Saturday, February 27, 2010

Haiku for Mercedes

Perfect pittie grin
Snorting like a little pig
Melting in my arms

Sweet disposition
Happy to the max, is she
Just my cup of tea

Belly rubs galore
Soft puppy kisses on chin
Perfect afternoon

Friday, February 26, 2010

Walkin' with Sadie Girl

Studying the unique pattern of Sadie's distinct patches of dark velvet grey against patches of snow white is enough to make a walk with her interesting. But I find that Sadie has two wonderful sides to her personality, which are just as distinct yet amazingly in unison as the grey and white patches in her coat, that make a walk with her all the more interesting.

At times, Sadie is an adventurer, an explorer within the jungle of thick, tall grass and the untamed wilderness along the banks of the pond. She takes her job as an explorer very seriously. She tucks her delicate ears back against her head in a look of intense concentration. Calm and alert as she surveys the land, no bend in the pond remains undiscovered, no squirrel hole or flower escapes her inspection. Exploring is what she does best, with the maze of soft grass and trees always preferable to the rough and uninteresting asphalt. Sadie will make you feel like a little kid again, pretending like you are exploring a new, dangerous, and exciting land.

But there is another side to Sadie. When she isn't focusing on the discovery of new lands and smells, she becomes filled with a silly, playful, spirited, jump-for-joy, grab hold of the leash and play kind of energy. She can suddenly transition from the serious explorer who is enveloped in her work, to the goofiest playmate a dog walker could want. She'll turn around, give the biggest smile, and suddenly burst into an energized and loving playfulness. She'll leap in the air several times if it is enough to make you giggle and stroke her velvet coat.

A cute habit of Sadie's is to fuel up with a full belly of water before a walk. She will greet you with enthusiasm and joy, and then quickly run to her water bowl to get a tank full. She knows the great walk that's ahead of her, and she doesn't want thirst do distract her in the least from her work or play. Sadie is constantly exercising her mind and body, and will make her walker feel the same way. If you are low on energy or enthusiasm, a walk with Sadie girl in Kennel 12 comes highly recommended.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Skye Blue


I'm sure that many of our readers, if not all of them, have experienced the indescribable feeling you get when you meet a certain dog. It's like're drawn to them. There's a connection with a dog after you meet them and you just know that they're going to be a fantastic companion and that in no time at all, they'll feel like they're yours. Had that feeling? Yep, me too.

This past Sunday I had that experience with Skye in kennel 15. Scared and cowering in a corner, Skye wouldn't even come over to say "hi" to me as I leaned down to give her a smile.

I found her "raccoon face" absolutely adorable, but her eyes looked so sad. Ignoring all of my attempts to get her attention, I grabbed a blanket and went to go sit with her in her kennel. Hesitant to approach me, she crawled on her belly over to my lap, sniffed me, and then proceeded to squiggle, wiggle, and SNORT like a piglet as she crawled onto of my legs and buried her nose between my shoes. With a little bit of company she immediately perked up and I saw a brightness return in her pittie smile.

Everyday, I've stopped by her kennel to give her a little visit. I couldn't help myself. Just look at that face, wouldja? Tell me how could I possibly resist a big ol' hug and kiss from such a pretty little low ridin' lady.

Today I decided to give her a bath - she was stinky and dirty and since I liked hugging her so much it just made sense to make her smell nice. Right? The moment we stepped out of her kennel, her tail was wagging non-stop for the rest of our visit. She was so relieved to be out of there....

It's little things like that that remind volunteers how much we really give to the dogs at the shelter. We help keep them sane in a place that is such an unnatural environment for them. Even little daily visits, like my visits with Skye, are so important for their well-being. Heck, even the not so "fun" stuff like brushing them, giving them a bath, clipping their nails, practicing commands -- all of these things will help them become more social, better adjusted, and more adoptable.

After her bath, I took Skye to the kitchen to snuggle, dry off, and meet volunteer coordinator, Amelia, and manager, Kate. With her wiggly form and her loud snorts, Skye worked her charm on nearly every staff member and before long, they were all smitten. :) Although we're not quite sure where Skye originally came from, staff believe that she was most likely an at-risk-for-euthanasia-dog who was rescued from another shelter, perhaps by a well-meaning volunteer, and then left at BACS. Whatever her story may be, we don't care - she's darling - and we'll gladly take her and find a home that's just the right fit.

People oriented, playful, cuddly, smart, easy to handle and manage - Skye is a first-time dog owners dream! And not only is she great with people, but she loves other dogs! At the first sight of Mona (Amelia's gorgeous rottie mix), Skye lowered into a play bow and wiggled with delight and tried to start a game with her. Grouchy and not feeling well, Mona was not having it. But that didn't dampen Skye's good mood - we brought out Jamie (yes, little Jamie!) and she still wanted to play. Jamie, being a little fire-cracker now that he's on steroids for his various ailments, barked and jumped around like a cricket for a few minutes until we shoo'd him away so we could have more time with Skye.

Sadly, all visits have to end, and I brought Skye back to her kennel after an hour or so. Her change in mood was instantaneous and very noticeable as she laid down on her bed, heaved a great sigh, and looked at me once again with her sad eyes.

Next time you're at the shelter, take a few moments to just visit with this sweetheart and trust me, you'll be as enamored with her as I am.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rescuing Shadow


Last week I had the privilege of riding along with ACO Marcie while out in the field. We did the usual stops: dropping off animals at the vet's office, picking up animals at the vet's office, scooping up dead animals that normal people don't want to pick up themselves, leaving notices on doors, looking for 'at large' dogs, stopping at Berkeley Bowl for iced tea and potato chips (wait! Forget that last one!). All in all, it was a very mellow, very easy day. Until about an hour before our return to the shelter.

