A little hello, a little more personal news, a lot more light.

On Sunday, Billy and I were married at our home of seventeen years.  We had one guest:  Newt.



Just a Note

First, thank you to everyone who has stuck around while the blog is on hiatus.  I appreciate you, more than I can say.  I thought an update was in order since January is about to come to an end and I haven’t yet returned as I had hoped.  I still have the desire to blog, I am just uncertain as to when I will be in a position to act on it.  I am struggling with depression, unemployment and various other life circumstances which I know affect everyone at times.  I’ll get through but rather than set any deadline which I may not be able to meet regarding when I’ll be back here, I am simply going to put up another Open Thread after I post this note.  It is my intention to return, sooner rather than later, which I take as a good sign.  In the meantime, I am thinking of you and hoping.

With little to say, I find some small refuge in the words of others.

[The word balance] seems to speak as much to being stuck and immovable, as much as to harmony. There is also the sense of unbalancing that must take place in order to push a person into a new and larger set of circumstances.

— English poet and philosopher David Whyte

It’s been a hell of a year.  I haven’t been able to look at any stories of shelter pets being hurt or killed this week so I have nothing to write for the blog.  But I didn’t want to just go dark so I looked in my drafts folder to see if anything was swirling around and I found this.  I saved it one year ago.  I believe my intention at the time was to examine the quote in terms of its relevance to shelter reform.  Today, when I find myself lacking, I am glad to come across this quote and to observe its relevance in a different way.  I thought some of you might enjoy it too.

I realize this is not the type of post most of you come here to read.  In consideration of that, I won’t prattle on.  Suffice to say, I am lost and afraid and deeply saddened.  But I am not alone.  We are not alone.  The only thing I feel certain of right now, is the importance of remaining connected to one another.  This I know.  Stay together, no matter what.

jade 062914


Just a Note

…to say I haven’t fallen off this flat earth of ours and that I hope to be back to regular blogging very soon.  I’ve attempted to get a post started several times but nothing happens.  I think I just don’t have the stomach for writing about pets being needlessly killed by people who are supposed to be sheltering them right now.

We’ve had to euthanize three beloved family members in the past year and I guess I just need a little break from writing about people who do it for a job, despite the proven, lifesaving alternatives available to them.  If there had been any proven, lifesaving alternatives available to us when we’ve been faced with euthanasia decisions for any of our pets, we would have been all over them.  I find I am grieving for the loss of my own pets and all the others whose lives were snuffed at so-called shelters – pets whose owners wanted them back, pets who were in between owners, pets who had the right to live and love and be loved.

I’ll be back.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next week.  I will continue to tell the stories of those who deserved so much better than to be put in the dumpster.  I can’t bring them back of course, but I can raise hell about it.  More.

A Sense of Belonging

Some of you may remember the story of a Boston man who was walking his dog in January when he was struck by a school bus.  The dog was killed and the man was seriously injured.  Many people were touched by the tragedy and the students on the bus were met by counselors when they finally arrived at school that day.

Today, the Boston Globe reported the rest of the story including background on the man, Jeff Schwartz, his dog Buddy, and the numerous obstacles Jeff has faced since losing his leg in the accident.  You might be tempted to skip the article for fear of it being too depressing but I would encourage everyone to read it.  It is a harrowing tale to be sure but it is peppered throughout with inspiration and hope, revolving around the special bond we share with our pets.

Pets are so many things to us.  Pets are our motivation to battle adversity, our source of comfort, and our sense of home.  When Jeff awoke from his month-long coma, he was unable to speak but could hold a pen, although writing was difficult.  He wrote down two questions for his wife who was at his bedside:

Where do we live, and did Buddy survive?

In that moment, Jeff’s sense of home was so limited that he could not even remember where he lived.  But he remembered Buddy.  Perhaps it was because memories can be dodgy in patients who awake from a coma but possibly there was something more at play:  a house is a physical structure which keeps the wind off, a pet is part of your identity.  A missing limb can be inquired about later.  Pets are family.  We belong.

Due to the physical limitations and setbacks which occurred during Jeff’s lengthy recovery, he was unable to care for a new dog as soon as he wanted one.  Amidst progress and despite the challenges, he and his wife recently decided to go ahead and adopt a dog from an area rescue which pulls pets from southern pounds.  Her name is Mandy.  Jeff has a walking partner again.  And so much more.

Mandy is reportedly shy and doesn’t like most men.  She would make a likely candidate for killing at many pounds based on those traits alone.  Or she might have been killed for space or because her mandatory holding period had expired or any other arbitrary reason.  But it is Mandy’s natural birthright to live.  And it was her destiny to help provide a sense of identity to Jeff.

