Posts Tagged ‘puppy mills’

2-minute dog trainer, Goodbye to a good old dog

April 19, 2011

In 2000, Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline (ARPH) assisted in raiding a Spencer, Ohio, puppy mill where dozens of aussies, shelties, and beagles were being bred irresponsibly.

The dogs had been existing in stacked crates with the steel trays removed to make clean-up easier for the owner. This meant that the dogs in the bottom crates were constantly getting peed and pooped on.

Over 140 dogs were brought out, including many undersized dilute merle aussies due to the puppy-miller’s breeding of merle-to-merle, small-to-small, etc.

ARPH needed foster homes for these poor creatures. Bud and I agreed to provide a foster home for as long as needed, for one of the released dogs.

We met the ARPH representatives near Wadsworth, Ohio, at a lovely farm where temporary pens had been erected to provide homes for dogs being picked up by their foster families.

A dozen or so people showed up to transport dogs to foster homes around Ohio.  Bud and I were the only individuals actually taking a dog into our home, so we got first pick of the available pups.

We walked past pen after pen of dilute merles huddling at the backs of their pens. It was impossible to tell if dogs were deaf or blind as most of them refused to approach people, or even look in our eyes.

However, at the front of one pen, a black tri aussie trotted back and forth, engaging us and begging for attention.

We got him out of his pen and Bud started walking him around the barns to see what his temperament might be. This dog had been in a bottom cage, so — even after 2 baths — reeked of urine and feces.

We had decided to call him “Ringer,” and provided ARPH with all our contact information in case they found Ringer a home.

Back at Dogwood, Ringer immediately made friends with the pack of aussies and shelties, and then began resource guarding the water bowl.

Water bowls became a challenge for this dog who never had unlimited access to fresh water. We made sure everyone had plenty to drink, but the water bowls were spread out so that Ringer didn’t feel he had to hoard all of them.

He had never lived in a house, had never run through grass, or down a hill, so all these had to be learned.

We soon decided to adopt this funny boy, and registered him as Dogwood’s Independent Blue, keeping “Ringer” as his call name.  His nickname, unfortunately, was “Mr. Inappropriate,” as he never really learned how interactions with dogs and people should proceed.

We ILP’d him with AKC and registered him with ASCA, and started training him to do agility.

He was a willing learner of agility, but never managed to be in agility trials due to his overwhelming carsickness and his unwillingness to come when called.  We didn’t think we could keep him safe at outdoor trials, and indoor trials required lots of car travel.

Fortunately for Ringer, he had moved into a dog training center on 10 acres, with an active agility league. He got plenty of play, training, and competition, without ever leaving his back yard.

He discovered the joys of windfall pears and became our fruit-eating dog. If you were eating or cutting up fruit, Ringer would insist on sharing.

We guestimated Ringer as a 1997 pup, though he could possibly have been considerably older or younger.

For the next 10 years Ringer continued to be “Mr. Inappropriate,” continued to stare longingly through the dog yard fence, and continued to love his freedom.  Ringer, unlike most dogs, LOVED getting hugged (the tighter the hug, the better he liked it).  He routinely would finish his meal and come to Bud or me to give us a little thank-you “kiss” on the hand.

His favorite activity was to participate in “family walks” in the 2-acre fenced area near our agility building. He’d strike out alone, walking the fenceline as long as we’d let him stay out there. While the other dogs hung with us or chased each other, Ringer did his solitary march around the property.

This morning we said goodbye to Ringer. He was approaching age 14, probably, and was suffering from arthritis, hip displacia, rotten teeth, and probably a mini stroke or two.

In recent weeks he began having episodes where he would cry in pain. While in pain his bladder and bowels would void. After the initial pain he would carefully lie down and moan for several minutes.

Ringer’s struggle came to an end this morning. He’s buried outside the dog yard, where he always dreamed of being.

When spring arrives we’ll plant a pear tree near his grave. Ringer would have liked that, I think.

2 Min. Dog Trainer, local store closing

November 12, 2009

I heard through the grapevine yesterday that our local Petland suddenly closed.

I’ve not stepped foot in this store since it opened, primarily because they sold puppies from puppy-mills.

I’ve passed it countless times, leaving Lowe’s, and seen a recent Petland customer carrying their bulldog puppy, or yorkie puppy, etc. to their car. I always hope the person doesn’t have a horrible experience, and that the puppy lives to a happy, healthy old age, but I know in my heart that neither are likely.

I’ve taken phone calls for obedience training from folks who have housetraining issues, temperament issues, health issues, and — when I ask where they got their dog — a fair share of them say Petland.

My pet peeve (no pun intended), by the way, is the fact that people will walk into a puppy-mill retail operation, pay hundreds of dollars (at only $39.99 a month for just 4 years!) for a puppy-mill product, but will balk at paying $50 for the dog training that will give them some tools to fix the issues they have with the dog.

I guess if I charged them $2.50 a month for 4 years they’d be happier with the price. What they really want is a free phone consultation. Afterall, we both love dogs, right? 

