Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Care and loss

I remember this little girl from a few months back when she first came through Toronto Animal Services. She was returned to Toronto Animal Services a couple of days ago because her owner is critically ill.

I don't know the situation outside of that. I don't know about any family or friends who might have been able to step in and take care of the dog. Maybe they weren't there. Maybe they were but didn't feel like having any added responsibility. Either way, it must make a terrible situation even worse knowing that the pet you love is left homeless because you're no longer able to take care of it.

I often wonder about the relationship between older people and their pets. It's no news that in our increasingly self absorbed society many of our elders are left isolated without a strong network of friends and family to rely on for emotional support. Many turn to their pets in place of the comfort of a close biological family. That bond must be exceptional then, replacing the emotional ties that had been lost.

In my neighbourhood, I've known a few older people and their dogs. It's obvious that it's a greater effort for them to get up and out everyday to take their dogs for a walk but they do it because they take care of things they cherish as best they can. It's always sad, though, when I no longer see them.

There used to be a woman, maybe in her seventies, who went to the dog park with her chubby black poodle. She adored the dog but every so often she would let loose a piercing scream at it whenever it wandered too far away. I see them no more.

There used to be another woman, even older, frail and bent, and she had a white Shih Tzu that had an open sore in its side. She'd brought it to the vet but couldn't afford the cost of the treatment so she was asked to leave. I see them no more.

Though the relationship may be necessary and strong between the older person and their pet, their situation sometimes seems so fragile. It makes their bond that much more precious.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Great Dane at home in Oshawa

Ned, the lighter coloured merlequin Great Dane from Montreal, is resting in his new home with Luka the fostering family's own Great Dane. It turns out that Ned is a bit of a humper but it looks like the situation is well under control and the two dogs will be happy housemates in no time.

Update on Rambo

Looks like Rambo's finally being rewarded for spending all that time in jail. Thanks to Caveat for supplying the link.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Autumn sky

Winter is coming and part of me just wants to hibernate the next few months away but my dogs pull me outside and force me to breathe the chilly air, feel the brisk wind, and so finally my body wakes up and warms up as we walk. My dogs pull me outside and I am filled with life when otherwise I would just sleep.

The wind is strong this morning and cannot be ignored. Walking is a balancing act and Stella's ears flap around like little flags.

These swans are here every autumn and will stay until the very edge of winter when they are finally crowded out by sheets of ice.

Motor boats have been docked here most of the summer. They don't seem to ever be taken out. They just float around on the water until autumn when they are put away in storage. Rocky and Stella couldn't care less. They're tired of waiting for me to take their picture.

Stella reveals big monster teeth as she sneezes after sniffing the last few flowers of the season.

Rocky appreciates the leaves more than Stella. He happily crunches through them like a little kid at the park.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Highway of hope

written by Johanne Tasse a few months ago for a caacQ release,

As I am writing this article I just sent my last email providing details to the driver - details that will ensure our precious cargo arrives at its destination.

Transfer to where, what are you sending, merchandise ... I guess they are to be considered as such since they were discarded. But the difference is this product has a pulse, feelings and lots of love to give.

Since the beginning of January, we the rescue group members of the CAACQ were quietly going about our business of sending dogs to Ontario. It just started with a few every second or third weekend then the numbers of animals being abandoned was increasing and so did our transports.

What is happening? Maybe the long winter discouraged many to adopt, when spring arrives things will change. Spring has arrived and nothing has changed. The members of the CAACQ could no longer accommodate the ever growing demand. We had to find a solution to provide a safe haven for these abandoned pets no longer cherish by their owners. Some had valid reasons: death, divorce, sickness - but for the most part just a change of lifestyle and the family pet was getting in the way.

Euthanasia has long been the tool of choice to rid the problem of pet overpopulation.
In Quebec the issue of pet overpopulation is swept quietly under the carpet. City officials are not interested in the issue, "taxpayers' money not put to good use". The provincial goverment offers us Anima Quebec to appease the animal activists and the federal government - well it’s just too enormous to comprehend.

Nothing is working to reduce the number of unwanted pets. So what is the problem?

The lack of will and empathy is at the root of the current crisis. As you are swiping your credit card to pay for that new puppy or kitten, you have signed the death warrant of hundreds of animals, who through no fault of their own find themselves on the euthanasia table or worse.

Harsh you say! No, not really, I am pointing out a reality that we face each day.
The irony of this export of dogs to Ontario is they are being adopted at a rate that we would never dream of in Quebec. The mutts are always overlooked here so when I select the ones to be shipped I will give the "mystery" breed the best opportunity to find a home, the one who is older, or has been overlooked because of it’s imperfections.

It seems Torontonians don’t really care if the ear is not straight if the tail is crooked or that it’s not in "perfect" condition. Perfection is not what they are looking for. They seek a good family dog. That would qualify Torontonians as guardians. Guardians, who will cherish, care and accept this animal as the family pet.

For many Montrealers the 401 is a long trip to visit family and friends.

For these fortunate creatures it’s the highway of hope, a trip of a lifetime.

Please adopt and if your companion animal is not sterilized make an appointment today.

Be part of the solution not the problem.

Johanne Tasse
Founder of the CAACQ

P.S. Sadly cats are being warehoused across Canada and euthanized by the thousands. If you have feral cats in your neighbourhood do not feed them, instead have them sterilized.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great Dane at risk in Montreal - 5

Continued from here.

I've been putting up notices about this dog on one of the Great Dane boards I'm on and various people have expressed concern and offered to help. One of those people has pulled through in a big way and has decided to drive to Montreal to rescue the dog and foster it. She contacted Johanne Tasse who contacted me this morning and told me the fantastic news.

Tomorrow, the Great Dane, will be receiving his getting-out-of-the-pound bath and then will be driven west a few hundred kilometers to his new home in Oshawa. He leaves behind several other dogs with very uncertain futures but, still, I can't help but be glad at least this one life is saved. Johanne said even the pound owners are enthusiastically happy the Dane has found a safe harbour.

The sudden generosity of people sometimes surprises me. It's like a gift that falls out of the sky.

Great Dane at risk in Montreal - 4

Continued from here.

Yesterday from Johanne Tasse:

Good afternoon. Just came back with a woman who adopted a Dobie from me last year. She has had 2 Danes in the past. She currently is the guardian of an Irish Wolfhound and Lancelot the Dobie. As per Michelle "there is nothing wrong with this dog". Would not win ribbons but who cares.

25 lbs underweight
1 blue eye 1 green eye
29 inches at the top of his hips
Ears are clean
Did not hump anything
Wants to please !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We feel he is about 12 months old + -

We advised the pound to feed him
3 cups am
2 cups lunch
2 cups pm

Michelle would like to see him on cottage cheese and cooked ground beef...
Anyhow he is wonderfull I have no concerns about him.

I like him - one big goof.

A woman in Vaudreuil has called [to enquire about the Dane] for her sister who lives in Oshawa.

Continued here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Great Dane at Risk in Montreal - 3

Continued from here.

Johanne Tasse, of caacQ, has talked to the pound owners and convinced them to keep the Dane indoors. That's very good news because a big concern would be the dog freezing to death as the temperature starts dipping below zero. Combine that with the wet ground surface and a Dane won't last long having very little in the way of fur or body fat, especially this one.

Various people have been contacted in the Montreal area to see if anyone can accommodate a Dane foster. Great Dane Rescue Inc., in Toronto, has also been contacted so now it's wait and see if anyone responds.

Continued here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Great Dane at Risk in Montreal - 2

Continued from here.

A second person has just come back from seeing the Dane. She said that it was fine with the handling of its ears, paws, belly, etc. It's very thin, about 20 pounds underweight. Untrained, but friendly. There may be something wrong with its right hind leg but it is being kept outdoors on cold, wet cement so that may have something to do with it. She also thinks the dog is over a year old, not 7 months as previously mentioned but she is not sure as she is not familiar with Danes. She said she thought the dog was a good dog and would really like to see it indoors somewhere as the temperatures will be hitting zero soon. The pound is okay with keeping the dog alive if a rescue can be arranged. No deadline was specified.

Continued here.

