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Tag: horses

PETA deems Angel’s Gate a “hellhole”

(WARNING: The contents of this video are disturbing.)

Angel’s Gate – an animal sanctuary you may have seen Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray sing the praises of — bills itself as a non-profit organization that cares for disabled, abused and abandoned animals, providing them a place to live out their years in dignity and comfort while receiving holistic treatment and spiritual support.

PETA — hold the harp music — calls it “a chaotic hellhole.”

The hospice and rehabilitation center in Delhi, New York — founded and operated by Susan Marino — takes in “special needs animals” from all over the U.S., and provides for them through donations from the public. Marino promises both donors and people who send her animals that animals will “live out their days in peace, dignity and love.”

PETA says photos and video from its investigation show “Angel’s Gate was a chaotic hellhole where animals whose conditions required special, individualized, round-the-clock care were deprived of basic necessities and quality of life.”

PETA’s undercover investigator, posing as a volunteer, documented paralyzed animals dragging themselves until they developed bleeding wounds; animals kept in the same diaper for up to two days until they suffered urine scald; dehydrated animals denied access to water; animals confined to crates, bathrooms, cribs and a bathtub; animals denied treatment for pain, seizures, tumors, open wounds, respiratory infections, eye infections, ear infections, and mouth, gum and skin infections; and crowded conditions so stressful that fights broke out daily.

Despite claiming to provide “hospice care” and “rehabilitation” to hundreds of animals, Angel’s Gate does not have a veterinarian on staff and most animals were denied veterinary care for a variety of ailments, from simple to terminal, PETA reports.

Among the investigator’s findings:

  • An elderly Chihuahua named Malcolm, sent there from Animal Care and Control in Brooklyn, suffered for about two weeks before he finally died — anemic, lethargic, thin, dehydrated, and unable to balance, walk, or even eat.
  • Medications that had been prescribed for Shifty, a bulldog suffering from seizures, and Tucker, a dog with hydrocephalus, was untouched almost a week after a veterinarian had dispensed them.
  • A miniature horse named Mimi was denied veterinary care for respiratory distress for days before she finally died. More than four months after Mimi’s death, Marino still solicited sponsorship donations for Mimi’s care on the Angel’s Gate website.

Angel’s Gate, like any facility that houses the sick, terminally ill and handicapped — be they dogs or humans — is bound to have messy moments and daily disasters. But the investigator’s video goes a long way toward documenting that, whatever love Angel’s Gate may, as it promises, be providing, ”peace and dignity” are far from ever-present.

Some of PETA’s findings may have been judgment calls: “Horribly suffering animals on death’s door were deprived of the dignity and relief of euthanasia.”

Others clearly were not: “The bodies of dead animals were left out for days among live animals. Animals were fed rancid, raw meat that had been left unrefrigerated.”

PETA says that in 2004, the IRS listed Angel’s Gate as an organization that failed to establish its status as a public charity, and in 2010, it was listed by the IRS as being at risk of having its charity status revoked.

Marino, PETA points out, has been featured positively on national TV, prompting public donations — one lottery winner apparently sent $50,000 — and what PETA says is the “false impression” that Angel’s Gate is a good place for animals.

PETA has turned over evidence gathered by its investigator to Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup Jr., and it is asking its members and others to urge his office to file animal cruelty charges against Marino.

Talking to animals: What Ace had to say


If I had to guess what was on Ace’s mind at a given moment, here’s what I think it would be:

“Food. FOOD. How about some food? Got any food? Gimme food. I really like food. I like you, too, but I really like food. Is that food I smell? Perhaps you’d like to give me some. Is it time for food? Food. Food. Food.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a far more complex being than that – more than a creature with a one-track mind. He loves and fears and empathizes and, I think, ponders more than his next meal.

But, when it comes to the mysterious song that plays in his head — and I’m guessing it’s a song, for all I know it could be haiku – food would have to be the repeated refrain.

When, during our weeks in Cave Creek, Arizona, we sat down with animal communicator Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals – I sat down, anyway, Ace kind of wandered –  I was hoping that he wouldn’t be so stuck on the chorus that the other lyrics couldn’t come through.

But they did. According to Debbie, Ace spoke to her – sometimes in words only she could hear, also by conveying images and feelings. Only a minute after we sat down, she’d gotten her first impressions of him:

“He’s one  happy dog, and he’s very passionate.”

Animals have spoken to Debbie since she was a toddler, she says. At first, she figured everybody could hear them. Born in West Virginia, and raised in Ohio, she didn’t have pets of her own, but she had long conversations with neighborhood animals – until her mother told her at age 7 that she was a big girl now and it was time to stop doing that.