We had one last stop to make - simply a follow up visit with a family to make sure that they had purchased a license for their dog.

Marcie and I pull up to the apartment building, park and get out to look around the property. Out of the corner of my eye I see that the fenced in yard is full of debris: broken furniture, car parts, a few garbage bags. When we go into the building to speak with the owner, I am surprised when he leads us outside to the 'junk yard' to show us his dog because I was expecting the dog to greet us at the door. In the junk yard, I notice a small, dark hut in the far corner of the fenced in yard. "How could I not have seen that there before?" I thought. The closer we get to the hut, the stronger the smell of dog food and urine becomes. There are a few ratty blankets laying outside the shack, but it looks empty.

The owner whistles to his dog and that's when I first saw Shadow.

Shadow gingerly wobbled out of the hut, tail between her legs, head down, feet shuffling along the ground. She wagged her tail slightly when she saw her person coming to say hello to her. But standing was too much for her and she tipped over. Trying to steady herself, she walked diagonally towards him as he knelt down to give her a big kiss on her head. The man held her as he told us about her.

Marcie, who had already met Shadow 2 months earlier, was concerned by Shadow's appearance and condition. Upon her last visit, Marcie found Shadow to be playful, bouncy, puppyish, and happy. Her coat was full and glossy and her belly was nice and round. Now Shadow looked thin, distressed, and most importantly, in pain.

"Why is she limping?" I asked the man. He proceeded to tell Marcie and I how 1 month earlier, Shadow had been kicked by 4 teenage boys that were passing by their property. Shadow was protecting her family and barking at potential intruders, when one of the boys kicked Shadow in her back through a hole in the fence. Since that incident, she had not been doing well, he said. By this time, I had settled on the pavement next to Shadow, gently petting her neck and head. She slowly crawled into my lap and shivered there, whimpering ever so softly. After only a few strokes on her back, my hands were covered in dirt and my arms itchy with fleas.

"Has she been to see a vet?" Marcie asked. Shadow's person informed us that he had 5 children, one of them a new born, and could not afford another expensive vet visit (Shadow has been spayed several months earlier after having a litter). I told the man that I understood his situation. The children and his family must come first, it's as simple as that. The next choice, however, was not going to be as simple. Marcie knew that Shadow needed to see a vet to determine the severity of the damage, but would the man let us take her?

Holding Shadow in my arms as she shivered in fear and discomfort, my heart was breaking at the thought of leaving her behind without anything to ease her pain. Marcie convinced the owner that Shadow needed to see a vet and that the only way she was going to see one was if she went to the shelter. By now, the rest of the man's family had joined us outside. The children were coming up to Shadow and I, scratching her ears and kissing her face. Shadow's owner had a difficult decision to make: surrender Shadow to the shelter so that she will be healthy and pain free or keep her because they love her, even if they can't afford the treatment she needs.

After a long talk, the family agreed that as much as they loved Shadow (they cried as they helped carry her/place her into the truck), they could not give her what she needed. Although I am glad that they acted in what I believe in is Shadow's best interest, I can imagine how difficult it would be to make such a decision. The children ran behind the truck as we drove away with their dog and I could hear Shadow's soft whimpers from behind me.

On our return to the shelter, Marcie and I placed Shadow in a kennel with a kuranda bed, fluffy blankets, and a bowl of wet food. I held her for a few minutes and told her everything was going to be okay. The following day she was going to be going to the vet's office and we would see where we would go from there.

I didn't see her again until this past Saturday. She was the first dog I went to see that day and I'm so glad I did. I went to her kennel and she recognized me almost instantly. She sprung out of her kuranda bed (despite her injury) and then wobbled over to the door to greet me. She immediately nuzzled her head next to my neck and I could feel her muscles relaxing as she settled in my lap. Glad that she remembered me, I felt comfortable trying to give her a bath. Although a little uncomfortable and not quite sure what to make of the bath, she did fine.

Brown water trickled down the drain as I rinsed the shampoo and cream rinse out of her black, glossy coat. A 20 minute hot bath with lots of bubbles was a first for her, I think. I towel dried her, using fresh towels from the dryer. And then brought an extra large blanket to snuggle on in her kennel. After I knew she was dry, warm, and comfortable - I thought it was time to try our first walk together.

At first I went slowly, worried that her legs/back would begin to feel uncomfortable if we went to far or too fast. But surprisingly, Shadow's spirits lifted once outside in the fresh air. She rolled in the grass, sniffed everything in sight, and looked back at me every so often to see that I was still by her side. Her tail wagged gently from side to side as we made our way to Aquatic Park. Along the way, we rested at a park bench and Shadow wiggled underneath my legs and settled herself between my knees. She rested her chin on my knee and breathed a deep sigh. Of relief, perhaps?

When we arrived in the park, we sat on the warm grass next to the play ground and simply enjoyed eachother's company. Shadow was nothing but sweet, gentle, and grateful. She continued to look up at me with her deep brown eyes and I saw a tenderness in them that I absolutely fell in love with. After several minutes basking in the sun, we returned to the shelter and I helped her get settled in her kennel.

I have already grown so attached and so fond of this wonderful, delightful, perfectly resilient girl that I wish only the best things for her. Slowly healing and taking medication for her pain, she is getting everything that she needs before she finally finds a home that is worthy of her.

