Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's a cruel, cruel world. Do something.

I am frequently overwhelmed with rage at hearing about yet another incident of hideous animal cruelty in Chicago. It's mind-blowing. You may have seen these recent gems in the news:.
Our beloved Scarlett was tied up, mauled
by dogs, and left to starve in an abandoned
house. She found safety because someone
picked up the phone and did something.

As my blood pressure goes through the roof, I remember these are just the idiots who get caught.  If we only knew the true extent of suffering endured by Chicago's dogs and cats we would be horrified--all the dogs chained to radiators in dark basements, the family cats tortured by unsupervised children, dogs slowly dying of heartworm, parvovirus, or distemper because their ignorant owners never bothered to provide them routine vet care--even though free and low-cost care is available. My own neighbor once tied his unspayed female cat to a dumpster in the alley overnight hoping that she would get pregnant (and was apparently not very worried that she would be eaten by other animals, tortured by kids, or infected with communicable diseases.) I have been personally involved in the rescue of dogs with kicked-in jaws, split-open skulls, and festering, untreated wounds--all within blocks of my home. Seriously. It makes me want to give up on the human species.

But since I don't rule the world, I've come up with some small tactics we decent folks can use to help stop animal abuse and neglect. Here you go:
  • If you suspect someone is involved in dogfighting, make a call. The HSUS continues to offer a $5,000 reward for anyone who leads police to dogfighters. Call 911. Then call your local precinct to follow up. Did they check? What did they find? For more info on recognizing dog fighting go to: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/dogfighting/tips/dogfighting_action.html
  • Don't be afraid to gently educate people about responsible animal ownership. Most people really will listen to you if you are respectful and can offer them real solutions--like a ride to the vet or a referral to free training classes for their dog.
  • Spend a few bucks. Have you ever seen a man walking a pit bull on barbed wire? A shred of rope? Some tow chain? I have. Go buy this dog a collar and leash. It really is possible that the dog's owner doesn't have access to proper equipment. Someone's dog too skinny? Ask the owner if they could use a little more dog food, and buy her a bag or two. Don't judge. Just fix it.
  • Got a neighbor who probably shouldn't have a pet who now has a pet? Appoint yourself that dog or cat's godparent. Ask if you can puppysit from time to time. Offer advice or referrals to low cost vet care/free spay and neuter services. Let your neighbor know that you care about their pet and will be there for it if for any reason they need to get rid of it.
  • IF YOU WITNESS ANIMAL ABUSE OR NEGLECT, DO SOMETHING! There's no excuse. Poverty, ignorance, "culture," neighborhood--these are, of course, important factors in why we behave the way we do, but none of these factors makes it ok to abuse or neglect an animal. NEVER TALK YOURSELF OUT OF HELPING AN ANIMAL IN NEED.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Doing right by alley cats

The gorgeous male pictured here was a well-loved
member of a Hyde Park Cats colony. With TNR
he lived to the ripe old age (for an alley cat) of 5.

If you live on the South Side of Chicago, you have seen them. The mussed up, skinny, skittish kitties slinking across the street or under your porch. They are quiet. They don't come when you call them. They don't seem to care much about you at all. That's because they are feral cats who lost their domestic tendencies after being born into an unsocialized family of street cats.

Until very recently, such cats either stayed on the streets procreating until their short, unpleasant lives came to a sad end--frozen to death, hit by a car, victims of distemper or infected wounds. The average life span of a feral cat was as little as two years. Those ferals who were trapped and brought to shelters faced almost certain death in a city like Chicago that euthanizes thousands of unwanted cats each year.  Not good options.

But enter Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)--a common sense, harm reduction based model for helping street kitties. With the help of local groups of volunteers, feral kitties are humanely trapped and transported to a low cost clinic where they are tested for disease, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and given a microchip that identifies which colony they come from. When they have recovered from their surgery, the kitties are returned to their colony where they are monitored and fed by a volunteer colony manager. These lucky street kitties live out their lives free of terrible diseases--like rabies and distemper--and get fed regularly. Their colony managers provide them with tiny winter shelters, and keep an eye out for injuries that may need veterinary attention. It's the best possible outcome for these foresaken kitties--a life of feral freedom without creating new generations of street cats.

