Saving Alex, the Unbreakable Jindo Dog

Animal rescuers truly are some of the most dedicated, generous, loving individuals I have ever met. The lengths to which some of these people will go to help animals is so inspiring, it’s actually helped restore some of my faith in humanity. Covering animal welfare and cruelty issues like I do, I have often found myself losing that faith when I see how human beings continue to abuse and enslave animals throughout the world. But then I get to connect with special people who value and appreciate animals, who see non-human species as beings deserving of respect and compassion and freedom from harm. Like me, they just want to make a positive difference in the lives of innocent creatures.

The following story is a perfect example of people willing to go the extra mile to help an animal in need, regardless of the obstacles or odds against them. It’s the story of a traumatized Korean Jindo mix dog named Alex, who was given a second – and a third – chance at life, thanks to a kind-hearted savior and an amazing rescue organization that refused to give up on him. They are the true heroes of this story.

When Craig Petronella first met Alex, he was a scared, dirty, skinny little puppy confined to a filthy crate. The little white pup was only eight weeks old, yet he was already living with his second abusive owner. As a U.S. Service member stationed in South Korea, Petronella would regularly pass by little Alex and couldn’t help but notice the pup’s sad situation. Being confined to a filthy crate 24/7 is no life for a tiny puppy, but in Korea, it’s actually common practice to crate or chain dogs outside indefinitely, with little human contact and minimal care.

One day, Petronella found out that Alex’s owner no longer wanted him and was ready to either sell the pup to dog meat traders or abandon him to the streets. South Korea is home to a thriving dog meat trade that murders approximately 2 million dogs each year, so whether he was set loose or sold, the pup appeared doomed to end up on someone’s dinner plate.

But the kind military serviceman wasn’t going to let that happen. After convincing Alex’s owner to let him adopt Alex, Petronella brought the pup home during one of his leave times to live with him and his family in Virginia. The Petronellas were experienced dog owners, so they assumed that with a little love and patience, Alex would soon forget his abusive past and begin to enjoy life as a beloved member of their family.

Alex flashes his sweet smile. Photo credit: Treasured k9s

Alex flashes his sweet smile. Photo credit: Treasured k9s

But sometimes love isn’t enough when it comes to rehabilitating an abused dog. Due to his early trauma, the young Jindo mix suffered from deep-seated fear issues that began to worsen as he grew. When confronted with anything that frightened him, such as fast movements, loud noises or strange people, the dog would “shut down” by trembling uncontrollably, pressing his eyes tightly shut and cowering against the ground, paralyzed in fear. If he couldn’t hide, he’d act out aggressively.

Though the family loved Alex and tried their best to train and work with his issues, they finally realized his growing problems were beyond their scope. With no one willing to adopt the troubled eight-month-old pup, the family feared they would have no other choice but to euthanize him. But not willing to give up on Alex until they had exhausted every last option, the Petronellas reached out to a rescue organization they hoped would be his saving grace.

Enter Treasured k9s, a nonprofit organization that specializes in rescuing and rehabilitating Jindo dogs throughout the east coast region. Since their founding in 2008, this rescue has saved, rehabilitated and re-homed approximately 70 Jindos, many with behavioral challenges that most rescues would not want to deal with and shelters would simply euthanize. But then, this type of dog isn’t meant for the inexperienced dog owner.

A white purebred Jindo. This magnificent breed also comes in "yellow," black and tan, brindle and solid black coat colors. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

A white purebred Jindo. This magnificent breed also comes in “yellow,” black and tan, brindle and solid black coat colors. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

As a rare, primitive breed originating from Jindo Island, the Korean Jindo is a magnificent, highly instinctual dog originally bred for hunting and protection. While they are revered as Korea’s national treasure and considered status symbols throughout Korean-American communities, indiscriminate and irresponsible breeding combined with inexperienced dog ownership has resulted in more and more Jindos meeting their deaths in U.S. shelters every year, Kristen Edmonds, founder and president of Treasured k9s, explained to me.

