Thursday, July 31, 2008

Politics of the grapevine

(This first part from a response to a previous comment)

From my perspective, and my perspective may very well have a limited view, TAS is mandated to serve the public interest by enforcing the laws our politicians manufacture including what many consider to be ill-conceived ones. Above and beyond enforcing the murky letter of the law, there are people within the facility where I volunteer who have a genuine concern for the welfare of abandoned dogs (and cats and guinea pigs and hamsters and pot bellied pigs, etc.). In fact, for those good people, I would say that is their prime concern and it is they who have led the charge to turn TAS into a shelter instead of just a pound. There is much done for the care and safety of all breeds that goes unnoticed, largely because TAS would rather spend their money on dog food than on PR.

I can't say I agree with everything TAS does but I have come to realize that there is sometimes a big difference between the politicians and bureaucrats who create laws which pander to paranoia versus the front line workers, who may not necessarily fully agree with those laws but whose job it is to see those laws carried out. It's a difficult balance to keep and I can only hope that one day the laws made to regulate animals will better align with the laws made for the welfare of animals.

A couple of days ago, a letter from a local Border Collie rescue asking for foster families from amongst it membership was cross-posted onto Craigslist. In this huge public space, without any relevant background explanation, the message stated that five Border Collie puppies were going to be euthanized by Toronto Animal Services unless something was immediately done. What started out as a Toronto Animal Services rescue mission for the five puppies had very quickly been internet transformed into "How can TAS be so cruel as to kill a bunch of puppies?" Toronto Animal Services and the people in charge of TAS immediately began receiving outraged e-mails, faxes and telephone calls about this.

In the past, when I said that the shelter program at TAS is a balancing act, I should have said that it is a very precarious balancing act. The recent influx of negative feedback into TAS has put the shelter aspect of TAS under threat because this fallout suddenly becomes ammunition for those who would use any reason, including adverse publicity, to shut it down. These nameless, nervous nelly opponents of a shelter program are more worried about the possibility of generating bad PR than the fact that hundreds of dog lives are saved every year. However well-intentioned the outcry of concern for the puppies was, it may have had an ill effect on the lives of dogs who find their way to TAS in the future.

But, there is a fix for this and it's pretty obvious. Communicate to TAS and the people in charge of TAS to let this public facility continue its good work in dog sheltering and rescue. If you have a voice and are concerned about this, use it now. E-mail them, fax them, call them with an appeal to keep on finding homes for those pets which have been abused and abandoned. Do not let thin skinned politicians and bureaucrats be frightened off from doing the right thing by internet churned misunderstandings. Do not let Toronto Animal Services slide back into being merely a city pound which is more concerned about animal management than animal welfare. If you have a voice, please use it now.

Addendum: This is their main telephone number, 416 338 7297, and this is the fax number for the south branch, 416 338 6688.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

5 - part 2

Continued from previous.

It took a while, what with all the squealing and gnashing of its miniature teeth, but I finally managed to pick up the baby raccoon without scaring it to death. It was the size of a grapefruit as it lay curled up rigid in my hands. I didn't want it getting a heart attack from too much handling, if raccoons even get heart attacks, so I was going to just quickly place it over the fence where its siblings were hanging on the tree branch but as I was bringing it over, it started to move. It uncurled. It looked at me. It sniffed. And then it relaxed. I stopped and we stared at each other for a few seconds before I reached out with it in my hand and tried to put it down on the tree limb where its siblings were waiting for it. It didn't want to go onto the limb. Instead it tried to climb down my arm. I picked it up with my other hand and had to place it down on the branch, had to make sure it had a good grip on the branch before I quickly let it go and withdrew my hand.

After my first encounter with the Border Collie pups, I go back into the room where they are kept and try to feed them some dried liver snacks. I have it on good authority (from my two discerning canines at home) that most dogs looove liver snacks. I try to woo the tan and white one first. It sniffs the snack, looks at me, sniffs the snack. It licks its lips, yawns, looks at me, sniffs the snack. The licking and yawning are classic signals of anxiety in a dog. It wants the snack but my presence is making it too anxious to eat. Maybe it thinks I will get angry if I see it eating the snack. Maybe it's performance anxiety. I don't know. But I do know it's not shying away like it did earlier. It's not moving to the back of its kennel as far away from me as possible.

I try out the other pup that seemed to hold some promise. I push in a snack and this black and white pup exhibits the same behaviour as his brother. A lot of interest in the food accompanied by anxiety signals and no actual eating. But there's something different about this one. It's actually interested in my presence. It's staying near the front of the cage, leaning against the door, looking at me. There's maybe even a slight wagging of the tail.

I open the door slowly, not wanting to startle it. It backs up, but not all the way. Then its head peaks out from around the corner. Then it takes a step forward. Then another step. Then it comes to me and puts its muzzle into my hands.



I go tell James about this, that maybe they're not all hopeless and he tells me that he's already phoned a few rescue people who are going to drop by to have a look at them.

Kylie and Karie show up to meet the tan and white one. It starts out as a struggle for the young dog but his fear gives way to curiosity then the beginnings of trust. They take the dog home with them.



Luan from Border Collie rescue also shows up and she ends up taking two of the Collies with her. The worst one and the best one, she says. She is cautiously optimistic about them. She's had experience with extremely shy dogs before and has managed to bring them around.

The fourth one is also spoken for by a foster but will have to wait a couple of days before it gets picked up. That's not such an ordeal for this guy because it's not doing too badly in his kennel. At least it's eating.

The fifth one, is a different story. It hasn't touched its food in several days. It just tries to keep still, hoping whatever scary thing lurking around the corner might pass it by. It seems to be always up on its claws, like it's afraid of the hard, shiny floor. James was originally going to drive it up to Anne and Pete's Foster Home for Dogs the following day, as they'd agreed to take it, but now he's thinking it would be better to get the dog out sooner.

Three hours later, I'm driving up the 400 and the last Border Collie puppy to be fostered is pissing in the back of my car.

Continued here.

Update on Smiley

From Smiley's new owner:

Hi Fred,

My partner, Catherine, and I have wanted a dog for a long time now and until recently were not in a position to do so. Early in our search for our dog we had spotted Smiley’s profile online. Catherine was immediately drawn to Smiley’s story and was especially moved by the fact that she had broken her leg. The fact that she has a permanent limp didn’t lessen our interest in her; we were willing to put in the extra effort if needed. However, I was a little skeptical of what this dog would be like…

That all changed when we actually met Smiley. In a room of other barking dogs we found her, quietly wagging her tail. She was calm, sweet tempered and very beautiful. It didn’t take too long while playing with her for us to make our decision; we adopted her the next day.

At this point we still had no idea about what had gone on in Smiley’s past. I contacted Toronto Animal Services to get some information so that our vet could have a clearer picture of her broken leg. Elizabeth Abbott got back to me to explain Smiley’s past. Her story really moved us. Not so much the fact that she was injured by a car or that she lived on the streets of Serbia but that she had all that happen and still came out smiling. She is one of the most loving dogs we have met and I baffled as to why that is. She is truly a remarkable and special dog. Catherine and I are grateful for the rescue efforts of Ms. Lowther and Ms. Abbott. Without their support we never would have met the best dog living today!

Currently Smiley loves her new home. It took no time for her to settle in. She has more playful energy than she knows what to do with and I think she’s about the only one who doesn’t know she has a limp. It’s hard to keep up with her on her walks! The only downside is that she loves us too much; it’s really hard to leave for work when we know she misses us so much. It doesn’t help that Catherine and I spoil her every minute we are home with her however, we like to think she deserves it!

Thanks so much!

Nathan Goold.

P.S. Enclosed are some pictures of Smiley enjoying her new home!


Adoption update for Irene

Irene has been adopted by someone who works in the attorney general's office so we know she'll be behaving herself. All the best to Irene and her new owner.