Great Dane at risk in Montreal - 1

In my conversation with Johanne Tasse last night, she mentioned that there is a Great Dane at one of the Montreal pounds right now. We don't often get Great Danes at Toronto Animal Services, in fact none have ever gone up for adoption in the time I've been there - though one did stop by TAS for a few days until it was picked up to be fostered by Great Dane Rescue Inc.

I've got a soft spot for Danes so I made some inquiries about the Montreal one.

He's a 7 month old merlequin Dane, reportedly friendly with people and dogs, but untrained and wants to hump other dogs.

The rescue person who saw him had this to say:

"I think he is good looking, I whistled & he responded immediately. We did not take him out of the enclosure. He just wanted to be super friendly, but he would have bowled me over out of excitement in no time flat. Kisses through the cage. The situation is not good healthwise for these dogs living in these pens they are on wet, cold, cement 24 /7."

Unfortunately, the rescues in Montreal aren't experienced with Danes and I'm not so sure they'll put this guy on their list to take out of the pound. Also, it appears the dog's size is somewhat intimidating to them so I'd say he's going to be stuck in his cage for a while or until he gets euthanized - which may be sooner than later given the city's high kill rates.

I'm hoping that someone familiar with Danes and who is near Montreal or is going to Montreal, can do a proper assessment of the dog as it would be really helpful as a first step to getting him either adopted or fostered.

I'll keep posting on the situation as it progresses.

Continued here.


In spring of 2007, Johanne Tasse was wondering what the next step should be in her quest to find homes for as many abandoned Quebec dogs as possible. She was already well versed with the dog rescue world from her involvement with Animatch, a Quebec rescue that has been around since 1999. She toyed with the idea of opening a shelter but she didn't think she had the right temperament to run one and she also knew that just opening another shelter wasn't going to help solve the increasing population of unwanted dogs in Quebec. It didn't matter how many shelters there were, if people continued to treat their dogs like disposable objects then the death toll would always remain high.

So, more shelters wasn't the answer. Public education was. To that effect, Johanne formed the Companion Animals Adoption Centers of Quebec or caacQ. caacQ basically does PR and government lobbying to reduce euthanasia rates for companion animals in Quebec. Since incorporating caacQ in May of this year, five rescues have signed on as supporting members.

Johanne has been busy with writing press releases, making appearances at media events, giving interviews and advising municipalities on how they can improve their pound contracts, not only to make the lives of pound animals more bearable, but also to help reduce animal control costs over the long run. One thing she constantly stresses to bureaucrats is that one of the regulations listed in the Cahier de Charges (the marching orders given to every pound) must be that no animal ever leave a pound intact. Intact animals only increase the potential for more unwanted dogs or cats ending up on the street which means more pound usage and thus more expense to the municipality in the long run.

And of course, Johanne still does rescue work. She often goes to the Montreal SPCA and picks out dogs that have been malingering in their pens for too long or she will visit the local pounds and take their castoffs and puts them in places where they will have a better chance of getting adopted. One of those places is Toronto Animal Services. In general, she feels her dogs have a much better chance of getting adopted out in Toronto than in Montreal.

"The French buy. The English adopt," she says. She believes that because of Quebec's rural past, there is still a feeling among the French that dogs are disposable property. Johanne has spent a good part of her life trying to change that attitude and hopefully with the formation of the caacQ, she'll get closer to accomplishing that goal.


One of the pounds Johanne works with is run by a veterinarian, Dr. Plasse, out of the Lasalle Veterinary Hospital. He's a supporter of caacQ and has done work with their rescue dogs in the past. And because the hospital is also a pound, every so often, he'll end up with unclaimed dogs. Two of those dogs showed up at Toronto Animal Services just yesterday through the efforts of caacQ. This is one of them (my camera batteries died before I could take pictures of the other one):

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Adoption update for Alex

Alex has been adopted! Hooray!

He's been with Toronto Animal Services for more than three weeks now and I'll miss his happy smile but I'm glad he's found a home.

He'll be living north of the city with his new family, which happens to include a Yorkie. Hopefully, I can get some pictures of them once Alex is all settled in.

A pound of flesh

Montreal SPCA isn't the only game in town when it comes to collecting, storing and euthanizing stray and unwanted dogs in the city. There are about a dozen privately run pounds who have contracts in the various municipalities of the Greater Montreal Area to provide the cheapest animal control possible. Whereas the Montreal SPCA ostensibly has the animals' best interests at heart, these private pounds are operated by anyone who holds the winning bid and as a result, the pounds are highly inconsistent with respect to their facilities and care offered to the strays. Some are run by well intentioned owners, others are run by businessmen for pure profit.

The minimum services the pounds must provide are specified by the Cahier de Charges of the respective municipalities. These guidelines generally deal with enforcement of noise by-laws, capture of strays, pick-up requirements, etc. They say very little, if anything at all, about how the dogs are to be treated once under the "care" of the pound. For many dogs, depending on the municipality, that may mean three days of caged lock down, often without water or food, and then death. There are no incentives for pound owners to adopt out their strays so from a cost perspective, it's cheaper to euthanize.

A city contracted dog catcher doesn't get rich very quickly, though, so side business opportunities are exploited. As it turns out, many of these pounds are also pet stores, selling the most desireable of the unclaimed dogs, including the intact ones, to anyone who has the money.

One such pound occupies a non-descript building with its office and pet store on the main floor. In the pet store, along with the usual pet accessories and bags of dog food, there are some Shitzu puppies for sale. The stray dogs that have been caught are kept in pens in the basement. There are no windows and unless someone is down there, the lights are turned off so the dogs are in total darkness almost the whole time. The air is noxious. These unwanted strays are on sale, as is, for cheap: between $25 and $35. If they're not sold by the end of the weekend, they'll be euthanized. It's ironic when sometimes an unfortunate Shitzu gets abandoned and tossed into the pit and eventually euthanized when just upstairs, the store is only too eager to sell more Shitzus.

In another pound, which also doubles as a pet store, there is a room in back where dogs are kept in pens. Some of these dogs are being boarded. Some of them are strays. Some of them are for sale. The drains in the room are clogged with feces and urine but at least at this place, the dogs are sometimes allowed out into the backyard. The owner's son also breeds and sells Labs.

The largest pound/pet store is located just half a kilometer from the head office of one of Quebec's largest puppy mills, Lamarche & Pinard. Inside the pound, along with the pet merchandise, are cats in cages along one side wall and dogs in cages along the back. The open grill bottoms of the cages bruise and injure the animals' feet so cafeteria trays which cover about half the base area, have been kindly inserted.

These are the pound's strays but most of the dogs here are "desirable" breeds: small purebred, lap dogs, less than a year old. Very few are the larger mixed breeds. If you've ever been in a shelter, especially in North America, you'd know there was something strange about this mix. The stray dog ratios are almost always reversed, the majority being the larger mixed breeds and few, if any, of the little purebreds.

These dogs also happen to be for sale, $250 and up - especially for the designer breeds.

The suspicion is that some of the private pounds may be breeding stray, intact dogs. It wouldn't be difficult. Say a purebred, unaltered Boston Terrier is picked up one day. Keep that one around for a while until a female unaltered Boston Terrier is picked up. Pack them in together and a couple of months later, out pops one or two thousand dollars worth of puppies. Sell them unaltered, to save on costs, to anyone who asks, including possibly puppy mill owners, and who knows, maybe in a few more months, they'll breed and that's more dogs to pick up and more cash in the bank. And the ones that don't sell will just end up on the city's euthanasia tab since there are no accurate, transparent records of the numbers of dogs processed.

Any which way you slice it, there's money to be made.

Continued here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


from Jelena Kostic in Serbia

Me with Beki.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Troubles at the Montreal SPCA

Collecting stray dogs is good business in Montreal and lots of people want a slice of the municipally funded pie. With all the knives going in trying to cut themselves a piece, it's no wonder the result's a globby mess. And of course, it's the dogs that end up suffering - or maybe not suffering, maybe just dead. But even that's okay because sometimes a dead dog is worth more than a live one to the pounds of Montreal. So, needless to say, there are a lot of dead dogs.

Let's see if we can get past the body count and figure out how this can be. We'll start with the Montreal SPCA.

