Interviews | Interviews Interviews en-us Mon, 20 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 Mon, 20 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 Orion <![CDATA[Mr. Fry the Greyhound Mix Finds His Forever Retirement Home]]> Humans often go to the grocery store to find something for dinner, but one people-loving sighthound got more than a meal after heading to the market.
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Mr. Fry, a Greyhound-Saluki mix, got his name and a brighter future one cold winter night when he tried to walk through a store’s automatic doors in an effort to get warm.

“He was abandoned as a stray up in Maricopa, and he was trying to get into a Fry’s Food Market,” explains Jean Williams, president of Arizona Greyhound Rescue.

The rescue could tell that Mr. Fry hadn’t always been alone; it was obvious that he had some training and had spent some time in a home before ending up as a stray.

“We took him into the AGR family, and then he was adopted out to a mother and daughter, but they worked many hours and he was not good in the house while they were gone -- he had separation anxiety.”

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Mr. Fry was once cold and alone, but now he has plenty of company indoors. (All photos courtesy Arizona Greyhound Rescue/Sunrise Living)

According to Williams, it’s difficult to tell what a dog’s personality is like until they’re in a new home. She says some Greyhounds can handle being by themselves, while others can’t because they’ve been together with other dogs since birth.

“They’re all the time together at the track and training, so some of them can’t do the only-dog situation,” says Williams, who adds that Mr. Fry was never a racer. The Saluki mix did not have the same background as many of his fellow AGR dogs, who were adopted after retiring from the track. While commercial dog racing has been banned in several states in recent years, the practice continues in Arizona, where AGR maintains a relationship with a track and places retired dogs in homes. Some of these dogs face similar separation issues to Mr. Fry's, although the origins of his issues are much more mysterious. 

“I just know he needed to have people around all the time to make him feel secure.”

When Mr. Fry’s first home didn’t work out, he moved in with Williams as a foster, and remained with her for a year.

“At that time, I thought he would make a good therapy dog, and I took him to therapy dog classes.”

Mr. Fry excelled at training, despite not being the most alert student.

“Every time we went to do something, I’d have to wake him up,” says Williams.

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Mr. Fry definitely loves to sleep.

As she worked with Mr. Fry, Williams and AGR continued to try to find him a home where he could be around people all the time.

When Williams heard that Sunrise Senior Living was looking for a house dog, she took Mr. Fry to the retirement facility to meet Shelley Harris, the director of sales for Sunrise at River Road.

Although Fry did chase one of the resident cats on his inaugural visit, he learned to ignore the high prey drive of his Greyhound side, and it soon became clear that Sunrise was a great fit for Mr. Fry.

“It’s not a conventional home, but it’s the home for him, and he’s with people all the time,” explains Williams.

Mr. Fry is not the only animal living at Sunrise.

According to Harris, eight dogs and seven cats also call the complex home, but the big difference is that those animals moved in with their owners.

“I think often times people will look down upon a facility like ours having a pet because they believe the pets need to have one singular relationship in order for them to feel comfortable and confident,” explains Harris. “He really is contrary to that philosophy, though, because he gets so much attention and has such a wonderful quality of life here. There’s no pet that would have it any better.”

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Mr. Fry enjoys getting some belly rubs at the retirement home.

Mr. Fry spends his nights curled up on his bed in the common living room, basking the glow of the fireplace and the television. Harris believes Mr. Fry chose this high-traffic location as his favorite sleeping spot because it allows him to be part of the action all night long.

During the day, Mr. Fry can be found greeting folks as they enter the building and working his charm on all the residents.

“The little old ladies and the gentlemen pass right by him as they come out of the dining room, and unfortunately -- I think this is the only downside to an environment like this -- he gets so many treats,” says Harris.

“The ladies save little pieces of chicken in their purses from lunch, and then of course he smells it and follows them.”

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All those treats have him licking his lips.

Mr. Fry has some special relationships with some of his favorite residents, including one lady who has become his preferred napping partner.

“After every meal, she comes out of the dining room and he very slowly gets up, stretches from his most recent nap, and follows her to her suite to nap with her and her cat,” says Harris. “I’ve peeked in there and seen Mr. Fry on this gal’s bed, circled up and sleeping -- and the cat is right in the middle of his circle sleeping with him.”

While he certainly does love to sleep, Mr. Fry also loves to make friends. He’s an 85-pound dog, but he’s found a pal in a tiny Dachshund who accompanies an owner to Sunrise for visits.

“He follows this adult son and the Dachshund down to the mother’s suite and hangs out with them for about an hour every night.”

Mr. Fry also likes to visit with the other dogs who live in the building.

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This loving dog has found the perfect place to lay his head.

“There’s a gal whose apartment is right next to my office. She’s got a pretty barky-barky black Labrador Retriever mix, and Mr. Fry will go into her apartment, and the two of them just head out the back door and hang out on the patio.”

According to Harris, Mr. Fry never stays in one place too long, making sure to spread his cheer to as many residents as possible. In return for his service, this popular pooch is as pampered as can be. Staff take him for two walks a day, and Harris takes him to regular grooming sessions -- complete with doggy facials.

Mr. Fry has got to look good; after all, he’s now a nominee for the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Award. His excellent work as a therapy dog has earned him the nomination and a whole lot of love at Sunrise.

For Mr. Fry, going from having no people to having a whole community has been a miracle. This therapy dog will never be cold or hungry again -- thanks to Arizona Greyhound Rescue.

Read more on Dogster: 

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/mr-fry-saluki-arizona-greyhound-rescue-adoption-sunrise-senior-living
<![CDATA[Meet Nick Walton, an Animal Control Officer Committed to Atlanta's Inner-City Dogs]]>
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To be truly successful at anything in life, you’ve got to have passion, and Animal Control Officer Nick Walton definitely has that in spades. Young, fresh-faced, and new to his job at Fulton County Animal Services, the 24-year-old clearly loves what he does for a living.

Unafraid to venture into some of Atlanta’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods to assist animals in need, this brave rookie is not only committed to improving the lives of animals and stopping cruelty wherever he finds it, but also to helping his city become a more humane community. If his unbridled enthusiasm and deep love for dogs are any indication, Walton has a very bright future ahead of him in animal welfare.

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Officer Nick Walton gearing up for his shift. (All photos courtesy Fulton County Animal Services)

In honor of Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week, April 12 through 18, I sat down with Walton to hear about what he’s learned during his first year on the job and why he’s so driven to help animals.

Lisa Plummer Savas for Dogster: When and why did you become an animal control officer?

Nick Walton: I joined Fulton County Animal Services in 2014 after spending three years as a professional dog trainer throughout Georgia and the Atlanta metro area. I wanted to help animals on a daily basis while making a difference in my community, so I thought this was the best way I could do that. I’ve always loved and wanted to work with dogs. When I was eight or nine years old, one of my neighbors went on vacation and asked me to take care of their animals, and ever since that day I’ve been earning a living helping animals.

When I was training dogs in Atlanta, I’d drive by houses and notice tons of dogs being left outside with no food or shelter. I remember driving by three in particular who needed real assistance, some real life support. It bothered me to the point that I wanted to reach out and see what I could do on my own time. That led me to Fulton County Animal Services, and that’s when I applied. I figured, might as well give it a shot, and if I can make a change, this would be the best way to do it.

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Officer Walton and one of the dogs up for adoption at Fulton County Animal Services

What does it take to become an animal control officer?

People skills, dog skills, and the ability to learn. You need to be very good with dogs, and you can’t be scared of them by any means, because you do come across quite a few aggressive ones. You also need to have the ability to forget easily so you don’t take home some of the negative things you see throughout the day.

You don’t need to have any sort of law enforcement background -- that training takes place on the job. You shadow an officer for a few weeks, depending on your skill level, and that gives you the confidence you need to be able to go into the field and do it on your own. I needed reinforcement with the laws, what’s legal versus illegal -- the dog side of things and the people side of things I could handle. Throughout my training, I think I learned more than I ever have in my entire life when it comes to the law enforcement side of things and how to handle people in the field.

When you went into this line of work, was it everything you expected?

I knew I’d be going into the rough parts of town and would be talking to some of the worst people you could ever imagine talking to, but what I didn’t expect was the level of compassion and dedication I found in my peers at Fulton County Animal Services and LifeLine Animal Project. They have truly sparked a fire under me to fight for animal welfare. Because of LifeLine recently coming on [to manage] Fulton County, we now have the opportunity to go out and help the community more so than in most places. They give you the freedom to go give someone a bag of food or build this person a fence or give that guy a doghouse, things that aren’t standard in our country when it comes to animal control.

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All the pups love Officer Walton (this one's up for adoption at Fulton County Animal Services, too)!

Describe your typical workday.

There’s really no typical day. Each day brings new challenges and rewards, and it can go from zero to 100 very fast. But typically, I’ll get to work and prepare my truck, make sure it’s got oil and gas, and take care of any maintenance issues. Then I’ll get my calls from dispatch. They’ll usually have 15 to 20 different calls, anywhere from tethering issues, which are very common, to stray or loose dogs. Stray dogs sometimes bite kids, so we’d rather pick them up than respond to a bite call, which is also a semi-regular thing. In the inner city, it’s pretty much standard to not take your dog to the vet, so if the dog is running loose and the dog bites somebody, you pretty much know the dog hasn’t had any shots.

Every now and then, I’ll get some really bad stuff, like just the other day I had to kick down a retaining wall in order to save a dog who had been stuck underneath for several days. It’s cool to be able to save a dog, but it’s still heartbreaking to see the kinds of conditions some animal live in.

What’s the most common animal cruelty issue you run into on a regular basis?

Animals left outside without food, water, or shelter. We see bigger, more severe cruelty cases, but owner negligence is the most widespread issue we come across in Atlanta. One thing we’ve recently been pushing for in the court systems is stronger prosecution, so that people in the community know it’s not a game. You can’t just leave your dog outside and let it starve to death and pay a $50 fine -- that’s a real, severe criminal case. My boss always says, “The only way to make a change is to hurt them in the wallet,” so that’s what we’ve been doing, and it’s actually been a very effective tool.

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Officer Walton and the dog he saved from under a retaining wall -- she loves her hero! She’s waiting for the perfect home at Fulton County Animal Services.

What do you like most about your job?

Saving the lives of animals. Every day when I go home, I try to focus on the animals I was able to save that day ... that if I hadn’t been there, the outcome for that dog’s life could have been different. For me to take a dog back to the shelter and a few days later see an adoption stamp on the kennel card, that’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my entire life. Yes, it’s a very dangerous job, I can’t sugarcoat it, but I find it exciting. It gives you an adrenaline rush, and you’re able to use that feeling to make a change for the positive.

What do you like least?

Seeing dogs suffer due to pure owner negligence. It’s hard to confront those dog owners without being confrontational, and it’s very difficult to explain to a negligent dog owner and prosecute a negligent dog owner while still maintaining a level of peace in the community. That’s a very tough balance; however it can be done. If I feel like a person is getting confrontational, I’ll have the police assist me -- they do a very good job at making sure we’re safe, because we’re not allowed to carry any sort of firearm, which is difficult whenever you’re going deep into the inner city on a regular basis. After the police come, those individuals usually settle down and we’re able to handle business. If the dog is outside with no food, water, and shelter, and the person isn’t compliant in making sure the dog gets those things, we will remove that dog and cite that owner for animal cruelty, so having the police nearby in order to do that makes the job a whole lot easier.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about animal control officers?

A lot of people see an animal control truck riding down the street and think it’s the dog pound going to pick up a dog, but that’s the old-school mentality. We only pick up dogs for health reasons or certain conditions, so we don’t just ride around picking up dogs; we also reach out to the community and see how we can help. Educating the community is something that was really pushed on me during my training. We’re not going to be able to make changes if we don’t educate people about what’s legal versus illegal or what are or aren’t appropriate ways to treat a dog. Talking to the community and passing out as many fliers as possible regarding the laws and things like that have visually made a change. At those same houses I would ride by before I got hired here, those dogs are now on well-built runners with doghouses, and they always have fresh water. That’s pretty good to see.

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Officer Walton has worked to become a welcome sight in Atlanta neighborhoods.

What other kinds of changes have you seen since you started this job?

Instead of not feeding their dogs, people will call us for dog food. They’ve caught on that if they can’t feed their dog, they need to get some food, they can’t just let the dog starve. Now they’re not scared to call animal control for help, and we’re able to help them. So that’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen, people understanding that we’re not bad people, we’re here to help. It’s nice to see people being able to appreciate what we do in the modern era as opposed to how animal control operated in the past.

Do you have pets of your own?