I’ll often help them longer than some folks would but still, the real point I want to educate them on is that a healthy, well-bred puppy from a reputable breeder, who has the parents on site, who has invested hundreds of dollars in pre-natal care, and who investigates her buyers, costs hundreds of dollars LESS than the Petland puppy.

The start-up costs (the cost of the puppy, transportation, bedding, crates, bowls, etc.) may seem higher unless you do the math, but thousands of dollars will probably be saved in health care over the next 15 years.

Oh well, enough of that. I’ve been reading stories on the internet about why Petlands in Ohio are being shut down. It’s a little disheartening, in case you attempt it, because it’s difficult to know that people behave so badly towards little animals — dogs, cats, rabbits, included.

Thank God they’re closed, and so sad for the little lives placed in their care by Hunte Corporation or other brokers of puppy-mill pets.

News from the 2-Minute dog trainer

September 7, 2009

This is Hazard’s time to shine. My hope is that, after training and trialing with me for a few weeks, she’ll turn back on to agility and be more confident. And my hope is that Hazard will run for Bud at the Petit Prix, at least some of the time.

This week I’m beginning little teacup sessions with Hazard. Our training will include narrower jumps (instead of 4-foot jump bars we’ll work on 2-foot wide jump bars), weavepole motivation and speed, but not a lot of contacts. Hazard’s 2o2o contacts have transitioned naturally to lovely running contacts and I’m not messing with that. We’ll also be doing some distance training.

In other news, I found a fiberglass double utility tub at a yard sale for $10 and Missy Holmes (formerly Richards) plumbed it for me last week in exchange for private agility lessons for her cattledogs, Gracie and Gunner.

I’ve had a terrific time in the last few days, washing 1-3 dogs a day, getting their shedding hair out and removing months’ worth of grime and grease. Aussie and Shelties don’t require much bathing as a general rule, and I know at least one sheltie person who claimed to have never bathed her dog — just brushing and trimming — because shelties really don’t get a lot of oil or smell in their coats.

A major transformation happened on Saturday when I spent 2 hours with Ringer, our 11+ year old rescue with the MAJOR black tri coat. I thinned, I de-matted, I clipped, I trimmed, I hacked away at this horrible over-the-top aussie coat. Then, when all the excess hair was gone, I bathed this boy for (probably) the third time in his whole life.

Ringer lived the first 3-5 years of his life in the bottom of a stack of crates at a puppy miller’s torture chamber. He was one of 150 or so dogs to come out of a puppy mill raided in Spencer, OH, many years ago. We fostered him and then adopted him.

Ringer was a mess when we got him though rescuers had already bathed him a couple of times. The smell of urine and feces didn’t go away for many weeks. In order to save herself work the puppy miller had removed the steel trays from the crates that sat on top of Ringer’s, so all the upstairs neighbors pooped and peed on him. To this day the slightest sprinkle of rain sends him running indoors. <g>

Ringer is undoubtably the most “grateful” dog we’ve ever had. He has several behaviors to express this gratitude including coming to give me a little kiss on the hand after every meal, visiting each of us once each evening for his hug (he’s the only dog I know who actually craves hugs — the tighter you hold him the more he delights in the contact). Puppy mills are an abomination and should be outlawed.

Today I got Banner’s toenails trimmed (a major achievement since she’s deaf and mostly blind and tends to panic attacks when her arthritic feet are touched) and I’m off to comb and bath Bogie and Birdie, Bud’s 13-year-old shelties.

I’m hoping all this grooming will relieve my house of some of the dirt and hair plaguing us this summer.

Bud’s been on a cleaning frenzy, starting with the installation of the washtub that required movement of some stuff in the basement. This led to a clean-up of the whole basement, hauling tools and tables to the green shed where they will reside from here on out, and organizing the green shed.

In between cleaning episodes, Bud’s digging down through 40 years’ worth of stacked building materials at the lower cottage. My Dad loved to save old bricks, cinder block, stones, fencing, lumber and wire. Unfortunately it was mostly stacked under some trees in the woods adjacent to the cottage.

After 40 years it takes a minor excavation to reveal exactly what sort of pile you’ll find. So far Bud’s found rotten wood piles (great, soft soil which he added to his garden to break up the red clay), brick, chain-link fencing, and field stone.

All have been dug up, hauled up to the house, and stored for future use. Hopefully we won’t need to excavate it again in 20 years. <g>

My Mom, Sister, and I drove yesterday to central WV to visit some really beautiful state parks. We started by checking out Hawk’s Nest, overlooking the New River, then drove on to Babcock State Park and the gristmill there. On our way home we stopped at Hawk’s Nest for lunch, and Glen Ferris for pictures of the lovely falls.

The lousy economy means lots of folks are doing “staycations,” but the state park system still shows signs of financial woes. But Bud and I own about 20 acres of woods and I know the battle between tame and wild that occurs whenever you try to carve civilization out of wild woods. So I guess the state of WV is doing an okay job. I wish the owner or manager of the dining room at Hawk’s Nest was a little more of a perfectionist.