The Montreal SPCA is $4 million in debt and no one is quite sure why. They've got the forensic accountants working on it but nothing is clear yet except that the spending habits of their last director, Pierre Barnoti, probably didn't help. That spending would include his travel expenses to New York, Boston, Dallas, Europe and South America to the tune of $128,000. That spending would include a minimum of $120,000 in annual salary - the amount declared on his tax form though the actual amount is unknown. That spending would include annual $25,000 bonuses for the years 2004 - 2006 for "amazing success" on the job.

Now what's the definition of "amazing success"? I suppose that would include the above mentioned $4 million in debt, no money for staff training or computers, the laying off of staff members to cut costs, euthanizing dogs to sell to the vet school at the University of Montreal, consideration of industrial espionage on competitor Berger Blanc (Berger Blanc and the SPCA compete for lucrative city dog control contracts), extremely poor record keeping (in part due to lack of computers), a culture of fear amongst staff and volunteers and, worst of all, disturbingly high animal kill rates: 6000 in 2007.

Then there's also the issue of their fundraising campaigns or perhaps it would be more correct to say Pierre Barnoti's fundraising campaigns. Type in and you end up on a website called SPCA International. Now, originally, was owned by Montreal SPCA but through some slight of hand, the domain name was given over to Barnoti for safe keeping. He rolled that over into something called SPCA International which has become a massive fund raising machine. No one at SPCA International is willing to say exactly how much money they're generating but in a tax statement to the US government, Barnoti said he plans to raise more than a million dollars per annum with the site.

Now that's smooth. Barnoti has taken a site dedicated to the Montreal SPCA and turned it into a site that generates a million bucks a year but for what and for whom exactly given that SPCA International is his own pet project and is in no way affiliated with Montreal SPCA? Apparently, at least some of that money is making it to shelters. 33 "Shelter[s] of the Week" are listed on the site and each shelter is given $1000 each by SPCA Internaltional. That's a whopping $33000. Out of a million. At least a million. Because now with their highly publicized Baghad Pups promotion, where they help fly back puppies from Iraq, I'm sure the money is just pouring in. Just check out the Baghdad pups site with its multitude of Donate Now buttons urging you to do just that (compare that with 2 on the ASPCA site). According to the site's own accounting, they've brought back over 35 dogs at a maximum cost of $1200/dog. Let's give them 40 dogs then at $1200 each. That would be $48,000. So far, that's a grand total of $81,000 out of at least a million. Where does the rest of the money go? No one knows. And no one's telling.

Pierre Barnoti is no longer the director of the Montreal SPCA. Before the last general meeting could be held in April earlier this year, it was becoming obvious that people were fed up with the upper management and Barnoti decided to go on indefinite sick leave. He left behind an animal shelter in shambles and on the verge of bankruptcy but for himself he had already created a comfortable new work environ with SPCA International.

Let's hope that the new incarnation of Montreal SPCA pulls through and manages to regain the public trust. Their two recent puppy mill busts is a step in the right direction.

For a more detailed look at the troubles experienced by the Montreal SPCA and Pierre Barnoti, check out the CTV series of articles starting with "SPCA Part 1", as well as the New York Times piece, "From Porn to Puppies" .

Continued here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend update

It was a pretty successful weekend at Toronto Animal Services as far as puppy mill pup adoptions went.

There are still a couple left, though, including this little Chinese Crested.

He's a perfect lap dog with a whole lot of personality so I'm not sure why he hasn't been snatched up. You can actually see him in one of the Humane Society puppy mill seizure videos at about the 1:13 mark.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Incestuous and impotent

How does an operation like Paws R Us fit into the overall dog manufacturing industry in Quebec? Why are they not shut down like they would be if they were located in another Canadian province? Why are there an estimated 2000 breeding facilities in Quebec (no one knows for sure but I'm guessing these breeding facilities run the gamut from backyard breeders to large scale puppy mills)?

Here are the connections: Many puppy mills in Quebec are due paying members of PIJAC, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a lobby group for the pet industry. PIJAC is on the board of Anima Quebec. Anima Quebec is the provincially created body whose mandate it is to enforce Quebec's outdated animal welfare regulations. So, here we have Anima who is supposed to police the pet industry but at the same time has pet industry reps on its board.

Hmm, I can just imagine one of their board meetings now.

Chairperson: This week we are going to inspect the We Aren't a Puppy Mill Kennel just outside of Sherbrooke.

Industry rep: Oh no, I personally know the owner of that kennel and I can assure you that it is not a puppy mill.

Chairperson: But we have dozens of complaints from customers who say they have purchased sick and dying puppies from the place.

Industry rep: Some people just don't know how to take care of their dogs and then they blame the merchandise, er I mean the puppies.

Chairperson: But we also have complaints from nearby residents about the stench and howling and barking that come from the place.

Industry rep: Nosey neighbours. You know the type. Jealous and can't mind their own business.

Chairperson: There are also photographs taken by someone who snuck into the barns where the dogs were being held. The conditions didn't look very healthy and there were a lot of dogs.

Industry rep: Then I suggest you find that person and arrest him for trespassing.

Chairperson: There's also a lot of public pressure to look into this one. I'm afraid we can't avoid it. We have to go in.

Industry rep: Is there nothing I can do to make you change your mind?

Chairperson: No, absolutely not. The public trusts us and we must uphold the law.

Industry rep: Er okay. So when do you think you'll be going in?

Chairperson: Tomorrow. Oh no, actually, not tomorrow. Our inspectors have got their beer and bowling night tomorrow. Let's make it the day after.

Industry rep: Sounds good. Err, please excuse me while I make a phone call.

Chairperson: Of course.

Industry rep (on phone to answering machine): Er, allo? Louie? I just wanted to call to let you know that you need to do your "laundry" tomorrow because the day after "papa" will be showing up for a visit.

A week later:

Industry rep: How did the inspection at We Aren't a Puppy Mill Kennel go?

Chairperson: You were right. The inspector found nothing. As a matter of fact, when he arrived, they told him they had just finished doing their daily clean-up. The place was spotless.

Industry rep: See what did I tell you?

Chairperson: Funny thing, though. There were a couple of other barns there which were locked and the inspector thought he heard whining coming from inside them but he didn't go in because he didn't have time.

Industry rep: I'm sure it was nothing. Probably just chickens.

Chairperson: Yes, I'm sure you're right. Just chickens. Ha ha ha ha.

Industry rep: Ha ha ha ha ha.

Chairperson/Industry rep (together): Ha ha ha ha ha ha ...

Even without this direct industry influence, animal regulations in Quebec are, to say the least, pretty loosely interpreted.

Excerpt from P-42, the Animal Health Protection Act, found on Anima's website:

"The moral element required for conviction excludes mere negligence. In a criminal prosecution, the person who neglects to request the information that someone reasonable and prudent would ask, or who does not know the facts they should know, is innocent in the eyes of the law."

So, even if someone is negligent towards their dogs, as long as they admit that they were negligent due to ignorance and general stupidity, it's okay. Carry on.

How does this fantastic piece of legislation translate into real world numbers? In 2005, the first year Anima started their inspections, they checked more than 200 breeding facilities and out of those 200, only closed down two and even then, they were voluntary closures.

Nicole Blouin, spokeswoman for Anima Quebec, was asked if inspectors who came across obvious cases of animal abuse would prosecute to which she replied they are not prosecuting such cases. "We are applying the provincial law."

It's a good thing, too, that Anima Quebec doesn't demand too much from itself because with only 5 inspectors for all of Quebec (compared to Ontario's 300), they wouldn't want to be overworking their staff.

From Huguette Lepine, director of Anima Quebec:

"The main target of Anima Quebec is safety and welfare of animals - not just to find guilty people. We are in a hurry but going slowly."

No kidding.

Continued here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I was talking to a dog rescue worker in Montreal last night about the situation there with the SPCA and the proliferation of privately run, for profit pounds and I'll have more on that hopefully by tomorrow (if I can resurrect my home computer back from the dead), but for now, check out this article she recommended. It's from the New York Times, "From Porn to Puppies" and it makes a connection between the recently deposed executive director of Montreal SPCA, Pierre Barnoti, and on-line porn kingpins. It also involves a missing $4 million, possible SPCA name misappropriation, Iraqi puppies and Bible thumpers. Yes, it's a deep, messy gob of slime to wade through and it's best to read the whole article but if you just want the SPCA-related bits, start on page 5.