So, for several decades, she did. She stopped acknowledging that she could hear what animals were thinking, and went on to become a computer programmer.

Her job with a major corporation brought her to Arizona in 1992,  and she took on new responsibilities as she rose through the ranks — including laying off people. After 9/11, she found herself doing more and more of that, to the point it was making her physically ill.

“I said, ‘I can’t do this any longer,’” and with that she began searching for a new calling. While trying to figure out what that was, she started doing volunteer work at Arizona Equine Rescue, where she  met a Shamanic healer who sensed she had the gift. With his help she enrolled in a course in animal communication and resumed talking to animals.

In 2003, she started her own company, Listen 2 Animals, where, in addition to serving as a translator between the human and animal worlds, she helps find lost animals, resolves animal-related conflicts and coaches humans on how to better communicate with their animals. Her sessions, with horses, cats and dogs, usually range from 15 minutes to an hour and run $30 to $90.

Debbie says the messages from animals come to her in different ways.

Sometimes she senses it. ”I’m empathic I can feel what the animal feels,” she said. Other times she  might see a picture, experience a taste or smell, or hear a noise. Some of the information is conveyed to her through what she calls “thought drops,” which made me think of the comic strip device, where what one’s thinking appears in a cloud with dots leading down to the person’s head. Sometimes she hears words, as if they are actually talking. “Sometimes they just come right out and tell me. Sometimes animals know exactly what’s wrong and can tell you, other times they don’t know.”

Her clients range from people who want to know why their cat stopped using the litter box, to what the old dog thinks of a new dog in the house, or — most commonly — people seeking some guidance in making the decision to put an old, sick animal down.

Amost half of her calls are from people whose animals are “getting ready to transition” and want to know how the animal feels about it. More often than not — despite all the human angst – the dog or other animal in question is ready to proceed. “They’re not afraid of death,” she said.

Debbie met Ace and me in a fenced yard behind a store in Cave Creek. It was Ace’s second meeting with an animal communicator. (You can read about the first at the Baltimore Sun.)

The first thing Debbie did when Ace approached was seek permission from him. She says she always asks an animal first if she can communicate with them — “otherwise, it would be like walking into somebody’s house without knocking.”

Right away, she said, Ace told her “he knows why he’s here.” Ace sat at her feet for a few moments, then took off to explore the yard we were sitting in.

I’d explained to Debbie that Ace had been traveling for seven months, and that I wanted to know what he thought of our nomadic lifestyle.

After relating her initial impressions, Debbie said Ace was communicating to her in words: “I actually heard the words, ‘This is what I was born to do.’

“He takes this very seriously,” she continued. “He really feels this is an assignment, or a job, if you will. He’s sharing a feeling of always moving, moving a lot … moving and freedom.” She compared how Ace feels with the feeling she had when she got out of the corporate world and started doing what she really wanted to do.

“Passionate, energized, that’s the feeling he gives me — that his life is about more than just going through the motions. He finds it joyful to met new people, go new places, see’s new things. He’s not tired, he finds it energizing … He likes doing different and new things … What’s really important to him is being with you.

“But still,” she added, “he’s looking forward to the day you get in one place, in a home.”

Debbie passed on some other information as well:

  • Ace likes the color red.
  • The chain link fence around the yard we were sitting in reminded him of his days in the shelter. She saw him as one of a litter of three, who was dropped off at the shelter by someone who didn’t speak English.
  • Ace has some achiness in his left hip joint, but it’s not painful.
  • Ace “thinks everybody really, really likes him.”
  • Ace likes eggs, and would like to be served them more often.
  • When I asked Debbie if Ace would prefer to eat twice a day, as he used to, or once a day, as he now does, she responded, “He wants to know if there’s a third choice.”
  • Ace enjoys being a dog, she says, as most dogs do. “If we could feel about ourselves like our animals feel about themselves, we would be very, very free. They’re just pleased about who they are.”

Debbie said Ace doesn’t mind riding in the car (which is red, by the way).

“It’s not something that bothers him because he likes to be with you. But he would like you to stop more often so he can get out and sniff and stretch. He likes to investigate and see new things.”

The last seven months have provided ample opportunity for that, and it was good to hear that — in her opinion — he didn’t consider our trip a total drag.

Debbie didn’t say that Ace was eager to get back to Baltimore. Even though he doesn’t speak to me in words, I think that’s a safe bet. I’m not certain whether that city will become home for me again, but according to Debbie, Ace already has that part figured out.

“Where you are, that’s home to him.”