HSOV board meeting

April 8, 2009

My treatise was happily unneeded. Our new Executive Director, Steve, has taken the bull by the horns and is making huge efforts to ensure our dogs are getting spayed and neutered.

1) He’s calling everyone who has adopted a pet this year and is asking when or if they got the surgery done. If they have not spayed or neutered their pet he’s giving them 2 weeks to get it done before we reclaim the animal. Don’t know if they’d actually reclaim animals, but the threat is enough.

2) He’s rotating through area veterinarians to keep them from arguing, and every pet that gets adopted over 5-6 months of age leaves the shelter for the vet’s office, gets the surgery, gets returned to the shelter and is picked up by the adopter after their surgery.

3) Any pets under 5-6 months of age being adopted leave with a surgical appointment and a deadline. He calls the owner and calls the vet to make sure the appointment was kept and the surgery done.

4) He has redesigned all the forms used by the front desk to give them all “teeth.”  The adoption form asks more piercing questions regarding the adopters’ former pets and the care they intend to provide. The surrender form lets folks know what leaving a dog at our shelter means.

5) He has clarified the fee structure and is reinstating the fee to reclaim a lost dog. This fee wasn’t being collected, losing the shelter $1,000+ in revenue over the last few months.

6) I’ve asked, as a shelter matchmaker, that all this information be posted at the shelter so we can walk people through the fee shedule while they’re deciding to adopt. Steve has agreed that this will be done.

All in all, way better than it was. And the stats are improving. Only 13 dogs were euthanized last month, and none of them were euthanized for lack of space. There were some very sick dogs PTS, and some aggressive dogs PTS.

One of the board members commented that “we’re very close to being a no-kill shelter and we’d qualify for more funding if we were no-kill.”  I’m going to do some research, but I think “no-kill” involves more behavior modification and veterinary care, not just that you don’t euthanize because of space restrictions.

Congratulations to the HSOV board of directors — and especially our new Executive Director — for hard work and good decisions.

In other news … I’ve extended an olive branch to our local AKC Obedience Club. After 2 years living 20 minutes apart I’m offering to teach a rally obedience class in exchange for a working slot in their top-level agility class for Bud and Hazard and Blue (who need to get on other people’s equipment). Their board of directors are doing some checking and will get back to me.

In other news … I’ve absolutely GOT to get onto the nastiest job I’ve been asked to do in the last 10 years. I’ve got a 6″ stack of volunteer forms, most of which were entered into an excel program by the previous volunteer coordinator. I want to put them into FileMaker Pro and create single call sheets for specific volunteer tasks.

This shelter wastes paper like nothing I’ve ever seen before. No forms are ever 2-sided. All forms are a minimum of 2 pages — large type — double spaced. These volunteer  forms are 2-4 pages long, asking for drivers’ licences and criminal histories, etc.  The logistics of entering information from them is troublesome. I can’t just stack them and work through them. I have to interpret all this mumbo-jumbo, only to discover I’ve just entered a bunch of information on a 7-year-old kid who probably will not be back.

But nowhere on the form is the question “are you really interested in training and becoming an asset to our shelter or are you just yanking our chain?” Or, “do you ever read and answer your e-mail from the address you just listed above?”  LOL

Like I said, nasty task, and one I need to get to soon.

boiling it down

March 26, 2009

…. ~650 words

I’m the volunteer coordinator at HSOV, but I’m also a 25+ year student of dogs and dog-training, and author of half-a-dozen dog-training manuals and instructor manuals for dog-training classes.

On a personal level, I’m an advocate for spay/neuter, for responsible ownership, for making pets part of our families. I believe that every animal leaving the shelter should be neutered, unless a sizeable deposit is paid to ensure the adopter will take the animal to be neutered. I believe that humane societies and veterinarians have opposing goals with regards to the pet over-population crisis.

Record-keeping on the part of the loose confederation of humane societies, ASPCA’s, rescue organizations, can be sketchy at times, so we’re not sure if three or four million dogs are euthanized every year in the United States. Either number is horrific, especially when we translate that to our local situation. (insert April 7 HSOV BOD information here)  For every 4 dogs turned over to shelters, 2 are euthanized. For every 4 cats turned over to shelters, 3 are euthanized.

It is not enough for HSOV to devote the resources of the community to keep a handful of lucky dogs and cats comfortable, warm, dry, and fed. I ask that you each commit yourself to improving the lives of all the pets in our county. No female dog should be tied outside, allowed to come in heat, and be at the mercy of every intact male dog in the neighborhood. No litter of puppies or kittens should be permitted to live outdoors, at the mercy of the elements, with no contact or attention from humans.