Continued here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

There's the door

Staff: Hello, is this Mr. S?

Mr. S: Yup.

Staff: Hi. This is Toronto Animal Services. I'm calling to let you know that we found your ...

Mr. S: No, thanks. I'm not interested.

Staff: No, I'm not trying to sell you anything. I'm calling because we found your dog this morning. It was wandering along the roadside and one of our officers picked it up.

Mr. S: Not my dog. I don't have a dog.

Staff: Are you Mr. S at 35 ---- Ave?

Mr. S: Uh, yeah.

Staff: Well, we read the chip in the dog's neck and it registers you as the owner.

Mr. S: Oh.

Staff: Yeah, it's a Shetland Sheepdog about 6 years old.

Mr. S: Oh yeah, now I remember ... that dog.

Staff: Yes, that dog.

Mr. S: Well, uh, it's not my dog. I gave it away.

Staff: You gave it away?

Mr. S: Yeah, some guy took it.

Staff: When did you give it away?

Mr. S: Oh, a few months ago.

Staff: And who did you give it to?

Mr. S: I don't know. Can't remember the guy's name.

Staff: Do you have his contact info?

Mr. S: No.

Staff: Do you have any idea where he lives?

Mr. S: No.

Staff: So you gave away your dog to a complete stranger without getting any contact info?

Mr. S: Yeah, so? What's the problem? I didn't want it anymore.

Staff: (pause)

Mr. S: Hello? Is there a problem here?

Staff: When exactly did you give the dog away?

Mr. S: I don't know. It was a few weeks ago.

Staff: I thought you said it was a few months ago.

Mr. S: Uh yeah, I guess it's months ago now.

Staff: Alright, if you happen to remember who you gave the dog to, can you call us back please?

Mr. S: Sure.

Shetland Sheepdog. 6 years old. Gentle, polite. Great on a leash. Sits well. Likes other dogs and people. Quiet at first but is very affectionate once he gets to know you. Abandoned by owner and up for adoption.

Update: Adopted on October 17.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

You won't feel a thing

Are we ready for injectable pet sterilization? Who knows but there's definitely some people we should try this on. Oops, did I just say that out loud?

Update 2 on Smiley (now Pochi)

My name is Catherine and my partner Nathan and I adopted a dog from Toronto Animal Services on July 25th. At that time she was named Smiley and was one of a number of dogs rescued from Serbia - she was the one with the severely broken leg and limp. You gave me your e-mail address at that time and requested an update; so here it is!

Pochi (her new name) has adjusted beautifully to living in our apartment. She is just as loving and gentle as she was the first time we met her. We love taking her for walks and playing with her. Pochi recently finished an obedience training course and now knows how to sit, stay, lie down etc. She is still a bit nervous around other dogs, but we hope that with patience and time she will get better socialized. She bonded to us very quickly and had us wrapped around her paw in no time. We decided before we brought her home that she would not be allowed up on the couch - now it's her favorite place to snooze and have puppy dreams.

An initial exam with the vet went well. We put her on a diet to help fatten her up, but she will always have to stay slim to reduce the stress on her joints. Thanks to you and the staff at Animal Services we were able to obtain x-rays from the people who originally rescued Pochi in Serbia! We became friends with people halfway around the world who were overjoyed to find that she had been adopted. She is truly a special animal to have touched so many lives. We are so grateful to the many people who were responsible for caring for her and giving her a chance at life when her prognosis did not look good. This, of course, includes you. The work that you and the staff at Animal Services have done, and continue to do is so, so important. Thank you so much for looking after all the poor wayward souls that come to you and making their lives better! Words can't express how grateful we are.

Happy Thanksgiving,


P.S. Attached are some photos of Pochi enjoying her new home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


from Jelena Kostic in Serbia

Isn't he just beautiful! I wish he can find a good home somewhere abroad.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If only

There are times I go into Toronto Animal Services when it's hard to decide which dogs to walk, which dogs need the most attention. This happens when there are lots of dogs in-house and not enough volunteers and this happens to be right now. For some reason, adoptions have been slow the past couple of weeks and so dog numbers have gone up as more come in but few leave.

Why so few adoptions? Is it the change of weather? Is it the global economic crisis? Is it the seeming lack of strong leadership choices for prime minister (I've got voting decisions on my mind)?

Or is Toronto saturated with dogs? Well, I hope it's not that. I doubt it's that. But, then why so many good dogs at TAS and hardly anyone comes by to take a look?

I walk through the different kennel rooms and see faces staring at me, imploring me to take them out. Do I walk the easy dogs? Do I walk the more difficult dogs because they might not be getting enough attenion? Do I walk the newer dogs who may need some additional reassurances in their new environment? Do I walk the dogs that have been here longer than the rest? There are several that have been here too long. They're good dogs and should be curled up on a couch or doggie bed in their own homes by now, not curled up in a cage.

On days like this, I try to find compatible dogs and take them out two at a time. I know. Two at a time doesn't seem like much when I'm sure you've seen professional dog walkers with 5 or 6 or more but we're not talking trained dogs here. Even with just two dogs, I spend most of time untangling leashes from dogs and from myself as they go right, left, under, over, around. With two dogs, it's like four times as much work as one dog but it actually is a more efficient use of time and time is what I need if I'm to get as many as possible of these dogs out for walks. The dogs appreciate the company, too. It's more exciting for them especially if they hit it off and start playing with each other. But of course two dogs playing on leash just adds to the entanglement so basically it's a mess all round.

It would be nice if TAS South got an exercise yard, especially for crowded days like this, to allow the sociable dogs to hang out with each other. Then they wouldn't be so bored, they'd get lots of play time with each other and the volunteers could do more dog training as opposed to just walking the dogs for exercise and washroom breaks. Yes, there would be more risk of spreading communicable diseases as well as dog fights but that would have to be monitored. The ill dogs and the anti-dog dogs would have to stay in their individual kennels although it would be great, actually, if the even those dogs had access to their own private outdoor run via a doggie door. There's so much room down on the CNE grounds, where TAS is located, that you'd think it wouldn't be too difficult to allocate some of it to an outdoor dog exercise yard especially since most of it now is just vast swaths of parking lot spaces which sit empty most of the time. With an outdoor exercise/play yard, TAS could become a place where dogs actually got healthier and happier with each passing day and all those mournful faces I see staring out from behind bars would disappear.

The ideal set-up would be just like a well-run doggie day care.

I'll put that on my wish list along with the million dollar lottery win and world peace.

Now I have to decide who to vote for.

Monday, October 13, 2008

2 brothers

from Jelena Kostic in Serbia

This puppy and his brother were found in the street. So adorable.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Mac, a Pointer, is Rocky's best friend. Mac is the only dog other than Stella that Rocky even likes. Why Mac? I don't know for sure. It may have had something to do with the fact that Mac was one of the first dogs Rocky met after I adopted him - and that was about a year and a half ago now.

Rocky has a really winning personality with people but he was always passed over for adoption because he was older and in pretty rough shape. He was in such bad shape, actually, that no one thought he was going to last for more than a couple of months. My original plan was to take him out of Toronto Animal Services and give him a comfortable place to rest and feed him some good meals for his few remaining days. No dog deserved to die alone in a cage.

On a Monday afternoon, after work, I arranged to have Stella and Barclay there to greet Rocky as soon as I brought him out of the TAS building. Barclay was already old and frail by then and Rocky didn't pay too much attention to him. Stella, on the other hand, with her bossy attitude and large disposition, was hard to ignore but Rocky handled her fine. They sniffed each other and gave each other a pass.

After a few minutes with his future housemates, I took Rocky to the dog park where there were at least a dozen dogs whooping it up. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and people were lingering longer than usual. I walked Rocky through the throng of dogs and he seemed a little tentative but he was okay. He got along with the small Min Pin and JRTs and he was fine with the bigger Labs and Huskies and the other Doberman as well. A couple of dogs made him raise his hackles but he backed off and nothing came of it. Anyway, Rocky had always been fine whenever we crossed paths with other dogs at TAS so I wasn't too concerned that he'd react negatively now.

