The Power of Pitties and Petitions

It’s no secret that pit bulls have a special place in my heart, so picking Ava as my internship project dog at Best Friends was an easy choice. She reminds me a lot of Slaw – she’s confident, loves to hike, and is a lap dog at heart. She deserves a forever home and will make a great addition to a loving family!

Ava

Ava hiking Squaw Trail

Slaw

Slaw hiking Squaw Trail

Unfortunately, they also have something else in common. Because of their breed, they are not welcome in cities like Denver and Miami, and they are automatically considered vicious in the state of Ohio. There are also businesses and organizations that discriminate based on a dog’s breed. The Continental Airlines PetSafe Program has an excellent reputation; they offer online tracking, climate controlled vehicles for connections, and a 24-hour Live Animal Help Desk. Continental Airlines was my first choice when Slaw and I were moving from Hawaii. Regrettably, they would not fly Slaw because under their Dangerous Dog Breed Restriction policy he is considered dangerous based solely on his breed.

Aerobicizing Slaw

Watch out for the aerobicizing pit bull!

Slaw is fed up and putting his argyle foot (paw) down! Breed specific policies are misplaced and ineffective. A dog is an individual with his or her own unique personality and should be judged based on temperament, not on appearance or breed.

Several cities and states are in the process of changing these discriminatory laws – including my home state of Ohio! Cities, states, and organizations need to hear from people that these laws and policies are ineffective and unfair. Please help me and Slaw tell Continental Airlines that you disagree with their dangerous dog breed restriction, and encourage them to implement a more effective dangerous dog policy by signing this Change.org petition. Make your voices heard!

http://www.change.org/petitions/continental-airlines-remove-the-dangerous-dog-breed-restriction-from-the-petsafe-program

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How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?

This week I had the pleasure of spending an entire afternoon at the Best Friends Puppy Preschool. Puppies are a lot of work, but it seems impossible to have a bad day while watching them joyfully running around the park, burying toys in the sand, and chasing tennis balls. Dang, these puppies are cute!

Chex & Quaker

Chex and Quaker

Flora & Hachi

Flora and Hachi

Olinda

Olinda

Many people would prefer to purchase a dog from a pet store or from a breeder because they want to get a puppy instead of an older dog or because they think the only dogs who end up in rescues are the ones with issues and behavioral problems. As you can see, there are plenty of puppies! There are also many benefits to adopting an older dog – they’re often already house trained, you may have a better idea of temperament and size, and you really CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Dogs, cats, and other pets end up at Best Friends and other shelters for a variety of reasons – not just because of behavioral issues, and they’re all waiting on a loving place to call home.

Although adopting is a great option, you can also get a dog from a reputable and responsible breeder. Often times dogs from pet stores, classified ads, or sold over the internet come from puppy mills. Puppy mills are large-scale, commercial breeding facilities that are often cruel and inhumane. Dogs are considered products that can be sold for a profit, so they are kept in cages with minimal space, females are forced to breed, and they’re given no love, attention, or socialization. What kind of life is that for an animal we normally consider family?!

Best Friends provides some great information and tips so you can be sure you’re not getting a dog from a puppy mill.

Best Friends: How to be sure your next pet isn’t from a puppy mill

Also, if any of these puppy pictures melt your heart, check out the Best Friends Adorable Adoptables website. Adopters are encouraged to come to the sanctuary to meet the animals, but it’s not always necessary – and Best Friends can assist in the transportation. Happy shopping….I mean adopting!

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Watch, Listen, and Learn

During the last two weeks at Best Friends, I have had the opportunity to work with many types of animals; including dogs, cats, birds, pigs, horses, and various wildlife at the rehabilitation center. In each of these areas, I have worked with incredible animal caregivers. I have been amazed at not only their dedication, but the relationships they have formed with these animals. Best Friends believes in relationship-based training for all their animals, which emphasizes building a relationship based on trust, using positive reinforcement to encourage the behavior you want, and understanding an animal’s body language to improve communication.

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to watch a Parelli horse training demonstration with a horse named Fiona, who came from a situation of neglect and didn’t have a lot of positive interactions with humans before coming to Best Friends. The trainer was able to interpret Fiona’s needs and feelings based on her body language, sounds, and reactions; and although it took a lot of persistence and patience, she was able to use this knowledge to achieve her training goals. She may have been able to get Fiona to do what she wanted more quickly by using dominance or physical force, but what kind of relationship would she be creating with Fiona? What kind of relationship do we want with our own pets?

