Archive for August, 2008



The recent death of Rocky had me pondering the lifesaving role dogs so often play in our lives. Rocky, for those of you who don’t know, was the hero of the Lakewood, Colorado Police Department. He made headlines back in ’02 when he not only chased down a burglar who shot at him at point blank range, but ended up saving the burglar’s life and taking a bullet in the process. The nine year old Dutch Sheppard had prostate cancer and died in the arms of his beloved person, Darren Maurer. Rocky was trained as a police dog.

Many dogs are not, though, and perform acts as heroic as Rocky’s. In New York, a couple of years ago a wolf-German Sheppard mix rescued her elderly people. The Fertigs were caught out in their wildlife sanctuary when a big storm hit. The 160 pound Shana tunneled her furry little butt off to get to them, dragged the couple to safety, and then kept them warm until the fire department arrived. Shana had no special training. She was quite attached to her companions, but she was not trained in any special manner to do what she did.

However, a 17 pound Beagle in Florida had been trained. According to Associated Press reports she had been taught to bite down on the number 9 on her companion’s cell phone. Kevin Weaver is a diabetic and had suffered a seizure. Thanks to Belle, Kevin received help and Belle, the well trained Beagle, received the VITA Wireless Samaritan Award.

Rex and friends

Rex and friends

Some of the dramatic canine rescues seem to come down to maternal (or paternal as the case may be) instinct.The story of Rex, the pointer who recovered the little joey from a mother who had been hit by a car, is one of those where instinct seems to have been at work. Rex had taken his person, Leonie Allan for a walk and noticed the dead kangaroo. Later, Rex went back for the baby and brought it to Leonie unharmed. The joey will be cared for at the Jirrahlinga Wildlife Sanctuary with another orphan. These cases where it’s a dog following an instinct we can understand, such as the urge to help a loved one or an abandoned orphan I get. That is something we would do as well. But what about dogs who really do a job day in and day out? Especially one we wouldn’t necessarily do. What do we owe dogs who give so much in the line of duty? Dogs whose job we have made it to care for us in various ways, do we not owe these dogs a special allegiance and place in our society? Even protection under the law?

One of the first search and rescue teams at ground zero was Trakr and his fellow officer James Symington. Trakr, a German Sheppard helped locate the last human survivor under many feet of debris. Now, well into old age, Trakr suffers from a neurological disorder that keeps him from using his back legs. As many people are learning, the toxic air at Ground Zero has cause many health problems, and is likely the cause of Trakr’s illness. Trakr and Rocky are dogs that had jobs that we really need done. Should we not be paying more attention to creatures we need so much? Dogs serve us in so many ways. Should we not be more serious about their care? Yet, time after time, dogs are the first thing people drop when their load gets to heavy. From the abandoned pets amid the mortgage crisis to the disaster shelters, so many of which wouldn’t allow pets when certain major storms hit. So many states don’t even have felony animal cruelty laws. When we drop the ball caring for those who care for us, isn’t it we who are harmed in the process?


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Black is Beautiful

The website blared the horrid truth at me: “The general public is not aware of how doomed black dogs are when they are brought to a pound.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew older dogs, sick dogs, and dogs with special needs were hard to find homes for, but black dogs? It’s true though, and apparently the phenomenon extends to black cats as well. A story done by Melissa Dahl, the health writer for MSNBC cites a quote by Madeline Bernstein, the president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles. Ms. Bernstein says, “They’re the hardest to adopt out, they’re in the shelters the longest and therefore they’re the most likely to be euthanized if nothing happens.”

Apparently there are a number of reasons why black dog syndrome as it’s called exists. Superstitions exist that are harmful. The Sherlock Holmes classic, Hound of the Baskervilles features a black dog as a creepy omen of death. Not unlike the Harry Potter black dog, Grim, that that stalks Harry. “Black dog” has also been a term used to describe depression.

There are other reasons this doggie discrimination exists, though. For one, black dogs can be a bit difficult to photograph. Poorly lit kennels help them to hide in the shadows, becoming invisible to visitors. People sometimes think big black dogs are scary because the group includes breeds such as Rottweilers and Dobermans. It can be hard to read a black dogs expression, too, because the eyebrows and face all blend in so well. A little white on the muzzle can make a black dog look old even when it isn’t.

There are things volunteers and shelter workers can do to make black dogs (and cats) stand out at the shelter. One shelter I read about puts colorful ribbons on the girls and big bow ties on the boys. Decking them out in other ways helps, too. Eye catching toys or blankets in their kennels and not kenneling two black dogs right next to each other are ways to draw attention to a shelter’s black animals. In one case, a shelter staff allowed a dog to hang out with them and this allowed her to be seen in action, so to speak, and she was adopted eventually. Teaching the dog a neat trick that can be highlighted on the place-card outside the kennel is another tactic I read. Also, those of us who volunteer at shelters should remember to take the black dogs outside for their photos, so a very expressive one can be taken.

There are things we in the public can do, as well, to help end this doggie double standard. If you are going to get a dog, adopt. If you are going to adopt, consider a black dog or cat. They are just as loving and in need of good, forever homes. Their color won’t clash with your outfit, either! If you cannot adopt, consider fostering a dog or volunteering at a shelter. Many shelters need volunteers to come in and walk the dogs, for example. Even just donating some supplies would help.

And for goodness sakes, spay or neuter your critters!

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