It's a beautiful thing, but more people need to know about TNR. Check out this great video by some Medill students that highlights the TNR work of Treehouse and Hyde Park Catshttp://bit.ly/wZ8DgL

Here's a list of things to know/do about feral cats:
  • If you find a feral cat (who really wants nothing to do with people) DO NOT dump him at a shelter or pound. They will most likely euthanize him right after you walk out the door. Contact Treehouse or another humane agency and find out how you can help TNR your little buddy.
  • Be supportive of neighbors who TNR. They are NOT crazy cat ladies helping cats to breed and take over your neighborhood. In fact, they are doing just the opposite.
  • Donate cash, catfood, and other supplies to your neighborhood TNR group. They often pay for this work out of their own pockets, but they are truly doing a service for your whole community. Help!
  • Know a landlord? Teach him or her about TNR so they understand that TNR is safe and good for the community.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Two Days at the Dog Show (Someone wash out my eyes!)

Oh, dog shows. Ladies with big butts in purple polyester suits. Dogs with shaved asses. Judges grabbing all the doggies' balls. I just kept thinking, god, please let there be an alien here from a distant galaxy taking notes on our ridiculous planet. I never found the space man with his notepad, but I'm pretty sure I saw just about every other bizarre form of life this past weekend at the IKC Dog Show at McCormick Place.

CBBR and friends with adoptable Lola (left) and
obedience champ, Kobe.
CBBR has a booth at the show every year to raise money for pit bull rescue and to educate the throngs of visitors about the plight of pit bulls (who of course are not a breed that's recognized by the American Kennel Club, and whose lives tend to be drastically less pampered than those of the deodorized Dandy Dinmont whatevers in the show ring.) This is my fourth year behind the CBBR booth, and it's FINALLY getting a little easier to tolerate. Though we met our share of ding dongs, we were impressed by how many people came to our booth to tell us, for instance, that their neighbor's pit bull is the best dog in the neighborhood, or that they just can't wait to make their next dog a pittie. We were also very pleased to meet the owners of a super sexy little purebred Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who donated his services wearing our donation vest for an hour. (This is extra touching because most Staffie and Am Staff exhibitors would rather die than acknowledge that their dog has any relation to a lowly pit bull.) We were also joined by two fantastic young guys whose pit bull, Kobe, had spent the day competing in the mixed breed obedience classes and showing the bougie dogs what's what.

Pimpin' ain't easy. Little Mae more than paid her
own bills, raising $200 in donations.

I have to admit, I started to get the feeling that all of our outreach and education was beginning to add up to less ignorance about pitties. You can keep your weird show dogs and all the bizarre Victorian eugenics of the dog show world, but I must say, we had a great weekend raising money and changing minds about the dogs who need it most. Cheers to all the CBBR volunteers, supporters, and foster dogs who worked so hard to make the long, crazy weekend at IKC a big success. And, for the record, DON'T SHOP! ADOPT!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lily Update!

There are a lot of worst parts of being a dog rescuer. It can be a little rough on your faith in humanity, for one thing. But here's what rescuers live for: A happily-ever-after update on one of your favorite former foster kiddos.

You may remember Lily, who was twice our foster dog after being reluctantly returned by her first adopters. Lily came to us as a waifish, affectionate puppy who still wore the scars of having been mauled by other dogs. She was exceptionally gentle with people and cats, but she was always a little worried about meeting new dogs and would defend herself if she felt threatened (Go figure.)

Lily was returned by her first (really nice) adopters after she couldn't get along with their demanding small dog, and we happily brought her back into our home. We had kind of missed our little redhead anyway. But just a few weeks later Lily met her forever family, which included two loving humans, a kitty, and one very playful female pit bull. It was kind of love at first sight between Lily and her her sister, Dasey. But as the photographic evidence suggests, that initial crush has grown into a major romance.

