Monday, May 30, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story

Every animal who walks through the door at BACS is special. Each has their own story to tell. Some dogs can tell you their stories by the look in their eyes. Other stories can be plainly seen on the animals themselves. Skin disease. Failing health. Protruding ribs. Matted fur. Any one of these things tell the story of life on the streets or worse, just plain neglect. Two dogs that recently came through the shelter doors told such tales.

Precious Polly

When Precious Polly first came to BACS at the beginning of April, her sparse fur revealed a severe case of Demox Mange. Despite her discomfort, she was a playful and happy puppy who quickly found a loving family. Unfortunately, Polly was unable to adjust in the home, and when a distrust of men came to the surface, she was returned to the shelter.

Returning to the shelter was very traumatic for Polly and upon seeing this, devoted BACS volunteer, Patsy, sent out an S.O.S. for her to be posted on all our adoption websites as soon as possible. No sooner had she been posted on Facebook when, Diane, a follower of the BACS page, saw her and said those magic words, "I want to help." Patsy sprang into action and within days, Polly was taken into the foster program by Home at Last Rescue (HAL) and placed in Diane's home.

In her new foster home, Polly not only benefits from Diane and Eric's experience as previous foster parents, but also from their success of recently nurturing a lab who also came to them with a fear of men -- and who not only overcame that fear, but became stuck like glue on Diane's husband! Polly already seems to be following that same pattern. Diane reports that while she was a little wary of Eric at first, by the end of the first day she was all about the cuddling!

Hoagie (Jason)

Everyone who met or saw his photo couldn't help but be affected by him. With his big, bully head and lumbering arthritic body, Hoagie could garner sympathy from even the coldest of hearts. At only 10 years of age, his frame carried the bulk of his neglect, making him seem as ancient as a giant tortoise.

For most dogs, being dumped at the shelter is the worst thing that could ever happen to them. But for dogs like Hoagie, it's like they've hit the lottery and the spoils of their new found fortune are everywhere. Years of neglect are replaced with medical care, healthy food and love. But what next for him? It's not like there's a big market for arthritic, senior bully breed dogs with a host of medical issues. The best that we could hope for was a rescue who would take him on a compassion hold and give him a home in which he could experience love, even if only for a short time. But after trying all the area rescues, things where looking dire for Hoagie. Rescue groups are as overwhelmed as city shelters these days. We are all victims of this economic climate.

Hoagie's luck changed, however, when Sherri Franklin, founder of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, gave it one more shot and posted his photo and a plea on her Facebook page. That's where April and Michael found him. Having fostered senior pit bulls before, they couldn't turn their backs on one now -- especially one as deserving as Hoagie.

And so it came to be that Hoagie was taken into Muttville's foster program, and thanks to BACS volunteer, Samara, caught a ride down to Southern California to something that was waiting for him that he'd never experienced before: a loving home.

Hoagie's family reports that he is doing great. Not only do the kids love him, which is plain to see, he's gained the love of their family dog and also the neighbor's Bichon Frise. In the evening he goes on a trail walk with the family, but due to his arthritis, scores a seat in a bike basket on the way home. Most of all Hoagie, (now named Jason), loves laying in the hammock and enjoying the sun.

We couldn't ask for any more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Avea / Dee celebrates one year in a home

Who remembers the wonderful Avea, who was at our shelter for almost a year? I never really understood why she was there for so long. She was super-friendly, really smart, and had a great temperament. It's been a whole year since she was adopted to Mike and Kai, who live in Sacramento.

Avea is now Dee, and really seems to be living the life. Check out this update I received, along with some pictures. What a hilarious dog she was (and still is):

"It's been almost a year exactly since we adopted Dee (aka Avea) and we just wanted to say hi and let you know that she's still doing well in Sacramento. I honestly can't believe that it's been a year since we got her, it feels like she's always been part of our lives. And we just love her so much.

Dee is, above all, funny. She flops around on her multiple beds, often sleeping in ridiculous positions with a paw sticking out or her butt not quite all the way in the bed.