5 - part 1


Maybe some guy is cruising on Kijiji, that great on-line advertising venue for backyard breeders and puppy profiteers, and sees a load of ads selling puppies for $500 a pop and thinks, "Fuck yeah, I could do that," so he gets a couple of Collie types together and mates them and a while later out pops a bunch of pups. Maybe they all make it, maybe some of them die, who knows, but he ends up with five. Very cute puppies, of course, and he can feel the filthy lucre already splayed across his greasy palms. His knowledgeable friends tell him he'll make a killing with these pups even though none of them actually want to take any of the pups home themselves. One friend maybe mentions it to his girlfriend, asks if she'd like a little ball of fur but she says, "Fuck that, I'm not picking up crap".

The puppies may have started out in a box inside the house, but after a couple of weeks the novelty's worn off, their mewling's getting to the guy and now they're pissing and shitting all over, so the guy puts them in the backyard where he doesn't have to smell them or hear them and anyway there's all sorts of junk they can crawl under for shelter if they need it.

Four weeks in and word of mouth isn't selling the pups so maybe the guy eventually gets an ad out on Kijiji and lists them at what he thinks is a bargain price at least compared to what those snooty registered breeders would sell them for.

His ad goes something like this: "Bargain Price!! AMAZING, BEAUTIFUL true English Style border collie babies! Super Calm, gentle, brown, white and black. Parents great dogs. Fathers dad grand champion! Parents registered. Shots, wormed, vet certified healthy! Father working towards his Therapy Dog Certificate". Maybe he attaches to his ad a couple of pictures of Border Collie puppies he's found on the internet that look close enough to his own pups.

He waits for customers to call but no one calls. Not one person. When the lack of response starts to sink in, the guy decides he'd better lower the price. The puppies are starting to be a pain in the ass. His friends are no longer interested in coming over to see them. Some of his friends are actually snickering behind his back about his stupid puppy money making scheme. He starts to resent the puppies and doesn't interact with them at all except to throw them food and water every so often. As a matter of fact, no one interacts with the pups.

It's three months in and even with the lowered price, still no one calls for the pups.

Maybe someone does eventually call, say at month seven, now that the guy's lowered his price even further. Maybe this guy actually does get a call from someone and manages to talk that person into coming over and taking a look at them. "They're fuckin' cute," he says. "And they're really fuckin' smart. They're great with kids and you can make 'em fuckin' guard dogs, too. Protect your house." So that person who's bargain hunting for a dog for her kids goes to this guy's house and the guy takes her into the backyard. Unfortunately, by this point, the pups are wary of people, having had almost no human contact and any experiences they have had haven't been so great so when this woman walks into the backyard, they all hide. One pup tries to hide behind a plastic bucket. Another hides in the corner of the yard between the metal fencing and a pile of decrepit lawn furniture. One just flattens itself against the ground because all the good hiding spots are taken. The guy can't get any of the puppies to greet the customer. The customer tries to be polite but after several minutes realizes that none of these dogs would do well with her kids and she leaves.

So now the guy is pissed. Maybe he goes to his backyard and throws a beer bottle at the pups, maybe he tries to kick a couple of them but he doesn't get a good boot in because they've grown accustomed to his outbursts and they stay far away. "Fuck it," he thinks. He doesn't want them anymore and he wants them out of his backyard so he calls animal services to pick them up.

As the van drives away with the five young dogs, the guy thinks, "Finally, someone else's fuckin' problem. Next time I'm going to try it with Great Danes," and then he goes back to surfing for teen porn.

The five young dogs arrive at TAS and are each given a separate kennel. When I first see them from a distance, they look like fine young dogs except they're a bit scrawny. But as I approach them, I see what's happened to them.

Three of them are like wild animals, afraid to look at me, cowering in the back of their kennels, visibly shaking as I reach out to them, looking like they might bite. One pisses itself every time I try to touch it. One hides behind its water bowl which is funny except that it isn't. I push treats into their kennels but they're wary of the food. James tells me they refuse to eat except at night.


They remind me of the baby racoon I found in my backyard earlier this summer, separated from its mother. For several hours, it was stuck on the wrong side of the fence - my side, its siblings on the other - and I threw it some food but it wouldn't eat, too scared. After almost a day I put on some gloves and went to pick it up and carry it over the fence but it cried and tried to squeeze itself into a ball of nothing in the corner between the fence and the patio wall. But that was understandable. Raccoons are supposed to be feral.

The other two siblings are a little better. They don't back away as quickly. They don't avert their eyes right away. Maybe there's some hope with those two.



Or maybe not. When I talk to James at lunch, he doesn't hold out much hope. There are quite a few dogs at the facility right now. If he can't get these guys out to rescues quick, they'll be euthanized except he doesn't say euthanized, he slides his finger across his throat.

Continued here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scenes from a dog park - day 1

"Aren't you afraid sometimes that you might be missing all the important things?"

"Do you know what the important things are?"

"That's it, though. I don't know what they are. I've lost faith. Nothing seems important if I think about it too much. Nothing feels important."

"That's depressing."

"When I was younger, everything was important. The words to a song. Who you sat beside in class. The places we'd hang out at on weekends."

"Yeah, I remember when going out to a restaurant was a special thing. We'd read through all the weekend reviews and then pick some place and it didn't really even matter what place that was because it was great just to be able to have enough money to go out and eat, you know, to have someone else prepare a meal for you. Now going to a restaurant, well, usually it's just for food, to fill my stomache. To get something made quickly so I can bring it back to my desk to eat while I'm working."

Tom's one of the regulars at the dog park. Sam, his dog, is a Pointer, thin from nerves. Sam spends most of his time at the park ignoring the other dogs. He runs from tree to tree or does laps of the baseball diamond in search of squirrels. He does this everyday even though squirrels are nowhere to be seen. He runs until he is exhausted or until he finds a pile of fresh shit to roll in. Sam doesn't just roll in shit, he burrows into it, gets it smeared all across the front of his chest, up his neck and onto his snout. Tom always watches Sam transform himself from dog to shit pariah. Tom swears but does nothing to stop Sam because he figures by the time he gets over there, it's going to be too late. When Sam has satisfied this fecal fetish, he becomes sociable and wants to play with the other dogs or comes by and say hello to the owners by rubbing up against them. The first time he did this, I walked home with the smell of shit wafting up from Stella and from my pant leg. I gave Stella a bath and washed out the pants as soon as I got back. Now when Sam comes by post shit-roll, I try to keep him away with my shoe.

Sam sometimes has problems with Dundee. Dundee is a Australian Cattle Dog. Both dogs still have their balls and they sometimes get territorial with each other and end up in a scuffle. If they fight, it's usually over a female dog. Dundee can be a bit of a horndog when the scent in the air is ripe enough.

The dogs roam, sometimes they chase, sometimes they graze on the grass. We owners stand around. Sometime we talk. This morning Marcus, Dundee's owner, comes at me as soon as I walk in through the gate to the park.

"You know that neighbour I was telling you about? I think I told you about him? Well, now he says he's going to get a lawyer. You know, I know what he's doing. He wants to have it both ways. He wants to keep the access to his backyard but he doesn't want to let anyone else have access to theirs. Yeah, because he's talked to his neighbour, the guy on the other side and his neighbour is going to keep his access open so that he'll still have ... uh, still be able to get into his backyard but he wants to close off his, uh, my neighbour wants to close off his backyard so that I won't be able to have access. See, he thinks he can get his neighbour to agree to keep his access open and then it doesn't matter what I do. He's such a fucking prick. You know, I used to let him borrow my long ladder and he used to just come into my backyard and borrow my ladder without asking and I didn't mind but now, do you think I'm going to let him borrow my ladder. No fucking way. He's not borrowing anything. I don't want to talk to that prick anymore. You know I always used to be you know, like neighbourly and I'd say hello to him but now I don't want to have anything to do with that prick. I asked my lawyer to look into it and my lawyer says I have right of way because that access has always been there and I told my neighbour that so now he says he's going to talk to his lawyer. He doesn't have a lawyer, that prick. He's just bluffing. He's such a fucking asshole. You know, that fucking asshole, what a prick."

I have no idea what Marcus is talking about.

