Saturday, July 28, 2012


Douglas Anthony Cooper was born Alma Mae Hickok in Barstow, CA in 1973.
After being kicked in the head by a cow she was milking on the family's dairy farm in 1987, Alma Mae adopted a male identity and began to go by the name Douglas Anthony Cooper, eventually completing sexual reassignment surgery in 1992. Douglas completed his Bagpiping Performance degree from Carnegie Mellon in 1995 and began a storied career of weddings, funerals, parades, and the occasional hostage situation following the breakdown of negotiations. Since 2003 Douglas has lived in a rented yurt in northern Montana with his two pet Xoloitzcuintli, 3 alpacas, and a single dairy cow. He enjoyed a brief period of national notoriety in 2012 when he was exposed for cheating on boyfriend Robert Pattinson but now prefers to avoid the spotlight.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Au Revoir, Not Goodbye

I've been blogging less and less here as I've become busier and busier - I haven't even looked at Facebook in weeks! It's time to let you all know what I've been up to.

Around the time my Broadway show announced its closing (I typically make my living as a Sound Engineer) I was approached with an interesting proposal. Pets Alive, a rescue I have long been associated with, took over Elmsford Animal Shelter in Elmsford, NY approximately six months ago - it's now known as Pets Alive Westchester. Since the takeover, conditions at the shelter have improved dramatically - there are no more animals living full time in crates (unless recovering from surgery or illness), adoptions are up, the volunteer program is expanding, the lobby is a happy, bustling, busy place, and they are charting a path to financial self-sufficiency. Still, challenges remain - it's a large place with capacity for hundreds of dogs and cats, and restoring it to its full former glory will take some time.

Pets Alive Westchester invited me to join them as Operations Director, a post I'll be officially beginning tomorrow. I've been helping out for some time in a volunteer capacity - and between that, the holidays, and closing my show, it's been a bit busy around here! I will be joining Joy Sarnelli Carson who began a few weeks ago as Executive Director. I am excited to be working with Joy, a very skilled and talented administrator, advocate, and businessperson.

It's going to get busier as I really get into this, and so for the moment I am bidding this blog au revoir - and should it ever return on any sort of regular basis, it will probably be reincarnated someday as one of them fancy newfangled WordPress blogs. Blogger was the hotness when I started this thing in '04 but the world has moved on. It's my hope to add a blog to the Pets Alive Westchester site soon as a place for us to participate in the national conversation on the subject and value of animal welfare.

Please follow my new venture: on Twitter, on Facebook, and on our website. We need your support and your help. I need your support and your help.

Until we meet again.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


"...that chestnut-coated pit bull popped back into my mind. I decided to drive over and check up on her, but when I got to the shelter she was gone. In her cage was an old hound dog. I asked the woman at the front desk if someone had adopted her. Her face fell, just a little, but I knew. The dog had been euthanized, put down because of our personal fetishes, the shelter's lack of space, and a whole series of reasons that no longer made much sense to me. 'No one adopts a pit bull', she said, as if that cleared everything up."
- Steven Kotler, A Small Furry Prayer

This past weekend was the one year anniversary of me driving from Utah across several states and many hours to pick up a dog whom I had grown to care about greatly but had never met up until that point: Oliver. I usually celebrate my dogs' adoption days as their birthdays, so I'm calling him three years old now.

It's been a tremendously rewarding year with Oliver - he is SUCH a great dog and is beloved by all who know him in my neighborhood in the Bronx. He's beginning to settle a little with age - he still loves to tear around the apartment and bounce off of things, but he also really enjoys his lazy naps, stretching out on the couch, a good belly rub. He's also a great wrestler, a total bed-hog, and an enthusiastic passer of gas. I love him, and I'm glad he's here.

I thought, when I sat down to think about what I wanted to say about him, that I would tell you all about what a wonderful dog he is. His playfulness, his dorkiness, his unparalleled love for people, his resiliency and the love and gratitude he shows daily for the opportunity to recover for the abuse he has suffered in his past. All good points, but I realized tonight that that isn't what I want to say.

One of the most educational aspects of Oliver's companionship over the past year has little to do with who he is, but how people react to him because of what he is. Finding a rental in New York City with three dogs, him included, was very difficult - this is a city of renters, and most housing here bans pit bulls outright. People cross the street when they see him coming on the sidewalk, or afford him a large berth rarely granted to my spaniels. I have the paranoia of the pit bull owner, always scanning all around me when we're out and about - I know if any incident at all, however minor, were to happen with another dog or a person, he is likely to be blamed for everything regardless of facts. There's no need for this. He's a great dog.

Meanwhile, in the city shelter a mere mile and a half from my apartment, pit bull type dogs constitute the majority of dogs killed every single day. Good dogs, great dogs. Dogs that ace their behavioral evaluations. Dogs that are smart, social, love other dogs, know tons of commands, love people. Dogs that would be snapped up in a heartbeat if they were born into the body of a Shih Tzu or a Collie or a Retriever - and it is like this all over the country, in every shelter. The scourge of shelter killing in America is the plight of the pit bull.