“They’re very aloof, not typically warm to strangers, very dominant and their instincts are very high, so they’re not your typical happy-go-lucky dog,” Kristen said. “You really have to be a strong, confident leader with them. They’re very active, so they need a lot of exercise and they’re a very healthy, long-lived breed, so you could easily end up with one for 18-20 years. But you really have to be the right personality for this kind of dog. If you understand their personalities you’ll never have another type of dog because they’re the most intelligent, loyal, intuitive dogs you’ve ever had in your life.”

Because they’re naturally protective and territorial, Jindos typically don’t do well in shelter environments, becoming fear aggressive and thus, un-adoptable. And that’s basically a death sentence for this complex, misunderstood breed of dog.

Alex having a zen moment. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Alex having a zen moment. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

But Kristen wasn’t going to let Alex meet that sort of end. Figuring he was at a prime age to overcome his issues, she agreed to take him on and headed straight for New York-based Dog Behaviorist Jeff Kolbjornsen, who estimated the young dog would need a couple of months of training and rehabilitation to help build his confidence and learn to trust people. But once Alex was evaluated, it became obvious that not only was this process going to take more time, it was also going to be more challenging than expected.

“When Alex first arrived at our center he was extremely fearful of me, had no training skills at all, and had a huge fear of the leash and collar that he was required to wear for training,” Kolbjornsen said. “The degree to which Alex bucked, screamed, and tried to get away by trying to bite was one of the more severe fear-induced demonstrations that I have seen.”

Plus, the trauma of being separated from his family wasn’t helping matters, explained Kristen. Here he was, in a strange place with a strange man (he was very sensitive to men to begin with) and all these new people – the nervous pup was simply terrified.

But after six months of daily socialization and rehabilitation – to the tune of $20,000 – Alex had slowly blossomed into a happier, more well-adjusted dog. Yes, that training bill had cost Treasured k9s a lot more than they’d planned, but seeing Alex playing nicely with other dogs, being more at ease with new people, obeying commands, and understanding his role and hierarchy in human relationships was worth every penny, Kristen said.

“The good thing about Alex is he’s very interested in positive reinforcement and reward, which makes it a lot easier to work with him,” explained Kristen. “We’ve come across many Jindos who have absolutely no interest in pleasing you, or in treats or toys, so when you can’t use positive reinforcement it can really be more difficult to work with them.”

Alex enjoying a good scratch. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Alex enjoying a good scratch. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Kristen should know. She began rescuing Jindos by accident after volunteering with a Siberian husky rescue that sent her a foster dog who appeared to be a small white husky but turned out to be Jindo mix. Plus, her mother-in-law is Korean, so Kristen has a strong understanding of the culture and where these dogs originate. Intrigued, Kristen began to research Jindos and how they were becoming more prevalent along with the increasing South Korean population in the U.S. After realizing there were only two small Jindo rescues in California (a state where homeless Jindos are the biggest problem), Kristen saw a need for a breed-specific rescue that could cover the eastern U.S.

With his formal training completed, Alex arrived at his foster home, where he adapted quickly. But when the family’s Jindo began displaying aggression toward him, Kristen moved Alex to a second foster home, where he has remained and been thriving ever since. Now over a year old, he is simply waiting for the perfect forever home, one capable of providing him with structure, rules and boundaries.

“He’s really come around a lot faster than we expected because he’s been moved twice now and he hasn’t had any setbacks – it’s all been positive and it’s actually helped him,” Kristen said. “He’s happy, sweet, very loving, he’ll get up on the sofa and cuddle, and he loves to play. He’s gorgeous, a little bigger than your typical Jindo at about 50 lbs, and a little longer and taller. We think he’s a Jindo mix because he’s got a softer personality than your typical Jindo – they’re more cat-like in that they like their affection and then they’re done.”

While Alex still reacts fearfully to loud noises, he is no longer fear reactive. Still, whoever adopts this sweet boy will have to understand that working through his fear triggers will probably be a lifelong process, advised Kristen.

“My goal is to place Alex with an owner who is calm, observant and firm – he requires patience, not dominance,” she said. “He would excel in a home with another medium to large-sized, active and confident dog, someone to keep him in check and help him gain confidence by example. Because he’s not full Jindo, he is a little too happy-go-lucky for a purebred Jindo. These dogs have a very strong attitude of ‘we must follow the dog pack rules – don’t be too happy,’ so all the other Jindos he’s been around have been getting mad at him.”

