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Tag: volunteers

Ace goes to school for a lesson in love

Ace made a big impression on pre-k and kindergarten students at Baltimore’s Lakewood Elementary School yesterday, dazzling them with tricks, soaking up their pats and hugs and swearing in two classrooms whose students took the “Oath of Kindness,” a pledge to be kind to animals.

How this latest stop in our continuing travels came to pass was actually pretty simple, and amazingly bureaucracy-free.

A teacher friend asked if we’d visit. We said yes. She got the necessary clearances and, before you know it, a 130-pound Rottweiler-Akita-chow-pit bull mix was being snuggled, stroked and hugged by a bunch of children half his size.

Karma Dogs, the therapy dog organization of which Ace is a member, came up with two more volunteers who visited the school along with Ace and me –  Janet Shepherd and her dog Tami, and Kathryn Corrigan and her dog Puddy.

Together, we covered six classrooms in just over an hour, administering the oath, passing along some basic dog safety tips and stressing the importance of treating animals kindly.

Karma Dogs developed the ”Oath of Kindness” after the death of Phoenix, a pit bull puppy who was set on fire by Baltimore teenagers in the summer of 2009 — not the first, or last, case of its type in the city.

The oath reads: “I … pledge always to be kind to animals. I promise never to hurt an animal, be it dog or cat, furry or fat. I promise to tell my friends to be kind to animals and if I see an animal that is being hurt I will tell an adult right away. Scaly or slimy, feathered or blue, to this promise I will be true.”

After reciting the pledge, the children receive a certificate,which is “pawtographed” by the dog, in this case, Ace. The hope is that children who have openly declared they will not be violent towards animals will remember that, tell their friends and inform adults when they see an animal being taunted or abused.

Of the students Ace and I appeared before, about a dozen raised their hands when I asked who was afraid of dogs. But only one declined a chance to pet Ace. Several more had some trepidations, but those seemed to melt away as they watched the other children interact with him.

They were eager to ask questions, and talk about their own pets. One girl spent three minutes talking about her Chihuahua, which she said had the same name she did. Not until the end of her dissertation did she reveal that her dog was a stuffed toy.

I cautioned them against  approaching stray dogs, told them to always to ask the owner before approaching a dog, showed them how to let dogs sniff their hands as an introduction and encouraged them to treat dogs as they’d like to be treated — calmly, kindly and lovingly.

Ace made an impression on the children in several ways, I think –through his size alone, his gentleness and his back story: a stray adopted from the shelter, like most of the other Karma Dogs, who went on to try and help humans.

He also made an impression with his pawprint, stamped on each of the certificates that was handed out.

The teacher behind the event (who also took these photos) was Marite Edwards, a longtime friend of Ace’s. When she took the idea to her principal, she learned that the school and district were looking at ways to add dog safety and kindness to animals to the curriculum.

That another case of animal abuse surfaced in Baltimore over the weekend — that of a cat set on fire by two teenagers — confirmed just how much those lessons are needed.

You can find more information about Karma Dogs at its website.

(Photos by Marite Edwards)

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.)

Baltimore Humane Society seeking help

The Baltimore Humane Society is looking for a few good men, women and appliances.

Andrew S. Levine, executive director of the society, has issued a plea for cash donations and other items needed to upgrade the facility in Reisterstown.

Those items include:

- A propane boiler to heat the main shelter building

– A  5 ton 13 S.E.E.R Air Conditioning System for the dog kennel, where temperatures can rise to 110 degrees in the summer

– A washer and dryer

– A refrigerator to keep medications cool

– A backup power generator to keep shelter heat on in the winter when power goes out and to keep power on during surgeries

– An x-ray machine for pets that are dropped off at the shelter after being injured in accidents

– Painting services to repaint buildings, inside and out

– Updated fencing for kennels

– Roof and gutter repairs

– Construction labor

–Landscaping supplies and labor

Levine asked that anyone that can help contact him at (410) 561-7666

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.

Katrina documentary begins 80-city tour

An American Opera “Jane’s Trailer”

Tom McPhee and his award-winning documentary about pets during Hurricane Katrina — “An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever!” — are hitting the road on a year-long 80-city tour.

“The Rescue Party Tour” starts this month and will highlight local animal organizations in each city it visits (Baltimore’s not on the list yet).

The documentary is described as a “visceral, operatic vision of what happened to the pet owners of New Orleans who were forced to evacuate after Hurricane Katrina without their beloved pets, and the volunteers who came from all over the world to help.

“America suffered its worst domestic animal crisis in history when tens of thousands of animals were left to perish in neighborhoods all across the gulf. This heartfelt story follows the pets, vets, owners, officials, rescuers, and adopters of animals as they work through the chaos to do what is right, only to discover not everyone is working toward the same goal.”

For more information about the movie, visit its website.

For more information about the tour, see www.RescuePartyTour.com.

Local animal groups interested in showcasing the movie and their work in the community, can email rescuepartyinfo@mansmilingmovingpictures.com

Volunteers miss Christmas to rescue mill pups

Dozens of volunteers dropped their holiday plans to rescue about 80 puppy mill dogs in Missouri who probably otherwise wouldn’t have made it to the new year.

Now, the National Mill Dog Rescue Network is trying to find homes for all the dogs.

The network was contacted shortly before Christmas by a breeder in Missouri — a state known for its abundance of puppy mills — who wanted to surrender his animals, according to a report by TV station KKTV in Colorado Springs.

“When we asked if they could hold the dogs until after Christmas they let us know they would kill them,” said Helen Freeman, a member of the National Mill Dog Rescue Network.

So a group of volunteers dropped their holiday plans and left for Missouri.

When they got to Missouri Tuesday, another puppy mill owner contacted them, wanting to surrender his animals too. In the end, they returned with more than 80 dogs.

Since then, the dogs have been cleaned up, given medical attention and are enjoying their newfound freedom, Freeman said.

“It’s pretty exciting to watch the transformation from caged dog to, ‘hey, I get to play, I get to be free.’

The National Mill Dog Rescue Network says its more than 200 volunteers have saved more than 1,300 dogs over the last year and a half.

(Photo from National Mill Dog Rescue Network)

City seeks animal emergency volunteers

     One of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina — pretty much the same lesson the police officer in San Marcos, Texas learned — is that, no, it’s not just a dog.
    People will go to great lengths to save their pets, or even refuse to leave them behind in a disaster. And the public sentiment is clearly that pets deserve to be rescued as much as we do.
    In response to the demand for emergency preparedness plans for animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the National Disaster Animal Response Team was created, and states, counties and now cities have begun creating their own disaster response teams.

    The city of Baltimore is looking for volunteers to assist in forming a team that will rescue and care for animals during disasters and emergencies.

    At the state level, the teams are knowns as State Animal Response Teams or SARTs. At the city level, the teams will be knowns as CART (for City Animal Response Teams). Volunteers will be trained in animal emergency preparedness and response, according to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), which issued the call for volunteers. 

    For information about SART and CART, go to www.sartusa.org. For information about how you can get involved with the Baltimore CART volunteer group, contact Alexis Mitchell at alexisrizz@gmail.com

(Photo: Cover of “Pawprints of Katrina,” by Cathy Scott, Wiley Publishing, Inc.)

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