What the Walker Wants

For the past few months I’ve been working with a local dog walking company. It’s been a rather interesting experience. My initial motivation was simply that I had never hired or worked for a dog walking company and yet at the shelter we constantly told people to use them when they worked the usual 60-80 workweeks that are so common in the District. This seemed as good a chance as any to learn and the best way to learn would be to work.

 

It’s definitely enlightened me and changed how I speak about dog walking. I adore the dogs I’ve gotten to know and have some clients who are truly wonderful human beings.  Recently, when advising a friend about how to find a good walker for her new dog, I realized I had some basic advice beyond “ask your local humane society” and “look for good reviews online.” If you’d like some of that advice, read on!

Three Questions to Ask When Choosing a Company

1. Ask about any training walkers receive, and how walkers respond to “problem” behaviors. One friend was appalled to come home early from work one day and find her walker alpha rolling her 6 month old lab mix. When she asked the walker why she felt it necessary to roll the dog and hold her down with her foot, the walker said “she was jumping and mouthing.” Needless to say, my friend immediately requested a new walker. She had assumed any responsible professional knew not to alpha roll and so hadn’t asked about it. Now, she not only asks about positive reinforcement, but then tries to see if the company has any exceptions. She asks how walkers are taught to handle dogs who jump or mouth. Then, assuming the company has referenced an appropriate response (such as crossing arms, turning, and calmly waiting for the dog to settle), she asks about client-requested negative methods such as shock or prong collars. Her theory is that a company might lie on the first aspect to sound good, but likely will give an honest answer on the second. If the company doesn’t politely say they’d tell any such owner a firm no, she thanks them for their time and talks with another company. You don’t want all your hard work training your dog to respond to your positive-based training to go to waste because your walker was impatient and ill-informed.

2. Ask how much walkers are paid. It can be very different from what you’re paying the company. Another friend had no idea how much management made off of each walk. Not that it’s a bad thing for management to make money, but she said she was happier to know better. Along the same lines, ask if walkers receive any other compensations–bonuses, days off, etc. Some companies give walkers bonuses based on unsolicited feedback, others don’t give any. Some companies have a strict limit on unpaid days off, while others believe that so long as the clients don’t complain and the substitute walkers are available, walkers can take time off. Again, no one way is inherently better than the others, but it’s not information most clients receive unless they ask about it. All my friends who use walkers feel strongly that they wish they’d asked more about this aspect up front.

3. Ask about how substitutes are decided.  If your walker is ill or seeing family (it is a part time job for most after all), who will be caring for your dog? Does the company make an effort to use the same substitute or are substitute walkers scheduled at random without an effort at consistency. Will the company notify you in advanced of scheduled substitutions?

Five Tips Once You Have A Walker

1. Notify your walker if there are changes. Whether it’s a big change like a visiting dog who also needs to get walked or something smaller like your dog no longer wearing a harness, it’s helpful for your walker to know when things are different rather than have to make guesses.

2. Be respectful and responsive. I realize that we’re “the help” but please, if we announce ourselves and say hello when we enter your home, it is considered polite to say hello back if you’re around so you don’t scare the crap out of us later. Also, if you’re around, you’ll probably get to hear me praise your dog and tell you all the wonderful things she does that are too long to write in the daily notes. It’s to your benefit!

3. In the same vein, I love when clients ask about their dog’s behavior. I genuinely care about all my canine clients and it’s great to get to talk about possible behavior issues with clients so I know whether these are issues just when the dog is with me, or if the same issues crop up with their family.

4. Please don’t be a total slob. I don’t think your home should be picture perfect, but I like to be able to access your sink so I can refill your dog’s water bowl. If it’s disgusting, smelly, and utterly full of a week’s worth of dishes, I’m not the happiest camper. Same thing for leaving visibly dirty underwear next to your dog’s crate in the living room–yup, that actually happened with a male client. I know walkers aren’t company, but you’d hate if your boss left their dirty underwear around your office, right? Either that or you have a very unusual expectation of your work environment!

5. Be prepared. If there’s supposed to be a rainstorm, please leave a towel in the location you’ve previously stated you’ll leave a towel. I once had to dry a dog off with papertowels because the owners did not leave a towel in the dog’s spot and I refused to let the poor dog shiver all day in an air conditioned house. The expression on that pup’s face as I went through half a roll of paper towels was a priceless study in confusion. Some companies have strict policies that walkers aren’t allowed to open closets to search for towels, it sucks, but if your company is one, it’s on you to make sure your dog has what he needs. The same holds for if your dog needs treats to not lunge at other dogs, a particular harness to keep him calm, or even a leash. Most companies schedule the walks so tightly that if a walker has to take time to search for harnesses, muzzles, or leashes, the time has to come out of your dog’s walk. No one wants your pup to miss out on his full walk time!

