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Canine pipeline: Dogs who run out of luck in Las Vegas are ending up in Canada

pono

Most people involved in animal rescue know that homeless dogs in America are routinely shipped from southern shelters to northern ones to improve their chances of adoption.

But here’s a canine pipeline I hadn’t heard of — dogs from Las Vegas, like Pono (above), are being flown to Canada to find new adoptive homes. He was the 1,000th dog to make the trip.

Pono, a 3-year-old male Pomeranian, left a Las Vegas animal shelter in September and ended up either for sale or up for adoption (depending on your point of view) at Petcetera, a large pet store chain in Canada.

He made the trip through a program called Foreclosed Upon Pets Inc., which has been operating since 2008.  The non-profit organization began shipping Las Vegas shelter dogs to Vancouver two and a half years ago, and now ships eight to 16 every week.

In Canada, they they are adopted out — for a $500 fee — through Petcetera’s 18 stores, according to a story initially reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and picked up by ABC News.

Both stories describe what’s happening — troubling as it is on some levels — as a simple matter of supply and demand: The U.S. has millions of surplus dogs; Canada, with its stricter regulations on spaying and neutering, has what some might call a shortage, especially when it comes to smaller breeds.

“For whatever reason, we have a shortage of small dogs here, and to be quite honest, we were shocked at the size of the problem in Las Vegas,” said Richard Kaga, the executive vice president of Petcetera, which operates big box pet stores from Alberta to British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

“Over here in the United States, we’re just one big puppy mill,” said Everett Croxson, FUPI executive director. “Las Vegas included … Let’s face it. People are breeding for money in their backyards, and the concept of spaying and neutering never enters their heads, even if the laws exist. Even if there are such laws on the books.”

Every week, Croxson picks up dogs from the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas and takes them to the airport. After a layover in Seattle, they arrive in Vancouver. Since the program started in 2010, Croxson said he has exported as many as 1,100 small dogs, nearly three-fourths of them Chihuahuas. Croxson calls Las Vegas “the Chihuahua capital of the world.”

He started the organization to find homes for dogs that had been abandoned due to foreclosures, most of which ended up at Lied Animal Shelter,  a very high volume regional shelter that takes in more than 100 dogs and cats each day. In 2012, nearly 43,000 unwanted animals — nearly 23,000 dogs and 18,000 cats — came in, and many never left. An estimated 65 dogs and cats are put to sleep there every day.

Given that ugly alternative, it’s hard to find any fault with a program that’s bringing dogs happy endings in another country.

But what’s happening seems to make a pretty sad statement about our own country: “No, we can’t take care of our own.” “True, we tend to shirk responsibilities.” “Yes — cough, cough — our economy is a little unhealthy right now.” America in 2013 is producing refugees — albeit canine ones — who must be airlifted out of the country to stay alive.

Kaga, the Petcetera official, says there are no puppy mills in Canada and that Canadian pet owners  “would not think of having a pet” without spaying and neutering it.  Some might argue with that, but clearly Canada is a step ahead — or at least enough ahead that, when it comes to canines, it’s accepting our tired, poor, homeless and hungry.

Noble as it appears, the adoption program isn’t hurting business at Petcetera stores.

Kaga says the $500 fee the store is paid for each adopted pet covers the cost of the animals’ transportation, spaying or neutering, shots, health certificate, and their care and boarding at Petcetera.

But each dog adopted is going to need some food, and toys, and treats, perhaps a dog bed, and maybe a nice warm sweater.

“Like people, dogs have to have toys and food,” he says. “When we adopt a dog out, we hope the customer will come back to us for all that dog’s needs for the rest of its life. It’s worked out really well for all concerned — especially the dogs.”

(Photo: Foreclosed Upon Pets, Inc.)

Dog Mountain lives on

Stephen Huneck is gone — he took his own life earlier this year – but his love for dogs remains firmly and artfully stamped on a mountainside in Vermont.

His studio, in a giant red barn, is silent. Stacks of wood sit uncarved and untouched. But the gallery he built, the dog park he created and, perhaps his greatest inspiration, the Dog Chapel, remain open on Dog Mountain – an ongoing testament of one man’s love for dogs, and to what dogs add to our lives.

His widow wants to keep it that way, and with the renewed demand for his work after his death, a morbid fact of life when it comes to art, it’s looking like Dog Mountain, once facing foreclosure, will, happily, survive.

In what was one of the saddest stories in the art world, and the dog world, this year, Huneck, whose joyful odes to dogs — carved, sculpted and stamped on woodblock prints — shot himself amid a depression triggered by a recession.

The sagging economy had, starting in 2008, slowed sales of his art, forced him to close down his multiple studios and eventually — in what was hardest for him – lay off almost all of his 15 employees.

“Our employees were sort of like family,” his widow, Gwen, explained to me when Ace and I visited this past weekend. “Stephen blamed himself.”

With the economic downturn, she said, “People were unsure of the future, and when people are unsure of the future, they don’t buy art.”

Two days later after letting his employees go, Huneck, who was being treated for depression, shot himself in his car, parked outside his psychiatrist’s office in Littleton, New Hampshire. He was 60.

In a press release after his death, Gwen wrote, “Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home. On Tuesday, he had to lay off most of our employees. This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare.”

Despite its founder’s demise, Dog Mountain, somehow, remains a joyous place. Dogs romp and splash about in the lake at the well-manicured dog park; hikers trek its trails; customers delight in Huneck’s whimsical woodcut prints, hung about the gallery; his sculptures rise from the landscape; and a steady stream of dogs and humans flow in and out of Dog Chapel, Hunecks hand-built replica of 19th Century New England church — designed, like almost all else he did, despite some major personal obstacles, to honor dog.

