Volunteering With an Animal Rescue – How To Be of Service (Without Giving Up Your Life)

I absolutely adore pugs. Next to German shepherds and Great Danes, they are my all-time favorite breed. At the time I decided I wanted to get involved in dog rescue, I was living in another city that had one small rescue tasked with rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming the area’s neglected, abused and abandoned pugs. I had long admired this amazing little organization, so when I heard that its founders were moving out-of-state and searching for volunteers to take over the rescue, I jumped at the chance to get involved. I imagined how rewarding it would be to use my writing skills to help homeless pugs find loving families where they would be adored and cherished as much as my pug, Gizmo, was (and still is).

I remember showing up at that first meeting, so excited to be a part of something so meaningful and knowing exactly how I could best be of service – I would write and edit their quarterly newsletter. About two-dozen people were in attendance, all pug lovers like me who were passionate about seeing the rescue continue. Sitting in a large circle with snacks in our laps and drinks in our hands, we made quick work of getting down to business and in less than two hours had elected nine new board members, signed up several foster homes and had a newsletter team in place, the latter consisting of two other women and myself. As I walked away from the meeting I felt positive and hopeful that my skills would be useful and appreciated.

While I thought I had made it abundantly clear to the rescue’s leadership that working on the newsletter was all I could offer, as I had a husband, four dogs and two jobs taking up the lion’s share of my time and energy, within weeks that boundary began to crumble. Things at the organization quickly became complicated as our initially robust group of enthusiastic volunteers dwindled to just 12 core members and a handful of fosters. As a result, the group was having a hard time managing the deluge of homeless and often sick or injured dogs in desperate need of transportation, veterinary care and placement.

Photo credit: 3milliondogs.com

Photo credit: 3milliondogs.com

Wanting very much to help my new rescue colleagues through this tough period, I agreed to fill in the gaps and do whatever I could with what limited time I had, hoping that once the dust settled and more volunteers came on board I could go back to concentrating solely on the newsletter. But weeks soon turned into months, and any free time I could spare continued to be spent picking up and dropping off pugs, reviewing adoption applications, conducting pre-adoption home checks, attending rescue meetings and assisting at adoption events, not to mention helping out with our annual Halloween pug costume party, the rescue’s biggest fundraising effort.

Mind you, I’m not complaining, as much of what I experienced that first year was very worthwhile and rewarding. While there were plenty of upsetting moments, like witnessing the callous indifference of people and their lame excuses for surrendering their dogs – moving, having a baby, behavioral problems – the experiences I had and the lessons I learned were incredibly enlightening and valuable. It felt amazing to be able to deliver a sweet little pug to his forever home, seeing him welcomed by his new family and knowing that formerly abused or abandoned dog was destined for a wonderful life – I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything in the world. Yet as time passed I found myself stuck in a sort of “rescue vortex” from which I didn’t feel justified dislodging myself. No, I wasn’t doing nearly as much as my other rescue colleagues were – some of them lived and breathed pug rescue – but my home life was already strained and here I was running off to help other dogs when my own pups weren’t getting enough of my attention. While I knew the rescue needed me, I also knew that something had to give, and soon. But instead of finding a way to cut back on my volunteer time and return to my original intention, I began to feel greater pressure to give more of myself while at the same time feeling like no matter what I did, it simply wasn’t enough.

I had only been volunteering with the rescue for over a year and was already feeling burned out. I was so discouraged, as I thought volunteering with a rescue was supposed to be about helping dogs in-need, not about fitting in with a clique, pleasing people or going along with pack-mentality politics. No, I wasn’t a martyr and I never would be – I wasn’t like some of my rescue colleagues who seemed to take pride in bragging about how stressed, exhausted and over-extended they were rescuing pugs. While helping dogs was indeed important, I believed my life should come first. And I certainly couldn’t remember the last time I had felt any sense of gratitude from anyone in the group for what I was contributing, be it insufficient in their eyes. So I began to say no. And that’s when things started to go south.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the story – suffice it to say that my relationship with the pug rescue came to a close just a few months later and that our parting of ways wasn’t a happy one. I get it that I had been the weakest spoke in their wheel, that the rescue was small, understaffed and overwhelmed with dogs, and that the group needed core members willing and able to give more of their time, energy and passion to keeping the organization afloat. I had set myself up to fail by not speaking up, reasserting my boundaries and sticking to them. Being “nice” had backfired on me. Instead of the rewarding experience I had hoped it would be, my first volunteer effort with a dog rescue left me feeling unappreciated, slighted, used and discarded.