It is not enough for HSOV to do fund-raisers and adopt-a-thons, collecting a few thousand dollars or adopting out 5-10 pets a week. I ask that you each commit yourself to improving the lives of all the pets in the county, increasing the percentage of altered pets, and educating citizens about the proper care and costs of pet ownership. I don’t believe that only the wealthy should own pets. I do believe that HSOV should be educating adopters about, and assisting pet owners, with the costs involved in responsible pet ownership.

It is not enough for HSOV to have a sign on the van encouraging folks to spay/neuter their pets. I ask that each of you commit yourself to discontinuing the practice of adopting out HSOV’s intact pets. Each of these pets is a breeding machine and we have no guarantee they’ll be altered. If an intact female gets adopted out it’s only a matter of a few months before her first litter of puppies arrives back. These female dogs and cats have no pre-natal care, their puppies and kittens arrive sick and neglected, the litters are unsocialized and untested, and become an additional burden for the humane network.

It is not enough for HSOV to educate citizens about puppy mills, about responsible feeding and vet care practices, and about the value of pets as family members. I ask that each of you commit yourself to only placing healthy, altered pets — only in happy, approved homes. If we adopt out an intact animal we are adding to the pet overpopulation problem. Our mission calls for us to provide a solution to the pet overpopulation problem, not promote pet overpopulation.

My friends in the rescue and humane movement suggest essentially the same solution, regardless of where they’re located and whether they deal with all pets or a specific breed or type of pet.

Any pet over 5 months should be spayed or neutered before being adopted. Any adopter taking a pet under age 5 months should pay a sizeable deposit — $100 to $150 — to be rebated by the shelter or to be deducted by the veterinarian doing neutering surgery.

Any veterinarian unwilling to accept the mission of the humane movement, or unwilling to provide vet care to shelter pets without extraordinary multiple visits or fees, should be bypassed for more cooperative veterinarians.

Adopters should not have an option regarding neutering any animal over the age of 5 months.

Shelter staff — animal lovers all — should not have to euthanize dozens of pets a month because of citizens’ lack of education or lack of funds, resulting in low spay/neuter rates.

treatise to HSOV board of directors

March 23, 2009

At the April 7 meeting of the board of directors meeting for HSOV (Humane Society of the Ohio Valley) I’m going to present a treatise. During this morning’s swim I began working through my proposed speech, trying to focus myself.

I’m going to begin this writing-compressing process here on my blog. (Sidebar — an interesting exercise for the creation of a powerful personal statement is to write all your thoughts, in no specific order, then combine similar thoughts into single sentences, eliminate fluff and repetition, and boil the entire thing down to 25-50 words.)

The primary goal of my treatise is to convince the HSOV board that their mission should be to spearhead the spay/neuter drive in our area, without regard for whether or not this activity meshes with the opinions and goals of our local veterinarians and potential adopters.

I’ve considered opening with, “The Humane Society of the Ohio Valley has a mission statement published on the website which includes the statements: to work toward the solution of overpopulation of animals; to promote and share responsibility for the proper care and placement of animals; and to oppose the release of any animal from public and private animal shelters for the purpose of biomedical research or any other purpose inhumane to animals.”

Nowhere in that mission statement is mention made of supporting local veterinarians and ensuring they have sufficient business, or making sure the shelter is the cheapest local source of pets,or enabling the adoption of pets without ascertaining the quality of the home provided by the adopter, or providing brood bitches for puppy mills.

At some point in time the board decided that the shelter needed local vets’ approval more than local vets need HSOV as a good customer. At some point in time the board decided to accommodate the needs of adopters, regarding price and availability, rather than focusing on the needs of shelter dogs and cats. At some point in time the board decided to focus more on fund-raising and adopting out a few animals than on the numbers of dogs and cats being bred by citizens and euthanized in our shelter every week.

I have established as one of my life goals to raise local awareness of the needs of homeless dogs — finding the right dog for interested adopters, assisting with training that dog, ensuring the dog’s health, and keeping that dog happily in the home. I will continue working toward those goals for the dogs living at HSOV, but I need your help.

I need you, as influential members of the board of directors of a humane society, to stand between the animals at the shelter and those who breed them indiscriminately. I need you to stand up to veterinarians who expect personal gain without supporting HSOV’s mission. I need you to listen to HSOV statistics and know the agony felt by members of the shelter staff — animals lovers every one — who must perform euthanasias regularly because of the lack of education about spay/neuter in our community, and the lack of funds to assist adopters with veterinary care. I need you to educate yourselves and your neighbors about the many causes of pet over-population and the benefits of early spay/neuter.

Those of us fighting the spay/neuter battle are engaged in a war. We’re drowning in a tsunami of lovely, yet unwanted, dogs and cats. Our allies are humane societies everywhere, whether they’re rescuing dogs or working on legislation, and veterinarians willing to fit shelter dogs into their schedule, willing to provide prepubescent spay/neuters, willing to make good customers of shelter adopters, and willing to participate in our mission to combat pet over-population.

We want to make allies of the unknowledgeable breeders of dogs and cats in our community, and encourage them to become part of the solution to the pet over-population problem rather than part of the problem.  Lack of knowledge is a pardonable sin.

