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Tag: utah

Walking in support of Utah’s pit bulls

Dnews SLCStrutABulls

Pretty enough to be a postcard, this photo was taken Sunday during a group dog walk in Salt Lake City.

It was one of the regular bi-weekly walks staged by the organization, SLC StrutABulls, which seeks to improve the image of pit bulls by holding walks in various public locations.

Organizers chose the State Capitol this week to raise awareness about House Bill 97, which is headed to the state Senate for review, according to  KSL.com. The bill would prohibit municipalities from enacting or enforcing breed-specific rules, regulations, policies or laws.

About 10 Utah cities now outlaw pit bulls or pit bull mixes, according to Natalie Schun, with SLC StrutABulls.

About 60 dogs — mostly pit bulls or mixes — and their owners walked around the grounds of the Capitol on Sunday.

“The (bad) ones that you hear about are just (a few) out of who knows how many,” said event co-organizer Kelly Lawson. “Any dog can be mean if it doesn’t get the proper socialization, exercise and attention that it needs.

“We are out to show that these are good dogs and can be good dogs no matter what breed they are.”

(Photo: Scott G. Winterton./ Deseret News)

Utah labs cease use of shelter animals

The University of Utah has announced that it will no longer purchase dogs and cats from North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) — or any other animal shelter — for use in medical experiments.

The decision was praised by PETA, which has waged a lengthy campaign against the practice.

“PETA is thrilled for the dogs, cats and people of Utah now that the University of Utah has stopped using animal shelters as dirt-cheap sources of living lab equipment, marking the complete end of pound seizure in the state,’’ said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president for laboratory investigations.

Until last year, animal shelters in Utah were required to sell cats and dogs in their custody to the university under a practice known as pound seizure. A change in state law made it voluntary for shelters to participate. The North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, however, continued to supply animals for research in the belief that it was helping to ease human suffering and advance medical knowledge.

NUVAS sold the university about 100 dogs and cats a year, Director Tug Gettling told the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The practice, over the years, saw hundreds of former pets and strays sacrificed for purposes of medical experimentation — though not all that were used in experiments were killed.  Last year, a pet owner who turned her dog, Sheena (above) over to the shelter was shocked to learn — when she called to see if she had been adopted — that the dog had been sold to the university for experimentation. Later, with help from PETA, she launched a successful campaign to get the dog back from the university and into an adoptive home.

According to the Tribune, the decades-old practice of buying animals from shelters was halted by the university in mid-January.

Thomas Parks, the university’s vice president for research, said the decision was aimed at bringing an end to the campaign against the shelter by animal welfare advocates. Parks said the university will instead obtain dogs bred for laboratory use by certified breeders — a costlier but less controversial method.

PETA’s Guillermo said she hoped the added cost of specially bred animals would lead the university to seek alternatives to using live animals in its experiments.

Parks said employees at the non-profit municipal shelter “have been suffering a lot of harassment” and that the shelter has received thousands of hostile emails and phone calls, several bomb threats and at least three public protests.

A Salt Lake Tribune investigation a year ago found that about 60 percent of all shelter animals the shelter provided to the university between 2007 and 2009 were killed after being experimented on, while the rest entered an adoption program.

Beagles rescued from bankrupt lab

One hundred and twenty beagles who faced lifetimes being used in medical research experiments have been freed — just in time for the Fourth of July weekend.

On Friday, the beagles — owned by a research facility in New Jersey whose parent pharmaceutical company went into bankruptcy — were released to the care of animal rescue groups that, after socializing them, hope to adopt them out as family pets.

Beagles are bred especially for use in medical experiments and are used in research because of their affable and passive natures, their relative lack of inherited health problems and their mid-range size. These particular beagles are estimated to be between two and five years of age and have lived their entire lives in a laboratory.

Best Friends Animal Society headquartered in Kanab, Utah, and Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary, based in Middletown, N.Y., and Elmsford, N.Y., worked together on rescuing the beagles, who had been left locked in the facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J.

The facility closed in April, after Aniclin’s parent pharmaceutical company couldn’t pay its bills, according to the Times Herald-Record in New York’s Hudson Valley.

A judge ruled that the beagles could be handed over to animal rescue organizations. Fifty-five primates were also removed from the facility and sent to a simian rescue organization

Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary welcomed the beagles to their new home this weekend, decorated in red, white and blue.