I have two rescue dogs: Kona, a little Pit Bull mixed with Dachshund, and Baxter, a Boxer/Lab mix. I made sure to get dogs that would have a hard time getting adopted, and being a trainer I felt prepared to handle any behavioral challenges. Kona had issues trusting anybody, particularly males, so I figured she would really need to be adopted, especially because she’s black, and black dogs are the last ones to get adopted. Baxter was the opposite of untrusting. Where Kona would run and hide and shake for two days if she saw a man, Baxter would jump on him and scratch his face while he was doing it. They’ve come a long way since I got them, and now they’re the greatest dogs. They give me a reason to go to work every single day.

What can people do to help stop animal cruelty in their communities?

Be more hands-on with animal welfare. Don’t be afraid to call animal control or anonymously leave a person a bag of dog food if you see the dog is skinny. Don’t be afraid to take the matters into your own hands and fix the problem, because if people just keep [ignoring] these issues, we aren’t going to make any progress. Stand up for what you believe in, stand up for animals, and don’t hesitate to try and make a change.

Read about more Dogster Heroes:

About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about controversial animal welfare issues, including the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and Africa. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website.

Thu, 16 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/animal-control-fulton-county-officer-nick-walton
<![CDATA[Neglected and Abused, Zoey and Corey Remind Rescuers Why They Fight for Animals]]>
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When the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) got a call about a hoarding case in Blue Mountain, Mississippi, it couldn't predict the horrors that awaited. Sixty dogs were living in an overcrowded, junk-filled yard, many with untreated and infected injuries. Zoey was one of those unlucky ones, suffering a leg injury that was infected to the bone. It was clear she was in pain, and she was very nervous around people. She and the rest of the dogs were shuttled away to a shelter for treatment.

Ashley Mauceri, HSUS cruelty response manager, felt a special connection with Zoey, the small red dog with perky ears. Even through Zoey's pain, Mauceri could see that she was very sweet and had a lot of personality.

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Even hurt, Zoey's quirky personality still seems to shine through in this photo. (Picture courtesy HSUS)

When Mauceri and the HSUH team had arrived on scene, it didn't take long to see that Zoey's leg was hurt, possibly from an old injury. It was hard to imagine someone seeing her every day, watching her limp around in pain, and not take action. Zoey didn't know it, but her life was about to take a dramatic turn for the better! 

Back at the shelter, a team of veterinarians examined Zoey's leg and took X-rays. The report was grim: two fractures in the leg, one of which was so old that it had fused over itself. When the leg had to be amputated, Mauceri worried how it might affect Zoey, both physically and emotionally. She need not have worried, however, as from the moment that leg was removed, the HSUS team saw the shy little begin to blossom. Without the broken leg or pain, Zoey began to fully come out of her shell, revealing a fun personality. Without her leg as a hindrance, she began to run around and play.

"She's one of the fastest dogs I've ever seen," said Mauceri.

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Zoey at the vet. (Photo courtesy HSUS)

Two of Mauceri's best friends adopted Zoey, which was really exciting for her and the rest of the team because they could stay in close contact with the couple. "She has a huge backyard, everything she could want, she's totally spoiled," said Mauceri. "Zoey is a unique situation for the HSUS team because so often they rescue the dogs, give them medical care, then they are adopted through the shelter, and that's sort of the end of the story. It's rare we get to see the happily ever after." Being able to see Zoey happy in her new home has been uplifting, and it reminds both the HSUS and the public why they fight for animals. 

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Zoey, pain-free after surgery and ready for her new home! (Photo courtesy HSUS)

The team was also recently able to see another cruelty case, Corey, be blessed with a happily-ever-after. According to Mauceri, Corey was found living with more than 100 other dogs in a puppy mill, along with a myriad of other animals, including horses and birds. Corey had spent most of his life in a cage, living in his own filth. To add to his plight, Corey was blind, a condition the HSUS team believed to be caused by a combination of his living conditions and lack of proper medical care. 

When the team rescued Corey, it was hard to imagine everything he and the rest of the animals had been through. Sadly, many of the people buying Corey's Dachshund offspring probably had no idea about the conditions the parents lived in. They just saw a cute puppy in a pet store window or maybe online or on a flyer. They might have even thought they were getting a puppy from a good breeder, but what they were really doing was enabling someone to keep dogs like Corey in squalid conditions while they are used to produce litter after litter for profit.

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How the HSUS team found Corey. (Photo courtesy HSHS)

Corey was adopted by a wonderful woman named Dori. He could not have been luckier! Dori works at a vet's office, so he gets to spend a lot of time with her. This is a HUGE shift from his lonely puppy mill days, locked away in a dirty cage. In the HSUS video above, Dori describes Corey as "not afraid of anything, and he's always happy." His blindness doesn't seem to hinder him at all as he navigates his new home and plays with his toys.   

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Safe in the arms of his new and loving owner. (Photo courtesy HSUS)

Corey's enjoying being spoiled by his new family, but he's also giving back. Dori has a friend whose son, Callum, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at six months of age. Spending time with Corey clearly brightens his day! Callum's young wisdom shines through in the HSUS video when he says, "If you take a dog from a bad place, you could change his life, in a really good way. They can also change people's lives, too." 

Dogs like Corey and Zoey prove that, regardless of their circumstances, dogs can love again and live life to the fullest. We often think of ourselves as saving them, but what they're really doing is saving us -- saving us from our apathy, our hurts, and our frustrations with our fellow human beings. So here's to Corey, Zoey, their rescuers, and their new families, and to all the lives that they will continue to save!

Read more Monday Miracles on Dogster:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it's in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I'm a former quiet nerd who's turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

Mon, 30 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/humane-society-united-states-dog-hoarding-puppy-mills-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA["Puppies Are Dicks" Makes the Case for Adopting Older Dogs]]> Have you ever stopped to wonder why certain dogs are such jerks? Sure, lots of pooches are sweet as can be, but some are so insufferably self-centered that it’s surprising we don’t publicly mock them on the regular. (Oh, wait. We do.) 

Puppies seem especially unappreciative, and that line of thinking is exactly what got funny couple Eric and Sara Sims wondering why the heck more people don't adopt older dogs. Eric is an Atlanta-based TV producer, and Sara is a speech pathologist, but the two just couldn't get over the whole puppy problem. Taking matters into their own hands, with artist Jason Barnes they spawned Puppies Are Dicks, a picture book illustrating the myriad ways in which those furious balls of fur drive us nuts.

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The new book promises to give you a giggle about poorly behaved pets.

Of course they don’t actually think puppies are dicks, but the point is that so many older dogs who deserve a loving home die in shelters every year simply because they’re not adorable, young pups. This is just not right. (See below for a little of what we’re talking about.)

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The difference between younger and older dogs is pretty clear.

We chatted with Eric to get a glimpse into the sick and twisted mind of one puppy-hating guy. (Just kidding.) We wanted to find out how Puppies Are Dicks can educate the public about older dog adoption! And to get a peek inside the book, of course.

Dogster: How did you come up with the idea for Puppies Are Dicks?

Eric Sims: Sara and I wanted to come up with a fun way to teach people about puppy mills and the importance of adopting older dogs. These are two fairly heavy subjects, BUT if an idea is funny enough, people will share it. We're hoping that people will read Puppies Are Dicks, laugh, learn a thing or two, and share its message with their friends and family.

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Older shelter dogs are where it's at.

Do you have any personal puppy war stories you can share with us?

Sara and I have both owned puppies, and we both prefer to never speak of it again.

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We've all been duped by the adorable allure of puppies.

Understandable. So why don’t more people adopt older dogs?

I think the biggest reason people don't adopt older dogs over puppies is simply because puppies are so rage-squeezingly cute. BUT with great cuteness comes great responsibility. Responsibility that most people aren't ready for. Older dogs, however, are just as cute and come equipped with love, loyalty, respect for personal property, and all of the expensive-ass shots that your brand new puppy will soon need.

The book lists pooping on your shoes and frowning most of the day (while sleeping very little) as just two ways that puppies are dicks. What else comes to mind when you think of how badly puppies can behave?

It's been scientifically proven that puppies believe there is an acceptable level of racism.

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A lot of formal research went into writing this book.

Can you tell us about your dog, Penny? What’s she like? Does she think puppies are dicks?

I adopted Penny a few years ago from the Atlanta Humane Society. She was a Katrina rescue. When I walked up to her at the shelter, she immediately put her paw on my knee. My heart almost fell out of my body. I had to take her home. She was about eight years old then. She is now 12 and still f'ing amazing. She loves everything -- puppies, kittens, accidentally eating spiders, you name it.

Speaking of kittens, we noticed you have a fabulous feline intern.

Yes, you can one of the first people to friend Albus The Intern on Twitter and Instagram. Then send me a digital high-five for introducing you to that beautiful sonofabitch.


A photo posted by @albustheintern on Mar 13, 2015 at 6:37am PDT

Consider it done. So, how do you work with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation?

A portion of every book sold goes directly to a multitude of organizations that help older dogs. We decide what amount goes where. Besides Sara's mom, ISF is the very first entity to take the Puppies Are Dicks idea seriously. They are a super passionate and ballsy group of people, who we are just huge fans of. They get it. Frankly, I think more animal foundations need to follow in their footsteps. Because of ISF's bravery and loyalty, we have decided to allocate a big chunk of the funds raised to their Emergency Medical Grants program. Plus, Ian Somerhalder is the hunkiest hunk to ever hunk. It's impossible not to just hand him everything in your pocket when he flashes you those smoldering, steely blue eyes.

We couldn’t agree more. So how do we get our paws on Puppies Are Dicks?

Penny finally finished with proofing (she takes a lot of naps), so it just went on sale on and Everyone please go out and get a copy! Help us help older dogs! (Or don't and be a dick yourself).

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Penny approves "Puppies Are Dicks."

You heard the man. Check out to learn more about the book and find out how you can help.

Read more about adopting older dogs on Dogster:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by). ]]>
Tue, 24 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/puppies-are-dicks-book-senior-dog-adoption
<![CDATA[We Chat With "Scandal" Star Bellamy Young About Shelter Pets and White House Dogs]]> If you're a Scandal fan, you know Bellamy Young from her role as Mellie Grant, the bold and politically ambitious first lady. Unlike her onscreen persona, the actress has a warm and friendly personality, with a particular soft spot for shelter pets.

In fact, she has teamed up with the Humane Society of the United States, the Shelter Pet Project, Maddie's Fund, and the Ad Council to create a video in the "Meet My Shelter Pet" series. It features her adopted dog Bean and cat Sadie; Young wants everyone to know that "euthanizing healthy pets is a scandal." I loved the video and wanted to know more about Bean (and Sadie), and I also had a burning Scandal question to ask ...

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Bellamy and her adopted dog, Bean. (Photo courtesy HSUS)

Meghan Lodge for Dogster: Are Sadie and Bean your first adopted pets? Tell me more: When did you adopt them? How old were they? Do you know what breeds they are?

I've always adopted rescued pets. I'm adopted myself, so adoption is, of course, very near and dear to my heart. I believe every little soul alive has love to give and that no life is disposable. I feel so lucky whenever I get to adopt or foster, like I'm getting to play my part in the grander scheme of things.

I adopted Sadie about eight years ago from the North Central shelter here in Los Angeles; she's a tortie and every bit as chatty as they're purported to be. You can have full paragraphs of conversation with Sadie, and she'll always get the last word in. Bean came from the Carson shelter in Gardena. I pulled her and a Terrier mix, then called Winston, at the same time that go around. Winston is now named Hank and living on a farm in Georgia. I thought Bean would make a great second dog for my mom in North Carolina, but it turns out she was meant for me all along.

What inspired you to adopt a cat and a dog? Is one of them the boss of the household?

I've always spent my life in the company of animals; I can't imagine not. They bring such peace and unconditional love to every day. And, of course, with Sadie, I have the bonus of an extra opinion on everything -- she's the alpha in the house and always makes her preferences known. Luckily, she has unerring taste.

Did you grow up with pets? What do you think encouraged your love for animals?

We always had animals when I was growing up. Everyone in my family did. And the animals were part of the family, not some strange subset or an afterthought. I think most of all it was my amazing Aunt Norma, who taught me what an honor and responsibility it is to love an animal. They put their whole lives in your hands, their complete trust, and they love you unconditionally. That is a sacred space to operate in and a real blessing in one's life. That kind of love heals you. And makes you more compassionate for the more conditional animals we deal with every day -- like other human beings.

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Bellamy Young with Bean and Sadie. (Photo via Twitter)

What is your most memorable moment with Sadie and Bean?

I know it seems silly to say, but getting to shoot with the Humane Society of the United States for the Shelter Pet Project campaign commercial was such a special day. I'm lucky enough to get to work a lot, but to get to take them to work with me was just a dream. And they were such naturals! So calm and sweet. Once Sadie saw that all the lights and all the people were focused on her, I could feel her relax, as if to say, "Finally! Things are as they should be!" She was in heaven!

Bean wasn't sure what to do with herself, but luckily I had brought her favorite blanket, so as soon as I brought that out she was like, "Oh, sleep here? OK! Got it!" The icing on the cake was getting to see her cute little mug in Times Square. Priceless!