 

Any questions you’ve always wanted to ask your walker?

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Kentucky Derby Day

First, I suggest reading an article about horse racing over on Slate. I can wait.

Now, I’m going to explain why I find this article thought-provoking yet deeply problematic.

First, I do give the writer credit for acknowledging his prior brutal nature in regards to horse racing where he saw them as no more “beings” than playing cards. I do think it’s good that he points out how many horses die each year from racing.

I don’t like his comparison at the end to hockey or football, wherin he claims that those opposed to modern horse racing find it acceptable “to treat a jock like an animal, if you pay him millions of dollars. But it’s no longer OK to treat an animal like an animal.” It seems to me that McClelland is equating “treating like an animal” to mean brutality and acceptable early death. To me, that’s how you treat cheap electronics, not animals, not if you’re a decent human being.

I have an odd take on the issue of horse racing. I’m not 100% opposed. I think there need to be a lot of changes and a lot more regulation.

I used to go to the track as a kid. I loved horses and loved watching them run. I begged my parents for lessons until they finally indulged me for several years. I even took up lessons again as an adult.

However, as an adult I was truly bothered by how many “horse lovers” were unquestionably on the side of race tracks, even when it endangered horses. That seemed bizarre to me, and honestly, still does.

First, I think that we need to have better surfaces on racetracks across the country. As McClelland notes, changing to a more forgiving surface dramatically decreases injuries and deaths.

Second, I think that the age for racing needs to be raised. Currently horses race before their bones have fully grown and their bodies matured. It’s far easier for a young, undeveloped horse to break an ankle than one with stable, fully developed bones.

Third, I think that we need to regulate how often a particular horse can run as well as what drugs can and cannot be given.

 

I do agree with the author that horses do love to run. I just want them to be allowed to do so safely.

 

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You Can’t Give Up: or why animal advocates should watch Joss Whedon

Recently the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a ruling that upset a great many people, myself included.

I suggest reading the ruling in full. Essentially the ruling changes the status of pit bulls in Maryland. Previously, if a dog of any breed bit someone, that dog needed to be proven to have been previously known to be dangerous for there to be liability. Now, if the dog in question is known to be a pit bull or pit bull mix, there is no need to prove the dog was known to be dangerous. That dog is now expected to be dangerous simply because he is a pit. To make a bad ruling even worse, it’s not just the owners that are held liable, but landlords as well if they knowingly allow a pit bull or pit bull mix to reside on their property.

To wit, pit bulls are now considered dangerous across the board for liability purposes across the entire state of Maryland. This court’s ruling is essentially back door breed specific legislation, based on misinformation and old ideas. It’s awful.

When I first heard about the decision, I was livid. Many blogs and organizations have already spoken in outrage about this decision. When I posted it on facebook, a friend of mine responded. This is a woman who has worked for years in animal shelters and convinced me to leave a relatively cushy career to move into the advocacy field. She has cried like anyone else when confronted with the difficulties inherent to the work but has never seemed to feel or express defeat.

This friend commented that this ruling made her “want to cry and yell and give up, despairing of the stupidity of humanity all at the same time.”

Her response hit me because we can’t give up. No matter how hopeless the situation, we cannot give up trying.

I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon’s Buffy and Firefly–two shows that are both about fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds. In Firefly, the hero states that he’s okay fighting a war he’s already lost. I think animal advocacy requires that, too. We need to be okay with the fact that we’re fighting against human stupidity, idiocy, and selfishness–i.e. seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m a natural optimist, I like to believe that things will get better, that the impossible can be made to happen by determined individuals. However, even if I weren’t, I would believe that fighting for animals was worthwhile. Regardless of the chance for victory, we have to help the animals we can.  We can’t give up.

http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11.pdf

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What’s small, fluffy, and trainable?

Many people who live in the DC area live in apartments. If they want a pet, they want one who doesn’t have to go outside in the winter, can be trained, is soft and cuddly, is quiet, and (most important with all the restrictions apartment buildings have) doesn’t weigh a lot.