Monday, February 22, 2010

BACS Rainy Day Fund: Round 2!

As I'm sure y'all noticed, yesterday was indeed a rainy day. Only a handful of dogs had a visit with a volunteer yesterday in their kennel, and even less got to go for much needed walks. Volunteers worked to make KONGS for many of the dogs and passed out toys and blankets.

Due to wear and tear, we're running low again on KONGS and chew toys. Any contribution you could make to help keep our shelter dogs sane, healthy, and happy would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bad Rap Classes - back to Saturdays

Hi all,

It looks like Bad Rap classes have switched back to Saturdays as of February 21. I stopped in at the shelter today (Sunday) to pick up Azul, but was told the day had changed. The class has been moved to Saturdays, at the same time (11:30 - 12:30).

Thanks! I'm not sure where else this information was posted but want to try to make everyone aware.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dana Blossoms

Out walking yesterday at Aquatic Park, I crossed paths with another volunteer who was walking Dana. And I let him in on the secret of happy walks with her: stop every 20 or 30 feet and give her a hug. Because Dana, young and athletic and energetic as she is, is first and foremost a love bug. She'll choose hugging over walking any day. We often sit on a bench at the park and watch the ducks; she's content to sit quietly with her head in my lap, looking up for scratches and more affection.

I've always suspected that Dana really likes other dogs -- I already know that she loves kids, though very small ones scare her -- so today we took Dana and Teddy (a wonderful guy himself) on a "play date". And boy, did they have a great time! Those two would make terrific full time companions, though I think each of them would be a great companion for any like-minded dog.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Sweet Nala

Nala never got the chance to be a puppy. Her last moments were spent alone in a concrete and metal walled cage. It’s anyone’s guess where Nala was before she arrived at the shelter. Maybe at one point in time she had a person who cared about her and a place to call home or, maybe, she was “just an animal” who was a apart someone’s home decor. All we know is that she was put out on the streets at 11 months old and left to fend for herself.

When I first met Nala, she hadn’t been out of her kennel in four days. She was in heat and wasn’t allowed to go on any walks. When I went to read her walk card, she stared up at me with longing eyes, her head cocked to the side. How could I say no to a face like that? I

spent 10 minutes or so getting to know her in her kennel before I took her out, because the comments from other volunteers said she was a bit hand shy (and, boy,were they right!). For the first minute or so, she ducked her head every time I attempted to pet her, but her avoidance lessened as time ticked by. Eventually, I got her leashed up and brought her to the play area under the overpass.

Once there, she didn’t want to do much. We played fetch for a bit, but when the novelty of that wore off, she settled next to me. We sat side by side on the creaky, wooden bench, enjoying the fresh air (not THAT fresh, because we were right by the freeway) and each other’s company. Within that time, she became affectionate. She would wiggle her way under my arm and onto my lap. She would roll onto her back for a belly rub, wiggling so much that she slid off the bench. She was silly and sweet and all she ever wanted was someone to love her.

Over the course of a month, I really got to know her. I took her out every time I went to the shelter, always remembering to stop and rest on the bench by the estuary for a quick cuddle. I gave her fluffy blankets whenever I got the chance and extra food to fill her skinny frame. I wanted so badly for her to do well in an environment that I knew broke down so many animals.

A few weeks later, we found out Nala had ringworm, but I didn’t care. When I could, I walked her, and when I couldn’t, I spent time with her in her kennel. Sadly, it wasn’t enough. Nala’s physical and mental health quickly deteriorated and she was put to rest on January 11, 2010.

I always wonder if things would have been different if I had done more for her: taken her out more, sat with her longer. Having these regrets - knowing that maybe I could have done something to save her - is eating away at me.

I will always remember her and her lively spirit, her sweet kisses, and her silly little stare.Hopefully, she is looking down on us from Doggie Heaven, a place happier than this world could ever be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lovely Lyle


My relationship with Lyle tells my story as a volunteer at BACS, as well as my evolution away from my Pit Bull prejudices. Once the dog I’d never walk, he’s now my sweetheart. I’d adopt him myself if I could!

A mere eight months ago, had you told me I would soon be training difficult Pit Bulls, I would have said “heck no!” Then my 10-year-old daughter, Addie, talked me in to visiting the shelter to meet her friend and her dad who were already volunteers. Addie quickly talked me into taking the volunteer class, and before long we were walking the “green dot” and “yellow dot” (easy) dogs once a week.

I remember well when I first saw Lyle. He scared me: BIG dog. Red dot. Jumping. Yellow, squinty eyes staring at me. And, yes, I thought he was just about the meanest and ugliest dog I’d ever seen – pink skin showing through his thin head-coat and all. No way would I be walking that dog!

Meanwhile, Addie’s twin brother, Matt, also became a volunteer and I graduated to orange-dot volunteer status. We got to know Little – a mild-mannered brown Pittie that my daughter had grown fond of. But, after many months in the shelter, Little got increasingly “kennel crazy” and was elevated to red-dot status. Addie was on my case to petition for red-dot volunteer status so that we could walk Little again. Not feeling ready, I got special permission to walk her, and that’s how I started to learn how to handle more difficult dogs (with lots of help from staff and more experienced volunteers).

