Taking Action for Animals – What “Action” Means For Us

When I was invited to attend the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) annual Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) conference here in DC this past weekend, I eagerly looked up what lectures were being offered.  One session called “Saving Pets” stood out to me (and luckily was on the only day I was able to attend). This workshop featured four speakers: one about increasing adoptions in shelters, one about decreasing the number of puppies from puppy mills sold in pet stores, one from HSUS’s Pets for Life program about helping under served pet owners, and one from Coalition to Unchain Dogs, a group that builds fences for dogs who previously lived on a chain.

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I was impressed with how much of this conference truly revolved around the word “action.” In the “Saving Pets” workshop we were not only told about current welfare issues, but we were also given ways we can take action ourselves. What can I, as your average animal lover, do to help those dogs being bred purely for money? What can I do to increase the quality of life for dogs who need to live outside? What can I do to help people who might not be able to provide for their pets? Of course we can write checks (which is also needed!), but TAFA gave us some tools to go a step further.

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While the presentation about sheltering and puppy mills were full of great (and heartbreaking) information, it was the Pets for Life and Coalition to Unchain Dogs speakers that really stood out to me. Like I wrote about a few posts back, one issue in animal welfare that is currently at the forefront of my interests is helping under-resourced pet owners keep their pets instead of having them end up in shelters. Pets for Life and Coalition to Unchain Dogs both do just that. For more information about the two groups, I encourage you to follow the links to their websites in the previous sentence. I’d like to focus on some common themes behind the action that these groups are taking that translate to just about any work done when helping animals:

Leave your judgements at the door. I’m serious. All of them. Every single assumption you want to make about someone, all those stereotypes you believe in even if you swear up and down that you don’t – get rid of them. You will help more animals. I’m not saying it’s easy, in fact many times it can be quite the opposite – but when you go into a situation with your guard down and with no judgements, enormous changes can be made. That person might not take care of their pet the way that you do, but you sure as heck better realize that they love them just the same. Us having the mentality, “If they can’t afford to take it to the vet, they shouldn’t have it,” isn’t going to change anything about the situation at hand. So move on and start figuring out how you can help.

Relationship building is the most important task on your to-do list. Helping animals usually starts with helping their owners, and a lot of times the best way to get through to someone is to have a relationship with them. Relationships build trust and break down walls. Dolly’s Foundation is an amazing organization that offers owner support in Florida, and they report that it can sometimes take months before someone agrees to get their pet spayed. Dolly’s goes in judgement-free (ding ding ding!) and takes what little victories they can get, all the while building the relationship.

It is important to have the core belief that people love their pets. As Neya Warren of Coalition to Unchain Dogs said in her presentation, “A lack of resources does not equate to a lack of love.” Believing that people want the best for their pets – whether they can provide that or not – makes it that much easier to shed judgements and start helping.

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Ask open-ended questions. This is a tool I recently learned that I now use in all aspects of my life, but especially when doing application reviews with potential adopters. If you ask someone a yes or no question, it almost immediately removes an opportunity for discussion. Plus, you sort of make it seem like there is a right or wrong answer. Open-ended questions are amazing at getting people to open up and feel comfortable – plus it makes for a much more productive, two-sided conversation. We’ve all been there where we feel like we’re talking at someone. Open-ended questions put it on the other person to do some talking which, when working to help them or their pets, can be very important!

Nothing beats face-to-face interactions. I suppose I already covered this in the previous points, but the folks who make a huge difference are the ones who have their feet on the ground and who are out there meeting with the people who need their help. Facebook, tabling events, flyers, etc. are great, but they’re not going to get the job done. Laurie Maxwell from Pets for Life made the point that we have to get rid of the, “If you build it, they will come,” mentality. Most of the time it is knocking on doors that is needed most. It’s volunteers in the neighborhoods. It’s that face-to-face conversation and relationship building. It’s meeting them where they are.

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Those points are just a few snippets of the expertise from this workshop. I jotted down some phrases that came to mind as I listened to the presentations – concepts that came up over and over again – and the list included: feet on the ground, face-to-face, benefits everyone, non-judgmental, inspiring, conversation, dignity, listening, respect, open mind – and more. Do you see a common theme here? It’s time to start realizing that action for animals – especially those in shelters or who might end up in shelters – means action for people as well.