In general, in order to have meaningful communication with people, we need to be able to relate to others; communicating with animals is no different, it just takes a little more effort and patience. If we only think about animals from a human perspective, then we’ll focus on what they can’t do or what they lack compared to us. They really have the ability to do and sense so much, we just have to try to better understand the world through their eyes.

I will use my time here and my experience with Fiona as a reminder to have more patience and understanding in my communication. Whether it is with my human friends and family or my dog, Slaw, I will watch, listen, and learn. Good communication will help to improve all of my relationships!

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Pigs, Poop, and Giving Thanks

On Thursday I worked in Piggy Paradise at Best Friends where more than a dozen potbellied pigs and other pig-mixes live. I’m having a week of “firsts” and my time with the pigs was no exception. I took some pigs out on walks! No leash necessary – at least for a few of the pigs at Best Friends. It only took a trail of dried fruit and they followed me wherever I went. Well, almost. I had a rogue pig named Sprocket who decided he’d rather roam with horses than go back in his run. I guess I can’t blame him.

It turns out the pigs and I eat very similar lunches – an all you can eat salad bar. Unfortunately, a few of the pigs were overfed in their previous homes and are mechanically blind, which means their fat hangs down over their eyes and they can’t see. Although these pigs don’t go on walks, they enjoy being read to. What do you read to a pig, you ask? A book about pigs, of course!

I also did my fair share of poop-scooping. As it turns out, pigs are quite clean and tidy. They prefer to go to the bathroom away from where they eat and almost always use the same spot in their run. It sure makes cleaning up after pigs a lot easier than cleaning up after bunnies. Did you know that one rabbit poops about 360 little, round pellets each day? Now that’s some poop-scooping!

Who knew that pigs are so healthy, need to watch their weight, and like to keep clean? You certainly wouldn’t know it based on the way humans tend to treat them on factory farms, where they are often confined for their entire lives in cages so small that they can’t even turn around. Pigs have individual personalities; they’re intelligent – they can be house trained and learn tricks, often more quickly than dogs; and, unlike their reputation, they’re very clean animals. When they are forced to live in inhumane conditions – whether as pets or on a farm – they suffer both emotionally and physically.

If you ask any of the Piggy Paradise caregivers at Best Friends, or probably anyone who has a pet pig, I’m sure they can share plenty of stories about pigs displaying happiness, love, grief, and a whole range of emotions. There is also growing scientific evidence that pigs are intelligent and sentient animals. I’m not advocating for everyone to become vegetarians, but I would argue that the scientific and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates many farm animals live complex, emotional lives means that these animals deserve more respect than we tend to give them.

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about the animals they eat. Instead of cows and pigs, we eat beef, hamburgers, pork, or bacon. How can we give more thought and consideration to these animals? Oftentimes before families sit down to eat a meal, they give thanks for the food they are about to eat. Maybe we can take the time to also give thanks to the animals who may have contributed to our meal? Then we might think twice about the quality of life those animals lived before they ended up on our plate. Maybe you’ll make more conscientious food choices, cut back on the amount of meat you eat, or maybe you’ll even consider becoming a vegetarian. Whichever option you may choose, any of these would help to improve the lives of animals.

P.S. I also learned that there is no such thing as a teacup pig. Pigs can start breeding at a very young age (2-4 months old!), so sometimes people are fooled into thinking they’re getting miniature pigs because the parents are so small. They’re not small, they’re just babies themselves! The picture below is Holly, a mix of Hampshire farm pig, feral pig, and potbellied pig. She was once sold as a “dandy teacup” pig, but she now weighs about 190 pounds!

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I Only Cried Once Today

Best Friends is considered to be a last chance animal sanctuary. The animals who come here often come from other shelters where they’ve struggled to find homes, situations of cruelty and abuse, war-torn countries – like Lebanon, or as the result of a natural disaster. I knew going into this internship that many of these animals would have incredibly sad stories, so only crying once doesn’t seem too bad. Of course, it was only my first day.

