He goes by the nickname “Wolfdog.” Lives in Alabama’s great outdoors. And he spends most of his time, along with his dog, Bandit, picking trash — copious amounts of trash — out of the waterways.
It’s not a job. He doesn’t get paid. He says he does it out of his love for the planet and its wildlife.
“I’m not asking anybody for anything. I’m not a charity case. I ain’t a bum. I’m not a mooch,” says 55-year-old Cliff Skees. “But I do care about the environment. I care about wildlife. I care about human beings, but human beings, they take one look at me and they say, ‘Well, he’s just a piece of trash, you know.’
“Maybe I am. But then again, maybe I ain’t. I can look myself in the mirror and say I’m trying.”
We’ll go so far — despite the hard times he’s gone through in life — to cast a vote for “ain’t.”
And to point out that, most likely, a lot of those people who see him as “trash” are the same ones who so casually discard it, cluttering the waterways around Mobile, Alabama.
Skees is an unpolished gem, first discovered four years ago by Ben Raines, an environmental reporter for the Mobile Press-Register.
At the time, Skees was living the woods and was commonly seen with Bandit, gathering garbage from the shores from a canoe with these words painted on the side, “Be a critter, please don’t litter.”
Raines wrote a story back then about the man and his mission. He followed along as Skees — and Bandit, too — scooped up trash from the water and returned it to their base, where 140 bags full of garbage, stacked and numbered, sat.
“It was a startling sight, and a testament to just how trashy we Alabamians are, for even with that much trash picked up, so much more remained along the river banks,” Raines wrote.
Recently, Raines ran into him again — and found out that, while Skees’ mission remained the same, his situation has improved somewhat. You can read that second story here.
After the first story appeared, someone donated a pontoon boat to Skees, and he turned it into his base of operations.
Raines happened upon Wolfdog and Bandit again last week at a boat ramp on Chickasabouge Creek.
“They both looked prosperous and had a certain spring in their collective step. I immediately had the feeling some good fortune had come their way,” Raines wrote.
“Mr. Ben!” Wolfdog shouted, “You’ve got to see my rig. Things are different these days.”
Wolfdog then showed off the houseboat he had fashioned from the pontoon boat — one complete with solar panels, an electric motor, and other features that he fashioned out of recycled materials and some “backwoods hillbilly ingenuity.”
“The woodwork is top notch. Glossy marine varnish shines from every surface. There’s a bed, a table, a propane stove and several small windows. The framing for the insulated walls is aluminum, to better resist rotting. Everywhere you look, the craftsmanship is meticulous,” Raines reported.
An anonymous donor gave Skees the old 1979 pontoon boat after the first article appeared, apparently to support his one-man cleanup mission.
While friends donated items to the houseboat project, Skees receives no support for his efforts to keep the waterways clean — except that which Bandit supplies. When they are out in the canoe, Bandit will leap off to collect cups and plastic bottles in his mouth.
Wolfdog says he hopes to set a Guinness World Record for picking up trash, and he still dreams of finding some support from the local environmental groups.
“I can’t get nobody to help me. That’s what breaks my heart the worst. I can’t even get a thank you,” Wolfdog said. “I think they look at me and they see trash…
“I won’t give up. Get discouraged sometimes. But my best work, the best of my work, don’t come nowhere close to what I leave behind … There’s just no comparison. No comparison. Not nowhere close.”
Skees says it was on his first canoe ride that he fell in love with the solace of canoeing.
That trip is also when, seeing trash in the water, cleaning it up began his calling.
“For certain for sure,” he said. “There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to talk about it.”
If you are interested in helping Wolfdog and Bandit with their mission, contact Raines at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo courtesy of Wolfdog)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 2nd, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alabama, animals, bandit, ben raines, canoe, clean, cliff skees, dog, dogs, environment, garbage, guardian, homeless, houseboat, litter, mobile, pets, pollution, reporter, rivers, trash, waterways, wildlife, wolfdog
A formerly homeless man said goodbye earlier this month to a dog who gave his life some purpose.
Raymond Goynes was living in a refrigerator box on the streets of New York when he first met Sonja, a wheaten terrier, in 2005.
He’d spent decades on the streets by then, but he’d kicked his cocaine habit a few year’s earlier and was doing odd jobs to help buy food.