It wasn’t until I met Lyle on the street with another volunteer that I began to overcome my prejudice against him. He seemed so calm and looked up at me so sweetly. Maybe I could give him a try. So, I asked permission to walk him, asking Tim to get him out of the kennel for me. Once I got used to him, I started getting him out of the kennel myself (no easy task) and soon Amelia put a red dot on my badge (Addie and Matt were so happy!).

Then Amelia encouraged me to take Lyle to Bad Rap obedience training down the street on Saturdays – he really needed some training, and so did I! On the first day, Lyle tried to declare himself the boss – rolling over when he was supposed to be sitting up, jumping up on me, and generally making me look like the novice I was. But with help from Bad Rap, I learned how to be the boss, and by the third class, Lyle was sitting on command, making eye-contact and waiting for the next command. What a change, and what a smart dog!

Recently, BACS volunteers were treated to a special “red dot training” with Kathy, where we learned to patiently wait for the behavior we want, and give a treat when we get it. Now I wait for Lyle to sit before I open his kennel – he knows what to do. We go for long walks and practice what we’ve learned. We stop at the Seabreeze CafĂ© where he gets a rawhide chew and we let him mellow out after being cooped up for too long. He is very content to “hang out” calmly around other dogs and people.

Now, far from that dog I swore I’d never walk, I’m in three times a week to see him! We’ve nicknamed him Piggo, since he has big pink ears and a pink nose. We’ve decided he’s half-cow, though, with those big brown spots on his body and his tendency to graze. He gets so happy and excited when he sees us!

So, if you have love to give and receive, can handle a big dog (or are willing to learn), please consider Lyle. He may still seem overwhelming, but it’s clear he has the capacity to learn. And, since we now take care of Little while her owners are out-of-town, I can attest to how much a dog can mellow out once he or she comes home. I have no doubt that Lyle will likewise be transformed when he’s yours.

Written with love by BACS volunteer Nancy R.

The Very Voluminous Val

R.I.P. Val

What do you get when you cross a bear, an abnormally large farm animal, and a ginormous pit bull? You get Val: a very large, very handsome, very goofy kind of dog. A dog that I really enjoyed spending time with during his short stay at the shelter. A dog that, despite his size, was a love muffin who loved people and affection. A dog that, because of his size, was difficult to handle for some and needed special attention.

Volunteering at the shelter has brought me much joy. But on some occasions it has been exhausting, emotionally draining, and very hard. Still new to the shelter environment, I am still getting used to the fact that some dogs will not find a forever home. Several dogs that I cared for have been put to death....The dogs that I'd come to know and love were desperately unhappy, scared, frustrated and had absolutely no outlet for all of those feelings.

Rudy, Will, Lady, Blue, Rock, Nala, Val and Papa - very different dogs with different temperaments and histories. But they all have one thing in common: their last days were at the shelter. Coming to care for a dog at the shelter, seeing it suffer and develop behavioral problems, then losing them has been so hard. It's no one's fault - it's just the way that it is. And sadly this was the fate of Val, too.

Val, you were stubborn, but loving. Strong, but tender. Goofy, but a quick learner. I enjoyed the walks that I took with you around Aquatic Park...I enjoyed relaxing on the dock together. I had a lot of fun practicing different training techniques with you and watching you actually learning and being eager to please me with the right motivation (natural balance is yummy, right boy?). I'm sorry that I didn't take you out for more walks, I wish I had.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Today I had the pleasure of taking Miss Shona out for a long and relaxing afternoon walk. As soon as the shelter opened, I made my way for her kennel and knelt down to say 'hello'. Shona leaned into the door and wiggled with delight - 'Hurray! A walk!'

I placed a couple of soft, warm blankets in the back seat of my car and helped Shona climb in (her back legs have a mind of their own sometimes). The first thing I noticed while driving back to my apartment with her was that she wasn't trying to get in my lap....she wasn't jumping into the front seat or chewing the backseats or slobbering all over the window. Shona sat like a little lady in the backseat, right smack dab in the middle. She would occasionally sniff a little out the window, but the majority of her ride consisted of looking forward with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. So well-behaved!

When we arrived at my apartment, we picked up my boy friend, Derek, and headed out to lunch on College Ave. The walk to Crepevine from my apartment is a little less than a mile and a half and because of Shona's old age and hip injury, I wanted to take it slow. But Shona insisted on going at a brisk pace and I was more than happy to oblige her.

Along the way we were stopped by many pedestrians who wanted to "ooh" and "aaww" over her grace and beauty. Less well-behaved dogs barked and lunged at her and Miss Shona took no notice. Oblivious to any negative energy, Miss Shona is quite the happy dog. Merrily strolling along without a care in the world, Shona was disappointed when we arrived at our destination for lunch. However, she did perk up a little bit when a friendly waitress brought out a doggy treat and a big bowl of water for her. And she perked up even more when lots of little kids came over to pet her, scratch her behind the ears, and tell her how pretty she was. They offered her treats and she took them gratefully, but gently. During our lunch, Shona laid at my feet - never barking or stirring, content to be lying in the sun.

The walk back was more difficult for Shona, her legs were getting tired and she was ready to take a nice long nap. But with plenty of rest stops along the way back to my apartment, Shona finished the walk.

At one point during our lunch a man called to us from a few tables over.

"Is that dog really up for adoption?" He asked me as I bit into my yummy french toast. (Hey, it's Valentine's Day, I can eat french toast for lunch if I want!)

"Yes, she is," I told him. "She's from the Berkeley Shelter on 2nd St. And her name is Shona, would you like to meet her?" The man came over from his table and gently pat Shona on her back.

"I really like this dog," he said sincerely.

