Sunday, November 30, 2008

On the edge

Sunday was not a great day for walking the dogs. It started cold and rainy and then it got even colder, the rain turned to stinging sleet and the ground started getting icy. The weather, unpleasant as it was, wasn't of much concern. I was much more concerned with the sister Doberman and the old girl Rottweiler.

The first time I walked the Rottie about a week ago, she wasn't high energy but she was at least enthusiastic when she saw me approach her kennel and she was more than happy to go out for a walk. She even pulled on her leash a bit, eager to get going.

This afternoon, when I approached her kennel, she was lying on her blanket and she looked up but did not move. Even when I opened the kennel door and put the leash on her, she didn't seem to want to get up. I knew she hadn't been out in while, otherwise I would have just left her, so I tugged on the leash gently and encouraged her to follow. She obliged but slowly. As we reached the elevator, she slowed down again and then stopped just as she was stepping across the elevator threshold so that the door banged into her as it tried to close. I pushed her into the elevator.

By the time the elevator reached the ground floor and the door opened again, she seemed a little more enthusiastic and we made our way to the exit. As soon as I opened the door, though, and she got a whiff of the sleet and the wind, she stopped in her tracks again. Again, I encouraged her to follow me out and she did slowly. Outside now, we ambled along for a few minutes and she did her business and then we walked back into the building.

Back inside, I talked to one of the staff who said that the Rottie had lost a lot of weight in the last few days and that it might the cancer. I dried her off and then spent some time with her in the upstairs foyer and by the time I brought her back to her kennel, she walked in without complaint and lay back down on her blanket.


When I took the sister Dobie out, she seemed as excited as usual but her breathing had definitely taken a turn for the worse. That first day, she sounded raspy whenever she exerted herself but now she was raspy all the time.

She did the same thing as the Rottie when she first stuck her head outside and felt the sleet and wind. She immediately backed up. But she too hadn't been out in a while so I gently pulled her outside and we went for our short walk.

Her breathing was really giving her a hard time, though. Every minute or so she would stop and sit and tilt her head up and back to get her breath back it seemed. Five minutes later, she decided she really didn't want to be outside at all so we headed back in. The Dobie wasn't housetrained, having come from a puppy mill, but tonight wasn't going to be the night to learn anything different.

After a towel dry, I sat on a bench and massaged her neck and back a bit. Her breathing was bad the whole time. Even when calm, she was struggling with it.



The vet will be coming by on Monday. She'll assess these two dogs and give her recommendations. If anyone feels they can do anything for either of these two, now would be the time to step up. If not, then save a few words for them in your prayers.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Brand new lives

It's been a while since I last posted updates from Jelena Kostic in Serbia. During that time, she's been doing a great job of setting up more routine adoptions of dogs from her shelter to new homes in Austria. We loved bringing a few of the Serbian dogs over to Canada when there were few other options but now, with the regular transport, it really does make more sense, with respect to money and safety, to drive them a much shorter distance over to Austria.

Here are some of the recent adoptees:

Sirkan in Serbia


Sirkan in Austria


Nina in Serbia


Nina in Austria


Polli in Austria


Rosa in Austria


Milica in Austria


Minni in Austria


Bonbon in Austria

Friday, November 28, 2008

Update on someone else's perfect dog

Remember this crazy Lab? Well, Emily, a blog reader, came down to TAS to walk and train her and ended up taking her home. A week later, she sent along this nice e-mail update on life with the Lab (now Livi):

I was thinking about you since I picked up "Someone ELSE'S perfect dog" last Thursday. Too funny! It still makes me laugh hysterically whenever I think about what you had named her...

Honestly, Fred, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to write your blog and then allowing us to take PSYCHO (LOL!) out for a walk that Saturday. I don't know what it was but I really took to her - I've always been drawn to the more difficult/less-than-desirable animals and teh ones in the really sad circumstances the most. I also appreciated your recommendation on the muzzle - she doesn't really need it anymore but it was invaluable for the first few days as she just didn't have a clue as to how to greet and interact with other dogs.

I have been walking the bejeezers out of her and it seems to be really helping her calm down. She now also plays non-stop with my Otis - I don't know how they don't drive me insane but I was trying to watch a movie last night and for FORTY minutes they hopped around playing, mouthing and climbing ALL over each other right in front of the telly. So I had my 90 pound dog and PSYCHO (who's probably around the same weight) bonking into me and the couch and I just had to, every so often, push them back with my heel - not that they even noticed! LOL...they had a great time and then finally sat down and panted for ages and were all smiles. Too cute. She also goes up to Otis when he's in his big bed and licks his head and in his ears (ewww - but don't worry, I clean his ears regularly when I bathe him) and he just bows his head, closes his eyes and laps up the attention.

I took them on a 3 hour walk yesterday throught the Moore Park Ravine and beyond and she did pretty well - learned how to better greet other dogs and even got to swim! She was on leash, of course, but just dove right in (don't worry, it was clear water and she didn't try to drink it at all). I'm going to pick up a super long, thick leash so she can go further next time and roam and explore more on our walks there. I always wished my Otis loved the water more as the family homestead is lakefront property and I always thought "huh, what a waste...so many dogs would kill for this!"

