A manipulative little …

Kevin and I are in agreement when it comes to our parenting philosophy—we occupy that middle ground between helicopter parenting and free range parenting. But the rules differ when it comes to Galen. I spoil her, and Kevin, well, he grudgingly lets me, even when doing so leaves him lacking one of humankind’s most basic needs: a good night’s sleep.

You see, Kevin claims there is a causal relationship between his lack of sleep and our four-year-old pup’s presence on our bed. Perhaps, but for as long as I’ve known Kevin—almost two decades—he’s been a poor sleeper. I will concede, however, that having fifty-eight pounds of sacked-out dog inhibiting him from tossing and turning doesn’t serve his cause—though I gather all that tossing and turning doesn’t either. (I, on the other hand, rather enjoy when Galen presses her furry self up against me as if I were one of her littermates.)

I keep a sheet on the bed to keep fur off the comforter. Galen beat the sheet onto the bed.

I keep a sheet on the bed to keep fur off the comforter. This night, Galen beat the sheet onto the bed.

The irony of our situation is that Galen is only on the bed because one night, when she was a puppy, Kevin got lazy. Initially, Galen would hang with us, on the bed, until lights out. Then we would put her in what we called her “jail”—a metal pen at the foot of the bed that surrounded a large, comfortable dog bed. (I’m confident in its creature comfort because Gryffin slept on it for years—by choice.)

One night, when Galen was about a year old and I was out of town, Kevin was so exhausted he didn’t jail her.

You know what happened next.

No amount of American cheese could lure Galen back into her pen, and if we picked her up and placed her in it, she whined … and whined. So we did what we’d never done when our daughters cried in their cribs—we gave in.

Of course, we’re not alone in our habit of canine co-sleeping—several recent studies have found that nearly 50 percent of dog owners sleep with their four-legged friend–and Kevin isn’t alone in bemoaning its negative effects. Indeed, according to a study presented at last year’s annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, 30 percent of co-sleepers reported being awakened by their dog at least once a night, 63 percent reported their sleep quality suffered, and 5 percent said they had trouble falling back to sleep once awake.

Still, as Bill Barol writes in Why It’s So Wrong—But So Right—To Sleep With Your Pets, many sleep-deprived dog owners, like himself, choose deprivation over kicking their pet out of bed. His take on why: “Dogs are the greatest human-manipulators on the planet.”

The great manipulator.

The great manipulator.

I’d agree, as would Kevin. Many times I’ve heard him refer to Galen—lovingly, mind you, perhaps even admiringly—as a “manipulative little b*tch.” It’s his term of endearment for the girl who curls up beside him, and between us, each and every night.

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A dog of a cat

I played fetch with a cat.

Yes, you read that right.

A black and white cat enamored with a tiny stuffed toy that resembles a Christmas stocking, only it’s hot pink with a silver cross-stitch, not red.

The entire experience was striking. First, I had no idea that cats fetched. Fetching, so far as I knew, is something dogs do—even if, like Galen, they don’t necessarily do it well. Second, I’m not a cat person (sorry, cat people). I was scratched by a cat when I was four or five, and I’ve never quite gotten over my ensuing fear. I’m also allergic, so I do my best to avoid cats completely.

But now I’ve met Tuxedo, and I’m rethinking my antipathy.

Tuxedo and a  favorite toy

Tuxedo and a
favorite toy

Tuxedo—he’s aptly named—lives with a fabulous seamstress who rescued me when I was in desperate need of someone to quickly and expertly tailor several dance costumes to fit my twelve-year-old’s slender frame.

When I picked up the costumes, I brought still one more, and the seamstress offered to sew it on the spot. So while she stitched, I sunk into the black leather couch in her living room. I was about to reach into my purse, which I’d set on the coffee table, when Tuxedo jumped up and began rubbing the right side of his head and his long white whiskers back and forth across the top of the purse. Wonderful, I thought. Cat hair. I glared at him.

Perhaps sensing my displeasure, Tuxedo stepped away from the bag—and me. But only temporarily. In the time it took me to pull my phone from my purse, he returned. But not to the table—to the couch. And he brought his tiny pink toy, which he dropped in my lap. Instinctively I threw it, and he retrieved it. I looked at him quizzically. Cats don’t fetch, I thought. I do, he seemed to respond, batting the toy against my leg. I threw it again and again.

