Wednesday, December 31, 2008


This endless cycle. It's like your hunger. You eat. You're full. But you know in a few hours you'll have to eat again. And it's not like any meal is any less important than the last. It just becomes something you do. Something you have to do. You have to eat. You have to drink. You have to breathe. It's not like any breathe is any less important than the last. You have to sleep. You have to take each step. You have to save the next dog and the next and the next. It's not like any dog is any less important than the last. Sure, some dogs are your type of dog. Maybe you like the small ones with the big bug eyes. Or the smart ones that just seem to know. Or the dumb ones that smother you with kisses. Or the lost causes because they are just that. But still, you watch out for all the dogs. You don't want to lose a single one. When a dog's stay rolls on to week 4 then week 5 then week 6, your sleep suffers - dreams tinged with anxiety, breath turned to apnea. Then finally, in week 7 or 8 or 9, somehow, someone comes in and sees the dog and decides that it is the one. A little party goes off in your head, and after, you end up waiting for the look-where-he-is-now photos. And if that doesn't happen, if no one comes in, and the other thing happens, the unthinkable thing that you nevertheless think about all the time, then what do you do but gather up those thoughts, wrap them up, squeeze them smaller and smaller until they are nothing more than black specks of hard sand which abrade and create little scars but that is still better than letting those thoughts float free. Then you move on quickly, in case something catches up to you. Take the new dogs out for walks. They're new. There is much hope. The percentages are good that this one and this one and this one will find homes, but still, you judge them. You can't help it. How long will this one stay? How will this one be with other dogs? With cats? With strangers? With children? Is it a barker? How about separation anxiety? A rug ripper? Is a couch safe with this one? How about the kitchen table? The wall? Then you force yourself to stop. You remember to enjoy the moment, live the moment. That is what the dog is doing. It is pulling on the leash, greedy for each scent, sight, sound. That furry thing on four legs. Almost alien but always touching the earth, unencumbered and closer to fine. It lives life so much. It loves life so much.

With James at the helm, Toronto Animal Services South has found homes for hundreds of abandoned dogs this past year and, with hope, will continue to do so in the happy new year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The story of 3 dogs

Brown Dog is of the earth and he is digging a hole in the semi-frozen ground, mining after a barely there odor of rancid flesh and bone, something possibly edible, possibly delicious, though what edible thing wouldn't be the most succulent manna in his present state of protruding ribs starvation? He's been hungry for weeks now and thirsty too but the thirst has been kept in check by licking the dew off grass or lapping stagnant oil laced puddles or drinking carefully of rusty rain water in open tin cans. His hunger, though, cannot be satiated from eating grass or chewing the leather on a thrown away boot or gnawing on an old rubber tire that had a scent of blood on it. His hunger is a beast within and if he does not feed it, it will devour him instead.

The prize he receives for his digging efforts is a partial earthworm which he eats along with a mouthful of damp, icy dirt and though he is deathly ravenous, he knows that eating frozen dirt with flecks of worm flesh will not save him and so he moves on.

White Dog is of the moon and she travels alongside Brown Dog as he makes his way through the late night in search of food. He cannot see her but as sure as there are invisible scents in the air, he knows that she is there beside him. He hadn't sensed her until a few weeks ago when the hunger became a living thing in his belly but once he realized she was there, he understood that she had always been close and wondered why he had never perceived her presence before. She is like something at the other end of a leash but she doesn't pull at him to go faster or slower. Instead, she keeps pace with him, stopping whenever he stops, running whenever he runs. Sometimes, he turns his head and barks at her but she remains silent.

Brown Dog has been foraging well into the night and the balance between exhaustion and hunger is tipping in favour of exhaustion so he lies down to rest beneath some bushes still holding onto their dead, almost grey leaves. He sniffs the leaves and eats a couple of them but they taste bitter and mean. He licks up some of the snow that has begun to accumulate on the ground and then he gives in to his tired body and lies still, curled up with his nose buried in his tail. His eyes slowly shut then open, then shut, each time bringing him closer to a sleep from which he's not sure he'll awaken. Just before he finally closes his eyes completely, he thinks he sees the White Dog beside him but when he raises his head to look, the shimmer is gone. With the snow falling harder now, Brown Dog surrenders himself to sleep.

He dreams of his former life.

He dreams of the dogs that passed him by on the sidewalk while he spent his days in a backyard chained to a broken swing set. He dreams of stale, dry kibble which tasted of dust and ash but which he would chew his tail off for now. He dreams of the hated twelve foot chain that kept him prisoner. He dreams of the squirrels and cats that ran by him, just out of reach. He dreams of sharp chicken bones and stale bread crusts. He dreams of the one time a stranger threw him a pizza crust through the chain link fence. He dreams of the box of dog biscuits he was given when he was a year old. He dreams of the red haired boy who spent a few minutes with him every day on the way to school, who gave him pieces of apples, bananas, ham and cheese sandwiches, cookies. He dreams of burnt potato skins in crumpled sheets of shrill-against-his-teeth aluminum foil. He dreams of the older kids who yelled at him and threw firecrackers at him and poked at him through the fence with pocket knives. He dreams of shriveled carrots and wilted celery. He dreams of the day the family moved out and left him behind. He dreams of soggy potato chips. He dreams of listening for the family's return, trying to get a hint of their scent, of waiting and waiting and eventually thirst and hunger taking over and barking and barking but still no one coming and then desperation. He dreams of licking spoons and soup bowls. He dreams of pulling so hard on his restraint that he choked himself and rubbed all the fur off the back of his neck and ears and then started to bleed and the blood welled up and made him slick and then he finally pulled free. He dreams of moldy cheese and melted ice cream and ketchup covered hot dog buns. He dreams of discarded leftovers thrown to him from Sunday barbeques and Thanksgiving dinners. He dreams of morsels from the hands of kind strangers and he would keep on dreaming but there is something on the periphery of his dreams which pulls him from his sleep. Something demands his wakeful attention. It's fuzzy at first but then he makes out a distant barking and then nearer, footsteps, and then nearer still, a warm breath.

Brown Dog blinks open his eyes and exposes them to the sharp gnashing cold. It has stopped snowing and the clouds have thinned to the point where he can see the glow of the moon. He is covered in snow interspersed with a few leaves fallen from the bush. His joints and muscles still ache, even more so now with the cold. He could very easily slip back to sleep and avoid the full onslaught of his hunger but he doesn't because standing there in front of him is the White Dog.

She is like no dog he has seen before. She is there but not there. She is a perfect memory come to life. She fills up his lungs when he breathes. She is translucent, almost transparent, almost thinner than air but when she shows him her teeth, he knows she could easily kill him with one quick bite.

Brown Dog has no fight in him and slowly rolls over on his back, exposing his belly and his throat and he resigns himself to pain but instead White Dog growls at him and swipes him across the face with her paw for him to get up. He hesitates and this time she steps on his ear and digs a claw in which makes him yelp and he whips his head up and then rolls over upright and stands and shakes off the snow and leaves.

White Dog stares at him with her silver moonlit eyes but he dares not look back. He keeps his tail down and looks away from her into the clearing night. White Dog barks and steps in front of him and then barks again and takes several steps and looks back so Brown Dog, though still avoiding her gaze, starts to follow.

She leaves no tracks through the fallen snow but there is a scent or maybe just the memory of a scent, maybe that of his mother or maybe of his mother's mother or maybe something even older still and there are stretches of time, as he follows her through the last night of this life, when he is so tired that he closes his eyes and walks and stumbles and walks just following that scent.

It's near morning when they reach the house. It's the same size and shape as the dozens surrounding it but White Dog has lead him to this one. Brown Dog is near death so White Dog is gentler with him now and nuzzles him onto the front porch and then watches as he collapses and is still.

Yellow Dog is of the sun and just as the morning blooms and White Dog retreats, he descends and lies over Brown Dog and covers his body with life sustaining warmth and enters his dreams with golden light.

"Mom, Dad, hey wake up. Wake up!"

The man slowly looks over at his son then at the clock.

"Wake up, wake up!" The boy shakes his mom. "There's a dog outside. It's on the porch. There's a dog."

