Superdogs

Police accuse a New Jersey woman of suffocating to death four five-week-old American Bulldogs by stuffing them in a cooler.

Puppy Doe Photo from the Animal Rescue Leage

Puppy Doe
Photo from the Animal Rescue Leage

A Massachusetts resident finds a lifeless young Pit Bull near a Quincy park. “Puppy Doe,” as she is called, has so many broken bones and stab wounds, is so malnourished and weak, that veterinarians can’t save her.

A night-time break-in at a Georgia shelter leaves three dogs dead and fifteen injured. Police say it’s possible that the shelter’s dogs were attacked by dogs brought in by people involved in dog fighting, who wanted to prep their dogs for future fights.

I read about each of the above heartrending cases in the past several weeks. The stories are hard to stomach. I’d love to write that they are unique, aberrations. But they are not. Dogs are the victims of abuse and cruelty more often than any other animal, according to Pet-Abuse.com.

They deserve so much better.

These stories got me thinking about a foundation started in September by Leigh Ann Errico, a friend of a friend. The kidkind foundation and its companion website, www.wearthecapekids.com, are committed to making our communities better places to live, by “restoring the power of kindness and good character.” Errico, the mother of four, writes she’s been disheartened by “the seemingly never-ending string of jaw-dropping news stories,” of incivility, of cyber-bullying, of people treating others in ways they would never want to be treated themselves.

The idea behind “Wear the Cape” is that “we are all everyday heroes, or at least capable of being heroes by doing the right thing, the kind thing, the helping and inclusive thing.” Dogs wear the cape every day: They love us, protect us, are our most loyal friends and trusted teachers. And they do all of this unconditionally.

Perhaps one of their greatest gifts is that dogs help parents raise children in ways that benefit all of society. Here’s how: Researchers investigating the human-animal bond routinely find that children who grow up with a dog have greater compassion, tolerance, and empathy for others.

sisters

sisters

Like so many parents, my husband and I are trying to instill empathy in our daughters. We are fortunate to have Galen to help us in this endeavor. She is there every morning to wake our girls with a cold wet nose to the face. She is there every afternoon, the first to greet them when they get off the school bus. (I remain in the house and watch from the window as their backpacks fall to the ground, smiles brighten their faces, and they drop to their knees to say hello to their tail-wagging sister who’s as thrilled to see them as they are to see her.) I see their love for Galen grow every time they pet her, kiss her, talk to her. And she never fails to return the affection.

Just as dogs are our heroes, we need to be theirs. And that leads me to one other story I read this past week: A two-year-old Pit Bull riddled with bullets was left to die on an Arizona mountain trail. A female hiker found the dog and carried its limp, 47-pound body down the mountain, saving its life. She named the dog Elijah, and her family is now fostering him.

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“I don’t get people.”

“I just don’t  understand why animals are treated this way.  I don’t get people.”

This statement was uttered months ago by Linda Wilferth, who runs Catnip Friends Rescue. We were talking in a Flemington, New Jersey pet store, in the company of the puppies and dogs, kittens and cats, she’s rescued from Southern shelters, and in the case of some her cats – right off of New Jersey’s streets. Linda wasn’t referring to any particular dog or cat or situation – just to the plight of mistreated animals at the hands of humans.

I thought of Linda’s comment after reading about the recent dog-fighting bust that spanned four states – Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas; led to the arrest of twelve people; and the seizure of firearms, drugs, and more than $500,000 cash. It was the second largest dog-fighting bust in U.S. history. The federal raid was three years in the making.

But what now of the dogs – the 367 of them who range in age from just several days to twelve years? According to the ASPCA, the dogs “had been left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Many [were] emaciated with scars and wounds consistent with dog fighting, and some were tethered by chains and cables that were attached to cinder blocks and car tires.”