She's getting better with her leash training...slowly. Still highly excitable. I'll definitely send you pics, though, asap and make her famous on the internet!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

837

In 2007, 837 dogs were euthanized by TAS - at least this is what the front page of the Toronto Humane Society website tells me, calling it "Toronto City Hall Council's Shame" under their "Breaking News!" banner. 837 dogs killed is 837 dogs killed and there's no justice in that no matter how you look at it but let's see how it compares with another city.

Calgary Animal Services is supposed to be one of the best in North America. It's garnered accolades from all corners of the animal welfare community (see here and here and here). Not that there isn't always room for improvement, but many people say that Calgary Animal Services is a model for how things should be done.

For starters, they've got an excellent website. It's well layed out, with lots of information concerning pet care, volunteering, the importance of licensing, adoption programs and of course a list of available dogs and cats. They do a great job of promoting senior dog adoptions and have success stories posted (though these need some serious updating as the last time was apparently 2005).

One big reason Calgary Animal Services is so successful is that the city has a very high pet licensing rate. In fact, all the funding for CAS comes from pet licensing. Their pet licensing program is so successful that they are able to fully fund a new 2500 square foot vet clinic where they will be able to spay and neuter dogs and cats on site. I suspect one of the reasons for the recent push in Toronto to get our pet owners to license their pets may have had something to do with the success of the Calgary model.

According to their website: "The City of Calgary enforces a zero tolerance policy on all unlicensed dogs. The fine for having an unlicensed dog is $250."

Calgary seems to have stricter enforcement of their animal control policies than Toronto does. When a licensed dog is picked up by CAS, for example, it is immediately returned to the owner for a fee. An unlicenced dog is taken to the shelter and before the owner can take it home, the owner is charged $250 for a first offence. Subsequent offences mean an increment in the fine of $250 per offence. So, CAS picks up someone's unlicensed dog a third time and that's a $750 fine. I've got no problems with that but I'm beginning to see how they get the funds to build an on-site vet clinic. It's license or else and most Calgarian dog owners (90% I believe) are deciding to go for the license.

Calgary Animal Services also has a very active outreach program, with staff going out to kindergarten classes to teach kids about responsible pet ownership. They're very visible in the local media, using newspapers, billboards, bus shelters and community events to get their message across.

It would be interesting to find out how much of the upswing in licensing was due to the enforcement of fines and how much was due to other methods of public education. Either way, it's working for them.

So, given all this worthy effort on the part of CAS to move their city to a more humane animal welfare model, let's look at their hard euth numbers vs Toronto's "shameful" numbers. Calgary has a dog population of 110,242 in 2008 . In 2007, CAS euthanized 314 dogs. The years are off by one but still, the approximate percentage of CAS euthanized dogs vs. general dog population is 0.285%. That's a pretty low number and it looks like CAS is doing a not bad job.

Now for Toronto. The estimated dog population in Toronto is 250,000. This number is found at the bottom of p.3 of this report which deals with Toronto's licensing strategy. The number of dog euthanizations, as stated earlier, is 837. This makes the percentage of TAS euthanized dogs vs. general dog population to be 0.335%.

So, 0.285% vs 0.335%, which is a difference of only 17.4%. If Calgary is the gold standard for urban animal control, I think Toronto's doing not bad. But now the trick with using statistics is all in the details and do these numbers really tell us how the inner workings of CAS compare to TAS? Well, no, not at all. I'm sure there are policy differences and operating differences (for example, Calgary Animal Services does not accept surrendered animals and that's a biggie for Toronto Animal Services). I know there are things TAS could learn from CAS, especially with regards to public awareness, and maybe there are even things CAS could learn from TAS. But the one thing these percentages do tell us is that when someone trumpets 837 dog euthanasias in one year, that alone is a meaningless number when taken out of context.

Of course this whole analysis only has bearing in our dysfunctional political world. To the dead dogs represented by even these ultra low percentages, there's nothing good at all about any of this and this is the infuriating part. Instead of concentrating energies on forming alliances to do the best for the animals who's lives are on the line, some organizations still insist on denigrating others as part of their routine P.R. philosophy. It's ridiculous and utterly human.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Palliative care


There are several dogs at TAS right now who are not in great shape. There is an older Rottie girl who is too skinny and has a hard marble sized growth in one of her mammaries. There is the female Doberman who has difficulty breathing. There is Daisy who has a mouthful of rotten teeth and suffers from separation anxiety. There is a male Boston Terrier with a growth in its mouth. None of these dogs are being put into general adoption but instead will hopefully be placed with a rescue.

But what happens if they don't find placement? What happens to those too sick dogs? Right now there is only one option and that is euthanasia. The feeling is that it is better to euthanize a dog than to let it suffer through its illness, which can't be diagnosed and/or treated due to lack of funds, lying alone in a kennel for its few remaining weeks or months.

To euthanize or not based on a dog's health is a hard decision to make and I'm glad I don't have to do it but it is done all the time by the vets and by the staff.

That got me thinking about a palliative care, fostering program for those too sick dogs. Since they're going to be euthanized anyway, why not let them spend their last few days in the relative comfort and care of a home environment? It would basically be treated as end of life care. Once their illness got to a point where it caused too much discomfort, then the dog would be brought to a private vet or back to TAS for the euthanasia.

Then I started thinking about how such a program could be set up. It would be a tricky. There would have to be assurances that the dogs aren't just being forced to suffer prolonged pain. And would the fostering family have the funds and ability to provide medication to ease pain? There would also be the huge emotional impact on the foster parent when the dog finally gets ill enough and has to be euthanized. You'd almost want someone who didn't like dogs too much so they didn't get too emotionally attached. Or someone strong enough to handle a broken heart every month or so.