And who wouldn't? A sweet, friendly older lady who gets along with everyone and everything and doesn't have a care in the world and all she wants is to lay by your side for the rest of her life? She sounds marvelous! And believe me, ladies and gentlemen, she is.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy News!!

Queenie has been adopted!

Words cannot express how happy this adoption makes me. For those of you that have been following the blog - you'll know that I have a real soft spot for Queenie. She always manages to bring a smile to my face with her snorting, her ridiculously large butt wiggles, and her romping through the play area like a puppy (a very big puppy...).

When Queenie first arrived at the shelter she was so mellow. Incredibly gentle, docile, easy to handle. The only reason Queenie was required to be walked by experienced 'red dot walkers' was because of her strength and size. Queenie was gentle and cuddly, confident and happy. I fell in love with her enthusiasm for life and her appetite for fun.

However, with each passing day, week, and month at the shelter Queenie began to become a different dog. She began developing some behavioral problems due to lack of exercise, stimulation, and contact with humans and dogs alike. My heart ached seeing her kept in the kennel. When I would pass by her kennel door, she would look at me and there were times where you could see just pure "panic in her eyes", as one volunteer puts it. And it's true - she was panicked.

This past week before Queenie's adoption, she was scheduled to be put to death. She had become so difficult that she was almost dangerous for some volunteers to take her outside. No longer safe to collar and leash up, volunteers could not take her for walks. Queenie needed to get out of the shelter and she needed to get out that day.

Queenie's adopters knew about her circumstances and knew that time was of the essence, so they came in to meet her the morning she was originally scheduled to be put down. Her PTD date was extended because they wanted to come in to meet her for a second time the following weekend. A volunteer, Suzanne, agreed to let Queenie stay at her home for a few times to relax, decompress, and gain some of her sanity back before her next visit with them.

When Queenie came back to the shelter on Saturday morning she reminded me of her old self. Calm, cool, and collected. The panic in her eyes was gone. I accidentally interrupted the meeting between Queenie and her adopters when I walked into the kitchen. There they were, hugging her on the floor - and she was practically melting in their arms.

To Suzanne and Kate - thank you for believing in Queenie as much as I did. Thank you for giving her the time she needed. To Queenie's future dads - I hope she fills your home and lives with as much happiness as she has brought to mine. Thank you for giving her the home that she so richly deserves.

Friday, February 12, 2010

BadRap on BACS

We are fortunate to have a relationship with BadRap, one of the most effective organizations in the country advocating, educating, and evaluating to help the cause of pit bulls, most of whom comprise the canine population of our shelter. Offering free classes to pit bull adopters, immediately after adoption and classes to volunteers willing to work with a dog to help improve his or her chances of adoption, BadRap is an integral part of helping dogs get adopted and helping to try to make the adoptions stick.

In an insightful blog entry about finding the right homes, not just any homes, BadRap praises Berkeley for the work it does to try to make matches that we hope will be successful. That work includes interactions staff and voluteers have with prospective adopters, temperament testing, notes on walk cards, and plain old taking dogs out for walks to get a better sense of who they are and who might be the best fit for them. So, thank you fellow volunteers for all the hard work you do to try to get our pitties in the right homes. I feel fortunate to be part of such a devoted corps!

February 10, 2010

. . . Berkeley gets it.There are reasons to feel optimistic about possibilities. One of the best examples is in Berkeley - the town that we bragged (see below) about some time ago for its ongoing work to help pit bulls and to create a sustainable balance for the pets in its community.Berkeley can drive me nuts at times (It's still legal to walk your dog on an invisible voice-command-only leash. Yep, for real), but we have to give this city of idealists a mountain of credit for actually wanting a system that supports pit bulls and other pets in crisis, and then for keeping that goal front and center for several years until it started to gel. That includes everything from working to meet dogs' needs while in the shelter, supporting home visits and owner education in front of adoptions, and training and information after the dog goes home. Their system is far from perfect, but they continue to offer one of the best Shelter Adoption models we've seen for pit bulls, and we stay committed to giving them a good chunk of our weekend for that reason . . .
May 11, 2008

Something VERY exciting has been going on in Berkeley in recent months. It's so exciting that we've been afraid to talk for fear of jinxing it. That is, empty kennels ... lots and lots of empty kennels in the city shelter. Ten years ago, the 60 runs at open-admission Berkeley Animal Care Services were depressingly full, sometimes doubled up, and staff was forced to euthanize for space...up to 600 dogs a year. But in 2007, the number of dog euthanasias was down 90%, with only 50 dogs put to sleep . . . Our girl Sally was set to be euthanized in BACS due to lack of space, way back when. You-know-who actually inspired us to start BAD RAP.Since last summer, the number of dogs coming in to BACS has dropped so much that almost one half of the runs are now consistently EMPTY. Last week, an all time low with 34 empty runs. It's almost too quiet in there! What's going on? We have to credit a combination of efforts: Successful Marketing of Shelter Dogs, Owner Education including Free Training, Volunteerism, Rescue and Voluntary Spay/Neuter Programs.