Rocky met Mac that first time in the park and while he didn't spend much time with Mac - the whole park experience was too new and exciting for Rocky and there were so many other dogs to check out as well - their introductions were amiable.

The guess is that Rocky was a backyard dog, never trained, never socialized except with one other dog. This first week at the dog park was his first introduction to lots of new dogs on the loose and I should have been more careful because, unfortunately, a couple of bad episodes would occur back to back which would forever change Rocky's attitude towards other canines.

The first few days went smoothly. Rocky met the morning regulars and was comfortable around them. Although, he was still adjusting to his new routine and didn't form any bonds with the other dogs, he was curious and approachable. But then, on the following weekend, the first incident occurred. When Rocky and I arrived at the park, there was only one another dog there, Socrates - a dog I'd never met before. Socrates seemed friendly enough and his owner didn't give off any creepo vibes so I introduced Rocky to Socrates and everything seemed fine. They sniffed each other, did a bit of a circling dance and then Rocky turned away. As soon as he did that, Socrates jumped on Rocky's hind quarters and started to hump him. Rocky wasn't too happy with that but Socrates' owner pulled her dog off before the situation got any worse. She scolded Socrates and then released him. Rocky was several meters away but Socrates trotted right over to him and jumped on him again. This time Rocky yelped and fell to the ground and then turned and snapped at Socrates who was still trying to hump away. Rocky's no small dog but Socrates was bigger, younger, faster and stronger and there wasn't anything Rocky could do to keep Socrates away. I ran over to them and separated the two but it was too late. Rocky had already been hurt. He had a hard time getting up. It looked like it was his hip dysplasia further traumatized by Socrates' exuberance.

Rocky had a bit more difficulty walking the next few days but after a week, he seemed back to normal - normal for him being hips that swayed and hobbled from his Wobblers combined with the hip dysplasia. At the park, for the next few days, he kept to himself. He'd sniff around a bit, eat a bunch of grass and then come lie by my side and soak up the spring sun.

There were several people who had young dogs at that time and two of them were chasing each other around one morning. They were still uncoordinated and full of energy and having a great time, oblivious to all else. We had just arrived and Rocky was on his way to his favorite patch of edible grass when the two young dogs tried to whiz past him. The first one cleared him fine but the second ran headlong into Rocky's hind quarters. Rocky cried out in pain as he fell over. when he tried to get up, he fell over again. I ran over and helped him up and he was able to stand but his back left leg was useless. His ACL had been torn.

So that was that. His ACL eventually healed - thankfully, no operation was necessary - but from then on, Rocky's attitude towards most dogs became highly antagonistic. He would stare, freeze, bark, lunge and act basically like a nutcase - anything to keep other dogs away.

I've been trying, with behavioural training, to ease Rocky back into the company of other dogs and it's had some limited success. There are a couple of dogs he tolerates now and on the whole, his behaviour isn't as over the top as it used to be. Not that it's great. His reactivity distance is reduced but it's not like he'll welcome the close contact of another dog. He still eyes approaching dogs with suspicion and sends out scents and signals which are obviously quite intimidating, judging from how other dogs always give him a wide berth. A frequent scenario is an off leash dog will come running up to Rocky. Rocky will glower at the other dog. The other dog suddenly stops a couple of meters away and it's like something was suddenly dropped on its head and the dog slinks down and slowly backs up and then runs away.

Rocky's like the scary old man all the kids in the neighbourhood are afraid of - which is fine with him. Dogwise, he only ever felt comfortable around Stella, Barclay ... and Mac.

Now Mac's generally a pretty independent dog. As he's gotten older, he's become more affectionate with people and other dogs but when he was young, he'd spend almost all his time chasing squirrels or obsessively trying to find squirrels to chase. We could be an hour at the park and Mac wouldn't come around even once to say hello. Maybe it's that slight indifference that still remains that Rocky finds unthreatening.

Whenever Rocky sees Mac, instead of hackles rising and suspicion, his stubby tail wags into hyperdrive. He gets all impatient and does that little hopping dance dogs do when they want to greet someone but know they're on a leash and can't get closer fast enough. Even then, however, Rocky can't totally dispel his psycho energy and Mac senses this and takes on a submissive posture. I guess having a crazy guy calling you his best friend, you tend to tread carefully.

The first few times Rocky and Mac played together, Mac fell on his back and exposed his belly to Rocky and Rocky, being unsocialized and thus unskilled in the language of dogs, didn't quite know what to make of this. He stood over Mac wondering what the hell was going on. He nudged his nose into Mac's belly trying to make him get up but Mac stayed down. Then Rocky barked at Mac but not with his usual frantic high pitched beserker bark he uses to keep dogs away. This bark was conversation and eventually Mac understood. Mac got up and bumped playfully into Rocky and then took off, inviting Rocky to chase and Rocky obliged. Rocky had no hope, of course, of catching up to Mac. Mac wa a fast, lithe dog full of long distance energy. Rocky hobbled. It was like watching a retired football player with bad knees trying to keep up with an Olympic sprinter. But no matter. That was just my perception of things. Rocky was having a great time. His tongue was hanging out and he had a huge smile on his face. It didn't matter that Mac was already half a field away. Eventually, he'd let Rocky catch up and then the two would bump noses and push each other around a bit and then chase some more.

I say that Rocky doesn't like having other dogs around but I'm not sure that's entirely true. Sometimes, when I watch carefully and see him reacting to the approach of a dog, I sense there is a confused and conflicting desparation in his actions. He is afraid and so he does what he feels he needs to do to keep other dogs at bay but at the same time he is also wanting companionship, a bond, a safe haven with his own kind. He wants to meet a potential friend but is afraid of a possible enemy. And that's why his friendship with Mac is so special. It means that in that mixed up head of his, there is still room for trust for other dogs. And that's something to be thankful for.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What's that smell?

It's been theorized but never confirmed that dogs smell fear. Now there's proof. Swiss scientists have discovered that the Grueneberg ganglion, which is a bundle of nerve cells residing in the olfactory system, is responsible for the detection of alarm pheromones. Alarm pheromones are given off by animals and even some plants, in the presence of danger, real or perceived.

Scientists were able to pinpoint the Grueneberg ganglion as the alarm receptor in animals by removing it in mice (a lot of mice paid dearly for this little piece of knowledge). Unaltered mice froze when alarm pheromones were sprayed into the air around them but mice with their Gg's removed behaved normally.

The reaction of an animal on sensing alarm pheromones is fight, flight or freeze. You see this all the time between new dog interactions. Two dogs will approach each other, sniffing. Sometimes, the sniffing continues undisturbed and maybe play or indifference follows. But other times, the sniffing suddenly stops and one or both of the dogs freeze. Tensions rise - even the humans can sense that - and the dogs need to be pulled apart immediately or else a scrap breaks out. Because the anxiety level amongst the dogs at Toronto Animal Services is pretty high, as at any shelter or pound, the place must be saturated with alarm pheromones and it's no wonder that a lot of dogs will snarl or cringe in the presence of other dogs there. It's actually quite amazing that it doesn't happen all the time.

This also gives credence to the old saying that you shouldn't act afraid in front of a dog or, more to the point, you shouldn't be afraid. Dogs, like people, understand that fear precedes hate precedes possible violence. You hate what you fear and then you want to kill it. People are obviously great examples of that.

The only time my Doberman Rocky ever barked at a person was one morning when we were on the sidewalk and turned a corner around a tall hedge and surprised someone coming in the opposite direction. The guy was so freaked out by the sudden sight of Rocky, who wasn't even looking at the guy, that he pushed himself into the hedge and stood there staring, shaking and babbling. At that point, Rocky stopped, sniffed the air and barked twice at the guy - and quite possibly made the guy pee his pants -and then we continued on our way.