Alex and his foster brother, Cosmo. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Alex and his foster brother, Cosmo. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Alex’s ideal home would also be one without cats or children, although older, calm and dog-savvy kids in an experienced home could work, Kristen said. His new family will also need to live in the New York Tri-state area, as this will allow Treasured k9s, along with Kolbjornsen, to act as an ongoing support system, if needed.

Meanwhile, Alex’s foster mom, Amanda, has been doing a fabulous job continuing his training and building his social skills, including challenging him to overcome some smaller fear issues.

“He loves to run and chase,” Amanda said. “If you aren’t paying attention to him he’ll come over and sit in front of you until you play with him. He can get wound up while playing outside but once inside he settles down nicely. He does have a ‘personal space bubble’ in that he seems to be fearful of anything that gets too close to him uninvited, which makes sense since he’s still building trust.”

Ultimately, Alex deserves a patient, loving, forever home willing to do what it takes to help the overgrown pup become the wonderful dog he is destined to be. The once-mistreated Jindo mix is living proof that even the most difficult rescue and rehabilitation cases deserve a second (and a third) chance.

“In the right home Alex is only going to continue to thrive and blossom and once he really settles in he’s going to be a sweet, great, fun dog,” Kristen said. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy – that little puppy that never got to be.”

Just a big puppy. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Just a big puppy. Photo credit: Treasured k9s.

Sometimes it takes a village to save an animal, and in this case, that village succeeded beyond any expectation.

Treasured k9s is in dire need of donations to help with Alex’s remaining $10,000 training bill. If you’d like to help this wonderful organization continue saving and rehabilitating more Jindo and Jindo mix dogs like Alex, please visit their website donation page.

Also, if you live in the New York Tri-state area and think Alex might be the right fit for you (and vice versa), please visit the Treasured k9s website and fill out an application today! You can also learn more about this great organization and their dogs on Facebook.

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out, “good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “but, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.” – Loren Eiseley

Pet Stores and Puppy Mills – Don’t People Know Any Better?

They drive me absolutely bonkers – people who purchase puppies from pet stores. It just boggles my mind why anyone would still do this when there is such a plethora of information out there about the direct connection between pet shops and puppy mills. It’s almost common knowledge that you should NEVER purchase a puppy from one of these businesses, yet people still do it. So I have to wonder, do these people know but just don’t care, or are they simply ignorant?

Case in point, I have a friend who wanted to surprise her son with a puppy on his 8th birthday. Did she take the time to research a specific breed and look for a “responsible breeder” from whom she could purchase a healthy, well-bred, home-raised puppy, or even better, consider surprising her child with a gift certificate to their local Humane Society so he could pick out a rescue dog? Nope. She simply ran out to her neighborhood puppy boutique and bought an over-priced and most likely, badly bred “designer” pup because it was “cute” and she was in a big hurry to get a dog in time for her son’s birthday party. Just so she could stick the poor thing in a gift box with a bow on top and film her boy’s “priceless” reaction as he opened his present, squealing in excitement (the boy, not the pup). Cue barfing sound.

I know I sound like a bitter, cynical curmudgeon but it just makes me so upset, the impulsiveness, ignorance or indifference of people who are knowingly or unknowingly helping to perpetuate an incredibly cruel, greedy and inhumane industry – commercial dog breeding. Devoted rescue people and animal welfare organizations have been tirelessly trying to educate the public about mass breeding facilities, aka puppy mills, for years and years, yet people like my friend think it’s perfectly okay to plunk down $800-$2,000 dollars on a ridiculously over-priced puppy because they “want it and they want it now,” putting about as much thought into buying a dog as they would a stereo.

Photo credit: cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com

Photo credit:
cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com

So here’s what I wish I could say to my friend, who is a smart, professional woman and really should have known better. No, I will probably never say any of this to her face, but maybe she’ll read it and get the hint (and possibly stop talking to me). Or she’ll never read it and be none the wiser. Here goes.

