The Pooches

On Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Dog Breeding

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-9-22-44-amMy latest story about dogs was published today by The Washington Post. It’s about a little-discussed sphere of the current political divide: the fact that our level of national vitriol is now keeping dogs in conditions that many of us find unacceptable.

I traveled to Ohio to report this story, to a county just west of that state’s hardest-hit Rust Belt regions. I spent a full day with a person whose political, religious and other views bear little resemblance to my own, and whose lifelong economic realities and educational opportunities are unimaginable to most people where I live, near Manhattan.

If you care at all about dogs—whether you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or not at all—please take the time to give this story a read. I hope that you, as I did, will realize that we Americans often have more in common than we believe, and that if we can simply find ways to talk to one another, we just might be able to solve problems that desperately need our attention.

An Op-Ed Generating Predictable, and Unfortunate, Response

boston-globe-op-edI wrote an op-ed piece titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Biters” that ran in yesterday’s Boston Globe Magazine. It’s about new rules that the state of Massachusetts is about to announce in public hearings, rules that would require rescue groups to assess a dog’s behavior and disclose all findings to fosters or adopters before the dog is transferred to a home.

My piece comes out strongly in favor of what the state is trying to do, based on my research into nationwide rescue for my award-winning book Little Boy Blue and my personal experience of having had 20 foster dogs come through my New Jersey home in the span of two years. As I wrote in yesterday’s piece, most of my fosters arrived friendly, healthy, and as advertised. But a few supposedly healthy dogs arrived sick, and one “ultra-friendly” Labrador mix attacked my own dog and bit me five times in the arm and legs, leaving nasty puncture wounds and me limping for a week. My piece says that the state is right to require that all rescues perform due diligence and disclose any findings about a dog’s health or temperament before giving him to any family. Put another way: Know the dog, and be honest about what you know before you hand him over, plain and simple.

This may seem like common sense to anyone trying to adopt a dog or help the cause by fostering, but the predictable response in comments on the Globe‘s website, as well as on the Little Boy Blue Facebook page, has been backlash and outcry from some rescuers who believe that any regulation of rescue is akin to persecution. They point the finger at puppy mills—disgusting places churning out for-profit purebreds with all kinds of problems—and try to change the subject by saying things like, “Why are you bothering rescuers when these puppy mills exist? We’re the good guys, for Pete’s sake!” Another predictable response has been from rescuers who say things like, “Why is the state trying to shut me down? I care about these dogs and do a good job with the budget I have.” Which is probably true, and is admirable in concept, but does not actually address the question of protocols for behavior screening and disclosure. Having a wonderful heart and wanting to save as many dogs as possible is a great thing, but it doesn’t mean the process in place is working as well, or as safely, as it should be.

I look forward to the day when rescue supporters (and I count myself as one, despite those dog bites) can look at problems within the rescue system and talk openly about addressing them instead of trying to change the subject. Until that day, escalating rules like the ones Massachusetts is about to impose will be the norm, and rightfully so. Rescue is a wonderful thing, but the groups doing it still have work to do if rescue is going to win the public’s trust and solve the problem of homeless dogs once and for all. It’s a fact that few people are willing to write about, because so many rescuers attack the writers with comments like the ones that my piece in the Globe is receiving. But it’s a fact that rescue needs to accept and address if the cause is going to move forward and succeed.

PetSmart Charities did a study with Ispos Marketing in 2012, repeating a study done in 2009 about why people buy purebreds instead of adopting from rescues. “You never know what you’re going to get with a shelter animal” continues to be the opinion of about 1 in 5 responders. That’s about 20 percent of people out there getting dogs, saying that they don’t trust the rescue process. At the same time, Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in his book The Bond that if just 25 percent more people already getting dogs would choose to adopt, then statistically speaking, we’d have a home for every dog being killed in the shelters today—a home for every dog that rescues are so desperately trying to save.

What I wrote in yesterday’s Boston Globe Magazine is about common sense and basic math. It isn’t just about Massachusetts, but is instead about how Massachusetts is addressing an issue that affects rescue nationwide. It isn’t about persecuting rescues, it isn’t about puppy mills, and it isn’t about anything other than the fact that rescue could be better in its overall processes, which would then win the public’s trust and actually solve the problem of homeless dogs. The debate here shouldn’t be about whether rescues need to know the health and temperament of the dogs they are advertising for adoption. It should be about why any state gets so many complaints about rescue that it has to step in on this matter at all.