"My neighbour thinks that just because I've been nice to him before he can push me around now. Well, there's no way. I'm not letting him push me around. You know he's this fucking short little guy too. I mean that's what happens when you're too nice to someone. They just try to fuck you over. What a prick. Next time I see him, I'm not even going to look at him. I'm going to totally ignore the fucker. He's not borrowing my ladder anymore, that's for sure. From now on, if he wants to talk to me, he can talk through my lawyer. I'm going to have my lawyer write him a letter. It's better to get everything down in writing so that everything is there in case this thing goes to arbitration. You know, the uh, the uh, the uh, uh, uh the O.M.B. My lawyer says he doesn't have a case. I mean it's so fucking obvious he doesn't have a case but you know he's just doing it because he thinks he can get away with it. He thinks he can have his cake and eat it too. I really can't stand that fucking prick. What a fucking prick, he is."

I try to step away. Marcus keeps pace beside me.

"I mean, he's just doing this because he thinks he can still have access because he's talked to his neighbour and so for him it's like who cares what I do. But the thing is, see, is that I know he can't just go ahead and close off his part of the access because I have right of way. He thinks he can just go ahead and do that. Yeah, well, I don't fucking think so."

Marcus is a close talker. He likes to keep his audience within spittle distance. If you back away, he'll come forward. If you side step, he'll match your movement. If you try to make a quick dodge around him, he'll step in front of you to prevent you from escaping. He once followed me across the park as I walked over to where Stella had taken a dump and he stood over me, continuing his review of last night's veal and foie gras, while I scooped up poop into a plastic bag.

This morning, Tom relieves me of my ordeal, simply by showing up at the park. Marcus sees him, walks over to him and continues the conversation with a fresh audience. Tom is more receptive than I am. He's able to tolerate the bombardment better and he's even good at deflecting it. His technique is forceful without being overly abrupt or loud. He simply butts in and continues to talk over Marcus, and I believe this is the key, without raising his voice until Marcus is reduced to short rebuttals.

"... and then my neighbour calls me up and tells me that he wants to come over and talk about the situation and I just think fuck him, you know, it's like I've done my part so fuck him. I mean who does he think ..."

"Marcus, you still fighting with your neighbour?"

" ... I am. I mean does he ..."

"You've been fighting with your neighbour for at least two weeks now."

"I mean does he ..."

"It's like every morning you're fighting with your neighbour."

"No, I mean he ..."

"Maybe you need to just leave it alone for a while."

"No, yeah, but I mean he ..."

"Sometimes I find that if I leave something alone for a while it resolves itself."

"No, yeah, well no this isn't ..."

"Maybe instead of concentrating on the negative things, you could spend some time dealing with more positive things."

"Uh, yeah well, that's ..."

"If you're always thinking about negative things, your life starts to become negative."

"Yeah, right. Yeah, but come on, life's not that sim ..."

"Pick something out that's meaningful to you and spend some time just being happy with that."

"Yeah, no, I know but ..."

"Pick something."

"No, I know ..."

"What's important to you?"

"No, I know ..."

"What's something you really care about?"

"No, I know, but ..."

"Is there something in your life you really love? Most people don't have anything they really love. Do you have anything?"

"Yeah, well, of course, uh ..."

"What's that?"

"Well, I, uh, really like the way I know people ... who ... uh ...can get things done for me for ... uh ... free."

"Oh yeah?"

"Like my furnace broke down and I had this guy I knew come over and take a look at it and fix it up. Like it broke down and I called him and he came over the same day, like later on that day, right after I got home from work. You know how some people say they'll do something and then don't do it or they keep saying they'll do it but never do, well this guy came over on the same day and fixed the furnace and he didn't charge me or anything and then after he was going to ..."

"So you're saying that you feel good about the relationships you have with other people and that those relationships bring you some happiness."

"Yeah, um, yeah, that's right."

"Well that's good."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Adoption Update for Smiley, Boomer, Blacky, Olivia and Chub Pug

It's been a busy weekend. These guys are all adopted.

Smiley



Olivia


Boomer

Blacky


Chub Pug, renamed Gigi, is now being fostered in Pugalug Rescue and her adoption info can be found here.


Chub Pug (Gigi)

So that just leaves Irene from last Wednesday's photo shoot. I'm surprised that she isn't gone yet. She's got a real winning personality but I guess that's sometimes hard to see from within a kennel.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sivkica

photo by Jelena Kostic

Sivkica has arrived. It was touch and go for a while there with some baggage mix up almost preventing her from being taken on board the flight from Serbia but now here she is. Finally.

Sivkica's story starts more than two years ago when one day, as Jelena was out and about, a little grey dog started following her around. The dog followed Jelena as she first stopped off a friend's house and then kept following as she continued onto her own place. Unfortunately, when Jelena showed up at her house with the new dog in tow, the dogs at Jelena's house chased the little one away. Instead of just taking off, the new dog went back to the friend's house and waited there - which is where Jelena eventually saw her again.

"The saddest thing is that as she is such a loving dog, she would follow anyone who said something nice, like I did, but she didn't because no one ever noticed her. She lived there in front of the mega store. My friend Nina goes to college there by car and fed her . Luckily the dog catchers didn't work at that time."

photo by Jelena Kostic

The little dog's persistence paid off and she was brought to Jelena's shelter. Sivkica spent the next three years there, outside but with a dog house, summer and winter, like all the other dogs, and managed to survive.

And now, she's made it to Toronto.



She is an adoreable schnauzer terrier mutt, friendly with people, dogs and cats. Easy to walk, very pleasant personality. She's come through the harshness of her early years unscathed. Now, while she awaits in her foster home for someone to adopt her, Sivkica will have a soft bed to sleep in, green grass to roll in and protective arms to embrace her.


Sivkica has been given a new name, Hannah Joy, and her adoption profile can be found at Happy Tails Rescue but I don't think she'll be there for long.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Are they covered by the Screen Actors Guild?

You ever see that movie Old Yeller ? Well, I never did because when I was five I was traumatized by a clip from the movie of the boy shooting the dog.

Me: Why did he shoot Old Yeller?

Dad: Because it was sick. It had rabies.

Me: How did it get rabies?

Dad: It got rabies because it was bitten by a wolf who had rabies.

Me: Why was it bitten by a wolf?

Dad: The dog was trying to protect the family from the wolf and got bit.

Me: So Old Yeller protected the boy and his family and then the boy shot Old Yeller?

Dad: Yes.

Me: Bu ... bu ... but that's not fair.

Dad: No it's not.

Me: That's not faaaair! Waaaaaaaugh!

No way I was going to watch that movie. Too much drama for a five year old.

Anyway, here are a couple of upcoming movies which caught my eye not because I think they'll be Oscar contenders (when was the last time a dog movie won an Oscar?) but because of their subject matter.

Red is about an old guy (Brian Cox) who goes after a bunch of young guys after they kill his dog for no reason. It's kind of like "Death Wish" but with better actors and a dog. This sounds like the ultimate fed up animal welfare activist's wet dream. All I can say is that two wrongs don't make a right but you know it'll be fun to see a bunch of smirking dog killers get the crap beat out of them. Revenge is best served by an old man with big hairy fists.

For a kid friendlier movie (but really, do you know what you're kids are watching?) there's Hotel For Dogs. It's a Disney movie about a group of kids who create a dog shelter from an abandoned hotel. Happens all the time just like Mary Poppins, I'm sure, and there'll be lots of anthropomorphisized dogs who behave more human than human and lots of big tear moments but here's two thumbs up anyway for subject matter.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Countdown

Are you feeling a bit too giggly happy for your own good right now? Like maybe you just got promoted to head chief president C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company or that superstar moviestar you've been crushing on has sworn off everything and everyone except you or maybe you've just won a zillion quadrillion dollars in the lotto? Well, then, first you might want to get off the shrooms and get back to reality and if that doesn't help then check this out. Yep, that's right, it's a kill list complete with photos, personality descriptions and dates and times of upcoming euthanasias. These good natured, healthy dogs are all going to die and the only one who can stop that is you - by adopting the dog and taking it out of the queue.

This is done to shock, obviously, to try to jar people into rescuing one or more of the poor animals on death row. There are pleas like this all over the internet many of which continue to be displayed well past the deadline and when I come across these expired notices I find myself staring at the faces of dogs who are no longer with us.

