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.

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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.

The many faces of fetch

“Dog, you get dumber by the day.”

I lift my head from my book. Kevin is standing in the middle of our backyard talking to Galen. She is several yards away on a small island of black mulch that circles a tree near where our yard ends and our neighbor’s begins. Galen’s purple ball – it looks like an oversized kettle bell – rests on the ground in front of her. She picks it up by its handle, shakes it furiously, and then returns it to the earth.

“Bring the ball,” Kevin says for the third, maybe fourth, time. I watch the scene unfold from our deck – my husband and my dog are infinitely more interesting than the story I am reading.

Galen stands her ground. At this, Kevin turns and walks toward the back of our property, which stretches for two acres. Galen darts after him.

Kevin and Galen are engaged in a tug-of-war of sorts over the rules by which the game of fetch should be played. Kevin would prefer the traditional rules: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves. Dog returns ball to human. Galen prefers a more complex version of the game: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves ball and runs to the mulch (or to a mound of wood chips, remnants of a tree that once shaded the deck). Human approaches dog and repeatedly tries to kick ball out of dog’s mouth as dog raises her hips in the iconic downward-facing dog posture, all the while refusing to release the ball until the human says, “Drop it.”

Interestingly, Galen isn’t our first dog to refuse to play fetch the way the game was intended. Gryffin, too, established his own rules, which called for a stick in addition to a ball. In Gryffin’s version: Human throws stick. Dog retrieves it and waits for human to throw ball. Then, with stick in mouth, dog chases and then pounces on ball. Human walks to dog, grabs stick, then ball. In neither Galen’s nor Gryffin’s fetch does the dog return the ball to the human.

I often wonder how it is that Kevin and I raised two dogs who can’t play a traditional game of fetch. Sometimes I like to think it’s that we raised our dogs much like we are bringing up our daughters – to be creative, independent thinkers for whom we provide the parameters within which they are permitted a large percentage of freedom.

Other times, I concede that our dogs trained us better than we trained them.

Back from their walk, Galen grabs her purple ball by the handle and runs to Kevin. He pets her, heaps praise upon her. This is how the game is played, he tells her. Then he hurls the ball across the yard. Galen retrieves it and runs… back to the mulch. She shakes the ball and looks at Kevin expectantly. This time it is Kevin who stands his ground.

I smile inwardly. It will only be a few seconds before Kevin walks toward Galen. You see, she is the more stubborn of the two. And she’s no dummy. She knows she’s trained him well.

Galen

Galen and her favorite fetch-worthy ball.

Lilica’s Tale

I haven’t posted in a few months because I’ve been working on my book, which I’m thrilled to report is about 95% complete. Whew! But I came across this incredible story about a Brazilian dog named Lilica and decided it is just the kind of feel-good tale that will make every dog lover and even every non-dog lover smile. Be sure to watch the accompanying you-tube video to see Lilica in action and to see why the humans who know Lilica believe this junkyard dog can teach us all a lesson about caring for one another.  

http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2014/07/dog-travels-eight-miles-each-night-to-feed-her-friends/

I want my sleep back

When my younger daughter was an infant, she didn’t sleep. Not at night. Not at nap time. What she did was cry, especially in the evening, so I took it upon myself to diagnose her with colic. Thus, I had an explanation for why she cried and why there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The colic eventually passed, as did her habit of rising before the sun. She never took to napping, at least not until she went to daycare and was under somebody else’s watch. It took several years, but now she sleeps like a champ.

Over that long haul, I came to savor a good night’s sleep. And I’ve become adept at getting one.

But recently, Galen has started messing with my beauty rest.

When Galen was a puppy, Kevin and I let her hang out on our bed while we watched TV or read, but she slept in a pen in the corner of the bedroom. As she got older, she became less interested in the pen, so we took to bribing her with American cheese. One night, she refused the bribe. She looked at me, looked at the cheese, and didn’t move. I put the cheese under her nose so she could get a good whiff. Nothing. I picked her up, put her in the pen, gave her the cheese, and turned out the light.

Almost immediately, whining. Kevin and I ignored it. More whining. More ignoring. The whining got louder. Is a dog like a baby, we wondered? Should we let her whine it out? If we did, would she wake our daughters? How many nights would it take? Because we each had work the next day, we let Galen back onto the bed. We agreed to take a hard line over the weekend.

The weekend came and went.

Once Galen sensed she was on the bed to stay, she left the no-man’s land at the foot of the bed to nestle her fifty-eight pound frame up against Kevin. That proved problematic, because Kevin doesn’t sleep well. He tosses and turns and wakes during the night. Having nearly sixty pounds of dead weight inhibiting all that movement made his pursuit of zzz’s all the more challenging. He started threatening to put Galen back in the pen; she would whine, he said, but she would get over it.

I cringed. When we wanted our daughters to sleep through the night, we let them cry. But for some reason, I couldn’t do that to Galen.

Perhaps I should have.

A few weeks ago, Galen settled into a new night-time routine. She jumps off our bed at lights out and retreats to the family room to curl up in her crate. Then, around 4:40 a.m. – I think the delivery of our newspaper must wake her – she returns, lies next to me, and because I’m a side sleeper, she whacks me on the back with her paw. I give her head or belly a quick rub. When I stop, she whacks me again. And again. Until I pet her. If I stop, whack. This goes on until my alarm goes off.

If Galen persists, I may be inclined to do something I’ve repeatedly said I do not want to do: I might have to cancel the newspaper.

Father Time

He looks old.

That was my first thought – and my second. It hit me in the gut. It hadn’t been what I’d expected. Not that I’d expected anything, really; I hadn’t thought about what he’d look like. I’d just really wanted to see him, and now, incredibly, I was.

The first time I met Maurice was thirteen years ago at my friend Daphne’s Atlanta home. He was about three months old and ridiculously cute – a pint-sized golden boy with a charcoal snout and ears that pointed skyward. He made me want one of my own – not an unusual reaction to playing with a puppy. What was unusual was what happened next.

I adopted one.

Gryffin was Maurice’s brother and he, with the rest of their litter, was at the DeKalb County Humane Society outside Atlanta. I could have chosen any one of the puppies, but something about Gryffin spoke to me. Like Maurice, Gryffin was golden with charcoal accents he’d later outgrow, but whereas Maurice’s ears stood tall, Gryffin’s flopped forward.

For two Southern boys, the dogs lived very little of their lives in the South. Gryffin came with me to Philadelphia, then to suburban New Jersey. Maurice went with Daphne to Israel. Now, thirteen years after meeting Maurice, I was seeing him again – this time, in Tel Aviv; this time, with Kevin and our daughters. We scoured Maurice’s face for some resemblance to Gryffin, who we’d had to put down three years earlier. A tumor we hadn’t known was tucked behind his ribcage burst and filled his belly with blood – one day he was playing ball in the backyard, the next he was gone. So we stared at Maurice, and we saw Gryffin in his snout and in his eyes, still not in his ears.

Kevin said he felt closure, that seeing Maurice in life somehow allowed him to let go of Gryffin in a way that had before been elusive. My feelings were messy. Maurice moved slowly. Stairs were a struggle. He looked weary. Part of me found comfort in knowing that Gryffin never slowed, never struggled with steps, never faced the frailties, the fears that accompany old age. But, I wondered – have been wondering – did I feel that comfort for him or for me? Seeing the toll that Father Time was taking on Maurice hit me unexpectedly, sending me on an emotional rollercoaster I wasn’t prepared for.

It’s been almost two months since I saw Maurice, and I’m still struggling to come to terms with my feelings – about what they mean and about what they might say about me and my ability to face old age be it in a dog, a family member, or myself.