Thursday, December 3, 2009

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary - Thursday

I guess sometime in the night Colt decided I was okay because this morning he was a real cuddlebug.

That's a pretty big change from last night when every little noise seemed to startle him and it seemed like he had ants in his non-existant pants as he got up every few minutes to check out some new thing in the room.

I wish I had videotaped him when he first discovered the mirror on the wall because I've never seen a dog so fascinated by one. He jumped up on his hind legs to get a better look into it and then when he saw my reflection in it, it was obvious he was quite confused about the whole thing. He then tried to climb through the mirror but that attempt didn't last long. Three more times over the course of the evening he jumped up on his hind legs looking into the mirror to see if the alternate universe was still there and each time he pawed at it to see if maybe this time he could get through to the other side.

It turned out that this was Colt's first sleepover which explained all his nervousness with everything. Poor guy. Well, next time I'm sure he'll be much better.

Shortly after returning Colt to his happy caregiver, I went back to Dogtown to talk to some group leaders, hoping to get some clues as to what makes the place work so well. Our conversation was all over the place and I won't bore you with the details, at least not right now, but maybe at a later date when I've got nothing else to bore you with, but we talked about hiring policies (attitude just as important if not more important than experience and education), animal admissions (in the beginning they used to take in all animals but can't obviously do that anymore), training methodologies (pretty well only positive reinforcement methods), aggressive dogs/long term stay dogs (while Best Friends is better than almost any shelter, it still can't replace a real home), where everyone came from (from all over) and a bunch of other things which I can't remember now.

One of the group leaders was nice enough to take me on a bit of a tour - probably thought that was the only way she could get rid of me - and she was probably right. She showed me around the grooming facility where every dog at BFAS gets groomed about once a month. In the photo below, the dog is having its third ever grooming session and it looks a bit anxious but that's a vast improvement from its first groom session when it had to wear a muzzle.

Next to the groomers is the hydrotherapy tank (jacuzzi with a treadmill at the bottom of it) where dogs go to get a water workout. The tank is quite the contraption and I think I want one in my house for myself. It would be like getting a spa treatment and workout at the same time.

I was then brought over to one of the dog octagons where I met Lucas again (from Monday) and was shown some of the reports the caregivers have to fill in. Each dog pretty well has a thick folder of information on them.

Here's an example of the behaviour form:

Look at how detailed that is and that's just the one form which gets updated as the dog progresses at BFAS. Other forms include volunteer observations, dog outings, daily notes and a host of others I can't remember.

After the tour, I had an hour to walk a couple of dogs, Rosco and Julep, both great dogs, both highly adoptable.



Over lunch I sat down and had a conversation with Jana de Peyer who is one of the founders of BFAS and Barbara Williamson, a media relations manager for BFAS. I asked a bunch of questions about what it takes to run a successful animal welfare organization and Jana basically said that because it's not an animal problem we have, but a people problem, it's really important to focus on people and not just spend all one's time and resources caring for animals.

I got the sense from Jana and Barbara, as I had the moment I walked into the welcoming center at BFAS that first day, that from top management on down, how people are treated is just as important as how animals are treated.

Something else I got from that conversation was just how hard working those original 24 founders were. They all got their hands dirty and lugged buckets of water around to all the dogs when there was no plumbing on the property or they drove around the country and sat at tables in front of stores asking for donations or they built enclosures and the first buildings or they fed the animals and shoveled their shit. Now sure there may have been some exaggeration there (though actually I don't think so) but whatever embellishments may be attached to those stories of their first years, there's no doubt that starting an animal welfare organization is a spectacularly hard job and one that not only doesn't pay well, it usually sucks all the money out of the people pretty quickly. So, whatever it was they did, they could have only achieved it through long hard and at times what must have seemed like endless labour.

Every Thursday lunch includes a BFAS general meeting and so at about 12:30 the microphone was passed around to a member of each department at Best Friends and each person talked for about 5 minutes about the week's newsworthy events. Like most people, meetings are not on my list of fun things I look forward to but I have to admit that listening to all the stories from Horse Haven and Piggy Paradise and Dogtown and Cat World and everyone else was very uplifting and not in a syrupy sort of way but in a by bricks and sweat we build a house sort of way.