Congratulations, _____, you just purchased a puppy mill puppy! What is a puppy mill, you ask? A puppy mill is a commercial breeding operation that churns out mass quantities of puppies for profit, with no regard for the genetic quality, health and welfare of their dogs. These lovely operations exist for the sole purpose of making money and are a huge contributor to our nation’s pet overpopulation problem. According to The Puppy Mill Project, approximately 2.5 million puppies are born in puppy mills every year. In fact, it is believed that 99 percent of all puppies sold in pet stores come from these despicable places, so I can pretty much guarantee that your son’s furry little birthday present came from a puppy mill.

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States

Life really sucks in these horrific places. Breeding dogs and puppies are kept in squalid, inhumane conditions, deprived of veterinary care, exercise, socialization, grooming and proper nutrition. They live in filthy cages and often sleep in their own waste. Puppies are typically born with congenital illnesses and behavioral problems, made worse by the fact that they’re often torn from their mothers and sold to pet shops before they’re even weaned. But at least the little guys get the chance to escape the puppy mill and hopefully live out their lives in decent homes. For their parents, however, the hell never ends.

Can you imagine spending your whole life in a cage with wire flooring that causes severe injuries to your feet and legs? Thanks to the Animal Welfare Act, it’s actually legal to keep a dog in a wire cage – stacked on top of other wire cages – for its entire life. What a nice way to treat man’s best friend.

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States

Forced to reproduce over and over, breeding dogs live miserable lives, never knowing the feeling of grass under their feet, the compassionate touch of a human, or life in a loving home. They either spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements, or crammed inside filthy structures where they never get to breathe fresh air or feel the sun on their fur. When they are no longer able to breed they are either auctioned off or killed.

Yes, I’m sure that friendly pet store employee went out of her way to confidently assure you that your sweet little designer puppy came from a “USDA licensed breeder.” But don’t be fooled – that claim is meaningless. Every breeder who sells to a pet store or a puppy broker is required to be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. But that doesn’t mean that these mill operators are required to give a damn about the quality or wellbeing of their dogs. And the USDA is sadly lax when it comes to inspecting these facilities or enforcing legal standards of care, which are shamefully lacking and far from what any reasonable person would consider humane, anyway. In fact, many puppy mills continue to operate despite numerous cruelty violations. So to sum it up, USDA breeders ARE puppy mills, plain and simple.

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States

Responsible private breeders, aka “hobby breeders,” those who actually care about what they breed and who they sell to, DO NOT sell their dogs to pet stores or puppy brokers, advertise in newspapers or sell their dogs over the Internet. They go out of their way to screen potential buyers to make sure their puppies go to good homes and will take lifetime responsibility for the animals they’ve bred. They take pride in their dogs, breed for health and temperament as well as physical beauty, and often have long waiting lists for their litters.

Although I’m not a big fan of breeding in general (I believe that our country, not to mention our world, could use a complete moratorium on dog breeding until we get our homeless pet population under control), I do believe there is a place for responsible purebred dog breeders, although the “good” ones seem to be very few and far between.

Then there are “backyard breeders,” another scourge of the canine world. But that’s another rant for another time.

No, you did not “rescue” your puppy from that pet shop. What you did was create more demand for another mill puppy, further condemned your puppy’s parents to a lifetime of suffering, and supported one of the largest systematic forms of animal cruelty in the nation. Not to mention you helped keep the greedy pet store in business, which egregiously overcharged you for your impulse buy, by the way.

Photo credit: stlouis.cbslocal.com

Photo credit: stlouis.cbslocal.com

Next time, consider adopting from your local shelter or a rescue. Over 2 million pets die in U.S. shelters every year, so not only would you be saving an innocent life, you’d also be ensuring that your money doesn’t support a puppy mill and the lousy businesses that sell them. If you have your heart set on a particular breed, keep in mind that one out of every four dogs in shelters are purebred and that there are tons of breed-specific rescue groups literally overflowing with dogs looking for good homes.

