2014 Victories for Animals Worldwide and in the US

Shelter – part 4

© Karla McLaren 2014

As the third round of the greet-and-treat begins, I change my normal pathway through the kennels, and crouch down and whisper to the dogs I treat on my way down the T-leg toward Nana’s – so that she can’t see me coming. As I reach her kennel, still crouched down, I catch her, standing up and peering over her wall, waiting for me. I speak quietly as I stand up, “Hello, you criminal!” and Nana makes a noise that sounds just like Scooby Doo getting caught with a sandwich, “oirp?” Hah! She drops down from her perch, sits properly and quietly, and looks at me with sparkling eyes. ”Good girl Nana, down,” I say. I throw my voice a bit to the dogs near her who are unusually quiet, for once, “Down and quiet, good dog!” Nearly everyone in Nana’s area gets a third-round treat today (for the first time), and as I pass her on my way back, I give her another treat, the outlaw.

The third round goes well, with more than half of the dogs figuring out all three behaviors: seated, still, and quiet. It’s still very noisy; we have a lot of new dogs who are afraid and riled up – but even in the midst of the noise, many dogs are getting the picture and learning how to calm themselves in spite of the clamor. As I continue through the shelter, I take a moment at Peaches’ kennel: the little sweetie has mastered two out of three behaviors. She’s quiet and calm, but she’s still down on the floor, and I don’t actually think she can sit, so I open her kennel door. I carry a leash with me in case dogs need to come out of their kennels for some reason during the greet-and-treats, but I don’t think Peaches can walk, so I close myself in her kennel with her to see what’s going on.

Peaches lifts her head happily and then flips over on her tummy and wriggles nearer to me, and I sit down to be with her. Peaches is a love: soft, cuddly, and wanting to be picked up. As I lift her, she struggles a bit to get herself into my arms, and she curls up like a baby, nuzzling and kissing me. I hug her and kiss her, and talk sweet nonsense to her as I run my free hand over her legs and feet: her front legs seem normal, but both of her back legs are floppy, and they have almost no muscle tone. They’re also pointing backward, which explains her seal movements and her inability to sit. I also gently palpate her umbilical hernia, and she doesn’t yelp or pull away, so it doesn’t seem to be hurting her. I wonder why she’s up front instead of back with Jake and Milton, but she’s so adorable that I think the staff is hoping she’ll be adopted before they start on her surgeries. If I could have a dog, I would totally take Peaches; I think they’ve made a good call.

After a few minutes of kissing and snuggling, I leave Peaches with extra treats and let myself out of her kennel. All of the dogs nearby have been quiet and patient as they watched me in Peaches’ kennel (including, unbelievably, the terriers), so they all get another treat. I head back to the chained-off area, but I see Brandon (one of the staff behaviorists) there, uh oh. He’s taking one of the other T dogs out into the private training area to check her temperament. I hope he doesn’t see the treats I gave Milton, oy.

I loiter around the chain and wait for Brandon to take his T dog outside. When he does, I duck under the chain and peer into Milton’s kennel, and I don’t see any treats – not the one on the blanket, and not the one on the bottom of the kennel door where I left it, whew. However, I also don’t see Milton, and I feel a bit of panic – did they take him? I call to him and kneel down to peer through the small opening that leads to his run, but I don’t see him. I look for Jake, but he’s not in his kennel either. I run (okay, I walk quickly but calmly, so the dogs won’t start barking again) back through the kennels, into the back rooms, past the laundry room overflowing with blankets, towels, and dog beds, and into the small room where the animals are euthanized. The room is empty, and Milton isn’t anywhere. I can’t shake my dread.

I walk back out into the kennels and head to the private training area to ask Brandon what happened, but when I get outside, I see him with Milton, who’s off leash and playing (!) in the sunshine with the female T dog. I feel a huge sense of relief, but I play it cool, “Oh hey, you’ve got Milton out again.” Brandon answers, but keeps his focus on the dogs, “Yeah, he’s such a smart dog that it didn’t feel right, redlining him. It was bugging me all night, and today he seemed to get that he had another chance.” I watch Milton running around, twisting, playing, and chasing the other dog, and they begin running around in circles, racing, faking each other out, and escaping from each other. I become a base in their game of tag, and Milton circles me twice before running off, happily engrossed in the game. I stand where I am, breathing deeply. Vast mountains of laundry call to me, but I turn my smiling face to the sun for a moment, and let the tears fall.

for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/14/shelter-part-2/
for part 3: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/21/shelter-part-3/

for all Untold Animal Stories: www.untoldanimalstories.org

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you.