On the other hand, we have enemies. Our enemies are puppymills, retail and wholesale pet operations, irresponsible breeders of dogs and cats, and veterinarians who refuse to support our mission and provide medical services without extraordinary fees.

When a puppy or kitten is born, our goal is to ensure that puppy or kitten never produces more unwanted pets and that it finds a forever home. This goal diverges from the goal of a veterinarian, whose mission is to make money and pay expenses and employees, and who actually benefits from litters of puppies and kittens.

I’m going to let the above ferment in my brain. If you have comments, suggestions, or impassioned speeches, please forward all to me at

my impassioned spay/neuter speech

March 21, 2009

Information on dog training, spay/neuter possibilities, animal care, etc., is being acquired by dog people at an incredible rate now, with everyone having access to the most up-to-date information on the internet.

Keeping current on your field, a difficult proposition for dog trainers, must be a monstrous task for veterinarians and scientists who are bombarded with study results and new research constantly.

Whereas it might be inconvenient for my students if I’m not versed on the latest information on teaching fronts, it’s devastating for a veterinarian’s patients if they don’t keep up with the latest technology and information.

Yesterday a shelter trainer list I’m on had a link to an interesting article on the results of a 10-year study of pediatric spay/neuter, done at Cornell nearly 10 years ago. I checked out this article from HSUS information (link)

I intend to write a treatise to be presented at the next meeting of my shelter’s board of directors. I’ll not make it part of my “report from the volunteer coordinator” but, instead, will present it when they ask for questions from the community.

Here’s my primary question — “why is the shelter releasing intact animals back into the community via adoptions-without-neutering when our statistics show we euthanize 10 animals for every 1 we adopt out?”

As my hero, Sue Sternberg, puts it, “Spay/neuter before adoption is CRITICAL, or a shelter, especially one like Marietta, which still has pet overpopulation and litters of puppies coming to the shelter, should not even bother to adopt out dogs. Putting more fertile dogs and cats into the community is not helpful.”

My friend and mentor, Carrie Roe (from HSOP), adds, “using vets that are willing to do prepubicent spays/neuters is also critical.” Carrie notes, “You can’t hold the animals for 6 months for them to be old enough to meet the standards of some vets that don’t believe in the early surgeries.”

Early spay/neuter is controversial, I know. There are seminarists traveling the country preaching late or no neutering for performance dogs. My own brother has a little puppy-mill aussie and he’s been convinced that neutering him will bring on prostate cancer.

However, it is my opinion that local shelters, who absorb 90% of the unwanted pet population, and whose staffs must face the horrible task of “eliminating” the nation’s overage, must be the constant preachers of the spay/neuter sermon.

I believe it is not nearly enough to have adopters purchase a $20 certificate which is refunded upon neutering, especially considering that veterinarians are not on board with us and are unwilling to do the neutering on the pet’s first visit.

Here’s a specific account of this practice by our shelter. Yesterday a woman walks in wanting to look at very young kittens she heard were at the shelter. She’d been there 2 weeks ago but the kittens were too young to go home.

On Friday, 3/20, this lady visited the Parkersburg shelter and was shown their kittens. She didn’t take one, however, because “they wanted all my information, and there’s a waiting period!” So, instead of filling out an application in Parkersburg and being approved for a kitten that is already spayed, she drove to Marietta’s shelter.

Here she found 2 kittens, both female and intact, of course. They were “too small for shots” according to staff, and too small for spaying. “How much would it cost to get both of them?” our guest asked.

The first answer was, “$15 for the kitten, $5 for shots, and $20 for the spay certificate which you’ll get off the vet bill when you have her spayed.”  “Oh, I didn’t bring that much money with me!” she responded, and I’d really like both of them.”

Weeeelllll …. “we could probably just charge you for the 2 spay certificates and, since the kittens haven’t had their shots yet, not charge you anything for the kittens themselves.”

This nice lady took home 2 very young female kittens for $40, the cost of 2 spay certificates. If she ever takes them to a veterinary there will have to be a wellness check and shots prior to spaying. The wellness check will be about $75-100. The spaying will be $50-75 apiece, at the very least. Those two $20 certificates aren’t going to cover much and I don’t imagine they’ll ever be used.

And 2 fertile kitten-making machines are released into the community.

What would have been the scenario if, instead, both kittens had pediatric or prepubicent spay surgery before going up for adoption? The cost of the kittens would have been $50-60 each, the woman may have only gotten one, but we’d be certain her one kitten wasn’t going to produce dozens of kittens for the euthanasia needle.

The above is going to be the primary thrust of my treatise, but examples of “old timey” thinking abound at the shelter.

I’m attempting to train dogs and train dog-walkers, while the staff of the shelter remain stuck in 1960s thinking about dog training and behavior. Examples, just from yesterday (hey, Bud had to listen to my venting so you have to as well <g>), include:

FIRST, a 45-50-pound Shar Pei mix bitch is with me, on lead, in the hallway leading to the big dog room. She’s shown an inordinate amount of attention to the cats in the cat room and in the tower cages. Several members of the staff share with me that “when she was turned in her owners said she’d killed cats, but you can’t believe everything people say. They’ll tell you that as an excuse for bringing a dog in to the shelter.”