There is something about looking at the faces of the recently dead. It's like maybe there's been a mistake and it can be corrected, like maybe it's not too late. Of course that doesn't make any sense because it is too late but in those faces, there is no sign of the end that will befall them. No knowledge of the gas or the heartstick or the overdose of barbituates. I can't make the connection between those faces and the bodies of dogs in dumpsters waiting to be incinerated. In the photos, some of them may look a little down, some happy, some curious but in all of them there is a kind of hope, not so much like they're hoping for a nicer place in which to live or anything that specific, but more that if the moment, that very moment they inhabit even as the picture is being taken, is good or good enough then the future is as well. Hope is their grace and it is their sad irony.

I'm not sure how I feel about using kill lists as an adoption tactic. On the one hand, it shows us the truth - unPC'd and unsanitized. On the other, it comes across as a ransom note. It's up to you, they say, to save this animal. Make room in your house and in your heart now or the animal dies. As is typical of ransom notes, there is no mention of the perpetrators' role in this chain of events. No mention about all the people who created this situation in the first place. No mention about the lack of responsibility, fairness, compassion, loyalty and all those other traits people like to endow themselves with.

No matter what one's politics, no matter what one's relationship is with dogs, it's hard to deny this: people created them; people are supposed to be their guardians; people have intentionally let them down; now people are going to kill them. These dogs die for our sins.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Adoption update for Dominick


Dominick has come a long way from the streets of Belgrade to the shelter in Toronto and now home. He has been adopted by a family who lives in the Beaches. Long may he run along its sandy shores.

Profile: Chance

Chance is dropped off at a pound in a puppy-sized cage. He's been kept in it for almost a year ever since he was only a few weeks old. As he grows, he's no longer able to stand up in the small confines of his cage. When Chance gets transfered to Toronto Animal Services and the vet techs examine him, they can see his leg bones deformed and his muscles atrophied. At first, he isn't able to stand but over the course of a few weeks rehabilitation, he regains the use of his legs albeit with a lingering, comical gait.

Chance is an exuberant young fellow. He is a little on the wild side and has no leash manners but he is good natured and quite friendly with people despite his early experiences. He'd be a quick match for someone except that along with his initial walking problems, he has demodectic mange, a skin disease caused by mites that usually strikes dogs up to a year old. Many pups carry the mites on their bodies and it's usually not a serious condition but poor health or stress can trigger an active infestation. Chance has mangy patches of raw, exposed skin mostly around his muzzle and front paws and these raggedly looks drive away most potential adopters.

Medication is ineffective and as his time at TAS goes on, his condition worsens to the point where he has to be quarantined. This curtails the possibility of any further public viewings. His spirit noticeably drops and the mange starts to get the better of him. When he starts developing secondary symptoms of multiple skin blisters and lesions due to a normally benign canine papiloma virus, it's obvious that his immune system is failing.

Two months into his stay, sick and getting sicker, with no good chance of recovery or adoption, Chance is euthanized.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cheese

One of the things I do at Toronto Animal Services is take pictures of the dogs to be used for their adoption profiles on the adoption website. Often there are time restrictions and so I try to limit my time shooting each dog to about 5 minutes. I'm not trying for art but I do try to get something with personality and in focus.

I can never guess how a dog is going to react in front of a camera. Sometimes the most placid dogs go absolutely wild when I stick a camera in front of their noses; sometimes the crazy jumpers settle right down. It's as if they know there's something strange going on and so they must react to it, do something, something different, whatever that might be.

For example, this little nutbar, Olivia, was a terror walking over to the shoot location. I brought her along with poor Irene who was straining at the end of her leash to get as far away as possible from the you-must-play-with-me-now puppy antics of Olivia. Olivia was like the spring you couldn't get back in the watch. She'd jump on Irene; I'd pull her back; she'd jump on Irene; I'd pull her back; she'd jump on Irene. It's a good thing she's only 10 kilograms because after a hundred of those pull backs, it felt like I was playing tug of war with an anvil.

Olivia

But then, as we get to the grassy spot and I pull out the camera, she whines a couple of time and then magically settles down. To look at the picture, you'd think she was contemplating the meaning of her life. Irene looks okay in her photo but I think you can see she's still a little bit frazzled.

Irene

When I take the dogs' pictures, I try to get at least a couple of shots of them looking straight into the camera. The eye contact usually works well with the human viewers although sometimes the square on face shot doesn't do the dog justice. They've often got a lot of character in the profile of their muzzle which gets lost when you see the dog straight on. In Blacky's case, I chose a 3/4 profile shot over the full on shot because in the full shot, her black furry face looks too flat.

Blacky

With Boomer, Blacky's partner on this photo shoot, there was a lot of expression around his eyes so I chose the straight on image in his case.



Boomer

Dominick and Smiley were no problem at all to photograph, except that I was a bit worried about Smiley's limp on the way back. She didn't seem to mind, though, as every so often she'd do a downward dog at Dominick trying to get him to play.

Smiley

Dominick

The last photo of the day was of the nameless pug with the protruding tongue. Chubby guy, very friendly but I had a hard time getting him to sit still. I think the only reason he did finally decide to stop trying to kiss the lens and sit down was because of the heat. I quickly snapped a few shots and got him back inside.


Chub pug

I try to take the photos which hopefully show the dogs in visually appealing poses. Sometimes this doesn't totally jive with their true natures. Like any picture in a family album or on the cover of a glossy magazine, photographs are not meant to duplicate reality. They leave out the life history and future potential. They only show that piece of reality the photographer wants the viewer to see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Adoption update for Husky pups and mum

All taken home. The three husky puppies were adopted over the weekend by TAS volunteer dog walkers and the mother husky is at a potential adopter's house for a trial period. Bon voyage to all.

Notes from Serbia: Kitten

from Jelena Kostic:

I usually have a lift to the shelter on Sundays, other days I walk, but fortunately I had to go earlier yesterday.

In one of the few houses I pass by on the way there, I heard an old woman I sometimes help carry her bags up hill as she is really old and bent,call a kitten to come to her. I turned and saw how she grabbed it and put it in a rubbish bag and tied the bag, I just couldn’t believe. I asked her What are you doing? Where are you going to take it?

She said To the better place

Her son was standing at the door and I asked him as well, he said the kitten was sick, and they had to get rid of him.

I asked them to give it to me. Kitten had her colon popped out. The vet put it back. She is ok now, sleeping on the roof of my house. She likes it here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Immigrants

Three rescue dogs are coming in from Serbia and the driver who was supposed to show up at the airport to pick them up has cancelled. Luckily, Gudrun is happy enough to help out with her van and that's a good thing because the dogs show up in two large crates and a mid-sized one. Cathrine, who brought them over on the plane, introduces us to Irene, the smallest, Dominick, the largest and Smiley, in the middle, all variations on shepherd mutts and all very tired. They all seem healthy except for Smile who walks with a pronounced limp on her front right leg. Cathrine tells us that when Smiley was 2 months old, she was hit by a car and left for dead. She was found and taken to the vet. After surgery, her bones have mended back together and she is able to walk again except for the limp.

There's nothing extraordinary to report here. The trip from YYZ to Toronto Animal Services is fairly uneventful so I take the opportunity to have a chat with the dogs.

Me: So what is it that made you decide to come to Canada?

Irene: Well, I've always wanted to study your western democratic system first hand. I'm especially interested in things like your systems of checks and balances, your rules behind campaign financing, political transparency and, in general, the responsibilities for everyday citizens living in such a democracy.

Smiley: Wow, that's deep.

Dominick: Yeah, deeply dull. I came to Canada cuz I hear the food's really good. All my friends on Facebook are constantly throwing messages up on my wall about how good the food is. You can only read so much about Asian fusion, food courts and Timbits before you figure that's something you gotta try out for yerself.

Me: Smiley, why did you come to Canada?

Smiley: I'm an artist and the last few years of my life have been a mess back home. I'm a very sensitive person and I think it was Marlon Brando who said that a sensitive person receives fifty impressions where somebody else may only get seven. Sensitive people are way too vulnerable. I never allow myself to feel anything, because I always feel too much. You know I've being going to therapy for a while now and ...