Shelter – part 3

© Karla McLaren 2014

Milton’s behavior in round two is interesting.  He has moved very far away from the untouched treat I placed on the left side of his blanket, and he sits very still on the rightmost side of the front of his kennel, staring fixedly, straight ahead.  I sneak some sideways glances at him from my kneeling position.  He’s a very handsome boy with a Doberman’s black and brown coloring, but his body shape and size is closer to a Beagle’s.  He’s a fit, compact little guy, with a clean short coat and healthy skin and paws.  I know that he hasn’t been given a bath here at the shelter (no one has time), so he’s clearly very careful about his own hygiene.  Very self-contained.  Milton’s body language interests me, because even in the confines of his kennel, he has many choices.  If he really didn’t want to see me, he could simply go outside in his run, and effectively disappear.  He could also curl up against the wall and present his back to me.  He could push the treat outside his kennel, tear up his blankets, or rush the kennel door and bark menacingly.  But he does none of these truly antisocial things.  Instead, Milton has entered into a relationship with me – and in all honesty, I think he’s trying to teach me manners.

I continue to kneel, and I watch Milton out of the corner of my eye.  His eyes do not seek mine, but his stare has changed from the beady malevolence of our first meeting to a more relaxed yet determined stare.  If we were humans, and if we were looking at each other, this would be a staring contest.  But with Milton in charge, it’s a not-staring contest, and Milton is in it for the duration.  I can see Jake in the next kennel, sitting patiently and quietly, but getting antsy as he waits for me, and I wonder about my next move in Milton’s dance.  I wonder if I should take the offending treat away, but I think that would be a mistake.  It was a gift, which means it belongs to him now. And though he hasn’t eaten it, he is using it to communicate with me.  I don’t want to make the wrong move.

If I were a dog, Milton’s determined stare of avoidance would mean that I had broken a social rule.  My response, if I didn’t want to get into a fight, would be to cease my incorrect behavior and make myself small and subordinate.  I wondered if this would be a good thing.  At the shelter, we’re supposed to position ourselves as the lead dogs in this pack, but I grew up with animals who knew with absolute certainty that they were the real leaders.  My brother’s brilliant dog, Johann, pretty much trained himself and looked after my sisters and brothers as if he were our uncle.  My cat Sofia, who learned to open doors and turn on faucets, lived life on her own terms.  Or my little bonsai stray, Kiku, who had every disease known to felinity and never grew much larger than a kitten, yet who taught herself to use her litter box, to put herself to bed every night, and to understand all the intricate rules of human-cat wrestling.

I felt that Johann, Sofia, and Kiku would be offended by the shelter’s training methods, even though these methods were humane and respectful for most animals. These three were self-contained animals, very self-aware, and extremely quick to decipher all the rules of the house and human relationships.  I wondered if Milton was this kind of animal, and if he had had the extremely bad luck to have an owner who treated him like a knucklehead, which to be fair, some dogs truly are.  I wondered if Milton was not so much hateful and dangerous as he was affronted by treatment that did not respect his innate intelligence and his dignity.

I made a decision. I looked up and down the kennel rows to make sure no staff person was around, and I lay down on the cold cement walkway in front of Milton and curled my head in supplication.  I waited for a few seconds, and then reached my hand gently toward Milton’s kennel door – not touching it, but asking if I could.  I peered up at Milton, and he looked down his nose at me for a long second, then looked away, off to the left.  I looked in that direction, too.  I touched my side of the metal frame of his kennel door – I didn’t put my hand inside.  Milton didn’t look back at me, but he slowly reached out with his left paw and touched the frame on his side.  We weren’t looking at each other, and we weren’t touching, but we were both looking in the same direction and touching the same door frame, and we had reached some kind of compromise in Milton’s world.

I didn’t want to break the mood, but I was cruising for a bruising from the staff if I got caught here – especially if I got caught letting a dog take what the staff saw as a dominant role.  So I whispered, “Thank you Milton – you’re a good dog,” and I slowly placed a new treat on the bottom frame of Milton’s kennel door, between his paw and mine. I got to my knees slowly and crawled to Jake’s kennel.  The poor sweetie had been waiting very patiently, so I patted him through the kennel bars, scratched his long ears, and gave him two treats, and then went further into the chained-off area.  On my way back out, I lowered my head when I got to Milton’s kennel.  I didn’t look at him, but I whispered, “I love you Milton. You’re a very good dog.”