My response was, “well, I’d more likely say you can’t believe when people say their dog is happy, friendly, loves cats and kids and other dogs. There’s a reason they’re getting rid of the animal and killing another person’s pet should be something you could verify before putting the dog up for adoption.”

They explained to me, stupid as I am, “we’ve not had any problem with her since she’s been here.” All this conversation as the dog stares intently through the plexiglass at a cat sitting on a window sill. I put “kills cats” on her temperament sheet, noted that she required an experienced owner, and returned this dog to her kennel. I have no words for the previous owner who, instead of taking responsibility and euthanizing their cat-killing dog, brought her to a shelter so someone else could have the pleasure of that moment.

SECOND, I have a little black lab mix in the back yard. She’s trying to drag me, has no connection to people, doesn’t demonstrate any desire to engage me. “That dog’s completely trained!” the dog warden tells me. “She came to us from the cell dog program where she was playing with another dog, it turned into a fight, the inmate tried to break it up and got bitten, which led to her getting thrown out of the program.”  He went on to explain that it was certainly a missreading of what was going on, and an unfortunate accident, because, as he repeated again and again, “she’s completely trained!”

My response was, “how was she trained? With treats and reward, or with corrections?” He didn’t know. Didn’t really even understand the question, probably. I worked with this dog for 45 minutes and she glanced at me one time. She didn’t walk well on leash, wouldn’t sit or lie down, had no connection to anyone in the shelter, including staff.

While I’m sitting, waiting for her to lie down so I could praise her, staff walked by saying, “that dog’s completely trained!” as if she was a gold nugget they’d found in the parking lot. I wrote on her sheet that she’s a work in progress and, fortunately for her, seemed to have no interest in the other dogs or cats at the shelter. But she didn’t have any interest in anything, really, so she’s probably showing signs of being shut down by the environment. If she gets adopted her real stripes will develop.

THIRD, I work with Daisy, a chow mix turned in as the perfect pet. “Great with kids, cats and other dogs!” Yeah, right. Again with the staring at cats. And, when approached by the dog warden and his loud, deep voice and clapping hands, she assumed a stance clearly communicating “approach me with caution.” Which, of course, he ignored. She cowered while he woozled and grabbed her.

I spent 40 minutes with her and discovered that she did know how to lie down, but that she used down to earn freedom. She’d lie down, be petted and praised, and then rush toward the cats. I started asking her to lie down longer before getting her praise. When I’d wait to praise her, she’d look boldly at me and freeze. In my opinion, this is a dog destined to injure or kill something. I wrote nothing in her “skills” list and noted she needed an experienced owner.

FOURTH, I bring out Mya, a sweet little black lab who has drawn no attention from adopters and who will be accompanying me to We Luv Pets today. Mya walks beautifully on a leash, pees in the exercise yard willingly, returns to me when I welcome her, and is, in general, a sweet girl.

I spend 45 minutes with her in the hallway of the shelter. Two staff members have to stop and pet her, though we’re working on self-calming as described on the literature and signs all over the volunteer station for the past 4 months. They have not, of course, taken advantage of their long breaks to read any of the dog-training literature. Why would they? They’ve worked at the shelter a couple of years and that’s given them all the information they need. Besides, they love dogs so they know about dogs, you know?

So a nice young man crouches next to Mya and points at the floor. “Down! Down! Down!” — to which she responds, “huh?”  He goes and gets an old dry biscuit out of a 5-gallon drum and returns to crouch and say “down!”  I watch with some amusement, I must admit, as Mya looks at him like he’s from Pluto (which, by the way, is not a planet LOL).

“I guess she doesn’t know how to lie down,” he concluded. “Well, first, she doesn’t know how to work for a treat or follow a treat lure, even if you were luring correctly,” I state. “Second, you might want to look at some of the training literature here sometime, but third, I can pretty much guarantee she’s not going to do anything extraordinary for that dry biscuit.” In fact, Mya walked outside with me and, presented with the broken biscuit just for walking around in the grass, spit it out and walked away from it.

She’s a perfectly sweet girl who can certainly sit and lie down but does both on her own terms because she’s never been given the slightest reason to work for food or to see people and food as valuable resources.

I came home completely frustrated at the lack of information, the old-timey approach to spay/neuter and training, and the view of this monstrous mountain from my position at the bottom. Where to start?

So I’m going to write a treatise to be presented at the next board of directors meeting. This will probably be the deal-breaker for being nominated to the board. Better to know that now, however, than to get nominated and find I have no voice in policy.

In the meantime, I’m off to pick up Mya and head to the pet-food store. If we can’t educate shelter staff at least we can educate and entertain a few citizens.

