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Tag: volunteer

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.)

BARCS set new adoption record in 2009

Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) had its busiest adoption year ever in 2009, placing 2,869 animals in new homes — a 47 percent increase over last year’s figures.

To keep those numbers up, BARCS will hold a “Winter Wonderland Special,” from Jan. 15 through Jan. 31, during which time adoption fees for selected animals will be only $1. (That’ s in addition to the  $10 fee for an animal license for Baltimore City residents).

Adoption fees include spaying and neutering, rabies vaccination, DHLPP vaccination, bordatella, de-wormer, flea preventative, a general examination, an animal license for Baltimore City residents, a food sample, Felv testing for cats and kittens, and a free month of health insurance.

BARCS, located at 301 Stockholm Street, across from M&T Bank Stadium, is open for adoptions Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shelter will be closed on January 18 for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.

BARCS is also looking for volunteers to help provide care for dogs and cats in the shelter, to provide foster homes for animals too young to be adopted, to assist with adoptions, and to help with events and fund raising. Special training classes are offered for volunteers at the following times: Monday, January 11, at 1 p.m.; Thursday, January 14 at 1 p.m.; Saturday, January 16, at 11:30 a.m.; Thursday, January 21 at 3 p.m.; Saturday, January 23, at 11:30 a.m.; Monday, January 25 at 1 p.m.; Thursday, January 28, at 1 p.m. and Saturday, January 30, at 11:30 a.m.

To register for an orientation, e-mail Frank.Branchini@baltimorecity.gov.

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.

Tree falls (after winning early rounds)

 

 

 

 

  In a weekend battle between dog and oak tree (instigated by a squirrel), the mighty oak won the early rounds, keeping a Lab-pit bull named Rocky pinned for more than an hour, only to be felled at the end when, with a little help from his friends, Rocky emerged victorious. 

Volunteer firefighters spent more than an hour Saturday rescuing Rocky from the bottom of a hollowed-out oak tree in eastern North Carolina.

Michael Adams Sr., the dog’s owner, said his fiancée let the family’s two dogs out of the house about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, but only one came back.

“That’s unusual because they’re always together,” he said.

He said the family was looking for the 6-month-old pup when a neighbor walking his own dog heard  whining from the woods and found the dog.

“I think he was chasing a squirrel,” Adams said of Rocky. “But he ran right in there so fast that he got pinned. We tried to dig him out but we couldn’t pull him out.”

When Jeremy Brown, chief of the Harlowe Volunteer Fire Department, arrived, he sized up the situation and called for his equipment truck, according to ENC Today.

“We’ve never been taught anything about extricating a dog from a tree,” Brown said.

Winging it, Brown’s crew fired up the chain saw and cut the tree down about three feet above where the dog was stuck. With the top of the tree gone, they could see that the dog was pinned by one of its roots. Crews then began sawing through the sides of the tree, splitting it open with the Jaws of Life.

The dog was freed amid cheers from the crowd that had gathered.

Brown said the dog emerged unscathed.  “The dog’s fine, no injuries, no nothing,” he said.

For the oak tree, however, it was a career-ending defeat.

(Photos: Harlowe Volunteer Fire Department)