Photo credit: volunteer forever.com

Photo credit: volunteer forever.com

While it took almost seven years for me to want to get involved with rescue again, I didn’t let that first negative experience derail my passion for helping animals. Since then I have volunteered with a couple of groups and through trial and error believe I now know the difference between a legitimate, professional, well-organized rescue that deserves my freely given time and energy, and one I should avoid at all costs.

Animal rescue organizations are run by humans, humans have egos and often those egos get in the way of what those individuals are supposed to be doing – helping animals. From narcissists and martyrs to hoarders and control freaks, the animal rescue world does indeed attract its fair share of very “colorful” folks, particularly women with strong and emotional personalities. But while there are certainly plenty of groups to steer clear of, there are also myriad rescue organizations made up of wonderful individuals who always put the animals first and understand the incredible value of good volunteers. So while my story can serve as a cautionary tale for what not to do when volunteering with a rescue, it’s not meant to dissuade anyone from getting involved in such a rewarding and worthwhile effort.

So to ensure you have the best experience possible and are able to help the animals in the best way possible, here are a few things to keep in mind before volunteering with a rescue group:

Do your homework: Unfortunately, the non-profit world is full of scammers who will take full advantage of your generosity if you let them, so make sure you do your due-diligence and research the organization before getting involved. Make sure the group is a 501(c)(3), which means it has been approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt, charitable organization. While this doesn’t guarantee the group’s leadership is well-intentioned, it at least demonstrates that they were serious enough to undergo the extensive amount of paperwork and waiting time necessary to attain official nonprofit status.

Next, check out the group’s website and do an Internet search to see what has been written about them. How long has the rescue been around and how many people are involved? Does the group have a Facebook page, and if so, what are they posting and how many “friends” do they have?

“There’s always someone who’s going to write a bad review, but a larger rescue, especially one that’s been around for a while, is more likely to be in compliance than some smaller, no-name, nobody-knows rescue,” explained Danielle Kramer, a frontline animal rescuer who has volunteered with a wide array of rescue groups for over 20 years, including Angels Among Us Pet Rescue and Atlanta Boxer Rescue. “Not that small rescues are bad, you’re just going to want to do your homework and make sure you’re not working with an animal hoarding situation disguised as a rescue.”

She continued, “If you see a rescue group bashing other rescues, run because that’s not a good sign. That means that rescue is on a power trip and they’re not looking at the whole picture. It’s so important for rescues to be supportive of one another and not backstab each other because it’s not a competition. Good rescues will want to work with others with the same goal in mind – to save lives.”

Lastly, talk to someone who has worked with the rescue and ask plenty of questions, including, what are the group’s adoption procedures and are they in-line with those of other successful rescues? All good rescues will usually follow the same best practices, so make sure the rescue you’re interested in is following them, as well. Does the rescue provide training and/or supplies and is there a network of fellow rescuers you can rely on for support? If you’re interested in fostering, ask about their pre-screening procedures and how they handle any emergency situations. Information like this will give you a clearer picture of whether the group is run like a business or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of operation.

Photo credit: patch.com

Photo credit: patch.com

Consider your commitment level: How much time you can devote to your chosen rescue group will depend on your lifestyle, so think about how many hours per week or month you’ll be able to commit. Responsible, reliable volunteers are a boon for any rescue group, so set yourself up to succeed by being clear about what you can or can’t do and stick to your boundaries. It’s always a good idea to start off small and see how you do rather than jumping in full-tilt and risk becoming overwhelmed, so consider sticking a toe in the water rather than swan diving into rescue.

