Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rexx, A Special Dog Who Needs a Home

Rexx touched my heart from the beginning. There is something so sweet and gentle in him that evokes a strong sense of protectiveness and an eagerness to give him all the love I could within the confines of his circumstance: being a shelter dog I could not take home.

Rexx remembers you, trusts you, wants to keep you by his side so you don't disappear. All this, so heartwrenching because of course I , like all volunteers must disappear and leave him in his kennel where his anxiety heightens and his need for love and attention becomes greatest.

How dearly I want for him a home-- a soft place for him to rest his head in peace, where a loving guardian is not far from his side, or will soon return home, as sure as the sun will rise.

Being with Rexx makes one feel extra-special: like you have done something right and impressive to have earned this sweet boy's favor. But all you have done is show tenderness, caring, and love. None of this to be taken for granted, especially by Rexx who seems to appreciate each gesture, each soft-spoken word of encouragement and soothing.

It is wrenching to see him is such desperate despair in the kennel, where the good things he has experienced in his life seem unreachable and far away. Yes, he has food, water, warmth, a clean kennel, all of which are not to be taken for granted, for in some shelters even these basics are not a given. But Rexx is a sensitive soul who knows there is more and literally cannot live without it. With each day, his body shrinks, slowly dying from starvation despite the two-a-day feedings prescribed to keep his weight up.

Times are tough and adoption rates all over the country are down. But I pray there is a home out there who will cherish Rexx in all his gentleness, in his tender leanings into you, in his soft licks upon your cheek, in his laying his head in your lap as the sun warms his aching body, in his friendly and cheerful interaction with every passing dog. I hold hope in my heart for Rexx, who has so very quickly worked his way into it, and who I know does so easily into others', as well.

Rexx has been adopted by a very special family. Thank you!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February's Volunteer of the Month


This month we are featuring one of our most devoted volunteers. Radar likes to call her "My BFF", but everyone else calls her Anne. Anne has been taking Radar to BAD RAP classes for several months, and these two class nerds have just been promoted to the advanced group. But Anne is an equal opportunity employer - you never know who she might walk next.

What do you do when you're not at the shelter?

I am a member of that fast-disappearing breed of employed journalists. I cover science at UC Berkeley, which is great, because I get to talk to researchers and write about what they do. I also love to cook and write fiction.

Why did you initially decide to volunteer at BACS?

Well, at the time I wanted to be a “cat whisperer”. I have been working with a nonprofit to trap and neuter feral cats (Fix Our Ferals), and at one point I decided I wanted to gain experience taming and handling feisty felines. Well, I never got past the first row of kennels. How can you say no to a dog who’s staring up at you with such hopeful, soulful eyes?

What are your favorite things about volunteering?

Whenever one of the staff thanks me for volunteering at the shelter I think, "Really?" I get so much out of the experience I feel like I should be the one thanking them! There are so many things I love about it. One of the most rewarding things, the thing that makes me feel all gooey inside, is when a dog greets me with a play bow. I also love the challenge of Bad Rap class, of learning how to become a better handler and how to help these dogs learn how to deal with humans and all our peculiar protocols and demands. I’m so grateful to all the other dog trainers who come by to teach their techniques, which are often more like life lessons. I love that the volunteers don't necessarily recognize each other but they know the dogs immediately, and I love that there’s this implicit understanding that we’re not there to socialize—we’re there for the animals. I am daily inspired by the staff, who have to cope with a lot of challenges on a very tight budget. But most of all, I love that feeling of coming home after a full day at the shelter, exhausted and smelling of dog but just absolutely fulfilled and content. It sounds corny but we volunteers really do make a difference, and you feel it, with each dog that you touch and each walk you take.

Who are your favorite dogs, past and present?

Right now, it’s got to be Radar. As one of the staff members jokes, he’s my special project. I’ve been working with him closely for several months, both at Bad Rap and on our walks and time in the play area. He’s bursting with so much energy that he doesn’t know what to do with himself. But he's got a rock-solid temperament at his core. He’s been at the shelter almost as long as I’ve been volunteering there (last July-ish), and he’s still fundamentally okay. That says a lot about his ability to cope. I also fondly remember Miley (now Edie, happily adopted). She was the first pit bull I ever walked, and man, was I intimidated. (Editor's note: here is a very scary picture of "The Intimidator", along with one of her adopters)

Those of you who know Miley will laugh at me (and rightfully) because she really is one of the sweetest dogs you will encounter. These days, of course, almost all the dogs I handle are pit bulls, and I don't think twice about it. They're just all such great dogs.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Classic Concentration - solved!

Let's solve the puzzle that I posted the other day.

"WE" (Wii)

"NEED" (knead)

"MORE MEN" (that's Joseph Smith, who started the MORMON church)

"TO" (Roman numeral 2...if you didn't get this clue, please stick to Sudoku)

"VOLUNTEER" (that's the University of Tennessee mascot, the VOLUNTEER)

"FOR" (Fore!)


We need more men to volunteer for dogwalking!

We’ve got a quite a few good male dogwalkers at the shelter, but by and large there are a lot more women than men. Why? I have no idea. But I’d sure like to see some more guys turn up to walk some dogs. It really helps the dogs become more adoptable, since they are often a little timid at first around men. You can be Mormon or whatever - we’re a public shelter.

Fear not, brothers. You can walk a big dog. We won’t stick you with a purse pooch, like poor Jay Mohr.

Nice attempt at a redirect with the Nirvana shirt Jay. But it's not really working.

For you single guys – remember that ladies love a man with a dog.