When Stella, my Dane, was 7 months old, she was bitten hard on the nose by an adult dog as they were sniffing each other. Back then, if I'd known the signals, I would've pulled her out of harms way but being inexperienced in such things, I didn't react fast enough and then it was too late. Stella would have smelled the alarm pheromones coming from the other dog followed by the bite and the association between the two has been strong ever since. That one incident has dictated the way Stella would forever interact with new dogs. Unless I temper her self-introductions, and I always do, Stella will actively try to push a new dog around to see how it will react, to see if it gives off alarm pheromones. If the other dog's alarms don't go off, then Stella is fine. But if the other dog does get anxious and emits the alarm pheromones, Stella freezes and that's when I need to step in, quickly. Throughout the course of the next few mintues of the first meeting, Stella will constantly re-evaluate the new dog, her nose in the air, sniffing around its vicinity, and at some point if the anxiety levels drop then everything is fine but if anxiety stays high, Stella remains on constant alert. It can be very catch-22.

This also explains why the dogs at the shelter, or anywhere for that matter, can react so differently to different people. Sometimes someone might ask me about a specific dog and I'll say, "Oh that dog seems pretty friendly" and then I see the person hesitantly approaching the dog and the dog starts backing away in its kennel, barking. What I should say is, "Yeah, that dog's pretty friendly if you're not scared of it."

So, perhaps this gives us some more insight on how dogs perceive the world around them, that they get different signals from it than we do and thus react to it differently than we do.

For example, let's say there's a video camera following you around. It's broken so it captures only video but no audio. A Martian is viewing the camera's image from his remote monitor on his flying saucer. He can see you and the people you interact with, but obviously can't hear what anyone says. As you walk along, a stranger approaches you. He's expressionless but as soon as he sees you, he stares at you and then says he's afraid of you and he hates you and he's thinking he might just do something about it. The Martian watching the video, can't hear this, and even if he could hear it, probably wouldn't understand the language anyway. All the video shows is someone stopping and then opening and closing his mouth. If you continue along your way without responding to the words of the stranger, the Martian viewing the video might consider that to be congenial, civilized behaviour. If you backed away from the stranger, the Martian might classify you as a timid or even fearful specimen. If you attacked the stranger before he attacked you, the Martian observer might think you were unpredictably aggressive and then he'd beam you aboard his flying saucer and make sure you would never be able to reproduce.

We, as humans, can't fully understand the world of dogs because we can't fully appreciate their sensory input nor their interpretation of that information so do we really have the right to judge a dog as being a good dog or a bad dog? Because dogs live amongst us, are part of our society, we expect certain behaviours from them but perhaps we need to understand that far from being reasonable, in the dog's eyes, these expected behaviours may be downright crazy given the signals they receive which we don't even acknowledge, at least not consciously.

Humans also have Grueneberg ganglion, which means we are also affected by alarm pheromones but perhaps on a more subconsious level. So the next time you walk by someone who gives you or your dog an evil, hateful stare (if you own a dog, I'm sure you've experienced those stares), try spraying some perfume in the air. Some odors really should be covered up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

French connection 2

Five more from the Quebec puppy mill bust last week. All young, all instinctively joyous when people approach, though God knows why after what people have put them through.

One beagle is calm, gentle.

The other is kinetic until I pay attention to it and then it melts and all is well.

One Cocker Spaniel is playful.

The other one is quiet but determined to be near a person, to approach and seek comfort from anyone who passes by.

Then there is the Shitzu who is like a silly little toy, legs moving so fast they look like a blur but still only barely keeping up to my walking pace.

I wonder if the people who will eventually come and take these dogs home will know what they have saved them from?

James from Toronto Animal Services was up in Montreal over the weekend to check out some of the other dogs taken from the seizures. He immediately noticed the big dogs, the Great Danes, Mastiffs, Labs, Irish Setters but there were also lots of little lap dogs, lots of everything, Boxers, Pit Bulls. Even with all the fostering help various rescues and shelters have been offering, the Montreal SPCA still has over 400 dogs under its care at the moment (this includes about 100 dogs which were there even before the puppy mill seizures).

The illicit dog trade in Quebec is completely out of control. Attempts to curb it have been muddled by the usual folly of human politics combined with lack of will. Here's an article in The Toronto Star about that sad state of affairs.

Addendum: Here's the video report hosted by The Globe and Mail. (When I tried it, it was loading up pretty slow).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rambo court decision

Rambo, the sort of maybe looks like a pit bull that's been held at the Mississauga Animal Control for the last several months is about to be shipped out to a farm in Nova Scotia which does pit bull rescue. The deal was struck in court on Wednesday so a trial to determine the life or death fate of Rambo was averted. You can read about that decision here or if you'd like a more in-depth analysis of the whole affair, Caveat has been writing about it since pretty well the beginning.

Basically what the court decision means is that in Mississauga, pit bull looking dogs can now avoid the death penalty by being shipped out of Ontario. Easy peasy. If you own an illegal pit bull (eg. one that was born after the no pit bull law came into effect in Ontario) and you want to keep it, all you have to do is move to another province. Hey, Quebec's only a mere 5 hours away. You can commute that can't you?

Yeah, the deal for responsible pit bull owners still kinda sucks. It's only a very small step in the right direction although for Rambo, it's a huge step in the right direction. He doesn't have to die.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Adoption update 2 for Irene

From Irene's (now Pickles) new owner:

I've been meaning to write and give you an update on Pickles (Irene) for some time now.

I adopted her from TAS in late July; since then we've become pretty much inseparable.

I changed her name since my Aunt Irene would have been a bit offended if she had found out my dog shared her name (She's actually my great-aunt and had some fuddy-duddy notions). The name Pickles just happened. About 20 minutes after we got home from the rescue I was opening a jar to snack on and my friend asked me to "pass the pickles" well Irene cocked her head and jumped off the couch and came running to her, since then the name stuck!

She's been spoiled rotten since day one. Yummy treats and my grandma's recipe for homemade dog food (in addition to her kibble) has helped put on about 3 or 4 extra pounds that she needed to thicken up. She's never in need for a comfy lap or chin scratch. My friends and family come over to visit on a rotating schedule, so that she's almost always had company (even when I'm not home to entertain). Her collection of toys is getting a bit out of hand. She has a few favorites and has to find the chosen few to pile them on the end of my bed before she can fall asleep.

She's very active and loves nothing more then playing with other dogs at the local off-leash park. She's good with fetching and will play for hours on end. She's friendly and gentle. My friend's toddler is smitten with her and she's careful not to roughhouse with him. The first time they met she circled him with a questioning look for a few minutes and then lay down to let him pat her back and rolled over for him to rub her belly.

Pickles has an insatiable need for belly rubs. I try to indulge but once my arm gets tired she's likely to get up and find someone else to pick up my slack. We have a morning ritual where once the alarm clock goes off she nuzzles me until I wake up enough to rub her tummy and chin.

Our morning walk to the park is always quick. She can't wait to get there and play with her new friends. I always feel terrible when I have to make her leave so I can get to work on time. The afternoon walk is a bit more leisurely, she knows we're not in such a rush and she'll stop and sniff everything possible.

I love reading the one bark at a time blog. I enjoy the stories and of course all the photos. I'm so thankful for the people who are responsible for bringing Pickles to me. I can't imagine what I would be like for her to still be living in Serbia; and I wish I could adopt every dog at Jelena's rescue. If there's ever anything I can get involved in I'd like to help.

I'm including some photos of Pickles. (I'm no pro, but she's a ham for the camera!)

Thanks again.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

French connection

First walk outside, ever.

Quebec's got more puppy mills than any other province in Canada so it's unfortunate but not too surprising that in the last couple of weeks, two puppy factories were raided and hopefully shut down for good. The first seizure involved over a hundred animals and the second over two hundred. That's over three hundred dogs who suddenly needed to find new homes.

So that's what the sun feels like

Toronto Animal Services is helping out with the rehoming and the first batch of dogs arrived on Sunday. I've seen them and they're all pip squeaks. You can probably juggle all of them and eat an apple at the same time. Okay, I'm kidding because if you had them all together in the same room at the same time your head might burst from all the excessive cuteness.

So that's what fresh air smells like

A couple of them are a little shell shocked from the experiences of their past lives but hopefully it won't take long for them to break out of it. I know a little sunlight, fresh air and green grass will help. And being pip squeaks, I'm sure they'd like some warm laps to snuggle into so if any of you have any laps you'd care to bring down to TAS to help with their rehab, please feel free.