12 Days of Christmas, desert style

On the first day of Christmas the desert gave to me: A woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the second day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Two turtle doves, or some kind of doves, anyway, or maybe pigeons, no, I think they’re doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the third day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Three cartons of Camels purchased from an Indian reservation, because they are much cheaper there, because there’s no tax, but I ended up gambling away what I had saved at the nearby casino anyway; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the fourth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Four really, really big tires, that go on a big open-air monster truck, with numerous passenger seats, offering tourists an “extreme” desert adventure, but probably not a real quiet one; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the fifth day of Christmas, the desert gave to me: Five … howling …coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole..

On the sixth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Six Cave Creek t-shirts, for sale at the Indian Village shop next door, which may or may not be run by actual Indians, I don’t know because I haven’t been in there, because they have way too many bossy signs out front, but perhaps it’s necessary; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the seventh day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Seven bitchin’ Harleys, among hundreds more, which appear on the weekends, parked outside the Hideaway, a biker bar next door to my trailer park and which are probably why the Indian Village had to put up those signs in the first place; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the eighth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Eight handsome horses, which are much quieter than Harleys, though they don’t have as much horsepower, which seems odd; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the ninth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Nine cowboy hats, made in Guatemala, by Guatemalans, just a tiny bit of the inventory Michael Chazan sets out on display, in a dusty parking lot, as his dog Sarah watches, so of course I had to stop and buy one, which led me to meet one of the original members of the Hell’s Angels, who was inside the bar next door, with a film crew, because they’re making a movie about him; eight handsome horses, seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the tenth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Ten cactus branches, all belonging to the same candelabra type cactus, whose branches, for some reason, have little pots on top of them, like tiny helmets, no wait, they’re more like fezzes, which I’m pretty sure is the plural of fez … nine cowboy hats; eight handsome horses; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes … four really big tires; three cartons of Camels; two turtle doves; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the eleventh day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Eleven precariously balanced boulders, which seem like the could easily dislodge, and tumble down the mountain, and land on one of the fine mansions below, but I guess they don’t, either that or the mountainside mansion owners are so rich they can pay to get them secured; ten cactus branches; nine cowboy hats; eight handsome horses; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes; four really big tires; three cartons of Camels, two turtle doves and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

On the twelfth day of Christmas the desert gave to me: Twelve saguaros at sunset, really my favorite of all the cacti, because they stand tall, and have arms and wave at you, or at least seem like they are, and they kind of remind me of Gumby, though I never really like Gumby, but I do like cacti, especially saguaro, which are sort of the redwoods of the desert; eleven precariously balanced boulders; ten cactus branches; nine cowboy hats; eight handsome horses; seven bitchin’ Harleys; six Cave Creek t-shirts; five … howling … coyotes; four really big tires; three cartons of Camels, two turtle doves, or some kind of doves, anyway; and a woodpecker on a telephone pole.

Rolling Dog Ranch finds greener pastures


Three years after we first met them at their home in Montana, we hooked up with some old friends Monday — in New Hampshire.

We reunited with Travis, who, due to a rare disease, has a jaw that’s fused shut; with Patti, who lost both of her eyes when she was assaulted with a shovel; and with Soba (above), whose neurological disorder, known as cerebellar hypoplasia, makes getting from one place to another an arduous task as she wobbles, flails and jerks about. 

Oh, and we reconnected with some human friends, too –  Steve Smith and Alayne Marker, who this year faced an arduous task of their own — moving their Rolling Dog Ranch, a sanctuary for disabled and unwanted animals, from a sprawling spread in golden Montana to much greener pastures in Lancaster, New Hampshire.

I first met the couple in 2007, during a stint as a visiting professor at the University of Montana. 

I visited their ranch to see the work they were doing with animals– most of them blind, all of them deemed useless, too handicapped to have a life of any quality and destined to be put down. 

Rolling Dog Ranch in Ovando was a beautiful place — in part because of its setting on 160 acres under Montana’s big sky, in larger part because it showed those doing that deeming that they were as wrong as they could be. 

Steve and Alayne bought the ranch in Montana while both still worked in Seattle for Boeing — he in the communications department, she as a lawyer. They’d planned to take early retirement and start a sanctuary for disabled animals. They got tired of waiting for their dream, though, and ditched their jobs.

They packed up their own dogs and moved to Montana. They named the ranch Rolling Dog, after the way their own dogs gleefully rolled in the grass there every time they visited. 

The ranch opened, slightly earlier than planned, in 2000, when Steve and Alayne were asked to take in a blind horse. Seven years later, it served as home to 80 animals – 40 dogs, 10 cats and 30 horses, 25 of which are blind. It is funded through donations from the public.

