Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I need an iPhone 4

Salty language alert!

Animating your platform arguments: possibly the geekiest thing evar.

Thanks, Sarah!

The Force

Thanks Jen!

But did anything interesting happen?


KC Dog Blog with the analysis I wish I'd written!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Look Out For Them Appleheads

Thanks, Clarice!

On Oreo's Law

"While everyone in the room has had successes, we can’t let that past success blind us to new possibilities. Don’t be afraid to question the status quo. Don’t be afraid to challenge your colleagues."
- Julie Castle, Best Friends

I haven't commented at all in public about Oreo's Law since the tabling of the bill by the NY State Legislature. This is mostly because I don't want my difference of opinion with Best Friends over their support to seem like sour grapes; I don't want it to seem like I'm going up against my former employer because I have a personal ax to grind - I do not.

So let's start this post with some full disclosure: up until two weeks ago, I was employed by Best Friends Animal Society as a Dog Caregiver. I loved my job, I loved my dogs, and I loved where I worked. It was an absolute privilege to be a part of the sanctuary at Best Friends and it is truly a unique place. It was a joy to be able to give sanctuary animals the physical, social, mental, and medical support they need to live happy, fulfilling lives. There is truly nowhere else like it on earth, and it is and always will be part of my heart. I am immensely proud to have worked there.

As you might imagine, a caregiver has little contact with the executive team and I have no special knowledge, no magical insight, and no smoking gun regarding the lack of Best Friends' support for Oreo's Law. I am breaking no confidences and I'm not making anything public that is confidential or privileged information - quite simply, that's not something I had access to. What follows is simply my guess and my opinion.

I was disappointed but not entirely surprised by the initial lack of support for Oreo's Law and the policy statement that left many wondering... so do you, or don't you? Best Friends has a history of being the kinder, gentler group and attempting to stay out of divisive issues within the animal welfare movement, at least publicly. They are especially loathe to start a public spat with any other animal welfare group, which usually makes a lot of sense - but there are occasions when you have to, when you should, and this was one of them. This law runs so close to the core beliefs of the organization that it wasn't hard to imagine Best Friends not just supporting it, but taking up the cause and promoting it like the leader within the No More Homeless Pets® movement should.

I believe why they didn't was not only that well known tendency to avoid public conflict with other groups but also for political ease and monetary gain. Best Friends is expanding its presence in New York City - if you monitor the employment section of the website, you might have noticed job listings for New York positions. I think it's safe to assume that the increased activity will come with increased visibility and of course, fundraising, in what is very firmly the ASPCA's home turf. Best Friends may be hoping for some collaboration with the ASPCA or perhaps they're just trying to antagonize the ASPCA as little as possible while attempting to access a rich pool of untapped potential donors, and the very existence of this bill and the reason it came into being is very, very embarrassing for the ASPCA.

Francis Battista is a man who I have incredible respect for and admiration of, but his response to the controversy was weak sauce at best and disingenuous at worst, because we now know that Best Friends spoke of neutrality in public while privately trying to undermine support for the bill. As Nathan Winograd pointed out, when all the players in animal welfare were on the same page about shelter policy, we were killing more than twenty million animals per year. Sometimes, to get things done, you have to take a principled stand and make some noise; sometimes you have to get involved in a fight you may lose because it's the right thing to do. If Rosa Parks had yielded her seat instead of staying put and creating conflict, the course of history may have been markedly different.

This will all begin again in January, when Oreo's Law will once again be introduced to the legislature, and I hope that this time Best Friends will support it and acknowledge that they were wrong to previously withhold support, because that's the right thing to do. After all, both they and Ed Sayres, now President of the ASPCA, supported the Hayden Law - the CA ordinance that Oreo's Law is based on that is credited with saving many thousands of animal lives in the decade-plus it has been on the books. The only difference between the Hayden Law and Oreo's Law is additional safeguards built into Oreo's Law to protect against abuse - provisions that the Hayden Law have shown to be unnecessary but added to attempt to gain support within the animal welfare community.