In short: The shelter staff and the local community kicked ass to make some changes.We're really proud to be part of the these changes. Every week, dog owners pour into our Berkeley classes to learn how to be good stewards for their dogs and volunteers train unowned shelter dogs (pit bulls and their mixes are the most over-represented breed in BACS). It's extremely gratifying to see dogs that were once ill-mannered and a wee bit out of control turn into well behaved canine good citizens thanks to the help of the diehards who keep trucking in every week, some from over an hour away. It gets even better when the shelter dogs' new adopters show up to learn the drill.This month, 25 new dog owners started BR's Beginning Class, and our Drop In class is at an all time high with up to 25 volunteer handlers and new adopters working the dogs together. (Over 400 people are on our waiting list trying to get in - EEK!) To keep up with the demand, we've called in reinforcements, and now the talented Linda Chwistek and Donyale Hoye are giving up even more of their Saturdays to help train the new influx of people. It's going to be a busy summer!
So, there. It's out: Voluntary spay/neuter works, and Community Partnerships will save the world. At least, that's the plan . . . . Congrats to Kate O'Connor and the staff at Berkeley Animal Care Services. With unwavering tenacity - not to mention a lot of class - you've shown everyone how to make it work. Well done.
Reprinted with permission of BadRap.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Checking in from Bad Rap

I thought Albert and I had a really good first date at Bad Rap class. But I’m not sure he feels the same way. The last two weeks he’s had flimsy excuses for being unavailable. Two weeks ago he was “out of town” – spending the week as a guest in a nice home. This past week he had an “upset stomach”. No treats = no class. He’s starting to remind me of a few of the girls I tried to date in college. But as they say: Don’t chase – replace! I have been practicing the drills with Albert and I took him to a different class on Saturday, but for the past two weeks my partner at Bad Rap class has been:


As you can see, Azul is a very handsome young pit bull. He’s also quite a clever dog. He’s been content to skate through life relying on his good looks and street smarts. With some discipline and consistency, I’m hoping Azul can learn there’s more to life than staring at passers-by and leaping onto the volunteers that come into his kennel.

Azul knows how to sit, and has shown signs of knowing down as well. The trick is to get his attention. I thought it was hard to get Albert’s focus, but Azul is another level. While at class, instead of paying attention to me he likes to check out other dogs. And pedestrians. And bicyclists. And the grass. And the sky. And his leash. When engaged he responds well, and he's not wild or difficult to handle, but he definitely wants to do his own thing.

Donyale is my group instructor. She can see that I have trouble getting Azul’s focus, and she’s stepped in to work with him a bit herself. She’s more successful than me but she says he’s got a mischievous streak. She likens him to the smart kid in class who can do all the work but gets bored and zones out instead.

When I see that Donyale also has to work hard to gain Azul’s attention, I at least feel better about my own approach. I had been thinking that the problems were stemming from my lack of experience. I need to improve, but it looks like the bigger problem is that it can be a challenge to command Azul's attention.

Still, I see potential in Azul and of course two classes is not much time to expect great improvement. That's especially true because I didn't have an existing bond with Azul - I had only walked him once or twice prior to taking him to pit ed class. Donyale has recommended a hands-on approach for a dog like Azul. And it is working - if I say sit and he doesn’t immediately sit, it usually just takes a slight push on his backside. Obviously the goal is to get him to sit with just a verbal or visual cue, and he already does that if I've established his focus. Donyale believes he’ll eventually get tired of me pushing him and will start to be more responsive. Since I’m 6’6”, I just hope he gets tired of it before my back does.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Azul. He’s certainly not the toughest case we’ve ever had at BACS. He's smart and friendly, and although he's got energy he's not wild. He also doesn't seem to be too aggressive to other dogs, just interested in them. He’d already make a good dog for a lot of homes right now, especially for someone willing to provide active leadership. I’m just impatient to see him be more responsive to me. We’ll get there Azul! And Albert, I'm not done with you either (assuming you don't get the call up, of course.)

Again, thanks to all the other volunteers who brought BACS troops to the class. At minimum, Yvonne, Lyle, Raulon, Rocko, and Sandy were all in attendance. And thanks to Donyale and Bad Rap for working with so many freeloading shelter dogs and volunteers!


Due to the Bad Rap classes switching to Saturday I'm not going to be able to attend with Azul the next couple of weeks as I have prior commitments. However, I have been practicing a few of the drills with him on regular walks. He's sitting like a champ now, and he also responds to "down" with some treat encouragement. I'm planning to keep up the drills with Private Azul and see how he does in class (with all its distractions) in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

February's Volunteer of the Month


HOW/WHY I started volunteering:
I started volunteering at the shelter a little over a year ago (Dec 2008 to be exact). Ever since I was a child, I've felt a strong connection with animals. I remember begging my parents birthday after birthday for a dog to love and to care for, but because my mom has asthma, we couldn't get one. As I got older, I realized there were ways to help animals that did not involve living with one - and thus began my journey at BACS.

My favorite thing about volunteering:
There are so many things I love about volunteering at BACS, but the one thing that stands out the most (and the reason I keep going) is the dogs. I love walking down the aisle and seeing each of their little noses pop up against the fences and the way their bodies wiggle when I scratch them through the kennel fence.

When I'm not volunteering:
The shelter is one of my favorite places to be, but when I'm not volunteering, I'm probably at school, at some type of sports practice (I do cross country and swimming) or spending time with my family.

Favorite dogs?
There are many dogs that I love seeing every time I visit the shelter. Usually they're the ones whose happiness is infectious, the ones with big googly eyes and wagging tails that look like they might fling off at any moment. Among the many is Sox. Sox, from kennel 19, was very scared when she initially arrived at the shelter. Despite a warm blanket to lay down on and caring volunteers who visited her, Sox shook with fear and resorted to growling and the occasional snapping. The only time she would allow a hand to go near her was when it was giving her a treat. One evening, I sat outside her kennel for an hour, just talking to her and giving her treats. After a week, she began to warm up to me and to finally show her wiggly puppy side. Although she can be hard to work with at times, she has still come a far way from how she was before and I think that is why she means so much to me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jody's found her home

For 11 months, my best girl Jody has been waiting for a home of her very own.