After 10 years in Montana, though, the couple decided to head east. The ranch’s remoteness, Montana’s harsh winters, difficulties finding employees, rising gas prices, and the hour-plus drives to the closest cities of Missoula and Helena were among the reasons for relocating.  

On the Internet, they scoped out possible new locations for the sanctuary, and, after finding one they liked in New Hampshire, just outside of Lancaster, bought it and began making the necessary improvements — like ramps at all the entrances — all while choreographing what would be a complex move.

There were tons of supplies and equipment to be shipped across the country; ten horses, all but two of them blind; 35 dogs with assorted disabilities, the five barn cats and five tons of Montana hay — so that the horses could make a gradual transition to New Hampshire hay and grass.

“It went about as good as you could expect,” Steve said. “The dogs just did wonderfully. There were some people saying it would be too hard on the animals, but what people forget is that these animals have already been through a lot, and that they came to us from all over the country. After coping with something like losing your vision, it’s not a problem to travel to New Hampshire.”.

Altogether, it took 17 trips. Steve toted seven dogs across country; Alayne took five, including Soba.

In Lancaster, they’re only three miles from town and a veterinary clinic. They started taking in new animals in May, including Fuzzy, a blind terrier from Louisiana who arrived the day before my visit.

A sweet little bundle, he seems as happy as he can be, and — not for the first time on this trip — I had the urge to take on a second dog.

He was small enough that he could squeeze in with Ace in the back seat. And, like all the animals at Rolling Dog Ranch, he seems to have adapted magnificently to his — and this is the wrong word for it – disability. 

I stopped myself though, realizing that, cute as he is, he’ll probably get adopted easily. 

Rolling Dog Ranch, while it does make some of its animals available for adoption, is generally not a place where animals are briefly harbored until homes are found. 

Most often, it’s a place they come to live out the rest of their days. 

Dogs like Spinner, who was sound asleep on a bed outside the front door when Steve quietly leaned over and blew in the dog’s direction. 

Spinner — though both blind and deaf — woke up and walked straight to him, operating on scent alone.

Spinner has a rare condition known as restrictive strabithmus — her eyeballs don’t face forward, but point instead to the back of her head. Attempts to have it corrected surgically weren’t successful. 

Three other dogs I’d met in Montana back in 2007 all seemed to be faring well.

Soba, a collie mix, was one of two pups that came to Rolling Dog Ranch from a humane society in Iowa — both born to a mother who when pregnant, got distemper. As a result, some of her pups were born with the neurological disorder. It takes Soba a while to get where she’s going, almost as if each leg has a mind of its own. 

Patti, who lost both of her eyes after being attacked with a shovel, was as lovable as ever. She sniffed me out and leaned into me for a good scratching. 

And then there was Travis, who ended up at Rolling Dog Ranch after being left tied to a veterinary clinic door in Spokane. Vets determined that he had a rare muscular disease that went untreated for so long that his jaw fused shut. 

Surgeons could find no solution to his problem, other than feeding him through a tube inserted in his stomach. For months, Steve and Alayne fed him that way. Then one day they noticed that, with effort, he could stick his tongue out through a small opening between his teeth on one side of his mouth. 

They began feeding him with a bowl, running the food through a blender first so that he could slurp it up.

Malnourished and lethargic when he arrived, Travis became more and more lively. Three years later, I could see he has filled out some, and is probably one of the more energetic dogs at the ranch. 

A playful sort, Travis gets excited when visitors come, and tends to show off one of his tricks. He’ll go over to his water bowl, suck in a bunch of water, then approach the visitor and exhale, spraying him, elephant style, with water.  Seeing them all again was just as inspiring as meeting them the first time. 

And Rolling Dog Ranch’s new headquarters seems a perfect spot — from its setting amid 120 acres of rolling hills to the home’s large solarium that Steve and Alayne have devoted to the blind dogs. In the morning, it fills up with sunshine. 

The dogs can’t see it. 

But they can feel it.

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

(To contribute to Rolling Dog Ranch, or learn more about its animals, visit its website: rollingdogranch.org.)

Rolling Dog Ranch rolling to New Hampshire

Rolling Dog Ranch, a Montana sanctuary for blind, deaf and maimed animals, is moving to New Hampshire.

Steve Smith and Alayne Marker, who founded the animal sanctuary 10 years ago after leaving jobs with Boeing in Seattle, say the 160-acre Montana ranch in Ovando will be put up for sale and that they will start moving horses, dogs and cats to a 120-acre ranch on the outskirts of Lancaster, N.H., on May 24..

