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Tag: shelters

Does pinpointing breeds speed up adoption?

lily

In hopes that potential adopters will find a “Chiratoodle” or a “golden Chinscher” more appealing than a plain old mutt or “Chihuahua mix,” an animal shelter in California has begun DNA testing some of its dogs to determine their breeds and market them under more exotic names.

The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA in Burlingame, south of San Francisco, says initial results show the DNA tested dogs are getting adopted twice as fast.

Not too surprising in a world that prefers labels over mysteries — at least when it comes to what we bring into our homes.

DNA testing is not widely practiced by America’s animal shelters, mainly because of its expense. As a result, most people who adopt a dog from a shelter leave with a mystery mutt, or one whose heritage has been guessed at by shelter staff.

My dog Ace, for instance, when he was adopted nearly 10 years ago, was listed as a “hound mix” on his shelter paperwork, referred to as a “shepherd mix” by shelter staff and listed on Petfinder.com as a “Labrador mix.”

When DNA tests came on the market in 2007, I purchased one, swabbed his cheek and learned he was Rottweiler and Chow. In the next few years, as the tests became capable of identifying more than the original 38 breeds, I tested him two more times. The second test determined he was Rottweiler, Chow and Akita. The third test showed him to be all of those, and a little bit pit bull.

The tests allowed me to answer the question I was asked at least once a day: “What kind of dog is that?” It wasn’t so much that I had to know. All three tests were done mostly as research, for the purpose of writing about them. And once I learned the breeds he was made up of, I kind of missed the mystery.

I don’t think the information is all that vital, but I can understand how a purchaser, or adopter, of a dog might like to know what’s in his or her mix.

In California, the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA conducted the tests in an attempt to increase the adoptions of Chihuahua mixes, which make up nearly a quarter the dogs in its shelter.

The campaign, conducted under the slogan “Who’s Your Daddy?” is aimed at “finding great homes for dogs at risk of being overlooked,” said Scott Delucchi, the shelter’s senior vice president.

“People love mutts. Still, we’re betting shelter dogs with DNA results included, for free, will be quite fetching,” he says in a commercial for the campaign.

The shelter picks up the cost of the $50 tests, which they say can help owners identify what breed-specific traits the dogs might exhibit. The tests also allow the shelter to have some fun coming up with clever breed names — like “Chorgi” (Chiuahua-corgi), “golden Chinscher”  (golden retriever-miniature pinscher-Chihuahua) and “Chiratoodle” (Chihuahua-rat terrier-poodle).

In February, the shelter conducted tests that determined the breed make up of 11 small dogs. All found homes within two weeks — twice as fast as any 11 untested small, brown dogs in the previous months, according to an Associated Press story.

Twelve more dogs have been tested since then and once they are all placed in homes the shelter plans to test 24 more.

Chihuahuas have replaced pit bulls as the most prevalent breed in the shelter, largely due to the “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” movies, and the breed’s popularity among celebrities.

While some visitors to the shelter are seeking Chihuahuas, others are looking for mutts — small dogs who, thanks to another breed being in the mix, might have a less nervous dispositions.

While shelter officials have proclaimed the new program a success, they note that it’s going to take more than a gimmick to reduce the “alarming” number of Chihuahua mixes coming in.

“Another part is making spay-neuter low-cost or free to the community,” Delucchi said. The shelter also exports some of its smaller dogs to shelters in Florida, New York and other states where they are in shorter supply.

(Photo: Lynn and Tony Mazzola, with Lily, their newly adopted  ”Chorkie;” by Eric Risberg / AP)

Changes vowed at Baltimore County shelter

animal-shelter

Some long called for changes may be coming at Baltimore County’s animal shelter.

After more than a year of pressure by animal advocates for improvements, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced yesterday that  the shelter in Baldwin, Md., will be shifting from the “narrow view” of it being a place for dangerous animals and focusing more on caring for animals and getting them adopted.

That’s exactly the sort of change we called for in yesterday’s ohmidog! post — the one suggesting local governments ditch their use of the term “animal control” and become animal protection departments.