Best Friends, according to a press release, was made aware of the beagles’ dilemma through its Community Animal Assistance national helpline, which fields requests to help animals from around the country. Best Friends contacted Pets Alive, a sanctuary in the Lower Hudson Valley region of New York, which offered to take ownership of the dogs. Several other animal rescue organizations have stepped forward, each offering to take some of the beagles.

Best Friends is paying for veterinary care, food and transportation of the dogs from the facility. It will  be bringing back as many as 30 dogs to its sanctuary in Utah, including those who may need  more time and help before transitioning into family living.

“Best Friends is teaming up with Pets Alive in the New York area to help these beagles get the fresh start they deserve … one that’s long overdue,” said Judah Battista of Best Friends Animal Society.

“These dogs have been in a laboratory, too long without friends,” she said. “Since these dogs have never had the opportunity to discover their true lovable, comical, often boisterous nature, which makes beagles such a favorite family dog, Pets Alive and Best Friends are committed to helping these dogs discover their true personalities.”

“In this case, the cruel and unnecessary practice of animal testing was compounded by the abandonment of these innocent victims,” said Kerry Clair, executive co-director of Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary.

Those wishing to donate to the cause can visit www.bestfriends.org. or www.petsalive.com.

People who live near Pets Alive in Middletown, N.Y., are invited to volunteer their time to help feed, care for and socialize the beagles. To do so contact volunteers@petsalive.com.

Red dogs, green dogs, shy dogs, mean dogs

It was, mostly, a red collar crowd.

My time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, helping out as a volunteer, was mostly spent among those dogs who, due to their unpredictable behavior, have been assigned red collars — meaning only staff can interact with them.

I drew duty at Dulcie’s School of Dance, an octagon-shaped structure whose residents, for the most part, misbehaved either before or after their arrival at the southern Utah animal sanctuary, and who — though red collared dogs can be adopted under the right circumstances — in many cases will live out their lives there.

Dulcie’s is occupied by outlaws like Wooley Bear, a 12-year-old border collie mix who is one of Best Friends most prolific biters, a mutt named Billy Brindle, and Boo, a 14-year-old boxer who has spent more than a decade there.

Caregiver Carin Carothers was my supervisor, and she made sure a closed gate was always between me and the mostly notorious canines she oversees.

I did get to help make dinner though, and wash the dog bowls, and attended two classes — one for shy dogs, one for unpredictable and aggressive ones.

Shy dog class was easy lifting — not unlike a day at the park. I took a seat, bag of dog treats in hand, and waited for students, all green or purple collared dogs and all fearful of humans to differing degrees, to cautiously approach.

It’s all aimed at getting the dogs — many of whom came from hoarding situations — to trust humans more, difficult as that sometimes is to do.

Later, I caught part of a class for dogs who, rather than being shy, are aggressive.

I took a seat under the shade and watched as Carin and four handlers, each working with a single dog, sought to keep that dog’s attention focused on the handler. Another volunteer was called upon to approach the leashed dogs who, the hope was, would continue focusing on the treats and their handler rather than snarling and lunging at the person approaching.

I was wondering who that volunteer had made mad when I was called upon to do the same thing — repeatedly walk up to within five feet or so of a dog and be distracting.

Almost every time, the dogs failed to notice me — the preferred reaction, though I didn’t like it much. The only thing worse than not being able to pay attention to a dog is when a dog pays no attention to you.

Later, though, I did enjoy bonding with Smitty, another Dulcie’s resident — a green collar placed in the unit to be a good influence on the less friendly dogs. Carin suggested I take the coonhound for a spin in my car around the canyons — and Smitty seemed to love it, peering intently out the window.

We stopped for a walk at an idyllic little park, nestled on the side of a canyon, whereupon seeing a couple of other dogs, Smitty began baying, his howls echoing off the canyon walls.

Though we only planned for a day of volunteering, we stopped by Best Friends again yesterday, mainly to take Smitty for another spin.

This time he was even more gung-ho about the ride, throwing his front paws on the back of my Jeep and awaiting to be hoisted the rest of the way. Looking at him in my rear view mirror, I could swear he was smiling.