So congratulations on your furry little bundle of joy! I truly hope your new puppy beats the odds and grows up to be a healthy, happy, well-adjusted member of your family, free from the congenital defects and behavioral issues typical of a puppy mill dog. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you.

So that’s what I would say if I knew my friend wouldn’t freak out on me and maybe end our friendship. I probably just need to “get over it” and be happy for her and her son. She bought the doggie in the window, end of story. And I know what it’s like, to walk into one of those stores, stare through the glass partition, make eye contact with a sweet little fur baby and feel my heart melt. Only I knew enough to walk away and she didn’t, apparently. Who knows, maybe she’ll eventually find out where her dog came from, realize her mistake, and vow to never do it again. After all, I didn’t always know about the evils of pet stores and puppy mills – I had to learn it all on my own. In the end, I guess you have to meet people where they are and hope they’ll become enlightened when the time is right. You can only hope.

To learn more about the evils of puppy mills and how to stop them, as well as how to responsibly acquire a puppy, visit the ASPCA and HSUS websites for tons of great information and resources. Interested in giving a former mill dog a loving home?Check out National Mill Dog Rescue for more information on how to adopt today!

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

The Story of Daijon, a Pillar of Strength

I love my job. It is truly a gift, to be able to dedicate your life to something that inspires you, makes you look forward to getting up in the morning, sparks your creativity and motivates you to be the best at what you do, every single day. But up until recently, that wasn’t always the case. I’ve had a long history of jobs I either hated or didn’t care about, jobs that stole my energy, my time and my soul, just so I could pay my bills and “live.” But all that began to change when I decided to get serious about my writing and pursue it professionally, and then more recently, when I made the choice to stop wasting my talent writing about topics I didn’t care about and focus on my greatest passions – dogs and animal welfare.

Still, what I write about often isn’t easy for me. In fact, covering these stories can be downright heartbreaking. Animals are still so abused and exploited in our society, in our selectively animal-loving society. That’s because we humans suffer from a hard case of “speciesism.” We love our dogs and cats, but we disregard the lives and rights of farm animals, those used in scientific experiments, for clothing or entertainment – anything that benefits us humans. Then there are those who neglect their own pets, treating them as objects to do with as they please rather than as cherished members of their family. I don’t know how those people even sleep at night.

Lowest among those on the animal-abusing food chain are dogfighters, vicious, sadistic people who think setting two dogs against each other in a gruesome fight to the death is not only fun but also a great way to make money. American pit bull terriers and other bully breeds are the most common dogs victimized by this industry and bred for fighting, due to their brute strength, a strong sense of loyalty and willingness to please their people. But these people don’t love their dogs. They either kill them after they lose fights or let them die from their wounds. Meanwhile, submissive dogs that won’t fight are typically used as sparring partners, or “bait.”

And that’s what leads me to my story. It starts out sad, but bear with me, it gets better. It’s all about a lovable pit bull that was rescued from the cruel underworld of dogfighting and is now looking for the perfect forever home. It’s one of those tales that inspires me to spring out of bed in the morning (okay, maybe I don’t “spring,” exactly) and rush to my computer so I can write an article that might make a difference in the life of a very deserving animal.

I am a huge fan of Angels Among Us Pet Rescue, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to saving companion animals from high-kill shelters here in Georgia. They do amazing work and are tireless in their passion and determination to rescue and rehabilitate every single dog or cat they can possibly help, then adopt out into loving homes.

A little over a month ago Fulton County Animal Services received an anonymous call about a pit bull that had been hit by a car and left for dead by the side of a road in Atlanta. When dispatch went to retrieve the injured dog, they realized that his wounds were not consistent with a car accident, but with dogfighting. They immediately reached out to Cris Folchitto, who is a full-time AAU volunteer and foster with many years of experience working with bully breeds and ex-fighting dogs. She quickly became the pit bull’s advocate and has been there for him ever since.

Daijon after surgeryCris comforting Daijonimage4

I’ll spare you all the graphic details about the dog’s myriad wounds, medical procedures and rehabilitation (I think the images below say it all), but suffice it to say that the amazing veterinary professionals at Georgia Veterinary Specialists and Chattahoochee Animal Clinic worked wonders piecing the poor pup back together and essentially saving his life. And Cris has done an incredible job helping this sweet canine go from an abuse victim to a happy, loving and playful guy who is ready to spend the rest of his life as a beloved companion.