Baltimore County hasn’t announced any formal plans to do that (maybe it’s not too late to work that in), but the county executive did outline future steps to add more employees, expand low-cost spaying and neutering services, cooperate with a program aimed at neutering feral cats and increase the shelter’s focus on getting animals adopted.

Kevin KamenetzKamenetz said he’ll hire a volunteer coordinator and a foster care coordinator at the shelter – two areas animal advocates have been critical of. He also announced that  a new Facebook page will be set up devoted to promoting adoptable animals, and that the shelter will be receiving guidance from the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, commonly known as BARCS.

The changes will be included in his next budget for Animal Services — a division of the county health department — and would go into effect at the start of the next budget year on July 1, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“We think we’re moving in the proper direction in a deliberative manner,” Kamenetz said.

Animal advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland complained to the county last fall that shelter volunteers were banned from taking pictures, in violation of their First Amendment rights. The county has been working with the ACLU on training shelter employees on the rights of volunteers.

Earlier this month, the County Council passed a bill creating an animal services advisory commission to review the shelter’s operations. The 11-member commission has yet to be appointed.

In a statement released by the county executive’s office, Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins praised the proposals as “bold steps to upgrade animal services in Baltimore County.”

The county already is building a new shelter on its current site,  scheduled to open in August.

Our hope would be — in accordance with the proposal we put forth yesterday, and in accordance with the new focus Kamenetz spoke of — that the sign in front of it reads Animal Protection, or Animal Services …  anything but Animal Control.

(Photos: Protest sign from WJZ; Kamenetz from Baltimore Sun)

A modest proposal: Let’s lose “control”

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.

Raising funds to provide therapy dogs for victims of sex trafficking

A non-profit organization has launched a campaign to sell dog collars and leashes to raise money to place therapy dogs in homes and shelters serving sex trafficking victims.

Eye Heart World, an organization that creates products to raise funds and awareness for social causes, is launching a campaign called “Walk the Cause” this week.

The sale of every leash and collar set will go toward purchasing therapy dogs to help victims of human trafficking.

The dogs will be placed in aftercare homes for victims and used in court during the interview process.

“These wonderful pups provide a sense of security, comfort, and something these girls will desperately need in this time of restoration,” the organization said in a press release.

It’s similar to a project the organization started in January of 2010 — called “Carry the Cause” — which sold handbags. All American made, each handbag bears an orange rose, the color representing human trafficking awareness.

Under the “Walk the Cause” project, $100 from the sale of every leather leash and collar set goes toward placing therapy dogs in homes and facilities to help victims of human trafficking.

The first dogs will likely placed at facilities in Atlanta and Denver, according to Eye Heart World founder Season Russo. The dogs will be purchased from Smeraglia, a dog breeding company, and will be trained by Teddy Bear Goldendoodles.

Caffeine and canines: LA Dog Cafe would showcase adoptable dogs

dogcafe

Here’s an idea we love — an establishment where you can get your caffeine fix and your canine fix at the same time.

It’s a dog cafe — a cozy and comfortable place where, in addition to enjoying a nice cup of coffee or tea, you can meet, bond with and pet a few dogs, and maybe even take one home.

A woman in Los Angeles, putting a new twist on what up to now has been an Asian concept, is trying to start up America’s first dog cafe — called, appropriately enough, the Dog Cafe.

“The Dog Cafe’s mission is simple. We want to provide a second chance for shelter dogs that are often overlooked,”  founder Sarah Wolfgang told LA Weekly. ”The Dog Cafe is going to put a spin on the way people adopt by totally reinventing the way we connect with homeless dogs.”

In addition to showcasing adoptable dogs in a warmer environment than most shelters offer, the cafe will allow Los Angeles residents who can’t have dogs to get a doggy fix — thereby soothing nerves frazzled by traffic jams and making workday stresses disappear.

(And maybe lowering their blood pressure at least as much as that cup of coffee is raising it.)

Allowing the petless to spend some time with pets was the idea behind pet cafes that popped up in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries. For the price of a coffee or tea, patrons — many of whom live in small crowded apartments and can’t have pets of their own — can sit in a restaurant and pet, cuddle, interact with and be surrounded by dogs, or cats.

Finding the animals homes wasn’t their purpose, but Wolfgang, who once worked at private animal shelters in Korea, saw the possibilities.