When I took Rocky out of TAS almost two years ago, he was sick and on the euth list. It was my intention to basically provide him a comfortable environment for a while and nurse him until his final days which everyone figured was maybe a month or two away. But then he recovered - and thank God he did because I realized within the first week that there was no way I was going to be able to calmly, emotionlessly bring him back into TAS to get him euthanized.

I guess that's my hope for palliative care: that the dog recovers. Given a better quality of life which the dog may never have had before - like a nurturing environment, a compassionate human companion, healthy food - the dog may actually recover at which point it can be returned for adoption, fostered until adoption or, as in many if not most cases, kept on as part of the family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TAS facilities

When Johanne from caacQ, was down from Montreal over the weekend to drop off some dogs, she had a tour of the Toronto Animal Services South facility and liked the way it was set up and asked me if I could take some photos of the place for reference. So, here you are, Johanne:

Here's the reception area with the first cat showroom on the left. Often, there'll be an armful of kittens playing in there.


Upstairs playroom for a potential adopter to hang out with a dog. Notice the drain. There are drains everywhere - great for rinsing down the floors from leaky dogs.


Lots of handwashing stations. (Did you know that hand sanitizer is also good for removing makeup, lipstick, or ballpoint ink from clothes? Yup, true.)


Raincoats for volunteers. Nice touch, though orange isn't my colour.


Another cat showroom. The long term fat cats usually get to stay in these. A couple of them love attacking the glass at passing dogs and scaring the bejeezus out of them.


Cat room. I think it needs a rubber plant.


Cat cage. I think it needs a rubber plant. Maybe a small one.


Dog adoption room. There are high pressure hoses at every end wall for easier cleaning of kennels and spraying down of unruly mobs.


Kennel with dog descriptions on door.


There is a drain with a removeable grill at the rear of every kennel with the floor slightly sloping towards the grill. The wall and floor surfaces are continuous and epoxy finished to be waterproof. This set up, along with the high pressure water hose, makes for easy clean up - especially appreciated on days like today when the dogs were fed canned food for the first time yesterday and several ended up making a huge mess all over their floors and walls - think poo bombs.


At nights, all the dogs get soft bedding to sleep on. These pads can be picked up and washed in the morning. Sometimes the dogs also use these to practice their yoga.

Wow

Maybe it's time for the dogs in adoption to get a makeover.


More sassy stylin' here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

POS

Vick admits to hanging his dogs.

The report also states in mid-April of 2007, Vick, Peace and Phillips hung approximately three dogs who did not perform well in a "rolling session," which indicates the readiness of a dog to fight. According to the report, the three men hung the dogs "by placing a nylon cord over a 2 X 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed. They also drowned approximately three dogs by putting the dogs' heads in a five gallon bucket of water."

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3718304

Sunday photos

It was a busy Sunday afternoon. There were lots of new dogs and luckily there were lots of volunteers too so all the dogs got properly walked. They all needed photos as well and I only got about half of them done before the light outside started fading. Here's the first batch.

It's pretty obvious this adorable Yorkie isn't going to be in adoption for long.


This older Lab cross is wondering why it's not at home.


Two magnificent red Dobermans came in on Saturday. This is the male. He's really playful and is super eager when meeting new people.


This is the female. I think she might be the previous one's sister but I'm just guessing. She's more timid than the male but very friendly once she gets to know you. She's got really raspy breathing so hopefully the vet can figure out what's going on with her and get her fixed up.


This Collie is a bit rambunctious but settles right down as soon as someone gives him affection.


This little Westie loves to get up on its hind legs and clap. Another little one who isn't going to be in adoption long.


I had a hard time getting this shy Poodle to come out of its crate which it was hiding in inside its kennel but eventually it made its way out. I picked it up and put it on the bench and then it nuzzled right in beside me and didn't want to move.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My neighbours

When I was a kid, 10 or 11, I had a neighbour who was four years younger than me called Johnny. Johnny seemed normal enough but he was also a practicing sadist. He wasn't the typical salt on earthworms or burning ants with magnifying glass type bug torturer, he actually had a real flare for it. He'd do stuff like set up his bicycle on its kickstand and crank the petals to get the rear wheel spinning really fast and then throw grasshoppers through the spokes to see them get cut up or squashed in the gears.

He also used to be able to vomit on command so every so often he'd chase around his older sister, Natalie, who was my age, trying to spew on her. Actually, maybe that's not an example of sadism. Maybe it's just an example of fucked-upness.

I used to live in the suburbs and all the houses in the neighbourhood had window wells to let light into the basements. I don't know what it's like now in the suburbs, but back then, we'd often find toads in those window wells, probably having hopped in sometime during the night and then couldn't get out again. It was a bit of a morning ritual for me to check all the window wells for toads because if they weren't found and released in fairly short order, they'd die and shrivel up into these brown, leathery toad carcasses - and removing those was gross.

One day Johnny came over into my backyard and casually announced that he had found a toad that morning. I must've been busy doing something or maybe just trying to ignore him but either way, I didn't think much of it and he left. It was only later that I found out from his sister what he had done.

Johnny had taken the toad and put it into an empty jar. He then peed in the jar and screwed the lid on tight. Then he brought the jar into the field behind our houses and buried it. I'm not sure what the burying part had to do with anything except that burying something always made it seem that much more mysterious.