"What, honey?" asks the woman.

"Mom, there's a dog lying on our porch! There's a big brown dog there."

The man and the woman get out of bed and grab their fleece robes. They rush downstairs and open the front door.

"Oh my God, it is a dog," the woman says.

"I think it's sleeping or frozen or something," the boy says.

"Is it alright?" asks the woman. "Is it alive?"

The man bends down and looks at it then touches it then puts his hand in front of the dog's nose.

"Yeah, it's still breathing but it must be suffering from hypothermia or something. It's hardly moving," the man says. The man looks back at his wife.

"Well, get him inside then. We'll have to wrap him up in something, then we'll call a vet," the woman says.

The man slowly helps the dog to its feet and half carries him inside the house.

"Will he be alright?" the boy asks.

The woman looks down at her son and gives him a smile.

"Dogs are pretty tough," she says as she tussles his red hair and then runs upstairs to get some towels.

Friday, December 26, 2008


It's sad to think that several dogs had to spend their Christmas at Toronto Animal Services instead of with families but on the bright side, they were allowed a bit of a play romp in one of the big rooms which was vacated for the holiday.

Only dogs that were compatible were allowed to join in the group and even then there were some grumblings as the dogs checked each other out and jockeyed for their place in the pack.

It was very interesting seeing all the personalities and the group dynamics come out. Onyx, the black mastiff was definitely the dominant one in the group and a bit of a fun vacuum. Whenever any of the other dogs got too excited, Onyx would go over and bark at them and break up the party. Obelix, the yellow Lab was the pervert in the crowd who tried to hump everyone. He was constantly being told off by the other dogs but that didn't dissuade him much. Fiji, the Catahoula Leopard Hound, mostly kept to herself, exploring the perimeter looking for things to chew on and throw around. There were also some new Montreal dogs in the group. One was a Collie mix, Cinnamon, who was very friendly and got along with all the other dogs. There was a black Retriever mix who was very fixated on James and will be a highly trainable, owner focused dog.

German Shepherd, Riley, doesn't tend to like many other dogs so he was brought out on his own. Turns out he's great at ball fetching and, within 10 throws, learned to return and drop the ball for continued play. He's absolutely one of the smartest dogs I've come across.

Everyone was hot and tired out by the time playtime was over. It was good to see all the smiles on these dogs' faces on Christmas day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Another dog hero story

The last few days I've been working through in my head a Christmas story about a dog that saves someone from freezing to death in a snowbank. Problem was, I couldn't come up with a plot device that had the right balance of credibility and strangeness to explain how someone would end up in a snowbank needing to be rescued in the first place.

Well, the good news is that I've found a credible plot device but the bad news is that the story has already been written only it's not fiction. A Hamilton woman, missing for three days, was found in a snowbank yesterday by a dog. She's recovering from hypothermia and the dog got a t-bone.

Looks like I might have to go back to the story idea about the year Rudolph got replaced by a Great Dane.

Sports Illustrated redemption

Sports Illustrated has been credited by many as a major contributor to the bad reputation of Pit Bulls. In 1987, they published an edition with a fierce looking Pit Bull on the front cover with the headline "Beware of this Dog" over the photo. How much of an affect this had on the pliable American psyche is debatable but a few months later Pit Bull type dogs became mainstream media's favorite dog villain and gangsta wannabes started lining up for their very own four legged status symbols.

Now more than two decades later, someone at SI has had a change of heart and is maybe even feeling pangs of guilt over the misery to the thousands of dogs they helped to cause. This morning with their online edition they've published a follow up story on Michael Vick's dogs aptly titled What happened to Michael Vick's dogs. For most people who have been keeping track of the Vick dogs, the article may not be providing a lot of new information but in terms of revising general public misconceptions about Pit Bulls, it does a great deal.

Here are some excerpts:

Refering to Zippy, a rescued Vick Pit Bull: [Zippy] leaps onto the couch where Vanessa's nine-year-old sister, Eliana, is waiting. Vanessa joins them, and over the next 15 minutes the two girls do everything possible to provoke an abused and neglected pit bull who's been rescued from a dogfighting ring. They grab Zippy's face, yank her tail, roll on top of her, roll under her, pick her up, swing her around, stick their hands in her mouth. Eliana and Zippy end up nose to nose. The girl kisses the dog. The dog licks the girl's entire face.

[Zippy] arrived from the rescue group BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls) in October 2007, "she was afraid of her own shadow," says Berenice. Loud noises made her jump, and when she entered another room she'd crawl through the doorway on her belly. That lasted about six weeks, but once Zippy got comfortable she took over the house. She races from room to room, goes for runs with Berenice and plays in the yard with the other two dogs: the family's big blue pit bull, Crash, and another foster dog, Roller, a bulldog-pit mix.

One rescuer refering to the first time they met the Vick dogs: We were surprised at how little aggression there was," says Reynolds. Many of the dogs had all but shut down. They cowered in the corners of their kennels or stood hunched with their heads lowered, their tails between their legs and their feet shifting nervously. Some didn't want to come out. As far as they knew bad things happened when people came. Bad things happened when they were led out of their cages. One dog was so scared that even the confines of her kennel offered her no comfort. Shelter workers used a blanket to construct a little tent inside her cage that she could duck under. Remembering that dog, McMillan says, "Jasmine broke my heart."

"Vick showed the worst of us, our bloodlust, but this rescue showed the best," Reynolds says. "I don't think any of us thought it was possible to save these dogs - the government, the rescuers, the regular people - but we surprised ourselves."

Some interesting background info on the article can be found on the Bad Rap site here.


Monday, December 22, 2008

The TV or the dog?

The following articles frame the choice of pet abandonment as matters of survival in our hard times and for those that truly find themselves on the verge of having to give up their pets to put food in their own mouths, then my sympathies for them and their animals. However, I suspect for most of the dumpers, it's not a matter of life and death, it's a matter of lifestyle. It's a matter of what ends up on their "unnecessary expenditures" lists. For some, the responsibility of looking after a living creature under their care is sacrosanct. For others, a reliable and steady access to "Survivor" trumps Fluffy's food and vet bills every time.

In the U.S.

In the U.K.

The day she became known as Cherie

submitted by Johanne Tasse of caacQ

It always starts with a phone call. Cherie was no different than the others.

"She needs help," I was told.

"What kind of help," I inquired.

"Medical, psychological and physical." I already knew her story - even before meeting her.

Cherie was "snatch" from a puppy mill.

As I travelled to meet the guardian angel who saved her I was wondering how broken her spirit would be. As I stepped out of the car to cradle her in my arms, her body language rang out loud and clear. This was a dog with a broken spirit.

As I drove to the veterinarian with Cherie you try to make sense of this needless cruelty. Then my grandfather's voice came to me, "Don't look at the road but the destination." It came to me that her destination was for today to be the first day of the rest of her life and it starts with me, in this car, right now.

At the vet clinic, the diagnosis was all too frightening. She was severely underweight, her fur matted and dirty. Her vocal cords were cut to prevent her from barking. The tip of her ear was missing. We noticed a tattoo in her ear, teeth and gum infections and, the most disheartening news, Cherie was missing an eye.

Where do we begin? A good bath was a first step. She was so frightened we thought she would try to escape from the grooming room but Cherie was too petrified to move. Years of abuse often result in such behaviour. She just stood there. Three baths later her white fur began to resemble that of a Bichon Maltese. The nails had to be trimmed; will she bite in fear? Again she stood still.

As we proceeded to clean her ears we were able to decipher her tattoo number. Quickly I took note of the numbers. The vet prescribed antibiotics for her tooth infection, a nutritious diet and a crate for her to call home. Her foster Mom came and took this little bundle of helplessness under her wing.

Now the questions were racing through my mind. Where does she come from? The person who snatched her was hesitant to provide too many details. But we had an idea…

Monday morning I contacted a Canadian dog registry. Once I was provided with the name of the breeder I explained Cherie's condition. I said that they should monitor their members with closer scrutiny. Then came the usual mindless answers, the excuses and the final response "it's not our job". I realized this association has only one objective in mind. Make money.