And so my simple request and my reflection on Ollie's anniversary: if you're thinking about adopting a dog, I ask you to consider a pit bull type dog. The exact and much debated definition of "pit bull type" doesn't matter, in the end it's a largely academic question; the important part is perception, what people think of as a pit bull - these days, any blocky-headed, short coated mutt. Whatever you want in a dog, you can find among these dogs at your local shelter - active or quiet, loner or social, great with cats and children, pre-trained with a dozen commands, at any age you might prefer. These are some of the dogs dying most often American shelters for no reason other than their appearance and there is quite simply no reason for it. My birthday wish for Oliver and his brethren is that people who care about ending shelter killing lead by example and show the world that these dogs do not have to die by showing the world what fantastic dogs they are and stepping up to take one home. It is sometimes not easy, but rescuers are used to that. It starts with us.

My name is John, and my dog Oliver is an American Pit Bull Terrier.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cruelty is freedom, compassion is communism!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Honor of National Animal Shelter Reform Week

In Honor of National Animal Shelter Reform Week, November 7 - 13, 2010.

I walk into the Manhattan branch of Animal Care and Control of New York City. I'm in here on an increasingly regular basis to pull dogs (and the occasional cat) from the kill list for rescue, I transport them to Pets Alive when they ask me to. The kill lists are released every night around 5pm and executions begin the following morning as early as 8am in Manhattan, 6am at the Brooklyn branch. It's not much time to get pulls organized, but I live only 10 minutes from the Manhattan branch and 25 minutes from the Brooklyn branch. My pickup truck, a rarity in New York City, helps me pull up to 5 dogs at a time for transport. I am happy to help however I can.

Today I am here for one, who is supposed to be ready after 10am. It's 10:10 when I enter the front doors.

The Manhattan desk is, as per usual these days, manned by a lone staffer. NYCACC recently saw massive budget cuts that have led to reductions in essential services. Prior to the latest budget cuts, they were already one of the worst funded shelter systems in the country, receiving about .87 per capita from the city. Guidelines from the Humane Society of the United States recommend per capita funding in the $4-7 range. The only way they remain remotely functional is through massive assistance from an outside non-governmental group called the Mayor's Alliance. At the beginning of November, the New York City shelters eliminated their call center as a cost-saving measure; it is now near impossible to contact the Manhattan branch by phone.

I walk in and sign the sign-in sheet at the front desk. I recognize the woman working. She is experienced and efficient and kind-hearted and overwhelmed. She has seen way too many things that no one should have to see.

I wait during a few cat turn-ins, mostly people who have found cats on the street or when moving neighbors have left them behind. These mostly go as smoothly as is possible. All are advised that if a suitable home cannot be found for the cat, it will be "euthanized" (God, I hate that word), but people want to believe that the cat they have found is special and will be snapped up in a heartbeat. They are all special, but they are not necessarily snapped up - in September, the last month for which there is data available, 1/3 of intake were killed. Disease runs rampant through the shelters here and many cats will land on the kill list strictly for coming down with upper respiratory infections. A new HVAC system was recently installed in an effort to prevent the spread of disease, but they are so desperately understaffed that there is no time for proper cleaning, so the spread of disease continues unchecked. On paper there is a volunteer program that could help with the staffing issues, but not many are here. The volunteer program hasn't had any new volunteers start work since April. I've been trying to volunteer for them since June and have attended the orientation and my meeting with the coordinator. I've paid my $25 volunteer fee. I still need to take several classes over the next few months in order to be allowed to begin. There are many people who have heard about the service cuts and want to help. I wonder how many will stick with it through the long process.

An NYPD officer comes in and we who are waiting in the lobby yield - she steps to the counter. She's bringing in two dogs that were abandoned, an adult that was left tied to a tree and a puppy that was laying nearby. She needs help unloading the adult dog in a crate from her car but has to wait as there is no one yet available. The desk attendant begins the long process of entering the paperwork, asking for details that the officer mostly does not know. Sex? Color? Without the adult dog in front of her, she's not sure. She has carried the puppy in in a milk crate and he's on the ground in front of her. She mentions that the puppy was crying and wailing during the whole trip, but the focus on paperwork continues. We curious onlookers lift the blanket that covers the weeks-old puppy in the milk crate; his skull is crushed. It is inflating and deflating as he breathes. The man next to me brings this to the attention of the desk worker and he is whisked away, likely for euthanasia. It is probably best to end his suffering as soon as possible.

A man steps up to the counter to take his new dog home. All he has left to do is pay to take his new companion home. The credit card machine is not working and he is not carrying enough cash to cover the adoption fee. He is sent away to find other payment. I dearly hope he comes back.

I am next in line but I let two women in front of me, a few more minutes won't kill me and they have more pressing issues. One requests euthanasia for her desperately ill cat. His kidneys are failing and she cannot afford further treatment or her vet's euthanasia charges. She is very upset and crying and obviously cares very deeply for her cat. She is quickly processed and taken to the back.