The seamstress told me Tuxedo hides toys throughout the house, so no matter where he is, he has a toy at the ready. She added that he’s been fetching since she brought him home several years ago from a New Jersey shelter.

While researching my book, Dogland, my focus was on the plight of shelter dogs, but in my travels, I learned that the situation for homeless cats in this country is even more tenuous. According to the American Humane Association, an estimated 71 percent of cats that enter U.S. animal shelters are euthanized. This is largely due to a burgeoning population of feral cats and the fact that fewer cats than dogs—only 2 percent of cats—are reunited with their owners.

My younger daughter would love us to adopt a cat. In her stuffed animal days she collected an assortment of cats in various sizes and colors—one even meowed and moved its limbs. She holds my cat allergy against me and says that when she lives on her own, she will adopt both a dog and a cat. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I hope she does.

And I hope, like Tuxedo, the cat will play fetch. I’m game!

Beyond Rescue

Don’t get me wrong. I believe spreading the word about the need for more people to adopt dogs from animal shelters is vitally important, quite literally a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of dogs nationwide. So it’s wonderful that after the football game on Thanksgiving day, FOX television plans to air Cause for Paws, a two-hour celebrity-packed program devoted to the plight of shelter dogs. The show – the brainchild of a TV-producer who says his pit bull rescues inspired the project – is entertainment and fundraiser rolled into one.

But rescue alone isn’t going to solve the crisis of overcrowded animal shelters – a crisis that results in the euthanization of about four million healthy, adoptable dogs and cats in U.S. shelters each year. If we, as a country, are going to stop the killing, we must increase the number of pets that get spayed and neutered.

I’m sure Cause for Paws will address spay/neuter; I’m sure that a celebrity or two will urge pet owners to fix their pets. The problem is, not every pet owner has access to a spay/neuter facility and many of those who do simply can’t afford to pay for the procedure.

According to SpayFirst director Ruth Steinberger, fewer than ten states have accessible and affordable spay/neuter services available to pet owners. Accessibility, Steinberger argues, means having a veterinary clinic, a spay/neuter facility, or a program that transports pets to a facility within fifty miles of a pet owner’s home. Affordability means the cost of the surgery is less than what a low-wage or minimum-wage worker makes in a day, which is about $50.

A number of people I spoke with in the course of reporting Dogland – those on the front lines of the battle to save lives – lamented that not enough attention surrounding our shelter crisis goes to spay/neuter. As one shelter volunteer in Tennessee told me, “They’re making them twelve at a time and we’re adopting them out one at a time. So, we’ve got a math problem.”

Getting people energized about rescue is easy: Who can resist homeless dogs and puppies in all their adorableness? Getting people energized about spay/neuter is more challenging.

So I leave you with this thought: On Thanksgiving evening, donations will flood in to Cause for Paws, and that money will be granted to organizations doing the critical work of rescue. But this holiday season, if, like me, you are inclined to give charitably to animal welfare organizations, consider donating to a non-profit working to save lives in a way that may be less cute and cuddly, but is just as important.

***

Here are several organizations working to make spay/neuter affordable and accessible:

Pets for Life  *  Coalition to Unchain Dogs  *  SpayFirst

Any well-regarded low-cost spay/neuter clinic, such as Gaston Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, and the Humane Alliance

Found: Lost Dog

He’s lost fifteen pounds. He’s weak. But he’s home.

Following my post about Louie, the black Lab who disappeared after his owner’s car — which Louie was in — was stolen from the parking lot of a Philadelphia Home Depot, I’ve gotten several emails and texts asking if Louie was ever found. My answer has always been, “No.” Until now.

According to the local ABC affiliate, Louie and JJ Pierce were reunited Friday night, forty-three days after Louie went missing. Apparently a couple that knew of Louie’s story found him and notified Pierce through her Help Louie Get Home facebook page. The couple then delivered the dog to Philadelphia Animal Hospital where Pierce retrieved him. Doctors told Pierce that aside from the weight loss, Louie was in good condition.