One day we will overcome this awful and inhumane situation.

But in the meantime, how is Cherie doing? She has gained weight, some confidence and is learning, a few steps at a time, to tame the stairway. She is now starting to cuddle with humans. She enjoys the grass under her feet and the most rewarding thing of all; she has learned how to play. What more could we ask for!

Next time you are contemplating the purchase of a pet, don't walk past a pet store during your lunch hour to admire the pups/kittens or scrutinize the internet ads. Contact the CAACQ or Humane Society in your area and adopt. Just remember the cute puppy you are thinking of buying has a mother in a puppy mill, who never had the option to be called Cherie.

Picture here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Update on Molly

From Molly's new owner:

Molly is a great dog, gentle and well-mannered. She adjusted to her new home and people amazingly well ... especially amazing because she is French! She already has mastered a couple of English words ie "cookie" and "walk". She loves her walks and playing fetch. We are thrilled with her. Here are a couple of photos.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Black ghost

American Kennel Club PSA for Marley and Me

All puppies should come with this warning.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Onyx in the snow

Coming soon to a snowbank near you.

Post #246

When I started this blog in June, I made a deal with myself to update it daily for 6 months and then see where it's at. Well, it's just over 6 months and the blog is pretty healthy but I've decided I need a break to evaluate. Mostly, it's a time commitment issue. Recently, there have been more and more weeks where I've spent more time blogging than volunteering and that was never my intention. I've really enjoyed the on-line interaction - hence the increased time at it - but now I need to take a moment and rebalance.

In all likelihood, I'll continue but on a scaled back schedule. There won't be a new entry every day, maybe every few days, maybe once a week. I'm not sure. I guess we'll see.

It'll be a bit more relaxing now that I can go back to just spending time working with the "guests" at Toronto Animal Services without having to think about a story angle so often. Really, their stories are all the same. These are the dogs that have been abandoned. Most of them find homes. Some do not. The differences are all in the details but of course it's the details that make life interesting otherwise we'd all just eat, sleep, procreate and die and may as well be mayflies.

I know there'll be more stories, there will always be more stories, and when they occur, I'll get back to the keyboard. But really, the best way to experience the stories of the dogs that pass through the doors of TAS is first hand. I know the dogs will appreciate it and I'm sure you will too.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On a happier note ...

... well sort of. 93 small dogs were rescued last Friday from another Quebec puppy mill. That's three strikes in three months. I hope this means they're out but I kind of doubt it.

The woman who ran the puppy mill was not arrested but might face animal cruelty charges. Now that's the kind of strong regulation that'll make all the quivering puppy mill operators think twice before they continue with their horrendous breeding practices. Or not.

I wonder if TAS will be getting a shipment soon.

Thanks to Joanne for the heads up on this.

Yesterday's fire

I'm sure you've already heard but here's the news report from CBC.

It's Christmas. Press a few buttons. Donate here.

What comes before part B?

Last night, Toronto Animal Services had a little to-do for the volunteers. So, for a change, instead of taking pictures of the four leggers, I was going to take pictures of the two leggers.

At least that was the intention.

The problem with taking pictures of people at parties is that everyone's too talkative. Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, too many conversational distractions and not enough snapping on my part. Instead of dozens of action party shots, I just got four. I guess that's one good reason why I'm better suited to doing a dog blog over a people blog.

I don't talk about this much (ever?) but one of the great things about volunteering at TAS is hanging out with the other volunteers and staff. Of course with the staff, I often feel like I'm interrupting something because they're on the clock but with the other volunteers, I'm just wasting their personal time.

TAS volunteers come from all over. We've got big ones and small ones and ones with long hair and ones with short hair. Some drive, some don't drive. Some rent, some own, some rent to own. The volunteers have a wide range of backgrounds and if I had spent more time talking to them about stuff like that instead of dog this and dog that I might actually have been able to write something highly significant and wonderfully meaningful about that diversity.

Really, though, the volunteers are a fantastic group of individuals, and even though everyone does come from widely varying backgrounds, the desire to help gives everyone something to share together.

Now pass me over the cheesecake.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Rocky in backyard gnawing on a stick photographed by my wife Elizabeth.

TV worth watching

Any of you watch Dogtown? What a fantastic show. It's all about the huge dog sanctuary/rehab center run by Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab which is four hours outside of Las Vegas. Call me crazy but it sounds like a great place to go for a visit and while I'm there maybe the staff can help me teach Stella and Rocky some better manners.

John Garcia, one of the trainers at the Sanctuary, made a guest appearance on the Ellen Show recently. It's all a little bit obsequious (at one point Ellen tells her guest that she'd go work at Dogtown "in a heartbeat" which only begs the question, well why doesn't she then?) but, hey, it's daytime talk TV.

Here's the segment, at least until it gets yanked from Youtube:

One thing you won't get from the segment, but which you will get if you watch the actual Dogtown show on National Geographic, is how different their rehabilitation methods are from that other dog rehab superstar, Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, another National Geographic program. Talk about old school vs new. It's the difference between diving into a pool vs tiptoeing into it. There's a good comparative study of the two schools here at Dog Star Daily and while I'm not sure I agree totally with the largely anti-Cesar Milan sentiment, the author, Nicole Wilde, brings up some thoughtful points.

As for me, as long as the dogs come out okay and safely homed at the end of it, I'm good with whatever works.


I happened across Animal Rescue Flights, ARF, a few months ago while wandering on-line.

Animal Rescue Flights promotes, plans, and performs the process of moving animals from overcrowded shelters where they face certain death to other parts of the country where qualified families are waiting to adopt them. Due to the complexity and distances needing to be covered, Animal Rescue Flights works with various pilot organizations that specialize in these types of flights to find the most efficient and timely method of transporting the endangered animals. Our goal is to find the resources to accomplish these flights and to plan and coordinate each project with those involved. Although we are happy to fill point-to-point, shorter transport requests, because we have Flight Coordinators, our specialty is being able to move animals over longer distances using pilot relays. We make it easy for our pilots. Our Flight Coordinators (who are pilots) work with the senders and receivers, plan flights around each participating pilot's limitations and requests, and make sure all state animal transport laws are being followed to the best of our understanding...all the pilots need to do is fly and take photos!

We are looking for pilots, student pilots, and non-pilots who can contribute their time and skills in promoting, planning, and performing this effort. While flying is a big part of the process, the success of each flight relies on careful planning and coordination with the shelters and pilots, as well as arranging ground transportation, locating airports, and other important support needs. Let us know how you can help!

I signed up with them for ground transport, as my car hasn't yet sprouted wings, but so far haven't done any driving for them since there aren't any Canadian pilots on board with the project. Hopefully, that'll change soon. Certainly, dog delivery flights between Montreal and Toronto would be appreciated.

ARF started up in April of this year and already have some great success stories. Here's a recent one:

12/13/2008 - 1 dog from Arkansas to Tennessee - If dogs could talk, Nikita would have quite a story to tell. She disappeared in Chattanooga, TN, and 10 days later was picked up as a stray with a gunshot wound to her hind leg in northwest Arkansas over 700 miles from home. No major interstate directly runs from Chattanooga to Siloam Springs, adding to the mystery of how Nikita ended up there. Her leg was amputated but that's not slowing her down. A huge thanks to Brent for flying over 300nm one-way against a miserable headwind that resulted in groundspeeds between 60 - 90 knots and returning again two hours late but with precious cargo. Thanks to James Turner and Dan Dorney who waited those two hours very patiently at the meeting point and continued Nikita's flight on to Chattanooga. Being greeted by TV cameras and reporters inspired by Nikita's long journey, James took on the job of representing ARF to the communities of Tennessee.

There was some good media coverage of this last transport which you can check out here, here and here.

This is ARF's main website, but there's also more information here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Water therapy

Maybe it's just me but I'm under the impression that dogs have been a lot more in the news recently. It seems at least once a week either The Globe or The Star has a feature article about dogs (and no, I'm not talking about dog bite stories).