The third round through is the final training moment before I start walking specific dogs, doing mountains of kennel laundry, or working in the cat annex.  In the first two rounds, I had established myself as someone to look forward to, and I had given all of the dogs some idea of correct behaviors (and two almost free treats).  This time, the treats have a real cost – the dogs have to be seated, still, and quiet, and almost isn’t rewarded on the third pass.  Many dogs get very excited and begin to bark as I near them, but I make eye contact, raise my finger to my lips, shake my head, and say, “NO, quiet.”

to be continued next week…

for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/14/shelter-part-2/

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you

Shelter – part 2

UntoldAnimalStories.org is pleased to present part two of a four-part tale by pioneering educator and author Karla McLaren.
© Karla McLaren 2014

continued from March 7 post…
We work to keep the dogs calm and quiet in their kennels, but it’s hard because so many new dogs come in regularly, and the cement-and metal kennels amplify their noise powerfully. Today, all the kennels are full – some with two or more dogs who came in together, so we’ve got more than eighty dogs here.  If even ten percent start barking, the noise can be deafening and very stressful for everyone (there’s a huge jar of free earplugs in the lobby; it’s that noisy). My greet-and-treat visits are a way to calm the dogs, and they’re a central part of kennel training and socialization, with a rhythm that’s so predictable that the kennel vets know it by heart.  On my first pass through the kennel, everyone gets a hello and a meaty treat no matter what they’re doing or not doing.  I want each dog to see people as fun, and to look forward to my next visit.  Some of the more savvy dogs predict the desired behavior – they sit calmly and meet my eyes – and I praise them clearly so that the other dogs can hear.

On the second round, the dogs have to perform in some way for their treat.  Any of these three behaviors – sitting, being calm, or being quiet – merits a treat.  And the dogs really can’t fail – even a terrier who leaps all over her kennel like a tiny tornado can at least calm down a little bit.  I help the hyper dogs by making a great show of hunkering down next to their kennel and using hand gestures while I ask “Can you get down?”  Most of the dogs will follow my lead, and the trick is to reward them as soon as they manage a desired behavior.  For some dogs, I have to wait until they stumble onto something – anything – desirable, but if I have patience, I can catch even the most chaotic dog in some form of a correct behavior.

The key is to ignore – completely – any bad behaviors, and reward good behaviors as soon as you see them.  Rewards don’t have to be food as they are at the shelter; petting, hugs, and praise are just as effective.  We use delicious desiccated liver treats at the shelter as a way to ease the general depression that plagues shelter dogs.  Food is not the best kind of love, but it gives the dogs something to look forward to and some bright spots in their stressful days.

On today’s second round, nearly everyone is figuring out which behaviors are required before the treat is given.  Some hyper dogs can’t stop barking, and some dogs clearly don’t know the “sit” command, but I catch everyone doing something right, and praise them all with a hearty “good dog.”  Today, something unusual pulls my eye to a small dog in one of the kennels near the entrance, which is where the cutest, smallest, and most adoptable dogs generally are.  This one is a sleek, sable-brown little girl named Peaches who squirms around joyfully in her kennel like a tiny harbor seal. She pushes herself nearer to me as I pass, so I kneel down and peer in as I pet her beautiful brown forehead, which she pushes up to the chain links of her kennel door.  She rolls over to show me her belly, and I see a lumpy umbilical hernia pushing up through her skin, and the strangest leg conformation in her hind quarters, but she won’t stop squirming long enough for me to figure out what’s going on.  Her kennel card doesn’t mention anything. I stoop down and kiss her on her nose, which is small enough for her to poke almost completely through a chain link, and I promise to come back.