We tooled around the canyons, stopped and spent some quiet moments at Angel’s Rest, the pet cemetery on the grounds of the sanctuary. We listened to the wind chimes, and sat in the shade of a gazebo. He hardly howled at all this time, instead laying quietly and staring at me.

Were I not on the road for an extended period, or maybe if I had a bigger vehicle, I’d have taken him with me when I left Best Friends Wednesday afternoon. That I didn’t means you still can.

My day and a half as a volunteer at Best Friends may not have saved the world, but I had a good time, and I think Smitty, who’s not yet two years old and still a little shy around most people — did, too.

And while I’m not saying it’s karma or anything, I noticed as I headed back to the highway that my car’s version of the red collar — my malfunction indicator light — was no longer lit. I’d been fretting about it ever since it came on when I rolled into Phoenix last week.

I do believe that doing good things makes good things come back to you — just maybe not that instantly. And if there is such a thing as karma, Smitty — the role model at Dulcie’s, that green collar who lives among the reds — has good times ahead.

Kanab: Overflowing with dog friendliness

Kanab, Utah is by and large a dog-friendly town. About a third of its motels permit dogs, as do most of the restaurants with outdoor dining. You can hardly drive down the main street of this one-stoplight town without seeing someone walking a dog.

It’s the headquarters of Best Friends, the world’s largest animal sanctuary. It’s in Utah, a place  whose major religion has so many rules, state and local governments don’t feel obliged to constantly come up with new ones (though I’m told there’s a two-dog limit in Kanab proper). And it’s in the west, free and open, where a man can be a man, and a dog can be a dog. Many an old-time western was filmed in the surrounding hills and canyons.

But even here, there’s truly “dog-friendly,” and there’s “well, ok, since nearly half of American homes have dogs, and more people are vacationing with dogs, we’ll put up with them because we’ll make more money that way.”

Which brings me to yesterday’s shoot-out. It was just one of words, left on notes, attached to my motel room door.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary doesn’t permit volunteers to bring their own dogs, and for legitimate reasons. Making things more incovenient, there are no kennels in town, just a couple of pet sitters. It would make enormous good sense — given the number of visitors, some who come to town with dogs — for either Best Friends or some entrepreneurial type to establish a kennel and day care business nearby. (Note to self: add that to the possible future careers list.)

Anyway, given those circumstances, when I reported for duty at Best Friends, I left Ace in my air conditioned room at the Bob-Bon Inn, where, judging from the autographed photos on the lobby wall, most of the cowboy stars you’ve heard of, and many you haven’t, stayed — back when they were alive.

I left a note on the door of my room that there was a dog inside, and that I didn’t need my room cleaned, and I came back to check on Ace and take him for a walk around lunchtime before returning to Best Friends for a couple more hours.

When I returned to the motel late in the afternoon, another note had joined mine. It said:

Sure enough, their written rules had specified just that (without the exclamation points), but somehow in my Internet search for a dog-friendly room, bouncing between five or six motel websites, I’d missed that.

Ace, of course, caused no trouble. He didn’t bark, or soil the new carpets (though the overflowing toilet came close to doing that yesterday morning). Even though the room, nice as it was, was only the size of a prison cell, Ace was content to peacefully hang out in the air conditioning.

That night, fortunately, I was scheduled to meet a member of the Best Friends staff for dinner at a dog-friendly restaurant. And this time, at the Rocking V Cafe, the dog friendliness was real. The first thing Terrah, our waitress, did was to check and make sure there was water in the dog bowl, provided at every outdoor table, and bring out some dog treats.

Then she fell in love with Ace. Then all the other diners fell in love with Ace. As usual, he stopped traffic, made friends and, except for a few pedestrians who veered around him, made people happy. It was a true dog-friendly experience — so much better than the phony variety.

(Willow Canyon, an outdoor gear, book and coffee shop, also passes the dog-friendly test, and I’m told Laid Back Larry’s, a vegetarian restaurant/coffee place on Highway 89, is also an especially dog-friendly venue.)

After dinner, Ace and I walked downtown, then returned to the motel. I had planned to ask to stay a third night, but, in light of the exclamation points, I decided not too, leaving my key in the room and checking out quietly and without confrontation.