OK, fans want to know: Just how spoiled are Sadie and Bean?

They're pretty chill animals, honestly. My house is a no-divas zone, so nobody really acts up. Everybody's pretty fond of napping and of the word "treat." It's snuggly love all day long. Though I will say Bean needs to be covered up at all times -- she'll give the lowest, tiniest grrrrrr, more of a beg than a demand, until you notice her and pull the blanket up. Sadie needs a nice conversation every now and then. And she would be happy being petted until the end of time if she could be!

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Bellamy Young with Bean and Sadie.

Scandal fan question: Why don't the Grants have a dog? Having a dog seems to be a White House tradition, so we dog lovers are curious!

I lobbied long and hard for a White House dog -- Shonda [Rhimes, Scandal creator] finally said, "Of course you have a dog; it's just off-screen." I like to think that the dog spends his days playing with Teddy. They have a great love going in my mind.

What's one piece of advice you'd give someone who is looking to adopt a new pet?

Don't expect everything to be perfect all at once. You know how long it takes to learn about another person; trust takes time. Just open your heart and let your new companion know that they are safe, that you're there for them, that you're listening -- and then really do listen. Believe me, they're trying to communicate and want to please you. Once you start understanding each other, the trust is built, and sooner than you know you'll have a love that lasts a lifetime.

Read our most recent stories about celebrities with dogs

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it's in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I'm a former quiet nerd who's turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

Fri, 13 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/scandal-star-bellamy-young-shelter-pet-project-dog-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[We Talk to Buzz Osborne of the Melvins About His Rescue Dogs]]>
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One of the things I enjoy most when writing about animal rescue work is how one story often leads to another. I interviewed jme thomas from Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, a Washington state-based organization that networks with rock stars to promote animal adoptionOne of those musicians was Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, a legendary sludge metal band, also from Washington, who were early friends with and influences on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. 

I was delighted to talk to Buzz about the passion he has for his own pack. Here is an edited-for-length version of our email interview.

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Buzz Osborne. (Photo courtesy Buzz Osborne)

Kezia Willingham for Dogster: So, I hear you have dogs. What are their names? What breeds/mixes?

Buzz Osborne: We now have three dogs: two Jack Russells and an English Staffordshire Terrier. Their names are Buster, Coco, and Gigi. Coco is a Jack Russell and the oldest of the three at 18! Buster is also a Jack Russell and is five years old, and Gigi is a rescued English Staffordshire at six.

My wife and I have had dogs for most of the 21 years we’ve been married. I can’t imagine not having dogs. When I was growing up, we had a few dogs, but they were family dogs and not mine in particular. One of them lived to be about 16, one disappeared, and one was smashed flat by an 18 wheeler right in front of me when I was four years old. The truck driver didn’t even stop and just left me there to deal with our now very dead dog. It was a heavy trip for a four-year-old; in fact it would be a heavy trip for me now. I can’t imagine something that terrible happening to one of my dogs.

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Gigi, Buster, Itchy, and Coco. (Photo courtesy Buzz Osborne)

How did your current dogs enter your life?

The first dog my wife and I had was a rescue Pit Bull-Whippet-Lab mix named Itchy. He lived to be 17, and we had to finally put him down a little over a year ago. That was tough. He was pretty much the best dog ever. 

When we got him, he had been severely abused and had never been indoors, never slept on a dog bed, and never eaten or drank out of a bowl. He was malnourished and extremely skittish. The people who had him before us used to let their children throw baseballs and other assorted garbage at him while he ran around terrified and helpless in their backyard. People who behave like that should be in jail. They ended up abandoning him to a neighbor of theirs, who told us the whole story.

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Buzz Osborne of the Melvins with Hannah Levin and jme thomas. (Photo courtesy Motley Zoo's Facebook page)

He didn’t trust us at first, but once we started treating him right he warmed up and became a wonderful companion for the better part of two decades. I can’t imagine a better dog. The first time he ever tasted steak, I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head.

When it got to the point where he couldn’t walk anymore and we had to put him down, my wife didn’t want to show him how upset we were and stayed cool until after he was gone. That was the single hardest thing we’ve been through together. He always hated going to the vet, so we had him euthanized in the back of our jeep. It was really tough, and it’s hard to write about. Afterward we went home to the three dogs we still had, and they helped us feel a whole lot better. Dogs always make you feel better.

We rescued a VERY severely abused 100-pound American Bulldog named Baccus who we had for about 10 years, until he died of natural causes. He hated everyone until he got to know you, which took forever. He was covered in horrendous scars from terrible beatings he’d received in his horrible past. The American Bulldog Rescue had found him in the Los Angeles dog pound, and we ended up with him.

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(Photo courtesy Buzz Osborne)

We gave him a great home, but he was a real challenge. I don’t know if I’d take on another dog who’d been that abused, but I feel like we did our part for the great abused dog spirit, so it’s all good. As long as he was alone with us and the other dogs he was fine, and you could see what an amazing dog he really was. Big heart and very appreciative. We saved him and finally gave him the good life he deserved. I miss him a great deal.

Our dog Coco, my wife bought from a friend, and she’s the first Jack Russell we ever had. To this day, I can’t believe she sold her to us because she’s such a good dog! My wife has a saying that our dogs are not for sale. For any price. And she means it.

Coco showed us just how cool, smart, and special Jack Russells are. Now I can’t imagine not having a Jack Russell. So much fun. We’ve had a wonderful time with Coco for over 16 years. Now she’s in the twilight of her life and basically deaf and becoming blind, but she still gets around pretty good for such an old girl. As old as she is, she still runs around like a young dog after she gets a bath. It’s really cute! At this point we’re just trying to make her comfortable.

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(Photo courtesy Buzz Osborne)

Buster is a young Jack Russell we got as a gift when he was still a mischievous puppy. We’d never raised a puppy before, and it was a pain in the ass, but that’s how it goes with puppies; it was never really a problem.

Buster is the poster dog for what makes Jack Russells my favorite breed. He’s a wild man in need of exercise, and that’s exactly what we do. A tired Jack Russell is a good Jack Russell. Those are words to live by with these dogs. If you might be thinking of getting a Jack but you’re not sure if you can run their ass off every day, DO NOT DO IT. A Jack Russell without exercise will destroy your house.

Buster is a great hangout dog and will follow you around the house all day, studying whatever it is you’re doing. If he can do it he will do it, so you have to keep your eye on him all the time. Jack Russells are hunters and vicious killers and will do so whenever possible. They cannot be trusted around small animals. Killing is what they were bred to do, so you have to keep that in mind.

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Buzz with his dog Buster. (Photo courtesy Buzz Osborne.)

Gigi is an English Staffordshire Terrier we got from a rescue online, but she wasn’t a rescue in the traditional sense. Gigi is a prize-winning former show dog whose owner had died of cancer. She loved Gigi and wanted her trainer to find a good home for her. When my wife contacted them, they had to come to our house and see exactly how we treated dogs before they would give her to us. They were extremely impressed with how healthy and old our dogs were and remarked that it was obvious that we didn’t give up on dogs. 

Gigi is a great dog who almost never barks. She loves food and adventure. I’ve taken her to the recording studio with me a number of times, and she likes to lie on the couch there -- that is, when she’s not trying to con someone into giving her food. Ha!

What are your favorite parts about having dogs?

My wife says who needs cable TV when you have two Jack Russells to take care of? Boy is that true. We don’t have cable TV, and a lot of that has to do with the pooches. I don’t mind at all. Dogs are always happy to see you when you come home, which I love. They stay in the moment and seem to be spiritual giants, as silly as that sounds.

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Photo courtesy Melvins' Facebook page

If you sit on the couch at our house, then you immediately have a dog sitting next to you. I love that, and as a result I’ve become used to being perpetually covered in dog hair. The drummer in Napalm Death pointed this out to me like it was a bad thing. I’ve tried to ignore that comment.

I love dogs, and I love living with dogs, and I’m sure that the human race has developed for the better as a direct result of our association with dogs. They’re day hunters just like us; I saw a documentary that says you can trace all dog DNA back to day-hunting gray wolves.

I can’t imagine all the things they’ve given us, AND they’re amazing burglar alarms! Remember it was the DOGS who warned the Indians that Custer was attacking! Good dog!

I find Buzz's devotion to his dogs inspiring, and it's nice to get to know a different side of a rock star's life. To get more familiar with Melvins, follow the band on Facebook

Read more by Kezia Willingham:

About Kezia Willingham:  Also known as the Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia lives with her family, which includes a pack of rescued cats and dogs, in Seattle. A regular contributor to Catster and Dogster, her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Seattle, and Literary Mama. You can follow her on Twitter

Thu, 12 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/buzz-osborne-melvins-interview-dog-rescue-adoption-motley-zoo
<![CDATA[How Artist Lili Chin's Dog Inspired Her Career in Positive Training]]> I recently wrote about how my dog, Riggins, lead me to my current career. Lili Chin had a similar experience. Her Boston Terrier, Boogie, inspired her to become a pet portraitist and illustrator/educator of positive reinforcement dog training.

Chin came to the U.S. from Sydney 10 years ago. Her partner and she had sold an animated kids series to Warner Bros., and they moved here to work on it. Chin began creating pet portraits as a side project, drawing people's dogs in exchange for a donation to Boston Buddies Rescue. The Southern California group was close to her heart -- she was an active fosterer and eventually adopted Boogie from them. 

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Lili Chin and Boogie. (All photos courtesy of Lili Chin unless otherwise noted)

Chin's fundraising efforts soon became a side business and then a full-time job. Her love for Boogie and her need to find effective dog-training methods led her to those on the cutting edge of positive reinforcement training. 

"I adopted my dog Boogie from Boston Buddies; he was three or four. When I adopted him, I was told that he was put in the shelter by his previous owners because he had bit somebody. I didn't believe it at the time because he was so sweet and the perfect dog. Then it happened. He bit someone." The incident almost caused Chin and Boogie to be evicted from their apartment. "It was bad. It was really bad. A real life-changing experience."

In an off-the-cuff comment, her building manager offered her a way she may be able to stay. He suggested seeking out dog trainer Cesar Millan's advice and getting on his popular television show, The Dog Whisperer. As it turns out, Chin was a big fan of the trainer: "I thought he was God's gift to dogs." 

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A just-for-fun illustration by Chin.

She made some calls and actually got a call back from a producer. They felt Boogie's story would be a great one for the show, but they needed footage of him being aggressive before they were able to move forward. In order to get any footage, Chin would have to make Boogie aggressive, and she did not feel comfortable doing that. "I didn't want to put anyone's life at risk, and I didn't want to aggravate Boogie," she explains.

Her unwillingness to get footage of Boogie's problem left her without the trainer she so desperately needed. "In my naivety, I Googled and picked the first name that came up." Boogie and Chin enrolled in a doggie boot camp. With her home or her dog on the line, it was an extremely stressful time, and she was determined to be a good student. "I did everything the trainer said." This included having Boogie in a prong training collar 24/7, keeping him tethered to her, and using harsh jerking movements with the leash to get him to obey.

The strict training wasn't working. In fact, Boogie was getting worse. "He [Boogie] became really shut down and was afraid of everyone." Chin went back to the trainer with her concerns, but was told to keep going. During a training session when she was told to push Boogie on his side and force him to lie down, she knew it was too much. "All sorts of alarm bells were going off in my head. It just felt like I couldn't continue with the program. It was just too stressful, and Boogie was upset and not getting any better."

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Chin would soon learn that positive reinforcement training was a much more effective and humane approach.

As it turns out, Dogster actually played a part in Chin's journey. Not knowing what to do, she wrote to us seeking guidance. Dog behaviorist Grisha Stewart responded. She told her to ditch the prong collar and look into positive reinforcement training.

Chin did just that and realized how little she knew about dog training and the different options. "What I was being taught by my trainer was old school and out of date." Through her research, she found trainer Sarah Owings and started doing illustrations of Boogie's lessons on his blog. Chin says, "It was the first time any of those training methods had been represented visually." 

Seeing her work, Stewart reached out and asked if she would be interested in illustrating her new book introducing BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training), a training method that she developed for dogs who experience fear, frustration, and aggression. Chin agreed.

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Chin also created illustrations for Stewart's DVD series.

Chin moved on to work with the late dog behaviorist and vet Dr. Sophia Yin and was her illustrator for three years. "She [Yin] got into behavior training because a lot of dogs were being euthanized due to behavior issues." With Chin's drawings, Yin helped owners understand how to handle dogs and cats in a stress-free way.

Not only was Chin working with some well-known positive behavior trainers and advocates, she herself was becoming more knowledgeable and realized that what she was learning, and helping to teach with her illustrations, was information that could help so many other dog owners. "I didn't realize this was all really common." As she puts it, her illustrations went viral because they "touched a cord with a lot of people."

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One of Chin's most popular illustrations.

Allowing some of her most popular teaching and learning tools to be downloaded for free from her website seemed like the obvious next step. "It's useful information that is really important. It needs to be out there." Chin set up a PayPal Donation button on her site for those people who wish to give money in appreciation for the work.

You also can find Chin's work being used to teach students, prison inmates, and police officers dog body language. And she provided the illustrations for the recently released DogDecoder app, created by dog trainer Jill Breitner. 

Visit Chin's Facebook, Etsy, and website to see more of her illustrations and products.

Read more about positive training:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Thu, 12 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/lili-chin-dog-illustrations-positive-reinforcement-training-sophia-yin
<![CDATA[See How Producer Jon Hoffman and His Buddy Beaux Coyote-Proofed Their Home]]> Producer Jon Hoffman is a man of action and a resident of Hollywood Hills, so hearing that he built a coyote-proof dog-and-cat run onto his home was not surprising. Curious to see it, I paid him a visit and was impressed by his ingenuity and abilities. Also a successful inventor (of the DogCatcher pet car seat) and entrepreneur (he even owned an island!), Hoffman is one of the creators of the reality show Bar Rescue. Hoffman greeted me at the door with his dog, Beaux, snuggled in his arm. The duo remained inseparable during the interview, even as he prepared a snack in the kitchen. Now that’s what I call a bond!  

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Beaux was rescued from a life on the streets. (Photo courtesy Jon Hoffman)

Marina Anderson for Dogster: How did you find Beaux and why did you start carrying him around all the time?

Jon Hoffman: I adopted Beaux six years ago. He's a rescue with a bad history of abuse and neglect. He was actually found living on the street. His tough early life created a few bad habits. One of these bad habits was biting anybody who came close to him. He also has terrible separation anxiety.

You have many animals but you also foster. How long have you been doing that?

I'm fairly new to fostering, but this is something my girlfriend, Jill, has been doing for many years. I'm on the board of a small dog rescue in Thousand Oaks called Zoe's Friends, which has the mission of rescuing small dogs from high-kill shelters. We've saved hundreds of dogs over the last few years. 

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Beaux and Jon travel everywhere together. (Photo courtesy Jon Hoffman)

Our alpha dog is a female Pit Bull named Georgia. She's 10. Her big sister, Tulsa, is a Pit mix who is about 15. She's the grande dame of the family.

Next is Noodles, who is probably a Toy Fox Terrier about two years old. Jill was driving in downtown L.A. and saw her running in the streets. Jill always stops when she sees a loose dog, and when she did, Noodles jumped into her car. She was home. She was quite young and had spay sutures in her belly, which were overgrown. She was chipped, but the phone number was disconnected.

Our current foster, Jack, is a male Jack Russell mix around two who is doing his best to convince us that he is here to stay. Francis is a 16-year-old female cat, which Jill has had forever, and Nicky is a younger female cat who adopted us two years ago. And then there's Beaux.

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Jon and Beaux, hard at work. (Photo courtesy Jon Hoffman.)

You have a pool and waterfall. Perfect for attracting wildlife from the hills. Have you encountered any?

We haven't seen anything, but we have certainly seen coyotes in the street in front of our house, and there have been verified sightings of mountain lions close by. I used to live in Malibu, and I have seen every kind of predator you can imagine -- coyotes, mountain lions, rattlesnakes -- so the general rule of thumb is to never let your pet out of your sight, even when your yard is fully fenced. It's not always fun to get out of bed at three in the morning when your pet has to go potty, but all it takes is one lapse in vigilance for things to go very bad.

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Jon's coyote-proof garden is a welcoming place for animals and people. (Photo courtesy Jon Hoffman)

Your coyote-proof dog-and-cat run is fabulous! I’ve seen a coyote jump an eight-foot fence and dig under fences as well. 

There are things you can do -- for example, putting rollers on top -- but at some point, the fence gets so big it's ridiculous. We never let the animals in the yard unattended, so we weren't trying to make the yard coyote-proof. Our goal was to have a smaller outdoor area, which was completely predator-proof so all of the animals could go outside anytime.

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Side view of the catio from the back yard. (Photo by Jon Hoffman.)

We did that by building a cage on one side of the house and cutting out a door in a convenient location so people and animals can go in and out. I welded together panels of 1-inch-square steel tubing with welded steel wire mesh -- basically the same stuff they use to build lion cages -- and anchored everything to the house on one side to a tall concrete wall on the other side and to the concrete slab at the bottom. I also built roof panels so nothing can come over the top.

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One of Jon and Lisa's cats enjoys the safety of the catio. (Photo courtesy Jon Hoffman)

If there hadn't been concrete, I would have either poured a slab or buried the fence at least two feet below grade -- coyotes can dig as well as they can climb. I put doors at both ends so we have access to and from either the front or backyard, and finally I cut a door through the side of the house into Jill's office. The doors have push-button locks on them so you don't have to remember to bring a key -- and since the whole thing is very secure, we can actually leave the house door open all the time.

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The dogs check out the "catio." (Photo by Jon Hoffman)

It was originally intended as a safe cat patio, so Jill calls it the "catio." We've done all sorts of things to make it cozy and comfy in there for animals and humans -- we've put a sun shade over most of the roof to keep it cool and provide shade, while there's still a place for lounging in the sun. We've filled it with potted plants and put down artificial grass on a lot of the floor. And we have a small koi pond. One of the side benefits is it keeps other animals and predatory birds like herons out; we lost all of our koi at our old house to herons and raccoons.

What suggestions would you give our readers how to protect their own pets against coyotes?

The cheapest and best protection is vigilance. You just cannot leave small pets unattended for even one minute in an environment where predators might be able to reach them. If that means they have to stay inside, so be it.

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Coyote ready to pounce by

If you want to give your animals a bit more freedom to wander in the yard, you need to design a protective structure, which can withstand the strength, weight, persistence, and ferocity of likely challengers. If it's a coyote or a mountain lion -- these can be 80-pound animals with very sharp claws and teeth, powerful jaws, and tremendous strength -- using chicken wire or hardware cloth is not a deterrent; they will go right through it.

A conventional fence or wall will do nothing to protect your animals. I've always found that doing things properly has many rewards -- it works properly, lasts a long time, and looks great -- and most of all you have peace of mind knowing your pets will be safe. And admit it -- you've been looking for an excuse to learn how to weld anyhow, right?

Thanks for chatting with Dogster, Jon! Now, here are more tips for dealing with predators:

Tips for protecting your pets from coyotes and other predators

  • Install a tall, deep fence -- Coyotes can jump 8-foot fences and dig under fences as well. You can install metal stakes to secure and dig-proof the bottom of the fence.
  • Never leave your animals alone -- Watch them during the day and don't leave small pets alone at any time. Bring pets in at night or provide secure enclosures for outdoor pets. Coyotes can easily snatch up your pet when you’re not looking.
  • Remove sources of water and don't leave pet food or water outside -- Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other coyote prey.
  • Remove other tempting sources of food -- Clean the barbecue grill and put garbage in tightly closed containers that can't be tipped over.
  • Clean up your yard -- Thin vegetation where coyotes might den, and pick up fallen fruit. Cover compost piles and install motion-activated lights or sprinklers.
  • If you see a coyote, try to scare it off -- Wave your arms above your head and make noise (yell or use a noisemaker) as you walk toward a coyote; noisemakers can be anything that makes a loud noise or sudden action. Shake a bottle filled with pennies, slap a newspaper, pop up an umbrella, and use water soakers that spray a good distance (fill with water or vinegar). Do not stop until the coyote leaves the area, otherwise it will learn that this is “normal” behavior and nothing to fear and stay away from.
  • Spread the word -- Ask your neighbors and visitors to follow these tips, too. Consistency and vigilance is key.

Read more from Marina Anderson:

About Marina Anderson: Marina is an established actress, writer, best-selling author (David Carradine, The Eye Of My Tornado), jewelry designer (The Flying Goddess) and publicist (The Media Hound PR) for clients such as Ed Begley Jr. and music icon Alan Parsons . She is also a personal manager and career and spiritual consultant. Marina’s passion is helping animal rescue organizations. Look for her next book, The Adventures Of Lulu The Collie, which stars her beloved dog, Lulu, daughter to Lassie VIII, and follow her on Facebook. 

Wed, 11 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/coyote-proof-home-yard-jon-hoffman-bar-rescue
<![CDATA[Tuna, the Chiweenie With an Overbite, Has a Book Out!]]>
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He's only four years old, but a biography has already been written about Tuna the Chiweenie. He's been Internet-famous for more than half of his life, after all.

Dogster first reported on the adorable rescue dog in 2013, when Tuna had 400,000 Instragram fans. Now, the pup with the unforgettable underbite has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers and 120,000-plus Facebook likes. With numbers like that, it was natural that Tuna's empire would expand beyond social media, and that's why his person, Courtney Dasher, helped Tuna take on the publishing world with Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite

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Tuna is taking his fame to a whole new (and low-tech) level. (Image via Instagram, @tunameltsmyheart)

"It's a 15-chapter story about a day in the life of Tuna, from waking up in the morning to sleeping at night and everything in between," explains Dasher, who wrote the story that accompanies more than a hundred new photos of little Tuna.

"It's just a fun story for all ages," says the interior designer-turned-author, who never imagined the Instagram account she started for her dog in November 2011 would become her full-time job just a few short years later.

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Dasher wrote the witty text to accompany all new images of Tuna.

"Everything has changed. We've gotten a lot more involved with the animal rescue community. Tuna has become -- unofficially and accidentally -- an ambassador for animal rescue."

A rescue dog himself, Tuna found his No. 1 fan in Dasher long before he found fame online.

"It was love at first sight," says Dasher, who believes Tuna's unique look is likely the result of inbreeding in the pursuit of a Chihuahua-Dachshund hybrid. 

Having never had a pet of her own as an adult, Dasher was hoping to foster a dog when she met tiny Tuna through a rescue booth at a farmer's market in Los Angeles. He'd been brought to L.A. after being found on the side of the road in San Diego, and it was clear to Dasher that he was not yet over the trauma. 

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Tuna dreams of saving other animals from the streets.

"I see this four month old, insecure puppy, and the word I use is 'pathetic.' He just looked pathetic. He was shaking, he had an oversized sweater on. I just fell in love with him."

Fostering quickly turned into forever, and for the last four years Dasher has been making up for whatever he endured in his first four months.

According to her, the Instagram account that catapulted the Chiweenie to stardom was started with the hope that she could spread just a fraction of the joy the little dog has brought into her life.

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Little Tuna makes everything adorable.

"I had zero agenda or intention for this. I didn't want to make Tuna famous," she explains. "It just kind of happened, and it happened organically."

That organic growth didn’t happen overnight. Although Dasher started Tuna's Instagram account in November 2011, it wasn't until 13 months later that her pet shot to sudden Internet stardom. It was a busy period for the interior designer, who was already running her own small business when she took on a full-time job to bring in extra income.

"Right around that time was when Tuna went viral, so for a full year I was kind of juggling my design business, my full-time job, and then Instagram."

As Tuna's fame grew, so did the demands on Dasher's time. When the pair were invited to tour the East Coast in an effort to raise awareness for animals in need, she knew something had to be cut from her busy schedule, so she said goodbye to her day job.

"Now, this is a full-time thing for me," she explains. "I'm involved in a lot of things now that this has escalated into something bigger than just posting a photo a day."

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Tuna keeps Dasher busy while he's busy being cute.

One of those things is, of course, Tuna's new book, which Dasher began working on after she was approached by a publisher who loved Tuna's Instagram. The book meant another tour for Tuna, and Dasher is making sure her dog won't be the only animal to benefit from the publicity.

"We've invited a shelter group in each city to benefit, so some of the bookstores are going to donate a portion of the proceeds to the shelters. And, we have bookmarks that people can purchase for a donation, and then all of that money will go to a city shelter."

Tuna's book and tour, which has dates set through Monday, March 9, come at a time when many pets with unconventional looks are finding fame online, something Dasher believes will continue to happen for as long as social media exists. She says she is pleased to see different-looking dogs like Tuna making an impact on Internet culture and influencing potential adopters to consider unconventionally cute companions -- she just hopes pet parents don't stress about gaining followers or going viral.

"It's something that you can't force. I think it just happens."

Kind of like falling in love with a rescue dog.

You can order Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite online. Follow Tuna on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Read related stories by Heather Marcoux:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Fri, 06 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/tuna-chiweenie-tunameltsmyheart-instagram-tuna-melts-my-heart-photo-picture-book
<![CDATA[Actress and Advocate Elaine Hendrix Launches "The Pet Matchmaker" Podcast]]> Actress Elaine Hendrix is best known for her roles in Romy & Michele's High School Reunion, Superstar, and The Parent Trap, as well for her parts on Two and a Half Men and 90210, but she's also a passionate animal advocate and pet lover. Her affinity for animals has the screen actress adding audio storytelling to her resume with the launch of the weekly The Pet Matchmaker podcast.
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"It's something that I've been wanting to do for a few years now, and I am going to bring in other advocates, people working with animals, experts, celebrity friends, people who've adopted -- a whole range of people who work with, advocate for, and love animals," Hendrix explains.

A proud human to two dogs and two cats, the actress founded The Pet Matchmaker website in 2013 as a resource for pet parents, and she made her first foray into pet-centric audio with her Pet Care Minute reports.

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Hendrix's rescue dog, Ellie, keeps her company during hair and makeup. (All photos courtesy of @elaine4animals on Instagram)

The first episode of The Pet Matchmaker podcast came out Feb. 17 and featured guests Lisa Ann Walter, an actress, writer, comedian and film producer, as well as Bill Crowe, director of the Pet Care Foundation. The Feb. 24 podcast included Nikki Carvey, the founder of Road Dogs & Rescue, and Married With Children's David Faustino. True Blood's Kristin Bauer van Straten and Randy Grim, Stray Rescue of St. Louis founder, were on this week's episode.

"It's a really fun podcast; it's informative, but mostly it's entertaining. I want people to enjoy the experience of it," says Hendrix, whose latest acting role is on Denis Leary’s new television comedy, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, premiering on FX in the summer.

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Ellie chills with actor Denis Leary.

Between acting, advocacy work, and caring for her animals, Hendrix is busy but makes time for The Pet Matchmaker podcast through smart planning. "I'm picking up interviews whenever I can, and then we're going into the studio and assembling them all into one show."

Although her own household is home to both canine and feline companions, Hendrix says the podcast won't be limited to just dogs and cats.

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Hendrix's dogs from left to right: the late Tiloc, Ellie, and Rossmore, who Hendrix found on the side of the road many years ago while she was driving to a set.

"I've got a guest coming on who has a whole group of rescue chickens," she explains, adding that she plans to tackle the topic of rescue horses as well.

For Hendrix, the creation of this podcast follows a decade-long journey of animal adoption and advocacy work that began when she starting receiving invitations to charity events.

"I was doing all these things because I like helping other beings and other people, but I didn't feel like I was making an impact anywhere," says Hendrix, who sat down at her computer to try to figure out how she could focus her charitable work to make the most of her efforts. Having been an animal lover her whole life, she began researching various aspects of animal advocacy and experienced a life-changing moment online.

"I saw an undercover fur video, and I was not expecting to see what I saw, and I definitely wasn't expecting to have the reaction that I did. It was so visceral. I doubled over. I was sobbing uncontrollably," Hendrix says. "I had no idea what was happening to animals, and from that moment forward, it changed my life in such a huge way."

Hendrix purged her home of products tested on animals, and she got rid of her car because of its leather interior. She committed herself to the issue of fur, stopped wearing leather, and became a vegan.

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Hendrix is passionate about helping animals, including her darling dog, Ellie.

"I do everything I possibly can to help animals, and I have since that day," explains Hendrix, who adds that while she never preaches or pushes people, the topic of animals and their welfare seems to inevitably come up in conversation wherever she travels.

"This has become my life's passion and my life's purpose, but helping animals doesn't have to be as extreme as I've made it."

Hendrix says one of the easiest things people can do, especially if they're not ready to commit to adopting an animal, is simply volunteer with adoption organizations. Working in animal adoptions was one of the first volunteer activities she took part in herself -- because it was an easy activity to do no matter what city she found herself shooting in.

"That's just been my primary activity. I've rescued a lot of animals. I've fostered a lot of animals. And I've helped a lot of people adopt animals."

Hendrix's three-year-old dog and travel companion, Ellie, was supposed to be adopted out after the actress rescued the pup, her littermates, and their mom.

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Hendrix has plenty of experience fostering. She never intended to keep Ellie, but the little pup stood out from the pack.

"I had no intentions of keeping any of them. I rescue and foster regularly, so to pass along animals to other good homes is actually something that is easy for me to do because I feel like more animals get helped that way, but it was something about her," says Hendrix, who keeps Ellie with her as much as possible.

"She came to New York with me, and that was her second time to New York. She been across the country four or five times now."

In the coming months, Ellie will no doubt be racking up more frequent flier miles as both Hendrix's acting career and her work on The Pet Matchmaker keep her busy.

"Later this year, we have a web series coming out, we have our own app coming out and other programs in development. I'm really excited. I feel like this is kind of a banner year for us," says Hendrix.

New episodes of The Pet Matchmaker podcast are available for download every Tuesday at The Pet Matchmaker website.

Read more from Heather Marcoux:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Thu, 05 Mar 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/elaine-hendrix-pet-matchmaker-podcast-dog-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[Suki the Pug Gives Fashion Advice to Dog-Loving Celebrities]]> What do dogs know about fashion? Well, apparently quite a bit, it would seem -- at least if the latest canine-helmed style blog is anything to go by. Titled Suki and the City, this outlet is commandeered by a London-dwelling Pug who enjoys cavorting around town while doling out fashion-forward advice and observations. Ms. Suki also enjoys dressing up herself, often in chic eyewear.

As a test of Suki's fashionista prowess, I asked her to comment on the style of seven dog-loving celebrities. Here's her savvy couture commentary. 

Veteran actor Alec Baldwin became a mainstream darling off the back of his turn as dapper Jack Donaghy in Tina Fey's 30 Rock sitcom. (Sample banter involves Jack responding to Liz Lemon's question, "Why are you wearing a tux?" with the barb, "It's after six o'clock, Lemon. What am I, a farmer?") But what would Suki think of his foppish aspirations? 

Suki says: "Alec, keep doing what you're doing! Who can resist a man in a suit? And he wears one a lot."


A photo posted by Oprah (@oprah) on Dec 23, 2014 at 12:04pm PST

Everyone loves Oprah. A megastar of the media realm, Oprah has banked gazillions while also endearing herself to huge swathes of the world. As for her style sense?

Suki says: "Oprah can do no wrong. She knows exactly how to dress for her curves and still look flawless. I mean, did you see what she wore to the Oscars?"

As first lady, Michelle Obama has to deal with expectations to look prim and proper during her day-to-day duties. How does she manage it while also being a mother of four kids (two human, two dog)?

Suki says: "Michelle Obama has become an icon in her own right -- a style icon! She always looks sophisticated and elegant without looking too mumsy!"


A photo posted by Sharon Osbourne (@sharonosbourne) on Sep 18, 2014 at 2:22pm PDT

A rock star wife turned reality TV maven, Sharon Osbourne has long been the focus of prying paparazzi lenses. But has her wardrobe become a lesson in the over the top and the cliched, or is she a testament to keeping things classy in a crazy world? Over to Suki ...

Suki says: "Sharon has monochrome down to a tee, and she keeps it fun with her fabulous hair!"


A photo posted by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:18am PST

When not baiting the world's metaphorical comments section with her shock schtick, popster Miley Cyrus likes to relax at home with her pups and, er, her pet pig. Is Suki down with the Smiler army?

Suki says: "Miley either gets it really right or very wrong -- there is no in between. But when it's good, it's good!"

A contemporary royal icon or a reminder of the futility of the modern monarchy? Either way, Kate Middleton's wardrobe has become a thing of infatuation for the world's gawking classes. She also apparently has a baby called George, which suggests the reminders of the days of imperialism will long continue.

Suki says: "Whatever Kate Middleton wears tends to sell out everywhere, which can only mean she's doing something right. And how cute is George?"


A photo posted by Paris Hilton (@parishilton) on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:09pm PST

At one point Paris Hilton was the world's most infamous socialite. But have her views on clothing oneself in public changed as she's gotten older? Only Suki knows the answer.

Suki says: "Paris Hilton is one of the only people who can continuously wear pink and get away with it! Hats off to her."

See more Pix We Love on Dogster:

About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world's foremost expert on rappers' cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it's not quite what you think it is.

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/suki-and-the-city-pug-fashion-blog-alec-baldwin-oprah-michelle-obama-sharon-osbourne-miley-cyrus-kate-middleton-paris-hilton
<![CDATA[We Chat With Author Saralyn Richard About "Naughty Nana"]]> In Peter Pan, father George Darling takes a barking Nana the Sheepdog outside, therefore allowing the boy who never grows up to come inside and lure the kids off to Never Never Land. And we all know how that turns out.

Now a Sheepdog named after the dog from Peter Pan is also teaching children valuable life lessons in a book called Naughty Nana. I talked to author Saralyn Richard to learn more about her inspiration and how she became a Goodwill Ambassador in Galveston, Texas.

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Smiling and not-so-naughty-now Nana is the inspiration for a children's book. (Photo by Howard Rubin)

Brian Fischler for Dogster: When did your love of animals begin?

Saralyn Richard: I have always loved animals. They have really beautiful souls. 

When we lived in Chicago, we had a Sheepdog named Barkley. He was really a person in a dog suit. Everyone who interacted with Barkley felt like he was a friend of theirs that they could talk to and that he would really listen to them. He would play football with my kids and would tackle them and look up at me as if he was doing his job. He was such a great dog, and when he passed on we did not want to get another Sheepdog right away, as we felt no one could live up to Barkley. We ended up getting a Scotty named Bogey. He is a perfectly mannered dog, just like a Scotsman. 

We always have two dogs so they have each other, and Bogey’s companion, a Golden Retriever passed on, and Bogey was just inconsolable. Bogey would not eat, he did not want to go outside, he was mourning. We took him to the vet, and the vet said give him two weeks and he should be over the mourning, but two weeks came and went and Bogey was not over it. The vet then told us that we really needed to get a puppy to help Bogey get over the loss. We found a Sheepdog in Abilene, Texas, about 10 hours away from us. So we packed up the car, taking Bogey along with us, and headed down to Abilene, and by the end of the day we were heading home with Nana, and that is where her incredible adventure began.

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Saralyn and Nana.

How were the first few days of Nana being in the house with Bogey?

Nana was a holy terror. At first Nana was really quiet and kept to herself because everything was so knew to her. I think she was a little scared at first, but once she got her bearings, she became a wild woman! She had so much energy and so much mischief, tearing and chewing up things, getting filthy; we just could not keep up with her. As a coping mechanism, I finally started making a list of all her misbehaviors. The list kept growing and growing, and the whole time Bogey kept being his perfectly behaved self.

Was this the time when Nana got the nickname Naughty Nana?

Oh yeah! We would walk her every day, as she had an abundance of energy. I was concerned about whether she had the potential to become a good pet. We even consulted a trainer, and my husband said we just have to hang in there with her. Nana is our eighth dog, so we know dogs, and have trained them all, but Nana’s behavior was something different, something we had not experienced before. These behavior issues took place from the time she was 12 weeks old until she was about one and a half.

The turning point in Nana’s journey from naughty to nice came about when my three-year-old granddaughter who loves dogs and wants to be a veterinarian came to visit. Instead of telling Nana she was naughty, she called her nice Nana. Like a dog whisperer, she told Nana, "No biting, only kisses. No jumping, only hugs.”   

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A young Nana fan. (Photo courtesy of Saralyn Richard)

What do you hope readers will take away from Nana’s story?

Nana narrates the book, and along with her story there is a subtext about the way we treat people. I really think the way we treat dogs has a lot to do with the way we treat people. Nana could be any child who is constantly getting in to trouble. The book will be good for both the parents of a troublesome child and for the children who get into a lot of trouble. The book teaches the children that you can get into trouble, but that you are still loved and that you are still important. The book teaches children that they can change and that they do not always have to be naughty.

What was your inspiration for writing Naughty Nana?

It was how I survived the experience. We would experience all these bad things that Nana was doing, and the only thing that got me through it was laughing about it and saying I was going to write a book about it. That really helped me cope with all the trials and tribulations.

If you could see her now, she really is the calmest dog. She now makes public appearances. Even on a walk everyone wants to pet her and be licked by her; she really has turned in to quite the diva. Now that the book has become a hit, people who come to town want to meet Nana. She has become quite the local celebrity. She has become so calm that we take her into schools, where in one morning she can see 350 children. She is perfect with all the children, so well behaved.

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Saralyn reads to a rapt audience. (Photo by Howard Rubin)

What has being a Goodwill Ambassador for Nana been like?

The book came out about a year ago, and once it did we started doing public appearances. We have had a few at schools, a couple in markets and bookstores, play groups, even been to a seven-year-old's birthday party. Everywhere she goes she is now recognized. People say, "Oh, that is Galveston’s Nana." We have also been involved with the humane society’s fundraiser, where Nana got to march down the middle of the street in the pet parade. She went from side to side in the parade as if she was greeting everybody. She thinks she is the Queen of Galveston.

How do the children react to Nana when you are doing a reading and she is there?

They want to touch her. Sometimes there are 50 children in the room, and they can’t all touch her at once. You can see them scooting closer and closer to her.

The book is targeted to ages three to eight, but even babies who can’t talk are pointing to the pictures and making little baby sounds. My grandson, who is in the fifth grade, we did a reading at his school, and even the fifth graders got something out of the book. The things they took away from the book were different, which is great. Different age levels are all taking something away from the book.

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Nana and a young fan. (Photo courtesy of Saralyn Richard)

What do you think children can learn from dogs?

I think dogs are wonderful teachers of patience, compassion, loyalty, trust, responsibility, and love. 

Unfortunately, a lot of children do not have consistency and stability in their lives. A dog is always steady, consistent, reliable, and predictable. A dog will always greet you the same way, and treat you the same way whether you are bad or good. Whether you got a good report card, are smelly or clean, whether your room is a mess, a dog is going to love you unconditionally and the same way all the time.

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Nana with a little friend. (Photo courtesy of Saralyn Richard)

To learn more about Saralyn Richard and Nana or to purchase a copy of Naughty Nana, visit Palm Circle Press.  

Read more about dogs and kids:

About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. Connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Thu, 26 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/naughty-nana-childrens-book-sheepdog
<![CDATA[Meet the Pug Who Has Her Own Coffee Shop]]> When Tom Cash and husband Mike Zukoski opened a coffee shop in Asheville, North Carolina, they named it after their prized Pug, Edna. The idea of a business owner looking to a pet for titular inspiration might not be a revelatory one, but in Edna's case it was apt after the dog got caught trying to sneak sips of coffee while Tom and Mike weren't looking.

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These days, if you stop by Edna's of Asheville, you will likely see Edna holding court on the patio while customers slurp their way through cups of java.

Taking a break from his bean-roasting duties, I spoke to Mike about the origins of this coffee adventure, Edna's own java antics, and how the coffee shop works with Brother Wolf Animal Rescue.

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(All photos via Edna's of Asheville's Facebook page)

Dogster: When did Edna come into your life?

Mike Cash: We got her in Long Beach when we lived in California, before we moved to Asheville. We had two Golden Retrievers that were littermates, and Tom decided we'd like another dog in the house, so we got Edna. Then, of course, we discovered that she loves coffee! She really goes crazy for coffee. I remember when we left a coffee mug on the table and saw her getting into the coffee.

So when we decided to move to Asheville to reinvent our lives, we opened up a coffeehouse and called it Edna's, named after the Pug.

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When did you first realize that Edna likes to sneak sips of coffee?

She was probably not even a year old, still a puppy. We drink coffee without any sugar in it, and we found out she really likes Americanos and sometimes coffee with a little cream. But she only drank coffee a couple times before we caught her -- we don't let her drink coffee, but she did enjoy it when we were not looking.

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Do you think Edna is a coffee snob at heart?

Oh, yeah, for sure. We roast our own coffee [at Bad Puppy Roasting] twice a week, and she definitely knows if the coffee is fresh or not. She's pretty good about it. For instance, she's in the shop on a regular basis -- not every day, but she's around -- and she checks up on people. She loves visiting with people while they have their coffee. She loves to dress up -- she has a couple of dresses that were made specifically for her. In our second year at Christmastime, we put [her in] one of those red and white muffs with a little belt on it, and she got excited and ran around, and then when we attempted to take it off of her, she would become depressed. She ended up wearing it until nearly March!

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Do any other customers buy coffee for their dogs?

I don't know if too many people order coffee for their dogs, but we do have a drive-through area, and every dog in the drive-through gets a Milk-Bone. It's pretty funny when you get to know who the regular customers are because their dogs are at the window for their cookie while they're waiting in line. They learn that they're gonna get their cookie pretty quickly. Then, if you come to the patio area, for every dog that comes in, there are always water bowls and free cookies laid out for them.

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If Edna was in charge of the coffee shop for a day, what changes would she make?

Well, we can't actually allow dogs inside the restaurant because of the health code, so we have a big patio, but Edna would definitely let dogs in for the day, and they would get to order from the proper counter. She'd really want a walk-up counter for the dogs.

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You're also involved with the Brother Wolf Animal Rescue organization. How did that come about?

When we started the coffee shop, we really wanted to be active in the neighborhood and the community, so we wanted to work with a charity, and because we love animals and own a coffee shop named after a dog, it was logical for us to work with an animal organization. Brother Wolf is spectacular -- they do such good work. We do pet adoption days at Edna's, and a couple of times a month, we do meet-up days for people with their dogs, just to give people a chance to socialize their dogs and meet with other people. Then we also do pet-food drives twice a year to help get food and supplies for Brother Wolf. 

Read related stories on Dogster:

About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world's foremost expert on rappers' cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it's not quite what you think it is.

Wed, 25 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/ednas-coffee-shop-asheville-north-carolina-pug-dog-friendly-restaurants
<![CDATA[Need a Walking Buddy? Walkzee Will Pair You With a Shelter Dog]]> Taking your dog for a walk may seem like a fairly mundane, everyday occurrence. But for shelter dogs, this simple act of companionship is anything but ordinary. Recently married couple Charlie and Cristina Saunders realized the benefit of taking an ownerless dog for an outing when they were on their honeymoon in Hawaii and stumbled upon the Humane Society in Kauai.

"As big dog lovers, we decided to go inside, and that was when we learned about the amazing field trip program they run there," Charlie remembers. That fateful day, Charlie and Cristina took a pup named Big Z out for a day of fun. It ended up being the highlight of their trip and the inspiration for a new organization called walkzee, which will offer the first free online platform connecting shelter dogs with animal lovers in search of a walking buddy.

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walkzee founder Charlie and Cristina Saunders took Big Z out of the shelter for a day of fun.

The couple began working on their business plan and website on the plane ride back to their home in San Jose, California. "With careers in tech, we quickly thought of how technology could enable field trips, provide scale to them, and also promote the trips and dogs online," Charlie says.

Through a Kickstarter campaign underway since the beginning of the month, walkzee has surpassed its funding goal of $20,000. The money will pay for site and app design, with plans for it to eventually become self-sustaining. And while Charlie and Crissy are both still working full-time jobs, walkzee has proved to be a worthy outlet for their passion for animals. They spend weekends and evenings promoting their cause and have recruited some helping hands with development.

"Dogs have always been a big part of our lives," Charlie says. While on a family trip to Spain as a kid, he remembers seeing a Scottish Terrier who was too big for his cage in a pet shop. He visited the dog every day to give him treats and try to cheer him up. A few months after returning home, Charlie's parents adopted a Scottie from a rescue organization.

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Benson, the Scottie that Charlie's parents adopted after their trip to Spain.

It's exactly these types of mutually beneficial experiences that Charlie and Cristina hope to support through walkzee. When a volunteer walker takes an animal out for a few hours, the dog gets fresh air, exercise, and a greater chance of being adopted -- just think of all the people who might stop to pet the pup, and the interaction with humans and exercise will help the dog be calmer when meeting potential adopters.

The shelter itself stands to benefit from increased awareness of how its dogs make great pets, as the platform will allow walkers to leave Yelp-like reviews describing the qualities of each pet and to share them on social media, which could lead to an influx of adopters, volunteers, and perhaps even donations. And the walker gets the immense satisfaction that he or she has helped an animal in need -- not to mention plenty of fresh air and exercise too!

The goal is for shelters throughout the world to be connected to the walkzee community so people can find and walk dogs anywhere, but the initial focus is in the U.S., with hopes that that the platform will be ready to make connections in June. “Perfect dog walking time of year!” Charlie says.

Currently, several shelters are interested in launching with walkzee, but each has its own requirements that need to be taken into consideration. A one-size-fits-all strategy won’t work at the moment, so Charlie and Cristina are letting the shelters dictate the rules. (One organization might have a specific trail where they want the walkers to take the dogs, whereas others might let the dogs be taken anywhere local.) But they will encourage shelters to use “adopt me” coats, like the one Big Z wore on their Hawaiian outing.

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Charlie and Big Z enjoy their field trip to the beach.

The Kickstarter campaign will run through early March with “Support the underdog” swag up for grabs. A dollar gets you instant membership into the walkzee community. Five bucks and your name and photo (your dog included!) will appear on "The Best Friends of walkzee" page. Donate $25 or more and add an adorable doggie bandana to the list, $30 and you'll snag a T-shirt, $35 or more gets you a portable collapsing dog bowl, and $40 or more makes you a local walkzee ambassador.

The rewards get better the more you donate and include everything from an adopted dogs calendar and dog treats to a walkzee leash or hoodie to close involvement in the community launch. It's a unique opportunity to be a small part of a startup and truly make a difference in the lives of these animals, while shaping the way in which the platform operates. So that's something to consider when you think about donating. Of course, if you're just looking to contribute without committing to a deeper level of involvement, that's a good way to help, too.

Every donation -- big or small -- will go toward building an amazing network whose launch should be a boon for shelter pups. As Charlie recalls his own recent experience, "Big Z was just so happy." He also shares the good news that their walking buddy was eventually adopted and now lives with his forever family in Sarasota, Florida.

For more information, visit the walkzee website and Kickstarter, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Read about more Dogster Heroes:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/walkzee-kickstarter-walk-volunteer-shelter-dogs
<![CDATA[A Pastry Chef Gives Back by Baking Cookies for Shelter Dogs]]> When we think of people who use their professional skills to help animals, our minds conjure up images of veterinarians in white coats and dog trainers leading large packs, but the truth is, you don't have to be in the animal industry to use your professional chops to help pets.
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Greg Connally, a baker and pastry chef from Kansas City, Missouri, is proving that professionals in all industries can figure out a way to lend a hand to dogs in need.

A passionate pastry chef, he is used to serving up exquisite baked goods to human patrons at the Ameristar Casino and Hotel in Kansas City. Recently, after being inspired by his rescue dog Oliver, Connally has also been whipping up cookies that can be consumed by the dogs at Wayside Waifs, the animal rescue organization that brought Oliver into his life.

"It's a way to show appreciation," says Connally. "I really appreciate what they did with Oliver."

Connally credits Wayside Waifs with not only saving four-year-old Oliver from a high-kill shelter, but also with rehabilitating the resource-guarding Basset Hound-Lab, and making him adoptable. "He was homeless and, they think, probably abused when he came to them," explains Connally.

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Wayside Waifs gave adorable Oliver a second chance.

"They really took faith in Oliver and saw potential in him," says the pastry chef, who was particularly impressed with the work of a trainer who spent several days inside a kennel with the then-adolescent dog, teaching him to trust humans. "They worked with him to make him more social. I think he was there at Wayside Waifs for about six months."

After substantial rehabilitation, Oliver was able to move to a foster home, where he he lived with two women who continued to work to improve his behavior. As Oliver was improving in foster care, Connally, his partner Steve, and their Dachshund, Chloe, were mourning a death in their family.

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These days, Oliver is taking on all kinds of challenges with his family.

"We lost one of our dogs, an older dog," says Connally. They eventually began looking at adoptable pets on the Wayside Waifs website. When he saw a video of Oliver playing with a ball, he wanted to meet the adorable dog. "He pretty much stole my heart as soon as I saw the video."

Soon after seeing the video, Connally and his partner set up a meet-and-greet with Oliver, who they had been warned favored women over men. "Right away, I called him and he came right up to me," says Connally. "We introduced him and Chloe, and they got along great."

Oliver seemed to be the perfect fit for their family, but Connally knew the adorable dog had special challenges. "He definitely had some resource guarding tendencies, so we read up about it."

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A happy family: Greg and Steve with Oliver and little Chloe.

Confident they could help Oliver with his resource guarding, Connally and his partner completed Oliver's adoption and brought the formerly homeless dog into his forever home. Wayside Waif wayside recommended a dog behaviorist, who made a visit and recommended a few tips for getting Oliver socialized with other dogs.

Although Connally and his partner had both studied resource guarding, some of Oliver's behaviors were especially hard to deal with.

"It was a challenge at first," explains Connally. "He wanted to resource guard the couch. He didn't want anyone else on the couch, and of course that wasn't going to work for us."

Recognizing that Oliver is a rescue dog with difficult past helped Connally to understand why the dog's urge to guard resources was so strong.

"I think when he was homeless and on the street, he really had to protect whatever food he had or whatever shelter he had." The couple worked patiently to help Oliver learn to trust and to share the couch with the rest of his family. "He's a special guy, and we're glad we got him."

Near the end of 2014, Connally realized that his skills as a baker were one way he could give back to the organization that gave Oliver not only a second chance, but also the rehabilitation he needed to be able to live with a family. Connally tested a recipe for cookies that can be eaten by humans and dogs, and then he got busy.

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Greg shares a treat with one of the puppies at Wayside Waifs.

Using the commercial kitchen at work, Connally whipped up dozens and dozens of the paw-shaped treats, along with a gingerbread house for the holiday season. Connally made so many cookies, his coworkers had to help him bring the treats to Wayside Waifs.

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Greg's team delivered dozens of these dog cookies to Wayside Waifs.

The cookies are made with dog-safe ingredients such as peanut butter and banana, and they were a big hit with both the staff and the shelter residents. Connally says the eggs in the cookies are good for dog's coats, while the oats can be good for their skin. Oliver, who has now been with his forever family for more than a year, is a big fan of the cookies.

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Connally's cookies are a hit with dogs and dog lovers.

This special treat made in the honor of a very special dog proves that we all have talents to tap if we wish to give back to shelter animals -- and to the humans who care for them in their time of need.

Read about more Dogster Heroes on Dogster:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Mon, 23 Feb 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/greg-connally-cookies-shelter-dogs-wayside-waifs
<![CDATA[Meet the Directors of "Dogs on the Inside"]]> From a dog’s perspective, the inside of a prison doesn’t look much different than the inside of an animal shelter. They are still surrounded by bars, concrete, and a chain-link fence. The scenery may be similar, but when dogs are fostered by inmates in the prison system, the animals are gifted with something they simply can't receive in overcrowded shelters -- the one-on-one love and attention of a human guardian.

The story of how dogs are fostered inside a Massachusetts correctional facility is the topic of a new film by directors Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup called Dogs on the Inside.

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The dogs may be behind bars, but they have freedom they'd never know in a shelter.

The idea for the film began when Cunningham heard about an organization called Don't Throw Us Away, a mutually beneficial program that matches rescue dogs with inmate handlers for eight weeks of rehabilitation and training.

"I reached out to Michelle D. Riccio, the founder," says Cunningham. "She loved the idea of a film being made about her program."

The resulting documentary follows along as rescue dogs come into the prison program lacking the skills many potential adopters look for in a pet, and eventually leave with a good training foundation in basic obedience. The inmates who work with the dogs develop skills and a sense of purpose.

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The inmates work with their dogs every day, with the goal of passing a training test at the end of the eight weeks.

"The dogs reminded the inmates that they're human," explains Seirup, a lifelong dog lover himself who witnessed the transformative power the dogs have on their convicted trainers. 

"The dogs return the love right back to the inmates. I could see it -- the restored confidence, the second chances," he explains.

While the inmates develop relationships and skills as dog handlers, the rescue dogs get a chance to learn that human hands don't always hurt them. The film shows dogs who were abused, neglected, and abandoned entering the program and finally getting the love they deserve. The inmates have something positive to focus on, and dogs who may never have found a foster home on the outside flourish under the undivided attention. 

"What was really cool about the prison as a potential foster home is its available space," says Cunningham, whose film notes that rescue organizations can only help as many dogs as they have foster homes for.

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The dogs sleep in their inmate's cells during their two months behind prison walls.

In the future, more dogs may may be able to be fostered inside prisons. According to its website, Don’t Throw Us Away is seeking to expand into new institutions.

The making of the film

The story of dogs and inmates helping each other is uplifting, but getting it shot wasn't so easy.

"There was quite a bit of red tape to gain access to the prison," explains Seirup. "But once we did, it went really well."

Because the filmmakers wanted to build trust with the inmate handlers, they made their first visit to the prison without any camera equipment. At that time, the inmates were just finishing a training cycle with a group of dogs slated for adoption.

"The dogs served as the broker of that trust, and the dogs really served as that general common interest and relieved any kind of tension," explains Seirup.

Once they had permission from officials and the trust of the inmate handlers, Seirup and Cunningham were able to film the men over the course of eight weeks, documenting as the inmates trained, fed, and bathed their canine companions.

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The bond between the inmates and the dogs is strong -- even if it must be severed at the end of eight weeks.

While entering a prison for the first time was stressful, it was probably not even the most dangerous location the filmmakers visited. The film shows how dogs who entered the prison were initially rescued from rural areas in the South. The animal rescuers the camera crew followed reported being shot at while trying to save dogs -- an activity others viewed as trespassing.

"I think initially there was a little bit of fear because it's a little bit more of the Southern culture of walking onto someone's property -- they're going to question why you're there," explains Seirup.

"We were a little leery about it," explains Cunningham, who adds that the experienced animal rescuers they were documenting put the filmmakers at ease.

"It was almost like we could just follow them and we knew that we were in good hands. They're fearless, and they're confident about their mission and what they're doing."

While documenting the mission of those dog rescuers, Cunningham and Seirup were pursuing their own mission as filmmakers and friends of animals. 

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The film documents how the dogs -- and the inmates -- learn to trust.

"We hope that people are touched in the heart, feel more compassionate, and see the benefits of having a dog in their life," says Seirup.

"I just hope we can stir people to get involved with helping to tackle the animal overpopulation issue," he explains, adding that adopting, fostering, and spaying or neutering pets can all help the cause.

Dogs on the Inside was released digitally on February 10 through iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and Vudu. The DVD comes out February 24. You can view an exclusive clip below: 

Read more about prison dogs:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Fri, 20 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dogs-on-the-inside-documentary-movie-prison-dog-training
<![CDATA[Seattle Animal Shelter Houses Pets of Domestic Violence Survivors]]>
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Nationally, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, so it should come as no surprise that numerous companion animals are affected by domestic violence as well. 

Here are a few facts from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women.
  • 71 percent of owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their batterers had threatened, injured, or killed family pets.
  • An estimated 13 percent of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence.

One of the most important things we can do to combat domestic violence is to talk about it and give others the space to do so. I grew up in a family profoundly affected by domestic violence, and one of the worst aspects was the shame involved in having to keep secrets and hide reality -- even years afterward.

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Christy Mack and one of her pitties, Pitrick Swayzee. (Photo courtesy of Christy Mack's Instagram)

Late last summer, model and actress Christy Mack, who also is a Pit Bull advocate, was brutally beaten by her ex boyfriend, War Machine, a pro MMA fighter. This attack shocked me, both for the sheer violence involved and also for the intense victim blaming that happened immediately afterward. Because Mack works in the adult film industry, some people thought she deserved it due to her profession. Not only did she suffer physically but emotionally as she was dragged through the gutter. I couldn’t get over the fact that people blamed her for the beating. It was her fault he almost murdered her? 

I've followed Mack on Twitter and Instagram for a while and have always appreciated her affinity for companion animals. (Her pages often feature her Pit Bulls, snakes, and ferrets. She is clearly an animal lover, and fortunately none of her animals were hurt in the attack.)

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Christy Mack's dogs, Pitrick Swayzee and Cleopitra. (Photo courtesy of Christy Mack's Instagram)

But most of all I've been impressed with her honesty and willingness to speak out against the violence that she survived. She's become a heroine to many. Her strength inspires those who value truth, justice, and faith in doing the right thing, even when people question your integrity. 

Mack's profession and income were entirely dependent upon her physical beauty. After her beating, she had to have major reconstructive surgery. She wasn't able to breathe out of her nose, she had teeth knocked out, and she lost vision in one eye. While her injuries have healed, I can’t imagine the experience of looking into the mirror and having my face look totally different due to a vicious attack by someone who claims to love me. This is not what love is supposed to feel like.

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Mack on the road to recovery after her beating. (Photo courtesy of Christy Mack's Instagram)

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Mack has shown tremendous strength in her recovery. (Photo courtesy of Christy Mack's Twitter account)

Fortunately, she has money, fame, and a support network. But think about abuse survivors who have none of these things. What do they do? The Animal Welfare Institute has a national resource directory for abuse survivors who are needing to find safety for their pets as well as themselves.  

Around the time of Mack’s assault, I was planning to become a volunteer at Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS). During the training, I learned that it has a program that will temporarily house pets of domestic violence survivors. I was ultimately unable to volunteer due to scheduling constraints, but I did use the experience to interview Donald Baxter, manager of Animal Care and Volunteers, to learn more about how one shelter is working to help the pets and people affected by violence. 

I asked him how the domestic violence program got started at the shelter.

"This was a joint effort during interdepartmental meetings between Seattle Police Department (SPD) victim support team and SAS, after recognizing a need," Baxter told me in an email interview. Families have to be referred by a support agency or by a police victim support team. The shelter will hold family pets -- not just dogs and cats, but any critters that are legal to have as pets in the city -- for 14 days, so people can find appropriate temporary boarding. And of course you can visit your beloved pets, too. 

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An adoptable dog (not a pet of a domestic violence survivor) at the Seattle shelter. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

"We ask that a pet owner is able to cover the boarding costs, but that is not a requirement for the program," Baxter says. The only requirement is that the owner will need to purchase a Seattle pet license when picking up the pets if they live in Seattle.

As noted above, Mack's pets weren't harmed in the attack, but I was concerned about how the shelter could keep people's pets safe. Baxter says there have been no issues so far: "We keep domestic violence safekeeping pets out of public view just for that reason. It is a great program that helps individuals who are dealing with stressful situations in their personal lives by hopefully removing a little of the stress of having to worry about their pets."

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S.A.S. volunteer Caetlin with adoptable dog Tyrion (not a pet of a domestic violence survivor). (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I'm glad to see that programs like this one may play a crucial role in helping domestic violence survivors make the transition to independence from their abusers by providing a safe place for their animals to be boarded in the interim. I believe every community should have a program of this nature. 

In observance of the survivors of domestic violence who have had the courage and ability to leave their abusers, I think we should all take some time to reflect upon those who may be less fortunate than ourselves and advocate for programs that assist these people in their path to a healthy, stable life. And that includes resources for their companion animals -- and the willingness to listen when someone shares their story.

For more information about safe havens for pets and victims of domestic violence, visit the Safe Havens Mapping Project and visit the Animal Welfare Institute on Facebook.

Read related stories on Dogster:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at

About Kezia Willingham: Kezia was raised by a strong single mother who had the courage to leave her abusive marriage to a police officer during the 1970s, before domestic violence was a household term. Kezia credits the experience of not being able to talk about the violence as part of the reason she is a tell-all writer today. A former high school dropout and single mother on welfare, Kezia has bachelor's and master's degrees today and works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. You can find her on Twitter.

Fri, 20 Feb 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/christy-mack-domestic-violence-survivors-seattle-animal-shelter
<![CDATA[Pajamas for Pitbulls Creator Heads to the Academy Awards]]> Longtime Pit Bull lover Stephanie Karr has been making dog clothes for decades, and while her sewing skills and generosity have earned her star status among some Canadian rescue groups, she never dreamed her hobby-turned-business, Pajamas for Pitbulls, would take her to Los Angeles. When she started gifting dog pajamas to rescues, she couldn't have predicated she would have a spot in a celebrity gifting suite during this year's Academy Awards festivities.
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"It was the chance of a lifetime that I got invited to go, and I've arranged for a rescue dog to be with me at my booth," says Karr, who was contacted by a gift suite producer after her Pajamas for Pitbulls page gained traction on Facebook.

"The producer happens to be a Pit Bull owner herself, so I sent her a pair of jammies because they like to inspect the quality of the items," explains Karr, whose handmade dog onesies will be going home with Oscar attendees.

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Karr with her pajama-wearing Pit Bulls, Zeus and Thor. (All photos courtesy of Stephanie Karr and Pajamas for Pitbulls)

The drive from Calgary, Alberta, to Hollywood, California, is a long one for Karr and her husband, but she believes the exposure she'll receive from the Oscars will be well worth it.

"More sales means more donation money, which means I can reach out to more rescues."

That drive to help rescues was what turned Karr's hobby into a home business in the first place. She'd been sewing little T-shirts and coats for her own dogs for about 20 years when her current Pit Bulls, Thor and Zeus, inspired her to create fleece onesies in November of 2013. The adorable pajamas helped protect her short-haired pooches from wicked Calgary winters and were a big hit with her Facebook friends at Prairie Pit Bull Rescue (PPBR) -- the group that one of her chilly dogs came from.

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California-born Zeus stays warm during Calgary's cold winters thanks to his adorable pajamas.

"Zeus is actually a rescue out of California," says Karr, who enthusiastically accepted an invitation from Prairie Pit Bull Rescue to sell her onesie pajamas during an adoption event. She'd been looking for a way to give back to the group that brought Zeus into her life, and the opportunity seemed like a perfect fit.

"I said, I want to do the adoption event, and I'm gonna give you five dollars from every pair. At the end of my first adoption event, I ended up handing over 60 dollars cash, plus I gave her six or seven pairs of jammies."

After that, the ball was rolling and Karr -- who still works a full-time job -- got busy sewing up a storm to raise money for PPBR. In addition to several monetary donations, Karr has donated 30 onesies to and purchased four travel crates for the group.

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Zeus and Thor turn lots of heads at the dog park in Calgary.

"It kind of expanded from there," says Karr, who was contacted by other rescue groups after launching her Facebook page. She estimates she’s donated around a couple thousand dollars to rescues, plus plenty of onesies for groups to use or sell through silent auctions.