“Some people can live and breathe rescue, while others may only donate an hour or two per month, but that’s equally important,” says Danielle. “No effort in rescue and no act of kindness is too small. Even if that means donating one bag of dog food, anything helps. Even if you can only do one home check once a month, that’s still one more home check and one more dog you’re helping.”

Figure out your ideal volunteer role: Consider what kinds of activities would be the best fit for you and stay true to your intentions. Would you prefer hands-on or behind-the-scenes activities? Do you want to work with a group of people or carry out projects on your own? Do you like structure or are you a self-starter? Do you like learning new skills or would rather stick with the abilities you already have? Are you able to foster animals, join rescue teams, or maybe just walk some dogs at an adoption event? Be clear about what you want to accomplish and never, ever be afraid to say “no.”

“If people want to help, it doesn’t matter what they want to do, especially if they’re new to rescue and don’t want to be on the frontlines, that’s okay,” Danielle said. “They can start off small, or even bring their kid to an adoption event so he can learn, go walk a dog or play with the rescue puppies – that’s such a great life lesson. Every position is important, no matter what it is, even if it’s only once a year – everything you can do helps!”

Photo credit: arlboston.com

Photo credit: arlboston.com

Decide if it’s a good fit: Your time and energy are valuable, so it’s important to select a rescue group that reflects your values, is made up of people you feel comfortable with, and is appreciative of your efforts. Notice, what is the overall “energy” of the group? Is it warm and friendly or does the dynamic feel cliquey like high school? Does the group express gratitude for what you’re able to offer or do you feel pressured to do more? Does the group work to resolve conflicts productively and diplomatically or are its members prone to petty arguments, gossip and backstabbing behavior? All that does is take the focus away from what the rescue is supposed to be doing – helping animals. So even if the group just “feels” wrong, don’t hesitate to walk away and look for another opportunity, one where your blood, sweat and tears will be better spent.

“A rescue should never guilt you into doing more than you want or can do,” said Danielle. “Who are you to judge what anyone is doing out of the kindness of their heart? It’s not fair for anybody in a rescue to be demanding of their volunteers because then those people will be turned off and never want to volunteer again. If a rescue is that desperate or struggling that much, walk away and find a different one because it’s probably going to be a negative, frustrating experience to work with them.”

I’m glad I didn’t let my negative experience with the pug rescue derail me from helping animals indefinitely. If anything, it only helped me identify what to look for and what to avoid in a group, while strengthening my resolve to find that perfect fit. Thanks to that hard but important lesson several years ago, I finally found a rescue group I enjoy working with whenever I have a chance, one that appreciates what I’m able to offer and whose philosophy aligns with my values. Best of all, I’ve met the most amazing, like-minded people, some who have even become great new friends. Volunteering with an animal rescue is so worth it. Imagine how many animals we could help if everyone did their part to pitch in and make a difference. What a better, more humane world that would be!

Photo credit: youtube.com

Photo credit: youtube.com

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” – Mitch Albom

Hey, PeTA, Leave Those Pets Alone!

Unless you’re an animal lover who’s been hiding under a rock lately, you’ve heard about PeTA’s disturbingly high-kill rate at its Norfolk, Virginia shelter. We’re talking almost 90 percent. And if you’re like me you’ve probably been scratching your head in wonderment since you learned about these unsettling activities. Isn’t this organization called the “People for the ETHICAL Treatment of Animals?” How is euthanizing so many dogs and cats ethical? It seems completely counterintuitive to what PeTA professes itself to be – a passionate defender of animal rights.