On a slightly different but very, very related note I would like to offer an unsolicited suggestion to Best Friends, which has been pretty clearly facing a crisis of direction in recent years. I'm under no illusion that anyone will pay any attention, but it will be good to get it out.

It is a basic tenet of business to concentrate on your core business - that is, to figure out what it is you can do better than anyone else in the world and focus on doing it to the best of your ability. What Best Friends has the capability of doing better than anyone in the US, better than anyone in the world, is to operate the finest animal sanctuary anywhere, a shining beacon of inspiration and hope to every animal rescuer, shelter worker, animal lover and activist in the world. I do not say this because that is the side I worked on, I say this because they have a unique combination of resources that makes sanctuary and rehabilitation what Best Friends can do better than anyone, anywhere. The transformation into a national advocacy and policy organization is one that they are ill suited to. For one, there are already three major national animal welfare organizations that focus primarily on advocacy and policy, and they all have a higher national profile. More importantly, as an organization, they're awful at it. Best Friends has always sought to be the good news people, the kinder and gentler org, the one that stays above the fray - and advocacy is all about the fray, all about political fights, all about conflict, all about the things they've spent years branding themselves as being different from. Additionally, the organizational bloat of recent years has led to attachment to expensive programs without metrics of success that are not modified or abandoned even when they are clearly failures - like a social network for animal lovers - that make it difficult if not impossible to focus maximum organizational resources on things that do have a chance of working.

You can find your way again by focusing on what you're best at and eliminating what you do badly. Go back to your roots, go back to basics, and re-think it all. Focus on what you're best at and the rest will sort itself out.

Before the multi-million dollar income and the glossy magazine and the star-studded events and the political concerns born of money, back when you were a bunch of crazy people rescuing animals in the middle of nowhere, when sanctuary was the core of who you were, would you have kept quiet, issued a non-statement statement of non-support and then privately labored to kill the bill? Or would you have cheered on a law that would have allowed many more lives to be saved?

I love Best Friends, and I am one of many. We want to see you succeed, and we want you to regain the moral compass that you once displayed so clearly. We, I, remain hopeful. I may be disappointed, but I still love Best Friends. We need you to step up right now and do the right thing. We need you to show the moral clarity that you started this journey with. We need your help.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I love the New York Post

It's okay, we're highly disorganized

More on Lizzy

You can follow the progress of Lizzy, the "better off dead" chihuahua on the YouTube page of Amy Harmon, her rescuer.

I need a smile


Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Honesty in Animal Rescue - the Fallacy of "Better Off Dead"

I was recently cc'ed in on a conversation between rescuers debating the pull of a very small elderly dog from a kill shelter who had shown a tendency to bite since entering the shelter. This isn't uncommon - when you're 4 pounds, sick, blind, and freaking out because you've lost the world you knew and have been thrown into an unfamiliar and frightening environment - well, it's easy to understand how some dogs could get a bit bitey.

The person in favor of the pull was asking for help with possible placement and foster, and got a reply from a breed rescue group saying, essentially: don't bother, this dog is better off dead.

They had a list of excuses - this breed doesn't take to rehoming well, this breed is too challenging, we can't find experienced homes willing to take a dog with issues - and this is the breed they specialize in! The representative closed with this line: "Sometimes the absolute best gift you can give is to release the dog from a miserable, frightening, and traumatic existence."

All without ever seeing, meeting or evaluating the dog, taking her out of the shelter environment that was absolutely freaking her out, treating her for her flea infestation and her painful, rotting teeth. Better off dead, without even trying.

The better off dead line is one that has been used for years by the people with the awful job of killing shelter animals, because who could live with that? You have to justify it somehow to be able to sleep at night. All kinds of coping mechanisms are tried: blame the public, blame the animal - when in fact what we need to be doing, all of us, is to be trying a lot harder to not kill shelter animals at all.