Unfortunately, I left behind a clogged toilet — which I’d say is the fault of the plumbing not me. As much as the proprietors probably fear dog waste, they were left with the human variety. I briefly thought about going to the office and asking for a plunger.

But I’m a motel guest! Not a plumber!

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)

Giving, and getting, at Best Friends

It’s probably the closest thing there is to heaven on earth for dogs (and a lot of other animals, too), a place where — despite abusive pasts, ill health or handicaps — dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs and more can be rehabilitated enough to find new homes, or, if not, spend the rest of their days in the tranquil, sun-dappled canyons of southern Utah.

A lot of humans are coming to see Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as pretty close to paradise, too – they’re showing up in droves, not just for tours or visits, but to roll up their sleeves and do some work.

There’s something about Best Friends that seems to bring people who have visited once back again — myself included – and, refreshingly, they often return asking not what the animals can do for them, but what they can do for the animals.

My first visit to Best Friends was two years ago, and both the sanctuary and the terrain of southern Utah stuck with me — the way that few things, Mexican food included, do. Photos taken during that visit — while I was still a reporter for the Baltimore Sun –, helped inspire the look and color scheme of ohmidog!, the website I started after leaving the newspaper.

And the mission and staff of Best Friends inspired me as well, as they have millions of others — first with their response during Hurricane Katrina, more recently through the National Geographic Channel’s series, “Dogtown.”

Given that debt, it was only right that I — as about 100 people do every day — showed up at the sanctuary to work as a volunteer.

I was one of about 10 new volunteers going through orientation Tuesday, after making arrangements to do so — a simple matter — on the volunteer section of the Best Friends website.

I’d planned to spend one day, but I’m returning today. Most people spend longer — building a vacation around volunteering at Best Friends, or making it their entire vacation.

Such was the case with Kenzie Wolff, an 11-year-old California girl who, when offered a trip to the location of her choice by her parents as a birthday present, chose to do volunteer work at Best Friends.

She and her parents were staying at one of the guest cottages available at Best Friends (there’s an RV park, too), and she and her mom showed up bright and early to go through the quick orientation.

Kenzie said she got the urge to visit and volunteer after watching “Dogtown.”

“We were watching Dogtown and it seemed really cool, and I went on their website a lot, and all the dogs and animals were really cool. I just really like animals.”

Kenzie, who has a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois named Sophie back home in Laguna Beach — and a cat named Gypsy — was scheduled for a full day of dog duty Tuesday, planned to work with cats today, and to work with dogs and bunnies on Thursday.

She was hoping to invite two animals back to the cottage for sleepovers. Permitting volunteers to take dogs and cats overnight, on trips through the canyon, or even into town, is another unusual aspect of Best Friends volunteer program — a massive operation that seems to run amazingly smoothly and without heavy layers of bureaucracy or bossiness.

For us new volunteers, we were equipped with nametags and orange whistles to blow in case of emergency — such as a dog we’re walking getting loose – and treated to a 10-minute safety video.

The video informed us of the color-coded collar system — green ones for safe and approachable dogs, purple ones for those requiring some caution and red ones for those dogs that staff only can handle.

We were provided with some common sense basics — don’t shout or run around the dogs, don’t throw toys without permission, or engage in tug of war games. Let the dogs approach you, sniff you and get to know you.

A brief talk followed in which we warned to watch out for, and back away from, rattlesnakes, and that, it being lizard season, to make sure to hold tight to leashes, because some dogs are prone to chasing them.

After the briefing, Kenzie and her mom, Peggy, headed for puppy class, where trainer Don Bain uses the volunteers to help socialize newly arrived puppies — generally at 12 weeks of age.

The session takes place in a room set up like a house — complete with refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and a doorbell. The setting helps increase the chances that the puppies, once adopted, will feel more at home, and decrease the chances of them being returned.

Bain says as many as one in five pups were being returned at one point, but in the past two years, only two have been. “We’re sending out very well-adjusted, socialized puppies now.”

“We try to throw as many people in their puppy faces as we possibly can,” Bain said. In the class, volunteers worked with seven puppies, picking them up, poking and prodding them and getting them used to having humans play with their paws, mouths and ears.

The pups are taught their names, and to sit and lay down. Treats and consistency are the key. “If a puppy wins once, he wins forever,” Bain says.