So many people were touched by Louie’s story that his facebook page numbers over 16,000 followers, people who didn’t know Pierce participated in organized Philly-wide  searches for her missing dog, and WPVI led its Friday night newscast with the story of Pierce and Louie’s reunion.

Too often we hear stories that don’t have happy endings, so it’s wonderful to know that this one does — that a lost dog has been found and will once again live the spoiled and love-filled life that every dog deserves.

Help find: Lost Dog

I gave Galen a hug this morning. And a kiss. And another hug. I’d just read a story about a dog gone missing and an owner desperate to find him. I needed to hug her.

On October 9, J.J. Pierce, a young high school teacher who recently moved from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia to teach and pursue a master’s degree, ran into a South Philly Home Depot. When she came out, her red Honda CR-V was gone – and so was her dog, Louie. The black Lab, a rescue and the love of Pierce’s life, had been in the car awaiting her return.

Five days after being stolen, police found the Honda abandoned in North Philly. They haven’t found Louie. Nor have the scores of people who have joined Pierce walking the streets of the city, scouring the local shelters, searching for what is very likely a scared and confused black Lab.

Pierce started a Facebook page, Help Louie Get Home, filled with the kinds of pictures every dog owner has and cherishes: Dog, pink tongue dangling from open mouth. Dog, hiking. Dog, lying on lap. Dog, looking lovingly yet quizzically into the camera. “My favorite part of my day is when I get to go through photos of Louie to select one for my post,” Pierce writes. “Tonight, I found this one and immediately started crying. I miss Louie more than I can handle right now and would do anything to have him home.”

Louie

Louie

Pierce is offering a reward for Louie. Flyers are posted, and billboards are going up around the city, paid for by money raised through a campaign she’s calling Help Louie Get Home! The more publicity she gets for Louie, the more likely it is that he will be returned to her.

If losing her dog was not devastating enough, Pierce also has had to contend with people criticizing her for leaving Louie in the car while she completed her errand, as though his going missing were somehow her fault. It’s not. (How many of us have not done exactly the same thing?) Still, how many times a day must she think to herself, “If only I’d left him home.”

Let’s hope that Louie is safe. That he is not hungry or hurt. That he finds his way home to a young woman who so clearly loves her handsome boy. And let’s give our own dogs an extra hug or two. We are so very fortunate to have them in our lives.

***

Please forward this post to anyone you know who lives in Philadelphia. If Louie is to be found, it will likely be because of the publicity his story is getting.  And for more about the search, check out Pierce’s Facebook page.

Autumn Book News

I’ve always loved the way autumn ushers itself into the northeastern United States: Leaves turn orange and amber and yellow; the sky, devoid of clouds, shines the brightest lightest blue; and summer’s heat and humidity retreat, leaving the air brisk and invigorating. This is also the time of year that the Jewish people celebrate the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are days of reflection, when we contemplate the year behind us and welcome the new one stretching before us.

Four years ago, Rosh Hashanah fell on a gorgeous fall day. My family had yet to go to synagogue, had yet to read the passage about this being the time of year when God makes his plans for how each of us will experience the year ahead. But apparently God had already made his plans for our dog, Gryffin, because that Rosh Hashanah morning, in the car with my husband and our eldest daughter, en route to the Sourland Mountains for an hour-long hike, a tumor that we hadn’t known was tucked behind Gryffin’s ribcage ruptured. Several hours later, our boy was dead, and we were sitting in a pew in our synagogue wrestling with our grief and our shock.

I didn’t know then that I would look back at that day as the start of a new journey – a journey that would begin with my family adopting Galen, a rescue dog from a North Carolina animal shelter, and that would culminate with the publication of my first book.

That book, Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem will be released by Ashland Creek Press next autumn. (Despite living in the digital age, book publishing moves at a pace seemingly closer to that of the Gutenberg press than that of the Internet.)