For anyone working in a so-called shelter to violate Mandy’s right to live and rob her of her destiny should be a crime.  Instead it’s standard operating procedure at far too many public facilities.  That needs to change.  Lives are at risk – precious lives of all varieties interwoven with one another.  The fact that these needless killings are happening by the millions each year diminishes our collective identity.  The sense of loss is palpable.  What is needed though, in spite of the horror, is for it to be motivational too.  Start here.


Sun came out today, water in the yard has been absorbed, several trees down – mostly small, except for this one:

The kennels today (at least I assume they are under this monstrous tree).

Kennels today (at least I assume they are under this monstrous tree).

For comparison purposes:

Wendy in 2013. Empty kennel runs in the background.

Wendy in 2013. Empty kennel runs in the background.

We are very fortunate to have come through relatively unscathed.  Lives have been tragically lost and homes, businesses and infrastructure throughout the state have been seriously damaged. But as usual, the irresponsible public steps up to help.  Love those guys.

Thank you for all the kind thoughts.  I have not heard of any organization specifically helping pets displaced by the floods but they have repeatedly said on the news that the shelters (for humans) take pets.  Anyone wishing to make a donation to aid flood victims in SC can visit the SC Emergency Management Division website.

Discussion: How Do You Cope?

A search term which led someone to the blog last week.

A search term which led someone to the blog recently.

Snipped from an email received from reader Renate:

Subject: How do you cope?
From: Renate
Date: Tue, August 11, 2015 8:13 pm

There is one thing I’ve been wanting to ask you: How do you cope with the relentless stream of bad news and downright evil reported from the animal world? I sometimes feel like I cannot stand another report about a kill shelter abusing the animals in its care, assembly line killing, callous, indifferent and abusive employees and directors. I believe such shelters and pounds attract employees that are at best indifferent and at worst abusive to animals. Who like the feeling of power over life and death that it gives them. It’s so depressing.

In my reply, I mentioned a few of the tools and strategies I use: humor, taking breaks as frequently as needed, and reminding myself that the no kill movement continues to grow and succeed. But the exchange also got me thinking about our group as a whole. While each of us is focused on our own areas of animal advocacy, we all likely suffer from some form of stress related to this work and have developed coping strategies which may be useful to others.

So I am opening up the floor to everyone who wants to share what works for them – or even what doesn’t, which might be helpful information too. Anonymous comments are accepted, as always, but please feel welcome to use your name if you feel comfortable. This will be a safe place to discuss mental health issues related to animal advocacy and absolutely no shaming or other jerkass behavior will be tolerated.

If you are a U.S. resident in crisis and need to talk to someone by phone or online, visit this site.  Additional resources, including those in other countries, are available here.

Thoughts on Cecil

Regardless of where one falls on the rather broad spectrum of views on hunting, I think nearly everyone agrees that poachers – those who hunt animals illegally – are the worst of the worst.  Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer is a poacher, having plead guilty in 2008 to a felony related to a bear he illegally killed in Wisconsin.

Earlier this month, Palmer paid professional hunting guides $55,000 so he could go to Zimbabwe and kill a lion with a crossbow.  Palmer and his guides tied a dead animal to the back of their vehicle and scented an area just outside Hwange National Park to lure the lion out of the protected area at night.  The 13 year old lion, a beloved tourist attraction named Cecil who was wearing a GPS collar and being monitored by researchers from Oxford University, followed the scent out of the park and onto private property where Palmer lay in wait.  Palmer reportedly shot Cecil with an arrow and the lion fled in terror.  Palmer and his guides tracked the injured lion for 2 days and finally killed him with a rifle.  He then allegedly tried to destroy Cecil’s tracking collar, cut off his head and skinned him, leaving the headless, skinless remains to rot:

The hunt was illegal, according to Zimbabwe parks authorities, who say that the hunter and the landowner did not have permits to kill a lion. The landowner and professional guide accompanying Palmer will face court in early August for poaching charges[.]

Calls for the prosecution of Palmer have been swift and numerous.  In a statement, Palmer threw his guides under the bus and claimed he didn’t know Cecil was collared until after he finished killing him.  His statement fails to address why at that point he didn’t report the killing to authorities but instead went ahead with the beheading and skinning of Cecil.

Trophy hunting is big business and Americans make up the vast majority of trophy hunters.  Lion “trophies” get sent to the U.S. more than any other place in the world.  And some conservationists support trophy hunting as a means to manage and fund conservation efforts.

