thought you guys might all want to try your hand at recording your own observations. Below are two photos (Photo A and Photo B) taken at my dog park. What do you see? What is noticeable about each of the dogs in the photos? What do you notice about their bodies, their ears, their eyes?

I’d love to get your observations.

IMG_0536

Photo A

Photo B

Photo B

Book Review: As Bright as the Sun

March 20, 2013 13 comments

As Bright as the SunJust before Christmas, a friend recommended a book to me. Being a sucker for a good book, I immediately checked it out on Amazon. It didn’t take much for me to know that I needed to add it to my Christmas list. I am so glad I did.

The book is called “As Bright as the Sun” by Cynthia Schlichting, and is about a strong but vulnerable victim of the dog fighting world, Bella.

I can hardly explain some of the emotions I felt as Cynthia wove the tale of Bella’s life, as told from her perspective. Some of the details are true and some of them are based on Cynthia’s imaginings of what happened to Bella prior to coming to live with them. It works. I found myself smiling at times and crying at others as I followed Bella on her treacherous journey. If Cynthia wanted to place the reader in Bella’s shoes, then she did a good job.

The book starts out with Bella as a puppy and follows her as she is kidnapped from her loving family and forced into the dark, cruel and sick world of dog fighting. For years, Bella is used and abused by her captors. She is bred over and over again for her puppies – all forced into the dog fighting ring, and she is also forced to fight. It was during her last fight (more of an assassination than a fight) that Bella faces her worst moment. She is tossed into a ring with a fighting dog with her legs tied together, unable to defend herself. Her captors intended for her to die there. Instead, she survived. So they tossed her into a roadside ditch – pregnant, bleeding, skin and ears ripped up, she lay there in that ditch all but giving up on life until a good samaritan comes along and saves her. A guardian angel was looking over Bella that day and the days to come.

By all odds, Bella ends up at the now infamous Chesterfield County Animal Shelter, where employees shot and killed 22 of their dogs and buried them in a landfill. Thank goodness she was pulled by a rescue before she could suffer that fate. The rescue cares for Bella’s wounded body and soul and shares her story on Facebook, where it is passed on by many.

It is there that Cynthia and her husband, Brian, read Bella’s story and decide they are the ones to give her a new home. What follows is their, and Bella’s, journey to bring her home (to Minnesota) and to give her a chance at a new life. She meets her new doggie siblings, Foster and Jane, and learns what being a dog really is when you live in a home where people love you.

It’s a powerful story and one worth reading

If I had but one wish it would have been that Cynthia had shared more about Bella’s life after she was rescued. For those of us with dogs who have suffered a horrible beginning in life, we want to know how she, and her husband, Brian, helped Bella to assimilate into her new world. But, I think I know why Cynthia chose to focus more of her time and attention on Bella’s story. It’s because Bella’s story is not just a story about Bella, it’s a story about every fighting dog still living in that world. It’s the story of those who try to help these dogs and what really happens in that cruel sadistic world that some consider a sport. If you didn’t know much about dog fighting before, you will after reading Bella’s story. You can even follow the work Cynthia continues to do to bring attention to this issue on her Facebook page.

Reading Bella’s story opened my eyes even more to the horrible world Bella lived in for so many years. She is a symbol for those who have come before her, and all those who will, no doubt, come after her. If you get a chance, I would encourage you to read her story. It’s one worth reading.

Let Us All Be For Dogs

August 7, 2012 10 comments

Dog Files creator and filmmaker, Ken Bell, recently posted a video on his blog (Iowa Congressman Steve King Defends The Right To Watch Dog Fighting) showing Congressman Steve King from Iowa speaking about his views on dog fighting and his position on creating laws to outlaw it. As you can imagine, it created quite an outrage in the dog world and beyond.

Suddenly, what was mostly about a Congressman’s support for a cruel practice that often has criminal elements attached to it, became some sort of political attack on the candidate himself (ah yes, this is the world we appear to live in today).  Supporters of Mr. King started to go a little crazy on Kenn Bell. They attacked him viciously for posting the video. They accused him of playing partisan politics and said hateful things to him and others who commented on his post.

Kenn certainly could have let it all go on and on and let the commenters duke it out on his blog. He could have just let it go and not commented at all. He also could have taken the post down, which I am sure was part of motivation of the attackers. But, instead he did something classy. He wrote a great post that highlighted something I think all of us dog lovers can rally around.

I’ll let you read his post, Partisan Politics? I’m On The Side Of The Dogs: Dog Files Opinion, but let me share with you the one statement that really clicked with me:

And the ONLY way we will EVER be able to fight animal abuse is to successfully maneuver through the government corridors of Washington, DC. And the ONLY way to do that is with a UNITED FRONT OF DOG LOVERS.

I agree with Ken. Let’s stop letting the politicians and their minions tell us what we stand for. Let us not play along with their game to use dogs to get us to side with them on a particular issue. Let us become a united front against legislation that hurts dogs and be for legislation that supports them.