But I’ll take the negative comments, and I’ll be the lightning rod for debate, and I’ll keep writing pieces like this, and I’ll even do so with a smile—because at least then I will know that this conversation about rescue is getting the mainstream media attention that it deserves. That, like the new Massachusetts rules, will only serve to strengthen the cause of rescue overall.

 

Giving Thanks that Hoss is Safe

This Thanksgiving, there is a surprise guest in my home—my former foster puppy, Hoss.

I last saw him five months ago, when he was just three months old. The rescue where I volunteer adopted him out to a family who had never before owned a dog. They went through the evaluation process, provided good character references, and promised to love him and take care of him forever. I handed them the 12-pound bundle of joy, kissed him goodbye, and wished them a wonderful life together.

Yesterday, those same people brought the now eight-month-old, 65-pound puppy back to my house. He walked them down the driveway, not vice versa, in a telltale sign that he’s had minimal training. The 9-year-old daughter said nothing. The 11-year-old son handed me a bag containing one meal’s worth of food along with the original, tiny food bowls that they never bothered to replace as Hoss got bigger. The father handed me the leash and said, “Thank you, Kim.” Then they all turned and walked away, without even bothering to tell their puppy goodbye.

Hoss has been back here for about 24 hours now, and he’s essentially still that 3-month-old puppy inside of a much larger body. It’s obvious that his adopters failed to teach him a lot of basic things, and it’s clear to me that he didn’t get enough exercise. He did seemingly endless wind sprints in my back yard until he finally took a nap at my feet. He doesn’t want to leave my side, he seems so starved for attention.

Luckily, Hoss has retained his beautiful, friendly spirit—along with his handsome good looks. With a few weeks of proper care, exercise, and training, he should make an absolutely wonderful addition to just about any family.

Today is Thanksgiving, and I am most thankful that Hoss is safe back here with me as a foster until his true forever home can be found. The holiday season is now upon us, the time of year when lots of families decide they want a cute, little, adorable puppy. Come this spring, though, a lot of those puppies will be tossed out of their families just like Hoss was, all because they started to grow up and require time, training, and attention. Not all of the unwanted pups are lucky enough to end up back with their original fosters. Some of them end up back in the shelter, right on death row where they originally started.

I hope that everyone thinking about bringing a puppy home this season will keep Hoss’s story in mind. Understand that puppies grow up. Believe that you will need to spend time training them and giving them exercise. Know that they are depending on you, and that you are making a lifelong commitment when you adopt them.

And give thanks every day that you are lucky enough to have a great dog in your life. I sure do, not only for my own rescued pooches Blue and Ginger, but also for the many wonderful foster pups like Hoss who give me nothing but love and joy.

Welcoming Ginger Home

“What’s that you say? We can both call you Mommy now?”

A few days ago, I typed through tears and uploaded this blog post about my 19th foster dog, Ginger. She had been here at the house with Blue and me longer than any foster puppy we’d welcomed as part of the Lulu’s Rescue volunteer network. Ginger is a wonderful, loving, six-month-old puppy on the inside who has terrible nervousness with new people on the outside. We’d already had four failed adoption attempts when I dropped her off with would-be adopters No. 5 last Thursday, hoping desperately that we had finally found people who would be as good to her as I’d been myself.

I was absolutely heartbroken on Sunday night when the adopters told me by telephone that they’d already decided Ginger wasn’t the dog for them. They didn’t like the way she acted nervous around their house—a comment that absolutely enraged me, because the rescue and I had been crystal clear in explaining that it takes Ginger a week or longer to feel safe and happy with new people. They’d given her just two days before deeming her unfit. They actually believed somebody who told them that Ginger was feral, even though I’d housetrained her, taught her to sit on command, taught her to walk on a leash, and taught her to enjoy belly rubs as much as games of tug. She just hadn’t shown them those qualities yet, because she was nervous being in a new home.