Johnny must've told his sister who then told their father.

Let me tell you a bit about their father. He was a commercial pilot when being a commercial pilot still meant something, status and glamour I suppose. He drove a white Mercedes and was quite proud of it, showing it off to me a few times despite the fact that I had no interest in cars. He was also quite proud of being Swiss and being able to ski. Every year, he'd take his family to the Alps for skiing. For me, he may as well have been telling me he took his family to Mars. It was so unbelievable, strange and exotic.

His daughter and I were good friends and maybe I even had a crush on Natalie but it was a time in my life when boys weren't supposed to be interested in girls so I certainly wasn't going to let on. We did hang out, though. Almost every day after school, often with a bunch of the other kids in the neighbourhood. This went on for a couple of years but then as we got a bit older, we started seeing less of each other, maybe only once a week, maybe not even.

One day, as we were walking to the corner store together, Natalie turned to me and said that her father had told her a while back that she should stop seeing me so much and that she should make friends with her own type. I asked what she meant by type and she said, you know, people like where I come from. You mean Swiss people? I asked, thinking that there weren't any other Swiss people in the neighbourhood. Yeah, like that but also Germans are okay. And by that I knew she was refering to Michael who lived across the street from us.

It's funny but I wasn't hurt by that at the time. I knew what racism was but had never really encountered it or maybe I had but never so blatantly and so, for some reason, her words didn't register as racism. It wasn't until years later that I realized what was at the center of that conversation and that Natalie's father was responsible for the end of my friendship with her.

But back to the toad.

I was with the usual gang of kids all draped over the various components of the swingset in my backyard when Natalie came over with some exciting news. She told us that Johnny was going to get the belt from their father because their father had found out what Johnny had done to the toad. The best part was that their father was going to whip Johnny in the garage. Wow! Now we had so many questions. When's it going to happen? How many belts is he gonna get? Will the garage door be open or will we only be able to stand outside and listen? Is it a bare bum whipping or does he get to keep his pants on?

Natalie informed us that it was going to happen right now so we all hurried over to their garage. Unfortunately, the garage door was closed so we all pressed up against it trying to hear what was going on inside.

We didn't hear a thing. Nothing. Massive disappointment. It turned out that Johnny's father had belted him inside the house and not in the garage. We asked Natalie if Johnny would get belted some more and she said maybe because their father was really angry with Johnny. We asked if the next round of belting would happen in the garage and Natalie said maybe. We made her promise to tell us if that was the case.

I look back on that incident and it's of course apparent that Johnny wasn't the only sadist in the group. We pretty well all had an evil, mean streak, ready to take morbid pleasure in someone else's pain. Of course Johnny was a twerp, so that made it especially delightful but still, I was no saint either.

And I'm still no saint now (after all, I certainly didn't feel sorry for the ear guy) but something inside me has changed since those days. The thought of cruelty applied to an innocent creature in order for someone to derive pleasure out of it now makes me sick. I don't quite know how that change occured in me nor even quite when it occured. Was the change due to puberty? Was it from watching all those Disney movies? Was it part of becoming "civilized"? And what I also have to wonder is this. Is this something that can be researched, discovered and bottled and fed to people who still have no compassion, who still thrive on cruelty?

I've been thinking about this sadistic urge in people, not only because of the victims of animal abuse I encounter but more recently also because of the experiences a fellow blogger has gone through at the hands of a media inspired lynch mob. It seems that an adult and more acceptable form of sadistic pleasure can be justified with a thin coat of self righteousness and protected by the anonymity of the internet.

Continued here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ok, so it ain't the Four Seasons

A van load of new bright eyed recruits from Montreal, mostly bigger dogs this time (with a couple of smaller ones not in the video), all excited, anxious and now safe. It'll take them a few hours to settle down and then a few days to hopefully get their anxiety levels down. In the meanwhile, they'll get health checked and vaccinated before being put up for adoption.



The kennels aren't posh but they're clean and warm and much better than where these guys came from and hopefully will lead to somewhere much better still.

Friday, November 21, 2008

An ear for an ear

From The Windsor Star: Rony Salman, the Windsor man who cut his dog's ears off gets his own ear bitten off in jail.
A.K. abuser loses ear in jail fight bite

As Nelson Muntz from the Simpson's would say ... ha ha.

CBC goes undercover

CBC takes a hidden camera into Quebec puppy mills.

video: UC Quebec puppy mills

print: Quebec battles reputation as puppy mill capital

The previous was originally broadcast in French. For the original, more in-depth French version, go here and click on "Regardez l'integrale" under "Emission du jeudi 20 novembre 2008".

... and other news:

Inaction over Quebec puppy mills has created a mecca of abuse: lawsuit

Reason # 491

Remember this little Chinese Crested rescued from the Quebec puppy mill?



He was adopted out by Toronto Animal Services and then he was returned by the owner a few weeks later. Why? Because, the owner said, the dog had diarrhea.

I hope he went in the owner's shoe. A lot.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In and out

Their new photos weren't even put up on the Toronto Animal Services' adoption site before these guys were already adopted out just in the last week. Nice.

This young guy was brought in on his own.


These two are brother ...


and sister ...


and a kiss goodbye.