In 1994, Huneck fell down a flight of stairs and was in a coma for two months. When he came out of it, he had Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and doctors were not optimistic.

Huneck had to relearn how to walk, how to sign his name. But he went back to work, finishing a series of woodcut prints based on his dog Sally. The first woodcut he carved was “Life Is A Ball” celebrating his new found life.

His near-death experience also inspired him to build the Dog Chapel – a place where people can celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs, past and present.

He started it in 1997, finished it in 2000, and then opened it to the public. Admission was, and is, free. Leashes were not, and are not, required.

Huneck called the chapel “the largest artwork of my life and my most personal.” A sign outside the chapel states: “All Creeds, All Breeds, No Dogmas Allowed.”

A miniature version of a 19th century New England village church, the chapel has four hand-carved pews, with carvings of dogs at the end of each, stained glass windows that feature winged dogs (a recurring image in his work). The interior walls are covered with post-it notes, left by visitors. Originally there was one “Remembrance Wall,” where pet owners could memorialize their pets. Now all the walls are covered with them. People who couldn’t make the trip could email their remembrances and Huneck would post them for them.

After his recovery, Huneck continued producing dog-inspired works of art, and, by 2000, Dog Mountain was a multi-million dollar business. He published a series of children’s books, and opened galleries across the country.

All that came after a difficult childhood. Huneck, who was dyslexic, grew up in the Boston area in what he described as a turbulent home. He left home at 17 “with 33 cents in his pocket,” his wife said. After attending Massacusetts College of Art in Boston, where he met Gwen, Huneck became an antiques dealer. Through repairing furniture, he taught himself how to carve. In 1984, one of his original carvings caught the eye of a New York dealer, and he was soon making art full time, according to his obituary in the New York Times.

Gwen and Stephen settled in Vermont, and bought a 200-year-old house. Huneck built a studio alongside the house and worked there until 1995 when they bought a nearby farm, converted its dairy barn into his new studio, and later built the chapel and gallery.

When the economy turned sour, he faced losing all he had built up.

“We’d used our life savings to keep the business going, but we ran out of money,” Gwen said.

Even in his depressed state, Huneck knew there is higher demand for a dead artist’s work — and some say, to the extent there was any, that was the logic behind his act, that he killed himself to save Dog Mountain.

Gwen — though she had doubts about whether it would be possible — was intent on saving Dog Mountain after his death. She kept the gallery and chapel open, and business improved.

“There was a real outpouring from people who realized how much Stephen and Dog Mountain meant to them,” she said.

Today, Dog Mountain has eight employees — most of them the ones who had been laid off. Business is brisk, both on the mountain and on the Huneck’s website, www.dogmt.com.

At the gallery, dogs are welcome, and Gwen encourages those coming in to take their dogs off their leashes.

Ace accepted the invitation, greeted Gwen’s three dogs — two Labrador retrievers, Daisy and Salvador Doggie, and a golden retriever named Molly — then settled down on the floor amid a collection of Huneck’s work.

Many have described that work as whimsical — carved Dachshund lamps, prints of dogs with wings, dalmatian benches and the like — but delightful as each individual piece is, Stephen Huneck’s body of work, and his life, went far deeper than whimsy, striking a chord with many. Ten months after his death, it still resonates.

“I’ve learned so much more about love from my dogs than I ever did from my parents or the church,”  Huneck told The Chicago Tribune in 1997. “They’re really great teachers. They love you with their whole heart.”

Maybe writer Edie Clark said it best in the piece she wrote for Yankee magazine after Huneck’s death:

“Stephen was to dogs what dogs are to us.”

(To see more of “Travels with Ace,” click here.)

Is New York dog being held for ransom?

 

Sugar has been missing more than five days now, and it’s looking more like her Brooklyn family’s initial suspicions are correct — that the French bulldog, basset hound mix is being held for ransom.

Drucie Belman’s dog ran off into the snow in Prospect Park Wednesday. About five hours later, a stranger called the number listed on the dog’s collar, and seemed to be demanding payment.

When the stranger asked how much she would give him for the dog, Belman offered $50. The caller hung up, and his callback number was blocked. Another call came yesterday morning. “Good luck with your dog,” was all they said.

“It looks like someone has Sugar and they’re just trying to get money from us,” said Albert Belman.

The family rescued Sugar from a shelter in Hong Kong before moving to Brooklyn, and she had never seen snow before. When a snow day off from school was declared Wednesday, Belman and her two sons — 10-year-old Henry and 7-year-old Leo — took Sugar to the park.

The boys say the dog was so excited by the sight of snow that she pulled free and took off. The Belmans gace chase, then followed her tracks in the snow, but couldn’t find her.

Sugar was wearing tags and has a microchip.

Wherefore art thou: Huneck’s tardy obituary

Nearly a month after the death of famed dog artist Stephen Huneck, the New York Times has seen fit to print his obituary.

stephen-studio-01The internationally known artist, woodcarver and furniture maker, and creator of the Dog Chapel, a hand-built church in Vermont, fatally shot himself on Jan. 7 in Littleton, N.H.

According to his wife, Gwen, he had been despondent over having had to lay off most of the employees of his art business that week.

While Huneck once had a national network of six galleries, only the one at his residence on Dog Mountain remains.

The tardy Times obit offered little new information about Huneck’s life or his suicide, except for this bit of irony: His death has led to a renewed demand for his work, enabling Ms. Huneck to hire back most of the employees let go last month.