Dominick: Cripes, she's going on about her therapy again. Look, you've had a few bones busted. Boohoo. How long you gonna ride that wave?

Smiley: You shut up, fatso. All you ever talk about is food. As if that's the only thing that's important in your life. Stop being so two dimensional.

Dominick: Yeah, well you should try to do some real living. Look up from your navel sometime, at least long enough to smell the shi ...

Irene: Alright, enough already. You two are embarrassing me.

Dominick: Oooo, Miss Hoity Toity is embarrassed. Well, I hope I don't embarass you as I take a leak ...

Me: Er, that's going to have to wait until we get you outside.

Dominick: Aww, man. How much longer? My bladder's gonna bust.

Me: Just a few more minutes and then we'll be there.

Dominick: Alright, I'll try to hold it but I can't promise anything.

Me: Well, do the best you can. Thanks.

I check the time. It really isn't much longer to TAS. Dominick's talk about food has made me hungry.

Irene: Emm, excuse me.

Me: Yes?

Irene: Do you have parks here?

Me: Yes, we do.

Irene: You've got parks where dogs can run around?

Me: Yes.

Smiley: Off leash? I heard we might be able to run around off leash and meet other dogs?

Me: Mmm, hmm. They're called dog parks. Some of them are off-leash and some are not.

Dominick: Why aren't they all off-leash?

Me: It's complicated.

I don't have the heart to tell them. Even here, not everyone likes dogs. Even here, sometimes terrible things are done.

Irene: Do you think someone will want us?

Smiley: Will someone take us home?

Irene: I hear some dogs even get their own doggie beds.

Smiley: I'd like that.

Dominick: I'd like to sleep on a couch.

Irene: Oh yes, that would be even better.

Smiley: Ooo, that's a great idea.

They all go quiet for a moment savouring that thought. How easily satisfied, I think.

Irene: Are people here nice?

Sometimes, I think.

Me: Yes people here are nice.

Irene: Are they nice to dogs?

Some people are, I think.

Me: A lot of people are very nice to dogs.

Irene: I hope somebody nice chooses me.

Smiley: Me, too.

Dominick: Me three.

And me four. They'll be spending the weekend in quarantine until the vet comes by next week. After they pass their health checks and temperment testing, they'll get put into general adoption where they'll be competing with purebreds, puppies and an assortment of other abandoned dogs for the hearts and minds of prospective adopters.

Dominick: Hey, I heard you got this thing called back bacon and maple syrup. Can you tell me about that?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Some people say they make great pets - part 2

It's a long night not because we're washing the dogs or anything like that - no, we decide to leave that for the morning as it's already past 2 a.m. and we've both had a long day. It's a long night because the even though we've wiped the dogs down and relegated them to the kitchen in the back of the house and left all the windows and doors open, the smell is so bad that it actually keeps me up. Elizabeth manages to fall asleep but even for her, who's typically a very sound sleeper, the smell penetrates into her dreams and sporadically wakes her up.

The next morning, neither of us want to go downstairs. Elizabeth, who usually heads down to the kitchen pronto after waking to make a cup of coffee is this morning lingering around the bedroom window looking out at the neighbourhood. I stick my face into my pillow, trying to find some temporary escape from the wafting odors but even that doesn't help. There's no more delaying it. I get up.

Downstairs, Stella and Rocky don't understand why they've been gated in the kitchen all night and they're pining to come say hello to me in the living room. Not a chance. I go into the kitchen and scoot them both outside where it smells refreshingly skunk free, I guess because my two furballs managed to bring most of the scent inside.

You know how when you go from one environment into another, the differences in odors are sometimes magnified? Having slept through the night in amongst the stenchfest, I'd actually built up a bit of a tolerance for it. Now that I had stepped outside and the green mist in my nasal cavity had cleared out, when I step back into the house, it's like being hit in the face with a baseball bat made of stink. There would be no breakfast for me.

And thus was my downfall.

The plan of attack is for me to wash the dogs in hydrogen peroxide (1 liter), baking soda (1/4 cup) and liquid soap (1 tablespoon) while Elizabeth strips everything down in the living room and starts on the laundry, then the mopping. We don't have any hydrogen peroxide so I go to the store to pick some up. And because I haven't eaten, I buy a couple of chocolate bars and eat those.

By the time I get back, Elizabeth has most of the furniture declothed and is just starting to mop. With the dogs out of the house and the front door open, the place is beginning to smell, well certainly not pleasant but not as offensively odiferous.

Stella and Rocky, as is typical for dogs, don't particulary like getting a bath but they don't put up too much fuss and just stand there in sullen silence as I shampoo them. They try to guilt me with their sad faces but I don't fall for it. I've read the manuals, I've done the training and I've taken the vitamins and I'm totally impervious to their "why oh why do you treat me this way?" expressions.

I must say, that deskunking shampoo mixture works wonders. Stella comes out of it completely non-skunk scented and Rocky, who was much worse hit, comes out with just one little patch of stink right between the eyes where I couldn't apply much of the slightly stinging shampoo without getting it into his eyes.


So the dogs are scrubbed clean and now it's onto the rest of the house and it's like it doesn't end. The seat covers, the cushions, the bedding, the carpets, the rubber mats, the floors, the increasing mound of towels. We work at it until 5 p.m. when I decide that maybe the last thing that needs to get scrubbed is the outside patio. I get out the hose, water gun and scrub mop and start at it.

By this point, I'm tired. The only thing I've had all day has been those chocolate bars and a can of Dr. Pepper (no I'm usually not this bad with my diet but exceptional circumstances call for exceptional actions) and now I'm starting to experience a sugar crash. I think I can push through it. I'm woozy but I'm on the final rinse so I keep at it.

I need to retrieve the hose which is at the bottom of the steps off the patio into the yard. I step down to the first step. It's covered in soap and I think to myself that I need to be careful. Unfortunately, my head isn't connected properly to the rest of me at this point and my foot slips out from beneath me. My ass hits the first step, thumps down to the next one, my head snaps back on the impact and I feel something go twang in the back of my neck.

You know how sometimes when you've had an accident, say you dropped a hammer on your toe or conked your head on a low hanging beam, there's that moment just before the pain hits and it's like the calm in the eye of the storm. Everything's very quiet. And then everything's very loud.

"FUUUUUUUCK!!" I scream, although I only scream this inside my head because I don't want to disturb the nice neighbours. My ass feels like it's been kicked by a sledgehammer and my neck feels like it's Charlie horsing. Meanwhile, Stella and Rocky are staring at me, giving me their "Suck it up buddy, you had that coming after that bath you gave us," look.

Elizabeth sticks her head out through the patio doors and asks me if I would like a bagel.

"Yes, that would be good," I say.

"The house still smells," she says.

"Mm, hmm," I say.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Some people say they make great pets - part 1

I was going to write something about the 3 dogs we transported from the airport to Toronto Animal Services yesterday but instead, because I'm sitting here tired, stinky and waiting for the Advil to kick in, I'm going to write about what happened later in the evening. It's got nothing much to do with rescue volunteering other than it concerns the two monster numbskulls I rescued who now occupy my house and who nearly drove me out of it last night. But hey, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Every night before I go to sleep I rouse Stella and Rocky from their comfy, multi-layer, princess and the pea approved dog beds and make them go outside for a final goodnight pee in the backyard. Rocky's always up for a quick dash to the backyard but Stella groans and moans like it's the most inconvenient thing in the world I'm asking her to do. Usually, I have to resort to shoving her ass out of bed before she'll even acknowledge I'm talking to her.

Rocky's already outside while Stella slowly rises, stretches, shakes her floppy ears as if to clear her floppy head and slowly trundles to the open patio doors and goes out. That's the nightly routine.