Happiness is a patch of grass

In case you're thinking: Hey, these dogs don't look in such bad shape. Maybe those puppy mills weren't so nasty after all... Well, actually, we just got some of the luckier ones. To see where they came from, take a look at the video:

Monday, October 6, 2008


This posting was contributed by a friend who just recently left Serbia.

I am not a dog person. I grew up in a pet-free household in a pet-free neighbourhood. When I was finally on my own, I adopted a cat. Not that I disliked dogs: but they seemed to me big, messy, and demanding, unsuitable to a career life in ever shifting identical one bedroom apartments.

For forty years, I lived with cats. When we left for Serbia it was with two cats in carry-ons.

It was not a love of dogs that got me involved in animal welfare in Belgrade: it was the sight of pregnant cats dragging their bellies across busy streets, of mangy dogs digging in garbage, of dead kittens in a garbage bin, blind old dogs abandoned to the mercies of wholly inadequate shelters. it was the sheer scale of the need, and the realization that I could do something, however small, to help the Serbs trying to meet that need.

One Sunday, early in my stay, a small group visited a local shelter known informally as The Concentration Camp for Dogs. Four hundred dogs with inadequate food, inadequate shelter, where puppies were born to succumb to parvo, where one third of the dogs died annually, often killed by the other dogs, and the rest ate the carcasses. This shelter was, in fact, richer than most: it had support from a foreign foundation. Somehow, the support did not translate into enough food, let alone sterilization and veterinary care. Fights were constant, and the two staff, poorly paid and overwhelmed, did what they could under the unfriendly eye of the shelter owner.

We went for no other reason than to pet dogs. One of the staff felt the dogs were in desperate need of attention that he and his colleague could never give. So we went, not knowing what to expect, but worried that we would get caught up in a massive melee of teeth and hunger if we dared to sit down.

But we did. For four hours, four people sat and stroked ears and repeated endlessly, "Dobar pas. Good dog."

And a miracle occurred. For four hours, four hundred dogs crowded around four strangers, with almost no fighting. Every one of them wanted his or her turn getting an ear rub, a muzzle scratch. Everyone of them wanted to hear those words, "Good dog. Good, good dog."

That is when it hit me. These are not wolves. They are not wild animals. The human race created the dog to serve and be a companion, and the dog needs us to be a dog. Without humans, the dog is nothing: it is not a wild thing that can live happy in its pack. It is a domestic animal that merely gets by when abandoned, living by laws of the jungle that it is no longer suited to, and that no longer suit it.

Let me stress that these dogs were killers. They killed puppies and weaker dogs to eat. They lived in a constant turmoil of dominance fights, often with severe consquences, because of the number of new dogs coming into the shelter every week. Some were insane with rage: still others were mad with terror.

You would never have known it on that Sunday. Every dog, of every size and temperament, came for those few seconds of affection and attention. Every dog was a Good Dog.

I realized then that every dog, every dog, is a good dog. It is people who are the problem. We are the ones that abuse and neglect these creatures, we are the ones who breed them for ridiculous charateristics, or aggression, or fast sale. We are the ones who adopt them without thought, without research into their needs as a species or a specific breed, tie them in yards and forget them, fail to give them adequate veterinary care, or abandon them when they get old, or perpetuate myths and stereotypes and pass them off as wisdom.

I'd like to be able to say that The Concentration Camp for Dogs is no longer in business. There was a strong move to force either an improvement in conditions or closure, but, because of local politics and its private ownership, all that happened was that the foundation modified the way it supported the shelter, and the local owners stopped allowing the public in a fit of pique.

Nonetheless, before that, we did rescue a few, including two fighting pit bulls that had been thrown in because they were not winning enough.

Every single rescue has been rehabilitated, every single one. The warrior dogs live with a husband, wife and small son in a tiny apartment, getting out for long runs for about four hours a day. They are marshmallows, devoted to their people, particularly the child. Even when attacked, they do not fight until their lives are on the line. We would often take these two ferocious-looking dogs to public events to show, live, that even killer dogs could be rehabilitated.

The terrified mother who came with demodectic mange over 80% of her body is now a happy, perfectly socialized dog living in Canada. All the puppies that were rescued in a midnight raid had parvo: all but two survived because they had rapid veterinary intervention. All the survivors were placed in good homes, and are still there. The aged German Shepherd is living out her few remaining years in dignity, in a yard with sunny patches, abundant fresh water and people to rub her ears and give her the brushings she so adores. The terrified mop that refused to come out of her hole for two years now dances happily around the feet of her family, begging for treats.

And I left Serbia, reluctantly, with two cats in fancy carry-ons, and two dogs in the live animal baggage area.

The dogs are works in progress: Jimmy has perpetual skin problems that require constant attention, is still timid of loud noises and strange people. Magic is the most defensively-aggressive dog you have ever met: she even barks and gets her hackles up at low flying airplanes. Many of the staff in the new place are scared of her, and if I didn't bend over backwards to keep her under control, we would have trouble.

But, you know what? They are good dogs! They have every reason to fear people, given what they were rescued from, every reason to expect nothing but pain from us.

And yet, they lay here at my feet in bliss just because they have me to look to for protection and guidance. They want to please me. Magic, when I bark at her to 'be good!' writhes with the conflict between her fear and her desire to please me by backing down, then comes running for a chin scratch and a 'Good dog!'

Good, good dogs...

Update on DobieX (Lucky)

Talk about fast. As soon as Lucky hit the adoption floor at Toronto Animal Services, people were calling about him. Unfortunately, you can't reserve a dog over the phone so it's first come, first served and the one to show up first was a family with a teenaged son. It looked like Lucky was going to be his dog but all three were beaming as they filled out Lucky's adoption papers.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Scenes from a dog park - 4

Stella is 6 now or just a bit over. I don't know when her birthday is except that she was born in the summer 6 years ago. For a Dane, 6 is bordering on old. Stella, like most people, made her best friends, her life long friends, when she was young.

Stella saw Marlowe today. Marlowe is a German Shepherd. The first time they met, Marlowe was a pup and Stella was just a little over 2 years old. We were at the park and the instant Marlowe saw Stella, he came rushing over and crashed into her. He being maybe 10 lbs. and she being 130 lbs. meant that the impact didn't amount to much. But Marlowe was no slouchy puppy. He kept jumping up at her with his big puppy feet and bouncing off her and grabbing at her jowls and nipping at her ankles until like a great elephant hunted by a pesky Pygmie, she was beaten into submission and fell to the grass, rolled on her back, tongue hanging out. Even then Marlowe gave her no mercy. He would tumble in haphazardly, as puppies are wont to do, crash into her again, fall on her, and then tumble out. By the end of it, Stella was so exhausted from play, she couldn't even lift her head. Of course she loved it.

Stella doesn't play much with puppies anymore, in fact, these days, she'd rather avoid them whenever possible, but when she used to play with them, she was always gentle with them, matching their strength, never overpowering them. She was like that with Marlowe. He'd run around her feet and she'd try not to step on him even as he was trying to find some tender part on her to nip. He was especially good at getting at her ankles, tripping her up. And then she'd turn around and box him with her paw or press down on him with her chin. She never bit. In play, she never used her teeth.

They've been good friends ever since that first day and Marlowe became one of the pack. There was Dao, the Portuguese Water Dog, and Mocha, a Husky Shepherd cross and Mac, a Pointer and Yuki, a Husky and Ozzie, a Ridgeback and there were others but I can't remember them all. We had some good mornings back then when everyone would show up and all the dogs played and it must have felt like a family for them. I know it did for Stella. Whenever we got to the park first, she'd always stare at the gate waiting for her friends to show up.

In the years since then, people's schedules have changed, arguments and politics have arisen, some have moved, new people have arrived with new dogs, some of them - the people - not so friendly. The park is busier now than it ever was but Stella doesn't see her old friends as much, some of them hardly ever and the new dogs, well, they're just not the same thing.

That's why this morning, when she saw Marlowe, she was thrilled. Her tail started whipping back and forth and she kept looking back at me from the end of her leash wanting me to hurry up. And when they played, they played like when they were young, assuming their former roles of David and Goliath, Stella still whacking Marlowe with her paws, Marlowe still deaking in and out, running circles around Stella.

