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Tag: rescues

Remembering my son, Joe

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On May 13, 1992, a flight arrived at LAX from Seoul and three Korean babies, orphans all, were carried off the plane by their escorts to be handed to their new adoptive parents.

My wife and I were there to meet one of them, our new son whom we’d decided, based on photos, would be named either Sam or Joe, depending on which seemed the better fit after seeing him in person.

He was the last one off the plane, a tiny thing with an unruly shock of jet black hair that was shooting in every direction after the 11-hour flight. For a moment, we debated whether he might be an “Elvis.” But we opted for Joe.

Joe WoestendiekFast forward 26 years — and God, did it ever go too fast — and Joe (full name Joseph Yoon Tae Woestendiek) was lying in a coma in a Memphis hospital, his hair shaved off, and parts of his skull removed to accommodate the swelling of his severely damaged brain. The outlook was bleak, at best.

He was on his way home from work when his car rear-ended a dump truck on the interstate near Holly Springs, Miss. The truck grinded to a halt. The truck driver pulled Joe out of his burning car. And he was airlifted by helicopter from Mississippi to Memphis — to, ironically, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center.

He died 13 days later. For nearly two weeks doctors kept him sedated and fought to relieve his cranial pressure even while warning that, if he came out of his coma at all, he would likely have little to no brain function due to the extent of the brain damage. They warned, too, that lung problems had developed, and that those and the strain on his heart, were more likely to take his life. His heart came to a stop on June 18.

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I write this another week later, partly to explain why our ohmidog! posts came to a halt, but more to keep his memory alive, and in hopes that writing about it will be cathartic and make some of the numbness and emptiness inside me go away.

joetromboneJoe grew up in Orange County, Calif.; Yardley, Pa., Anderson, S.C., and Florence, Ala. He lived in recent years with his mom and stepdad in New Albany, Miss. He attended the University of Mississippi, where he earned a B.S. in computer science from the School of Engineering.

He’d recently started a job he loved — in the information technology department of Automated Conveyor Systems, Inc., of West Memphis, Ark.

His visits to my home, in Winston-Salem, N.C., had dwindled, but up until he finished college he’d come here regularly on holidays and in the summer. He loved guitars, and video games and, of course, dogs. He’d always get teary on his last day visiting; I was never sure if it was because he was leaving me, or leaving my dog Ace. He’d yet to meet my new dog, Jinjja, also adopted from Korea.

SONY DSCWhile here, Joe would volunteer with the Forsyth Humane Society, an organization I’ve also done some work with as a volunteer. He’d walk dogs at the shelter, and help out at events, his favorite role being donning the mascot costume — a swelteringly hot furry dog outfit — and working the crowd.

He had three dogs of his own at home.

Because of his love of dogs, and the joy working with humane society brought him, I’ve decided a fitting tribute would be to make a donation to the humane society in his name — one significant enough to merit a plaque with his name on it.

His name on a brick paver is one option, but I, for what are probably selfish reasons, want more.

I want to try to make a donation large enough to make him a lifetime sponsor of one of the shelter’s kennels.

That way, everyone who walks in to look at the many dogs available for adoption will see his name, and maybe more importantly, I will. I like the idea of a kid once in need of adoption sponsoring a kennel that will house dog after dog after dog in need of adoption — forever.

That requires a $10,000 donation, not an amount I have handy, or can even dream of obtaining. But, unachievable as that might be — and needing something to do right now — that’s what I’m working on.

So here is my plan.

I’ve started a Facebook fundraiser aimed at donating $10,000 to the Forsyth Humane Society in his memory.

SONY DSCA memorial service for him will be held in Mississippi this week.

But I want to do something here in Winston-Salem — perhaps a mini-concert featuring some musician friends of his and mine. I’m working now on setting that up.

I want it to be a simple and joyful hour or so, nothing somber, nothing speech-filled — just a chance for local friends to come together and say goodbye, maybe at the Muddy Creek Cafe in Bethania. We always enjoyed going there.

When Joe arrived in the U.S., my then-wife Jenny and I were living in Orange County, California. The riots that Rodney King’s beating sparked in Los Angeles were only starting to settle down. I was covering those for the newspaper I worked for at the time, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Every morning, I would cruise through the most devastated areas, returning to a hotel in the evening to write. It was a bleak couple of weeks, the kind that make you worry about humanity and its future. Nearly every day, my rental car was pelted by rocks and chunks of concrete. At nearly every stoplight, I’d receive hateful stares and threatening gestures.

I remember wondering as I drove those streets how, and why, complete strangers could hate me so much.

Amid all that, we got the call that our adoptee was on his way. We were supposed to pick him up in Korea, but somebody goofed. My boss was kind enough to give me some time off, away from the riots, to bond with my new son.

And in the ensuing weeks, and years, I remember wondering how a complete stranger could love me so much.