As a former supporter of this organization, I was very disappointed to learn about its antiquated and drastic approach to dealing with unwanted, abused and neglected companion animals, a deadly practice that has evidently been going on for quite some time. It was very disillusioning for me, as I’ve always admired the amazing work PeTA has done to educate the public about animal abuse and expose the callous individuals and cruel industries that harm non-human species. From factory farming and fur to cosmetic testing and circuses, PeTa’s powerful investigations and public demonstration campaigns have been instrumental in helping to spread awareness, change behaviors and shift our society’s attitudes toward animals. The organization has been admirably relentless in driving the point home that animals do not deserve to be used, abused or enslaved by humans, and that we have no right to take their innocent lives. And for that reason, I became a believer.

PeTA demonstrators protesting the B.C. Dairy Industry Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Photo credit: straight.com

PeTA demonstrators protesting the B.C. Dairy Industry Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Photo credit: straight.com

But why is it okay for PeTA to preach about not killing cows, chickens or pigs, only to turn around and destroy thousands of dogs and cats at its “shelter,” a place that by definition should be safe, temporary home for animals offered for adoption? For the past nine years, PeTA’s adoption rate has hovered around a dismal 1 percent, while its euthanasia rate has remained frighteningly high. While the organization adamantly defends its high-kill practices, claiming its “shelter of last-resort” only euthanizes sick, old, injured, abused and neglected animals no one else wants, there is a plethora of evidence to the contrary, and it is troubling.

According to tragic, first-person accounts from former PeTA employees and watchdog groups, the well-funded organization is quick to dispatch healthy, young and adoptable dogs and cats alongside the sick and too far-gone, often within hours of obtaining them, while making no concerted effort to find the animals new homes. In some cases PeTA employees have actually stolen pets from their homes, only to euthanize them immediately.

Former PeTA activist, “D” (who wishes to conceal her identity, due to the fact that she fears repercussions from the organization) began distancing herself from PeTA once she learned about the nefarious activities at its Norfolk headquarters.

“I helped PeTA with an investigation against a factory pig farm,” D told me. “They ended up getting felony counts against the people who were abusing the animals, which was great (because) a lot of times these people just pay a fine, get a smack on the wrist and move on. In those days PeTA didn’t used to have a shelter or get into that kind of involvement, they were more about investigations exposing people and companies for how they were abusing animals. That’s the path they used to be on when I was with them years ago and I believed deeply in that until they turned hard right and started killing companion animals.

She continued, “I didn’t understand what they were doing. I’ve tried to take a step back and understand their mentality but I can’t. A 90 percent euthanasia rate contradicts everything they’re supposed to represent. And I don’t understand the concept of not wanting (adoptable animals) to become companions in really good homes, where they can get lots of love. It’s just really sad that PeTA has gone the route that they went. It’s disappointing on so many levels and I think they’ve lost a lot of supporters because of it.”

Hoping to interview people with first-hand knowledge of PeTA’s Virginia operations, I reached out to an animal rescue friend who works with two former employees of the Norfolk shelter, but she said they were uncomfortable speaking to me, even anonymously. Like others who have worked for PeTA, they feared the organization’s intimidation tactics, designed to silence those who speak out against it. Although I was disappointed, as it’s going to take more than one or two brave souls to come forward and convince skeptics that this animal rights behemoth is indeed flawed and in dire need of culture reform, I understood their resistance to speak.

Another innocent life stuck in a municipal animal shelter. Photo credit: rosyandrocky.com

Another innocent life stuck in a municipal animal shelter. Photo credit: rosyandrocky.com

You have to wonder what lies at the heart of such a hypocritical ideology that would condemn killing animals used for food, clothing, entertainment and experiments, yet condone and willingly execute the mass slaughter of dogs and cats. Again, this is coming from a donor-funded entity claiming to be a leading defender of animal rights. Could it stem from the fact that PeTA doesn’t “believe” in pet-keeping, as its website clearly states, or its skewed philosophy that dogs and cats are “better off dead” than homeless or neglected?

I agree that the pet trade causes its fair share of suffering, especially at the hands of irresponsible, selfish and cruel humans who systematically contribute to the abuse, neglect and over-breeding of companion animals, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t multitudes of kind, responsible people who deeply love their animals and are willing to do whatever it takes to provide them with safe, healthy and happy lives. We pet parents love our fur babies and it’s fair to say that our “children” love us, too.