For more information about how you can help the people, and therefore the pets, in your community, check out HSUS’s Pets for Life program, including their extensive toolkit. I recommend you see if there are existing organizations in your community, like Ruff Riders in New York City, who are already working to keep pets with their families. If you prefer a different route for helping animals, I still encourage you to keep these “action” points in mind when you are working with pet owners, potential adopters, whoever. A little open mind goes a long way.

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P.S. – Check out who made it into HSUS’s All Animals Magazine!

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Guest Post: Campbell’s Fostermom Gets Her Wings

This post was originally published by Kate, co-founder of Jasmine’s House Inc., on the 367survivors.org website. It is a wonderful write up of how our team has come together to help Campbell (the #367 dog you first read about two weeks ago), and how the foundation of that team effort comes from Campbell’s unbelievable Fostermom.  It’s been an intense and difficult journey, but Campbell is in the best place he can be. Read more from Kate:

I have put a lot of challenging dogs in foster care and championed their success – successfully.  I have also fostered a good amount of challenging dogs myself.  But when my darling (and I mean that) friend Heather at Handsome Dan’s said, “this is different; this population of dogs is different,” while I said I believed her – I’m not really sure that I did.

I know Jasmine’s story well, and I know what Catalina went through with her to get her to a place of peace. I know Dan’s story, and Cherry’s to some extent. I know Halle’s story and little bits about Oscar and Little Red, too (note: for those of you who don’t know, these are all dogs from the Michael Vick case in 2007). And I know a number of “non-famous” dogs who came off chains and struggled just the same. But I only know what chained dogs go through when they finally go home based on second hand accounts. I really only “know” what chained dogs go through from the vantage point of someone who has met them after they’ve settled and healed to the extent possible. What I’ve learned, of late, is this: To know their true process for recovery, the ones that struggle the most, is to know them very differently.

The people – the humans with wings (I think, literally) who are willing to share their homes and lives with these survivors while they heal – they are truly my personal heroes. Campbell’s Fostermom is at the top of the list.

Since the incident two weeks ago when the neighbors unexpectedly beat a piñata right on the other side of the fence while he was outside, Cam has had a slow road uphill. He was really leery of outside before the incident – afterwards, forget it. The following days were full of stress colitis (bloody diarrhea), utter refusal to go outside (lots of patient, patient floor cleaning), refusal to eat, and generally panicked behavior. Fostermom and his training team, Amy and Juliana, had been making amazing progress with his stress-mouthing, but it reared its head again in full force after that incident – to the point that Fostermom would have to go in the other room at times and just let him be until he calmed down enough that she could interact again without him completely losing his mind.

He stopped eating and drinking for days. We considered fluids a few times but weighed the stress of administering them against the urgency – fortunately he managed to get enough chicken broth in that he stayed out of real danger. He also lost interest in training and toys because he was so stressed – both things that help to appropriately direct his energy and build his confidence. He was really in distress.

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At one point, he became so disconnected that Fostermom was feeling incredibly sad and scared for his wellbeing. Amy and Juliana made it a goal for Fostermom to focus on his wins to keep above water. When they were there Cam-sitting last week they snapped this photo of his progress board because it’s just so freaking awesome. Maybe it gives some perspective? Things like “drank chicken broth”  and “walked out of crate for chicken” can be so monumental for this dog that they are the progress-board-worthy high points. Put that into perspective for a minute.

One of the things that helped him through his low was his series of play dates/training sessions with Meghan and her magical dog, Kyra. It took a few days, but Kyra managed to pull Cam back out of the lurch just enough that Fostermom was able to connect with him again and start making new progress. He’s since had play dates with Amy’s dog Meera, and has a walking date with JH Foster Lady Bug this weekend, too (this happened and went super well – more details on that later!). In moderation, Cam’s dog interaction really helps to build him up!

memeThe last few days have been the best, and every day this week there have been more positive updates than negative. He snuggled a bit yesterday and today! He met the cat through the crate and did really well! He’s eating and drinking chicken broth more regularly! He’s going outside more than he was before! He’s able to listen to soft music in the car again! He’s barely been mouthy in the last few days and his stomach has settled enough that it’s no longer bloody diarrhea! Just regular runs when he’s upset.

Everything about Campbell is finding the fine balance between too much and too little, and it’s a dance that Fostermom is learning to master more and more with each passing moment. His daily routine and all the tailored things that fill it are his lifeline. Those of us close to his journey live for his little progress updates throughout the day. He’s an amazing, resilient, brave little man.