And today, her wait is over.

To Fred:

Thank you. I know that Jody will fill your life with as much laughter, happiness, and love that she has brought to the staff and volunteers alike at the Berkeley Shelter. Jody is one of a kind and everyone at the shelter wishes you both the best!

We love you, Jody!

Meet Bebe:


Emma, you were a beautiful, gentle soul that touched many volunteers at the shelter. You deserved more than what you were given. Rest in peace, dear Emma.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Violet gets wet

Violet had her first shelter bath today and she was amazing! Violet willingly went into the bath tub and didn't try to jump out at all. She actually wagged her tail the majority of the bath because she enjoyed me massaging the soap into her fur. Of course, Violet's favorite part was cuddling together afterwards with lots of warm blankets fresh from the dryer. :) What a brave girl!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Miss Violet on office duty

In a recent blog post, "The Shy Ones", Pam brought this to my attention in the comments section:

"And let's not forget Miss Violet, who is coming along beautifully after arriving (and remaining) in a terrified state, preferring to remain in the corner of her kennel for weeks, rather than engaging with volunteers who were eager to help her feel more comfortable. Yay-- it is finally happening!"

How could I forget Violet!? One of the sweetest, gentlest, most loving dogs I've met.

Sweet, sweet Violet.

She arrived SO shut down at the shelter that she avoided any volunteer that tried to visit her. Volunteers literally had to carry her outside to go for walks, only to have her curl up in a ball on the grass, too frightened to move.

Violet is slowly coming out of her shell - and what a beautiful dog, indeed. WONDERFUL temperament - incredibly loving, sweet, gentle. Good with everyone and cats and dogs. Just look at that face!!

Today she was happy to go outside, but upon stepping onto the pavement she looked back at me as if she were asking me to take her back inside. We turned around and headed back to the shelter. But inside of going back to her kennel, I set her up as the office dog. She got to hang out front with the other office dogs (that belong to staff members), office cats, and shelter staff.

Shy Violet received the spa treatment of her life! Her nails were clipped and her hair was brushed to show her beautiful blue coat. Violet basked in the warmth of everyone's love, kindness, and admiration for her. She enjoyed being petted, loved on, and being the center of attention today. :)

Violet really is coming along great. I can't wait to see her go to a wonderful, loving, perfect home.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


A few weeks ago a teeny-weeny puppy named Snickers came into the shelter with scabies! (Ew!) Poor little Snickers wasn't allowed to have any company or visitors in his kennel, in case his skin infection were to spread from volunteers to other dogs at the shelter. Sweet little Snickers was content to play alone in his kennel with fun stuffy toys, ropes, balls, and chew toys. Curling up on his little bed after a play session, Snickers looked like a little angel. I know it was hard for many volunteers to see him sit by himself all day without anyone to interact with...

But today was Snickers's lucky day!! His skin is all cleared up and he's got a clean bill of health! Snickers has also been given his 2nd round of vaccinations and is now ready to go out into the big wide world on his very first walk! :)

The following are two videos taken today in the shelter kitchen. Snickers was so happy to be out of his kennel and playing with people and dogs, alike. His happiness was absolutely contagious and I had to tape some of his enthusiasm and playfulness for y'all to see.
Here are 2 videos of Snickers playing with office dog, Mona.

The Shy Ones

I know that whenever I'm in a new place, a new situation, meeting new people, or just trying new things that I get nervous. I feel butterflies in my stomach, my heart beats just a little quicker, my temperature rises and my cheeks become flushed. I'm not overcome with fear, but I'm pretty darn uncomfortable sometimes! As would any introverted individual.

So imagine the fear you would experience if the one you loved threw you into a small, dark, cold box in the middle of the night. Imagine the shock and loneliness you would feel as you sat in darkness for 8 or more hours when suddenly a light turns on and someone in a strange uniform kneels next to your "box" and looks in at you. They quickly take you and put you in a slightly larger cage made of concrete. The noise is unbearable, you can't relax, you can't sleep, you can't escape and you wait for your loved one to come and rescue you. You wait, never doubting that they will come for you. Slowly the days go by and you realize: no one is coming. Five days go by before someone can even come in and sit with you to keep you company in your concrete cell. Just imagine. This is how Sox arrived at the Berkeley shelter.

Imagine the fear you would experience if you were living on the streets, God only knows how long, all alone without any love or comfort. Imagine sleeping in dirt behind overgrown bushes, hunting small birds and prey to keep you alive, living off of scraps that humans threw away in the garbage or generously left near the bushes. Imagine the isolation - no contact with humans for weeks. Then suddenly you're captured; you're held against your will by a long metal pole with a strong metal link around your neck. You try to escape, but the link is too strong and you're forced into a large white van that takes you to a place that's loud, crowded, and hard. Who can you trust? This is how Bebe was captured near the Sea Breeze market and brought to the shelter.

Or even worse, imagine you and your loved one are taking a long drive in the car. You think you're going to the park to have a picnic, to the beach for a walk together, out to dinner with old friends. But when you look out the window you don't recognize where you're stop in front of a strange building, get out of the car and you're lovingly lead inside where it's noisy and unfamiliar. The person you love kisses you, gives you a hug and leads you to a kennel. They gingerly rub your back, tell you that everything is going to be okay, and say that they love you before they turn and walk away. They never come back. This is how Sasha was surrendered to the shelter.