How many will be able to be rehabilitated after living such abuse-filled lives? How much fear of humans these dogs must foster in their abused bodies and souls. Yet, it will be left to humans – experts at places like the ASPCA and HSUS – to try to help these dogs overcome their fear of people, in the hope they can live out their lives with those who will treat them with the love and the respect they – and all dogs – deserve.

The puppies have the best shot at rehabilitation, as they have suffered the least, if only because of their short lives.

This puppy wears a chain typical of dog fighting victims.  - ASPCA

This puppy wears a chain typical of dog fighting victims.
– ASPCA

You can see more pictures of this puppy on the ASPCA’s blog, and you can read one rescuer’s firsthand account of what he witnessed at one of the properties.

The puppy after being rescued. - ASPCA

The puppy after being rescued. – ASPCA

Looking at this puppy’s sweet face, I can’t help but echo Linda’s simple statement.

“I just don’t  understand why animals are treated this way.  I don’t get people.”

The Fix

In September of 2000, Gryffin was on death row. I was just too naïve to know it. When I met him at an Atlanta-area shelter, I saw only an adorable 12-week-old puppy awaiting a home. He was black and gold and as friendly and clumsy as most puppies, but compared with his littermates, he was remarkably calm.  His paperwork revealed he was a Retriever/Chow mix; the shelter named him Rebel.  He was irresistible. I called Kevin, who was then my fiancé, and pleaded my case – Rebel’s case. The next day, Gryffin – the dog formerly known as Rebel – came home with me.

Gryffin using a sleeping Kevin as his pillow.

But what if we hadn’t adopted him?  What if no one had? Then Gryffin would likely be dead, because each year in Georgia, more than 80% of dogs and cats at county shelters are killed, an estimated 300,000 animals, at a cost to state taxpayers of $100 million. Pregnant dogs and cats are killed upon drop-off.

“An epidemic is what it is,” says Ginny Millner, one of the founders of Fix Georgia Pets, an organization tackling the crisis of pet overpopulation, and “euthanasia isn’t the answer.”

For those of us living in the Northeast and on the West Coast, spaying and neutering dogs is common.  In fact, Nora Parker, at New Jersey’s St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, says it’s rare for dogs dropped off at its shelters not to be fixed.

That’s not the case across much of the South, where attitudes about dogs reflect the region’s rural and agrarian history. “People thought of dogs as animals, not pets,” says a good friend raised on a ten-acre farm in north Georgia. “A pet is something you care for. It lives inside the house; it is a companion.” Growing up, she says, people had “yard dogs” for protection. “If they didn’t protect your house they weren’t any good.” Healthcare for a dog, including spaying and neutering, was unthinkable.  “People didn’t have extra money to spend on their kids, forget their dogs,” she says. So dogs lived outside the house, roaming freely, procreating at will.

Unfortunately today, much remains the same throughout large swaths of the South, resulting in females birthing litters that give rise to more litters.  The numbers are so great that the ASPCA reports that “areas of the south are overwhelmed with more dogs than loving homes.”  That’s why several rescue groups in the Northeast pull dogs from southern shelters, usually just days before the dogs are scheduled to be killed.

But rescue isn’t the solution, according to Ginny Millner, and no one in rescue disagrees. The term “band-aid” is bandied around a lot when talk turns to rescue. The solution – and the challenge – is getting dogs spayed and neutered.

Fix Georgia Pets, founded in March, is a non-profit organization devoted to raising awareness about responsible pet ownership and providing grants to clinics and organizations that provide low- and no-cost spay and neuter services to Georgia residents. Its goal:  raise $5 million dollars to spay and neuter 100,000 animals in the next two years.

“It’s got to be done and it’s got to be done soon,” says Ginny Millner, “because the more you wait, the more animals you have.” And that means more animals living on deathrow.

Gryffin, about four months old: spoiled, happy and very much loved.

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Ginny Millner hopes Fix Georgia Pets will be a model replicated throughout the South. To learn more, go to www.fixgeorgiapets.org.