Let us all be for dogs.

Fighting Puppy Mills – Do have what it takes? She does.

March 12, 2012 7 comments

A couple of months ago, I met a wonderful animal advocate named Dana Fedman, after she left a comment on my blog. Dana is a CPDT-KA dog trainer from the great state of Iowa, but she is also actively involved in fighting puppy mills, Breed-Specific Legislation and other animal advocacy issues in her state. I was so fascinated by Dana and her motivation to get actively involved in some of the issues that I feel so strongly about, especially puppy mill legislation, that I asked her for an interview. Below, is that interview in its entirety. My hope is that by sharing Dan’s story and how she got involved in being an advocate for animals, it might motivate others (like you) to get involved too. (Please note: This interview occurred on 2011. I am posting it now – in March 2012 – as part of my puppy mill series.)

I chose to share this interview with you this week because I am hoping it will motivate you to contact your state legislator or to sign the petition asking state legislators to pass the MN Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill. Looking to do more? Here are some ideas on how to get involved with the Breeder regulation Bill in Minnesota.

My thanks to Dana for being so willing to answer my many questions about what she does.

1. You have been involved in the work to change the Iowa law regarding enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act for USDA licensed kennels. How did you first get started?

I took some instruction on lobbying from our local shelter a few years ago but had never worked up the gumption to actually go to the State Capitol and personally speak to my representatives. My involvement in the past was limited to writing e-mails or faxes and making phone calls, leaving messages at the switchboard, and whenever possible telling my senator or representative about my perspective on how these laws affect companion animals and the people who purchase pets from high-volume commercial breeders.

2. What motivated you to first get involved?

Seeing firsthand the heartache and financial loss experienced by hapless consumers of factory-farmed dogs.

3. Were you nervous about getting involved? And, if so, how did you overcome it?

As a former radio announcer, it’s not difficult for me to write or speak in public. The way to overcome your fear of that is to focus on writing to or talking to one friendly person while at the same time remembering that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time! What is difficult for me is knowing all the angles of the issue so that potential objections are answered early in the conversation and to restrict what I say to bullet points.

4. What surprised you once you did get involved?

How little difference there is between politics in adult life and life on the grade school playground.

5. As an animal advocate in Iowa, what are some of the things you have done to try to influence your state representatives?

I’ve worked up to speaking directly to my legislators by volunteering for our open-access shelter. Through that experience I’ve learned how things work regarding companion animals in Iowa, and it’s not pretty.

I’ve worked with the shelter’s leadership to change Des Moines’ breed-specific ordinance and lay groundwork for State “puppy lemon laws.”

I’ve spoken at Des Moines City Council meetings on several non-animal issues the last few years, one that affected a real estate development in my neighborhood that would have literally crushed the streets and storm water infrastructure. We fought City Hall and won!

During the work on BSL, I gave them a presentation on dog bite statistics and how our City’s Animal Control was spending more time impounding “vicious by breed” dogs who weren’t running at large or biting people than dealing with actual animal control!

After volunteering as a trainer at that shelter for quite a few years, I used other skills by helping to write new model dangerous/vicious dog ordinances that are now used in our region, but sadly, not in Des Moines.

A few years ago, I had a phone conversation with a high-level staff member of an influential (on Senate ag and ag appropriations committees) senator about proposed changes to the federal Animal Welfare Act as it applies to puppy factories and what the outcome is for consumers.

When there is an animal welfare issue that needs phone calls, faxes or e-mails, I am on a list of grassroots contacts to phone, fax or write legislators at a moment’s notice.

There was a Lobby Day and Iowa Voters for Companion Animals put out a plea for people to come to the Capitol and talk to legislators about the “Ag-Gag Bill.” I finally decided to try it and actually go there and talk to my legislators face-to-face. This is a bill making it illegal to photograph, take video or sound recordings inside an animal facility or any other agricultural business, or to possess photographs, video or sound recordings of the same. The bill also proposes to make it illegal to take a job at an agricultural business under false pretenses with the purpose of “staging” animal abuse only to photograph, video and/or sound record and selectively edit it, thereby damaging and interrupting the business to fundraise for animal rights groups thereby dismantling the entire agricultural industry. Uh-huh. I’m serious.

I talked to my Senator about this bill that had already passed the House. I’d called and e-mailed him many times on this issue. He was responsive, but felt that there was a difference between livestock and companion animal agriculture and that the Ag-Gag bill would not affect dog breeders. My senator could not tell me how this bill excluded puppy factories and I was not satisfied with that answer.

I went to the Representative who introduced the Ag-Gag bill and talked to her for almost an hour. She had recently spoken at the Iowa Pet Breeders Association’s annual conference. This is the commercial high-volume dog breeder’s trade group. She had her eyes opened to what a “puppy mill” is. I came down hard on her for introducing the Ag-Gag bill. She insisted that employees and managers of agribusiness should be the only ones to report mistreatment of animals in these facilities to authorities.