And for you budget-conscious dads, here is a little trick of the trade: if you consider the basic economic concept of opportunity cost, you actually GET PAID to volunteer. I don’t know what I would be doing if I weren’t volunteering to walk dogs, but I guarantee you it would cost more. Since walking a dog costs nothing.

Plus, it’s a great family activity. Give your kids their dog fix and help out a homeless animal at the same time.

So, let's review our next steps.

1) Check to see if you are a man
2) If yes, proceed immediately to your local animal shelter
3) Walk a dog

Couldn't be easier. See you at the management end of a leash soon!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How we turned Russell into a blue-chip recruit

Any of our readers ever play football? Me neither. It looks pretty rough out there, and I bruise easily.


Plus those coaches are always yelling and swearing at you.

No thanks. It’s really fun to watch on television though. These guys seem a little dorky, but the sandwiches and beer sure look tasty.

You get the idea. Anyways, one thing I DO know about football is that training camp features the dreaded two-a-days, where the players have to go through two practices per day (yet another reason to not play organized football).

Well, we had to employ the same strategy recently when one of our recruits was not in game shape when he reported to camp. Of course I am talking about Russell.

Russell came to the shelter as a very scared dog, very nervous, and was quickly deteriorating in his kennel. Some drastic measures were needed, or this boy was never going to see the field!

We try to give each shelter dog at least one walk a day, but that didn’t seem like it was going to be enough for Russell. He needed a lot of companionship and exercise. So the two-a-day policy was instituted. Volunteers got organized to make sure that Russell was getting at least two walks per day. We also moved him to a relatively quieter corner of the shelter, where he would not be so spooked by other dogs barking.

Russell turned around very quickly. He mellowed out and became much easier to work with. His improved behavior attracted the notice of a family, and Russell was adopted into a home. Now Russell gets to showcase his skills every day.

While we know that dogs LIKE to be walked and receive human companionship, it’s not always apparent how much they NEED to be walked and receive human companionship. It is very rewarding to see immediate tangible results like we did with Russell, especially since he’s already been adopted. Of course, this type of rigorous training regimen is only possible with the help of some extra volunteer hours. It’s not as if other dogs were being ignored so that we could double up on Russell’s walks.

If you’re a current volunteer who hasn’t been very active lately, how about trying to stop by for one extra dog walk per week? Just one walk can make a big difference for a dog like Russell.

And if you’ve been thinking about becoming a volunteer, there is no time like the present to make a difference for a dog or cat. Give your local shelter a call and take the steps necessary to become a volunteer. If you live near Berkeley, we’ve even got the meeting set up for you. All you have to do is sign up and show up.

Don’t make me come find you…

Monday, February 14, 2011

Let's play Classic Concentration

This public service announcement is being given in the form of a poor man's rebus (meaning that I came up with it). Are you clever enough to figure it out? Answer coming on Sunday...or whenever we figure out the answer as a group. Whichever happens first.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Why are There So Many Pit Bulls . . . ?"

At one time or another, most of us have been asked, either by prospective adopters or friends who know about the work we do, why our shelter (and those in most California jurisdictions) are filled with pit bulls. Here is my perspective on the issue:
Pit bull puppies are cute. Not just average cute, but cute-as-cute-can-be cute. Adorable. Irresistable. And therein lies the answer: irresistable is easy to sell. Given the downturn in the economy, backyard breeders have sprung up in the hardest hit areas of our State: the Bay Area, the Central Valley, and southern California. One puppy on the street can garner anywhere between $25 to $500, depending upon the supply and demand quotient, with blues (gray or dilute black) bringing in money closer to the higher end of the spectrum.

In addition, with foreclosures continuing unabated, at the highest rate in the nation, many families have had to not only give up their homes, but their beloved pit bulls, as well, as they move into apartments with strict rental guidelines on pets.

But back to my first explanation of the high numbers: those adorable pups with the doe eyes grow up. In order to become well-adjusted pit bull adults, they need to have lots of opportunities to play . . .

. . . and to run.

They need training . . .

and lots and lots of t-l-c.

If a lucky puppy gets all of this, then there is a good chance he or she will turn out like this:

Unfortunately, the reality is that many puppies do not get the attention they need, the mental stimulation they crave, the exercise their growing bodies demand. The result is a 45-lb adolescent who is undersocialized, highly intelligent, brimming with energy, and incredibly frustrated. This state of affairs leaves the often well-meaning owner incredibly frustrated, too, if not exasperated.

What happens next can be this:

or this:

That's where we come in. Most of the pit bulls in our shelter are between the ages of 1 and 3 years old, the span of time when living with an untrained pit bull becomes extremely difficult. But because of pit bulls' huge capacity for loyalty, and their unrelenting eagerness-to-please, our shelter residents can become wonderful, well-trained members of families, even without having had the most ideal beginnings. Well, they are already wonderful; for many, their potential just has not yet been tapped into. Yet.

It is because of the volunteers that many of these dogs leave and go into good, solid homes that provide what the pit bull has wanted all along: structure, security, continuity and love. With many dogs getting out for walks at least four times a week, and several attending BadRap training on Sundays, the pit bulls at the shelter are becoming socialized, learning what behaviors are acceptable, and which are not. In essence, without the volunteers, many of these dogs would not find homes.

The absolute best way to prevent this cycle of unwanted pit bulls begetting more unwanted pit bulls is to spay and neuter. Most of you reading this article already know that. But, we need to spread the message. So, the next time you have the opportunity to do so, try to let people know about the shelters busting with unwanted, extremely lovable pit bulls.

Do it so we don't end up with this:

and more of this: