Choose… but choose wisely.

28 11 2010

It seems as though we were just celebrating the 4th of July and with a blink of an eye Thanksgiving has now passed. For dogs in shelters and at rescue sites, their days are not measured by watching fire works or eating turkey and pumpkin pie surrounded by family and friends. For some, life in a private no kill rescue, where they are guaranteed a safe haven until the day they are adopted, can be a reprieve from an uncertain, dangerous life on the streets, or worse if they were freed from abuse in a household. For many dogs in shelters, their stay is temporary at best as they are only granted days before they become a statistic. With approximately 1000 animals being put to death every day in Los Angeles county, time is of the essence as room is made for new animals coming in. In either case, long term, loving homes are the wish of every person working tirelessly to save dog’s lives and grant them the benefits of home; rescued dogs are often the most loyal unconditionally affectionate companions one will ever find. But, the holidays do pose a bit of a quandary for these beautiful, deserving creatures. Impulse and emotionally charged adopting can prove disasterous; buying animals as gifts on a whim can often feel good at the time, but does little to eradicate the overwhelming homeless pet population because when bad matches are made, bad things can happen, and animals are either back in rescue world or worse, they are killed.

When contemplating adopting an animal from a rescue organization or shelter, it is imperative that families understand at the core the committment that is required from day one. Even if you attend an adoption event put on by a local rescue organization, where animals go to their new homes that day thinking ahead to what kind of animal would fit best into the family is a step that gives a successful pairing better odds. If other animals are in the household, it is best to be able to have the new animal meet his or her new companions to be sure everyone gets along; or have training set up to assist in the transition. Understanding the needs of the animal being considered and the lifestyle you currently have is also key. Placing unrealistic expectations on a dog only leads to an unhappy ending. Be sure to know the rules of your living environment; dogs can live comfortably in apartments as long as they get adequate exercise during the course of the day, and be sure to understand and follow any restrictions that may be enforced.(Sometimes there are weight or sound restrictions in community-based dwellings.) Spaying and neutering the new member of the family also insures no unnecessary indiscriminate breeding will occur; this simple act can positively impact the need to decrease the homeless pet population. The truth is, thousands upon thousands of animals are waiting for the day when someone chooses them. When someone opens their heart and home, realizing the immeasurable daily gifts these animals will bestow upon them. It is a wonderful thing and during the season of giving it is often a good time to stop and consider providing an animal in need with all the benefits of a home they can call their own. The message here in not “don’t choose;” rather choose wisely.


You can keep your dog or cat during tough financial times

23 10 2010

For many pet owners, the notion of abandoning a much-loved dog or cat is so foreign, people are allowed to be desensitized to this unfathomable reality because they feel it doesn’t effect them. That would only be for the cruel, insensitive or ignorant, right? Well, with the economic devastation that placed a choke- hold on our nation a couple of years ago and still has a mighty grip, it has been an all too common occurence for people to part with their pets out of desperation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As people are losing their homes and struggling to find ways to make ends meet, dogs and cats are sometimes seen as a burden to bear; one more mouth to feed, or another dependent with potential medical needs. The naked truth is pets help people cope with stress, can positively impact physical and emotional well-being in their owners and can help loved ones better deal with a myriad of challenges, so they should stay within the family if at all possible. The crises too will pass, and when it does, the family, including the animal will have remained intact. In cities all over the country, many organizations are rising to the occasion to help address this gut-wrenching quandry. People devoted to their pets can find free resources to help them keep their families together through very difficult times.

An organization in Northeast Ohio, called: PAX: Peace for Animals is an example of a pet food bank within the established confines of a traditional food bank. Those in need can find food for their animals, and also receive supplies, and in some cases referrals for additional social services. Save Our Pets Food Bank is another example of a group addressing the need for pets to stay within their families, and offers free food to defray that cost where money is tight. Other groups around the country can be found on the internet, through veterinary clinics and other community outreach venues.

The economy has been an unrelentless quagmire of confusion, loss, fear, and indecision; our pets can sometimes be the most healing sources we could ever find to handle the myriad of unknowns during the most challenging of times. Free resources are becoming more and more available to address the needs of families with pets; it is even more common to find living environments that are pet friendly as opposed to even five years ago. If you are faced with financial devastation and fear you must give up your dog or cat, think again. There is help- your animals stay home and you benefit immeasurably from all that they know how to give.

The Legacy of Katrina with a dog named Bruce

28 08 2010

As the five year anniversary of Katrina has just passed, my thoughts went to a man named Al and his companion, a Golden Retriever, Bruce. I was honored to write about them in my book, UNDERDOGS: Valuable Information and Stories of Transformation. (The book is of course available at,, and can be ordered at any book store.) I have included an excerpt of their compelling story here, and the rest can be found in UNDERDOGS.

Al Sinabaldi of New Orleans, Louisiana, walked to his mailbox on a beautiful spring day and thought all he would bring back to his house were some letters and bills. What he found instead, was a beautiful Golden Retriever standing there as though waiting for this elderly yet active and gentle man. The happy spirited dog, approximately four years old, stood staring up at the kind gentleman as if to say, “Looking for a dog?” With his shiny, full coat, Al assumed the dog must have been cared for by someone, but he wore no tags or collar. The two strolled back to the home Al shared with his wife, Joy; Al’s heart racing at the idea of this lovable companion, but he knew his first responsibility was to search for the dog’s current owners. Al placed an ad in the daily newspaper for a month but no one stepped forward. The connection that started twenty nine days earlier had gotten the green light to flourish.

Al and Joy welcomed Bruce into their home like an old friend who had always been with them. Bruce joined Al on their daily sojourns to the mailbox, splashed and jumped playfully into his water bowl and generally enamored everyone who met him. A skilled carpenter, who was known as his neighborhood handyman, Al built Bruce a fabulous roomy dog house complete with a heater. Bruce, much like the comic strip Snoopy, spent more time standing on top of it than sleeping inside. He was an indoor dog who yearned to be with Al; steadfast comrades, they made life better just by being in one another’s company.

Since life with Bruce was so easy and carefree, Al decided to get another dog. Duke, an eight week old Dalmation, joined the family, but over time it was clear that Duke did not have Bruce’s peaceful nature. He was jealous, and his perception as second in line to the title of top dog didn’t sit well with him; Al did not trust Duke to play amicably with Bruce in the yard. Duke became a well- tended outdoor dog, and Bruce laid claim to the man who had lit up at the sight of him a few years before. In the summer of 1999, Al’s beloved Joy died after over forty nine years of marriage. The depth of Al’s devastation was muted, in part, by Bruce’s presence. He was an anchor of affection helping Al navigate through raging seas of loss.

After Joy died, Al continued involvement in his church teaching students at the vacation bible school how to make things with their hands. When his heart had healed significantly, he took dance lessons and insisted all of his prospective dance partners first meet Bruce. His motto was: “Like me, love my Bruce.” Al continued to take excellent care of both Duke and Bruce, including veterinary check-ups, shots and heartworm medications. Al noticed Bruce’s eyesight seemed to be failing when he was nine years old. The doctors confirmed he had inherited a degenerative eye disease that would unfortunately lead to blindness. Al asked for an operation for Bruce but none existed. He settled for giving him a medication everyday to slow the onset of the blindness, making special meatballs so the pill-taking routine would be tasty rather than dreaded.

In August of 2005, the storm called Katrina was threatening the lives and livelihoods of those in Al’s neighborhood. Having worked for the Sewerage & Water Board for over twenty five years, responsible for pumping out water during Hurricane Camille in 1969, Al didn’t think the city would ever flood. He took notice when his friends and family members urged him to evacuate along with them while the storm was still out at sea, but he wanted to stay in his beloved home with his dogs. A neighbor recalls a conversation with Al, before the storm hit, when he expressed that maybe he should have put Duke in a separate crate in the car with Bruce and evacuated; he would consider handling it differently next time. Then the frenzied winds blew, and torrents of rain washed over New Orleans. After the storm had quieted, neighbors recalled seeing Al starting his car, inspecting the wind damage, and no doubt counting his blessings that he, Bruce and Duke had all survived the hurricane. The unforgiving rains collected endlessly in basins not meant for such volume and force. The strained levees would defy Al’s prophecy; the city would be overwhelmed with flooding.

One will never know the fear Al experienced as the water rose and his options ran out. He placed Duke in the garage, hoping to keep him safe, but Bruce remained at his side. Al put his life vest on, pulled the attic steps down and used a hatchet to help him break through the ceiling. He put out food and water for Bruce. Al did what he could to escape the peril of his situation, but he also cared for his cherished companions in case he did not survive.
As teams of people came into the city in the aftermath of the storm to rescue people from roof tops and the sodden insides of their homes, Al’s daughters, friends and neighbors assumed he was freed from his waterlogged prison with Bruce in tow. Several days later, and with no answers from the search and rescue teams about whether Al had been rescued, Al’s family decided to take matters into their own hands. Al’s other daughter Cherylyn who lived in Georgia volunteered to drive down to see if they could find Al. She and her husband George sneaked into her father’s neighborhood before the road blocks went up. It was a war zone, destruction at every turn, and people were being discouraged from entering the area. Her eyes were met by a large red X on the outside of Al’s dwelling, indicating that the house had been searched and no bodies were found. Since Al was known to protect his house by boarding it up during past hurricanes, Cherylyn knew that no search and rescue teams had ever set foot in the house since all of Al’s safeguards were still intact.

Cherylyn and George furiously pulled plywood off of the windows, broke the glass and made their way into the home. Their senses were assaulted by the heat, smell, and broken furniture. It was nothing compared to the image Cherylyn will carry with her, the sight of her father, almost unrecognizable by then. He had likely died of a heart attack. The water had only risen to about three feet, and Al was a good swimmer; he just never had the chance to test his skills. Al, as ever, was not alone. By his side, with an oily sheen on his normally glistening coat, was a sad and fearful Bruce. With his failing sight, Bruce might not have known what happened to Al, but the intuition of a dog is stronger than its five senses. Duke did not survive the storm and was later laid to rest in the backyard that had been his home for many years.

No one had come to find Al. He had died in his cherished home while his trusted dog stayed near him, very much alive, waiting for help to come. Numbed by the events of the day, and uncertain whether she could safely accommodate Bruce on their thirteen hour trip back to Georgia in a cramped camper, Cherylyn made the decision to call the animal rescue in the area to come and get Bruce. Food and water were left for Al’s dog with the hope that the rescue would act quickly. It would be several more days before Bruce would be escorted out of the hellish existence he had endured for far too long.

The story of Bruce is just beginning.. the rest can be found in UNDERDOGS.

UNDERDOGS: Information and Celebration

9 05 2010

“One day, when I get a house with a big yard, I want to adopt a dog.” “Why are you trying to adopt out that Pit bull?” “I had a dog but I had to move so he had to go to the shelter.” And so opens the foreword of my book, UNDERDOGS: Valuable Information and Stories of Transformation. The seeds of the book were planted when I was helping to conduct mobile adoptions on the weekends for a respected dog rescue in California, known for taking in dogs with “issues.” I learned that with proper training and owner commitment, most dogs can integrate into families when a well-considered match is made. A one size fits all dog does not exist, so choosing welll is essential. But, even if the match is not made in heaven, resources are available now more than ever to help us keep our canine family members. It was surprising to discover that even when people have paid money to engage in training, both for themselves and their dog, frequently the new tools are left behind. When the same behaviors that became unacceptable in the first place continue in the home, it is the dog that is surrendered.

UNDERDOGS was written in part to illustrate how dogs really end up in rescues- so often through the decisions and choices made by human beings, and to offer useful information to assist in protecting dogs we might adopt, those we already love, and those in the community. Understanding the ways in which our dogs might be at risk, how some laws have changed, designed to garner greater protection for our animals, as well as hands on tips to make good proactive decisions for our pets are just some of the elements found in UNDERDOGS that will keep dogs out of shelters and rescues. Shockingly, this can happen even if it is unintentional; the chapter that exposes Class B dealers who steal small dogs for use in laboratory testing is an example of this. The dogs featured in the book symbolize counterparts all over the world that have found themselves in similar hopeless situations, but UNDERDOGS is at the heart, a celebration of the immeasurable value that can come when adoption is done well. It reminds us no matter how bleak the future looks, change can come. A new reality might only be a moment away.

In some cases, rescue life is a reprieve from the life a dog is living; abuse and neglect of animals is unacceptable, and sometimes no matter how much someone loves a dog, they may just feel they no longer have the means to adequately take care of their pet. Private rescue organizations provide safety, shelter, opportunities for socialization, foster homes, and even training so the dog’s chances of finding a long term home increase. It is important to me that people who devote their lives to providing a second chance for worthy animals receive the credit they deserve. Seeing images of dogs in cages waiting to be chosen, knowing the painful journeys so many have taken, can leave us saddened, tearful and wanting to help in some way. I am hoping that UNDERDOGS will offer one opportunity.

Much More Than Me is Green

13 03 2010

Much More Than Me is not the first company to make the connection between adopting dogs and cats already here on this earth and being “eco-friendly,” but we feel it is an important message to share. Being “green,” has become a buzz phrase that encompasses anything from consciously shutting off the lights in one’s house, buying organic or locally grown food to finding alternative sources of energy that will not continue to deplete the planet’s resources. We feel being socially conscious, fair-minded, compassionate, accepting of others, and backing all of that up with action, also bodes well for the betterment of the planet.

With our newest shirt, we want to advocate that caring for the needs of others, giving back to our loved ones or communities, and granting a better life to animals already born into this world, but left to uncertainty, is as important to our environment as other more tangible practices of being “green.” We have made the choice to align with companies such as American Apparel and Alternative Apparel, both of whom take pride in implementing ethically sound practices on behalf of their employees, and environmentally sound use of materials and products. The safety, health and dignity of their workers is key, and the use of organic, recycled materials and low impact dyes make these companies examples of pragmatic ways to conduct eco-friendly businesses. Our new shirt does have organic and recycled materials, but our message is what drives us.

When considering bringing an animal into your home, we would like to encourage people to look to those already here in rescues and shelters; some may have known love for a time in their lives but deserve the chance to be loved again. For others, they were bred and then abandoned. Spaying and neutering animals is not only the law in places like Los Angeles, it is a simple step that could drastically curb the homeless pet population. So, if you are interested in caring more for our environment, consider adopting an animal and creating a reciprocal joy that will be sustainable.

No place like home

10 01 2010

Recently, I received an anxious plea about a lost dog. We were asked to send the e-mails about Foxy around to as many people as we could. Fortunately, this little terrier mix was found two doors away from his foster home, and he is now receiving some tender loving care; hopes of adoption still alive and well. Most of us have seen the face of a dog or cat staring back at us from a homemade flyer posted on a telephone pole, stop sign, maybe even on the grocery store bulletin board, and our hearts break for the people who are no doubt filled with worry at the prospect facing their lost pet. Actually, there is some good news in all of this. Prevention is key, and technology has breathed new life into the possibilities of a pet returning home. Here are some things to think about to prevent losing a pet, and some suggestions to bring him home should the unthinkable happen.
• If the gap at the bottom of a fence or gate in a yard is too high, it is an excellent escape route for a small dog, as well as a simple way for a dog to be taken by someone with ill intentions. It isn’t always whether the dog would run out, it is if it could get out that way. Be proactive. Be sure a fence is either to the ground or within an inch or two to keep a small Fido in the yard safely.
• A sloppy latch to a gate or door that doesn’t close securely may not be a problem for a human being, but for a larger dog, intent on getting out, it is an easy route to the outside world. People often think the gate is barrier enough and do not realize what a dog is capable of maneuvering, especially when motivated!
• Class B Dealers are on the look-out for small dogs, such as beagles, to sell into laboratory testing. They look for innocent pups that are sitting unsupervised, where access is relatively simple. If a dog is left outside, be sure it is in close proximity and can be viewed often from inside the house.
• Tying up dogs outside retail establishments or restaurants may seem innocent enough, but it only takes seconds for a dog to be untied or taken, thus becoming lost, possibly for good.
• Know the core personality of your dog and be one step ahead. No matter how much your dog loves you, if he wants to chase a squirrel within an inch of his life, be certain he is securely enclosed in an outdoor surrounding so he does not have the opportunity to get out while doing so. Training a dog with a need to run is also an excellent way to insure he won’t fly out the front door when it is opened; a frantic chase ensuing and flyers about a lost dog the end result.
Ways to assist in retrieving a lost pet:
• Be sure the animal is wearing identification. It is the first thing someone will look for if they find a dog or cat wandering the streets.
• Have the animal micro-chipped. It is a relatively inexpensive injection at the back of the neck that allows almost immediate identification and contact information should a pet become lost. The tiny device lasts the pet’s lifetime, and can be an excellent way to reunite a lost animal with his loved ones. Most shelters or veterinary clinics have a scanner capable of reading the microchip.
• Make sure to have a current photo of your pet in case a poster needs to be distributed.

Dogs don’t make good gifts…….

23 11 2009

Twenty one years ago, I walked into the Humane Society in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my husband Jim, in search of a dog for my sister, Geri. We had decided she needed a companion at that time in her life; a busy attorney, we had determined she needed more balance in her life; a reason to go home that would hopefully nudge her off of the work treadmill she was myopically focused on. When I reflect back, I think, how arrogant of us to have made such an important determination for her, however, the forward-thinking Humane Society held us to a standard that turned a well-intended idea into a firm commitment- on our part. We chose a gray and white Australian shepherd, Border collie mix, but we were told back then it would be far better for us to give my sister a gift certificate, and to let her make this life-decision for herself. I was so convinced getting the dog was a good idea, we agreed to sign a paper that acknowledged if it did not work out with Geri, we agreed to care for the dog. We took that contract very seriously, fully prepared to take on the responsibility of another dog, a companion to our already firmly established fur child, Rafferty.

The holidays provide the perfect backdrop for some of the most disastrous gift-giving scenarios involving dogs one can imagine. What is more precious that a new puppy under a Christmas tree? What brings a smile to the face of a child more than a wagging tail and wet doggy kisses? Many programs exist on a national level promoting dog adoption at this time of year. The goal is well-intentioned and in some cases, bringing a deserving rescue animal home to a loving, lasting environment can be a dream come true for all involved. The truth is, dogs cannot be impulse items. They cannot be spur-of-the-moment decisions. No matter how adorable the face of a dog is as it stares back from an internet site, or from a cage at a shelter, or despite how hard one’s heartstrings are tugged upon when hearing about a dog’s sad circumstances, it doesn’t serve the animal well if the commitment being made is not unwavering. The holidays are a feel good time; people often go into debt just so they can be sure presents abound during the month of December; but it is important to keep in mind that the gift of an animal’s life need not fall into the “feel good” category. Long-term and well-considered responsibility at the time of adoption, despite the ups and downs life may present down the line, will result in the gift that keeps on giving.

Dogs, in my opinion, are pretty close to the most perfect creatures placed on this earth, and I join legions of people who want to see volumes of dogs adopted this time of year and all year round; but they deserve the best of ourselves. If you know of someone who might benefit from a dog, buy a certificate for the dog of their choice, or give money with the expressed purpose of adopting a dog. If a friend or family member has decided to get a dog, offer money for the accessories that will be needed to care for the animal, or go to a store and buy some of the items for them. If you have decided this is the time of year to adopt a dog, research the kind of dog that will fit in best with your lifestyle and that of your family. (A toy Poodle may not be the best choice for a jogging partner no matter how cute she is!) Once the decision to adopt a dog is made, the right match can be made by any number of excellent rescue organizations, some breed specific, or city shelters just waiting for thoughtful, loving families to contact them. As for Ali, the dog we purchased for Geri, it was a match made in heaven and lasted over sixteen years. We might have gotten lucky but we also knew what an animal-lover Geri was and we had a back-up plan to insure Ali would never go back to rescue life. Ali left a wonderful legacy; Geri and her son Sam now have two cats, TJ and Rico. (and we had nothing to do with it!)
Written by, Caryn Casey