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Tag: no-kill

An Act of Dog: A memorial to the millions of shelter dogs put down in America


It’s easy to ignore statistics. They’re cold and dry and lack soulful eyes. And when the numbers are overwhelming — like the 5,500 unwanted dogs who are put to death daily in U.S. shelters — we tend, as a rule, to find life is more comfortable and less depressing when we don’t do the math.

Louisville artist Mark Barone is an exception to that rule. Rather than ignore the problem, he decided to put a face on it — 5,500 of them, in fact.

For two years now, he has been painting portraits of dogs who have been put down at shelters across the country, and he’s more than halfway to his goal: 5,500 portraits that he hopes will someday — unlike their subjects — find a forever home.

Barone and his partner, Marina Dervan, call the project “An Act of Dog.”

Their hope is the works will someday be displayed in a permanent memorial museum, which — between its emotional impact and the funds it would help raise for no-kill rescues and shelters – could help lead to their larger goal,  a no-kill nation.

Mark, a well-established artist, had moved to Santa Fe when, about three years ago, he lost his dog of 21 years, Santina.

“It was kind of a sad time, and I thought it would be therapeutic for Mark to go to the dog park,” Marina recalled. “I thought it would be helpful for him to get some dog love, and it was. It was really great. It got me in the mood to think about adopting another dog. Mark wasn’t at that stage, but it didn’t stop me from looking.”

Looking for adoptable dogs online and at local shelters, she quickly learned the sad reality that she says neither she nor Mark, up to then, were aware of — that millions of dogs in need of homes are put down at shelters every year.

“Instead of finding a dog, I found out all these horrifying statistics,” she said. She shared them with Mark, along with images and videos of dogs who had been, or were on the verge of, being put down.

He asked her to stop sharing, but she kept up.

“If we don’t look at it, nothing will change,” she said. “So he looked at it, as painful as it was, and day or two later, we were standing in the kitchen and he asked me the number of dogs killed everyday in the country … I gave him the number 5,500, based on statistics from Best Friends.”

It was then that the idea of honoring shelter dogs by painting 5,500 portraits of those who had been killed was born, and along with it, the longer term plan of a memorial museum, along the lines of the Vietnam Memorial and the Holocaust Museum.

First, they started looking for the studio space to get started on the task, mailing out inquiries in search of a city or town that might offer free space for him to paint.

Santa Fe wasn’t interested. Louisville was among about 30 places that were.

That’s where the couple lives now, and where Mark has completed about 3,200 of the portraits — some of them life- sized, some of them larger.

“It’s the big ones, 8 feet by 8 feet, that slow things down,” Mark said.

Only one of the 8×8-foot paintings depicts a dog who died a natural death — Mark’s dog, Santina. According to Marina, Santina will serve as the gatekeeper of the exhibit. Other large portraits feature  Batman, a 10-year-old pit bull who was left outside in 21 degree weather, and was found dead at a shelter the next morning, and Grant, who was deemed unadoptable due food bowl aggression and put down.

The large paintings — there will be 10 of them — will include the individual stories of those dogs, representing the most common reasons shelters give to put animals down.

“It’s pretty much the wall of shame,” Marina said.

Mark and Marina are still looking for a permanent place to house the works, and for sponsors and benefactors for the museum, and they have some promising leads, both in Louisville and around the country. In addition to being an educational center, the museum would also be an outlet for selling merchandise that features the images – shirts, cards, and other products. An Act of Dog, which is a nonprofit organization, would pass on all profits to no-kill facilities and rescue groups.

The dogs in the paintings come from shelters all around the country. Their photos are submitted by rescue groups, volunteers and shelter employees. They have all been put down.

Mark and Marina object to the use of the term “euthanized” when it’s applied to healthy animals. “Deliberately ending the life of a healthy and treatable pet is killing.  Deliberately ending the life of a medically hopeless and suffering pet is euthanasia,” Marina said. They don’t much like “put to sleep,” either.

“Semantics are a powerful way to keep people from the truth and our mission is to show reality without the candy wrapping,” she added.