Mini shelter adopt-a-thons

February 22, 2009

I noticed a few weeks ago that people react better to individual dogs, separated from the mob, than they do to large numbers of dogs together. When the SMART (Shelter Matchmaker And Rehab Training) team is working they bring dogs into a front hallway at the shelter. Potential adopters will usually stop and visit with the dogs we’re training. Some adoptions have taken place in the hallway, with dogs being presented to people by the SMART team. Some adopters will say they prefer to not even go into the big dog room because of the noise and perceived aggression issues.

It was a natural journey, therefore, to consider changing the shelter’s adopt-a-thon process. Setting a goal to make the animals more attractive and adoptable, I first decided to reduce the number of dogs and enforce a 1:1 ratio of volunteers to dogs.

Here’s how it worked before —  1) an adopt-a-thon location was contacted, room was made for the HSOV set-up,  2) eight to ten dog-walkers would show up at the adopt-a-thon site that morning,  3) shelter staff would make 2-3 trips transporting a dozen-or-so dogs and cats,  4) kids would walk the dogs around the parking lot and the store, and  5) very few animals got adopted.

Here was my plan — 1) contact a few local businesses interested in mini-adopt-a-thons,  2) create a plan and system for individual volunteers to personally haul individual dogs to adopt-a-thon locations,  3) train volunteers to behave respectfully and to be an asset to the store, rather than being in the way or an intrusion, and  4) test and monitor the constant, impromptu adopt-a-thons.

Yesterday I met with the manager of a local pet food store that provides cage space for our shelter cats, ex-pen space for some of our shelter dogs, and works closely with our shelter as well as other area shelters. The manager was delighted to provide a small space near the front of the store for an individual volunteer and a dog or two.

This morning I arrived at the shelter having done an mental inventory of the available shelter dogs. I wanted a dog available for adoption (we have 20+ dogs leaving for New England shelters and rescue organizations tomorrow), I wanted one I could manage (my knee injury forces me to limit myself to dogs less than 40 pounds), and I didn’t want to take a little puppy. My choices included a little black lab mix who was extremely shy and a rotty mix who was very well behaved.

Imagine my pleasure when I walked into the shelter and found, in the little-dog room, an 8-or-9-pound terrier mix who had just been surrendered to the shelter. She was too recent an addition to be slated for the rescue transport, she was well-endowed in the cute department, and she was just the right size for this lame handler.

In addition to “Gretchen,” the shelter staff called We Luv Pets and discovered they could make room for some of our cats. We loaded 3 cats into a carrier, loaded Gretchen into one of my crates, took volunteer applications and some treats, and headed out to We Luv Pets.

When I arrived they’d set up a chair for me and asked if I needed a table or anything else. They had a cat cage all cleaned and ready for the cats, and were incredibly welcoming. While Gretchen and I settled in the manager cut fleece fabric to create hammocks in the cat cage.

I spent a really pleasant 2-hours in the store, schmoozing with customers, talking about shelter dogs, showing off Gretchen’s new tricks (she learned sit, sit-pretty, and dance in about 5 minutes) and generally being goodwill ambassadors for the shelter.

We cleaned up our area and headed back to the shelter. Gretchen was exhausted and I was very happy with how the non-event functioned. The new shelter manager, Sue Goff, decided that she’d go back to We Luv Pets on quiet afternoons and take one of the shelter dogs along with her.

I’m hoping this becomes an even better relationship, between us and this pet-food store. They compete with a nearby Petland that sells dogs for big bucks, so I’m hoping folks will see the benefits of visiting We Luv Pets instead.

Shelter adoption policies

February 17, 2009

Erica made an interesting point in her comment, seen at the bottom of my previous post. She pointed out that breed rescue groups often have strict adoption guidelines, they know the characteristics of their dogs, and they control who gets those dogs.

Our little shelter doesn’t do a great job of screening adopters. In fact, sometimes they don’t screen adopters at all, nor do they always check references. And there are so many types of adoptions and so many fee levels, it’s nearly impossible for matchmakers to inform potential adopters as to what they would owe for a dog or cat.

1. If it’s a puppy or kitten, you’re permitted to pay for it and take it immediately without any guarantee it will be neutered.

2. If it’s an adult dog and they know you, you may adopt without any guarantee it will be neutered, though you get a discount certificate for the surgery.

3. If it’s an adult dog and they don’t know you, they sometimes require that the dog go to your vet for surgery, and that you pick them up at your vet’s office and pay all costs.

4. If it’s an adult dog and you live out of state, you may adopt by making any donation to the shelter. No set fee, just a donation.

When I hear these various fee explanations my mind is boggled. And the fact that they do no checking of references ensures that some unknown percentage of shelter dogs probably end up in bad or horrible situations, whether stuck out in ayard (hopefully with a dog house), running loose, or in a puppymill.

I’m not sure if this situation exists because of laziness or poor management or poor policy. Perhaps it’s like the “feed all dogs once a day regardless of their age, and feed all dogs 9 cups of food regardless of their size” policies — old timey.