We couldn't be happier for Lily and her family, and we are grateful to them for giving Lily the kind of home that we dream of for every rescued dog--a home with care, limits, fun, and lots and lots of love. Cheers, little redhead. We knew you could do it.

There are literally hundreds of lonely pitties on death row in Chicago just waiting for someone to help them become as delightful and well-loved as Lily and her sister. If you or someone you know is interested in fostering or adopting a dog in need, message me here or contact Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue to find out more.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just Save One Until There Are None: An Update from Phily

For all of you who just stopped sniffling over the recent post from KT, Cam, and Webbie in Philadelphia, here's a quick update:

Webster is doing great in his forever home. His adoption made room for Cam and KT to save a new pittie gal from death row. Indeed, they are now fostering Sam (now Margie)--the luckiest dog in Phily. Consider this a big hug from the whole pittie rescue community for giving one more good dog the promise of a good life.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sometimes Accidents Happen--A Guest Blog on Fostering by My Awesome Sister

As a reproductive rights advocate, women’s health nurse practitioner and contraception counselor, I never thought that I would be faced with the question of what to do with an unplanned addition to my family.
KT, Webbie & Cameron: Perfect foster parents
 and one lucky dog

My partner and I are currently raising the love of our lives: a three-year-old blue-brindle pit bull rescue, Sophia.  Out of our gratitude for the foster mom that pulled Sophie from the pound, we decided that for Christmas we would do the same for another pit.  Without much planning we went to the Philadelphia Animal Control Shelter and came home with a scared and emaciated pocket-pittie named Webster.  He was just 22 lbs when he first came into our apartment.  Nervous and apprehensive, he slowly began taking to my partner, Cameron, and I.  In the evenings he would crawl into one of our laps and fall deep asleep, becoming as heavy and warm as a bag of coals.  It was at these times that I felt the most connected to Webster.  It was as if curling up in my lap in front of the television was the first time he felt truly safe enough to fall so deep asleep.  Like baby and mother, Webster and I started to develop a special bond.  

After a couple of weeks, we began taking steps to recruit a forever home for Webbie.  Starting with an ad on petfinder, the process was encumbered by feelings of loss and sadness.  Webster’s relationship with us was special.  Another family wouldn’t understand him the same.  And most importantly, wouldn’t he think we were abandoning him?  One night as we were snuggling in a giant pit bull/human pile, my partner and I came up with a whole new idea. Looking up from stroking Webster’s velvet ears, Cameron said to me, “You know…we could just keep him.”  I protested at first, “I know, but that is not our life plan.  We have planned our future with room for just one dog.  We love Webster, but he is not supposed to be part of our family.”  Cameron responded with a comment that changed everything. “Honey, sometimes accidents happen.”

Webbie on adoption day.

From that evening on it was nearly impossible to decide what to do with Webster.  As soon as I felt like I would miss him too much, I was reminded that families make these types of adaptations all the time.  An accidental Webster could be the luckiest thing that happened to our family.  Surely we could make room in our apartment for another pittie, we had already made room in our hearts. 

And that’s when I learned that being a foster parent is one of the hardest things to do.  Of course Webster had made his way into our hearts, he basically had done so when we first met him in the shelter.  And making room in an apartment and budget for another dog is always possible.  But I had been right.  This wasn’t our plan.  We wanted to become foster parents to help save pit bulls, not simply to save Webster.  If we kept Webbie it would mean that our family was really truly full and we wouldn’t be able to foster any dogs in the future whose lives were risked everyday that they weren’t pulled from the shelter.  
Webbie making out with his forever dad, Drew.