Mark paints everyday, from sunrise to sunset. At night, he and Marina work on the An Act of Dog website. They’re both foregoing salaries at this point.

Mark has served as a consultant to cities interested in using the arts to revitalize blighted areas, among them Paducah, Kentucky, and its Paducah Artist Re-locaton Program. Marina worked 20 years coaching corporate executives.  

Now they’ve cashed in their retirement savings and are devoting full time to the project.

“We could turn away and pretend like we didn’t see what we saw, or we could do something about it,” she added. “If that means we have to live poor,  we’re OK with that, because we know we did something.”

They’re working now in studio space provided by the Mellwood Art Center in Louisville, where they did end up adopting a new dog, named Gigi, from a local shelter.

What drives the couple, though, are all the dogs who don’t get out alive — the thousands put down each day.

“The no-kill movement is making strides, but not fast enough,” said Mark who, on those days he doesn’t feel like painting, reminds himself of the bleak numbers, and the 5,500 reasons — every day — he must continue.

To learn more about An Act of Dog, and how to become a sponsor or benefactor, visit its Facebook page or the An Act of Dog website.

(Photos and video courtesy of An Act of Dog: At top, a collage of Mark’s paintings; Mark and Marina in their studio; some of the larger paintings, with Mark’s former dog, Santina, at left; and three shelter dogs dogs Breeze, Freckles and Sky)

NASCAR driver helps establish N.C. shelter

bifflesFriends of the Animals, a non-profit group in North Carolina chaired by NASCAR driver Greg Biffle and his wife, plans to build a 1.5-acre no-kill animal and education center on the shore of Lake Norman in Iredell.

The center, which will include a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, will be in the planned $800 million Langtree at the Lake community off Interstate 77, according to Thatsracin.com.

Friends of the Animals hopes the center will open within two years.

The animal sanctuary will house 60 cats and 90 dogs that will be available for adoption.

The Langtree Group, a land development company, is allowing Friends of the Animals to use green space in the development for a community dog park and walking trails.

“Friends of the Animals searched for several years to find a location that would be easy for the public to access,” said Nicole Biffle, president of the Friends of the Animals’ board or directors. “ If the location is easy and friendly, we know it will increase adoptions and spay/ neuters for the animals.”

NASCAR driver Greg Biffle founded the Greg Biffle Foundation in 2005 to serve as an advocate to animals.

America’s toughest sheriff coddles dogs

arpaio_underwearAmerica’s toughest sheriff seems to have a soft spot for pooches.

That, in part, explains why Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs an animal shelter out of the old Maricopa County jail in Phoenix — one complete with air conditioning, a luxury Arpaio has never seen fit to afford the incarcerated humans entrusted to his care.

Arpaio — a strong supporter of the death penalty, cracking down on illegal immigrants and providing the bare minimum, or slightly less, for inmates – has long been criticized for inhumane practices in the county jail, from the use of chain gangs to housing inmates in tents to mandating all inmate underwear be pink.

He once told CNN he was proud of the fact that the no-frills county prison system spent $1.10 each a day to feed its guard dogs, but only 90 cents each to feed its inmates.

His no-kill animal shelter, on the other hand — called MASH (Maricpopa Animal Safe Haven) – offers a cool and comfortable, supportive and nurturing environment for pets.

Prisoners help run the shelter, and news reports recently highlighted the story of two emaciated Rhodesian Ridgebacks who were nursed back to health by female inmates. The dogs were taken in after their owner, 34-year-old Jonathan Eder, was arrested on animal cruelty charges in August, ABC15 in Phoenix reported.

Named Bazzele and Frank, the dogs had been deprived of food and water for so long that the outlines of their rib cages  were “drastically visible.” Bazelle reportedly weighed only 48 pounds, Frank  57.  At the shelter, both have recovered.  Bazzele now weighs 71 pounds and Frank 73. Both are up for adoption for $100 each.

The shelter was created to house and care for animals that, because of abuse or neglect by their caretakers, have been seized by the county’s Animal Cruelty Investigative Unit and must remain in custody until the court cases are resolved. After that, the sheriff’s shelter finds adoptive homes for the dogs.