He’d regularly see Sonja being taken for a walk and asked her owner, more than once, if he could help with that.
“After I got Sonja, he saw various people walking her when I was at work,” Mary Kilty told the New York Times. “He said to me, ‘I can walk your dog.’ He said this to me several times and eventually I thought why not give it a try, because he clearly needed some income and support.”
Goynes began taking Sonja for two-hour walks to and around Central Park on Saturday mornings.
“It helped me get myself together,” Goynes said. “It keeps you from messing around, doing other things bad. ‘I got a dog-walking job, I’ve got to maintain.'”
“… She helped me, I helped her,” he added.
Goynes found a permanent home in 2007 — a small room in a building on East 28th Street run by the nonprofit supportive-housing provider now known as Breaking Ground.
He continued to walk Sonja on weekends, and would house-sit the dog, sometimes for weeks at a time, in Kilty’s penthouse.
“He was so reliable and so good, and she loved him so much,” Kilty said.
Last spring, Sonja, 11, began a slow decline due to cancer.
“If there was anything I could do to help her stay up … Sonja, get up, come on, get up.”
He held her paw, gazed into her eyes and then left so Kilty could spend some private moments with Sonja before a veterinarian arrived to give her a lethal injection.
Kilty said Goynes asked for Sonja’s tags, so he can wear them on a necklace.
She honored that request, but says she’s not ready to grant his second one.
“He keeps asking me when I’m going to get another dog, which I don’t think I’m going to do quite yet.”
(Photos: Nicole Bengiveno / The New York Times)
Posted by John Woestendiek March 22nd, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, boost, central park, cocaine, dog, dog walker, dogs, friends, help, homeless, homelessness, housing, mary kilty, new york, pets, purpose, raymond goynes, sonja, streets, walker, wheaten, wheaten terrier
A French animal rights group is being criticized after a video surfaced of its president and at least two cohorts taking a puppy away from a homeless man in Paris.
He and another activist from the Lille-based group can be seen wrestling the man and taking his dog away.
More than 225,000 people have signed a petition to launch an investigation into the group’s action and have the dog returned to its owner.
Blanchard wrote in a post on Cause Animale Nord’s Facebook page that the dog was not being properly cared for and that it had been drugged by the man to stay calm.
He said there were signs the dog was being mistreated, including dilated pupils and abnormal crying, though in the video the only crying the dog does is after it is seized by Blanchard.
Blanchard says the snippet of video unfairly paints the group in a negative light.
We’d say he managed to do that all by himself.
(Photo of the seized dog from Cause Animale Nord’s Facebook page)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 29th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animal rights, animals, anthony blanchard, cause animale nord, dog, dogs, france, french, group, homeless, homeless man, organization, paris, pets, president, puppy, seized, seizes, steals, stolen, video
Waffles, a formerly blond and gray dog, is back home after police and a veterinarian determined she was indeed the same dog that Robert Lucier and his family had spent four days looking for.
“Thank goodness she had a microchip,” Lucier told the New York Daily News.
The family had put up posters and searched for the dogs since she was stolen last week, while briefly left tied up outside a grocery store.
On Saturday, Lusicer received a tip from someone saying he saw a homeless woman “washing the paint” out of his dog in a public bathroom at Seattle Center. Lucier hopped on his bike and began searching the area.
He saw a woman with a dog that strongly resembled Waffles — except for being solid black.
He confronted the woman, who insisted it was her dog.
Lucier remained suspicious, especially after he got close enough to the dog to detect the scent of chemicals.
He said he and the woman wrestled a bit, and that’s when three police cars pulled up.
Sure enough, the dog had one, identifying her as Waffles and Lucier as the owner.
She is back home now, and, after a few baths, still mostly black — but Lucier expects the coloring will fade away over time.
“She’s still shocked. She’s normally such a friendly, outgoing dog. She’s still walking around with her tail between her legs,” he said. “It’s going to take a little time for her to get adjusted.”
Waffle’s family decided not to press charges against the woman who he said “has bigger problems” to deal with.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 22nd, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, black, cairn terrier, confrontation, dog, dogs, dye, dyed, found, fur, hair, homeless, lost, microchip, pets, police, reunion, reunited, search, seattle, stolen, theft, tied, waffles, woman
A homeless veteran whose dog wandered off when he fell asleep on a southern California beach earlier this month has been reunited with his beloved Olivia.