It was good to see her happy like that, lost in the moment. Too often these days, she stares fruitlessly at the gates to the park, hoping for some friends to show up. She'll just stand there, by herself, waiting.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bread money

Photo by Elizabeth Abbott.
More photos of Jelena's shelter in Serbia

I always thought that the bread Jelena got to help feed her shelter dogs was a donation from a local bakery but apparently not and now the bread deliveries have stopped until payments are made. I'm not sure what this means for the long term prospects of the 400+ dogs in her shelter but for more information you can go here.

Brown eyes

Alex is an undernourished Pit Bull and he's up for adoption at Toronto Animal Services. He's the staff favorite. There's something about his enthusiasm, friendliness and goofiness that is contagious. Being a bit of a lunkhead, he loves to bang his hard noggin into doors in an attempt to help you open them. He stares into your eyes and tries to give you kisses.

As I was taking his photo outside the facility, a small crowd actually gathered to say hello to Alex. That's never happened before. People were enchanted by his big head and his big brown eyes. One guy asked me what breed he was and when I replied that Alex was a Pit Bull, the guy was visibly surprised. He said he thought Pit Bulls were a lot bigger. There's no real standard for Pit Bulls, I said. Didn't matter that the guy didn't know that Alex was a Pit. Alex kissed him anyway.

There was a courier who stopped and got off her bike and sat on the ground with Alex in her lap. She thought he was my dog but I explained the situation to her. He was found as a stray. The family who owned him was tracked down but they didn't want him anymore. The courier asked me if Alex was still a pup. No, he's 5, I said. She was surprised. He acted like a pup. His butt wiggled whenever he wagged his tail.

It's doubly hard finding good homes for Pit Bulls. Their reputation and the legal hassle of owing one tends to scare away most people who just want a loving pet and it attracts the ones who want a weapon or a fighter or a status symbol. Kids have brought in fake IDs in order to try and get a Pit Bull. People on the Do Not Adopt list will get friends to try to adopt for them.

Alex might be a tough sell but I think the people at TAS are going to look after this little guy and make sure he gets good owners.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bullshit and lies

With the upcoming Ontario court appearance of Gabriela Nowakowska, owner of pit pull Rambo, BSL has been on my mind. BSL, otherwise known as Breed Specific Legislation, is a generalized term for any law that specifies special treatment for a specific breed(s) of dog. And by special treatment, I don't mean they get a steak dinner or a spa day. The goal of BSL is almost always breed extinction either through attrition or more proactive gathering and destroying. BSLs always target pit bull type dogs, though by no means are they exclusive to pit bull type dogs. Many places are currently considering implementing some form of BSL. Many places, including Ontario, have fairly recently done so. Some countries, like Denmark, have implemented BSL and have then revoked it once they discovered it didn't reduce dog bites. Other countries, like Italy, keep adding to their list of banned breeds so that now they have almost a hundred unwanted breeds (although they too may be in the process of repealing BSL).

BSLs kinda makes sense though, right? If a breed is bad, why should we allow people to own dogs of that breed? Like handguns, which are used to kill on average over 1200 Canadians a year (, dangerous breeds of dogs should be banned as they're responsible for at least, uh, 1 - 2 deaths/year ( Funny that. Handguns are involved in 1200 deaths/year yet are not banned but some dog breeds which are responsible for only 1 - 2 deaths/year are banned.

Some might argue that even 1 - 2 deaths/year is enough for instituting a ban. After all, two wrongs don't make a right. Well, first of all, I'm not entirely sure that those deaths were actually caused by any one specific breed (the stats aren't that clear in Canada). And, secondly, if we use 1 - 2 deaths/year as a criteria for banning stuff then why aren't we banning cars, slippery bathtubs, tall ladders, everything that toxifies our waters, everything that pollutes our air? We don't ban those things because the benefits they provide us outweigh the costs. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to minimize risk but an outright ban goes too far. Of course that's just my opinion and a lot of people would disagree.

A lot of people would say that the risks involved with owning a pit bull are too high. A lot of people would say that owning any large dog is too risky. Or any mastiff or terrier type dog is too risky. A lot of people would say owning any dog is too risky. A lot of people just distrust and hate dogs or think of dogs as inanimate and disposable objects. Sure, the latter might still claim to love dogs, well certain types of dogs anyway, but probably in the same way they love their cars or Blackberries.

I'm not going to present arguments for or against BSL in part because there are many better informed and researched websites and news articles on-line dedicated to doing just that. I'm just going to tell you how I feel about it.

When I was younger, the only pit bull I knew about was that one on Li'l Rascals, Petey, and it seemed charismatic enough, as well-behaved and friendly as any tv dog. Other than that, pit bulls as a breed didn't make any significant impression on me. Later, even after the media started publishing pit bull attacks, I didn't give much thought to them with respect to being a dangerous breed.

And then I moved into Parkdale. At that time, there were several noticeable pit bulls in the neighbourhood seen with their big stud collars on, dragging their wannabe gangsta owners around by a chain or rope. I wasn't as much put off by the dogs as I was by their skanky owners. I remember one guy who punched his dog in the head and called it a "fucking asshole" when it started pulling on the leash trying to reach my dog.

One day I was at the dog park and saw a teenage girl with a puppy and of course I walked over to see it. It turned out to be a pit bull pup. It was ferocious. I'd never seen a puppy actually attack dogs before but that's what this one was doing. It was attacking all the dogs who came near it. It would growl and bite and hold on and try to shake. It would do this to dogs five times its size. The dogs being attacked would immediately back off or start to fight but the other owners always pulled their dogs away before anything serious happened. The teen, the pit's owner, just sort of chased after her dog and giggled but didn't really put a stop to its behaviour.

About a year after that incident, two guys were walking up my street with a black pit bull straining on its leash. There was a cat on a driveway a few meters ahead of them. One of the guys, seeing the cat, bent down and released his dog. The cat tried to run but the dog caught up to it, grabbed it and started to bite and shake and bite. The two guys were laughing but possibly it was nervous laughter. They walked up to the dog and managed to leash it back up and got it to release the cat. The cat crawled under someone's open front patio. It was severely mauled, blood all over. The cat was brought to Toronto Animal Services by someone who was at the scene but I'm not sure what happened to it as that was before my time volunteering at TAS. Nothing happened to the two guys, of course. They just walked away.

So now I'm thinking, okay, pit bulls, maybe they're not such a good breed after all. Maybe a breed ban, a BSL, would be the right thing to do.

I continued to feel this way until I started volunteering at Toronto Animal Services. The pit bulls were usually kept in a room to themselves and volunteers generally weren't supposed to walk them for legal reasons. I encountered a couple of really nasty ones there. And then there were some that were average, typical dogs. But then there were some that were amazing dogs. That's where I met B and Rex and a bunch of others. They were friendly, had great personalities, acted like clowns, loved affection, sought out physical contact. They were everyone's favorites when they were in the shelter. They were amazing creatures because they changed my mind about dogs in general and pit bulls in particular. What they made me realize was this, something which should have been obvious right from the start: that every dog had to be judged on its own merit. Breed stereotypes are not a fair or just or realistic representation of what each individual dog is or can be. Especially in cases of life or death, to kill a dog simply because of its outward appearance is stupid and wrong. And it's heartbreaking.

I started to think back about that incident on my street with the pit bull and the cat. So often, we let our dogs (and cats) chase squirrels or other smaller animals in our parks or backyards. So often that results in severe injury or death to the other animal and yet we would never consider euthanizing or muzzling or otherwise restricting a pet for doing something like that. How's a dog supposed to know that it's not supposed to chase down a cat especially when its owner gives it permission, even encourages it to do so? What's the difference between a cat and a squirrel to an untrained dog? Both are equally non-human, small furry creatures and thus can be prey. Who was really at fault for causing the cat's suffering? Who let the dog off its leash in eager anticipation of violence? Who is almost always really at fault? Why do dogs have to suffer the ultimate sacrifice for their owner's misdeeds? Why do we have Breed Specific Legislation that kills innocent dogs instead of enforceable laws that address the criminals?