This Globe and Mail video doc about the Canine Wellness Center, a hydrotherapy facility in Toronto used for dog physiotherapy, is particular good to see because I know several people who have brought their dogs to this place with great results and they say Tania Costa, the woman who runs it, is a saint. Well, I don't know what it takes to be sainted these days but anyone who can help a crippled dog walk again is certain a miracle worker. She's had great success treating things like arthritis, hip dysplasia, torn muscles and neurological disorders.

The video features the inspirational progress of a Collie but the cameos of the Bulldog are hilarious.


One of three pups from earlier this year. I just came across this photo and thought I'd post it.

Another happy customer

from Jelena Kostic in Serbia

Our Olive in Austria:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wild at heart

A few people have been asking about the five Border Collie puppies that came into Toronto Animal Services a few months ago. They were feral due to owner neglect when they were brought in and exhibited varying degrees of extreme anxiety when in contact with people.

Four of the puppies have since been rehabilitated and homed but a fifth one, the shyest one, never made it out of its shell intact. It remained "wild" and after biting its very experienced rescue foster parent several times and severely injuring another dog, it was euthanized.

Continued here.

Update on Abby

From Emily, Abby's owner:

After a second day at the vet, we have found out the following:

- The x-rays of her lungs did not show any signs of cancer - THANKFULLY!
- A second biopsy of the mammary lump was taken and the results should be returned by Monday or so, though the vet doesn't think it's cancer.
- Abby had a bump on the front of her left leg that was removed today (I think it was just a wart or something).
- She was only given a half dose of sedation and it took her a very long time to come around - she's taking her time but now that she's home she seems much better - Joanne and I think it may be because she is so underweight and weak).
- We will be starting Metacam again tomorrow as she is really stiff and I'm sure very sore, also (for the last few days, I've had to lift her hind and then front end to get her in a standing position but her spirit is still strong!).

We are going to have an ultrasound done on her heart, probably in the New Year, to see how serious the heart murmur is etc...that will give us a better idea as to whether or not she'd be able to handle being anesthetized for her spay and possibly hip surgery, if that's in the cards down the line. We also want an x-ray of her hips, as well, to see the extent of the dysplasia.

Joanne thinks, and I totally agree, that we should spend the next few/several months working on getting her to gain weight as this will probably give her more of a fighting chance to get through treatment.

So...things are, still, looking so much promising than either of us ever thought. I still don't feel that we are home free but I am so thankful for the continuing good news. I have her on puppy food (Orijen) as the vet recommended a higher calorie food and apparently some dogs have to be taken off the adult Orijen because it makes them too fat. I think she has a slight bit more to grab on her than last week - it feels as though there's a bit more covering her ribs (just a bit at this point) but she is still very thin. She is learning how to chew roasted bones which is so cute to watch and she is starting to get more and more interested in sniffing around outside and watching people, traffic etc...

I haven't had Abby interact too much with Otie and Livi so far - she's gone through a lot in the one week she's been here with 2 days at the vet and recovering but it's been fine, so far. The Labbies are definitely interested in her though it seemed like she really didn't know they were there until a day ago or so. I had kept the French door to the family room closed as of yesterday and kept them separated when she went outside to pee and walk around the downstairs a bit. I now, when I'm home, keep the door open and a baby gate in the doorway to the family room and it's going well. I didn't want to introduce them too fast because she's quite weak and I wanted her to feel as comfortable as possible. It's been just fine, though, and I'll be introducing them a bit more this weekend when my fiancee comes over - so he can take one of my beasties and I'll take Abby -ON LEASH. I want them to walk outside together - Joanne thinks it's a good idea (another Cesar Milan trick). Despite Abby's state/condition, I don't doubt that she'll find the energy in her if she feels defensive or afraid. She saw my foster cat in the hallway and through the glass door she growled and sounded a bark and it was very intimidating. I corrected her immediately, though, and she pulled back right away. Man, when she's healthy and at a proper weight, watch out! She'd be very intimidating - but, luckily, she listens very well.

Continued here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Designer dogs

All the top fashion houses in Paris and Milan are just raving about this season's designer dogs. Take this combination of Bassett Hound and Foxhound represented by Doudoune of which European Elle says, "The audacity of this look is so moderne it is beyond moderne."

All the rage with the hipsters in Chelsea is shown here by Rufus, a mix of Bernese Mountain Dog and Pointer. Says British Vogue: "Fab Fun and Fantastic!"

Not to be outdone by its E.U. partners, Germany is also strong this season with its own couture statement represented here by Keo who is part Doberman and part German Shepherd. Says Armani, "I wish I'd thought of that."

The German designers are very strong with their detailing this year as is shown here on a close-up of Neo's tail. "Exquisite," says Chatelaine.

Back over on this side of the pond, the Americans are going retro. Here Snoopy Oki, part Collie, part anyone's guess is looking cool and comfortable with a fun, fancy and flared leg design. "It's the quintessial Americana look," says Klein.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winter dog

When I was a boy, I had a Husky named Sheba. I found Sheba, or perhaps Sheba found me, one afternoon as I was tobogganing at a neighbourhood ravine and she followed me home. She stayed with me for the next thirteen years through high school, university and my first two years of work as an engineer. But that was a previous life and anyway this isn't about Sheba. This is about Tico, who was for a short while, her housemate.

It was the late fall and I'd already had Sheba for a few years. My father came home from work one day and told me about a colleague who was giving away a pup - a half German Shepherd, half wolf pup, the last one in the litter. Now if someone were to tell me this today, I'd be pretty suspicious and ask all sorts of questions about the origins of the dog but that was then, which is like a century ago, and all I was thinking about at the time was that it would be pretty cool to have a wolfdog.

I don't know why my father even brought up the topic because I'm sure he knew what was going to come next.

"Oh, can I have it? Can you bring it home? Can we keep it?" I asked.

"No, you've got a dog already," he said but maybe, deep down, he thought it would be pretty cool to have a wolfdog as well.

"But I can take care of it. Sheba can play with it. Look, she needs a friend." Sheba was lying in her usual cool corner, by the cold door to the garage, sleeping and quietly snoring.

"No," my father said.

"Just for one week. We can see if it works."

"No," he said but I knew I was getting through to him.

"Just for a few days," I pleaded.

Actually, I don't remember exactly what I said but whatever it was, it was probably pretty lame, about as lame as anything a kid who wanted a dog would say. Which is why it was somewhat surprising that a few days later, my father arrived home from work with a five month old puppy. It had a long, fine muzzle. Its fur was a creamy white with darker accents of greyish brown. It had dark, dark eyes.

I immediately dropped what I was doing and ran over to it. It immediately ran away from me. It ran towards Sheba who immediately got up from her snooze and started growling and barking at it. I ran over to Sheba to calm her down and the pup ran behind the sofa in the living room. And there it stayed for the rest of the evening.

My preconceptions of a wolfdog were totally shattered. I was thinking courageous hero and this thing was a frightened animal. I was disappointed but I was also feeling sorry for it.

Eventually, I did get the pup to come out from behind the sofa and I lead it to our backyard to let it relieve itself - which it did. That was one good thing. It came housetrained.

I named him Tico.

The next morning I got Sheba ready for her walk and then got Tico leashed up as well. It was a strangely exhilerating feeling walking out the front door with two dogs instead of one especially since one of them was a wolfdog puppy. I was already imagining ways I could harness them up to my sled so I could get in some free rides across the soon to be snowy fields just behind our property.

Tico didn't much like the outdoors, though, at least not the wide open outdoors that he had just stepped into, not the outdoors with the noisy cars, the kids playing street hockey, the children rushing about. We barely made it halfway across my neighbour's front yard when Tico yanked on the leash to retreat back to the safety of our house. The leash slipped out of my hand and Tico ran to our front door and tried to scratch it open but of course that didn't work so he got frantic and ran into our backyard.

I ran after him, worried that he might take off but luckily my mother had the back patio door open and Tico had ran inside. He was back behind the sofa.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to get Tico to go out on walks with Sheba and me but whatever it was ingrained in him to be so fearful of the big world was beyond my skills to change. At some point, he wouldn't even go near the front door anymore, knowing what was on the other side.