Companion animals have been with us for thousands of years and they’re not going away anytime soon. Yes, we have a global dog and cat overpopulation crisis – there is no denying that sad reality. But this is a man-made crisis that must be solved by those who created it, and murdering almost 3 million dogs and cats in our nation’s shelters every year is not the solution. There are way too many people on this planet, many of them suffering in poverty, yet would any civilized society find it morally or ethically acceptable to euthanize them? The innocents in this cruel equation should not be the ones paying the ultimate penalty.

While PeTA’s shelter isn’t the only high-kill facility in this country euthanizing healthy animals, most municipal shelters at least try to give the dog and cats in their care a chance at finding new homes, be they brief windows of opportunity. Then there are those good-intentioned shelters working very hard to reform their operations, reduce their kill rates, increase their adoptions, and even go “No-Kill.” Yes, our animal sheltering system is indeed flawed and in need of strong and expedient reform, but we must also remember that these facilities are our nation’s pet dumping grounds tasked with “cleaning up” the mess our irresponsible and negligent public has created.

There has got to be a better way. We can’t just keep killing hoards of dogs and cats year after year, and we can’t continue to allow people to get away with abusing, neglecting, abandoning and not sterilizing their animals. We’re not going to rescue our way out of this problem but neither are we going to euthanize our way out of it. Surely the solution lies in stronger legislation along with progressive educational efforts and community services, including pushing adoption as the most attractive way to obtain a pet; comprehensive and enforceable spay and neuter laws; stronger anti-cruelty ordinances and expanding free or low-cost spay and neuter services funded by higher breeder licensing fees. But until those solutions create a sea change in pet owner behavior, countless rescues, shelters and humane societies will be forced to deal with our pet surplus problem to the best of their abilities.

This is NOT the solution! Photo credit: mindwatch.com

This is NOT the solution! Photo credit: mindwatch.com

The word “ethical” is defined as, “pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.” Clearly, there is nothing ethical about PeTA’s systematic destruction of healthy, adoptable companion animals. Aren’t animal protection organizations supposed to protect animals? An organization can’t expect to survive by maintaining a philosophy so diametrically opposed to what it’s supposed to be championing.

The good news is that the Commonwealth of Virginia appears to have said, “enough!” to PeTA’s bloodthirsty behavior. On Feb. 23, the Virginia House of Delegates passed SB 1381, which clarifies the purpose and definition of an animal shelter, requiring state facilities to be “operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes.” This means that when this law goes into effect in July, PeTA’s Virginia facility will have to become a true shelter that actually houses and adopts out animals or get out of the shelter – and euthanasia – “business” entirely. We who love dogs and cats can only hope that this new law will actually bring an end to the indiscriminate killing machine the Norfolk operation has become, perhaps incentivizing its leadership to shut it down completely. But while I imagine PeTA will choose to adjust its tactics rather than distance itself from companion animals entirely, the organization will certainly have a long way to go in improving its tainted reputation and regaining the trust of the dog and cat-loving public.

PeTA, do the dogs and cats of the world a favor and leave them to the rescue organizations and shelters that “believe in” companion animals, support responsible pet parenting and actually want to help the homeless find loving, forever families. Those homes are out there, people just need to be convinced that rescue and adoption is the best and most rewarding way to acquire their next companion. So leave the homeless dogs and cats to the kindhearted rescuers, those tireless saviors who aren’t daunted by the injured, abused or neglected, who believe that every animal is worth saving.

It’s one thing to euthanize animals who are suffering and beyond help, but it’s another to destroy healthy and adoptable animals who have every potential to live long, happy lives as beloved family members. The good PeTA does for other animals does not balance or cancel out the harm it has been inflicting upon dogs and cats, and for too long. It’s simply homicide. Or rather, “PeTAcide.”

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” – St. Francis of Assisi

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.

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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