The next woman at the counter is also turning in a cat. Her neighbor moved away and left five behind, she has placed four of them but this one remains and she says she is highly allergic. Sometimes this can be an excuse but as she opens the cat carrier her eyes begin to water, her face flushes and she begins to sneeze uncontrollably - she is, in fact, highly allergic. She has a good heart to have helped those cats who were left behind. She has nothing but praise for this cat who has been wonderful with her multiple dogs and her children, and the cat is young and friendly. As she is lifting the cat from the bag, the desk attendant mistakenly bangs the crate he is to be lowered into against the desk and he startles and flails, scratching the woman holding him. The desk attendant explains that now that he has (barely) drawn blood, he is to be placed on a mandatory Department of Heath hold of approximately two weeks, during which time his fate will be decided. The woman is confused - he's a normal, sweet cat who reacted in a perfectly logical manner to being frightened. She doesn't hold it against him, but rules are rules. What she is not told is that any cat held for that length of time is nearly certain to become ill and is likely to be killed due to illness even if they are judged to be not a threat to public health. These animals generally do not show up in shelter statistics.

I am called into the back to meet the rescue coordinator for the dog I am to pick up. She says she needs a little more time, the dog has not yet had the required shots to be released. No problem; back to the lobby. Many of the coordinators are good people, she's trying to get as many dogs out as she can this morning.

The man who was sent away to find alternate payment comes back for his dog, an older black mutt who is so very excited to be going. I'm so happy the man came back for him, older black mutts can be hard to place! We're all happy to see the dog go home.

I see the dog I am to pick up in the hallway beyond the doors to the back. He is coughing and hacking. They all are when I come for them, nearly every dog I pick up is sick or will get sick. He is being held in the middle of the hallway for his immunizations which are quickly administered, but he's coughing all up and down a hallway that has animals moving through it constantly, hacking up mucous and spit. The coordinator pokes her head through the doors and asks me if I have a slip lead - they never have enough. I hand her one and she leads the dog out to me into the lobby. A man has entered with his Yorkie and I try to keep as far away as possible with the sick dog. His cough is deep and rattling and he has green mucous around his nose, he will need further treatment once we arrive at Pets Alive. I get him out of the building as quickly as possible and load him into my truck outside, then go back in to sign his paperwork and get copies of it, as well as the antibiotics that go with nearly every dog.

Two hours after entering the lobby I am on the road. The dog I have picked up is sweet and social, calm and well-behaved. Most of the dogs I pick up there are, and most are quickly adopted once they are nursed back to health from the illness caused by the shelter.

I can't imagine what it would be like to enter as a potential adopter and to witness all of this while waiting for someone to have the time to help me. It's enough to drive one to the nearest pet shop. While NYC's kill numbers are better than the national average, most of what they count as "adoptions" - approximately 2/3 - are really transfers to rescue. I wonder how long even that is sustainable in the face of budget cuts.

I'm happy for the dog I've picked up as I pull away. I'm glad I'll have a chance to know him and hopefully to see him adopted into a good home. But always I remember the ones I have left behind.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I write too many of these, I know. I took a few weeks off from the wired world and I'm sliding back into my blogging/FBing/Tweeting routine again, but I can't continue without taking note of the passing of a very special dog that I knew.

I met Cheetah at Pets Alive back in 2007. She was a senior dog even then, the matriarch of a group of semi-feral dogs that had been trapped nearly a decade ago at a building that was being torn down. She was the most feral of the group, and in a very special way: while the others had little experience with people and displayed a lot of fear, Cheetah was not afraid when we entered her pen. She had just made up her mind that the people thing wasn't for her.

Slowly but surely, Cheetah came to accept human beings... to a point. She enjoyed her walks, but she was always happiest and most comfortable in the presence of her pack, where she quietly ruled the roost - she lived with semi-ferals Tarzan and Lonesome and the dapper and fully socialized Stuart Noble. Adopted out twice, she came back to Pets Alive because she was unhappy living in houses with lots of human attention. She wanted her pen, her pack, and her familiar surroundings. She was happy at Pets Alive.

When I came back to New York after two years away, I could not believe she was the same dog. She actually approached me and solicited petting; she not only allowed herself to be picked up she actually seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps it was just the dementia of old age, but she was finally fully comfortable with human contact and was enjoying her life to the fullest.

Cheetah passed away on Oct 13, at the age of... well, very old. At least 13 or 14 and very possibly considerably older than that. I find myself not sad that she never went to a home, because that was what she chose for herself. I am happy that I got to know her.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Puppy Mill Rescue Reunion

I really should have posted this the other day - at the recent Best Friends Strut Your Mutt event in NYC that raised more than $130k for local area rescues we had a mini-reunion of some of the dogs from the mill rescue Ginger is from.

Mabel, Anti-Puppy Mill Spokesdog pictured here with her person Lynne Przychodzki, is reunited with my friend Jen's dog Sadie, who came from the same puppy mill. We theorize that they may be related, possibly mother and daughter - they both have unusual body types and head shapes for beagles and have a very similar look.

The three girls are reunited. It's hard to get all of them to look at the camera at the same time! They're all in very happy adoptive homes now.

As for this picture, I really have no good reason to post it other than that I find Doga (Yoga with dogs) hilarious. Hey, as long as the dog is having fun...