Monday, October 31, 2011

7 Billion Humans Day: Are you Scared?

As you may know, today humans will add a 7 billionth person to our number. And since I have pledged to raise awareness as part of the Global Population Speak Out, I am devoting today's post to the consequences of human population growth for dogs, for humans, indeed for all species and for every aspect of life on this planet.

Let me start by saying this: I like kids. I like them so much that I want them to grow up in a world where polar bears and bighorn sheep still exist in the wild, where trees still outnumber billboards, where monarch butterflies still make the trek from the Northeastern U.S. and Canada to Mexico and have milkweed to lay their eggs upon at one end, and oyamel fir trees to rest on at the other. 

In the United States, each new child born will obliterate the equivalent of 22 acres of potential wildlife habitat and will add 9,441 metric tons of CO2 emissions to our atmosphere. As our population goes through the roof, those of other species are in steep decline: at present, an average of three species goes extinct per hour

It is impossible to discuss human population growth without being told that Western levels of consumption are the real problem. And of course, in developing countries, each additional human has a much lesser impact on resource depletion, energy use, and global concerns like climate change

But while our levels of consumption in the West are clearly unsustainable, who among us would willingly commit to levels like those of an African villager, whose global environmental impact is about 1/20th that of the average American? If we are willing to address only the consumption side of the equation, we commit humans the world over to living in abject poverty--for the simple reason that we live on a finite planet. For each new human born, the rest of us must make do with an ever-dwindling slice of the pie.

It is estimated that if we do, as predicted, reach 9 billion people by the year 2050, we will need six planets to support all of us at U.S. levels of consumption. Even if the current gross inequality of global consumption levels persists--with the vast majority of the world living in poverty--we'll need at least two planets to support our numbers by 2030. 

So yes, consumption matters--but in total, it is always and inevitably a product of total population. 

On local and regional levels, the environmental impacts of population growth in the developing world are devastating. In Central America, growing populations survive by clearing forest for livestock and subsistence agriculture on land of ever-diminishing productivity. In sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of Asia and South America, rapid population growth has fueled a burgeoning bushmeat trade and the decimation of populations of primates, wild cats, foxes, turtles, and other rare and endangered animals. In developing regions the world over, growing populations place a strain on the quality and quantity of drinking water, on the availability of land for agriculture and wildlife habitat, and on the availability of the mental and spiritual space necessary for creativity and well-being to flourish in humans and other creatures.

In the current climate, the domestic economic reasons for supporting family planning may be the most compelling. As they eliminate funding for Title X, House Republicans should be informed that every dollar spent today on family planning saves four dollars next year (you can let them know at Population Connection's website). On an international scale, the argument is equally compelling: to provide family planning to the 215 million women in developing countries who want to avoid a pregnancy would cost less than $4 billion a year

And surely among the simplest and most obvious reasons for prioritizing human population growth as a policy concern are the humanitarian ones. 

Twenty percent of the projected growth in human population until the year 2050 is attributable to unmet need--that is, to babies born unplanned and unwanted to women and families who lack access to birth control. Addressing this low-hanging fruit should be an utmost international development priority simply for humanitarian reasons; the environmental benefits will be an enormous helping of icing on this cake of improved human well-being. 

So today, go out, have fun, dress up your dogs and your kids, and enjoy the beauty that still remains in this world. 

And let's do everything possible to ensure that this world remains beautiful for the kiddies and puppies, the butterflies and bears, by not adding any more kiddies (or puppies) than we have to. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

What a difference a clicker makes

As I have been working with Fozzie, Lamar, and Sandy on learning some new tricks lately, I have been so impressed with how eagerly they've been willing to go to work. 

And its definitely not just the hot dogs, the dehydrated tuna, or the cheesy snacks. 

When I work with the treats alone, the dogs are definitely happy to earn them and all the associated praise. But there is a certain sparkle in the eye, a certain eagerness, a certain motivation that I see only when I bust out the clicker. 

For a dog like Lamar, who is generally shy about trying new things, this makes a huge difference in training. It can bring him out to the living room, ready to work with a spring in his step, at times when otherwise he'd be nervously hanging back in his darkened bedroom lair. 

The clicker has such a powerful history as a secondary reinforcer that it's become an even greater motivator than the primary reinforcer. In general, I find that using a verbal marker like "yes" is fine and helpful for those times where a clicker is too cumbersome--but learning definitely happens faster with the clicker. 

Some behaviorists contend, according to Pat Miller's The Power of Positive Dog Training, that the unique sound of the clicker goes to work on a part of the dog's brain where it can be acted upon immediately, while verbal cues must be processed through the cortex first. Its like the clicker gives you a key to a magic kingdom of learning potential that is otherwise not as easily accessed. 

What's been your experience? Is the clicker your ticket to success too, or have you found another magic dog training wand?