And me him.

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That’s what he taught me, and it’s not unlike the lesson anyone who adopts a dog learns. Show a creature love and respect and loyalty and you’ll get it back — unconditionally and exponentially. Oppress, abuse and disrespect it and you’ll get … what you deserve.

As abruptly and prematurely as Joe’s life ended, I will always be thankful for the joy he brought me and the lessons he taught me.

I’m thankful, too, for all the prayers and expressions of support I’ve received from friends (and even strangers). I am overwhelmed by the response to the Facebook fundraiser. I posted it three days ago, and it’s already more than halfway to its goal.

Thanks also to the caring staff at Regional One’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center, and to that truck driver, Michael Simpson of Memphis, whose actions gave Joe a fighting chance.

Those wishing to contribute to Joe’s plaque can do so through the Facebook fundraiser.

Contributions can also be made through ohmidog!, or directly to Forsyth Humane Society. Please specify they are for Joe Woestendiek’s memorial plaque.

104-year-old man, after many rejections, finds a dog he can love

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At age 102, Milt Lessner had a little trouble locating a shelter or rescue that was willing to let him adopt a dog.

The retired psychiatrist has had dogs through most of this life and being without one — especially since the passing of his wife and their dogs several years ago — wasn’t acceptable.

So he began contacting rescue organizations and shelters, most of which, after learning his age, opted to decline his offer of a forever home — given his forever likely wasn’t all that long.

Finally, he found success through Lionel’s Legacy, a rescue in San Diego that specializes in older dogs. They arranged for him to foster a dog name Layla for as long as he’s able.

lessner2Layla is a senior herself, a mellow and affable little mutt and former stray, and as you might expect they have bonded. They’ve been together almost two years.

Milt is 104 now.

“In no time at all, we were quite friendly with each other,” Milt told the BBC. “She’s very conciliatory and very agreeable. “We’re trying to stay in good health, both of us. So far, we’ve succeeded and we’re still alive.”

As a psychiatrist, Milt used to bring dogs to his sessions to help relax his patients. He knows the health benefits — physical and emotional — they can provide.

“I enjoy the familiarity with them, and the pleasantness, and the bonding – especially the bonding. I can’t think of anything better,” he says.

Laura Oliver, founder of Lionel’s Legacy, says the pairing has benefited all involved.

“You can tell they’re both smitten,” she said.

(Photos: By Dona Tracy, via BBC)

Half of Kentucky’s county animal shelters called substandard — and nobody’s watching

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One day after basking in the nationwide attention the Kentucky Derby brings, Kentuckians woke up to the reality of how another species of animal is being treated by the state.

The Lexington Herald-Leader presented a package of stories addressing the often poor conditions in the state’s rarely monitored animal shelters.

In a state most famous for racing horses — and doing so in manner that almost appears civilized, what with the all the elegant outfits, mint juleps and whimsical hats — many dogs are living far less regal lives, stuck in county-run shelters that, under state law, receive almost no scrutiny from state agencies.

Unlike most states, Kentucky’s animal-shelter law does not include any inspection or enforcement provisions, which means any actions taken against them such shelters must from citizens.

Not until 2004 did state laws even get written to lay down minimum standards for county-run shelters. Those new measures required each county to have access to a shelter and animal-control officer, and set out standards that include protection from the weather; basic veterinary care or humane euthanasia for ill or injured animals; adequate heat in winter; clean and dry pens with adequate room for animal comfort; construction with materials that can be properly cleaned and disinfected; available clean water; uncontaminated food provided daily; and public access to the facility.

Those laws didn’t outline how, or specify who, was responsible for enforcing those standards.

A measure in the 2017 legislative session called for a study of ways to better fund animal shelters and cited the need for a “government entity” to enforce the state’s shelter rules, but it died without consideration.

That lack of enforcement is a large part of the reason the Animal Legal Defense Fund has ranked the state last in animal protection laws for 11 years in a row.

A study by the University of Kentucky, done in 2016, found that of 92 shelters covering Kentucky’s 120 counties – some of them regional facilities – conditions at 57 percent violated three or more provisions of Kentucky’s animal-shelter laws.

More than a fourth were considered “very substandard,” and only 12 percent were meeting all the rules the legislature put in place in 2004.

“Current laws do not appear to be fully satisfactory at accomplishing the goal of providing good shelter animal care across Kentucky,” said the study.

skaggsWhile county-run shelters operate with relative immunity, independent nonprofit sanctuaries and shelters get no such free ride, as was the case last week when the state Department of Agriculture seized 14 dogs from a no-kill sanctuary called Eden.

Randy J. Skaggs, who operates the sanctuary in Elliot County through his Trixie Foundation, faces 179 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty in connection with poor health and living conditions.