Arpaio opened the shelter in the First Avenue Jail, which was closed for repairs in December 1999, then reopened for pets after getting refurbished.

“Some critics have said that it’s inhumane to put dogs and cats in air-conditioned quarters when inmates don’t have air conditioning,” the sheriff’s website says. “A good answer came from one of the inmates assigned to care for the dogs. When asked if she was resentful about not having air conditioning, she gestured to some of the dogs and said, ‘They didn’t do anything wrong. I did.’”

It all makes for a fascinating contrast — the touchy feely tone of the sheriff’s animal shelter website versus the record and rhetoric of America’s toughest sheriff.sheriff

Consider the case of Schultz, the mastiff pictured to the left, also known as #1001.

“My owner kept me locked in a crate so I wasn’t allowed to go outside to use the bathroom, they also failed to provide me with the necessary food & water,” he says on the sheriff’s shelter web page that lists available animals. “I was brought to the MASH Unit in August, 2007, in which I received the medical attention and the love I needed to get better and recover …”

You won’t find many testimonials like that from the humans Arpaio oversees.

In Maricopa County, for an inmate to be treated like a dog would, literally, be an improvement — and, contrary as nurturing an inmate would be to the highly popular Arpaio’s philosophy, maybe it would keep some of them from biting again, once they are eventually released from their crates.

The largest airlift of homeless pets — ever

pilotsnpawsFive thousand dogs are escaping from death row this week — by airplane.

In what’s being called the world’s largest airlift of homeless pets, this week Pilots N Paws is seeking to transport 5,000 animals to safety in a flurry of flights designed to raise awareness of the charity and draw attention to the importance of spaying and neutering. The pilots donate their time, planes and fuel.

Thousands of animals have been saved by rehoming them to new locations — like  Lady Di, a purebred collie whose owner, unable to give her away in a Walmart parking lot, dumped her at a shelter in Clanton, Alabama where in an average week hundreds of dogs are euthanized because there is not enough space to house them.

Lady Di, according to an Associated Press report, managed to escape that fate thanks to private pilot Jeff Bennett, a volunteer with Pilots N Paws, a group that moves pets from overwhelmed shelters to communities where they’ll stand a better chance of adoption, and a lesser chance of being euthanized. Lady Di was flown to Tampa by Bennett, a retired Florida Keys businessman, who took a dozen dogs on the trip as well. In Tampa, rescue groups picked them up to care for them until new homes could be found.

Bennett has transported 124 animals for Pilots N Paws in the past year — including snakes, lizards, a chicken and a potbellied pig .

Pilots N Paws got its start in February 2008 when a Knoxville, Tenn., pilot named Jon Wehrenberg offered to fly his friend, Debi Boies, from her home near Greenville, S.C., to Florida to pick up a Doberman pinscher she wanted to adopt from a rescue group. Wehrenberg asked Boies if there would be a regular need for such a thing.

Was there ever. Rescue groups have long moved animals from high-kill shelters around the country, a task that usually involves long car trips.

The website for Pilots N Paws now serves as a forum where shelters and rescue groups can hook up with pilots. Boies says more than 680 pilots have already transported thousands of animals all over the country.

Prof advises Obama to get southern dog

A psychology professor in North Carolina has advised President Obama to look south for a First Dog — they’re friendlier, more abundant and make better pets, he says.

Hal Herzog, in an opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, makes a couple of good points — and a couple with which we disagree. Chief among them is that the north, because of aggressive spay-neuter campaigns, has been left with a shortage of adoptable dogs.

“… The rush to pluck the reproductive organs from every household pet in America has been so successful that we may be running out of dogs,” he writes. ” … The more successful a region’s efforts are at controlling pet overpopulation, the more aggressive — and less adoptable — the dogs in their local animal shelter tend to be.”

As a result, he says, in the south — where spaying and neutering have been pursued less wholeheartedly and where shelter dogs are less likely to have rubbed elbows with nasty urban pit bulls — dogs are likely to be friendlier.