White house rabbit leaping
Why aren’t all these people going out and adopting bunnies?

Many shelters have house rabbits for adoption and you can find a ton in your area through Petfinder.com and Adoptapet.com.

Need to convince the love of your life why you should adopt a rabbit?

5 Reasons Rabbits Rock

  1. Rabbits can be litterbox trained! It’s fairly easy to teach a rabbit to urinate in a litter box so unlike a dog (much as I love them) you never have to take them outside in the snow or pouring rain!
  2. Rabbits are clean! Rabbits are almost as fastidious as cats. Why, you ask (or, more accurately, my mother’s voice asks) do they seem so often to smell? Well, that’s because a lot of people don’t litterbox train them, don’t help them groom themselves, and don’t keep the area around a rabbit tidy. It’s the people who are making the rabbit smell bad, not the rabbit. He’s using his litterbox and trying to groom himself.
  3. Rabbits are ridiculously soft. I know, it’s shallow, but come on, who doesn’t love petting a soft animal. Rabbits are so well known for their softness that some owners will sell their rabbits blown fur (they blow or significantly shed their coats four times a year, two heavy and two light). Although rabbits will differ in the texture of their fur, I’ve yet to meet a rabbit who wasn’t a joy to pet.
  4. Rabbits are trainable! At a shelter where I used to be involved, volunteers actually clicker trained their rabbits! There were a few who learned how to jump into a lap on command before they were adopted!
  5. Rabbits are often fond of laps! While most rabbits don’t like being held due to the lack of support, many enjoy snuggling into a warm lap. Doesn’t that sound delightful on a cold February night?

If you do decide to adopt a rabbit, please contact your local shelter(s) and, if the shelter doesn’t do it for you, get your rabbit neutered. It’s especially important to neuter male rabbits to avoid the massive sprays they can otherwise be prone to. And you want to fix your female in case you decide to get a pair–because the old sayings about a couple of rabbits, sadly are pretty true in that case.

When I was first learning about rabbits, my friend Diana suggested I look through the resources at the House Rabbit Society’s webpage and I suggest you do the same. They’re a pretty awesome group that has a ton of wonderful resources for both new and experienced rabbit adopters alike. Plus they help save rabbits who are surrendered to shelters when people tire of their kids’ Easter surprise.

Which brings me to the depressing portion of today’s post. I’m incredibly grateful that my parents gave me a stuffed toy bunny on Easter when I was little (known as both “Baby Bunny” and “Green Bunny” because of my very literal naming at that age–she is baby green with a white stomach and face) and not a real rabbit. As we get near to Lent which leads to Easter, please tell anyone looking at giving a real baby bunny as a gift to wait and take the kids to adopt a rabbit from a shelter together.

*For those who know my not-so-secret love of Whedon’s television shows, I’m sure you understand my struggle to not name this post “Bunnies! Bunnies! It Must Be Bunnies!”

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Fall Off 100 Times

Although some of my friends laugh at me for it, I believe that we can find important lessons in the lives of animals and our interactions with them. Maybe it goes back to adoring Philosophy classes in college and vehmently defending them whenever someone would claim they were somehow less useful than nebulous “business” classes. I firmly believe that the search for the good life is useful and will contribute more to my lasting happiness and peace, which in turn will help me be efficient and contribute more to society, than taking an entire class on how to manage employees. I’ll use what I’ve learned from Machiavelli and Arendt to manage people, thank you very much. Half joking there, I’ll also use what I learned about Aristotle and positive-based animal training.

Back to learning from animals and our interactions with them.

Failure and perseverance have been on my mind a lot. I think that most people, except those naturally blessed with massive amounts of intense ambition (which can cause its own set of problems), need reminders that failure is okay and simply an invitation from the universe to try again. You might simply fail differently when you try again, but even that is worthwhile and does not negate the positive aspects of the attempt.

I took riding lessons from about age 9 to age 15 and then again for a few years in my 20s (while shelter work is emotionally rewarding, it’s not financially rewarding enough to enable one to afford riding lessons in the DC area). When I started, I remember my instructor having us practice falling. She told us that we couldn’t be great riders until we had fallen 100 times so we were going to get 20 of those falls out of the way. Admittedly, a slightly arbitrary number but it helped all of the students get past our fear of falling. When we were no longer concerned with falling,everything was easier. Cantering for the first time was fun and exhilarating, jumping was a joy, and new horses were exciting. Plus, it helped our riding! A horse knows when his rider is scared. Most, especially lesson horses, will take advantage of that and test a new rider. It isn’t until you’re confident and know that you can handle whatever the large animal throws at you, that you’re able to be firm and gentle at the same time, in the right proportions that calm a horse and encourage him to work with, rather than against you.