She also has multiple toys that I keep stockpiled in a box and every single day, I find at least 4-5 toys lying around in her bed (sometimes all of them) and she has to sleep squeezed into a corner so that all her toys can have enough room. I once found all her bones lined up, in descending order of size. On one walk, she learned that squirrels can climb up trees and for the rest of the walk, she paused to look up at each tree to see if a squirrel was there. And if we let her on the bed, she sleeps like a human on her back with her head on a pillow.

She's also incredibly sweet and smart. She excelled in her doggy classes, and was totally the teachers pet and used for all the demonstrations. She never tries to leave the house without us. I love this about her. We can leave the front door wide open and she's much more interested in being with her people than playing outside.

She is a cuddler and a lover. She barks at new people when they knock on our door but will then run up to them and greet them with licks and a wagging butt as soon as the door is open. We get so many compliments on how great of a dog she is. And my parents, who were initially terrified at the idea that I adopted a pitbull, have repeatedly asked me to leave her with them because they love her so much."

We love happy endings like this one. Thanks for the update, Mike and Kai!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May's Volunteer of the Month


David is a busy guy at the shelter. He's a mentor and a BAD RAP class regular. But we didn't realize how smart he is. I bet he's not taking all the gym classes like I used to do. Thanks for all your hard work at the shelter, David.

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

I'm a 2nd year PhD student at UC Berkeley in Computer Science. My area is Artificial Intelligence, specializing in Natural Language Processing. Basically, I make computers understand human language. My two main research threads are in syntactic parsing, which involves figuring out the grammatical structure of sentences, and in historical linguistics, which involves the reconstruction of ancient languages using the languages that descend from them.

I also have a research project to make artificial agents to play the video game StarCraft, which is kind of like chess with aliens, except played in real-time (no 'moves') and you can't see your opponent's half of the board.

Why did you initially decide to volunteer at BACS?

My girlfriend and I had been in Berkeley for just a couple of months and we were looking for something to do together. We both love animals, and so the Berkeley Animal Shelter seemed like a perfect choice.

What are your favorite things about volunteering?

The dogs! I love how after maybe one or two walks the dogs start to expect that you'll walk them, even the dogs that didn't really seem all that into you. It's really gratifying to know that they're excited about it too.

Also, the shelter staff is really amazing. They're so kind and patient with everyone. They're an incredibly impressive bunch.

Who are your favorite dogs, past and present?

Past: Bella! (below) I was initially a bit put off by Bella. She was incredibly high energy and usually I saw her tearing at someone else's jeans in BADRAP class or grabbing for the leash. Once I started working with her, it turned out that she was just really smart, and she got bored extremely easily. She just wanted to show off how clever she was, and she was going to make you pay attention. Once you gave her a task, she really was a sweet girl.

Current: I really love Brando (below). He's a striking young guy who always wants you to pet him. Always. When we were trying to teach him sit, he would just immediately flop over and look at you like it was belly rub time, and then he'd look surprised when it was not in fact belly rub time. He's also amazing on a leash even from day one, which is incredible for a dog as young as he is.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Join us for BAD RAP/BACS Pit Ed Open House - this Saturday, May 14

If you've heard about "BAD RAP class" at the shelter and would like to see for yourself what it's all about, this Saturday will be a great chance for you to come have a look.

We have class every weekend, but this Saturday's class will be a special one. It will be one of our Open House classes where we hope to get as many people as possible to come watch, learn, and meet the dogs. BACS pitties will be prominent co-stars of the occasion!

BAD RAP's pit ed classes have been gaining a lot of visibility. Thanks to a lot of good publicity and tireless educational/outreach efforts, BAD RAP has been attracting lots of fans nationwide. The pit ed classes - conducted just down the street from our shelter - are one of their most popular activities. Read BAD RAP's blog or Facebook pages to see how many people in communities all across the country wish they had this type of program.

The added interest has also increased the number of BACS volunteers who are interested in attending class. This means that lots of BACS pitties have been going to class with devoted volunteers. The dogs learn manners and basic obedience, gain socialization, and they get to be seen by potential adopters.

Donna's post over on the BAD RAP blog has all the details. Please do drop by for all the fun, and support your favorite BACS pitties in action.