And really, Super Cam, in case you missed the memo: Your Fostermom definitely has wings.

If you can donate to Cam’s medical and behavioral fund, here’s the link. Campbell say THANK YOU!

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Guest Post: The Journey, Struggles & Impact of a #367 Dog

I’ve written a few times about my experience with the rescued #367 fighting bust dogs. I volunteered at the HSUS facility with a good friend of mine named Amy, and I was so grateful to have someone to share the intense emotions you experience on these deployments with. We actually just returned from our second trip to the temporary shelter and it was an even more inspiring visit than the first. Since our first deployment we have also helped in the transport and settling in of a dog that Jasmine’s House took in, Campbell. Amy is here to write more about her #367 experience and Campbell. 

When Juliana asked me to be a guest writer on her blog, I was mildly panicked. What the heck would I write about? How could I put the experience of helping the HSUS and #367 dogs into words? I’m still struggling to put form and shape to the feelings I have from my deployment. The feelings form invisible strings that attach to the people and dogs who I met while there, and now expand cross-country. Invisible as they may be, I feel their tug each time I see a Facebook post, blog, or email referencing the #367 dogs.

That’s it, that’s the best way that I can describe it. I feel like I’m forever linked to the fates of these dogs and the people who have any part in helping them. We are all bonded together, sharing a common experience, and are now tied together regardless of our differences.

People have asked me, “wasn’t it sad?” Was it? If you want to know if I cried, then yes – I did. Tears were shed, and they are still shed. But they are not shed out of something so simple as just sadness. It is sad what these dogs went through. Maddening, tragic, hateful, and baffling. These negative feelings are present, but I have little room for them. They are pushed aside by much bigger emotions: gratitude, triumph, joy. These dogs are rescued.

Rescued, so they can begin the next part of their journeys. I have been lucky enough to have a bigger role in one of these dogs’ lives. Campbell, Supercam, Camalamadingdong are all affectionate nicknames that have been given to a small tan pitbull, with scarred up back legs and ribs you can still see. He lived his life on a heavy chain, probably forgotten. He lived this life for 3 or 4 years, from our best guess. Jasmine’s House has taken him in and he is being fostered by a good friend of mine, close enough for me to be able to help in his progress.

Amy and Campbell.

Amy and Campbell. Photo by Heidi Moore Trasatti Photography.

Campbell inexplicably captured my heart. He is as difficult to explain as the experience of working with the #367 dogs. He has moments of unbridled joy and affection, followed by crippling fear. Every day is an emotional roller coaster. He makes us want to cry and laugh – it feels a bit manic to be a part of Campbell’s journey. Triumph and tragedy are tied together as he muddles through and tries to figure out what is happening in his life, and as we try to help him.

There are so many stories of these dogs as they come out of the HSUS facility and go into foster homes around the country. Comments abound of “Welcome home!” but I want to draw attention to the fact that each and every one of these dogs is at the beginning of the road home. Some will have swift adjustments and take to sleeping on beds, walking on busy streets, and snuggling with humans easily. Others, like Campbell, will take hard work and dedication to support them to learn to feel safe.

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Campbell is a victim of trauma. He has never lived in a home. Never been given the chance to show his affectionate side and get a snuggle. The prospect of a whole house to explore, walks outside, toys, petting, and treats that we all find wonderful and exciting can be frightening and overwhelming to a dog like Campbell. The UPS truck makes him hit the ground, and his foster mom gently picks him up and whispers soothing words as she carries him home. A few moments of butt scratches amps him up into a frenzy, causing him to bounce around the house, grabbing his foster mom, the couch cushions, anything he can get his mouth onto as he skitters across the floor. He simply doesn’t know how to handle any stimulation.

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Last Friday, we taught Campbell to sit. It was an excruciating process. Using a lure caused him to mouth our hands and arms in excitement as he tried to get the treat. He wouldn’t just offer a sit so we couldn’t try to capture it that way. We tried putting some tasty peanut butter on a wooden spoon to use as a lure to train it – he simply broke the spoon in half when he grabbed it in his mouth. Finally we taught him to target plastic kitchen spoon. And he sat. Again and again, we lured him into a sit. We had to keep training short so he didn’t get overstimulated. 10 clicks, 5 seconds of attention, lots of time in between to decompress. Campbell’s life is broken into small slices of experiences so he can swallow them, digest, and manage. By Sunday, he was offering sits consistently. He has figured out a way to communicate, a way to get rewards, a way to make sense of his new crazy world and he has grabbed onto it.

By Monday he wasn’t just offering sits, he was offering downs which his foster mom had only lured him into 3 or 4 times before he started to give them up all on his own. In 4 days he went from jumping and grabbing at whatever he wanted, to asking for things politely with a sit or a down. Campbell is starting to learn that he has some control in his world. The little light bulb above his head, dark for so long, has begun to flicker.

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Campbell demonstrating how he settles on his mat.

Still, we suffer setbacks each day. He hated an exercise pen we tried using to block him into a smaller area so he wouldn’t chew up the couch, so I came over to install a tie down. The sound of the drill terrified Campbell and he spent over an hour cowering by the front door, even after all the scary things were over. Walks outside are still a struggle, as Campbell is easily overwhelmed. He can only handle very short bouts of being outside. The noise of the television or radio is too much for him to handle and again he will retreat to the front door, curl into a ball, even when it’s at a volume his foster mom can’t hear.

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To be able to have such a big part in the life of one of these dogs is truly humbling to me. I struggle to live up to being enough for Cam. He makes me strive to learn more and to be better. Just as my #367 experience has done. The ups and downs we experience together so exactly mirror my feelings about the whole #367 experience that it is as if Campbell is the living version of my emotions. He is made up of sorrow, tragedy, hope, gratitude, joy, and determination.

Campbell’s progress will continue in fits and starts. Every small step forward will be a miraculous triumph for us. Every setback feels like a failure but in the end only increases our resolve to make Cam’s life better – and teaches us something new. Cam is a great teacher. He is teaching me to be a better dog trainer. He is teaching me to cherish light bulb moments. Most of all, he is teaching me to grab onto successes with my teeth and not let go.

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Cheers to You, New Year

Did anyone else catch where January ran off to? It’s like she came and went without even saying hello… rude! But I guess it’s not all January’s fault – we were also too busy to notice how quickly the days were passing.

Looking back, I’m realizing that January was a month of re-centering. Even though it felt like a total whirlwind with all four weeks blending together, I feel like I am starting the second month of 2014 more focused than ever on what I love doing: helping dogs. Working with the HSUS #367 dogs sparked the rejuvenation of my passion, and since then I have been reminded again and again of where I am right now and where I am capable of going this month, this year and, most importantly, this lifetime.

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have anything against them or the people who make them, I’ve just typically been the type of person who might set one here or there and then doesn’t exactly follow through. But 2014 has already proven to be influential despite the fact that I did not make any conscious resolutions. In the next handful of posts I’m going to be discussing in more detail the January (and beyond) happenings that have helped me realize 2014 is going to be quite an exceptional year:

1.  Working with the #367 dogs and helping with their transport to freedom. Here is Rudy, one of the three survivors that Jasmine’s House is taking in. This photo is from when we met him off the van after his trip from the HSUS temporary shelter. My friend Amy, who volunteered with me, and I will tell you guys what it’s been like to follow these dogs through their journey (spoiler alert: it’s been pretty spectacular!!!!).

Photo credit: Heidi Moore Trasatti Photography

Photo credit: Heidi Moore Trasatti Photography

2.  Hanging out with WHS Rudy (popular name, right?). I never realized how much I missed fostering until I spent more time with Rudy and his fosters. Stay tuned for a guest post from Eran about what fostering Rudy has been like!

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3.  Getting down to the wire with Paco and KPA. We’re less than two weeks out from the big weekend that will determine if we get our KPA-CTP certification or not. After all the work we’ve done, I’m getting pretty nervous that we are so close. It doesn’t help that Paco’s been a little under the weather lately (luckily nothing a little pumpkin can’t fix) and doesn’t want to do much more than what he’s pictured doing below. Will we be ready? We’ll talk about how the weekend goes as well as what finishing the course will mean for my career as a trainer. Please send all of your lucks to us February 15 & 16!

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We hope your 2014 has started off with as much fun and happiness as ours has! Thanks for being here with us as we head into year #3 for Peace, Love & Fostering :-).


Doing for Them What They Do For Us #367

Last week I told you guys about how I deployed as a volunteer to help with dogs being held from the well known #367 dog fighting bust that occurred back in August.  Well I have been home from that trip for a few days now, and have had the opportunity to reflect on what I learned and experienced.