I'm big on language. I hate the use of the term "euthanasia" to mean "shelter killing", something I have written about a few times before. We owe it to the animals we are trying to save to be honest with them, about them - to not obfuscate what's happening with pretty words designed to soothe our guilty consciences. I'm pretty sure I have an idea of what's behind this person's attitude, so be honest about it: this is too hard for me. I can't handle this. I don't have the contacts to place this dog. I don't have the expertise to rehabilitate this dog. This will take up resources that we could be using to take other, more easily adoptable dogs.

Those are the honest reasons, the ones that are so very difficult to say because they open one up to attack, to judgment. But I at least respect when one has the gumption to be honest with others and with themselves rather than saying that a dog is better off dead without even the slightest attempt to go beyond the most superficial of long-distance evaluations.

That bitey little dog, Lizzy, went home today with a rescuer who doesn't believe in better off dead and after a little time to decompress will go into the home of a very experienced foster parent who is willing to do whatever is necessary; who is willing to try. She's already showing some positive signs of adjustment, and I've almost got my heart rate under control from once again hearing the dishonest excuse: better off dead.

At least I'm not the only one

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wash your Han S.


Rough Night

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Welcome Home, Oliver

So my famous foster dog, Oliver the Pit, has come to a crossroads. He's got his own twitter following, had a Bark Radio show about him, and has been featured all over the internets from Facebook to Twitter to Blogs. I'm sort of sad to say that although he's gotten a lot of attention, all the PR for him hasn't resulted in any adoption interest at all. Sort of. :) I know an ex-fighter is a tough sell when there aren't any famous sports figures involved, and I know that there are dogs like him all over the country. I also know when it's time to walk the walk. Besides, I'd miss the big dork.

So I'm adopting the lovable goofball. No can haz.

Once I made the decision on that it was time to get serious about a few things. Ollie's always gotten along well with my little Spaniel, Ginger, but my larger mix Jessie... not so much. She's afraid of other, unknown dogs, and she has a tendency to try to drive them off by acting aggressively towards them. Unfortunately for her, if this turns into an actual dust-up she almost always loses.

As you might imagine, this isn't the smartest way for her to interact with a former fighting dog. Oliver's actually very good around other dogs - very mellow, friendly, and curious - but if another dog comes at him with what he believes is a serious challenge he will come after them. I don't blame him - if he's been fought, this is a completely natural reaction. Jessie starts things, Oliver unfortunately finishes them.

So given that, Jessie and Oliver have been leading largely separate lives where they've been rotated - one in a crate, one out with me and Ginger. This has been actually a good way to start, as Ollie doesn't mind his crate and doesn't act aggressively at all to dogs outside of it, so it was a good way to introduce them in a non-threatening manner - but Jessie is very stressed out by her crate time and gets upset when she knows I'm nearby but she can't be around. I distracted her with food toys for a while, but eventually reached the end of that road too; she wanted out. This led to her being out more often and Ollie being crated more often, which wasn't fair to him. Time to move on.

I'm not typically a big fan of muzzles. I have too often found that they can change a dog's reaction so that you're not getting a true read on what's going on, and I don't like using them in public because it reinforces the scary-dog perception, which is not at all what's going on here. In this case, however, it seemed like it could work... so I started getting Ollie used to a muzzle with the help of Easy Cheese.

You'll see two different muzzles in the pictures because I switch back and forth to avoid irritating his face. He quickly became accustomed to the muzzle. He likes to rub it on things sometimes to try to get it off, but he's not obsessive about it and is easily distracted.

At that point I started having all the dogs out together under close supervision with Oliver wearing his muzzle (we call it his Happy Mask). We started with just an hour at a time, working up to the dogs spending all day together with less supervision - me always in the house but not necessarily right next to them. This has gone quite well, with only two very minor squabbles over food and my bed, which is still disputed territory.