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I have struggled for my entire life with insomnia, and much of the time have required some sort of prescription medication just to get me to sleep.

It's an odd malady, not being able to do this most basic of things that seems to come naturally to everyone else. Certainly, it has always come naturally to everyone I've ever slept in the same room with.

From Mom, to every college roommate and commune-mate, to every boyfriend up to and including the current one. Every dog, from the hyper pittie puppies to the anxious shepherds and the stiff older dogs and everyone in between--all have slept like the proverbial log. 

Over the years, I've heard every variation of deep breathing, nighttime grunting and mumbling, and snoring--sometimes for hours on end-- as I've struggled to get to sleep. 

There have been periods off and on when I've done better--years ago, when I camped and slept outside in Arizona and Utah during a six-week backpacking program on the Colorado Plateau, and more recently when I traveled in Guatemala and slept using only an occasional Benadryl. 

And for the past few days, as we've settled into a rhythm with Sandy and gotten used to having a tiny female pit bull packet snuggled in between us. 

It's not that I don't love my other, larger packets of sleeping joy, or that they don't bring me comfort.

It's just that there's something about this particular package of warm breath and snores that allows my mind to be at peace.

Maybe it's that she's so tiny, and sweet, and vulnerable.

Maybe it's the well-being that comes from knowing that we very probably saved her life, and feeling how worthwhile that is.

And maybe its the comforting sensation of again having a compact muscular little red girl dog around. A red girl dog who reminds me with her spunk and her spirit of
Tashi, whose ears and breath and snores I have never stopped missing since she passed away in April. 

Tashi is now in the midst of a long sleep, or maybe she's already entered a new life as a grumpy little grizzly or a spunky salmon swimming upstream or a Buddha incarnate whose growls bring instant enlightenment. 

Or maybe just a little bit of her spirit is making its way to us through our little foster dog, bringing her mom comfort and sleep at long last. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Puppies and people food

One of my favorite things about having a puppy around is how in general, they are ready to try just about anything edible you offer them. 

We love to share people food with the short people, so it injects a little extra dose of fun in our lives when those people are willing to try whatever we send their way. 

Fried tofu, lettuce wraps, little unknown crunchy things that came with the lettuce wraps, salad, sauteed veggies, vegan junk food--so far there have been few things Sandy would spit out.

Lately we've discovered that she even loves to try new bevvies. 


I know, I know--it's very bad for dogs to drink alcohol. Don't worry, she didn't really drink any. Raspberry brew is one of the few things we're not willing to share.

Fortunately she enjoys more kid-friendly drinks just as well. Orange juice, soda, soy beverage, you name it. 

Is it just a curiosity born of being relatively new to the world?

Is it the vehemence with which Sandy loves to explore the entire word with her tongue? 

Is it just that a puppy's palate is not yet refined, so more things taste good?

Do your puppies love to try just about everything, even things your more mature dogs turn up their noses at?

To learn more about adopting Sandy, email peacefuldog [at] yahoo [dot] com

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pit Bull Gratitude

I was so proud to be a part of a community that celebrates Pit Bull Awareness Day. On this day, pit bull lovers turned out to reverse the unfair stain on the reputation of this most loyal and affectionate of breeds.  

For her part, Sandy turned out with another participant--a pit bull in a hound suit, named Copper--for an adoption event where she got to do her favorite thing. 

Lots of opportunities to do that favorite thing of hers, and lots of friendly people who didn't seem to have gotten that ill-conceived memo that said something about pit bulls being...what was it? Dangerous? Something like that? Hmm. 

No applications for Sandy, just a chance to show off another little example of her reputedly vicious breed. 

Meanwhile, a certain other pit bull did have a chance to connect with a potentially significant person in his life. What will come of this meeting? That remains to be seen....

To learn more about adopting Sandy, email peacefuldog [at] yahoo [dot] com

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Pit Bull Awareness Day!

This year October 22 has been designated Pit Bull Awareness Day. In 2007 Bless the Bullys created this holiday as a day to recognize and celebrate this loyal, friendly, misunderstood breed.

Sandy and I will be celebrating by going to an adoption event for Jasmine's House, the wonderful pit bull rescue group near Baltimore that is sponsoring Sandy. The event is at Dogma Bakery in Arlington, VA and will hopefully feature a few gorgeous little pittie people ready for their forever homes. If you're in the area, come on out and get a free facewash and pick up some tasty baked goods!

While you're in the holiday mood, go on over to Love and a Leash for another fantastic pit bull promotion! The pit bull rescue heroes over there are sponsoring the adoption fees for two sets of a Fabulous Four pit bulls at the Montgomery County Humane Society, using the generous contributions from Blogville folks who turned out to help Little Zee.

And then, come on back here and leave a comment! For every comment on today's post, I will donate $2 to the Washington Humane Society, and that gift--our gift--will be DOUBLED by the Delavan Foundation, which has agreed to match all donations for a limited time. 