I don’t know if Walter Palmer is concerned about conservation work or whether he has ever used his money to help animals stay alive.  In researching this post, I found that in 2009, he paid $127,500 and agreed to undergo sexual harassment training to settle a claim filed against him by a female employee who said she “was subjected to verbal comments and physical conduct involving her breasts, buttocks, and genitalia.”  In 2012, he donated $5000 to the presidential election campaign of fellow animal abuser Mitt Romney.  I did not find any record of Palmer funding conservation efforts directly.

Whether one supports or condemns trophy hunting, it is legal and will continue to take place, courtesy of rich Americans mostly.  Poaching of course is illegal but it too will continue so long as there is someone with cash in hand.  On Monday, under cover of darkness, poachers killed an adult female elephant and 4 of her offspring in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, hacked off their tusks then escaped on motorcycles.  The story barely made the news.

In the midst of all the back and forth over the sinister killing of Cecil, many people have been deeply moved.  Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel choked up on live television when talking about the story.  An interview with Ernest Small, an academic who specializes in biodiversity revealed that, despite understanding the science behind the emotional reaction to Cecil’s death, even he feels upset:

“I was disgusted frankly. If there was a lynch mob I’d probably join it,” he said, acknowledging the irony.

Our relationship with animals is complicated.  I don’t have any particular wisdom to impart regarding Cecil and I am just as sad and angry as everyone else.  I don’t think that signing a petition or making a donation is going to make me feel better although I’m certainly not opposed to either.  Being human is a heavy burden and a great responsibility.  Animals have always made that burden easier for me and in return, I try to be as compassionate and respectful as possible.  It’s not enough and it doesn’t negate the Walter Palmers of the world, but it’s something.  And something beats the hell out of nothing any day of the week.  Where there’s life, there’s hope.

Cecil with a lioness.  (Photo by Brent  Stapelkamp)

Cecil with a lioness. (Photo by Brent Stapelkamp)

Discussion: How Have Pets Helped Make Your Community Better?

SnoopyA recently published study in Australia found that pets help connect people within communities:

“We found that people who had a pet were more likely, than those who didn’t own a pet, to get to know people in their neighbourhood that they didn’t know before,” says [Associate Professor Lisa Wood from the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health], adding that people from all walks of life were brought together.

“The great thing about pets is they are a really great leveller.”

And it went beyond pets breaking the ice and leading to a simple wave or a chat.

“Having a pet can actually lead to more meaningful relationships between people,” says Wood.

She and colleagues found 42 per cent of pet owners received practical or emotional support from others they had met through their pets.

And a more tightly knit community benefits everyone:

If you’ve got a street where dog owners help each other, they may be more likely to keep an eye on others in the street as well, whether they own pets or not, says Wood.

“There seems to be a ripple effect.”

What are your experiences?  Have you received support from someone in your community whom you met via a pet?  Do you perceive a ripple effect within your community stemming from relationships established via pets?  What other community benefits have you observed which you believe originated from the presence of pets?  Does your local shelter maintain a strong presence in the community in order to protect and promote animal welfare and the subsequent benefits to people?

Olympic Animal Sanctuary is No More

(Note:  This post is going to be uncharacteristic in a few ways:  It’s long, perhaps a little scattered and based on the assumption that readers know the back story.)

I want to start by addressing a few issues that I think have been widely misunderstood regarding Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, WA.  For one, many people have expressed concern that some of the dogs at OAS did not have sufficient access to water.  A dog denied access to water will generally die after several days, depending on various conditions, so obviously the dogs at OAS had access to water.  Furthermore, since most owners do not feed a raw diet, they are likely unaware that raw fed dogs drink significantly less water than kibble fed dogs.  Just because an owner is accustomed to seeing his kibble fed dog lap up bowl after bowl of water every day, it doesn’t mean the raw fed dogs at OAS needed that same amount of water.

In addition, feeding large meals of raw food and then fasting the dog the following day is a method practiced by some raw feeders (see “Gorge and Fast”).  Although there was significant concern expressed over the typed report from the Forks police department that indicated the dogs were fed 3 times a week, an examination of the handwritten notes presumably made during the officer’s visit to OAS reveal a more accurate picture:

Portion of the typed report from the Forks PD, November 2012

Portion of the typed report from the Forks PD, November 2012

Portion of the handwritten notes attached to the Forks PD report, November 2012

Portion of the handwritten notes attached to the Forks PD report, November 2012

The handwritten notes appear to indicate OAS dogs were being fed 3 large raw meals a week, presumably followed by a day of fasting, and being supplemented with Merrick canned food, cases of which were photographed and included with the report.  Thin dogs were apparently being fed daily.  This seems to be a sound feeding plan and not indicative of animal abuse.