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I had the chance to visit Daijon (his name means “pillar of strength”) and Cris last week at the clinic, where the goofy pit bull has become a staff favorite, charming anyone who comes near him – including me! Watching him bounding across the yard in fast pursuit of the tennis ball Cris was throwing for him, you’d never suspect that this playful hunk had been on the brink of death just a month before. Though he still wears the battle scars of a life of abuse, his wounds are healing well, his body is filling out, and he possesses an infectious, playful energy that is incredibly touching and irresistible. After everything he’s been through, it’s amazing how loving and trusting he is toward humans and how eager he is for any affection they’ll show him.

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As we took turns playing and cuddling with Daijon, I asked Cris why she has devoted so much of her life to rescuing, fostering, training and rehabilitating bully breeds and what makes these dogs so special to her.

“I have always fought for the underdogs and against the discrimination of bully breeds and their literal extermination,” she said. “They are so smart and extremely eager to please. They are big goofballs and their smiles are contagious, but they can be hardheaded and bossy, that’s why they need an experienced dog owner and solid leadership. They’re not great guard dogs, as they love everybody and only in extremely rare cases have they been aggressive towards humans. Some people will change direction when they see a bully breed dog or even pick up their dogs or children. Some boarding or daycare facilities do not accept bully breeds. So when you own a bully breed you aren’t just a dog owner, you are an advocate for the breed. They really are phenomenal animals.”

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As the most euthanized, neglected and mistreated breed of dog due to their unfortunate association with a subculture that has used, abused and overbred them, pit bulls have definitely been given a reputation they don’t deserve. Forgiving, resilient, smart and loyal, they are eager to please, often the easiest to train and make amazing family companions, said Cris. As Daijon showered my face with sweet kisses, I agreed that while there may be exceptions – any mistreated or un-socialized dog can become aggressive and dangerous – it’s the humans that are the problem, not any specific breed of dog.

While all 50 states have enacted anti-dogfighting laws, this cruel practice still continues throughout the country. Cris told me that in Georgia, dogfighting occurs mostly in rural areas or in less economically advantaged parts of Atlanta, where dogfights are typically held in abandoned warehouses or buildings under the cover of darkness. So what will it take to finally stop this barbaric blood sport once and for all?

According to Cris, it will require:

  • Harsher penalties and prison sentences for dogfighters, both spectators and organizers.
  • More animal welfare investigators in the field.
  • Banning backyard breeding (the primary source of dog procurement for fighting and bait dogs) and making sure that only licensed breeders can sell dogs that must be spayed or neutered before delivered to their new owners.
  • Making sure that shelters thoroughly screen potential adopters, have statewide “Do Not Adopt To” lists that they follow, and spay or neuter all animals before they leave the shelter.
  • Recognizing pets as living entities, not “property.”

Watching Daijon devour his dog biscuits with relish, I asked Cris to describe his perfect home. While she admitted she would adopt Daijon in a heartbeat if she didn’t already have 12 dogs at home, four of them fosters (and I thought parenting three dogs was a lot of work!), Cris said that Daijon deserved a loving home where he could either be the only dog or live in a family with other young, balanced dogs who could help him burn off his enthusiastic energy.

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“He loves people and is very food driven, which will make him easier to train,” she said. “Rehabilitating a former fighting dog requires love, stability, a solid pack leader and exercise. So I would say he needs experienced dog owner or a person who is willing to learn, be patient and devote time to him. A fenced backyard would be paramount for him to run and play. If the home has children they should be above the age of six, as he is clumsy, goofy and doesn’t completely know his strength and could easily knock smaller kids down by running into them.”