I stand in the kitchen doing a few dishes while I wait for them to finish their business. A minute later Rocky scurries back in, a little quicker than usual but I think it's because he wants to beat Stella to the prime bed (yes, they race each other for the best bed) because now here comes Stella running up the stairs as well. But then she stops. Instead of coming in, she starts to rub her face on the towel covering the doggie bed outside on the patio. She's snorting and sneezing and I'm thinking she's breathed in some dust or dandelion seeds or something. Twenty seconds later she's still rubbing her face. Now that's odd and I'm getting a little concerned so I go to the patio door and check up on her. As soon as I step out, I smell something, not overwhelming, but definitely not part of the normal neighbouthood night scents. It's like someone's burning chemical waste in the vicinity.

I walk over to Stella. She's still snarfling with the towel and there's a lot of drool coming out of her mouth. I'm suddenly panicked thinking that maybe someone's thrown some solvent or something into my backyard and Stella's gotten into it but through my panic, even as I'm trying to wipe off whatever it is on Stella's face, I'm thinking it might be something else. And now I notice that the smell is getting really strong.

I run upstairs and wake Elizabeth up. By now, the scent is in the house.

"Can you smell that?" I ask.

She nods.

"Is it skunk? It doesn't smell like skunk," I say.

"No, that's skunk." Elizabeth would know. Her dog once got sprayed and she had to drive home with him afterwards in a snowstorm. With the windows rolled up. "That's the way it smells."

"It's like some chemical."

"Yeah, that's the way it smells at first. Tomorrow, it'll smell like skunk."

I'm actually relieved because it's not solvent; skunk juice isn't going to do any huge damage.

Then I remember Rocky - how he ran past me when I was in the kitchen standing over a bunch of sudsy dishes that smelled like melon scented dishwashing liquid, how that fruity chemical scent may have covered up another chemical scent that had just rushed past.

I run downstairs. Rocky is blinking like mad, drooling and rubbing himself over every piece of furniture and carpeting in the living room. He looks up at me with watery, crazy eyes and dives down again, plowing his muzzle into the sofa cushions.

And now Stella comes charging in. She nose dives into the prime doggie bed, plows it over, nose dives into the second doggie bed, rubs her muzzle along it until she hits the wooden floor, keeps rubbing.

"STELLAAAA GEEEEET OOOOUT!!!!" I scream.

Stella must be thinking I'm screaming at her friend the invisible Stella who often comes to visit whenever the real Stella gets in trouble because she pays no heed to me and heads for the armchair. Meanwhile, Rocky's finished plowing along the length of the thick plush runner and is starting to get intimate with the love seat.

"NOOOOOOOOO!!!" I scream.

It was going to be a long night.

To be continued ...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Letters

A few weeks ago, Gudrun asked me about adopting an older dog. She's only ever had cats but decided to bring a dog into her household and she knew that it was the older ones that had a harder time finding homes.

I showed her a few candidates at Toronto Animal Services and she went out to other shelters and perused Petfinder but for one reason or another, things hadn't worked out.

Last weekend, a 9 year old female pointer was brought into TAS.

Hi Gudrun.

Just let me know when I start sending too much old dog stuff your way.

There's an old, mid sized pointer cross at the pound. She (I think it's a she) is 8 - 9 year and has a very sweet disposition, great on a leash but she's also not doing so well right now so that may affect her personality. James thinks she may have been hit by a car. She's a bit of a basketcase actually, so that's something you'll want to really think about before you decide on her. She's got an eye infection, a bandaged foot (from the car accident?), possibly some kidney illness and just generally unhealthy. James thinks that with some TLC and vet money, this might all go away. Then again, she might not last a month.

I don't know if you're up for taking a dog home just to watch it possibly get sicker and die because that's the risk here with this old girl. End of life care, in other words. If you're concerned about vet bills, and I would be because of the possibility of kidney infection, I'd say she needs a check-up at which point the vet will give you a bunch of options, some of which will run upwards of hundreds of dollars just for testing, but in this case, the best option would be to just do a blood test then put her on antibiotics for a couple of weeks if necessary and see what happens. So, for something like that, you're looking at about $300. I suspect James may forego making you pay the adoption fees in this case so you'll save there, but don't quote me on that. Of course there may be no infection at all, in which case, no worries.

I'm giving you the worst case scenario because I don't want to mislead you into adopting a dog you can't take care and then feeling bad about it. Of course, she may very well turn out like Rocky and make a full recovery. Either way, she'll appreciate being in your company more than in a kennel. If you decide you're interested, give me a call (or James) because animal services won't be putting her up for general adoption so a special arrangement to see her will have to be made. Later, Fred


Well, I'd like to meet her. I'm not sure if I can deal with such a sick dog but I'd like to help if I can. Do you think I could go meet her today at lunch or around 3:00? Should I call James or do you have time to introduce me to her? Gudrun

I'm not sure if James is in today so I can take you over at 3. Meet at the same place in front of N...? In the meanwhile, here's her link. Fred


Sounds good - see you at 3:00 at the same place. She looks cute and sad. Gudrun

The pointer was already looking better than when I first saw her on the weekend. Her lacerations were healing well; her eyes seemed to have cleared up a bit; and, she wasn't limping as much. In fact, I was mistaken about her not pulling on a leash. Now she was pulling - not much but leash training would be a necessity.

After a walk around the block, Gudrun and I sat down on a bench with the pointer and checked her out a bit more. Fatty lumps and bumps in a few places, dirty ears, bad teeth. The pointer was fine with the poking and prodding. She was a bit distracted by the outside sights, sounds and scents but eventually warmed up to us and came over for a head nuzzle.

Back inside, I told Gudrun that the pointer came in as a stray and so would be classified as lost for 7 days which meant there would still be a few days to think about it.

"And what happens to her after that?" she asked.

I thought about what I should say. I didn't want guilt to be the determining factor in her decision but then I couldn't think of a way to gloss over the truth. So I didn't.

"There is no after," I said. The policy at TAS is to euthanize dogs deemed too old or too sick and this one was both.

Gudrun decided to take the dog. She filled out some forms while I took the pointer back to her kennel.

A few days later:

Hi Gudrun, I talked to James today and he says that he can let you take the old gal home for a couple of days to see how it goes if you'd like. I think she can be released anytime now (although he'll hold her for you for a few days if you're not ready for her yet) so you might give James a call to work out the details. Let me know what you decide.

James just called me, so yes, I guess I'll be fostering her. I'm going to take her home with me after going to the airport to pick up those other dogs. This will give me a chance to get some supplies for having a dog in the house. Gudrun

Sounds good. I'm really glad you'll be taking the pointer home.

Still, I felt uneasy about her decision. Guilt is no way to start a relationship with a dog. Later that evening, I called her and left her a message saying it was never too late to back out.

Got your message from last night - not to worry I still want to take care of Gretel (the old pointer - Julian's idea for a name because James said we needed to fatten her up before she gets fixed). I picked up some things for her last night when I went to get one of the film submissions from Jola's store, the Good Catch, some biscuits and a bone, some biodegradable poop bags. I'll get some other things at lunch from the store by xxxx. Gudrun

I talked to her after helping her with the car seats and she was getting enthusiastic about the pointer. She was trying to decide between calling it Gretel or Granny. She'd gotten a bunch of dog supplies already and that evening was going to pick up a couple of duvets at Valu Village to fold up and use as dog beds.

The following afternoon, I was with Gudrun when she went to pick up Granny Gretel. She told me she had already gotten a couple of duvets and a bunch of dog food, treats, a collar and a leash.

When we arrived at TAS, Granny Gretel was more spirited than ever and the bandage was off her back foot. GG came along for a long car ride as we went to drop someone off. Very well behaved in the car. We stopped off at my place so I could pass along some doggie shampoo and a muzzle (just in case - Gudrun's got cats). I took a couple of photos and then Gudrun and Granny Gretel got back in the car and drove off.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Adoption update for Cash

Cash was adopted today. He will be living with an older sister Doberman in a nice place outside of the city. The couple who adopted him have rescued Dobies in the past so he'll be in good hands.

It's because you're afraid someone else is stealing all your air

When Stella yawns, Rocky yawns. When Rocky yawns, Stella yawns. When I yawn, Rocky yawns and then Stella yawns. Just writing the word "yawn" so many times makes me want to yawn.

It's funny that this deeply rooted, unsolved mystery of human behaviour - contagious yawning - extends to dogs. Chimps experience contagious yawning as well but that's more understandable as they aren't that genetically different from us. But dogs?