Eventually the perfect family came forward to adopt Webster; a young couple who were looking for their first dog.  They just wanted to spoil Webster and it was clear that adopting him out to them was the right thing to do.   When we handed Webbie over to Drew and Holly, my heart was much less heavy than I thought it would be.  There was joy and comfort in knowing that this is why we first brought Webster home.  He would get to be the princess of his own home and Drew and Holly would get to know the beauty of parenting a loyal and loving pit.  We are now taking the love that we felt for Webster and using it to get ready to pull another needy dog from the shelter.  Her name is Sam. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Introducing Mae

Mae at the pound.

I was not looking for a new foster dog when I visited Chicago Animal Care and Control three weeks ago. We had come to evaluate Mr. Marbles to see if we could place him with CBBR. Visiting the hundreds of sad dogs at CACC always makes me cry, but I get a little tougher each time. We walked up and down the aisles of one of the "back wards" at CACC, where the dogs can only be saved by a rescue--they are not "on the adoption floor" where the public can even meet them. The overwhelming majority of these dogs are pit bulls or bully mixes. Not surprising, since pitties are more likely than other kinds of dogs to be owned by neglectful, abusive, or irresponsible people.

Day 1 in a proper home.
Anyway, we were looking for Marbles, but in the process I saw a little red brindle pittie curled up on her kennel bed. She looked at me as I walked by handing out treats to the inmates. She got up slowly and quietly and checked me out. There was just something about her--she was so unassuming and mellow. I took her for a walk in the yard, where she behaved like a true lady even among lots of other rowdy dogs. She was fearless and calm. My kinda girl. Too bad I was about to leave town for a week for a conference. After asking at the desk whether the puppy could be held for me until I got back, I learned that this little puppy was "on the list." She had been treated for pneumonia and still had a cold, and had very crooked front legs. It was now or never. We made some phone calls, and a great CBBR volunteered to "babysit" the puppy until I got back to town. I marched back to Mae's kennel and scooped her up.

As it turns out, Mae's crooked legs were caused by hypertrophic osteodystrophy--a painful growth defect in her ankle bones. This was compounded by a total lack of exercise after literally growing up in a cage at the pound for two months. After three weeks of running around like a normal dog, Mae's legs are almost completely straight. The pain in her ankles has decreased, and she's finally growing. (We thought she was about 14 weeks old until we looked at her teeth. She's at least seven months old, just very small.) Mae is a delightful little dog. She loves children, dogs, and cats, and walks on her leash like she's been doing it for years. She knows sit and down, is crate trained, and is doing great with her housetraining. She is going to make someone very happy.

Mae feeling great at home with foster sis.

Lesson: Most dogs end up at the pound because their humans are shitty. Everyday, thousands of OUTSTANDING dogs like Mae sit in cages, staring at nothing, just hoping someone will see their potential and make room in their lives for another life. It's true that the problem is overwhelming. But you can do nothing, or you can do SOMETHING. It's up to you. If you want to understand the depth of need, contact us and we'll tour you around a local pound. If you or someone you know would like to adopt Mae, or you'd like to become a foster parent for another desperate and worthy death row dog, contact info@cbbr.org.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Worst and Best Day of Belle's Life

Going to the pound to pull dogs into rescue is one of the most emotional experiences ever. The misery you see in the eyes of cold, bored, suffering, caged dogs is almost more that I can bear. You cry for the ones you can't save that day. And you cry all over the few you do.  When CBBR volunteers went to the pound last week we intended to evaluate and maybe pull just one dog--a male pit bull who had been caged for--get this--nine months.

As we waited to be let into the back wards of the pound, we watched an emotionless man relinquish one of the sweetest, most beautiful dogs we'd ever seen. She was a white English Setter or Brittany mix with long, well-groomed fur, and a pink stain around her neck from a bright pink collar. As her owner signed the papers to dump her, she looked around at us all wagging and smiling. We could see she had a small growth on her lip.