We disagree. Southern dogs aren’t any friendlier than northern dogs. Southern people? Maybe (Disclaimer: I’m from North Carolina). But not southern dogs.

For one thing, dogs in the south are certainly not any less likely to have been abused or neglected. And dogfighting operations are certainly not a northern phenomenon, nor strictly an urban one — as the cases of both Michael Vick, of Virginia, and Ed Faron, of North Carolina, attest.

Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., is a nice guy (I interviewed him a while back) who knows his stuff – his stuff being societal attitudes and behavior toward animals.  

He’s correct in pointing out there is a greater supply of shelter dogs in the south, and a greater demand for them in north — and that there is an informal pipeline in operation, shuttling southern dogs north. He notes that the animal rescue group in his rural North Carolina county ships 200 dogs a year to shelters in Connecticut, and that, since 2004, the Rescue Waggin’ program operated by PetSmart has transported 20,000 abandoned dogs from states such as Tennessee and Kentucky to places, mostly northern, where they are snapped up by grateful owners.

But to proclaim that southern dogs are, like southern iced tea, sweeter is a leap — one that disregards why so many of them end up in shelters there in the first place and ignores why shelters and rescue groups up north accept them. It’s largely because they know what will happen to them if they don’t. No kill/low kill shelters are less prevalent in the south.

And to suggest that there might be a shortage of adoptable dogs, anywhere, is off the mark, especially since the economy’s recent downturn. As he points out, there were 24 million dogs and cats put to death in animal shelters in the United States in 1970. By 2007, the number had fallen to 4 million.

Four million is still a whole lot of dogs.

(Photo from mooncostumes.com)

“No-kill:” What does it really mean?

In light of complaints about the number of animals it euthanizes, the Escondido Humane Society in California has decided to stop calling itself a “no-kill” shelter.

Seems “no kill” really means “we only kill a few,” and officials of the Escondido Humane Society have decided they don’t fit either definition.

Humane society board Chairman David Knox, a veterinarian, said the board of directors decided about two weeks ago to change the designation, removing it from its literature, although the agency remains committed to limiting animal deaths as much as possible, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

“The definition of no-kill versus the public perception of no-kill are completely different,” he said. “We don’t want to seem as though we are portraying something that is not true.”

Read more »

Mutt-i-grees, a registry for mixed breeds

The North Shore Animal League — in an attempt to give voice to the estimated 25 million owners of mixed breed dogs — has launched the The American Mutt-i-grees Club.

With Kathryn Erbe, co-star of “Law & Order Criminal Intent,” serving as spokesperson, the club intends to register and provide certificates to mutts, elevate their standing and rally their owners to help stop animal cruelty and end euthanization of dogs by the millions each year.

Muttigrees.org is the website of the group, created by the Pet Savers Foundation, the developmental arm of the massive North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y.

“People are incredibly proud of their mixed breeds, and the time is ripe for there to be a way for them to communicate, share ideas and celebrate their choice,” J. John Stevenson, president of NSALA and managing director of the foundation says.

Stevenson, USA Today reports, thinks the new club for mongrel lovers will not only be appreciated, but will “change, over time, the way many people view mixed-breed dogs in shelters.”

Mixed breeds make up more than three-fourths of the dogs that enter shelters, are slower to get adopted, and make the majority of the 3 million dogs euthanized in shelters every year.

The American Kennel Club, though its focus is on purebreds, has also put forth opportunities for mixed breeds and their owners, including registration operations that issue paperwork for hybrids not recognized by the American Kennel Club, and by sponsoring organizations that put on competitive events for mixed-breed dogs.

Mutt-i-grees will “occupy a very different space” from the existing registries and clubs, says Stevenson. “We want to become somewhat the AARP of mixed-breed dogs. Just as AARP advocates issues relevant to seniors by aggregating a tremendous number of members, we, too, want to channel the voice of 25 million mixed-breed owners, to raise awareness and promote regulation to diminish the stronghold of puppy mills and irresponsible breeders.”

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