I head down a T-leg of the kennel rows toward the home of the silly Nana.  She’s a gigantic Saint Bernard with a kidney condition that requires daily medication, and she’s been here a while.  Her owner couldn’t afford to take care of her, so she’s here waiting for someone with a big house, a big yard, and a big wallet for her meds.  Though some dogs become despondent after a long time in the kennel, Nana, who has been here for three months, is endlessly cheerful.  Nana thinks the greet-and-treat game is very funny, and she’s put her own spin on it.  Because she’s so huge, she can rise up and see over the cement walls of her kennel (they’re 6 feet tall).  When Nana sees me approaching, she likes to rile up the other dogs and get them barking.  When I arrive at her kennel, though, she makes a great show of sitting very prettily and being ever so quiet while the other dogs display their very bad manners.  I thank her loudly for being quiet, and I make “shush” gestures at the other dogs.  I usually treat Nana twice in each round – once on the way into her kennel row, and once on the way out.  She’s so big that my little cracker-sized treats are probably just a drop in a bucket!  On round three, I’m going to see if I can get her to stop riling everyone up, even though I do appreciate her excellent sense of humor.

As I near Milton and Jake and the chain again, I wonder how Milton will view me this time – what his approach will be.  This second treat is supposed to act as a kind of exchange between me and the dogs; it’s a prelude to entering into a working relationship.  Some of the dogs already have this figured out – they’re in graduate school.  Some, like the wildly leaping terriers, haven’t even entered preschool, and they’re going to need a lot of work.  But with Milton, I wonder if there’s even a hope of getting him anywhere near the idea of a relationship.

When I reach Milton’s kennel, I approach him in the proper way: I kneel down to his level and present the side of my body to him – I don’t face him.  Many dogs see face-to-face approaches and largeness as a threat (if one dog faces another and tries to make himself appear larger, that’s often an invitation to a fight in dog language).  I also don’t bare my teeth, extend my hand, or poke my fingers into Milton’s kennel.  Those are also threats – they’re aggressive moves, and Milton requires politeness, space, and respect.

to be continued next week…

for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 3: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/21/shelter-part-3/

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you.

Wink

as told by Kim Kemple Cott

winkWink came into our lives one day when my mom, Helen, was attempting to adopt a different dog than Wink.  Six months after her rescue dog, Zac the Vizsla, passed on, my mom starting looking with very specific criteria: the dog had to be a small, manageable size and had to be a rescue.

I’d been helping her search for a month by contacting local SPCAs and humane societies and by checking on www.petfinder.com (as of this writing, petfinder.com is featuring 332,076 adoptable pets from 13,476 adoption groups nationwide).  The right dog hadn’t shown up yet.

A friend suggested we try a particular rescue organization in the next county over.  I called my mom, picked her up, and we headed out there.  We got lost en route, stopped to ask for directions, were given directions to a different rescue, and got lost again.  After getting lost a third, time, we asked a police officer.  He wasn’t sure where the rescue was but said that he’d find out.  He pointed us the right way and we arrived after having wandered through much of the county.

We walked up and down the aisles, drawn by so many sweet animals.  We settled on a little brown dog and went to the front desk to provide them with the kennel cage number.  While we were waiting in line, my mom noticed a small black dog sitting in the office of one of the shelter workers.  My mom and I looked at each other, both somehow knowing: this was the dog.  My mom asked about him and was told he was up for adoption; he’d just had his eye removed the day before (kids had beaten him  and he was found lying under a front porch).  One of the shelter workers had taken a particular interest in this Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix, named him Eduardo, and cared for him personally.

As part of the shelter’s adoption process, my mom’s landlord had to be called to verify that he allowed pets.  He was unreachable.  This was a problem, because we really, really wanted to take the dog home that day.  We explained to the shelter worker that the landlord had already given verbal permission, that my mom had a previous rescue dog living there, etc.  The worker looked into my mom’s eyes, then into mine and said she’d be back shortly.  We waited anxiously.wink black and white

She came back, stacking the adoption papers into a tidy pile, saying, “Everything is in order,” and winking at us.  We smiled conspiratorially, signed the papers, picked up the pup, and headed home.

He was tentative and scared at first, but well behaved, and he bonded quickly with my mom and me.  Mom named this sweet creature Wink.  She took him everywhere to help him socialize with people and dogs.  So many people were kind to him.

One day my mom took him into a consignment shop.  The shopkeeper said, “We don’t allow animals in our store.”  Mom smiled warmly, leaned in, and said, “I know, and isn’t it so nice that you let me bring him in here.”

•   With so many good, adoptable pets available—and with an average of 1 in 4 pets in humane societies nationwide being purebreds—why not consider adoption rather than supporting the supply-demand cycle of pet breeding.