My first day was a whirlwind tour of the sanctuary, and it is really more incredible than I could have imagined. I will get to spend more time with the animals in the coming weeks, but today I saw owls, pigs, horses, rabbits, parrots, cats, and dogs – and that doesn’t even begin to capture all of animals here. Best Friends owns 3,300 acres of land and leases another 33,000 acres from the Bureau of Land Management. And no, that’s not a typo! Although it would be wonderful to find all of the animals here homes, until that happens, they’re living in the next best place.

The most memorable animal I met today was a dog named Avril – a beautiful, all white American Pit Bull Terrier. She came to Best Friends from a horrible situation of abuse; a story that makes your stomach churn and brings instant tears to your eyes. Despite her suffering, Avril happily greets every human she meets and melts your heart with her soulful eyes. She doesn’t let her past deter her! To me, she is a great reminder that dogs – and other animals – shouldn’t be judged by their breed, their size, or even the situation they come from, but as individuals. Each dog is different, and those characteristics don’t define who they are. As people, we appreciate being judged as individuals, not based on a stereotype, so maybe we can start doing the same for other animals!

Below are just a few of the wonderful animals and sights I encountered today at Best Friends.

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Livin’ It Up in Hollywood

Utah’s Little Hollywood, that is.  I found out that over 100 western movies and TV shows have been filmed in Kanab, giving in the nickname Utah’s Little Hollywood. John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Clint Eastwood have all filmed movies in the canyons surrounding Kanab.  Slaw and I walked around town our first day here to check out the shops and restaurants. These plaques are placed all over Center Street, representing the stars who have spent time here.

Kanab is centrally located to several National Parks – including Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon – and has about 4,300 residents. I have never spent an extended amount of time in a small town, and even though it has only been a few days, I am enjoying its friendliness and simplicity. I don’t know a soul here, but nearly every person in the neighborhood waves when I walk by, and I was already invited to check out the Grand Staircase-Escalante by someone I met in a store. Everything is close by; and there is no CVS or Starbucks, but instead a local drug store and a local coffee shop that seem extinct in many places. There’s even Laid-Back Larry’s, a vegetarian market and bakery!

I guess it’s not surprising that the home of the largest animal rescue in the United States is so pet friendly. There are plenty of conveniently located pet “clean-up” stations and restaurants with dog-friendly patios. Slaw even met a friend while we were walking around town.

My apartment is small and simple, but I love it. There is great outdoor space to enjoy hikes druing the day and the stars at night. I’m told the rattlesnakes are hibernating right now, so that was a bit of a relief, but I was quite startled when I came across this “coyote” out behind the house.

There was one luxury I was nervous I might miss out on while I was here –Indiana basketball. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Big Ten Network on DIRECTV in my apartment! Life is good.

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It’s a Slaw-Dog World

It only took me 3 posts to blog about Slaw. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner! If you know me at all, you probably are, too.

This probably won’t come as a surprise – I think Slaw is one remarkable dog. He handled a 4-day, 30-hour drive like a champ. I guess he’s used to rolling with the punches. He has been with me in 3 states and 8 different houses or apartments. I’ve been through many changes over the last decade, but Slaw has always been my constant.

On Tuesday, we reluctantly left Denver a day early to avoid blowing snow through the mountains, but I-70 through Breckenridge and Vail was still fairly icy and treacherous. After watching a large SUV spin out in front of us, I was gripping the wheel pretty hard and not enjoying the scenery as much as I would have hoped. Slaw, however, was chillin’ in the back seat.

While driving, I thought about our family road trips when I was a kid. My sister and I spread out in the back of the van, comfortable with our games and books, and my Dad at the wheel. For me, those road trips were relatively stress free (besides the occasional bickering with my sister, I’m sure). I was oblivious to the concerns of the road, and I had complete trust in my Dad to get us there safely. During my stressful drive through the mountains, I was wishing my Dad was at the wheel and I was hanging out in the back – oblivious and trusting.

I have friends who are parents and they have jokingly given me a hard time for comparing their stories about their children with my stories about Slaw. I recognize that I did not give birth to Slaw and he is not human, but sometimes there really are similarities to a parent-child relationship! Although I’m sure Slaw sensed my stress at times, in general, he sat in the back or in the passenger seat and gazed out the window, chewed on his rawhide bone, and took a few naps – oblivious and trusting.

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