The next step was to try something with the dogs' arousal level a little higher - to have them take a walk, everyone on leash together. I'd tried that long ago and it didn't work out very well - Jessie was very stressed out by Oliver's presence nearby and wanted to attack him. Now that she had spent so much time near him, first in his crate nearby and then in the house with him muzzled, she was no longer stressed out by his presence and was not reactive to him. This is a fear issue for both dogs, and she's been desensitized to her fear of him by having him quite close for so long and not having anything bad happen. He is also desensitized to her aggressive behavior and is less likely to see a "get away from me" growl as a serious threat - not that I'll be testing that one anytime soon!

Finally, for the last few days they've been walking all together, no muzzle.

So we still have work to do, but I can see the day when all the dogs will be together and Oliver won't need a muzzle. For now, however, I can give him a much more complete life than I could before!

Welcome home, Oliver.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

[via] - thanks, Shirley!

A breeder is a breeder is... well, maybe not.

I'm retiring this sticker from the FYE store, and it's been a long time coming. It's something I used to fervently believe and this sticker was prominently featured on my truck - the dog on it is my dog, Jessie. As with MSN, this is something that initially sounds good and smart and logical to the rescue-minded until you begin to dig deeper and you find out that it isn't necessarily so.

Look, I'm a rescue guy. Hard core. My dogs are all rescues and the idea of purchasing a dog from a breeder is, to me, unfathomable when there are so many that are dying. Then again, I have no real attachment to any particular breed or type (although I seem to always get the Spaniels!), I have no desire to raise a puppy (my dogs are difficult enough), and I could care less about bloodlines, shows, ribbons or papers.

Having worked in rescue for a number of years, first as a volunteer then as a professional, I can tell you that the old notion that adopting a shelter dog is just getting yourself "someone else's problem" is sheer hogwash - and I know that the old myth is dying off among the general public. Oddly, the publicity surrounding the foreclosure crisis helped greatly to accelerate the passing of this stereotype as stories came out in major news outlets of pets sent to shelters through no fault of their own.

That being said, there will always be people who will not consider rescue, and some of those reasons are perfectly legitimate. Some absolutely must have an 8 week old purebred Ring Tail Snodheimer and no other dog will do (no offense to the fans of the noble Ring Tail Snodheimer!), and purebred Ringies don't show up often in rescue and are quickly snapped up when they do. Some want a working dog from known stock. Some want a purebreed puppy from a known bloodline that has been carefully and thoroughly screened for genetic flaws. Some are getting a dog for the first time and want someone who will hold their hand at 3am after their new puppy turns the living room carpet into a poopy Jackson Pollock painting because he got into the garbage after dinner. Who am I to judge? I can and will talk people's ears off about the virtues of rescued dogs, but some people aren't going to listen, and they're going to get dogs elsewhere.

And where, exactly? We're not doing ourselves any favors by alienating good breeders. I'm talking about the ones who do extensive genetic screenings on dogs they breed, who raise them in their homes with love and care and attention, who follow their progress over their lifetimes and always take them back rather than ever letting them enter the shelter system. Many of these breeders also do rescue work (quietly, quietly!) for their chosen breed(s), applying their knowledge to help those animals who do end up in shelters. By vilifying breeders as a whole, we're driving away these people who love animals and dogs and want to help them as much as anyone.

We also face a common enemy in the form of the puppymillers and backyard breeders whom we would all like to see driven out of existence - but by lumping everyone who breeds dogs together, we're not only driving away potentially powerful allies, we're actually driving them to hold their noses and stand together with puppy milling scum with well meaning but over-zealous legislative efforts that target not only soulless puppy millers but caring, dedicated breeders as well.

I don't agree with good breeders on everything, I'm not a market for them, and I hope the customer service of shelters everywhere can improve to compete with theirs. However, I agree with them on a lot more than I disagree with them on, we all have a genuine love for dogs, and we all want to see puppy mills driven out of existence. If we're going to do it, we're going to need to stand together, and I for one will proudly stand beside them to do so.

Except for maybe that oil spill

[via] - thanks, Shirley!

Saturday, June 05, 2010