I’ve never shared my life with a pit bull or any bully breed before, as I’m sort of a diehard German shepherd and pug devotee, but after meeting such a special soul as Daijon, I think I might consider rescuing a pit bull someday. While he won’t be coming home with me, I know he’ll find the perfect situation with the right person. After all, this sweet, courageous boy has been through so much, he truly deserves the best life any loving human being could possibly give him. And in the end, Daijon is just further proof that dogs truly are the most resilient, loyal and forgiving creatures with such an innate ability to move forward and live in the present. We humans could really learn so much from them.

If you live in Georgia and think Daijon could be the perfect lifetime companion for you, please contact Angels Among Us Pet Rescue and fill out an application. You can also learn more about this amazing organization by visiting their Facebook page.

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“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

Why I Care Like I Do

Blame it all on Facebook. There I was, innocently scrolling through my morning news feed, sipping coffee and catching up with what my friends were doing, when I stumbled upon a photograph that changed my life.

The image depicted several German shepherds on the back of a rickety-looking truck, packed in cages far too small for their large, long-legged bodies. In fact, the dogs were crammed in so tightly, their paws stuck out between the metal bars in awkward, seemingly painful positions. Languishing beneath a thin tarp that barely shielded them from the hot sun, they were clearly suffering, their mouths hanging open as they panted, their faces the epitome of stress and exhaustion. And there, leaning against the truck’s passenger side door stood the driver, a skinny Asian man smoking a cigarette with a blasé expression on his face, seemingly oblivious to the anguish of the animals in his care.

The scene hit me square in the heart. These poor canines could have been my shepherds, who at the time were dozing contentedly in their respective spots on my home office floor, their bellies full of breakfast. And as I read the photo’s caption my blood turned to ice. These beautiful, intelligent, emotional creatures weren’t headed to a shelter or anyplace where their suffering would be ended and eventually forgotten. These unfortunate dogs were headed to the live meat markets of Vietnam, where they would be slaughtered and eaten.

I felt as if my brain was about to explode. Did people in Asia really eat dog meat? Wasn’t that just an old joke? Maybe they had in the past, during times of desperation, of famine, but not now, not in the 21st century! I simply couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had to know more. I did a Google search and began to read and read and then read some more. And with every article, every website, every image, graphic or otherwise, my heart began to break into more and more pieces.

Yes, I discovered, people in Asia and even Africa eat dog (and cat) meat. In fact, pet meat is a multi-billion-dollar, unregulated trade, especially in parts of China, South Korea and Vietnam, where the flesh of companion animals is considered a delicacy and purported to have (unproven) health benefits. Approximately 10 million dogs and cats are eaten each year in China alone. But the worst part? These “humans” involved in this trade weren’t just killing these animals, they were torturing them first, living under the false belief that the adrenaline stimulated by intense fear and suffering makes a dog or cat’s meat more flavorful and beneficial to one’s health.

Suddenly my reality was no longer the same. I felt like Alice after she’d fallen down the rabbit hole, or Neo in “The Matrix” after he swallowed the red pill. I knew I couldn’t go back to being happily oblivious that this level of cruelty existed – those days were over. I would have to do something, and at that very moment, I decided that I would do what I did best – write. I would use my writing skills to let the world know that this horrible trade existed and must be stopped.

Mind you, my objective wasn’t to condemn any culture for its food choices but to stop this egregious cruelty. To “humanely” kill and then eat an animal is one thing, but to intentionally put it through prolonged, agonizing pain is another. That is simply barbaric and wrong.

I felt like I was on fire. I contacted the animal welfare organization that had posted the photo and volunteered my writing and editing services to them. I learned everything I could about the trade, its history, its economic impact, its players and the propaganda and fake medicine they tout to perpetuate the demand and thus, line their pockets. I forced myself to watch videos I now wish I hadn’t seen and cried out loud in horror and despair. What I was witnessing was raw barbarity. How could any human being do such things to another living creature?

My brain haunted with images I couldn’t shake, I lay awake at night, staring into the darkness and sobbing at the thought of all those innocent animals that were probably suffering right at that very moment, while I was powerless to stop it. Unable to halt my tears, I often awakened my poor husband, who wasn’t sure what to do but hold me until I cried myself to sleep.