It was the backyard that eventually became his domain. It wasn't a big backyard but there were no frightening metal beasts making loud roaring noises, no strange creatures laughing and screaming, no hockey sticks banging against hockey sticks. When early December came around and snow covered everything in a cold thick blanket, Tico would spend hours out there before wanting to come back in. I'm sure there were nights when he would've slept out there if I let him.

His whole world, then, at least the world he allowed himself, was our small, rather bare backyard. It made me unhappy to see him out there, playing with chunks of ice and frozen poop by himself and burrowing holes in the snow to hide in. I often tried getting Sheba to go out there with him but she would just look at him and then look at me with a "You think I'm crazy too?" expression and want to come back inside.

Tico liked Sheba well enough though she didn't have the time of day for him so they never really bonded. Tico liked me somewhat less. He liked my father the most though I don't know why because my father, though he was kind to Tico, didn't really pay that much attention to him either. But maybe that was why he liked my father - because my father didn't bug him like I did, didn't fuss over him. Or maybe it was because Tico instinctively knew that my father was the alpha in the house. Although, truthfully, I think my mother was the alpha in the house but, hey, I'm sure even wolfdogs make errors in judgment.

Eventually, it became clear that Tico was living a restricted life with us.

I talked to my father about this and one day late in February, my father told me that someone at work who lived on a farm was willing to take Tico. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Someone on a farm? Yeah, right. How gullible can you be?" I wasn't quite sure about it either but my father had never even lied to me about Santa Claus the first time I asked about that venerable old myth at like four years old (not sure if that's good parenting skills or bad), so I had no real reason to doubt him. A couple of days later, then, my father took Tico with him to work and I never saw my wolfdog again.

When I look now at the one remaining photo I have of Tico, I don't think he looks much like a wolfdog, not that I really know what a wolfdog looks like. I can see the German Shepherd in him but I don't know about the other part. He doesn't seem big enough to be related to a wolf. If the other half was something wild, maybe it was coyote. Maybe he was just a mutt with some serious behavioural issues and his first owners just wanted to get rid of him with the help of some creative storytelling about his origins.

As it turned out, my father actually did give Tico to a colleague who lived on a farm. The guy already had two dogs and he had told my father he didn't mind having another. For the next few months, my father brought home photos of Tico living his new life. In one of them, Tico, is chasing around a couple of big hairy mutts through the snow. He looks like he's smiling.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Googly eyed and snaggle toothed

Gunner's a special dog because he's one of the ugliest dogs I've ever seen. His head's kind of too small for his body and his legs are a bit too long.

He's got this strange way of looking up you like he's got a crook in his neck or something. And because of his googly eyes, you're never sure if he's looking at you or your left shoe.

Luckily, with a dog, in some weird and wacky way, the uglier it is, the cuter it is which makes Gunner a superstar in the cute department. This ain't so I'm not going to wax on about it but I suspect Gunner is going to last about 2 seconds out in general adoption.

Actually, he may not even make it out to general as the word is one of the vets who works with TAS is already interested in him sight unseen - which might be a good thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cruel to be kind

There's a Catahoula Leopard X named Fiji at Toronto Animal Services in adoption. She's a very striking dog, a real attention getter. Yesterday I took her out of her kennel for a walk and as we were walking down the stairs to the first floor, she started biting on the leash. I stopped and gave her a firm no and she stopped so we continued but by the time we reached the bottom step, she was biting the leash again.

Now usually when I'm taking a dog out at TAS and it bites the leash, my main concern is that it might actually chew through the leash and run off. I've had a wide-eyed and innocent looking Beagle chew through a webbed nylon leash once in five chomps, all the while giving me a look-how-sweet-I-am stare, and though it luckily didn't take off, it made me always careful not the let that happen again. For me, then, stopping a TAS dog from chewing the leash is more a practical exercise in preventing escape than it is a training exercise in getting the dog to behave better. It's a subtle difference but it puts me in a different frame of mind.

Some people incorporate a training session into all their walks. That's cool too. That's what I do with my own dogs every day even though they hate the homework. But when I'm at TAS I feel, especially when there are lots of dogs that need to be walked, that I just want to let the dogs enjoy themselves and get as much of their yayas out as possible before I return them to their kennels. That means that as long as they're not crazily running in every direction or barking nonstop or biting the leash, I don't do much correction. It means I'm not usually in the frame of mind of trying to show the dog who's the boss.

I think that explains what happened next.

Fiji started biting the leash again. I tried voice only to get her to stop but that was having no effect so I pulled on the leash to get it out of her mouth and then I kept it taut to keep it out of her mouth and to maintain control over her as she continued to try to grab the leash. After a couple of attempts, she relaxed so I took another step and immediately she grabbed the leash again and started shaking it. I pulled it out of her mouth again, more worried about damage to the leash, but then she started growling and snapping at the leash. She was working herself into a frenzy, not wanting to be controlled and instead trying to control me, and I wasn't helping the situation because I had been focused on saving the leash, not on correcting her behaviour.

Fiji was on the verge of getting aggressive and the worry wasn't that I was going to get hurt, it was that dogs deemed aggressive have a limited future at TAS and we were downstairs in the reception area and people could see and hear what was going on. I should never have let her behaviour reach this point.

Then the shelter supervisor, who had been watching, walked over.

"Let me have her," she said.

Now I was worried.

I thought she was just going to take Fiji back upstairs and I'd never see the dog again but instead she tried working the leash to control Fiji. That didn't work out very well. Fiji kept fighting back, maybe even got worse with more snapping and growling.

Now I was really worried.

Then one of the animal control officers walked through the entrance and when he saw Fiji, immediately said, "Oh she's a really nice dog. I've never had any problems with her."

Great, I thought. So it's me.

The supervisor decided to try a different tact and tried to calm Fiji down. She kneeled down beside Fiji and put her hands on the dog's body, keeping her still. That was better. Five minutes later Fiji was walkable again.

As she handed me back the leash, she said, "Do not let her do that again."

"I won't," I said.

As I walked out the entrance with Fiji, I was praying, please don't bite the leash, please don't bite the leash and then we were outside and the door closed and we were safe. Fiji actually seemed okay. She was walking calmly, ignoring the leash, sniffing the air. That lasted for about five steps then Fiji turned around and started biting the leash.

For me, there's a point in a dog's behaviour when the kid gloves come off. Now if this was one of my dogs - well, let's say a totally untrained version of one of my dogs - I'd either grab it by the scruff of its neck or have it on its side by this point. I'm not recommending this method to anyone. This is just what I do with my dogs specifically because I know what works with them. If they cross the line, they get in shit.

Fiji had crossed the line.

I whipped around and grabbed Fiji's lower jaw and held it tight. I could see the surprised look in her eyes as she leg go of the leash.

"Look," I said to her, "If you don't stop that and start behaving yourself, you're going to end up in the freezer in there you dumb ass."

Fiji was trying to back up, trying to pull out of my grip but I held on.

"And I'm not joking."

I let go of her just as she was starting to let out a whimper.

She was fine after that. It was like we were best friends.

Happy pill

Ex-Vick dog:

Thanks to Caveat for the heads up on this and to Donna at Bad Rap for posting it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our very own show dog

A German Shepherd arrived at Toronto Animal Services last week with what appears to be some kind of back end problem. Whenever he stands still, it looks like his legs are kind of buckling under his weight. When he walks, it much less noticeable. It's difficult to tell if it's in the hips or in the knees.

TAS has a policy of not putting dogs who are not healthy up for general adoption. Other avenues are sought out to find homes for these dogs but still, their chances for finding owners in a decent time frame are more limited.

This GSD, now named Riley, is a very amiable fellow, and so we all waited anxiously for the vet to finish Riley's health check and give us the diagnosis. The vet was undecided but then finally, with some "consultation" from one of the staff, decided that Riley was well enough for general adoption ... but just.