When I started again in my 20s, much more conscious of “holy crap, I’m really high up and falling hurts!” I asked my instructor to let me practice falling again. Even though I was afraid, I needed to get past my fear so I could ride confidently.Because I wanted to succeed, I needed to fall.

I think life is like that. In my eyes, I failed at something recently. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted despite my absolute best back-breaking efforts (no, seriously, my lower back hasn’t been the same since). I don’t normally fail. I’m not always the best, but I usually do well. I can name the times I’ve just utterly failed on one hand. In some ways, I think that makes it more difficult to dust myself off and get back on that proverbial (and I know, completely and utterly cliched) horse.

When I was literally riding horses, I practiced falling and getting back on the horse immediately. Even when I hit my head and tailbone (yup, at the same time, not ashamed to say I cried), my instructor helped me mount and then held my leg while we walked in a circle with me raised up in the stirrups so I didn’t hurt my tailbone anymore than I had.

adult falling to the side of a bay horse

We never had those snazzy vests when we fell.

I guess that in “real” life I just haven’t practiced falling enough. I’m dusting myself off this time and trying again in a slightly different way. I’ve learned something about what I need as well as what the world needs. I’m also trying to get more comfortable with the idea of falling again. Because I will. But that’s okay. As Google told us, “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking big enough risks.”

And a life without risk doesn’t seem too rewarding.

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Roll Over and Play Dead: Great Plot and Good Points

Basics:

Roll Over and Play Dead, Joan Hess, 1991

Cover of 1991 paperback showing a shadowed man in front of a Georgian home looking at a basset houndRereading this at the age of 27 was quite a different experience from when I first read it–probably age 9 or so and while I liked animals, definitely not aware of what I was reading about. Also, 9 was not the target audience but I suspect stealing my mom’s Joan Hess and Elizabeth Peters novels made more sense than declaring at my 8th birthday party that Murder She Wrote was my favorite television show. Certainly it wasn’t any less weird than also stealing her Silhouette romance novels.

This mystery novel is one of Joan Hess’s early books in her Claire Malloy series. Claire, who runs an independent bookshop in a college town in Arkansas (Do you remember those things? The shops, not college towns. In addition to “Beth’s Best” a diner with awesome burgers, I also daydreamed about owning/running my own bookstore as a kid), is the heroine of our story.  When the beloved pooches she and her daughter are dog-sitting go missing, Claire finds herself investigating theft and murder.

Animal Pros:

  1. Class B dealers are an integral part of this story!I remember a friend getting quite irate at me when I expressed surprise that she planned to leave her dog outside all day in her suburban DC-area yard while she was at work. When I explained about theft, she claimed that no one would ever want to steal her mixed-breed dog. I wasn’t worried just about thieves wanting a new pet (though that does happen), but Class B dealers who sell animals to labs for testing (yes, there will be an upcoming post on animal testing, but not right now).There are thankfully only 8 active Class B dealers left in the United States. Class B dealers find dogs and cats from flea markets, “free to good home” ads, and even some shelters. In addition, some have had serious charges of “unlawful procurement” lobbied and proven against them (see the HSUS and Slate links below). Class B dealers then sell these pets to laboratories for experiments to be performed on them. Yes, like Legally Blonde 2 reminded us, testing is still performed on animals we otherwise consider pets.I have to give Hess props for writing about Class B dealers and bringing the issue to the attention of her readers. There’s a wonderful explanation of Class B dealers in chapter 2 from a dedicated though sorely underfunded animal shelter director.
  2. Community responsibility for animals, even from confessed non animal lovers. Rereading this book made me feel like I understood my mom a little better. My mom sewed gorgeous colorful bandannas for the dogs at my shelter after I told her about shelters finding that those helped get dogs (especially large dark dogs) adopted. She once came to a dead stop in the middle of a neighborhood street and waited minutes for a cat to leave the street for fear of hitting the cat. She also helped my girl scout troop call Animal Control when we found an injured but still alive and suffering squirrel across the street. However, my mom does not want a dog licking her, or a cat flank rubbing her. She’s highly allergic to cats and not the most comfortable around dogs. So while I genuinely appreciated her kindness toward animals and her support of my vocation, I wasn’t always sure I understood how it made sense to her. Part of me saw my mother in Claire Malloy’s determination to find and save the animals (in addition to solving the crime) despite mentioning clearly and vividly that she’s not a big fan of slobber or fur. You don’t have to be an animal lover to know that you have to do right by them.

