Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 2: A shelter volunteer learning the ropes

After yesterday, my second day as as a volunteer at the Contra Costa County Animal Services shelter in Martinez, I feel like I’m getting very close to actually doing some good.

My shift began by taking inventory of the dogs in the adoption kennels. These are the kennels that are the first ones visible in the building. They’re meant for the dogs that are ready to go to new homes. There are 24 individual kennels in all divided up into four wards of six kennels each.

Following that I was paired up with an experienced volunteer whom I would “shadow”, basically just observe as she took out the dogs for their exercise. Ideally, I’ll eventually be doing this by myself.

This was what I was looking forward to for a long time, interaction with the dogs.

The first dog we were assigned was a German Shepherd named “Tessa”. Before taking her out Jody, the volunteer I was paired with, reviewed Tessa’s temperament test results and notes from Tessa’s previous exercise sessions. We grabbed a tennis ball and a few treats and headed for Tessa’s kennel. Getting a leash on dog in a kennel is a little harder than it may sound. Tessa didn’t quite know what to do, but eventually she got her leash on.

Being a German Shepherd, Tessa’s a big dog. She was full of energy and was good at chasing the ball but not so good at giving it back. She jumped up a lot as well, something absolutely not tolerated, but it was easy enough to deal with by just turning your back. I’m worried though that this behavior may scare off potential adopters. She’d probably be better off being taken in by a rescue first.

What really made me feel like a real volunteer was taking out Princess, who was listed as a German Shepherd mix, but her blue tongue told me she was part-Chow as well. When I mentioned this to Jody she speculated that perhaps it was purposefully omitted as Chows have reputations as biters. Princess’ tests indicated that she did well on a leash but she pulled, and pulled hard.

When we got her out onto the dog run she gave us a clue about why she might have been pulling so hard. Right away she squatted down and began peeing for what seemed like 5 minutes. When she was done she then found another spot and left what was quite possibly the biggest pile of dog crap I have ever seen in my life. It honestly looked like something that came out of a horse. After having to use two dog cleanup bags to get it all I felt like I had paid some dues.


She’ll make a great pet for someone’s family. She had a very even disposition and was absolutely beautiful. And as we had just witnessed there was no doubt that she’s housetrained. I hope I’m right in believing she won’t have wait very long before someone adopts her.

We also took out a few Pit Bulls. They were all pleasant to deal with but one of them really touched me.

When I first saw Coltrane I thought to myself, “Jesus, look at this one. I’ll bet some dogfighter would love to get a hold of him.” Coltrane was a big, red Pit Bull with beady eyes and a disproportionately large head. He looked like he’d be more at home with a spiked collar and a large chain for a leash. My experience with him yesterday taught me a lesson in making pre-judgements.


When we got Coltrane out on the dog run he did as most of them do. He stretched his legs a little and relieved himself. But he wasn’t interested in sniffing around or running or playing. What he responded to was affection. All he wanted was love. He even rolled over for a belly rub.

I felt bad for him. His sweet and loving disposition was completely contradictory to his intimidating appearance. When you also factor in his breed’s reputation this guy’s got the odds against him. I can only hope that someone will give him a chance to let his personality shine through and that he can end up somewhere where he’ll get all the love and attention he desires.

My experiences over the last two weeks have reinforced the continuing need to educate, educate, educate. There are too many people who need to know why spaying and neutering is absolutely essential as well as fighting misconceptions about breed.

Check out the Contra Costa County Animal Services’ website at

Monday, April 19, 2010

A volunteer's first day on the job

Saturday I began my world of volunteer work. There’s not a ton to tell about my experience but it was educational.

I began my shift with some obligatory reading. Along with some of the obligatory statements about volunteer safety, security procedures, the various services provided, and the department’s mission statement, there was also some very useful information about temperament testing and interpreting dog body language. Some things came up that I had never thought of that in retrospect was just good common sense.

They stressed the importance of a uniform reaction to certain behaviors. For example, if a dog jumps up on you you are to turn around for 5 seconds, ignoring the dog completely for the 5 seconds, and how to handle a dog that insists on pulling on the leash. The Volunteer Director, Cindy, acknowledged more than a few times the stress these dogs are experiencing and the importance of minimizing it whenever possible.

If you’ve ever seen “Hotel for Dogs” or are aware of the old traditional images of what a municipal shelter is like the reality I was experiencing here was a sharp contrast. Municipal shelters, up until recent years, have been more often referred to as “the pound”, a place where unlucky dogs go to meet their deaths. Animal Control Officers, or ACOs, were little more than “dog catchers”. I found the atmosphere and attitude of the staff members remarkably compassionate. I know I’ll be proud the day when my volunteer status becomes official.