The first time I took Riley out for a walk, he got several compliments because he is, after all, a very handsome dog. One was from a woman who seemed to be pretty familiar with the breed. She talked about his coat (needed a brushing but otherwise healthy and thick) and his size (a little underweight but with a proper diet ...) and about his stature which was tall at the shoulders and slanting down to his hips. I mentioned that he had problems with weakness in his hind end which was why his back sloped like that when he stood still but she took no notice of that and said that I was very lucky to have such a great dog. I thought she was just being generous.

A week later, I saw this documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, on CBC and then it hit me that the woman wasn't being generous, she was being honest. She really did think Riley was a great dog and apparently, if I enter Riley into a dog show under the auspices of the British Kennel Club, they would find him to be a great dog as well.

If you've watched the doc (it's essential information, really), you'll have noticed that in the segment focusing on GSDs, all the champion dogs in the ring have walking disabilities. It's so fucked up but that's what the show breeders breed for now. Half dog, half frog as the narrator says.

Now I always thought I was pretty well informed about the dog world. After watching Pedigree Dogs Exposed, I realized how wrong I was. There's a whole sick world out there of show breeders, creating their horrible abberations, inflicting their artificial breed standards on generations of long suffering dogs, all in the name of vanity.

Riley's hind end weakness isn't nearly as bad as what the GSD's in the documentary are suffering, but still, it is a minor handicap he'll have to live with. And live with he does with no complaints. That's why Riley really is a great dog. He's uncomplaining, friendly, smart, focused. He's a champion for the same reason every other dog, pedigree or not, is a champion: because he'll make a great best friend.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Enjoy every moment of every day!

(all photos by Jere Alexander)

Continued from Part 3 here.

Hand in hand with writing this blog over the past few months, I've been spending a lot of time with various on-line communities, sometimes just reading posts and comments, sometimes contributing, and aside from learning about specific issues, dog related or not, I've come away with the sense that there is little I can take away from this vast ocean of information which I can confidently call truth. So much is spin, rumour, gossip, fabrication and outright lies repeated over and over until it becomes "common knowledge".

Of course this isn't at all surprising. An uncensored world wide web is a clear reflection of human communication and human communication is fraught - if not overrun - with unsavory, self serving sentiments.

I'm still fascinated by it, though, and sift through it because the one thing I do manage to gather from all this on-line reading is what the writing itself invariably reveals about the character of the author.

Here's an example. There is a huge debate out there about whether or not dogs should be fed raw food or cooked food or kibble. Everyone's got their own opinions, some of which are held with the strength of religious belief, and yet, as far as I know, no one has ever done strict scientific testing on any type of food so how can anyone know for sure what's good, better, best? We barely know what food we should be eating ourselves and what we do know seems to change every few years, so how can anyone be an expert on what another species should be eating?

I'm not suggesting that just because we don't know all the answers, we should throw away all common sense and start feeding our dogs melamine laced, cardboard based dog food. However, I'm convinced that an open but observant and discerning attitude is the way to go when determining what works best with any individual dog with regards to its diet.

The point here isn't about the dog food, though. It's about the manner of debate over something as inconclusive as dog food and what can be gleaned from the on-line conversations that take place. Because I don't believe that we've heard the final word on what is the ideal food for dogs, or if such an ideal even exists, whenever someone posts a comment defending their choice of dog food to the extent that they disparage someone else's choice, I have to wonder about the intent of that person's post. Is their intent to inform and opine as part of an on-going dialogue or is it just to ridicule with the aim of inflicting wounds?

In other words, for me, it's not just the information itself that is of interest but also the delivery of that information and what it says about the writer and the writer's intentions and how it colours the credibility of the information s/he is trying to convey.

This is forefront in my mind when I read through the comments posted on the blog hosted by Randy Travis and the Fox5 I-Team to promote audience feedback after his stories on FCAS and Jere Alexander aired.

From my experience, which is mostly limited to Canadian on-line media, comment sections tend to be moderated or semi-moderated so that if someone decides to start spouting off hate about Jews or Blacks or Asians or women or old folks or young folks or middle aged White men then they can be quickly shut down. On Randy's blog, there is no such regular oversight.

Like many of the comment sections of our "established" on-line news suppliers, the reactionary contributors start out somewhat civilized but very quickly degenerate into Lord of the Flies territory. Though Randy himself contributed to the comments, he felt no need to comment upon the tone of the messages being published. It got so bad in fact that eventually several pages worth of comments were removed, my guess, for fear of lawsuit.

(Before you read the following, please be sure to have read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.)

Here's a sampling of some of the remaining, less derogatory comments all written by people who have no more knowledge about the events which occured at FCAS than you or me.

From DogLuver222:

"Just because Mrs. Alexander is a pretty blonde who speaks with a soft voice does not mean she does not harbor viscous animals that could be used for sport. I suggest Fulton and Dekalb county put her under the same scrutiny as Michael Vick. There is NO other logical reason Mrs. Alexander would harbor KNOWN VICIOUS PIT BULLS unless she was KNOWNLY sending them out into the Pit Bull fighting community."

"The "Problem" with Pit Bulls is that the BREED, is a BREED of dog designed to fight until it kills (that's PRECISELY WHY they are used for "Sport"). It's part of their "genetics" to "Kill" it's prey. Unlike most dogs that will "Fight"---(and soon stop once dominance is established)--a PIT will NOT DO THIS...IT WILL FIGHT TO THE DEATH...."

From bewaresecretsandlies:

"animals sent to Jere Alexander's shelter would have a good chance of dying within 24hours, and not by euthanasia by getting ripped to shreds by pit bulls Also getting euthanized because Jere wanted room for the aggressive pit bulls"

"Pits bite more often, do more damage, kill more often. They are different. Part of the problem is that people like pitgirl sell dogs that have aggressive backgrounds, and new owners are unprepared/unwilling to deal with this. They falsely promote the idea that these dogs can be rehabbed."

From 3-legged-pit:

"Alexander's website "" horribly glamorizes the old family fighting pit bull. She's sold herself to game dog men of the past and present. How many other "animal directors" and shelter workers share her beliefs? More specifically, how many people are in a position to keep or adopt out dangerous pit bulls? People like Alexander do NOT CARE about the animals or people that are victimized by these dogs. This issue is VERY breed specific because the only dog selectively bred to kill other animals -- after their skull has been cracked, a lung punctured and a leg ripped off -- is the game bred pit bull."

From greylady9:

"Isn't it interesting that owners of aggressive dogs will verbally abuse other posters here that don't agree with them? That's because aggressive people don't see a problem with owning aggressive dogs, unlike the majority of society that realizes this is a safety issue. What we see here is pit bull owners whining about their beloved dogs being shown in a negative light when that isn't being done, and ignoring the real story of community safety. Pit bulls are genetically dog aggressive ..."

There's this poster, embarrassed, who apparently still works at FCAS but thinks s/he's in high school:

"tony, i hear that you have moved from sleeping with Dana (in jail now) to DeDe. should a manager be sleeping with his employees? are you (jojo and banks helping you) still taking dogs out at night and giving them away? see, told ya i work in the kennel....."

"melissa, seeing how you were homeschooled in a commune, it's understandable that you are sheltered. why did jere hire you when you failed the drug test? did you share that with her?melissaa, one more thing - you need to change that maroon and pink hair - it looks like a clown.....see, told ya i work here..."

The most prolific stone thrower is Purrcat. The following constitutes probably less than a tenth of this commenter's on-line splatter.

"Even if we give Jere the benefit of the doubt, she has been caught in huge lies, she has committed fraud, she had insisted that she knew more than an experienced vet and employees with 27 years. She snuck cats out in the middle of the night without documentation and then made it up the next day, and then changed it at a later date. You may be dumb enough to believe every word. But those are not the actions of a person that is really try to save animals. I'd like to believe that she did just release unfixed, unvaccinated, untested ferals back into the wild because at least some of them will survive. BUT I DON'T BELIEVE A WORD SHE HAS SAID. SHE HAS BEEN CAUGHT IN SO MANY LIES."

Here Purrcat implies that Jere prefers fighting dogs:

"Beast must have been some special fighting pit, if Jere took him for rides and walks. She said he was just not happy in the shelter. Yeah I bet the dogs that got mauled to death by the other pits just weren't happy there either. Where was Jere for those poor souls. Would you rather have a quick painless death or be ripped limb to limb unitl you are not recognizable and bleed out in immense pain. Yeah, right Jere loved the animals. What planet do you live on?"