Kenzie worked with a chocolate ball of fluff named Nike, who came from a rescue in Page, Arizona, and probably from an Indian reservation before that. A birth defect left him without the tip of one of his front paws. It had pads, but no toes or claws. None of which seemed to slow him down a bit.

Kenzie spent the rest of the morning walking dogs, including one with a neurological problem that caused him to go in circles.

After a vegetarian buffet in a dining hall that overlooks the canyons — sweet and sour sesame tofu was the entree — Kenzie spent some time with the old dogs.

When the battery on the family’s rental car died, Best Friends maintenance staff responded within minutes, charging it up and allowing Kenzie and her mom to get to their next assignment.

It’s astounding how so many volunteers can be so calmly and smoothly dispatched to their duties — even amid the pounding of a jackhammer in the front office (more expansion was underway). And it’s all done with kindness and flexibility. Volunteers can come and go from the sanctuary as they please and pursue their individual interests as long as they sign in and out and follow a few simple rules.

As with Kenzie, and as with me (more on my experiences tomorrow), volunteers get far more than they give. I hate to use the phrase “win-win,” but that’s exactly what the situation is. Dogs can grow more social, humans can grow more compassionate. Sure, poop gets scooped and dog bowls get washed, but in Best Friends’ volunteer program, far more than daily chores are getting accomplished.

(Tomorrow: More from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.)

(To read all of “Dog’s Country, from the beginning, click here.)

Taking the road not (previously) taken

Yesterday I came to a fork in the road and, boy, did I ever make the right choice.

It was the road less traveled, except by those visiting the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. It was the road, on a previous trip, I’d not taken, in the interest of saving time.

This time, though, I took Highway 89 A, as in alternate, and it all but took my breath away, partly because we were getting up around 8,000 feet, partly because it was so stunningly beautiful.

Ace and I left Flagstaff around noon, and drove past mountainsides left charred by the still smoldering forest fire that’s being blamed on a campfire not doused.

We passed through Navajo country, resisting the urge, for now, to return to the Hopi reservation, where I once spent an unforgettable week working on a story about Native Americans and war.

In Bitter Springs, we came to the fork. We could bear right, and go up through Page, the less circuitous route and one I’d taken before, or we could take 89A, a highway that all but doubles back on itself, takes one through the Vermillion Cliffs, then winds through Kaibab National Forest.

I realized, as we headed toward Marble Canyon, that for the first time on our trip — though we’d seemed to be in the middle of nowhere several times – this time we really were. You could see almost forever in every direction. You could get out of the car, slowly turn in  a complete circle, and, other than the road you just pulled off, see only nature — no signs of man or his intrusiveness. No houses, no power lines, no telephone poles, no malls or even Indian trading posts, no gas stations, no fences.

Along the way there were only a few outposts of civilization — like Marble Canyon and Cliff Dwellers, where Ace and I stopped for lunch. Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Restaurant welcomes dogs in the lodge, and on the upper portion of the restaurant’s outside patio.

The owners of the lodge have a Newfoundland, and my waiter, who lives at the lodge part of the year, an aging Australian shepherd.

Ace helped me eat sweet potato fries and a roast beef sandwich, all while gazing out an amazing desert view.

After lunch we went back for a closer look at the strangely formed rocks we’d passed on our way into town, though it’s not really a town.

Those included the one to the left, which, in addition to bearing a striking resemblance to Dick Cheney, I think, provided shade for the Navajo women selling jewelry at a roadside stand.

From there it was up into the mountains of Kaibab National Forest, a winding, vista-laden journey, where I stopped at so many pullovers, I think it got on Ace’s nerves — for it meant the air conditioning would be turned off.

As we climbed up, the temperatures cooled, and I rolled down all the windows, sun roof included. Out of nowhere, a summer rain began to fall.

We kept the sun roof open and let the rain splatter us as an amazingly fresh scent filled the car, clearing out the doggie smell and cigarette smoke better than any air freshener ever could.

From there it was all downhill. We sailed through Fredonia and ended up a few miles later at our destination, Kanab, Utah, where today we report for volunteer duty bright and early at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

I’m sure we’ll learn much from that experience, but today’s lesson is this: Always take the winding road.

(To read all of “Dog’s Journey, from the beginning, click here.)