Many in Montana are sad to see them go, according to The Missoulian

“My heart is breaking. I’m sobbing,”  Heather Montana of Helena, wrote in a comment on the Rolling Dog Ranch blog, where the news was broken. “Part of my love of being in Montana has been knowing you made this State a better place. You and Alayne are simply the best. Montana is losing the best. The people and volunteers are losing the best. It is crushing.”

(The slideshow above is from my visit there three years ago, which led to a five-part series on the ranch in the “Mutts” blog, now known as “Unleashed,” in the Baltimore Sun.)

Marker and Smith were among 10 recipients of the 2009 Humane Award presented by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — and that was just the latest in a stream of tributes they have received.

Last Christmas, the ranch received the $20,000 first prize in an online National Shelter Challenge.

Rising gas prices and the hour-plus drives to the closest cities of Missoula and Helena are among the reasons for the move. In Lancaster, they’ll be three miles from the city and minutes from their veterinary clinic.

Smith said on the ranch’s blog that he expects employees and volunteers will be easier to find. “It was always a major problem for us to hire employees here, because most people did not want to move to such a remote area,” Smith said. “And of the few who were willing to move out here, most quickly tired of living so far out.”

rollingdogProperty was cheaper in New Hampshire, too, he noted, and there’s no sales tax or personal income tax.

“I think the day Alayne and I finally decided to get serious about moving, back in December, it was 22 below zero here and 24 above back there (in New Hampshire). We had just finished scooping poop that morning, our hands were frozen, and we thought, we’ve had enough of this kind of cold!” Smith wrote.

(Photo: Blind Madison, rolling in the grass at Rolling Dog Ranch’s new property in New Hamsphire/courtesy of Rolling Dog Ranch)

The astounding “animals” of “Avatar”

Contrary to what many, including PETA, might think , animals were used in the making of “Avatar” — but none were harmed, according to the American Humane Association.

“American Humane applauds ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron and the production for earning our highest rating by ensuring the safety of the animals used in the filming,” said Karen Rosa, vice president of American Humane’s Film & TV Unit.

While PETA has recognized the film and its director for using computer-generated images instead of live animals, American Humane says filmmakers also used live animals for motion capture, and explains the process on its website.

“This film was created using motion capture technology, in which performers wear miniature computerized motion sensors near joints and facial areas to capture the movements and facial muscle nuances that occur with each gesture, motion or expression. The live action was performed in a motion capture studio covered in dark fabric and carpet  and then recorded as computer animation data, which was then mapped onto a computerized 3-D model.

“In this technology, humans wear a bodysuit for the ‘capture,’ but animals need to be ‘captured’ differently because of their body shapes, fur and other characteristics. To prepare the animals for having their motion data recorded, trainers shaved small areas of fur or hair where the movements would be recorded, such as near joints and on the face. Velcro pads were attached to the shaved spots with a nontoxic, nonirritating silicone adhesive. White light-reflective balls were placed onto the Velcro to capture the motion data onto the computer. The exception to this was horses’ tails, which were not shaved, but wrapped in a sensor-laden material. The adhesive and any additional markings were washed off each evening after filming ended.

“Throughout the film, horses are seen outdoors standing or being ridden at a walk, canter or gallop. We also see people mounting, dismounting and falling off horses. These scenes were all filmed inside the capture studio. Horses were given ample room to start and stop running. …For scenes in which horses appear to be near fire, trainers cued them to ‘dance’ or act skittish or afraid — the horses were not actually agitated nor were they ever near fire.”

American Humane monitors the use of animals in movies, and, when merited, bestows the trademark “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” certifcation.

American Humane encourages moviemakers to use computer generated images to increase safety.

“If, upon review of the script, American Humane believes there to be any dangerous animal action, American Humane will strongly encourage simulating the action through the use of computer-generated images, animatronics or fake animal doubles to minimize the risk of injury to animals,” the organization’s guidelines state.

DogFest is tomorrow

dogfest

 
DogFest, the Baltimore Humane Society’s biggest fundraising event of the year, kicks off  Saturday morning at Shawan Downs in Hunt Valley.

The day-long event starts with a 5K-9 Fun Run at 7:40 a.m. At 10 a.m., the gates open and the activities begin — and there are a ton of them.

DogFest will feature agility runs, dog contests, pet education,  a sandy beach and pools for the dogs to play in and a puppy pumpkin patch, where dogs can pick their own pumpkins.

In addition to numerous dog rescue groups on hand, DogFest will also feature Equine Rescue groups that will be exhibiting horses for adoption and offering horseback riding for kids and adults.

Admission is $10, with children in strollers admitted free.

Here’s a partial schedule:

Read more »

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