Sox, Bebe, and Sasha arrived at our shelters incredibly shut down, fearful, and hesitant to go anywhere near people. Why should they trust these strangers if they can't even trust the people that said they loved them?

It's taken time, but Sox now looks forward to my daily visits in her kennel. She jumps into the air and attempts to lick my face to say hello. She looks forward to walks with volunteers and has come to love playing fetch with a KONG. She's submissive, very loving, and very eager to please you. Sox may be slow to trust, but can you blame her?

Bebe and I have slowly formed a bond with one another that I would hate to see end due to euthanasia and not a happy home. Although Bebe is still skittish with new people, she has begun to experience new things and places. I'm not certain how long Bebe was on her own as a stray, but I can imagine that building trust and relationships will be an ongoing process for her. But if she can warm to me with a few visits where I give her a warm blanket, a small bowl of food, and gentle scratches on her back -- I know that she has the potential to warm to others, as well.

Sasha is confused and scared and I don't blame her. She probably was thinking, "Where is my bed? Where are my toys? Where are my people?" when she was first surrendered. Upon our first meeting, Sasha wouldn't even let me in her kennel! But with a few short visits every day she eventually let me come inside to sit with her. She ate from my hand, let me pet her, and even let me take her outside. Sasha feels free outside and becomes the dog that she's supposed to be away from the shelter. When I took her to the play area, Sasha's personality truly shined! Playful, spunky, happy. This girl had a BLAST and when she tired she eagerly jumped into my lap and nuzzled her head into my arm pit.

These three dogs are not the first to arrive at our shelter shut down and frightened, nor are they the first slowly come out of that shut down state and become normal dogs. Sox, Bebe, and Sasha all are a work in progress - and work takes time. My only hope is that they can have that time at the shelter so they can find the loving, patient, wonderful homes they all deserve forever.

Within the next few days I hope to get some footage of these girls at their best.

Sasha is currently being fostered by none other than one of the shelter's favorite dog trainers: Kathy Kear. Kathy was nice enough to post some photos and comments on facebook for us.

Sasha is currently curled up on my living room floor after having spent all day on 3 pack walks. I am in love with this gentle soul and don't think I can take her back to the shelter.

Sasha- abandoned at shelter, so scared, shut down, abandoned. and I fell in love. she has been with me all day and she's here right now- curled up next to Madeline. at peace finally. please spread the word on this gentle soul. she is not going back to the shelter, but I can't keep her! needs forever home. free dog walks by me!

Sasha slept soundly all night , when I came out to greet her at 8 am- she had her paws crossed, politely waiting for me..chewing on a bone now with Benjamin, happy as a lark. This feels so good.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Funny Teddy

I was drawn to Teddy since day one. His piercing yellow eyes (a telling sign of his burning energy and enthusiasm) and happy character are too much to resist. This dog shows you how to have a good time, how to get out on a walk and just let loose. He’s not afraid of jumping in puddles, or of running free and wild through a grassy field. He helps you to forget all worries and to just be in the moment. Walking him after a stressful day at school, I imagine he would say to me “Just enjoy the view, each other’s company, and have fun for goodness sake.”

I have to admit, Teddy’s tongue is really fun to be licked with. He sends you into a laughing fit as he manages to lick every square inch of your face. I think he enjoys this “torture” too. If he’s not licking you, he’s trying to crawl into your lap, despite his big-boy size, which he sometimes fails to acknowledge.

You will never catch this dog without a smile on his face. Teddy teaches a valuable lesson of how to enjoy life and how to pull yourself out of a funk and enjoy the day. Teddy makes the most of his situation and does not fail to recognize and appreciate the loving workers and volunteers around him. To show his appreciation, Teddy often presses against my legs, nuzzles me with his head, and as we walk he looks up at me as if to ask “Are you having a good time too?” He is very considerate and aware of his walker.

I look forward every day to Teddy’s characteristic waddle, an endearing little strut that reveals his excitement and enthusiasm, and I wonder what adventure he’ll show me next. He is a true treasure; there is so much spunk and love packed into this doggy.

Submitted with love by BACS Volunteer Courtney S.

Monday, February 1, 2010


I was touched by an angel last week. Her name was Lady. From her physical and mental condition, it is clear that her life before the shelter was not a happy one. During her short stay with us, I did everything I could to help her feel loved, cared for, wanted.

My friend, Kangs took this dear girl, who looked as though she could barely walk, for a run. It was Lady’s idea. This girl who looked as though she couldn’t stand for longer than a few moments took me all the way around Aquatic Park. Three miles.

I gave her premium wet food. I bathed her to get rid of the remnants of the past that remained on her fur. I tucked her in with blankets fresh from the dryer to warm her worn body. I lay on her Kuranda with her, spoon fashion. I told her I loved her. She, who most likely never had the opportunity or inclination to bestow a kiss upon a human, gave me a kiss.

Thank you, my Lady. Thank you for reaching deep into my heart and making me feel what it is to love a dog so completely, even one who I’ve only just met; to love a dog who touches something in you so deeply that the connection is unquestionable, visceral, permanent. Permanent, though the body leaves this earth and I can no longer hold you and show you what tenderness is, something that should have infused your entire lifespan, not just the last week of it.

Rest in Peace my dear Lady. I will never forget you.