The main issues at OAS to my mind were the number of dogs relative to the facility’s resources and that some of the dogs were living in crates.  Many people accused Steve Markwell, owner of OAS, of being a hoarder.  A local reporter who visited OAS on short notice in April of this year wrote:

The dogs inside the building, housed mostly in back-to-back kennels in the main center of the room, greeted us with a cacophony of barks. Some snarled, a few cowered, and some perked up and jockeyed for friendly attention. The room was bright and not as smelly as I had expected considering Olympic Animal Sanctuary is home to 128 dogs. Each kennel had fresh water, a bowl of kibble, and straw-lined flooring. Most of the dogs were paired in the kennels, but some were alone. The single-dog kennels were 5-by-5 feet, and the doubles were twice that size. Many of the dogs were chewing on turkey neck treats.

On the periphery there were dogs in crates, some stacked two high. Some of these areas were unlit, squalid, and through my human eyes disturbing. Many of the dogs from these crates were the most vicious barkers, and they made it clear they did not want human attention. Markwell explained that many of the crated dogs have severe problems, such as intense resource guarding, severe fear of and/or aggression toward other dogs, or paralyzing fear of open exposure. His ultimate goal is to work with them until they are able to be moved into kennels.


We asked Markwell how often the dogs get outdoor time in the other yards. He said for the ones who want to go outside he gives them shifts (optimally once a day) as often as he can manage, which is less lately because of his lack of staff help due to money troubles. Other dogs, he explained, cower and run for cover if placed outside. These are the dogs so traumatized they feel frightened and vulnerable in exposed situations—the ones in the crates. “This is something that many people have difficulty understanding. Many damaged dogs come in agoraphobic. They want to hide. People see crated dogs and they think it’s cruel, but it is what these dogs choose,” said Markwell.

Allowing in members of the public on short notice to look around and take photographs is not behavior indicative of a hoarder.  Repeatedly expressing a desire for help and admitting that the sanctuary had too many animals (as seen in the typed police report snippet above as well as the one below) is also not indicative of hoarding.

Portion of Forks PD report, November 2012

Portion of Forks PD report, November 2012

Further evidence that dogs were not being hoarded at OAS is the fact that the number of dogs was reduced.  This is the opposite of hoarding.  This is a sound solution to a desperate situation.  But the numbers weren’t reduced quickly enough to satisfy what grew into an angry mob.  Steve was publicly labeled an animal abuser and the campaign to shut him down was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed in animal welfare.

Having read through the 450 pages of publicly available documents in the OAS case, it strikes me that Steve perhaps fell into the same situation that many rescuers do – stretching resources beyond their breaking point while trying to save lives.  Although it isn’t a topic widely discussed, there are some dogs and cats who are “rescued” by rescue groups and put into long term boarding situations which basically amount to life in a cage.  I call this the Black Hole of Rescue.  We don’t tend to hear about these situations until an official investigation is opened by legal authorities or some similar circumstance.  But it goes on all across the country and is more common than we’d like to think.

The dogs who fall into this Black Hole of Rescue have no meaningful social interaction with people or other dogs and receive little or no exercise.  Rescuers attempt to justify the quality of life of these dogs by telling themselves it’s temporary and it’s better than death.  The fact is, if shelter directors would start doing their jobs and stop killing animals, rescuers would not feel this overwhelming pressure to say yes to “just one more” animal when they have no resources and are unable to provide a reasonable quality of life.

While I make absolutely no claim to speak for Steve Markwell, it seems apparent to me via public documents that he may have justified dogs living in crates by telling himself it was temporary and it was better than death.  Throughout the public documents, he continually references his hopes and plans for expansion of the sanctuary.  He also states he knows he has more dogs than he can care for, that he wants to reduce the number and that he needs additional help.  He reiterates his primary concern that the dogs’ right to live not be compromised by anyone who takes them.  This does not indicate hoarding or animal abuse to me but rather someone who stretched himself too thin and is at a loss to correct the situation as quickly and efficiently as circumstance warrant.

Should Steve have stopped saying yes to “just one more” dog long before he had dogs living in crates?  Of course – as should all rescuers.  The fact that he didn’t stop saying yes is not indicative of a desire to hurt animals but rather places him in the exact same category as many rescuers operating today.  Some of those rescuers who have become overwhelmed with animals and recognize they need help are perhaps less likely to come forward and seek it in light of the lynch mob that pursued Steve Markwell, sending him, his mother and his friends violent threats.