Update on hedgehog puppy

Remember this little guy from Jelena's shelter in Serbia? Looks like he got himself a nice new home in Austria.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Soup kitchen for dogs

Berlin is one of the few other cities outside of Canada which I've visited where I thought I could happily live for an extended period of time. It's vibrant, multi-ethnic, not too expensive, good variety of food. Now there's one more reason to like the city:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081031/od_uk_nm/oukoe_uk_dogs

I only wonder if they have a must-be-accompanied-by-owner policy?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Update on Ruffles

From Ruffle's new owners:

Good day: Here are some pics of our boy. We changed his name to "Russel". We love him. He's fitting in really well as you can see. We took him to our vet and she was happy with his disposition but was a little concerned about his thinness. Actually, she said he lacked muscle mass so he needs lot of walks and excercise. That is no problem. He's not the best walker yet but we're working on it. She said his coat was nice and healthty. She wants to see him in 3 weeks. As you can see we had some snow overnight. He was a little nervous about putting his paws into the snow but by the end of this morning he was fine. He was out in our backyard with our 2 girls and a friend for about two hours and all was good. He even met the neighbors dogs. A litle tense at first but worked out okay. He ran up and down the fence playing with them for about 1/2 hour. Just thought i would let you know how things are going. Great so far.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Coincidences

Every once in a while, I experience a coincidence which makes me go hmm.

Like the time I was in Ottawa and had just finished watching the first Harry Potter movie. There was a snowy owl in that first movie and I was thinking about it as I left the theatre, wondering if the owl was real or computer generated when I noticed a group of people on Sparks Street looking up at the roof of one of the buildings. They were doing the classic look and point and so, of course I had to look as well. What they were all looking at was a snowy owl perched up on the edge of the roof. At first I thought maybe it was a plastic bird but then it moved its head and a moment later it flew off.

I suppose if I were a superstitious person, I would've expected that to be an omen of an upcoming earthquake or something but since I was not superstitious, there was no earthquake.

Last week, I read an account by someone about a Lab they once owned who developed a curious habit of walking half way up the stairs normally and then turned around and walked the rest of the way up backwards. Weird. Never heard of that before and then I didn't think about it again until, on Friday, at the end of a walk with the yellow Lab at TAS, I decided to go up the stairs with her instead of taking the elevator back up to the adoption room and then ...



Hmm.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bits of news

After the previous slow period with adoptions, things seemed to have picked up again. Ruffles and Penelope have been adopted in the last few days which is sigh of relief as they had been at TAS for several weeks too long.

Vadar and Charlene also have found new homes. Vadar, even before he got his name changed, was adopted on the weekend by a nice young woman and that's a relief as well as dogs like him have a higher tendency to end up in the wrong hands.

That first batch of Montreal puppy mill dogs may have all been adopted out but there's are always more Montreal dogs ready to fill up any unused kennel space at TAS and another batch is expected sometime this week.

One of the main difficulties with getting the dogs from Montreal is finding drivers who are able and willing to make the long trip there and back. If any of you just love the idea of driving with a load of crated dogs from Montreal to Toronto, contact me and we'll see if we can set something up.

I want to thank Joanne and Emily who came down to TAS yesterday morning and spent over an hour with the yellow Lab in the rain on a long walk/training session. Emily expressed interest in fostering the Lab but it turned out the dog had already been placed through Lab Rescue.

Whoever ends up with her will have their hands full but with lots of training and dieting, I'm sure they'll end up with a great dog. Either that or she'll remain a fat nutbar who'll eat every wad of chewing gum, hamburger wrapper and goose poo in sight while pulling your shoulder out of its socket trying to get to it, but hey, it's all good.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Winter fashions

From something I wrote last year on another site:

Stella's a Great Dane and I've always found it very difficult to find properly fitted clothes for her. I'm talking functional clothing here, for warmth, as Stella is one big woose when it comes to the cold. Anything below 20C and she starts to shiver if she's lying down and relaxed. Anything below 0C and she needs a jacket when outside for more than a few minutes. I find it strange that there are companies that makes Superman costumes for toy poodles but no one makes properly fitted warm coats for large, relatively hairless dogs.

Well winter's almost here again and Stella's feeling the chill so I decided to try to make her some jackets this year since I can't find anything that'll fit her the way I like (not to mention how expensive most dog clothes can be). Most of the heat loss occurs from her belly where there's basically no fur at all but all the commercial jackets I've seen, at least the ones that do sort of fit her, don't do an adequate enough job of covering up underneath.

So, I went to ValuVillage, bought some fleece jackets and insulated vests and did some alterations on them. Stella and Rocky are not impressed but I think the results aren't bad.



Here's the materials breakdown:

cost per jacket: $7 - $10
time spent altering each jacket: 15 - 30 minutes
equipment: sewing machine, safety pins, thread, scissors

Here are more detailed instructions, in case you want to make something similar:

1. Go to ValuVillage, Goodwill, etc. and buy a vest or fleece. Stella, a Great Dane, needed an XXXL although I don't really find the sizes that consistent so some XL were big enough while others were too small.

2. Put the garment on your dog backwards and inside out so that the zipper runs along the back of your dog. You want to put the garment on inside out so that when you sew it, you'll be sewing on the inside and not on the outside of the jacket. Very gently do up the zipper making sure not to snag any skin or fur and checking that nothing's too tight, especially aroung the neck/shoulder area. Hopefully everything fits and you can proceed to the alterations.