Blue and I drove an hour through the pounding rain to collect her first thing the next morning, which was yesterday. When we walked through the door to the adopters’ home, Ginger ran to Blue, and he ran to her, both tails wagging faster than hummingbird wings. Then Ginger leaped into my arms before I could even get down on the floor at her level. She flew at Blue and me like she’d been drowning, and we were her life ring.

Ginger had been the hardest foster puppy for me to give up so far. Out of 19, I’ve enjoyed most, but I’ve truly fallen in love with only two. One was Mac, who I knew would be fine with the family that adopted him (and he is—they tell me often). With this shy girl Ginger, though, after five failed attempts, I have nothing but doubts that she has already adopted Blue and me as her family, and that she’s not going to be okay with anybody else. I honestly don’t think I can cry again the way I did when I tried to let her go once more last week. She is taking entire chunks of my heart with her every time I say goodbye.

My whole family had a meeting yesterday about Ginger, because for me to keep her during the book tour for “Little Boy Blue,” which starts this Friday, I’m going to need some serious puppy-sitting help. Mom, Dad, and my sister all voted yes—enthusiastically. And we couldn’t keep Ginger apart from the rest of our pack, which includes my boy Blue, my sister’s Labrador, Sadie May, and my parents’ Doberman, Quincy. She fit right in, playing and giving kisses like she’d been with us forever.

And so, as of today, Blue, Ginger, and I are officially becoming a family of three. I’ve promised the rescue that I’ll still be happy to foster, just as soon as the book tour and Ginger’s puppy training are complete, and I remain committed to helping as many shelter dogs like Blue and Ginger as I can. They all deserve to hit the jackpot and have a family who loves them as much as I love my two canine kids.

Sometimes we choose our dogs, and sometimes they choose us. In Ginger’s case, it’s the latter.

I can’t believe I’m the lucky one who has won the doggie lottery—again. My water bowl runneth over.

“A Moving Call to Action”

That’s what Kirkus Reviews had to say about my forthcoming book “Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth.”

“Little Boy Blue” just became available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I’m proud to note the starburst on the cover, stating that publisher Barron’s Educational Series will be donating a portion of proceeds to the Petfinder Foundation. That should go a long way toward helping more shelter dogs like my boy Blue get adopted into great homes.

The publication date is still on target for late summer. Blue and I will be making our first promotional appearance at Book Expo America in New York City this June.

I’m currently working with our trainer to teach Blue how to “wave to the crowd.” He has the trick down in our kitchen. I figure it’s only slightly smaller than a Manhattan convention center…

Closing in on 500 Friends—with the Potential to Reach Nearly 200,000

My dog is closing in fast on having 500 Facebook fans, most of whom I’ve never met. Some of them are as far away as India and Sweden, where I’ve never been and don’t know anyone.

This would seem strange if not for the fact that they are all anticipating the release of “Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Escape from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth.” It’s due out in hardcover this summer from Barron’s Books. It will be my ninth nonfiction book.

What’s most interesting to me about Blue’s Facebook page is that as the audience grows slowly but steadily, it also grows exponentially. The “insights” tool on Facebook tells me that while Blue’s exact fan base right now is 459 people, he already has the potential to reach more than 192,000. That would happen if his fans clicked “share” and sent one of Blue’s messages to all of their own Facebook friends. (And folks already share Blue’s updates more often than you might think.)

What a great tool for the advance promotion of a book. Thank goodness my dog regularly updates his Facebook page. I wonder if he’s also been sneaking off secretly to India and Sweden to boost his numbers.

If you’d like to become a fan of Little Boy Blue on Facebook, please click the link on the right-hand side of this screen.

Lulu’s Rescue Featured in Short-Form Documentary

I do a lot of volunteer work for Lulu’s Rescue, the group that helped to save my dog, Blue, from a gas-chamber shelter in North Carolina. The group is featured in my forthcoming book “Little Boy Blue,” due out in hardcover this summer from Barron’s Books.

Lulu’s was recently featured in the following 13-minute documentary, which won high marks at a film festival in the United Kingdom. The film covers a lot of the same themes that “Little Boy Blue” addresses—all important to understand if we are going to save more dogs like Blue from certain death in America’s shelters in the future.

Lulu’s Rescue from bshiflett on Vimeo.