Most of our pits started out life as strays or neglected backyard dogs, and arrived at the shelter not knowing a leash from a ham sandwich. But thanks to hard work from our volunteers and our partnership with BAD RAP, many of them are now out showing off their skills at class, helping change the public's perceptions of pit bulls, and eventually heading on to become happy family pets.

I hope you can make it, and bring a friend. It should be fun for everyone!

Here are some pictures from our last Open House, back in October. The weather was lousy but we had a good turnout.

Doors opening

Ruby, David, and Ruby's adopters

Ruby was adopted by this couple who had come from Petaluma to check out the open house. That's David with her, who had been taking her to class for quite some time. This is NOT the dog behavior we encourage at class, but we're willing to let things slide when we have an adoption to celebrate.

Johnny Justice

Former Vick dog Johnny Justice (now a trained therapy dog) was on hand to wow the crowd with his tricks. This guy is a real ham.

Advanced class

Tim Racer from BAD RAP leads the advanced class through drills. You can see the nice crowd in the background.


Bella celebrates a successful drill by high-fiving her volunteer, Larry. Bella recently found a home and her adopters have been bringing her to class. Maybe we'll see her again this week...

Saturday, May 7, 2011



circa 2004 - 2011

Heartbreak. It happens when there is loss -- a relationship, a home, a life. If you volunteer at a shelter long enough, you will experience your fair share of loss: perhaps a favorite cat or dog who is adopted-- a good outcome, but nevertheless a loss of sorts for you; a dog or cat you adored and thought would be there until he or she was adopted is euthanized for reasons that are understandable, but nevertheless he or she is gone.

Knife-in-the-gut-wrenching heartbreak is losing a being you have come to love from the depths of your being-- the dog or cat whose kennel you visit first when you come into the shelter, the dog or cat you post on FB constantly, or who may even become your profile picture for a time, the dog you walk the longest, whose habits and personality quirks you have come to know like the back of your hand. The dog to whom you bring special treats, ensure has a blanket on his or her Kuranda before you leave. The dog you talk to with that only-to-you tone of voice, not caring whether anyone overhears. The dog you pray finds a good home and gets to experience what you give them everytime you are with them, but still just a small fraction of a 24-hour day-- every moment of every day.

When this doesn't happen, there is heartbreak. The capacity for deep feeling is what makes us sensitive human beings, the quality that may be responsible for why we seek out volunteer work at an animal shelter in the first place. But there is a price for that capacity, and it is a mighty high one: pain Pain that ebbs and flows, but can often underlie everything you do. Pain that is especially sharp when you pass the kennel "your" dog used to inhabit, or when you come across a picture of them. Sometimes, it is too much to bear and we have to stop volunteering for a while. Or, for good. Sometimes, the only way to bear it is to keep going, walking more dogs, giving more of your heart. Walking through pain is the most difficult task we have as human beings. Volunteering or working at an animal shelter often necessitates that we find a way to walk through it, especially if we are committed to continuing.

It takes a certain type of human being to continue loving, opening your heart to new dogs or cats who come in, or to those who may already be there, one of whom will become your new favorite. Or maybe we will decide not to have any more favorites, to spare ourselves the risk of experiencing that degree of pain again. Usually, this option does not work out too well, for it is natural for us to be drawn to certain qualities in animals, just as we are drawn to certain qualities in humans.

Every volunteer and staff member who walks through the door is worthy of admiration, for he or she, whether consciously or not, has made a decision to open up his or her heart, making it vulnerable to hurt, but also making it capable of great joy and satisfaction: the sheer delight of seeing our favorite dog running with abandon around the wood-chipped play area, wading through tall grass, nose in the air, exhibiting curiosity when playing with a new toy or visiting a new area of the park; the satisfaction of observing them picking up good leash manners and responding to commands that will help them become more adoptable; and the unparalleled joy of forging a connection that feels strong and real, deep and authentic . . . and of perhaps getting more hugs and kisses from them than we've gotten all day from any living being. These are the reasons why we continue, even when our hearts have been broken. And they are the very experiences that will help to mend that broken heart.

Gigi was laid to rest today, after two large inoperable tumors were found lodged in her abdomen.