One impressive piece of news came from the outreach department which had recently organized a Super Adoption event in L.A.(?) where 72 rescue groups got together and in 5 hours adopted out 400 animals. He just talked about the final numbers and everyone clapped but everyone was also clapping in appreciation of all the hours put into organizing such an event. Again, so much hard work. This animal welfare thing just ain't for sissies.

In the afternoon, I went to talk to Whitney Jones, one of Dogtown's four certified dog trainers. We talked about training philosophies and behavioural issues and I won't go into all the details here except to say that I asked her what she thought was one of the most important things a time and staff limited shelter could do for their dogs and she talked about enrichment. That's keeping the dogs as busy as possible, as interested as possible. A dog locked up in a cage with nothing to do but listen and watch other cage crazy dogs is one of the best ways to ruin what could have been an otherwise perfectly good animal.

The best enrichment is people time with the animals and since there will never be enough staff to go around regardless of the organization, that means volunteers and lots of them.

She also showed me a couple of food toys which I'd not seen before including this home made one, a pipe with both ends capped and holes drilled into the caps. It lasts longer than a food kong and is way cheaper:

I followed Whitney around a bit as she did some training with one dog to alleviate its dog aggression issues and then after that she supervised a first dog encounter between a newly arrived piggy looking Pit Bull named Ivy and her own dog Rio.

Whitney and Rio

Both sessions went by without any problems.

I've got the sessions on video but can't post them because I don't have the software on this laptop so it'll have to wait until I get back to Toronto.

And that was Thursday. No sleepover dog tonight because I needed to get a bunch of stuff sorted out and also I wanted to get caught up on the latest THS news.


Anonymous said...

What an amazing place! I just wish we had something of that calibre in this area. I would work or volunteer there for sure. What I like most is the whole enrichment thing.

I realize there's a big difference between a sanctuary like BF and a shelter (oh & hospital???) like THS but when I think of the kind of lives those (THS) dogs have compared to the BF dogs, it makes me want to cry. A hydrotherapy tub? I doubt the THS dogs even get a bath. Take a look at the pictures on the website. The cheap bastards don't even get the long-haired dogs groomed.

We can only hope they put someone in charge who has some new, innovative ideas and doesn't stick to the same old routine.

JOanne said...

Did everyone or anyone see the one-page spread in the Metro newspaper this morning (wonder what that cost?)? More empty blah, blah, blah about what is going on at THS. Have to check the other papers and see if there is anything of like kind in those publications..... Still, I intend to donate to THS through OSPCA and that requires a huge leap of faith BUT I intend to do it in any event. I am going to holdfast to my fervent hope that the money will go to the animals care. As I said, they have been betrayed twice, once by whoever did not live up to their responsibility and obligation to care for them for their entire lives, twice by THS .... I certainly hope there is not a third time. I can hardly wait to see what wonderful ideas you bring back from BF......

Ian said...

Great series you`ve done here.
Very interesting.
Wonderful pictures.
Really enjoyed it and look forward to the rest when you get back.
Thank you very much and thank you to all those wonderful folks at Best Friends who are giving so much to the animals.

House of the Discarded said...

For years I've tooted the horn, "Rescue can't be about JUST the animals - it has to be a PEOPLE organization!"
How exciting to hear the founders of BFAS think the same way! Usually when I say that to people, they think I'm crazy, but it's really true. It's a "people business".


Anonymous said...

Joanne, I totally saw that one page spread. I wonder how much it cost to print that??? It certainly wasn't very enlightning more like blah blah blah is right.

Anyway getting together a bag of toys, collars, towels, cat treats and some food to drop off tho THS.

I think about the animals there a lot these days


Laura HP said...

Another wonderful day! Now I want to go =) I love hearing about the enrichment ideas.
I definitely think you aren't really doing your job as a rescue if all you do is warehouse the need to train them, or in the case of small animals, socialize them. Nobody wants to adopt some crazy biting thing. BFAS sounds like such a wonderful place!! Colt has a very sweet face =)

For people dropping off stuff at THS, veggies for the small animals would be much appreciated! They are trying to get the bunnies in particular on a healthier diet as many of them are overweight, but there aren't enough greens to feed 60 of them!