While WHS is an open-access shelter that takes in all animals in need of shelter in the DC area, a large percentage of those animals are pit bulls or some mixture thereof. 

This is an organization that does a lot with a little. Their facilities may not be state of the art, may even look a bit drab and sad at first glance, but the animals get so much enrichment that many of them seem to really love their shelter "home." 

Aside from that, WHS is not afraid to take a position on animal welfare issues: all their events are vegetarian, and they take a stand against using animals for fur or for biomedical research.

They also support and actively promote TNR for cats.

Pretty cool, for a low-budget urban open-access shelter.

So let the commenting begin, and let's see if we can celebrate Pit Bull Awareness Day in style!
To learn more about adopting Sandy, email peacefuldog [at] yahoo [dot] com

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shelter workers

I was at the shelter the other day volunteering, and thinking about the people who work there every day and are evidently--from the way they talk to the animals and interact with them--as in love with them as I am. As a volunteer, I get to walk the dogs, play with the cats, give them treats, and each week see the happy lists of who got adopted. I get to walk away in blissful ignorance of who won't be there tomorrow, who just failed an evaluation, who got returned by an adopter again and isn't going to be given another chance. The people who work there have no such luxury. 

I realized today that whatever my strengths as a rescuer and animal advocate, this is not one of them. I'd go to bed every night an emotional wreck, my house would fill up with animals, I'd be in tears on the job, I'd avoid the parts of the shelter where the doomed animals wait.

I'm amazed by the people I see working at the shelter. Most of them are young, hip-looking women, who look like the protest-goers who peer-pressured me to go vegetarian in high school. They don't look like they're made of steel, but maybe they are. How else could they do it?

Or maybe the shelter is really living up to its goal of being a city-run, open-admission shelter that achieves 100% adoption of adoptable animals. Or maybe somewhere in between. 

I do agree with Nathan Winograd--although I don't agree with him on everything--that not all shelter workers are doing everything they should be doing to save lives. But those who are, who work in shelters because they really do love animals and commit their every day to making their lives better, are possessed of a superhuman strength and are deserving of thanks and admiration.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nail Clipper desensitization

Recently I had a grooming client who came to me because her dog, a 130-pound German Shepherd, had come from the breeder as a puppy with freshly-clipped nails still bleeding. Not surprisingly, this gentle giant is terrified of having his nails done and his human has been forced to bring him to the vet, where he requires 4 people to hold him down to get the dirty deed done. 

Much to her credit, his human wanted to find another way and my friend Jill at Happy Hound Pet Care referred her to me, as most groomers don't seem to think about the dog's well-being or anything besides just getting the job done. 

There seems to be very little discussion in the grooming community about desensitization. Professional groomers often invest in sophisticated restraint systems or pay lots of assistants to hold feisty dogs down. Most people who bring their dogs to the groomer, likewise, just want to get the dog groomed and don't think a whole lot about the dog's experience. 

As a "grooming hobbyist" myself, I have the luxury of being primarily interested in giving dogs a good experience. I'd rather take the time to work with their emotions rather than just restrain their bodies. Far better to have long nails for a while than to have a dog who's even more terrified for the next trip to the groomer. 

With our large GSD, I explained beforehand that we were going to set as a goal not actually getting the nails done, but getting the dog to feel differently about those clippers and about having his paws touched. We used the basic process outlined on this great site. I have since learned that Ximena at Identity: V has also done a really incredible blog post on the importance of nail trimming and how to do it right. 
Yazzie is learning that nail clippers and hot dogs go together

Like many GSDs, this dog was anxious, pacing, constantly mobile, and vigilant throughout our session. We ended up clipping a total of the tip of one nail, but we did make some progress toward helping him feel like the clippers are an opportunity for attention, play, and treats rather than terror. 

Hopefully his people will keep working with him, and will follow up on my advice about using an anxiety wrap and doing relaxation exercises to help him settle down in general

I think it would serve the grooming profession well to have more of us versed in desensitization and counterconditioning techniques, and more of us advertising up front that getting a frightened dog fully groomed, and all the rehabilitation that may entail, could take some time. 

What do you think? Would a groomer who advertised "More relaxed dog guaranteed. Actual grooming results may vary" get any business? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Event Girl

Photo: Judith Beerman
Sandy has been an absolute star at dog-friendly events lately. 

Last week, it was time to show off her high-fashion pittie style at Fashion for Paws, a benefit for the Washington Humane Society and Hope for Henry. 

Sandy fit right in with those runway models in their BCBG Maxazria (Did you know Cobalt blue is in this season? I sure didn't), and of course with all the well-dressed people handing out samples of lettuce wraps and guacamole and acai-flavored coconut water. 

It was a crowded, loud, busy tent, packed with models and vendors and volunteers and a few dogs, and Sandy was just as calm and affable as can be the whole time. 