From The Independent, "Why do we yawn?"
By Steve Connor, Science Editor, Thursday, 16 August 2007

"The latest study, however, pinpoints the fact that contagious yawning appears to involve the very human trait of emotional empathy. Humans, uniquely, are able to imagine what someone else is thinking or feeling. This is at the heart of empathy, and it is a trait that autistic children unfortunately lack - and so may explain why they are immune to the infectiousness of yawning."

If this hypothesis is correct, contagious yawning is a sign of empathy. That would go a long way to proving that there is an instinctual, emotional bond between humans and dogs and that dogs are able to imagine what their humans are feeling.

So the next time you need a shoulder to cry on, your dog might be your best bet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Profile: Gracie


Gracie's with some potential adopters in the play room at Toronto Animal Services. They're a young couple, comfortable and experienced around dogs, who are looking to add another member to their family. Gracie walks calmly between the man, who gives her wholehearted pets, and the woman who checks Gracie's teeth, ears, paws and then gives her a hug. Gracie submits to the examination without complaint and wags her tail at the pets and leans into the woman's hug. The couple smile and clap their hands at Gracie and give her more pets and hugs. You can tell just by looking at them that they've already decided they want to take Gracie home.

This doesn't bode well for the two other families waiting outside the play room, looking in, who have also come for Gracie. The first come, first served policy means they'll have to wait for the decision of the couple in the room with Gracie. The second family's young girl is looking disappointed. The third family don't really think they stand a chance and start looking at the other dogs in the adoption room.

The first couple consult with the vet tech and mention that they have a cat. Does anyone know Gracie's behaviour around cats? The vet tech says no but they can find out quickly enough. There's a room full of cats just next door. So, they take Gracie into the cat room. No riotous noises come through the door of the cat room but still, when everyone walks back out a few minutes later, the woman looks crestfallen. Gracie didn't appear to like cats much or maybe she liked them too much. Either way, she failed the cat test and the young couple decide to leave her behind.

Ten minutes later, the second family with the now very happy daughter, is filling out Gracie's adoption forms. Gracie, for her part, is giving the little girl sloppy kisses.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And the audience was no better

Every so often, as I surf the internet, I come across something which I consider to be rock bottom with respect to human behaviour. But then inevitably something worse comes along.

There is an on-line petition going round condemning the art of a Costa Rican artist, Guillermo Vargas Habacuc. It's gained so much internet momentum, I find it strange this hasn't been more widely reported in the news up here in Canada.

Supposedly, Guiller, as part of an art exhibit in Managua last year, tied a street dog to the wall of a gallery and left it there for several days without food or water so that people could watch it starve to death - which it did. Or maybe not, because now that Gui has gotten so much hate mail, he's changed his story to say that the dog was actually fed and eventually escaped from the gallery.

In Gu's original statements, he said the piece was dedicated to some crack addict who was mauled to death by a couple of guard dogs after said addict trespassed on private property. Post hate mail, the purpose of the exhibit was changed to try to deflect some of the worldwide condemnation being heaped at Gu's stinky feet. Now the exhibit was apparently meant to highlight the plight of starving, stray dogs, Gu's point being that if the dog was starving outside, no one would have batted an eye but by bringing it into a gallery, the world notices.

Oh, I get it. He was trying to help starving dogs. So where was the donations box?

It's impossible to figure out what is true and what is not. There are lots of pictures floating around of an emaciated, but still alive, dog tied to a gallery wall while young art hipsters look on sipping fancy cocktails. So, at a bare minimum, it seems the exhibit did take place(I'm not posting links to any pictures because they make me ill. If you want to see them, just do a search). The veracity of everything else about the exhibit found on the internet, like most everything on the internet, is open to conjecture.

Whether or not Gu is one sick fuck is debateable. Well, no, it's not debateable. He is a sick fuck but to what rancid depth is he a sick fuck? Anyone who exploits a starving dog for art, regardless of whether or not it was fed and "escaped", regardless of his manufactured intentions, is soulless. As for his few supporters who suggest that Gu has done a service by bringing the world's attention to the stray dog situation in Latin America by chaining and starving a dog to death in a gallery, I can only hope that they don't decide to help out any hungry children.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Things that go bump in the night

When I was 12, I was bitten on the ankle by a medium sized brown and white dog when I stepped onto its owner's driveway. A cop was called and the owner of the dog had to show proof that the dog had been vaccinated for rabies - which it was. Nothing more happened and everyone, including myself, was fine with that.

Transplant that incident to present day and substitute that generic dog with a Pit Bull and it's likely that Pit Bull would be facing death followed by decapitation (to check if it has rabies). Isn't it wonderful to see how our society has evolved?

I'm reading this book called "The Pit Bull Placebo" which talks about the distortions created by the popular media throughout the last century and a half on the topic of dangerous dogs. The premise it brings up over and over is that the dangerous breed label is a fad brought on by the popularity of a particular medium to large sized breed in conjunction with the need to sell news copy (for obvious reasons, smaller breeds are exempt from the killer canine stereotype). It seems cyclical. A breed becomes popular because of certain traits (bravery, intelligence, loyalty, starring in major Hollywood movie, etc.), then there are more bites reported with the breed, then the breed is villified.

It's interesting to read about all the breeds which have been portrayed as either heroic or dangerous depending upon the decade. The loosely termed "Bloodhounds" of the late 1800's were known for their heroism because they pursued and caught criminal elements but then as their popularity with various law enforcement and security agencies grew and their human handlers started to encourage and train them to attack their prey, they became feared and villified.

When Newfoundlanders became popular in the early 1900's and people started using them as guard dogs, reports of Newfoundlanders ravaging people spiked. It's curious, though, that in many of the media reports back then concerning dog attacks on people, the newspapers would often cite the reason for the dog attack. In most present day media reports, the reasons for an attack are generally glossed over. It makes for better fearmongering when people read about attacks without provocation because then the evil can be attributed solely and directly to the crazy, vicious breed. The sense of ill will towards the breed becomes generalized, not focused on any specific dog, certainly not on the owner.

The list of the rise and fall of evil dogs goes on to include German Shepherds, Dobermans and of course the Pit Bull. In each case, as the bad rep of a breed was hyped by the media, the popularity of the breed increased amongst the most depraved and abusive of owners. They were used as status symbols of viciousness even though that viciousness originated from the owner, not the dog.

On the one hand, this book should give hope to those defenders of pit bulls that one day the media will shift its hysteria away from the L'il Rascal of dogs and onto the next great threat. On the other hand, it means we can always look forward to the demonization of one breed or another because of exploitation from its human handlers and the media's thirst for blood money.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sin and forgiveness

When I got home, Rocky and Stella greeted me at the door with their usual overjoyed reception despite the fact that I was several hours late with their dinner and their evening walk. How many people would still be even the least bit hospitable to someone three hours late? I sure wouldn't be. In fact, three hours late without a death in the family excuse generally means the person's contact info gets deleted from my address book.

But in dogs, we get a warm reception no matter what the time, no matter what the excuse. Over the past 10000 or so years, we've molded their personalities to adore us. We are their life and their salvation. To the core of their being, dogs need us and want to be with us and will often go out of their way to please us. They will even risk their physical well-being for us. No other species would ever do such a thing for us, certainly not with such consistency.

So then why do we so consistently abandon them, abuse them, kill them?

Sammy was brought into Toronto Animal Services after her previous owner scalded her with boiling water.

In the grand scheme of things, some scalded flesh on an animal is no big deal. They are for us to do as we please and the evil humans do is boundless. Here's the thing, though. With any other animal, including most human ones I'm sure, the wounds from such experiences would create the deepest psychological trauma making it almost impossible to trust again but on Sammy, the wounds went not much deeper than the flesh. After who knows how many years of severe abuse, Sammy still trusts and puts her faith in people. She is a little reticent with strangers at first but she quickly warms to them and gives herself over to them. Not all dogs recover to such a degree but the vast majority do. The vast majority are ultimately forgiving.

Sammy has been adopted out to a woman who will look after her and I am sure she will love Sammy and Sammy will forget her past woes and love the woman back. Hers is a happy ending.