I knew it was wrong to blame an entire culture, that there were many wonderful animal lovers and activists in these countries who cared about animals, despised this trade and were fighting to stop it, but I struggled with hateful, judgmental and racist thoughts nonetheless. Though I tried to remind myself that people involved in the dog and cat meat trade were most likely ignorant and desensitized individuals who were the product of an environment bereft of compassion and empathy, I hated them nonetheless.

It seemed that the more I learned, the angrier I became. I went through a very bitter, cynical period. I got irritated when someone would ask me what I was writing about and when I would try to tell them they’d make a face and cut me off with, “ugh, okay, stop, I don’t want to know!” I didn’t understand why people would rather be ostriches choosing to remain ignorant rather than become enlightened so they could either do something to stop this suffering or simply help to spread awareness, too.

Then I realized I was being a bit of a hypocrite – with my own eating habits. Here I was, consuming the meat of farm animals while at the same time judging other cultures for eating the meat of companion animals. What made the lives of pigs, chickens, cows, lambs and turkeys any less important than those of dogs and cats? No creature, be it human or non-human, wants to suffer and die. I knew I had to walk the walk if I was going to talk the talk, so I started reading everything I could about the evils of factory farming to help lose my taste for animal flesh, something I had always consumed in moderation but still enjoyed from time to time. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” and from cover to cover in two days. What a brilliant book. It opened my mind and did its job by ending my desire to eat meat forever. It’s been two years since I last tasted animal flesh and I’ve never looked back.

I felt good about not eating animals. I had been practicing yoga for almost 20 years and had always tried to live by the yamas and niyamas (the essential principles of a yogic life), one of the most important being ahimsa, or non-violence. But while I had stopped being violent in my eating habits, I was still being violent in my thoughts – toward people who either didn’t seem to care or “didn’t want to know.” I realized that harboring all this anger and resentment was only hurting my psyche and not solving anything, so I began to shift my thinking and my attitude. After all, did I really want to be one of those self-righteous vegans? Not really.

Sure, anyone with a compassionate (non-psychopathic) heart cares about animals, but I do believe there is such a thing as “compassion fatigue” in our society. Our world is riddled with so many problems, so much cruelty and pain, that I think most people feel helpless, overwhelmed and not sure what to do or where to even begin. So they shut down. I’ve certainly been there. And just because my eyes were open didn’t mean that everyone, even members of my own family, were interested in opening theirs.

I couldn’t blame some of my friends for saying they couldn’t read my Facebook posts anymore, which had become an outlet for my burgeoning animal activism. So what if they just wanted to see pictures of cute, fuzzy puppies with inspiring quotes to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside? I knew I had to try to understand where most people were coming from so I could let go of my frustration with their lack of “likes” when I posted something I thought was really urgent and important. I knew I would find my “tribe” of fellow animal activists eventually, but meanwhile, it was time to find other platforms for my animal-centric writing and awareness efforts. And that’s when I began to write for Dogster.com and soon after, started this blog.

For thousands of years, humans have been exploiting animals for their own benefit. What right do we have to continue this tyranny, especially now that we know without a doubt that animals are sentient beings who have emotions and feel pain, just like us? Non-human species don’t have the ability to fight for their rights, tell their own stories, or change the systems that are harming, enslaving and murdering them. So I will tell their stories and be their voice and maybe, just maybe, I will get through to someone and they will feel inspired to help animals, too. Just imagine if everyone did one thing, big or small, to make a difference – what a safer, happier and more compassionate world we could co-create together!

So this blog is dedicated to the animals, to all the amazing, unique and inspiring individuals, past and present, who have touched my life, loved me unconditionally and always stood by me. I have been lucky enough to call many dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, goats and horses my closest friends, creatures who made me laugh, gave me love and asked for very little in return except to be taken care of and treated with kindness. They have been my greatest teachers, forever inspiring me to be a better person and a more loving caretaker. I can’t imagine who I would be or what my life would be like without them.

Me and my boys, Hugo (left) and Gizmo (right). Hugo has since traveled to the Rainbow Bridge. His mommy really misses him.

Me and my boys, Hugo (left) and Gizmo (right). Hugo has since traveled to the Rainbow Bridge. His mommy really misses him.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King Jr.