"I've donated money to AARCS, and at Christmastime I sponsored a dog at Heaven Can Wait -- a Pit Bull who's in its care. I made him a pair of jammies and got him dog food, got him everything on his wish list, as well as donating six pairs of jammies to Heaven Can Wait," says Karr, who also supports rescues in Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

Expanding her line of butt-less, belly-less pajamas to breeds of all shapes and sizes allows Karr to expand her sales and help as many dogs as she can.

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These two cute customers prove that Karr's pajamas aren't just for Pit Bulls.

"I make them for dogs anywhere from five pounds to a 165-pound Great Dane.”

Although the pajamas keep all breeds toasty warm, Karr says they serve a dual purpose for Pit Bulls.

"I think it assists in the demystifying of that bad dog image," she says, explaining that when Thor and Zeus head to the dog park without coats or clothes, people tend to give the family a wide berth.

"Some people even go to the other side of the dog park -- but put them in a pair of pajamas, and people don’t see the Pit Bull anymore, they just see cuteness. They say, 'Oh, what a cute dog,' and they’re bending down getting kisses and seeing the wiggle butts and all of a sudden they're like, 'What kind of dog is it?'"

"By then, the dog has warmed their hearts," she says, "and they've made their own idea of what the dog is."

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Karr says onesies like these help people see beyond breed bias.

Karr will be advocating for her beloved Pit Bulls (and all rescue dogs) at her Academy Awards gifting booth in downtown L.A. during the 87th Academy Awards. Even before her big trip was announced, Karr began noticing international orders coming in from California and Florida, and she plans to add some lighter fabrics to her line for customers in warmer climates.

Funding the purchase of materials for lighter weight onesies was one of the reasons why Karr created a Kickstarter for Pajamas for Pitbulls. Hundreds of backers purchased pajamas through the Kickstarter, which raised thousands of dollars more than Karr's original goal of $8,000.

"I'm going to be able to do so much more for dogs and my business," says Karr.

And while the world will be watching what celebrities are wearing on Oscar night, in the days after the Academy Awards, plenty of Hollywood hotshots will be watching their dogs wear Karr's creations. It's the kind of exposure a small, home-based business could only dream of, and it may be the key to keeping more rescue dogs cozy and warm.

Read about more people helping Pit Bulls:


Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Fri, 20 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/pajamas-for-pitbulls-academy-awards-oscars
<![CDATA[We Chat With Michael Brandow About His Controversial New Book, "A Matter of Breeding"]]> This week saw pedigreed pooches and the people who own them descend on New York City for the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show. For many, the top dogs of Westminster represent perfect, standard-conforming specimens -- living proof of impressive ancestry and thoughtful breeding. But a new book by author, social critic, and former Manhattan dog walker Michael Brandow is challenging many long-held beliefs about purebred dogs.

Brandow says his book, A Matter of Breeding: A Biting History of Pedigree Dogs and How the Quest for Status Has Harmed Man's Best Friend, runs contrary to Westminster and everything for which it stands. The author hopes his work might influence people who have typically looked to the show ring before selecting a family pet.

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"Maybe they'll lighten up on their ideas of blood-purity and how dogs need to look," says Brandow, whose book details historical influences on cultural beliefs about and preference for purebred dogs as pets.

According to the American Kennel Club, each of the 184 AKC-recognized breeds has a distinct personality, and researching the right breed to match your lifestyle is an essential task before choosing a pet.

Although Brandow contradicts that position now, the author admits there was a time when he didn’t doubt it, recalling a discussion with friends when he decided to get his first dog back in the '90s.

"The first thing that came to my mind was, well, what breed?" Brandow remembers. "And they said, what are you talking about 'what breed?' Just go to a shelter and get a dog -- and that's when it suddenly dawned on me."

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Author Michael Brandow. (Photo by Michael James Bradford)

By ignoring the impulse to select a companion based on breed, Brandow ended up with Sammy, an intelligent mutt who shared his life for 14 years.

"People are doing that more and more now; they're not just going straight for this idea that you have to find a breed that's perfect for your personality and lifestyle," says Brandow, adding that selecting a pet based on breed won't guarantee a certain behavior.

The author points to a legacy of breeding for looks and a lack of genetic diversity as the causes of many behavioral and health issues in purebreds. In A Matter of Breeding, Brandow writes that Cocker Spaniels -- once a popular family pet -- have become very aggressive, noting the phenomenon of "Cocker rage syndrome." Brandow also notes that despite the fact that Bulldogs lead the pack when it comes to veterinary bills, people continue to purchase these puppies born with pedigrees (via cesarean section) and the breed surges in popularity. The author believes these breed-specific concerns aren't enough to deter consumers who long ago internalized imported English ideas about lineage and aristocracy.

"There's still this ability to overlook all the illnesses in their breeds, which are getting worse all the time," he tells Dogster.

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English Bulldog puppies by Shutterstock.

The question of who is healthier -- mutts or purebreds -- was the topic of a 2013 University of California, Davis, study Brandow references in his book, but the answer was interpreted differently by both sides of the debate. The study of 90,004 dogs over 15 years found that 10 genetic disorders were found more often in purebreds, and one disorder was more common for mixed dogs. The prevalence of 13 out of 24 genetic disorders was about the same in purebred dogs and mixed-breed mutts. The UC Davis news release was titled "Purebred dogs not always at higher risk for genetic disorders, study finds,” while others, like Veterinary Practice News, used the same data to conclude "Study Shows Mutts Genetically Healthier."

Brandow believes the study was misframed by UC Davis in a way that encourages consumers to see purebred dogs as better than mutts -- a perception he sees as sadly common.

"It's rooted in all these elitist beliefs, and this idea that you're getting a quality dog -- you're not getting a quality dog, not as it would normally be defined. You're buying into the snob appeal basically, and that is very much alive whether you watch Westminster or not."

In A Matter of Breeding, Brandow also explores the uncomfortable idea that society's preference for purebred dogs is simply a holdover from the eugenics movement.

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A mixed-breed dog by Shutterstock.

"I really think that we're pawning off these archaic beliefs about class and racial purity that we're no longer supposed to have, and we're putting them on the backs of dogs," he says.

"You can't have it both ways. We're subjected to the same laws of biology as they are. Either you believe in blood purity and racial profiling or you don't."

Brandow's comparison of dog breeding to racism is one that many dog fanciers challenge. Many also take issue with his assertion that showing dogs does not improve a breed, but weakens it.

"Take the Border Collie," he offers. "The real Border Collie people, the United States Border Collie Club, fought for years against kennel club recognition. They knew, because every working dog has been ruined by the show ring."

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Border Collie runs through agility poles by Shutterstock.

Brandow recognizes that much of his book will be disputed by those who love, show, or breed purebred dogs.

"I'm hoping I don't have to wear sunglasses at the local dog run in Washington Square Park and go incognito," he jokes, adding that the reviews from early readers (including some with a purebred dog of their own) were surprisingly promising.

"I think the public is primed for it in a way," Brandow explains. "I think a lot of celebrities are starting to set good examples by coming out against dog shows and against breeding in general."

"Ryan Gosling with his mutt -- I love to see things like that," he says.

Whether you agree with Brandow's anti-dog-show stance or not, the book offers an interesting look into the history of various breeds as well as how humankind has changed the way dogs look and live. As for any bias against purebred dogs themselves, the author doesn't care if your dog looks like the Westminster champ or the famous actor's mutt.

"I love all dogs. I just don't care what their coat colors are."

What are your thoughts on purebred dogs? Let us know in the comments. 

Read more about the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show:  

About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Thu, 19 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/michael-brandow-a-matter-of-breeding-purebred-dogs-dog-breeds
<![CDATA[DogDecoder App Helps People Interpret Dog Body Language]]> Dogs don't speak human. No matter how many times I ask Riggins, "What's wrong?" he doesn't respond. I have to read his body language for clues as to how he is feeling.

Recently I had hiked up to the Observatory in Los Angeles' Griffith Park with him and two other dogs I was sitting. We got to the main building before it opened for the day, and I did what I always do: pose the pups for a cute picture. As I secured the dog's leashes, I heard a woman behind me yell, "This isn't a good place for dogs." I turned around and asked what I felt was an obvious question, "Why?" She answered, "They might bite someone."

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My very unhappy dog at the Griffith Observatory. Excuse the blurriness. I needed to snap fast and get him out of there!

I looked back at the dogs, around the park at other dogs hanging out, and then at her. The woman had her granddaughter with her, and she was projecting her obvious fear onto the girl. Refocusing on the dogs, I noticed my pup had changed how he was standing. Responding to her new energy, he was curled up with his back up and his tail tucked, his eyes were big and round almost pleading with me. There was no doubt that his body language said, "Mom, this woman is cray cray. She better not get any closer!"

"Well shoot," I thought, "now he might bite you!"

Jill Breitner, a dog trainer for more than 35 years, explained to me that knowing how to read a dog's body language is extremely important and a skill everyone should have. The knowledge can save you from getting bit and can save a dog who was just being a dog from being unnecessarily villainized and possibly euthanized. 

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Jill Breitner and one of her dogs, Oscar. (Photo courtesy of Jill Breitner)

Upon hearing about my experience at Griffith Park, Breitner identified more signs that my dog gave me that day, ones I hadn't noticed. The "tongue flick," "tense body," and "head lowered" behaviors, which Breitner says are additional signs of stress, were all present.

To help humans better understand what their dogs are trying to say, Breitner worked with Jeff Bellsey, a technology expert, and Lili Chin, a professional artist, to build a smart phone app called DogDecoder. It does exactly what the name suggests: It helps you decode what your dog's body language is telling you. 

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The app goes through approximately 60 different dog poses, pairing each with one of Chin's illustrations. Each pose includes a descriptive title; an info page explaining what the app's dog, Diamond, is feeling and how he may respond if ignored; and a detail page that points out exact body language to look for. 

Going through the poses, I quickly found one that mirrored what my dog looked like at the observatory. The pose is titled Anxiety. From the info page I learned, "Timidity is the first step toward aggression." That bit of info is certainly one that any owner should know.

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Although all the poses from DogDecoder are important to learn, Breitner chose three poses from her app that she wanted to talk about in particular:

1. Warning -- Space Invader

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This is the body language of a dog who is about to bite. In the DogDecoder app, it explains it as Diamond the dog screaming, "GET AWAY!" 

This is the warning position that finally led Breitner to move forward with designing the app. In 2012, KUSA anchor Kyle Dyer was bitten in the face by Max, an Argentine Mastiff, who was part of a news story interview Dyer was conducting.

"The warning pose shown on the app is exactly what happened," Breitner explains. "I looked at the video, and I looked at it in slow motion, and it was very clear that dog was going to bite."

For Breitner, that incident was the last straw. She knew that she had to find a way to reach more people and teach them how to read dog body language.

2. Guarding Toy -- Space Invader

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DogDecoder details that pausing is an important signal for parents to learn, as children will sometimes misinterpret a dog's pause as an interaction when, in fact, it is a warning sign.

Families with children are often at high risk for misinterpreting dogs. Family pets are often expected to happily tolerate pulling, chewing, grabbing, and other actions from their human brothers and sisters. Breitner warns, "While some dogs will tolerate it, that doesn't mean it's OK." 

Breitner relives an example of a child and dog interaction that she witnessed, one that ended badly. Breitner was at a park when an 18-month-old boy spotted a Lab who was tied up against the fence by the child's play area. Instead of heading to play with the other toddlers, the child went straight for the dog.

"I was in slow motion at the other end of the park, thinking, 'Oh, no. Please don't let this happen. Please let the mother catch this kid first.'" The child wasn't stopped. "He [the toddler] walks over to the dog and gives the dog a hug, and the dog rips the side of his face off."

After running over to help the child and family, Breitner learned that the toddler's family had two Golden Retrievers, which the child hugs all the time. "That doesn't mean they can do that to any other dog." Breitner believes that educating children about dog body language can stop these kinds of dog bites from happening in the future.

3. Playful Biting a Person -- Prey Drive/Play

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DogDecoder explains that "this is one of the most misinterpreted interactions between dogs and humans!" Many times, a new dog owner will believe the dog is being aggressive. Putting herself in the mind of the dog, Breitner explains the pup's thinking, "I'm only eight weeks old, and the closest thing to my face is your leg so I'm going after it."

To the dog you are playing tug-of-war, and it's just a game. Since it isn't a game you want to encourage, in her app Breitner tells the owner to simply stop moving. "A dog's prey drive is activated by motion." You stop moving, and the dog will stop "attacking" the pretend prey.

Breitner and her team worked hard on DogDecoder and have a clear goal for its use. "The mission for the app is to have less people bitten because they understand dog body language, which turns into less dogs euthanized." 

You can purchase and download DogDecoder through the Apple store or Google Play. It costs just $3.99.

Read more on dog body language:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Wed, 18 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-decoder-body-language-behavior-app