Skaggs defenders say he has devoted his life to caring for animals because so many public shelters in the region were substandard.

Skaggs says he is housing animals no one else wants, and that shelters would end up euthanizing. He refuses to let anyone adopt dogs because believes their best chance to live a healthy and happy life is at his sanctuary.

Skaggs believes the criminal charges against him are retaliation over his efforts to bring attention to Kentucky’s failure to adopt adequate animal protection laws, his criticisms of county shelters and his efforts to push for improvements.

(Photos: Will Wright / Lexington Herald-Leader)

Thief snatches trailer New Mexico rescue group used for adoption events

The theft of a trailer loaded with pet supplies Saturday means some dogs will wait a little longer for homes, and that an Albuquerque rescue group called the People’s Anti-Cruelty Association is going to have to rebuild.

The trailer was parked at a street corner where the nonprofit volunteer group holds adoption events every Saturday.

Sometime during the night, thieves hauled it away, along with the paperwork, leashes, pet food and other supplies inside, KOB in Albuquerque reported.

“When they stole our trailer it has greatly, greatly hindered our ability to (help animals) because if we can’t find it and its contents, we’re going to have to start all over,” said Arnielle Fernandez, a volunteer with PACA. “And that is very pricey.”

“Everything that was in the trailer was like crates that we set up for our dogs, our collars, our leashes, some dog food. Puppy pens, blankets, you know, towels – everything we need to function,” Fernandez said. “Ordinarily we, throughout the years, we have found permanent loving homes for thousands of dogs and cats.”

The group is now asking the public to keep an eye out for the trailer, which is white and has paw print decals, along with the PACA logo.

“Ask them to bring it back. That would be wonderful. It would be like Christmas in May,” Fernandez said.

While the group works to plan another event this weekend, Fernandez said it will be more difficult to pull off.

“Anybody that is in such a horrible state, on a personal level, that would do something like that to a non-profit rescue organization – they’re of very, very little character,” she said.

Happy ending turned bad, new one needed

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That blind dachshund and his pit bull guide dog we wrote about last week are both back in the Richmond animal shelter after the person who adopted them failed to keep her promise to keep the bonded pair together.

Richmond Animal Care and Control Shelter (RACC) proudly announced last week that the pair — surrendered by an owner who had become homeless — had been adopted together.

But a few days later, the happy story took a turn.

OJ, the blind dachshund, was found separated from his friend, about 100 miles away from where they were adopted in Richmond, WRTV reported.

The pair were originally surrendered when their owner became homeless, according to posts by Richmond Animal Care and Control. A picture of the two animals went viral on social media and they were quickly adopted.

OJ., the elder of the two, relied on Blue Dozer, the pit bull, and they would need to be adopted together, according to the posts.

After releasing the dogs to what they thought was a responsible owner, RACC got a call from the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center, reporting that OJ was in their custody after being brought in by someone who claimed to have found him as a stray.

Page Hearn, who runs the rescue group Virginia Paws for Pits in Augusta County, said OJ was found wandering and taken to the shelter, where his microchip was traced back to RACC.

The adopter, Hearn said, declined to take back the blind dog, and declined, at least intitially, to surrender Blue Dozer. Later she agreed to return the pit bull.

In an interview with WWTB, the adopter, identified only as Colleen, said she never intended to keep the dogs separated.

But, she said, OJ bit several people within the first two hours after she brought him home, leading her to ask a friend to temporarily take care of the dachshund.

She said she didn’t know OJ was missing from that friend’s home until the shelter called her.

RACC Director Christie Chipps Peters said in an email that they “are very upset over what has transpired.”

Robin Starr, CEO of Richmond SPCA, noted, “There is no shelter that doesn’t have an adoption not turn out well from time to time because people are not totally predictable.”

(Photo: Blue Dozer and OJ, from RACC Facebook page)

USDA considers closer regulation of rescues


A Washington Post investigation that revealed 86 rescue and dog-advocacy groups and shelters nationwide have spent $2.68 million buying dogs from breeders at auctions has prompted the U.S. Agriculture Department to issue a bulletin stating that those groups may need to be licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Traditionally, they are not, and thereby operate independently of any federal regulations — even though they are, in effect, buying and selling dogs all while characterizing that work as “rescuing” and finding dogs adoptive homes.

“Our job is to ensure the humane treatment of the animals we regulate,” Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez, who leads the department’s animal-care program, said in the bulletin, which cited “dog acquisitions from an auction for resale (including adoption) as pets” as a reason that individuals or groups may require federal regulation.

SONY DSCThe USDA announcement came just days after the Washington Post investigation was published, triggering a public response that the Post reported on yesterday.

The initial report cited cases of bidders aligned with rescue organizations paying more than $1,000 per dog, in one case $8,000.