Dogland is Galen’s story, and it is the story of the South, where, more than in any other region of the country, healthy, adoptable dogs in overcrowded animal shelters are euthanized to make room for the next ones that will inevitably come through their doors. And it is the story of humble visionaries who believe there is a home for every shelter dog, that spay/neuter rates can rise in the even the poorest communities, and that the South’s children – the next generation of dog owners – can transform a culture. What’s more, they believe that their ideas and their passion can transcend the South to the many communities throughout the United States where euthanasia is used to remedy the problems of shelter overpopulation.

In the coming months I will be moving this blog to a new website built to herald the release of Dogland. I hope you will come with me, that you will continue to support this blog, and that you will consider purchasing (and reading) Dogland. All the proceeds from the book will be funneled back to the people and programs working to end shelter euthanasia, which remains the leading cause of canine death in the United States.

-Jacki

The Dogs of Magnolia, Arkansas

They are malnourished. They have mange. Veterinarians who have examined them say they are in “deplorable physical and mental condition.” They are the dogs of the Magnolia, Arkansas city pound. Fifty-nine have been rescued. They are being vetted, rehabilitated, fostered. They will be adopted into loving families.

But what of all the other dogs finding their way into the shelter? What will their futures hold?

Here are the facts: Structurally, the city-run shelter in Magnolia consists of a metal roof over a concrete floor – there are no walls. The dogs live in chain link pens exposed to the elements. In a statement to the local newspaper, Magnolia’s mayor said the “pound” is meant to be a holding facility for strays, not a rescue shelter. The city, he said, appropriates no money for animal care. “If a dog comes in sick, there is a good chance that dog will infect the rest of the dogs in the pound. The pound doesn’t have the funding or manpower to prevent this.”

A single animal control officer runs the facility – the mayor calls him “a one man show.” He is charged with collecting strays, responding to citizens’ calls, cleaning the pens, and feeding the dogs. Should no one claim a dog within five days – the mayor says most pet owners don’t – the city is authorized to euthanize it. Only recently, this wasn’t happening. People familiar with the shelter say the officer was trying to save lives, to give the dogs every chance at adoption. So a facility built to hold fifteen-to-twenty dogs held nearly sixty. But the officer couldn’t – or didn’t – care for the dogs, and their health and their living situation deteriorated. (The cynic in me wonders if there might also have been external pressure from the city not to euthanize, as the procedure, done by a local vet, is paid for out of the city’s coffers.)

A volunteer with H&P Animal Alliance learned of the dogs’ squalid living conditions and fading health and went public, posting a video on YouTube. Then she persuaded the city to let the group rescue the fifty-nine dogs, and she found an organization larger than hers – Big Fluffy Dog Rescue of Nashville, Tennessee – to take them in, rehabilitate them, and adopt them out.

What now for the Magnolia shelter? The mayor says this “mistake” will not happen again: Dogs not claimed by their owners, adopted, or pulled by a rescue during the holding period will be euthanized. “We receive such a large volume of animals due to negligent owners that I’m concerned that we will not be able to keep the appropriate numbers at the pound without euthanizing some animals,” the mayor’s statement said.

In Magnolia – in communities throughout the country with overcrowded shelters – the answer to shelter overpopulation should not be euthanasia. What’s more, the answer will not be found inside the shelter. It must come from pet owners who no longer forego fixing their pets and from communities that make spay/neuter surgery accessible and affordable. Barring this, shelter euthanasia will continue to be the leading cause of canine death in the United States. That, like the situation in Magnolia, is as tragic as it is infuriating.

***

U.S. shelters are a hodge podge of public, private, and public-private entities that operate under the auspices of the municipalities, counties, and states in which they are located. In many states oversight is insufficient and ineffective. In others, like Arkansas, there is no oversight, as there are no regulations regarding even minimal standards of care. It is with this knowledge that Big Fluffy Dog Rescue is asking people to sign a petition requesting the federal government hold shelters to the same minimal standards that the USDA holds commercial breeders in order to prevent cruelty and abuse. Says Jean Harrison of Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, “If the states will not act, the federal government must.” The petition can be found at change.org.

One more thing: According to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, vetting the Magnolia dogs will cost the rescue upwards of $50,000 because the dogs are in such poor condition. Click on the links if you would like to learn more about the Magnolia dogs and Big Fluffy Dog Rescue or if you would like to make a donation.