•   From the American Humane Society: It is a common myth that pet overpopulation means there are “not enough” homes for all the shelter animals. In reality, there are more than enough homes, but not enough people are choosing to adopt from a shelter. Seventeen million Americans acquire a new pet each year—more than double the number of shelter animals. Only 3.5 million people, or about 20 percent, choose to adopt their new pet. The rest choose to buy their pets from pet stores or breeders, or they choose a variety of other cheap or free sources. 

Despite increased public awareness over the past 40 years about the need to spay and neuter pets, 35 percent of pet owners in the U.S. still choose not to do so. Many among this group intentionally choose to breed their pets, either for profit or for what they mistakenly believe to be a “fun” experience. Others choose not to spay or neuter out of ignorance, believing that their pets won’t breed accidentally.

It Only Takes a Moment to Feel

It only takes a moment to feel.  Just drop inside your body, and from there, perceive.  This cuts through the clutter and diversion of mind chatter and justifications, and for just those few moments, you can perceive what is without much of a filter.

What if everyone practiced this heart-based seeing to a greater or lesser extent?   Probably the world—and our treatment of people and animals—would be much kinder.  ID-100222200

Here’s one example.  The man waited in line at his favorite lunch stand on a busy city street in Philadelphia.  He noticed the stray dog, again.  He’d seen him on other days but hadn’t given the dog much thought beyond: oh well, survival of the fittest.  The rumpled-looking dog sidled up to the lunch cart, sniffing the fragrant food and looking up at the people in line, hopeful.  Like all the other passersby and people in line, the man ignored the dog.  It’s easier not to pay heed.

On this particular day, however, the man looked into the eyes of this creature and recognized something.  He broke off a corner of his sandwich and held it out for the dog, who took it gingerly from his hand.  Then he pulled out his cell phone, called directory service, and dialed the number of the local humane society.

The man sat on a nearby bench, the dog following a few respectful steps behind.  He held out another piece of his sandwich to the dog, who swallowed it without chewing then looked up at the man, expectantly.  Over the next half-hour the man gave the dog the rest of his sandwich in small pieces while checking his phone for the time and peering up and down the street.  Finally, a small white truck pulled up and parked, and a uniformed woman climbed out.  She glanced at the man, nodded to him, then crouched down and extended a treat to the dog.  As the dog took the food, the woman spoke softly to him and slipped a leash over his head.  The dog sat down at her side and looked up at her as if to say, what’s next?  The woman asked the man if he’d seen the dog there before, and thanked him for caring enough to make the phone call.  She opened the back of the truck, and the dog jumped in, happily.  Off they drove.

The man bought another sandwich, this one for himself, and as he walked away, chewing thoughtfully, he felt good.

To find the phone number of your local shelter, add in your zipcode:  http://theshelterpetproject.org/shelters

Brown stray dog courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net – tiverylucky.

I Have This Dream…

All animals illustration ID-10040124For most of my life I’ve had a pact with myself:  if I see an animal in distress, I will do whatever is within my realm of possibility to help.  It’s how I can live with myself.  Sometimes what I’m able to do seems woefully inadequate.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that even a small victory—restoring just one animal’s life from bare, sketchy survival to plentiful food, water, and shelter (and if it’s fortunate, love) has to be enough.

Sometimes at night I look out the window to the blue moonlight and think of all the creatures with whom I share this night, this land.  It isn’t my job to take on everything, but I can make peace with myself by redefining what it is I can do, and by doing those things.

I can’t save every animal, but I have this dream:  Many, many people choosing to take it upon themselves not to look away from an animal in need and being willing to inconvenience themselves for a few minutes to do what can be done.  So much could be accomplished.

Three days ago I saw a black adolescent cat at the edge of our property.  He watched me and angled his head in interest.  When I took a tentative step toward him, he ran off.  Daily I place bowls of food and a fresh water where I last saw him.  Soon I will set the humane trap, and one of these days, I’ll trap him and take the long drive to the SPCA.  It’s not convenient, but I’ll do it because, for me, I have no other choice.

And when the winter wind blows icy and the snow drifts, I will not have to think of him out there, hungry and cold.  I will not have done much, but I will have helped that one small creature.  For now, it will have to be enough.
Carolyn

Saving just one animal won’t change the world…but surely the world will change for that one animal.”  Author unknown

Illustration by Vlado courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net