It is a tragedy of epic proportions that we kill shelter animals for convenience in this country.  One of the human costs of this tragedy is the horrifying burden borne by rescuers who feel powerless to turn away from sentient beings in need when doing so will result in their death at the hands of those who should be protecting them.  This is one of the reasons I devote the bulk of this blog to shelter reform – it’s needed for pets and for people.  I care about both.

In addition to shelter reform, rescuers need to develop additional resources for handling dogs with aggression issues.  When rescues make a business of pulling dogs with unknown behavior histories from shelters, they are bound to get some with aggression issues.  Too many groups are unprepared for dealing with these issues and there are precious few sanctuaries for these dogs.  And now, there is one less.

When Steve had been pushed to the point of willingly giving up his life’s passion, he reached out to Best Friends for help, stating they were the only organization qualified to handle the type of dogs in his care.  A multi-million dollar sanctuary which appears to do an excellent job of providing a good quality of life to even the most aggressive dogs, Best Friends failed the OAS dogs.  Their response to Steve’s request for help was a non-starter and included the following condition:

“In our opinion and professional judgment, the best chance for ensuring the welfare of the dogs is for Mr. Markwell to open wide the doors of the facility and allow all qualified organizations to help immediately and unconditionally.”

In summary, BFAS was requiring that Mr. Markwell allow in anyone who calls themselves “qualified”, even if they were there because a pet psychic told them a dog at OAS said he wants to die. There appeared to be no standards for determining which groups were “qualified” to help in this unique situation and no one designated to make that determination.

BFAS was apparently requiring Mr. Markwell to unconditionally accept whatever these “qualified” organizations were willing to offer, even if it included killing the dogs. There did not appear to be any protections in place for the dogs in the BFAS response as far as protecting the dogs’ right to live.  I wrote to Best Friends seeking clarification on these issues but my letter was ignored.  BFAS quickly determined they would not be offering any help to the dogs at OAS.

Like the vast majority of people who have been following this story, I have never been to OAS or met Steve in person.  But I did work closely with him by phone for several days in 2011 when he helped us save a dog who had been abused at the Memphis pound.  Steve’s compassion impressed me and his commitment touched me deeply.  There are few people in life with whom I feel a personal connection and despite our relatively short amount of time spent together – long distance, Steve is one of those people.

When the powers that be in Memphis were turning cartwheels, making every effort to frustrate us in our endeavor to save Mario, Steve talked us through the situation.  MAS had us sign the paperwork to adopt Mario then dropped the bomb that we would have to get the feral dog out of the cage ourselves and none of the trained shelter staff would help.  If we failed, they would kill him.  Steve called and spoke with the MAS vet in order to plead for assistance in sedating Mario so he could be safely removed from the cage by rescuers.  She outright refused but Steve never gave up hope.  He spent all day on the phone, continually offering suggestions and working to prevent MAS from killing Mario.  At one particularly low point when it seemed like all our options were exhausted, Steve said, “Well we’ve done the paperwork and that has to count for something.  I want my dog.”  It was a profound moment for me.  This man, who surely had other things to do than to spend all day trying to throw a cog into the Memphis killing machine for a feral dog he’d never met, was committed to saving this dog’s life.  Eventually, with help from so many wonderful people, Mario was saved.  I will stand by Steve, anytime he is willing to have my support.

As for the dogs who have now been relinquished by Steve, it is my sincere hope that their right to live will be respected by anyone who takes them.  There are relatively few people with sufficient resources and expertise to handle aggressive dogs, which is how so many ended up at OAS, and I hope none of the dogs are killed.  The dogs have been pawns in this witch hunt game when they should have been the primary consideration.  Now the chips will fall and I hope an improved quality of life is provided to every single animal, in line with Steve’s vision for OAS.

I will close with three Olympic Animal Sanctuary videos that show Steve doing what he excels at – helping aggressive dogs.  As is evident in these videos, Steve’s skills are genuine and unique.  It pains me to think that these skills might be lost to the animal welfare community now.  And it pains me even more to know how that was orchestrated by hateful people who sought to tear someone down when he asked for help.  The rescue world is less today than it was yesterday.  I am sometimes ashamed to be human and this is one of those times.  But I am resolved to learn from this situation and to offer assistance whenever possible to good people who have become overwhelmed with too many rescue animals.  If you are in this situation, you will find a friend in me.  Let me know how I can help you.