Animal Cons:

  1. Poor presentation of pit bulls. While I know that people did use pit bulls as guard dogs and that yes, resident dogs (which is how the guard dogs in this book are described), can become aggressive and are more likely to bite, I didn’t like how this book described pit bulls. I had to keep reminding myself that this was in the early 90s and Hess’s description was no worse than how other media at the time described pit bulls. She does at least mention that the guard dogs were likely mistreated and abused which made it a bit easier for me.

Overall:

This book is a little dated, but still great reading. The story moves along with compelling and humorous characters. As for the animal issues, the good completely outweighs the negative. Find a copy, then grab some treats and convince your animals to cuddle with you while you read it tonight!

 

For more reading
On Class B dealers:
Humane Society of the United States
U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
Slate.com’s multi-part story on the theft of Pepper, a family dog
On Pit Bulls:
Bad Rap
Best Friends

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Welcome!

Gray cat lounging with paw embracing laptop showing Capital Animals

Toby and I would like to welcome you to the new home of Capital Animals! We hope you enjoy it and are patient during our growing pains and find what I’m sure are at least a few broken links that cropped up during the move from Blogspot. He’s very excited for you to read my review of Roll Over and Play Dead. This novel not only has a delightful plot, but exemplifies why so many warn against keeping your animals outside while unsupervised!

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I’m back!

Hello! While I was at the shelter I wasn’t blogging due to some in-house rules about conflict of interest, but I’m not there anymore. The upshot–I’m back at Capital Animals!

I know, I know, you all have missed me oh so much.

Anyway, I hope that you all have had some great months saving animals, spreading good news, fighting tyranny, and celebrating your furry friends (although I have nothing against celebrating friends who are furries, let me clarify that I do in fact mean friends with actual fur here).

So I have some topics in my head for upcoming blog posts–animal books, cruelty-free product reviews, animal events around town, etc etc, but I’m curious. For anyone who still has this in their blog roll–what would you like to see?

For now, I’ll leave you with a photo of Toby being adorable (he’s so happy I’m blogging again that he tried to walk across the keyboard multiple times to say hello to you all).

On second thought, he looks a little possessed there, like he’d fit in well with the demons of Wild Ride below him.

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This will not be updating for the near future

Due to changing jobs and now working for an animal shelter to coordinate adoptions outreach there, I no longer feel that it is ethical for me to keep up this blog.  I will keep it up for awhile because I may return to it in the future after more thought and after I become more comfortable with the ethical interplay between being a private blogger and an employee of a public shelter.

Thank you for reading.  I do miss writing here.

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Come Together

The Smithsonian claims that outdoor cats (feral and pet) are a serious danger to birds. They even seem to suggest (subtly) that TNR be abandoned and that TNR supporters are unknowingly killing birds.

Alley Cat Allies claims that loss of habitat and increased human activities are a far greater danger to birds than cats ever will be.

Both sides were posting on twitter in a way that made me, as a supporter of both organizations, feel a bit awkward.

My take? They need to work together. Alley Cat Allies should push hard for cat parents to keep their kitties indoor only, with a strong push at suburban areas where the Smithsonian claims birds are being killed most often. The Smithsonian, instead of trying to claim that TNR is ineffective (without any research to back this up) because it requires a 70% saturation in a colony, should actually make a push for strong TNR. Help people trap kitties, donate the time of the zoo vets to assist with the spay/neuter surgeries. Maybe the two could even have a cross-promotion where for every cat owner who signs a pledge to keep her cat indoors-only and makes a donation to a special fund (half going to TNR, half going to songbird rehab and research), people can attend a special event at the Smithsonian zoo to learn about big cats.

Essentially, it seems ridiculous to me that two organizations that care about animals can’t find a way to come together and find ways to support each other and all animals.

Admittedly, this is part of a larger frustration with “opposing” sides refusing to associate with or listen to each other.  Imagine what could happen if good, small breeders stood with the HSUS and started supporting bans against puppy mills? If Peta listened to small farmers and found ways to improve the lives of animals on farms? As I said before, if animals can come together, why can’t we?

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