3. Roll up the sleeves so that at the very least the paws are clear. I roll the sleeves up higher almost to Stella's elbows just so that they won't drag in puddles or wet snow. Using safety pins, pin that rolled up sleeve in place.

4. Using safety pins, pin all the loose fabric along the underside of the belly so that you get a good fit. You'll probably find that there's a lot of sagging fabric at the belly and as you go along to the chest area, the fabric gets tighter. Don't pin it too tight otherwise it might be too restrictive for movement.

5. Take the jacket off and sew a new seam along the pins along the belly and sleeves.

6. Cut off excess fabric.

7. Turn jacket right side out and try it on your Dane.

8. Sometimes I find that the zippers, especially the older ones, don't stay closed at the top near the neck so I sew a couple of velcro strips which close across the zipper up by the collar to keep everything in place.

9. For a male dogs, you'll now have to cut out a piece around the base of the belly so that his "parts" can hang out. Hem the edge of this cutout so it won't fray.

Good luck and I hope everyone's dogs stay as warm as they want to be this winter.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Infighting

The dog rescue world is not a united front. The more I find out about it, the more I realize that a lot of people's energies go not into improving the lives of canines but into fighting against one another. I think the biggest fight is between those who support animal rights and those who support animal welfare. Animal welfare supporters believe that domestic animals should be properly taken care of but remain under the control of human guardians - as in a typical, compassionate owner/pet relationship. Animal welfare people tend to be the ones who support rescues and shelters. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, would like to give animals inalienable rights, but more controversially, at least with the extreme fringe, would like to see the whole idea of domesticated animals eradicated. PETA would be an example of an animal rights organization.

That fight is a doozy and I'm not going to wade into it here but if you want to immerse yourself into that war of words all you need to do is google it.

It's not just the bigger idealogical differences, though, that create tension and animosity. Even something more minor can cause significant confusion and bitterness.

For example, in the United States (and what happens there usually makes an appearance up here in Canada if it hasn't already) there have recently erupted dozens if not hundreds of municipal anti-tethering laws. On the surface, anti-tethering laws seem to serve the cause of humane treatment of dogs. They were implemented to stop people from keeping their dogs tied up outside all the time because that is a form of abuse.

You know the stereotype: some trash family has an unfortunate, unsocialized, untrained and basically unwanted dog tied up with a twelve foot chain to a metal stake stuck in the ground. The only time the dog gets any attention from its owners is when one of them sticks his fat head out the trailer and screams at it to shut up and stop barking or throws it some chicken bones and stale bread for supper.

Dogs are social animals and need to be able to interact with people, or at least other dogs, and so this particular chained dog, frustrated, bored and quite possibly just pissed off at its life long predicament, gets aggressive and barks and lunges at anyone that passes by. Maybe the dog spends its whole life chained up or maybe one day, as it's lunging, the dog breaks its chains and chases someone down and does some serious damage. Then the dog gets taken to the pound and killed. That frees the family up to go out and get a puppy and the cycle starts all over again.

With an anti-tethering law, the authorities can now come in, charge the family with abuse and rescue the dog from its intolerable predicament. Sounds good but ...

The problem is that while such a broadly defined law may catch some of the baddies out there, it may also end up hurting a lot of decently kept dogs and well-intentioned owners. Part of the difficulty is specifying exactly what constitutes illegal tethering. It's obvious that tying a dog up 24/7 is inhumane, but what about for 5 minutes while you step inside a coffeeshop to get a coffee (not that I'd ever do that in Toronto)? What about if someone didn't have a fenced yard and tied their dog to a tree for a few hours to give their dog a bath and then let it stay outside to dry off? Those are two pretty clear examples of fairly acceptable behaviour towards dogs but unacceptable according to anti-tethering laws.

Okay, but no fair minded judge would penalize a dog owner in such harmless examples -you'd hope. That would be like being charged for driving 5 km/hr over the speed limit. Doesn't happen. Well, not often anyway.

So, when should charges be layed? Well, who knows? Up to the discretion of the animal control officer, I suppose. And to even further muddy the situation, what happens when opinions about the nature of tethering itself differ? How is a tether that much different from a kennel, or a crate which is even smaller, with respect to the dog? Consider how a 12 foot tether allows a dog a 24 foot diameter circle in which to move. You'd have to build an awfully big kennel to cover the same amount of ground. Some dogs may actually do better on a tether whereas other dogs left to either a tether or kennel over long periods of time can develop behavioural problems and yet there are no anti-kenneling laws. There are certainly no anti-crating laws as severe as the anti-tethering laws and yet a crate is much more movement restrictive than either kennel or tether.

Confining a dog for several hours every day - while it may not be ideal (I don't do it but I know many people who do and swear by it), may not be that detrimental to a dog as long as the dog has freedom and human company the rest of the time. And it depends on the dog as well. A dog that sleeps all day probably wouldn't even mind that much being movement constrained for 8 hours but a dog that is high energy may do really poorly. How are you suppose to account for dog personalities in law?