The Dog Cafe in Los Angeles will have adoption as its primary mission, but not its only one.

sarahwolfgang“The Dog Cafe is for everyone,” Wolfgang said. “We want people to come in and cuddle with our pooches even if they aren’t interested in adopting.”

Working with rescue groups, the Dog Cafe will be stocked with dozens of adoptable dogs, who will roam the shop and hang out with customers.

The coffee will come from Santa Monica–based coffee roaster Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., whose blends include Alpha Blend, Morning Walk Blend and Paper & Slippers Blend. The company donates 20 percent of its profit from each purchase to a local shelter.

Because of L.A. Health Department regulations, the cafe must be divided into two areas, keeping the drink service counter and “dog zone” separated.

She’s now raising funds — here’s her page on indiegogo – to help start the cafe.

“Our goal is to find forever homes for at least 104 dogs within the first year, though we are anticipating to reach a much higher number,” the page says. “Our project will reinvent the way people view adopting dogs and will give dogs that seemed ‘unadoptable,’ a chance at their very own forever home.”

The Dog Cafe would benefit both dogs and humans, she said — and not just those humans who adopt a pet.

“… Even if you’re not looking to adopt, you can still enjoy all of the sloppy kisses you’ve ever wanted.”

Homeless man finds shelter — for his dog

oreo2

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.

oreoIf you guessed the dog, you’re right.

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)

Directive bans use of gas chambers in N.C.

franklincounty

A simple directive has accomplished what North Carolina’s legislature, despite repeated efforts, couldn’t — and, as of the middle of February 2015, animal shelters in the state will be all but banned from killing unwanted dogs and cats in gas chambers.

For those who waged battles to do way with gas chambers in their home counties, and those who worked to pass statewide legislation ending their use, it’s a cause for celebration.

But it’s also a little confusing. If all it took to change things was a directive from the state Department of Agriculture — basically, a memo — why all the years of bickering, grandstanding and politics (both clean and dirty)?

If only the stroke of an administrator’s pen was needed to end such a cruel and callous process, why did it take so long?

The memo issued this month by the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s veterinary division gives shelters until Feb. 15 to switch to lethal injections. Gas chambers, which kill animals with carbon monoxide — sometimes one at a time, sometimes in groups — will only be permitted for “unusual and rare circumstances, such as natural disasters and large-scale disease outbreaks.”

Patricia Norris, the Agriculture Department’s new animal welfare director, said the directive was based on guidelines from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which in 2013 finally recommended against the use of gas chambers for “routine euthanasia.”

(We’d disagree with both of the words in that phrase. Ending the life of a dog simply because he’s unwanted or because a facility is overcrowded isn’t a mercy killing; it’s a money-saving killing. And common as the practice is, we hate seeing it called “routine” — which it certainly isn’t for the dog.)

While animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA, Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society of the United States, have been saying the practice is inhumane for years, it wasn’t until the AVMA adjusted its stance that the state decided to take action.

The Humane Society of the United States hailed the change. “It’s going to lift that stigma that was associated with North Carolina animal shelters,” said Kim Alboum, the HSUS’s state director is quoted as saying in the Raleigh News & Observer. “The pound is gone, and I think that’s something to celebrate.”

Only four of North Carolina’s 197 approved shelters still use gas chambers.

According to the HSUS, North Carolina becomes the 25th state with a formal ban in place. (Many states yet to ban gas chambers are no longer using them.)

chambersmap

“To put an animal inside a gas chamber, their final moments are alone in a dark box,” Alboum said. “Sometimes they don’t die right away. If we have to euthanize animals, at least the animal is touched, at least the animal has some dignity and some human contact.”

Among those to recently cease the practice are Johnston County, which earlier this turned its gassing equipment into a work of art, designed to look like the tree of life. In Cleveland County, a fundraiser was held that allowed donors to “whack the chamber” with a sledgehammer.

Shutting down the gas chambers is a long overdue step in the right direction. Then again, lethal injection isn’t really something to celebrate. What is? The day we stop killing dogs. Period.

(Photo of the gas chamber in Franklin County, NC, by Takaaki Iwabu, from the Raleigh News & Observer; graphic courtesy of Humane Society of the United States)

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