Here Purrcat implies that Jere is a hoarder:

"If Jere really loved animals, why the heck does she have her dogs chained in her yard. Shouldn't they at least be in the house. You know hoarders love animals. They do. But at some point they lose touch with reality and collect more than they can care for. Is that her problem?"

Here Purrcat implies that Jere supports Pit Bull fighting:

"I have no idea whether Jere supports pitbull fighting. Sure looked like there were kenels in her yard though and there definitely chained out dogs. Her first hire was a pitbull enthusiast whose husband was endited for animal trafficing. Hmm based on the lies she told and the company she keeps, it sure does appear mighty likely that this is the case."

"and if Jere has profited from the pits in anyway, she should be paying dearly for it. It seems like the more aggressive the dog was, the more enchanted she was by it."

"Jere was available. She was morally corrupt enough to take a job she wasn't qualified for and ballsy enough to fire anyone that questioned her mismanagment. Oh yeah, and she liked pitbulls. That was probably her bonus plan - she could have all of the aggressive pitbulls she wanted for herself and dog fighting enthusiast mentors and friends."

Here Purrcat starts the rumour about Jere sending off feral cats to be used as bait for Pit Bull fighting:

"I agree with bewaresecretsandlies. Best case scenario is that the ferals were just released mostly likely without being vaccinated, tested, or fixed... Worst case, they wound up in the hands of her [Jere's] pitbull fighting enthusiasts acquaintances."

Here Purrcat qualifies her rumour:

"And who know, maybe they didn't get used for bait for top dogs. Maybe just the wannabe's."

And just to make sure everyone knows what a sensitive person s/he is, Purrcat posts this gem:

"Remember, if a dog were the teacher you would learn things like:
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy..
Take naps.
Stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you're not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.


Seriously, you've got to read this shit to believe that functioning adults actually put this stuff out there. Hatred and viciousness spew forth like vomit from the egos of these anonymous bullies. This is no longer "about the animals" as the devout like to kid themselves; this is just plain old vindictive rumour mongering aimed solely at causing the most damage to whoever they choose to victimize.

But even more incredibly, people believe it.

On December 7, a group gather in front of the Fulton County Animal Shelter for a vigil for the "missing" feral cats. They pound stakes into the ground with a cat silouette on each one. They hold candles. They demand to know what's happened to the cats.

There is no end to this story. Those who caused the most harm are still out there doing their thing, perhaps oblivious to the turmoil their actions have caused or perhaps happily wallowing in it, upstanding citizens every last one. It's about the animals, they say, but it's not about the animals at all. It's about media manipulation; it's about prejudices and stereotypes; it's about ragged toothed little people who would rather bite, scratch and squeal than actually help out in any concrete way. All this wasted time and energy and every day more cats and dogs are dying at FCAS.

I don't know everything that happened at FCAS. No one does except for those directly involved. Maybe Jere Alexander was too hasty with her firings. Maybe the staff was too old school and treated the animals inhumanely. We may never get the full truth on these things. What we do know is that there was obviously bitter friction between staff and management at FCAS. And really, that's all we know. All the other criticisms are conjectures, rumours and lies.

There is one bright light in all of this, though. Now that Jere Alexander has stepped back from the firing line, she can finally finish her dissertation, take some photos with her leaky plastic camera and spend more time with the companion animals on her farm. The nightmares will stop and normalcy will return.

Addendum: Epilogue, sort of, here.

Hero break

I need to take a break from all this serious stuff. Watch this dog show us what it takes to be a hero.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Man with a mission

Continued from Part 2 here.

Randy Travis, reporter for Fox5 "I-Team", self describes himself as someone "looking for examples of government waste, corruption, consumer fraud and anything else that I think you'll find interesting and important". His recent stories have mostly been covering local issues including a crooked swami (strangely named Dr. Commander), his indignation with the driver of a Mercedes SUV, taking the bus to work and some story about home stagers. He also seems to be on a roll covering animal abuse related stories, perhaps having discovered a journalistic niche worth exploiting.

One of Randy's most recent missions was to uncover the story behind the new management at Fulton County Animal Services. What prompted him to focus on FCAS can only be surmised but I don't think it would be too outrageous to guess that perhaps he heard some grumblings from the newly fired employees. So, with hidden camera in hand, Randy and the undercover I-Team set their sights on FCAS and Jere Alexander.

You can watch their report, all four parts, here, here, here and here..

So, did you watch it? Pretty damning isn't it? A woman with connections to Pit Bull fighting takes over a pound just full of Pit Bulls, and suddenly there are dog fights and dogs are dying; cats are disappearing; employees are bitten and then fired when they start to complain; there are dogs on chains; nasty dog owners are getting away with all sorts of shit and, to top it all off, her husband looks really, really big and frightening and quite possibly dangerous. Dang, she must be evil.

However, Randy left out a few things.

Let's dissect this piece of sublime reportage and fill in some of the missing pieces Randy and the I-Team somehow failed to mention.

We find out in Part 1 of Randy's report, that the recently fired kennel manager is Myles Swain. He holds up a dog bite he suffered while still working at FCAS and he is criticizing Jere Alexander's handling of the dog that bit him. It's almost understandable that with a dog biting him like that, and it was a big wound, he'd want revenge by having the dog put down immediately (it was put down within the week - not fast enough, I guess).

What Randy fails to mention in his report is that Myles Swain got his hand bitten while trying to break up a dog fight (Randy later admits this detail, when confronted with it, but only in his blog). One of the first things any dog owner learns, or should learn anyway, is that trying to break up a dog fight with one's bare hands is a risky prospect. People often get accidentally bitten by their own dogs when they are in such a frenzied state. You'd think that someone, like Myles Swain, with 27 years experience working in a dog pound would know that and would understand the risk to his unprotected hands.

Why would Randy neglect to mention those details? He uses Myles Swain's opinions extensively throughout the news report. Is it because he doesn't want the audience to question Myles' judgment or lack of it? Later, in his blog, Randy lets on that Myles had told him that he's been bitten hundreds of times in his 27 years on the job. Hundreds of times? Hmm. I'm not sure what that says about Myles' dog handling skills but nevertheless if getting bitten is such a common occurrence with Myles then what's the big deal here? Is it because Myles has a bone to pick with Jere over the timing of the execution? Is it because the dog wasn't put down quick enough for Myles' taste? Or is it because he was fired by Jere Alexander and now has an axe to grind?

The next segment shows some dogs chained up on what is allegedly Jere's property. This would be contravening a local anti-tethering law and Randy's message is that Jere is breaking a law she should be upholding, end of story. However, anti-tethering laws are highly controversial because in the minds of many people they don't make a lot of sense. I've discussed it in this post here, but, in short, the argument is that simply tying a dog up to a immoveable object doesn't necessarily do a dog any harm. It's all a matter of degree. How long is the dog tied up for? How is it treated otherwise? What are its options? Maybe the dog prefers to be outside during the day, on a tether, sleeping on the grass basking under the sun or under the shade of a tree instead of being locked up inside. Or maybe the dog is doing just fine being tied up in the yard instead of waiting execution in a kennel at the pound.

Just because something is written in law doesn't make it right. Slavery was written into law. Segregation as well. Sometimes laws do more harm than good and sometimes it takes brave individuals to oppose those laws. I don't know the real situation with those dogs allegedly tied up in Jere's backyard and I doubt Randy does either but I suspect that any dog cared for by Jere is a dog getting about as good as it's going to get.

Next is the business with the disappearing dog attack ticket. Looks like Randy's really caught Jere red handed here and with all her long pauses (carefully kept in the edit) and all her delaying tactics she's got to be guilty. She's got to be hiding something. She's got to be.

I love that shot (edited in) of Randy giving her the Randy stare down. He should patent that. Randy, here, sideswipes Jere by asking her about a leaked memo (hmm, leaked by whom I wonder?) she wrote telling someone on her staff to make a vicious dog bite ticket issued against the owners of the dog go away. It's a serious ticket as the dog has bitten some children. Once the camera finishes showing us Jere reading this memo, she basically tells Randy she can't comment on it because it's still under investigation.