It seems to me that the problem here is neither tethering, kenneling nor crating but neglect. And, since neglect is subjective and also dependent on the individual dog, it's a lot harder to define in law and prove in court than something as straightforward and black and white as a decree against tethering so of course the easier legislation is passed. It remains to be seen whether such sweeping laws will result in better conditions or worse conditions for dogs in general. In the meantime, the bickering amongst dog activists continue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

60 second puppy break

These two pups arrived at Toronto Animal Services way too young. With the noise and increased likelihood of catching some illness, the shelter environment is no place for the really young ones. These two were fostered out to the home of a very generous volunteer for a few weeks until they were old enough to be brought back in. They should be up for adoption shortly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Toronto Star Pit Bull article

Good article on traveling with Pit Bulls across Canada in The Star today with some additional blog commentary here. The blog contains a video about the cruel fate of many Pit Bulls which I couldn't watch to the end. I've seen enough suffering dog videos to last 10 lifetimes.

S, M, L

There's quite the mix of dogs at Toronto Animal Services right now - all sizes and from all over.

This little poodle comes all the way from Nunavut via Montreal. I'm not sure what the story is but I bet Toffee is glad to be here in balmy Toronto rather than up north for the winter. This pooch is more suited for riding on a sled than pulling one.


This gentle and loving, mid-sized black Cocker Spaniel came from the Montreal SPCA. Charlene's travel mate, a golden Cocker Spaniel, was snatched up in no time. While waiting for her chance at a new home, blood started showing up in her urine so some tests are being run. Hopefully, everything'll be alright and Charlene will make it onto the adoption floor again before too long.


Vadar is a large local boy. This beautiful brindled Mastiff was found wandering the streets of Parkdale and remains unclaimed after more than a week so he is now up for adoption. He's a super affectionate dog who would love to crawl into someone's lap if he could but since he's 80 pounds (my estimate) and should be 20 pounds heavier, that might be hard to do.

I think Vadar should get a name change. The name's too menacing and a dog that looks the way he does has enough stereotyping problems to overcome. So, any suggestions?

I've met such a vast assortment of dogs in my time at TAS, that it amazes me anyone would still make pet store or backyard breeder purchases before checking out what's available in the shelters or rescues. Ill-informed buyers, I suppose, and of course that's partially our fault for not getting the word out better.

Here's to getting the word out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Uncharitable

Often I hear about people telling dog owners not to anthropomorphosize their pets. There seems to be two occasions for these lectures. One, which I can understand, is when people start dressing their dogs up in costumes or otherwise treating them in ways that they couldn't possibly understand or appreciate. The other occasion, though, is generally when someone wants to be able distance themselves from animals so that they can self-affirm their superiority over the lowly beasts. And this, in turn, is often used as an excuse to neglect or otherwise abuse the creature.

I remember in high school, when we debated the traits that differentiated humans from other animals. We were told that humans could learn whereas animals can undergo behaviour modification and had instincts but couldn't learn in the way humans could. Humans use tools. Animals do not. Humans have language. Animals do not. Humans have a conscious sense of self. Animals do not. Humans have a soul. Animals do not.

What a pile of crap. I didn't quite believe it then even though it was coming from the mouths of my teachers. I definitely don't believe it now. And I think even science is starting to come around especially in areas of animal communication, tool usage, learning. As for a soul, if Paris Hilton has a soul then my dog definitely has one too.

A while ago, I was reading the comments posted after a newspaper article about how people are spending more on their pets than ever before. The article was neutral. It basically dealt with the price of good quality dog food, rising vet costs, doggie day cares, etc. but the comments inevitabley took on a moralistic slant, boiling down to: how could anyone spend so much money on a dog when there are starving children in Africa? The implication of such a question is that dogs/animals are so inferior that we as humans are committing an immoral act by caring for them while there are other humans on the planet somewhere suffering. Nevermind that the people who ask such questions probably never did a truly charitable act in their lives and they only express such false indignation in order to cover up their own sense of lazy selfishness and guilt, but the arrogance and ignorance of such a question is truly illustrative of how far we as an enlightened species have not progressed.

To think that there is only one deserving charity that has moral rights over all others is stupid and unrealistic.

To think that any human suffering is greater than any animal suffering and thus should be addressed first before all others is also stupid and unrealistic.

Humans definitely do have some traits that animals do not have - like a huge helping of arrogance and an overdone sense of priviledge. We've helped ourselves to the entire planet at the expense of a truly immeasureable number of other living creatures. Now when some of those creatures so obviously need our help, there are those who would deny them even that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Someone else's perfect dog

In the 2 years I've been volunteering at Toronto Animal Services I think I've met one dog I didn't like or rather it didn't like me (I don't feel too bad, though, because it didn't much like anyone else either). Very occasionally, however, there are dogs that, while I don't dislike them, I don't particular like them either. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting better acquainted. Sometimes it's that maybe during the first meeting we had, the dog was still too stressed out from the new environment. Sometimes, however, it's because the dog is very difficult to handle and doesn't seem to offer much in return. At least not to me.

A dog like that came in this past weekend. It's a yellow Lab. If I had one word to describe it, I'd say it was a nutbar. It is completely wild on a leash. It throws its not insignificant weight around. It doesn't seem to have much interest in people. It's only good quality, if you can call it a good quality, is that it is food obsessed so that at least you can get some temporary control over him if you have a snack to tempt him with. Even if I had no dogs of my own, I would not take this one home.

So, is this dog a write off?