After reading it was time for a tour of the facilities. I was given a passkey and a map and was sent off to explore the shelter. I was familiar with the public areas, but now I had access to “staff only” areas. I got to see the small dispatch station the ACOs had, the surgery and recovery rooms, isolation wards, the barn where 3 roosters, an emaciated horse, and a turkey (!) were up for adoption. There was also the euthanasia room. This was understandably off-limits.

Along the way I met 3 pit bulls, 2 chihuahuas, and 2 month old puppy that appeared to be a german shepherd/rottweiler mix that I would’ve all loved to have taken home with me.

Eddie was a black pit mix. He was just a pup, 6 months old. He seemed to be a happy ball of energy, not a care in the world. What bothered me about him was that his ears had already been cropped. I have no doubt he’s better off with us at the shelter than with his previous owner. It sure seemed like someone has aspirations of making him a fighter.

Hercules was a grey and white male pit bull, about a year and a half old. I saw him outdoors while he was on a run. He was running around chasing tennis balls, just being a dog. He obeyed his “sit” command without hesitation. When he saw me he looked at me expectantly without any sign of aggression or hostility, just simple curiosity.

My favorite pit bull was a 15 month old girl named Cricket. In a kennel next to a very large, scared, and vocal dog, Cricket sat patiently and attentively, not barking, but her body language seemed to say, “Please choose me. I’ll be good.” She was definitely deserving of a forever home.

The little puppy was adorable as all little puppies are. By the end of my shift his card had been stamped “adopted”.

In the small dog ward sitting in adjacent kennels were two teeny tiny applehead chihuahuas, one was a 6 year old female, the other a 3 year old male. Neither one could’ve weighed over 5 pounds. They were both whining, crying, pawing at their kennel doors. I was imagining my own two chihuahuas being in their position, and it was heartbreaking.

Following my tour I watched a pretty intensive video about reading dog body language. It was interesting but a bit overwhelming.

The thing I think I’ll have the toughest time with is the concept of keeping a professional emotional distance. It’s really hard not to take pity and want to take them all home with you. I’m looking forward to next week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A volunteer’s journey moves forward

Speak! has returned.   I’m sorry for having been dormant for so long.  There are a few excuses I could offer, but really, what does it matter?  What’s more important is what’s triggered the return.

Last year I intended to chronicle my experiences as a volunteer at an animal shelter, specifically the main shelter in Martinez for Contra Costa County’s Animal Services department.  After a few rounds of phone tag following the submission of my application I never did get to speak with anyone and the journey ended there.  Probably further complicating the matter was the fact that one of my dogs’ licenses had recently expired and the county requires all their volunteers’ pets have up to date licensing. 

I decided to give it another try.  I made sure the shots and licenses were in order and was more persistent with the phone tag.  It got me a step further.  As I write this I’m preparing for my first shift.

I hope to have stories to share.  A lot of them.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Time’s running out for this cute puppy

From our Facebook friend, Jennifer Warner:


Sooo cute!!! URGENT "Max" 5 month rednose chocolate kissabull pup is on the euth list if space is needed (so at any time) at the Pasadena shelter. Max was adopted out when he was tiny, but returned when their dog attacked him. His wounds healed perfectly. He is energetic and shelter staff reported he will play tug of war with the leash, and was stiff at first when introduced to the female tester dog, but then initiated play with a bow. Here's his adorable video of him showing off his sit like a star: -- please msg me if you can FOSTER or to adopt or rescue call 626-792-7151 for #A256278

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vick’s insincerity becoming more apparent

Earlier this week BAD RAP, the Oakland-based pit bull rescue organization that was instrumental in determining the fate of the Vick dogs, made the difficult decision of extending to Michael Vick an invitation to visit with some of his former dogs while Vick is in town with his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, to play against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Although it may have been a painful meeting it would have been an opportunity to bring healing and closure on many levels. It would have been a positive gesture on Vick’s part toward the rescue community, pit bull advocates, and dog lovers in general, not to mention the dogs themselves.

Vick didn’t even bother to answer himself. Through the Eagles’ PR director he declined.

Considering the fact that Vick has never mentioned the dogs in his many apologies and that his participation in the Humane Society of the United States’ anti-dog fighting campaign has consisted of three speeches at community-based events Vick seems to be coming way short of his pre-prison term promise to “redeem” himself.

His “no” answer also brings up other questions.

Whose advice is he following or is this solely his decision? If it was for legal reasons would he want to if legalities were not an issue?