The evil humans do is boundless but the forgiveness in dogs is equal to the task.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The great outdoors

Grass we like. Collars, leashes, not so much.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cabin fever


Mommy?

Yes?

What's on the other side of that door?

The outside.

What's that?

Well, it's a big place that full of all sorts of stuff.

What stuff?

Stuff like grass and sky and trees and cars and people and other dogs.

Can we go see?

Not yet.

Why?

Because you might catch something out there and get sick.

Why?

Because you don't have enough immunities yet.

Why?

Because you haven't got your shots yet.

Why?

Because you're not eight weeks old yet.

Why?

Okay, that's enough questions. Mommy's tired.

Why?

Because you're asking too many questions. Now why don't you go do something else while mommy has a rest?

Okay. I'll go pee in the corner.

That's a good boy.

Toronto animal services

From the Toronto Animal Services website:

Dogs and cats are available for adoption. It's easy to see the current animals available.

Adoptions must be done at one of the Animal Centres. The animal information is updated every 30 minutes during hours of operation. We cannot guarantee that all animals listed will be available when you visit.

The adoption fees include vaccinations, microchip and refundable certificates for surgical sterilization of the pet, rabies vaccination and veterinary health check. The value of the certificates is $50.00 and the adopter may apply to Toronto Animal Services for a refund or may redeem at participating veterinary clinics. Residents of Toronto will also be required to purchase a dog or cat licence. When you have found an animal you would like to adopt, you will be required to complete an Adoption Questionnaire. Upon approval, you will be able to take your new dog or cat home that same day.

The fees for adopting an animal are as follows:
Adult cats or kittens are $75.00 plus GST
Adult dogs or puppies are $125.00 plus GST

I want to check animals available for adoption.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Profile: Hobo

Hobo is brought into Toronto Animal Services as part of a half dozen dogs transfered from a county dog pound in rural Ohio. A dog unfortunate enough to find itself at that particular pound, where over a hundred dogs a month are gassed, only has a few days to be claimed by its owner before it is killed. The high kill rate is typical of many rural pounds that have to deal with an overpopulation of unwanted dogs and puppies, most of which are the overstock from unregistered backyard breeders and illegal puppy mills.

These six got a reprieve when they were chosen for placement in the highly successful Toronto Animal Services adoption program which occassionally, when there is extra space at the Toronto shelter, selects dogs from the kill lists of other pounds and puts them up for adoption here.

Hobo is a calm, friendly, affectionate dog but has the misfortune of looking like something thrown together by someone in a hurry. It's like he's been assembled by sticking the head of a Sharpei onto the torso of a German Pointer and then adding a long rat-like tail to poke out the rear. Hobo's weirdness is endearing, though, and the first couple that take him for a test walk decide to bring him home. Within a couple of weeks, all of Hobo's other companions in the rescued group are also adopted out.

Due to political pressures, the rescues from Ohio have been stopped. Toronto Animal Services now take in rescues from Montreal when space allows.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Washington Post slideshow on Vick pit bulls

Excellent.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/galleries/vickdogs/

A boy and a girl

Staff: We don't adopt out our dogs for guard dogs.

Boy: I'm not lookin for a guard dog.

He's wearing a basketball jersey, gold rings on his fingers, white runners. A thin line of dark hair traces the profile of his jaw and chin from ear to ear.

Staff: That's funny because it says here on the application form you just filled out that you're looking for a guard dog.

Boy: Oh man, did I check that box. I didn't mean to check that box.

Staff: Right.

Boy: Yeah, no, we're just looking for a pet, right? See she really likes dogs, you know what I'm saying, and it's for her.

She's wearing a thin blue tube top. A short, tight, glittery thing is wrapped around her hips just enough to not really cover her ass. 3 inch heels. Full make-up regimen on her face. High maintenance hair and super hi-gloss nails.

Staff: She wants an unneutered Rottweiler?

Boy: It's her birthday.

Staff: Right. Well, we also don't adopt out our dogs unneutered.

Boy: Oh really?

Staff: Yeah, pretty much.

Boy: Is neutering going to make a dog into a pussy?

Girl: (Giggles.)

Boy: (Snorts, realizing he just made a funny.)

Staff: It might.

Boy: Well, that's too bad ... but he'd still be a big guy?

Staff: Yeah, neutering doesn't make a dog smaller. You'd need a shrink ray for that.

Boy: Uh ... good. Yeah, we saw that Rottweiler back there. He's good.

Staff: The one that was barking and crazy jumping up and down?

Boy: Yeah, that one.

Staff: You know, that one's going to need a lot of training. He's a handful.

Boy: Yeah, that's the one.

Staff: You sure?

Boy: She really likes him. She likes big dogs, know what I'm saying.

Staff: Okay, well maybe she should take him for a walk first. See how she feels with him.

Boy: Nah, that's okay. We can take him right now. I got the form filled out. And the cash.

Staff: Mm hmm. Well, we can't let you have him until after he gets snipped so maybe you can think about it for a bit.

Boy: When's that going to be.

Staff: Within the next couple of weeks probably.

Boy: Hmm, can you hold him for us?

Staff: No, sorry, we don't do holds. You'll have to just come back in. Sorry.

Boy: Fuck it then, come on. Let's go.

Girl: Yeah, it kinda smells in here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A dog is not a computer


Cash is an 8 month old, red, purebred Doberman. He was left behind in an empty apartment by his owners when they moved out. Now he is at Toronto Animal Services.

His bark is loud, anxious, when I approach his kennel. He is excited when I stop in front of his kennel. He does a bum wiggle and his stubby tail waves like a fast metronome. I open the kennel door, put the leash on him, take him out.

He is skinny. You can see his ribs. He's got a slight cut on his nose. He's got an eye infection. Otherwise, he seems pretty healthy. He's full of energy, very bouncy. Every few steps we take, he turns around and looks at me, tries to jump on me in excitement and play bites his leash, my hand. He's acting like a puppy but he's in an almost fully grown adult doberman body and this behaviour is not good. I put a stop to it by controlling his leash away from myself. This tends to focus his attention back on the task at hand which is to go out for a walk.

Outside, he immediately relieves himself. So, he appears to be housebroken. He is focused on the environment around him, barely pays any attention to me and then when he does, he tries to jump on me. Again, control with the leash.

We pass another dog. He tries to pull closer to the other dog. I don't let him get any closer. I watch his hackles rise but he does not bark or make any further attempts to close the gap.

We continue our walk. I stop every 5 minutes to call him over to me. The first couple of times I do this, he does his usual jumping routine which I immediately stop. By the fourth or fifth time, he's no longer jumping on me. I give him a good pat and scratch his back and ears. Praise him.

At the end of the walk, I take him to a bench. As soon as I sit down, he climbs up and drapes his body over my lap. I rest my arms on him and we sit like that for several minutes and we watch the cars and pedestrians go by.

Like so many people, my days are spent in front of a computer. I'm not complaining. It's a good job but it is not life. There is no living thing behind that monitor and after eight hours of communicating with something lifeless, it does something to me. I have sunk closer to its level. I am less alive.

The dogs, they reverse all that. They can be out of control, loud or stand-offish but then, so unlike a computer, their personalities change. I give them this simple thing, a walk, a small taste of freedom and companionship, and suddenly, there is bonding, attachment, comfort. They remind me that the earth is a warm blooded place.

I am a little bit concerned about Cash. His rambunctiousness combined with his size may turn off a lot of people who would prefer to have a preprogrammed dog. Actually, I know this will be the case. People have started to expect from life what they expect from their technology. They expect life to be an extention of what is on-screen or on-line and not the other way around. Life is being gradually reduced to something which can be expressed by zeroes and ones. Black or white. With us or against us.

Is Cash a good dog or a bad dog, they will wonder. No, no, there's no time for training, they will say. And there's no room for imperfections so just tell us, is he a working item or is he broken?

This confusion between life and those things which emulate life grows but life is not zeroes and ones. It is infinite and it is unordered. I hope someone who understands this comes in for Cash soon, before his puppy dog antics become adult dog problems.