Here at Country Dream we’re having a private lesson sale. And there’s $65 in our beautification fund already! Certainly not enough for a truckload of gravel but I’m going to get started with my order of evergreens and ground cover plants. Ooooh, so exciting!

Bud’s telling me my 2-Minute Dog Trainer Sport Foundation packet will be on the website any minute. He’s been wrapped up in a project selling comic books, but those go into tomorrow’s mail so hopefully my project is at the top of the list.

Not your typical shelter problem

February 15, 2009

What’s a shelter to do when too many people want the available dogs?  We’re having a bit of conflict at HSOV regarding adoption versus transport to other shelters and rescue groups and, having rambled my way through this issue in prior blogs, I’m suggesting a possible solution.

I think and rescue transport are the best ideas since sliced bread. But what happens when a terrific family-of-5 comes into the shelter looking for a pet and finds 20 kennels, housing great dogs, with big blue “not available for adoption” signs glaring at them because shelters in New England have made room in their shelters for a bunch of our dogs.

HSOV’s transport and rescue coordinator works tirelessly to find reputable rescues willing to take large quantities of dogs, opening up kennels and puppy pens for the influx of unwanted animals in our county. But how big a deal is it for “labrador retriever rescue” if they get 4 dogs instead of 6 because 2 have been adopted locally?

I’ve been told that breed rescues get ouchy about this, having gone to the trouble of finding foster homes and families for the dogs via their network. Having been a rescuer of dogs for about 22 years I’m keenly aware that — if I want a particular dog in my home — I’d better move swiftly to acquire that dog and get it out of the present situation.

So I’ve proposed to HSOV the following idea … instead of a sign that says “not available for adoption” on the pens of dogs slated for transport, how about “Available for adoption until ___(date), transport to rescue scheduled for ___(date), please let shelter staff know if you’re interested in adopting this pet. Thank you! HSOV”

This might lend a sense of urgency to the adoption process, would give transport folks time to finalize their list of animals, and would assist those of us training and matchmaking dog in determining if a dog really IS available.

Following is a success story !!   Reggie, a rotty or dobie mix female, had been at HSOV since August. She’d been adopted once and returned, so essentially had been at our shelter for 6+ months. A fellow in Pennsylvania saw her picture (even though she was misrepresented as a cattledog mix) and liked her. He and I chatted on the phone and he planned a trip to Marietta yesterday, 2/14, to adopt Reggie. He was then going to take her with him to a second shelter and see if another dog he wanted got along with her.

Well he arrived Saturday morning and met Reggie. And he also saw Reese, a like-sized male mix-breed. He decided to take both of them for a little walk to see which would work best for him and discovered that the two dogs LOVED each other. They bounced around and played, discovering a lovely doggie relationship, so he decided to take them both! Those of us who have worried about Reggie, have shifted her from the dangerous corner kennel to a quieter spot, have trained her and walked her, are delighted that she and Reese have found a home and found each other. What a great Valentine’s Day  gift.

Today we’re having our last agility workshop for the winter session. We have 7 people scheduled here for advanced training from noon-4pm, and 4 for intermediate training from 2-4pm. I’m encouraging all my intermediate students to move to advanced for next session, so we’re going to integrate them into the advanced group today.

Our spring session begins March 8, with 6 workshops in 3 months (March 8 and 22, April 5 and 26, May 3 and 17). I’m really pleased that our workshops are as well attended as they are, since I spend little or no time marketing them or selling slots. I am, however, going to do e-mails to all our spring-and-summer students (those fragile creatures we haven’t seen since the first frost) and let them know that registrations have begun and working slots are limited.

In the meantime I’ve got 3-5 folks from an hour away wanting to enroll in the beginner workshops for spring. They’re 4H enthusiasts and, true to form, are interested in starting training in March for competition in August. A serious child exhibitor certainly needs to be training year ’round, but 4H seems to not really encourage serious child exhibitors. Instead, 4H seems to encourage “dabbling” — kids can do various projects, from pigs to silk purses, without ever really delving too deeply into any one project.

I know it leads to some pretty stressful performances in late summer but perhaps the stress is MINE, not theirs. As their instructor I find myself cringing inwardly when I see lack-of-relationship errors in 4H teams. It goes counter to our training philosophy, that dog training is ALL about relationship. And I wonder to myself what message is being transmitted to the kids about their relationship with dogs, versus their relationship with pigs, chickens, rabbits, cows, corn, potatoes, or squash. I guess I’d feel differently about this if I were a chicken-trainer or a potato farmer.

Regardless, I’ve given up on the idea of influencing 4H kids to train year ’round. Even if they get enrolled their attendance is sketchy, with conflicts during the week with basketball, band, etc., and conflicts on weekends with homework, video games and family activities. My instruction has changed as well, and I ask them at each class, “how many weeks until your competition?” I make extra homework assignments and try to encourage them to be as prepared as possible. (If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one to hear it, does it really make a sound?)