As of this writing it has been a little more than 24 hours since Vick’s “no” to BAD RAP made the news. BAD RAP has a full post about it on their blog site. In Defense of Animals has a story along with plans for a protest at this Sunday’s game. The story’s being reported by all major news agencies. Since Vick now works with the HSUS why have they remained absolutely silent about it? I’ve been monitoring their website along with HSUS President Wayne Pacelle’s blog site. There hasn’t been a peep. What is the HSUS’s position on Vick’s answer? As the one animal rights organization that chose to associate themselves with him I think they owe us an explanation.

If this answer was solely Vick’s decision I’d like to know why. Is it that he doesn’t care about them and couldn’t be bothered? Are you too ashamed? Are you afraid of looking those dogs in the face or facing the questions of their new owners?

Are you afraid that the dogs might remember you? Are you afraid that they might attack you like you trained them to do or are you afraid they’ll cower?

In Defense of Animals is planning a peaceful protest of Vick at the Raiders-Eagles game at the Oakland Coliseum this Sunday. Visit the IDA website for more details.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BSL issue heats up in Denver

From the Denver Daily News:

Were innocent dogs killed?

Pit bull advocates wonder if city has put down misidentified dogs

Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

“Pit bull advocates would like to know just how many innocent dogs have been killed by the city simply because the dogs were wrongly identified as being part of the banned breed.

Suggesting that hundreds of innocent dogs may have been killed by the city, advocates are calling for an immediate re-evaluation of the city’s controversial ordinance.

At the center of the debate is a recent case in which an administrative judge ruled that animal control officers wrongly labeled a boxer-mix as a pit bull. Three so-called experts with Denver Animal Care and Control had labeled Kevin O’Connell’s dog Dexter a pit bull. But O’Connell’s own experts — American Kennel Club judges and professional dog handlers — testified last week that Dexter was in no way a pit bull.

The ruling was a victory for O’Connell and Dexter — but it came with a price. The owner will spend thousands of dollars in legal and city fees by the time all his bills are paid — all for an error on the city’s part. He will even need to pay boarding fees for the 10 days his dog was locked up — during which time Dexter developed kennel cough just from being inside the shelter.

While O’Connell was fortunate enough to have the money to fight for his dog, many are not, pointed out Jennifer Edwards, founder of the Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center and O’Connell’s lead attorney. She and her organization believe hundreds of dogs wrongly identified as pit bulls may have already been killed by the city or are currently sitting on “pit bull row.”

“It desperately needs to be addressed,” said Edwards. “I am positive that there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands of dogs that are similarly situated to Dexter, and I think that we need to call into question Denver’s procedures as far as their breed recognition and determination of these prohibited breeds.””

Click here for the full text of the article.

The horror of what’s taking place to Denver’s pit bulls can easily happen in any community where BSL is allowed to pass. That’s why we cannot give up and continue to fight. Kudos to the anti-BSL movement in Denver for not accepting defeat.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dog fighting ring busted in Buffalo

This is from the Buffalo News. The full article can be read here.

This is one of three pit bulls found Thursday at 39 Laurel St., where the attic floor was coated with animal waste.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Battle against dogfighting brings rescue of 25 pit bulls

In less than 24 hours, dogs found at 6 sites by animal control officers

By Lou Michel


Updated: October 09, 2009, 12:34 AM / 3 comments

In the battle to halt illegal dogfighting in Buffalo, animal control officers rescued 25 pit bulls in less than 24 hours at six locations.

Score a win for the battered and scarred dogs now safe in sanitized kennels at the city's Animal Shelter on North Oak Street. The owners of the dogs have not claimed them, and no arrests have been made so far.

In rescuing the dogs, animal control officers once again yanked back a curtain exposing the secretive world of dogfighting.

It wasn't a pretty picture.

"This dog was tied to a one-foot leash at the top of the stairs leading to the attic. You can see where railings to the banister have been chewed," said animal control officer Mark Young, pointing to wooden posts that were nearly shredded in half.

In the attic at 39 Laurel St. were even more disturbing sights: animal waste coating the floor, shredded stuffing from seat cushions, kennels bedded with straw to keep down the flea population, and dry dog food scattered amid the filth.

What’s more disturbing is the first reader comment below the article:

“I hope every da.n one of those pitbulls are put down.
An absolutely worthless and very dangerous canine.
I will not enter a building/home that houses a pitbull nor will I interact with any moron who publicly displays their total lack of concern by walking a pitbull w/out a muzzle.
The owners should be forced to wear muzzles as well.”

This is the kind of ignorance and prejudice we’re fighting. I hope this helps serve to spur us on to keep going.