Altogether, the 86 rescue and advocacy groups and shelters that have registered to participate in the two government-regulated auctions, both in Missouri, have spent $2.68 million buying 5,761 dogs and puppies from breeders since 2009.

Most rescuers then offered the dogs for adoption as “rescued” or “saved,” and charge “adoption fees” that range from $50 to $1,000.

National animal welfare groups reacted to the report with differing levels of concern.

The Humane Society of the United States — which in March sued the USDA, claiming it has failed to release breeding-kennel inspection reports in violation of open-records law — said the agency should instead do a better job of regulating breeders.

“BREAKING: the USDA is planning to scrutinize pet rescue groups and require many of them to become licensed — even as it fails to crack down on puppy mills and covers up their inspection reports,” the Humane Society posted on the Facebook page of its Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This is not rescue; this is enabling abuse,” wrote Julie Castle, chief development, marketing and communications officer for the Best Friends Animal Society. “Buying puppies from puppy mill breeders and selling them to the public is not rescue. It’s the pet trade and it needs to be exposed.”

PETA said some rescuers are “propping up the dog-breeding industry. Handing thousands of dollars to the very people who are exacerbating the animal-homelessness crisis allows them to keep profiting from animals’ suffering.”

Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, urged a USDA investigation of the practice: “Federal regulators should require all organizations that operate as pet dealers under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) be licensed as such.”

While some in the breeding community cheered the USDA’s bulletin and said regulation of rescuers by the USDA was long overdue, others voicing an opinion said the federal government should leave rescuers alone and instead focus on what they call “puppy mills.”

“I will never donate to a rescue that buys dogs from an auction,” said one. “That article was an eye opener. I have never heard of such a thing, but will definitely check out the rescue I support to see if they do this. The rescues who do this should be closed down. The money spent to buy the dogs was astronomical and insane.”

Other animal lovers say rescuers are well-intentioned and above reproach:

“Why you would go out of your way to bash people for trying to help innocent animals is disgusting and idiotic!”

The Post’s investigation detailed the little-known business practice in which some rescue groups — mostly those dedicated to rescuing certain purebred breeds — buy dogs from breeders at auctions, then charge “adoption fees” to place them in new homes.

The rescue groups say buying auction dogs is necessary to remove them from the commercial breeding industry, while others said the practice just feeds money to the very breeders that rescuers often decry as puppy mills.

Nathan Winograd, founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center, which pushes for shelter overhauls, urged all sides to step out of what he called their ‘ideological straitjackets’ and instead take a reasoned approach to considering the facts.

Wrote one commenter, “I’m an executive director of a fairly large humane society in the South. . . . The premise of this story is that people are buying dogs at auction from breeders in an effort to ‘rescue’ them. This highlights the emotional problems you see in the rescue community, that blinds them to rational thought, or good judgment. If you think you are ‘rescuing’ dogs by buying them, in any way shape or form, you are in complete denial.”

The 86 rescue organizations named in the auction records reviewed by the Post are a tiny minority of the thousands of such organization in the U.S and Canada.

As one person commented on the Post article, “There are still a lot of dogs that need help, and a lot of good organizations trying to help them.”

Dogs as artists, dogs as art

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The idea, or so it seems, was to have dogs serve as artists — covering the canines with pet-safe paint and having them shake it off, creating Jackson Pollock type canvases in the process.

Pawsitive Ohio, a non-profit group whose mission is to end the euthanasia of dogs in Northeast Ohio shelters, was behind the effort to raise funds by auctioning off the resulting artworks at an event to be held in April.

But, at least from what has been revealed so far, it looks like the dogs — all seniors and all rescues — might have become the art, moreso than they became the artists.

Photographs of the dogs during their creative process turned out to be art in themselves, and they were recently posted on the Pawsitive Ohio website. None of the paintings the dogs created were.

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According to Cleveland.com, both the photos and the artworks will be on display at three upcoming events.

The dogs created their works in the photography studio of David Baio.

“David is a dog lover who graciously and patiently allowed our artists to create their art in his studio,” said Jennifer Harrington, director of Pawsitive Ohio. “We originally thought the canvases would be the stars of the show, but David’s photographs are incredible … the photographs alongside the canvases truly complete the collection.”

The photos show dogs dripping paint, shaking off paint and licking paint — made of corn starch and food coloring — from their snouts.

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Both the paintings and photos will be on display March 9-23 at the Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way, Massillon. Then the artwork will be on display April 10-20 at the Canton Museum Of Art, 1001 Market Ave., Canton.

After that, the canvases and photography will be auctioned at the “SHAKE! Shades Of Gray” fundraising event on April 21 at the Canton Cultural Center For The Arts, 1001 Market Ave., Canton.

All funds raised will go towards Pawsitive Ohio’s mission of ending needless death of homeless dogs in Northeast Ohio. The organization raises funds for adoptions, spay and neuter programs and educational materials.