Harry Brown, 53, diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given a year to live, was visiting Long Beach, California to say goodbye to friends family when Olivia, the young brown and white pit bull he describes as his service dog in training, disappeared.
He searched for her for a week, visiting animal shelters and placing a lost dog ad on Craigslist:
“Her name is Olivia and she is the life to me,” the ad read. “…Please help even if you see her just running by. She had a pink service vest, new leash with pink collar … I would offer reward but I am a disabled veteran, have nothing but that little girl. So please, if you can help unite us, I would be forever in your debt.”
“We spent as long as we could trying to find her,” Brown told NBC 4. With an arranged ride for the next leg of his trip, to Phoenix, Brown had to move on.
It was there he got a response to his Craigslist ad: “Your girl is in L.A. County, go get her,” it said.
Olivia had been found wandering the streets of Long Beach, and taken to an animal shelter.
An animal rescue group called Captain Care raised money to pay for Brown’s ticket back to Long Beach and cover the fees required to secure her release.
Brown, who calls Eugene, Oregon home, picked Olivia up Wednesday.
“She’s my life,” admitted Brown, who says he suffers from PTSD and has had problems with alcohol.
Brown has his own Facebook page, and has used it to thank all those who helped him, especially Captain Care.
Donors provided him with a hotel room, new toys, treats and food for Olivia, and a hammock they can share while on the road, according to The Examiner.
Extra donations will be used to help spay and feed Olivia, and help pay for Brown’s continuing cross-country journey to say goodbye to family and friends.
Donations for Brown and Olivia can be made to Captain Care Intervention at mycaptaincare.org.
(Photo: Courtesy of Harry Brown)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 14th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, california, captain care, craigslist, dog, dogs, dying, found, harry brown, homeless, homelessness, long beach, lost, olivia, pancreatic cancer, pets, pit bull, ptsd, reunion, reunited, service dogs, terminal, veterans
I have a simple and modest proposal — one that would involve only a name change, a slightly new way of thinking, and maybe some new stationery.
It has long been in the back of my head, but was brought to the forefront by recent cellphone videos gone viral — one (it used to be above but was removed from YouTube) of a dog being dragged through the halls of an animal control department in California; one (below) of a police officer slapping and otherwise berating a homeless man in Florida.
Both are examples of what can go wrong — and often does — when you give one group power over others. Both are about control.
Seeking, seizing and holding “control,” necessary as it sometimes seem in a so-called civilized society, almost always leads to bad things, including most of the dog abuse that occurs in our country. We get a little too caught up in the whole idea of having control — over our fellow man, over other species, over other nations, over nature itself.
Those put in control, as today’s videos show, tend to lose control when they see their control being threatened.
Hence, I propose that we do away with the term “animal control” and rename all those county animal control offices “animal protection” departments — protection being what they are mostly about, or should be mostly about, in the first place.
I’m not suggesting doing away with regulating and enforcing in the dog world — only that those doing it go under a different moniker, which, just maybe, would allow them to be seen by the public, and see themselves, less as heavy-handed dictators, more as noble do-gooders.
And animal control offices do do good. They operate shelters, find dogs new homes, rescue strays from the streets and abusive situations. The new name would put an emphasis on that, and take it away from “control.”
The term “animal control” is archaic — not much better than the even more outdated “dog warden” — yet most counties continue to use it. Employees see it on the sign when they pull into the parking lot, when they walk through the front door, on their memos and their paychecks. It’s a constant reminder, even though most of their duties are aimed at helping dogs, that they are, above all, strict enforcers and inflexible bureaucrats.
A simple name change could help fix that.
I, for instance, would love working as an animal protection officer; I’m not sure I’d want to be an animal control officer — even though most of what they do is about protecting animals. The name change could attract job applicants who see the mission as helping dogs, and possibly help weed out those who see all dogs as nuisances, and control as paramount.
In addition to improving employee self-esteem, it could help change the negative public perceptions that come with being the agency that tickets dog owners for leash-less or unlicensed dogs, euthanizes dogs when their facilities get too crowded, and sends the “dog catcher” out on his daily rounds.
