On Saturday I went to visit with the 22 dogs seized in a dog fighting bust in Pierce County. 22 souls without a name, but each with a unique personality and spirit that makes you want to fight for them.
There’s the teeny brown puppy. The smiling little tan girl. The giant block-headed fawn boy who just wants a good ear rub. The white spotted girl who can’t contain her excitement or get enough attention. The tan girl who shivers in the corner and won’t make eye contact. The little brown boy that shivers with both fear and excitement, not quite sure what to make of this new kindness from humans. The black boy covered in mange with the ripped up ear. The little brown one who actually smiles when you approach her kennel. These are just a few who captured my heart on Saturday.
These 22 souls are being held until their owner can be brought to trial, and because they are considered evidence, they are only permitted basic health care, and cannot be altered in any way that would tamper with their status as “evidence.” This means none of the dogs can be spayed or neutered. Several females are in heat, which we actually celebrate, since at least we know they’re not pregnant. Some are suspected to be pregnant, such as the sweet fawn girl with the swollen belly, despite the fact that she is so emaciated that you can see every vertebrae in her spine. One little black dog has a broken leg that never healed correctly and she can’t put any weight on it. Since her condition is considered evidence, we can’t fix it to make her more comfortable. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to look at their scarred and broken bodies, knowing they’ve never known the comfort of a warm bed or a loving family.
Most of the dogs seem to be in good spirits, and even though we can’t interact with them beyond ear rubs and butt scratches through the kennels, many are just soaking up the new found love and attention they never received in their previous life. A few of the dogs are too terrified to do anything more than tremble in the corner of their kennels. Some of the volunteers have been bringing books with them and simply hanging out next to these kennels, tossing the occasional treat in, to let the dogs know they mean no harm. Sadly, the shyest ones show little promise for adoption – they are just too badly broken. Our only hope is that we can show them a little kindness toward the end of their lives. We can’t even compassionately release them from the misery of this life due to their status as evidence. Perhaps even more heartbreaking than the hopeless cases are the happy and otherwise adoptable dogs, who could eventually succumb to the stresses of living in a kennel for months on end. These dogs’ lives depend on their ability to stay sane while awaiting trial. Once the trial is over, we can then more thoroughly assess the dogs’ level of adoptability, and hopefully get them into foster care, where they can learn the socialization they so sorely missed out on. Even then, they will be very special cases that will need to go to only the most experienced dog owners. Some may need to be only dogs, due to their fighting background; others may be able to find placement with the right canine companions. We just don’t know, and we won’t know until we can evaluate them. In the meantime, they need all the love and affection they can get while imprisoned, and I will surely be spending as much time as I can visiting them, no matter how much it hurts to do so.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on dog training. I have, however, spent a lot of time researching different training methods and have had experience training many different types of dogs via my involvement in rescue and shelter work.
Let me just put this out there: I am not a fan of Cesar Milan (AKA the Dog Whisperer). This surprises a lot of people, since he has basically become the pop culture icon of dog training. While I do appreciate all he’s done for pit bulls, and I think it’s great he’s inspired an interest in working with behavior problems and not giving up, I simply don’t agree with dominance techniques. Many experts will agree that these methods are horribly outdated, and downright destructive for many types of dogs.
Dominance techniques are based on asserting yourself as a leader over your dog in order to elicit a desired behavior. While this sounds good in theory – in the dog world, true leaders don’t earn their status by force; they earn it via respect from their pack. That’s not to say dominance techniques don’t work – sure, you can sometimes get your dog to behave a certain way via these methods – but when dogs behave out of fear of punishment, it drives a wedge between dog and owner. This method also can also backfire horribly. For example, many aggressive dogs are actually fearful dogs – when it comes to fight or flight, they choose fight. Instilling more fear in dogs like this only perpetuates the problem.
Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, works to strengthen the bond between dog and owner. In the dog world, the leader controls the resources, so by giving positive reinforcement in the form of praise and/or food when your dog does what you want him to do, you’re showing him that you’re in control of the resources and he’ll get what he wants when he behaves how you want. Dogs have an innate desire to please their people (even if they don’t show it sometimes)!
Again, I’m not an expert on the subject. But if you’re seeking an expert’s help for training or behavior modification, ask them whether they use dominance techniques or positive reinforcement, and seek out the latter. You and your dog will be happy you did.
I have not been very good about keeping up with this blog lately. So, here’s sort of a mashup of what’s been going on in my life…
Josie is doing great in her new home. My cousin and her husband have been sending pictures and keeping me updated, and it’s so great to know she’s doing well. I am thrilled that it worked out that I got to keep her in the family. Here are a few pictures – she and her big brother Moses are just the best of buds!
In other exciting news: I was just voted onto the board of directors for our local pit bull rescue! I have been volunteering with this rescue for about a year and a half now, and have slowly been getting more and more involved. I’ve been very impressed with the rescue and consider it a huge honor to have been asked in the first place. As a board member I’ll become more involved with the events and media outreach I’ve already been doing, and will also start doing some of the adopter screening and dog evaluations.
This past weekend I went to hear Donna Reynolds, the co-founder of BAD RAP, speak at the Pacific Northwest Animal Care and Control conference. What an amazing experience. First of all, BAD RAP is pretty much the holy grail of pit bull rescue (they are the ones responsible for saving all the Michael Vick dogs). Donna shared some amazing stories about programs they’ve implemented and partnerships they’ve formed, and then everyone broke out into groups to talk about the problems pit bulls are facing today, what our main goals are for improving these problems, and how we plan to get there. Though there were a lot of different points of view in the room and at times we didn’t all agree (the group consisted of private rescues, shelters, trainers and animal control, to name a few groups), it was really interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives. We were also able to share quite a bit about what our rescue has been doing, and I think there are a lot of ways that we can help these other animal organizations through partnerships. At the end of the session, Donna actually told us how great she thinks our rescue is – which was a huge compliment, considering the source! We’ve certainly modeled a lot of our programs after the success that BAD RAP has seen, and to receive that recognition was quite an honor.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Stewie’s tail chasing has been improving. Ironically, the day I called in the prescription for his medication was the day he quit chasing his tail in his crate. He still does it occasionally – mostly in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work. But the crate thing was the biggest issue since we couldn’t stop him from hurting himself. At least when we’re home and he does it, we can physically stop him from spinning and/or redirect him to a bone or toy. I think we’ll hold off on the meds for now, but it’s nice to know we have access to them, should we get to a point where he needs them again.