A few minutes later, as we walked through the endless back wards of unwanted dogs (crying, as usual), we encountered this little white dog. Her kennel card told us her name was Belle. The dog beside her was trying to break out of its kennel to eat her. We looked at each other and scooped her up. We're a pit bull rescue, our director said, but this dog is not staying here. We made frantic calls until we found a temporary home for Belle--and two other dogs, including a crippled pittie puppy and the big male pittie we had come to see.

Since then, vets have determined that Belle has a cancerous tumor on her lip. It is being removed, along with a bit of her jaw bone. The vet anticipates that she will have many more years to live and her quality of life will be good. What Belle needs now is a long term foster home where she can recover at her own pace. She has a lovely, calm, outgoing temperament, and is gentle with people and dogs alike. She is a true joy, and she is just one more reason why we keep venturing into the pound even though the experience usually reduces us to blubbering misery. Welcome, Belle. You've got good people now.

If you think you might like to foster or adopt Belle, please contact info@cbbr.org and fill out an application at http://www.cbbr.org/. If you can't care for Belle but you'd like to help us pay her $1200 surgical bills, we'd be grateful for donations of any amount. They are tax deductible.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bad people, bad dogs.

Nothing ruins my day like waking up to a news story like the one that appeared in the Tribune today of two loose pit bulls attacking a 62 year old jogger. It's horrible, first and foremost, because an innocent person was terribly hurt. But it's also horrible, because every bite incident involving a pittie invites a new whirlwind of anti-pittie hysteria in the media. In some places, this hysteria has led to breed-discriminatory legislation and outright bans of pit bull type dogs--including thousands of beloved family pets.

I noticed something interesting this afternoon: There has been a little run on my blog today, and I suspect it's because so many of you came here looking for a response to these news stories. So, one more time, here's my response:
  1. The best predictor of a dangerous dog is a dangerous owner. People in the dog business know that breed stereotyping is rarely predictive of an individual dog's behavior.
  2. Pit bulls and pittie mutts are by far the most common type of dog in Chicago and are disproportionately likely to be owned by dangerous, neglectful, abusive, or criminal owners. (Though rescue groups are working diligently to change that trend.)
  3. Unaltered dogs (like those involved in this attack) are more likely to be aggressive and more likely to roam away from their homes. Part of being a responsible owner is altering your pet. Period. No one cares that your dog's big balls make you feel like the man that you aren't.
  4. Dogs who have been abused or neglected--e.g., fought, trained to be aggressive, isolated from human or animal contact, starved, ignored, abandoned, or actively harmed--are more likely to be aggressive toward the species who caused them such suffering.
  5. Big, strong dogs, and dogs with high prey drive (that is, the natural canine drive to chase things that move fast) should ALL be handled by EDUCATED, RESPONSIBLE HUMANS. Any dog is capable of serious aggression toward people or other animals. So drivey, strong dogs need to be handled accordingly. This means abiding by leash laws, properly socializing your dog with all shapes and sizes of humans and other animals, and keeping your dog safely confined when you cannot monitor it.
  6. Some dogs--regardless of their apparent breed--have real aggression problems. Responsible ownership means, when training and socialization have failed to prevent serious aggression in your dog, you should euthanize it.  Not dump it on the street. You are legally responsible for your dog's actions.
So, there you have my opinion on this terrible incident. For those people who will inevitably want to form some sort of pitchfork-toting posse over this, I suggest the following: If you want to make this city safe, go after irresponsible dog owners, not their dogs.  Demand that all Chicago's pets be spayed or neutered. License only reputable breeders and outlaw basement breeders. When we make our city safe for dogs, we will finally have a shot at making it safe from dogs.

If you would like to share more hysteria-free pit bull info with people you know, please direct them to Pit Bull Rescue Central. It's an excellent resource created by people who actually know the breed. And to the humans who are responsible for what happened to the jogger in South Shore today, may you pay for the suffering you have caused--to the human victim, to your dogs, and to all of the well-loved, well-behaved and still-hated GOOD pit bulls who struggle for respect because of irresponsible people like you.