Photo: Judith Beerman

I was so impressed with how readily she would give me a beautiful sit whenever I asked for it. Whatever dog she was trying to sniff or food scraps she was in the midst of scrounging, she was ready to show all those nice looking potential adopters what a well-trained little pup she is. 

We even got two pictures and a mention in the Georgetown Dish!

There was even someone who was just about ready to adopt her, but it turned out she lived in Prince George's County--which has a pit bull ban! Although judging from Fozzie's experience, plenty of the Animal Control officials there will look the other way, that's definitely not something we want to mess with. 

On to another event on Saturday, Washington Humane Society's DC Walk for the Animals. This was another fundraiser combined with an adoption event, though this time it was  a bright sunny day and out in an open field in a neighborhood of DC.

WHS is having lots of events lately, in order to meet its goal for adoptions and qualify for the ASPCA 100K Adoption Challenge, in which the participating shelter with the most adoptions during the months of August, September and October this year over their adoption numbers from those months last year, will win the grand prize of $100,000. 

This event was such a nice time for the doggies. Wading pools,

hot dogs, 

and even an agility course for everyone to try out. 

And Sandy got to show off her gorgeous new collar from Sirius Republic

One of the nicest things about these events is that I've gotten to meet the other people who were involved in rescuing Sandy. Sandy got to give a big wet kiss to Kirstyn, who actually works for Best Friends but works at the Washington Humane Society shelter to help rescue pit bulls. It was her email that I saw that prompted my impulsive act a few weeks ago and led to Sandy becoming my foster beast. 

We also met staff and volunteers who remembered her from the shelter, and told us that she was found as a stray and brought in with her pal Ginger, who went to rescue and left Sandy very sad and stressed. 

Sad and stressed she is no more. And best of all, nothing tires a dog out like an adoption event.

To adopt Sandy, please contact peacefuldog [at] yahoo [dot] com

Friday, October 14, 2011

Confronting Old School Trainers

Fozzie is "clearly" the Dominant Dog
When I was very active in a particular rescue group and attending a lot of adoption events, I suffered through many an event listening to adoption coordinators talk about how a dog playing roughly was just trying to be "dominant." 

I also watched invited trainers leash pop the daylights out of gentle, naturally curious dogs who weren't looking straight ahead as they walked on a leash, and heard coordinators with the rescue group tell me I needed to show my foster dog that I was the "alpha." 


At the time, it hadn't occurred to me yet how great it would be to blog about these frustrations. All alone, I longed for a community of enlightened trainers, handlers, fosters, and dog lovers who would help me figure out what in Dog's name you can say to these people? 

I used to think maybe you could try to educate with a bit of history, like "Actually, theories about dominance in dogs originated with some studies done on captive wolves in the 1940's, and have been fairly thoroughly discredited in the modern dog training community." 

That seemed to work about as well as an alpha roll for correcting unwanted behavior. 

Pam at Something Wagging This Way Comes had a brilliant post about one severely misguided dog owner and how she dealt with the situation by just blasting him with positivity. 

We DEFY smug old-school characterizations
I'm no longer working with that particular rescue group much, and I've found much more positive dog people to surround myself with. But the people who watch too much reality TV are everywhere--in fact, Florian's graduate dance department is suffused with postmodern dancers, of all people, who love Cesar Millan and can't be reasoned with. It seems there is no escaping.

How do you deal with it? Do you have a favorite pithy response to the Dominance dudes? An explanation that works wonders with the Alpha dog arguers? A life-changing demo for the Leash yank yo yos? Share so we can all come up with something better than helpless, enraged sputtering.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Simple remedies triumph again

When I first got Sandy from the shelter, she had this little bald spot above her eye that I assumed was a scrape that was in the process of healing. 

It didn't heal noticeably after a week though, and when I brought her to the street fair and ran into a couple of my dog training and T-Touch friends they thought it could be mange! 

That was a wee bit worrisome. I knew that there were two forms of mange, sarcoptic and demodectic, and that sarcoptic is contagious.

Over all the years of fostering, I've accumulated a good medicine cabinet full of various veterinary remedies, and I decided to work with what I had before running up big vet bills for the rescue group that is sponsoring Sandy. 

So I've been applying some Chlorhexiderm flush a couple of times every day, followed by some Dermalone antibiotic ointment. When I put it on, Sandy looks up at me with the sweetest little face. These are seriously some of her cutest moments.

Even better than that, the bald owie spot looks much better! The raw part has healed and the fur is starting to grow in across the bald part.

These occasions of successfully avoiding a trip to the vet through application of simple home remedies are moments of quiet triumph. Less stressful for the dog, cheaper for the human and the rescue group, and a learning experience for all concerned.

Interested in adopting Sandy? Email peacefuldog [at] yahoo [dot] com