There’s no reason — assuming a stray dog is being captured humanely, and treated humanely in a shelter, and put up for adoption — that the “dog catcher,” traditionally portrayed as a villain, can’t become a dog savior in the public view.
Having “Animal Protection Department” written on the side of the truck, instead of “Animal Control Department,” would go a long way toward that.
A simple shift in emphasis, and in how some agencies present themselves to the public, is all I’m talking about. It wouldn’t be only a matter of spin, though. Being an animal protection department would require actually protecting animals — and seeing that as a primary mission.
It wouldn’t make the world a kinder place overnight, and it wouldn’t keep cranky police officers from slapping homeless people — like I said it’s a modest proposal — but it could be a start, at least in the dog world, to a new way of thinking both about and among the government employees we entrust those duties to (and pay the salaries of).
They would be more about helping and educating, less about controlling.
A handful of agencies have at least worked “animal protection,” or “animal care” into their names, but most can’t quite bring themselves to let go of the term “control.”
Thus you have, for instance, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control.
Maybe they think losing “control” would be a sign they are losing control.
The term “control” might be appropriate when it comes to those agencies dealing with things like disease and traffic.
But not for those dealing with our family members.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 26th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: agency, animal control, animal rights, animal welfare, animals, change, control, controlling, county, department, dog catcher, dog dragged, dog warden, dogs, duties, enforcement, government, hesperia, homeless, local, los angeles, mission, name, name change, office, pets, police, proposal, purpose, regulation, rescues, shelters, slapped, videos
Disliking all the rules that come with staying in a homeless shelter — especially the ones that prohibit dogs — Bernard Holland chose homelessness over doglessness.
He’d arrived in indianapolis a few weeks before Thanksgiving, stayed with family until that turned sour, then — as temperatures plummeted — pitched a tent in what’s known as The Jungle, a homeless camp just east of downtown.
That’s where a social worker ran into him and his two-year-old mutt, Oreo, on a night temperatures were dropping below zero.
Now, one of them, at least, is staying warm.
When Ben Bierlein, owner of Wigglebutt Doghouse, heard of the pair’s plight, he offered to take Oreo in and foster her at the daycare and boarding facility.
“To us, the real story here is about a man, although down on his luck and living in a tent, who would not give up on his dog,” Bierlein explained to the Indianapolis Star.
“The fact that he was willing to gut it out in sub-zero temperatures because he didn’t want to leave his dog — that’s pretty powerful. With the myriad of reasons people surrender their dogs to shelters, Bernard would have had a very valid reason, but he loves Oreo; she means the world to him.”
Bierlein, after being contacted by the social worker who came across Holland and Oreo — Melissa Burgess of Horizon House — offered to care for Oreo during the cold snap. He also paid to get Oreo up to date on shots and to be spayed.
Normally, that would allow Holland to get a slot at a homeless shelter. But he’s still living outside — at least partly by choice.
Holland says he’ll continue to make his home in a tent, unless the nights get too unbearably cold. He says he’s put off by the early curfew and other rules of homeless shelters, and considers them a last resort.
He has enrolled in Opportunity Knocks classes through Horizon House, and he hopes to find a job as a painter or janitor. Horizon House is also trying to help him find affordable housing where Oreo, who he has had since she was four months old, would be welcome.
Holland, 53, said he once operated his own drywall business in Chicago, but in 1992 he was shot at random by two teens as part of their gang initiation and had to undergo multiple surgeries.
Now, he says, he just wants to “get Oreo back, have a roof over my head and have a job and do the right thing in life. I’m not looking to be rich, just live a happy life.”
He plans to hop on the bus and visit Oreo regularly until they are reunited.
Meanwhile, “Oreo is putting smiles on all of the faces here,” the owner of Wigglebutt said. “She is adorable, the biggest sweetheart — and she has made lots of new four-legged friends. She’s very dog-social. If you could watch her during the day, you’d think she’s been coming to doggie day care for years.”
(Photo: Mike Fender / The Star)
Posted by John Woestendiek January 21st, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bernard holland, boarding, day care, dog, doghouse, dogs, homeless, homelessness, humans, oreo, pets, rules, shelters, social services, wigglebutt, winter