She did provide me with an answer about the reason puppy factories were excluded from the Ag-Gag bill: this category of commercial breeders were never included in the definition of “animal facility” within the bill. Therefore, they would not need to be excluded. Even so, there are usually other livestock on the premises of these breeding facilities that would be included in the Ag-Gag bill. (Did you get all that? I know.)

6. What has been your greatest challenge in trying to change your state’s laws? Your greatest frustration?

With the Ag-Gag Bill, my greatest frustrations are: 1) the unwillingness of the livestock producers and their trade associations to stop protecting their bad actors; and, 2) big ag controls more than I ever imagined.

7. What advice would you have for anyone interested in becoming involved in working to change the animal welfare laws in their own state?

Please, please become involved in your local shelter as either a donor or a volunteer. Foster homes are desperately needed. Supplies are needed. Educate yourself on animal neglect and cruelty issues in your state.

Encourage friends and family how to recognize a puppy mill (www.pupquest.org). Avoid buying dogs from the newspaper, pet stores (unless they are adopting out homeless pets), the internet, or a website where you are not allowed to see where the animals are kept or meet the parents.

Find out if dogfighting and cockfighting are common in your state. Are they felonies?

Check into breed-specific ordinances brewing in your city.

8. What’s up next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m waiting for the next Legislative session to start. The Ag-Gag bill did not make it to the Senate floor last session. The Legislature had to work overtime for two months on a two-year budget and a $5.9 billion spending plan. Ag-Gag will undoubtedly spit up on the calendar sometime during the upcoming session starting January 9. If I’m needed, I’ll call, e-mail, fax or go down there and squeak up!

(Blogger’s Note: Sadly, the Ag-Gag bill did indeed pass in Iowa just a few weeks ago. I wrote about this news just recently, but I encourage you to check out the impacts this bill will have on animal advocacy in the The Gazette.

There’s so much RIGHT about this pitbull story

October 25, 2011 27 comments


Coming on the heels of Pitbull Awareness Day, I couldn’t help but share this really amazing story. I say amazing because there is so much that is RIGHT about this story.

First, when the couple’s son brought home a pitbull, the mother (who was skeptical of having a pitbull in the home) didn’t make him get rid of Titan right away. Instead, she fell in love with him.

Second, Titan later saves this woman’s life.

Third, the sheriff recognizing that there are so few good stories about pitbulls, awarded Titan with a medal.

You just can’t beat that can you?

Sorry I couldn’t embed the video. (There appears to be something wrong with the station’s code.) But, here’s the link to the news story. It’s a good one to watch.

Dog Costumes That Fight Breed Specific-Legislation?

September 12, 2011 15 comments

When I first saw this posted on Facebook, I laughed. But the more I thought about it the more I wondered… Is this a serious product? Or, a tongue in cheek commentary on the ridiculousness of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)?

Either way, the message that is conveyed is one worth sharing.

Favorite Video Friday – No words needed

March 18, 2011 17 comments


No words are really needed for this week’s video. I think it does a good job in sharing the message.

But I will say that I personally believe that discriminating against one dog breed based on its breed is ridiculous and myopic. I have met a ton of dogs in my life and career and I can tell you from experience that the dog’s personality, and the owner’s responsibility towards their dog and its training, made far more difference than the breed of the dog.

So, this week enjoy a video with a message. A good one.

Oprah Winfrey vs. Michael Vick = The Interview

February 15, 2011 16 comments

Word is out today that Oprah Winfrey is going to interview Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback, Michael Vick (the show is set to air on February 24th). This may be Oprah’s most important interview ever. Not because Vick is the most important interview subject she’s ever had, but because people have such strong opinions on either side of this issue.

Football fans and Vick supporters will be watching to see if Oprah will treat Vick unfairly in the the interview. This comment taken from the Philly.com pretty much sums it up:

“Mike, if Oprah tries for ONE SECOND TO LECTURE YOU AND ACT LIKE YOUR MOMMY, GET UP AND WALK OUT.”

Animal rights and animal lovers will be angry she in interviewing Vick at all, but will likely be watching to see if she throws him softballs instead of asking him the hard questions. This comment taken from Winfrey’s own website is just an example:

“I am absolutely shocked that Oprah would have this monster on her show. The dogs he viciously abused and killed had no voice. It was bad enough that he is being feted in his city, but for Oprah to give him any time is unbelievable…”

Either way, Oprah is likely to garner a lot of attention and viewers for this one-on-one interview. In my opinion, she is going to have to play this one very carefully. There are a lot of strong emotions at play here and as we already know from past news stories on Michael Vick, there is little chance that everyone will see this interview the same way. Some will think she was too hard on him, while others will think she was too soft. Either way you look at it, I would not want to be Oprah Winfrey today or on February 24th.

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