Like I mentioned last week, it’s pretty difficult to put into words the way I feel about my time down there. We encounter so many emotions and thoughts and feelings while working for and with these dogs and most of them can’t really be transcribed onto paper (or a computer screen). But that, I felt, was one of the best parts. So much of last week felt new and invigorating to me. I went with my friend Amy, and at one point I felt like she put it best: “I only hope that I have made even one hundredth of the difference in their lives that they have made in mine.”

It’s true – while we are all there for the dogs, I believe those pups make far more impact on our lives than we do on theirs. To me that kind of sums up the true significance of these dogs and this case. They are touching people’s lives across the country by just being themselves and overcoming the odds. Sure, we give them a warm bed, fresh food and water, human affection and many other needs and wants that were probably never met for them, but they give us hope, inspiration, humbleness, strength, motivation, joy, satisfaction and so much more.

As I return back to “real life” and begin to get lost in the clutter and chaos of responsibilities that resumed almost immediately, I remind myself to slow down. I often take a minute to stop and picture the faces of the four-legged wiggling creatures that I fell in love with over those short five days, remembering how they were so special that they pulled me in and stole my heart even though I was convinced they wouldn’t. I remember all the extraordinary people I met, and how so many different walks of life are coming together for one same reason: the love of these dogs. Life is too short not to relish memories like giving a dog who has lived on a chain his whole life his daily post-dinner Kong that he has come to expect and enjoy.

So while I tried to do my part by giving fifty-two hours of service to these dogs, they have left a lifelong impact on me that far surpasses that – and for that I am so grateful.

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#367

If you are a dog lover – especially a pit bull lover – and you have Facebook, it is likely that you heard about the multi-state dog fighting bust that occurred in August 2013. In total,

Photo from hsus.org

Photo from hsus.org

367+ dogs were seized from throughout Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas after a three year investigation that resulted in the arrest of ten suspects (read more in the Humane Society of the United States’ press release). It was a huge score against animal cruelty.

This past weekend I deployed to the site where these dogs are being held, and I will be volunteering here for five days. The dogs have been at this temporary shelter since the raid – going on five months now – but of course continue to require daily care, which means volunteers are still needed. I jumped at the opportunity to meet and help them.

Because it is a federal investigation, most of the details about the case, including the dogs, are required to be kept under wraps. But what I can tell you is that working with these dogs is one of the most rewarding experiences of my short twenty four years. I have friends who’ve come here over the past few months and told me I’d feel this way, but I didn’t really believe them. I’ve seen a lot of pit bull rescue stuff, this can’t be *that* different, can it? It can.

It’s not a feeling you can grasp by hearing it from someone else. The only way for me to truly feel the effects of working with animals from a cruelty case is to see the dogs for myself: look them in the eye, get to know them as individuals, soak up their entire being. That is what you get to do when you are here volunteering. Sure, you are cleaning and feeding and exercising and working your butt off, but every little task you do is for those dogs. They are with you all day every day, and even the smallest interactions with them give insight into their resilience and strength.

I’m writing this post on night two and while I am completely and utterly exhausted, I’m so happy to know I still have three more days with these dogs, the other volunteers and the HSUS staff who make it all happen.  It’s like a big happy family and a really well-oiled machine all in one – a very exciting operation to be a part of, even if only in a small way.

HSUS and the ASPCA are two national groups who are working with these dogs right now, but there are two additional rescue groups who are making a difference in a big way: Handsome Dan’s Rescue and a rescue many of you should be familiar with if you’ve read this blog for a while now, Jasmine’s House. These rescues are teaming up to take some dogs from this case as soon as the dogs are released (stay tuned for more info on the dogs!). The rescues are going to cover expenses for the transport, medical needs, foster care, etc. of these cruelty survivors. If you’re interested in directly helping these dogs, check out more information from Handsome Dan. If you enjoy really cute puppies, keep an eye on the Jasmine’s House Facebook page because they currently have a 367 puppy in their foster program!

I’ve got so much to say about what I’ve learned from this experience, but I can barely keep my eyes open and have another ten-hour day at the shelter tomorrow so that will have to wait for next week. I will leave you with a quote that has deeply resonated with me in regards to these dogs and what they have faced:

The willow knows what the storm does not: that the power to endure harm outlives the power to inflict it.

Photo from facebook.com/humanesociety.

Photo from facebook.com/humanesociety.