Under normal circumstances, that should be enough. When you hear police on the news saying they can't comment on something because it's under investigation, you don't automatically assume the police are hiding something. You take them at their word. Randy, obviously, doesn't agree with that philosophy.

He also, apparently, doesn't agree with finishing off his stories. From Jere:

As for the vicious ticket - it finally went to court. I had said to make it go away because that charge requires a known propensity, and this dog didn't have any priors. Normally, we don't like to go to court without a case. Plus, all the sworn statements and bite reports disappeared with a rogue field officer who was canned. Also, the dog was already dead - shot at the scene - so there was no real point in terms of containing the dog. Yes, the situation was egregious (although the "children" were like 15), but I didn't see a point in ticketing the woman with the dead dog. When my boss learned of all this, he said we had to do something just to appease folks (always my kind of law enforcement) and so we re-issued the ticket. The woman didn't seem to realize that she'd probably be found innocent, because she plead guilty and was fined.

I guess this incidental piece of information didn't fit in with Randy's world view of how things should be. He totally leaves this out. Never mentions it. Even if he got this information after the initial broadcast, as a reporter, you'd think he'd perhaps mention this little bit of news. Nope. He's got Jere hanging at the end of a rope. Better for the ratings to just leave her there.

Let's move on. I'm not going to tackle every last second of this Swiss cheese-like news report but let's look at just a couple more issues Randy brings up.

In part 2, some undercover camera work shows an employee standing around as one dog is picking on another one. The employee does nothing, mentions something about "initiation". Later, Randy brings up "initiation" with Jere asking her if this is something she allows. Of course she says no. But, what is Randy trying to infer here? That Jere, because she likes Pit Bulls, secretly condones this aggressive behaviour? The only one at possible fault here is the do nothing employee who, if Randy's segment is to be believed, should be fired (and I think he was though I can't confirm this) just like Myles Swain was fired. Of course this would be good news for Randy because then it would give him one more person with an axe to grind against Jere whom he can interview.

In third part of the report, Randy brings up this thing about how Jere can't account for 80+ feral cats which were brought to the shelter. He mentions that the state Agriculture Department is doing an investigation into this (although Randy later admits in a very round about Randy way that the Agriculture Department's inspection found nothing wrong with the way FCAS was being run by BHVF). Ridiculously, this has lead some online commentators on Randy's blog to surmise that Jere had taken the cats away to be used as "bait" for Pit Bull fights.

Watch the online broadcast and then read Jere's response which again Randy and his I-Team failed to fully report:

And as to the cats - I'll say again what I've told the reporters: the feral cats were relocated. Some went to feral colonies and barnyards. Most were released near a priest's cabin in the mountains. The cats were supposed to have been spayed/neutered ahead of time, but we don't seem to have records of more than 14. (It's not a coincidence that many records have been altered and gone missing when certain employees were terminated from the shelter). Feral cats should not end up at the shelter in the first place, and we relied on volunteers to spay/neuter some of the cats, just like with rescues. Although our volunteers weren't licensed separately as a rescue - I thought it could be done as part of the shelter's own TNR program, and I thought the cats had been sterilized. And yes, the volunteers included my mother and another wonderful woman who has since passed away. Everyone had the best intentions and the cats are probably happier than if they were dead.

Contrary to what Randy and the I-Team may want people to believe, I'd say the only thing Jere Alexander is guilty of is doing a lousy on-camera interview. She's way too natural and by natural I don't mean she acts natural, I mean she is natural. She's behaving on camera the way most people would naturally behave when put on the spot with a TV camera in front of their face and a reporter asking difficult questions. She appears nervous. She fumbles her words and there are too many pauses and there's uncertainty. She needs to learn to be more slick, get her own professional make-up artist, maybe train with a professional actor or politician to work on the surface sheen to give us the sort of onscreen persona we've come to expect from TV personalities. She'll need these skills if she wants to face off against the likes of Randy Travis again.

But then that's unlikely to happen.

On November 2, because of mounting public outrage due to continued negative reporting from Randy and the I-Team, Jere Alexander resigns. She writes him this letter:

Dear Randy,

I resigned, and I want to thank you. I don't think I could have left the shelter right now but for this persecution, because I was helping animals, and I felt responsible for doing all I could to help. But all the shelter killing can't end right now, not with the limited resources we have, and I can't take any more killing. Your investigation has definitely brought a lot of information to light and helped me to make some hard decisions.

But you certainly didn't give me a fair shake. I'd love to talk about the terrible deeds of the employees who are lying to you. But I can't: it would've be unethical to discuss personnel matters on the news or the internet. I also can't explain the circumstances around a ticket that is still pending. Wish I could. But I did share with you that the email you had was part of a larger conversation: there was no shutting down of an investigation. That's why we can't discuss it yet. [Jere kept her word on this. The above details concerning this case weren't revealed until after the investigation was concluded].So you can draw your own conclusions, and so can the public, but I'm at a disadvantage in being held to ethical canons (and county contracts) that you are free to ignore.

I didn't ever claim to have all the answers, and I came into this job eager to learn. I have tons of transferable skills, worked my ass off, did the best job I could - and it was a damn good job. My "agenda" was always to be a no-kill (or, more accurately, high-save) shelter - for all breeds and non-breeds. If that's personal, so be it, but I'm not alone in that desire. I'm proud that I wasn't willing to accept old tired shelter philosophy and BS as gospel. Despite what you've reported, there are plenty of other people who have seen the positive changes, but you didn't talk to them. Any issues could and should have been worked out with the good of the animals in mind rather than hate.

It's BS to say that pit bulls are aggressive, or that they are more aggressive than other breeds. I used to think that there was something to that claim in terms of a higher prey drive toward other dogs (NOT people). But I was so wrong! After managing the shelter, with all kinds of dogs (not to mention knowing hundreds of pit bulls in the course of my research) I have realized that it just isn't true. That idea is just overblown compared to training, socialization, and perception. The number of dog injuries in the kennel was NOT higher after we took over and stopped killing all pit bulls. The information you are spewing is just not accurate. We also instituted 24 hour supervision, just to keep dogs safe, as we told you and as you neglected to report. As awful as it is, dogs are going to get hurt in shelters, whether we kill all the pit bulls or just most of them.

I also can't believe that the son of a UGA professor would so cavalierly dismiss scholarly research. Unlike you, I'm bound by IRB protocols: I can't hurt the people I "investigate." My research was so difficult - emotionally, legally and ethically, but that's why it's important! But I know it wouldn't be quite as salacious for you to mention all that in your story.

Finally, for you to say the story "is what it is" - is, um, crap. Obviously your story was slanted and edited to show the side you chose. Any sophisticated consumer of media knows that. And it's not even internally consistent (are pit bulls good or bad? are we saving them to hurt them?) All the massaging you did to that content to get some kind of story doesn't even work. Maybe you would do better as a storyteller than a news reporter. But obviously you need a line of work that allows you to punish people with impunity.

We can all disagree about pit bulls, on the impossibility of "objective" journalism, on ethics and law enforcement. The bottom line is that it's all quite a lot more complicated than you can show in the format of news media - but if you take it upon yourself to condemn, you should try and understand rather than going for the cheap thrill - not for my sake, but for the sake of the animals. My life will greatly improve as I step back and finish my dissertation so I can tell MY story (and it's a doosie).

But with this unnecessary and negative press, you really have hurt the animals and especially the poor pitties, and for that, you should be discredited. But I don't want any part of that. I'll continue to fight for animals and pit bulls and shelter reform everywhere.

Again, this letter remains unreported by Randy.

At the end of Randy's third installment, he humbly accepts the compliment from the broadcast's co-anchor that because of his news reports Jere Alexander is no longer at her job as Director of Fulton County Animal Services.

In the next post, we'll take a look at the on-line assault on Jere Alexander's character and job performance inspired by Randy's broadcasts.

Final part here.