A few months after I started at TAS, a Border Collie mix came in. I don't remember his previous history but I do remember walking him and not being entirely impressed. He too was quite bad on leash. He barked a lot. He was completely untrained. He was easily distracted. He was uninterested in people. The walk was basically 30 minutes of being pulled around by a dog that didn't seem the least bit interested in who was at the other end of the leash. A couple of weeks later, I was surprised when I heard that he got adopted. I was even more surprised when the Border Collie, now Jefferson, turned up at the dog park I go to with my dogs. The person who adopted Jefferson lived near the park and was a long distance runner. Jefferson, with his high strung energy, was what the person was looking for. Jefferson was going to be his running companion. And even Jefferson's continuous barking, which annoyed most everyone else at the park, was no bother to his owner who just said, "Well, dogs bark," to which I thought, "Wow, I'm glad you're not my neighbour."

Of course a few months later, Karma, the Universe, or God, deciding I needed to be taught a lesson, had Jefferson and his owner move in three houses away from me. Almost everyday I would hear and see the two of them as they left their house for their morning 10k run or cycle. Almost everyday, Jefferson would sniff around my front yard and sometimes piddle and drive Stella and Rocky batty as they watched him from the front room window. But, most importantly, everyday, I saw how the relationship between Jefferson and his owner grew stronger and more confident. They weren't just good for each other. They were great for each other. The owner adored Jefferson and Jefferson cherished his owner and soon enough, his barking subsided. Even Stella, who at first didn't want to have anything to do with Jefferson, now started initiating play with him and she doesn't do that with many dogs.

What I've learned is this. Just because there's no bond between a particular dog and myself doesn't mean that I should write the dog off as a dog that no one would want. Every dog deserves the opportunity to be matched up with the right person. That may not be an easy thing to do but when that match is found, it's often these "problem" dogs that really learn to shine.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Great Dane at home in Oshawa - 2

Look how far Ned, now Oliver, the Great Dane from Montreal has come in just a few short weeks.

From Oliver's foster parents:

Hi Fred, Oliver is doing just fine, he now is allowed out of his room during the day, when we are not home, with Luka, He is learning really fast with "leave it" sit and stay. The best is when we feed him. He is learning that he has to lay down away from his bowl until I say "OK". He is improving with leash walks, and this weekend we are going to try off leash at a private lot used just for off leash walks. We will be introducing him to the group of danes we walk with on the weekends. I still can't understand why rescues did not want to take a chance on him, as he is loveable, cuddly, as really smart. He is a puppy at heart and loves to play with toys. He and Luka are doing great. He is still not strong enough for all out dane play but he is quick, and deeks Luka when he needs to. The cat has now accepted that there is another dog in the house and realizes that this one does not care about her and won't chase her like Luka does.

There is no sign of separation anxiety, no chewing, or destruction of anything. But does like the garbage. He is a big goof, who just wants to play and be loved. He is gaining weight, and his ribs are starting to get some coverage, his hind legs are getting stronger, his sores have healed. He is still underweight but that takes time.

I hope to remember to bring my camera this weekend to Dogwood to take pics of him with the other danes we will be with. And I will send you pics of him with, I hope, his new friends.

And then a few days later:

Well, our first off leash with Oliver went amazing, He showed wonderful dog manners, and stayed with the pack. We walked with 11 dogs and 7 humans at a nearby farm. Most of the dogs we were with are rescues. Great dane rescues and other rescues. He was bouncy and seemed to be smiling as he ran through the bush, chasing and being chased. He looked so free... relaxed.... and carefree. A good time was had by all.






Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama's dog 2

At Obama's first press conference yesterday as the president-elect, when asked about the puppy he had promised his kids (who have allergies and thus limits the breed options), he said: "Our preference would be to get a shelter dog. But a lot of shelter dogs are mutts, like me."

I'm not sure if that means he will or he won't adopt a shelter dog but it was a good line nevertheless.

Obama added: "With respect to the dog, this is a major issue. I think it's generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything."

A dog is not a yoyo



This is something like Daisy's twelveth visit to Toronto Animal Services. So far, everytime she's escaped from her owner's house, she's been lucky enough to avoid getting hit by a car before being picked up by an animal control officer and brought in. Each time, Daisy's owners had been given a warning and each time the owners have obviously ignored the warning. It's like they were using TAS as their own dog retrieval/dog sitting service. So, a couple of days ago when the owners called once again to see if Daisy had turned up, they were told yes and this time they'd be charged a fine.

The owners balked and walked away from their dog and now 10 year old Daisy is homeless and scared and her future is uncertain.

Of course the owners blame Daisy for her own predicament. She's got separation anxiety; she bolts through doors; she chews through stuff. So, instead of crating Daisy whenever she's alone, the owners dump her because they're too cheap to pay a fine - which is really just a service fee for returning their dog to them these dozen or more times.

I wish there was a trap door for people like that. The ex-owners are brought into the office. They're asked why they've abandoned their pet. They start to give some sorry excuse for being such assholes but before they can finish, a button is pressed, and whoosh, a trap door opens and they fall into a big, dark pit and land on top of all the other assholes that have abandoned their pets. And for just a few seconds, while the trap door is still open, you can hear all the assholes down there still telling each other how it wasn't their fault, it's just that the dog didn't match the new sofa, or the dog grew too big, or the dog barked sometimes, or the new boyfriend didn't like dogs, or the condo didn't allow dogs or the dog was behaving, well, like a dog and that just wasn't good enough and even though all those assholes have been sitting in the dark with all those other assholes for all this time, they still don't get it. They'll never get it. And then the trap door closes, all is quiet again and the world is a better place.