Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Hearts United for Animals

It was a perfect agility outing. On June 4, Andy and I made our second drive to Hearts United for Animals to train Rainy on the shelter’s agility equipment. Other than facing the humidity of a hot spring day, everything went well.

In contrast, when we first visited back in early May, pretty much everything had gone wrong. Rainy is a curious cat, but she still gets nervous around new people and places. On our first visit, she encountered sensory overload: We visited on a stormy day despite knowing that noise frightens Rainy; we brought her into the agility room normally used for dogs; we invited her into it while a dog and three people were still in the room; and we encouraged visitors to come by and watch her. There was no way she could feel comfortable or concentrate while all that was going on. To make matters worse, I made the mistake of bringing low-incentive treats (ordinary treats she received every day) instead of high-incentive treats (such as cheese or meat)”. Rainy therefore had no reason not to simply retreat instead of choosing to explore. And finally, although cats can go without water and litter box for several hours, I realized that bringing these might have added to her comfort. That first day was quite the learning experience!

On June 4, we were so much better prepared. We brought water, litter box, and goat cheese. We visited on a day when clear skies ruled. We ensured there were no strangers or dogs in the agility room. Rainy showed her appreciation. She didn’t try to retreat to the nearest wall or tunnel, but instead rolled around on the floor to leave her scent. Positive start!

Andy and I then allowed Rainy time to get her bearings. With Rainy in a harness and on a leash, I encouraged her to sniff tunnels, weaves, and other obstacles. When Rainy ducked into a tube and exited on the other side, I immediately gave her goat cheese. Even if she might not have been trying to do agility, I was going to reward Rainy for being inquisitive rather than afraid.

Then, like a mother bird pushing her young to fly, I pushed Rainy to try some of the contacts. I carried her to her favorite obstacle—the dog walk—positioned her at one end, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. As soon as she moved forward to sniff the cheese, I began walking along the dog walk while holding the cheese in front of her. Happily, Rainy followed. All the way to the end!

From there, I led Rainy through a series of other obstacles. We tried the table and a jump. I got her to do the tube again by throwing cheese through it to the other side. By now, the dog walk was nothing, and so getting her to “Walk It” again was not a problem.

After doing these obstacles a few times, I once again pushed Rainy to new heights. I brought her to one of her least favorite obstacles—the A Frame—positioned her at the start, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. Except I didn’t simply lure her by holding cheese in front of her. Instead I sprinkled cheese at the start, on the up side, on the down side, and at the end. After she successfully completed it, I brought her to another of her least favorite obstacles–the tunnel, and positioned her at the start. Here, I got her started by going in a few paces with her. All the while, Andy stood on the other end and called to her. As soon as her ears perked at his voice, unlike our previous visit, I stopped and let her finish on her own.

Once Rainy had attempted all obstacles except the weaves, Andy advised: “Let’s end on a positive note.” We’d been at it for less than 30 minutes, but that was enough for her second time. To wrap up, I ran Rainy through a mini-course. When she refused the A-Frame and tunnel, I didn’t push her but simply let her proceed to the jumps. At the grand finale, I rewarded her with plenty of goat cheese, praise, and caresses. We loaded everything into the car and began our one-hour drive back home where Rainy could look forward to a well-deserved nap with her sisters.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.


As part of reading A Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl, a book which I featured this week, I researched into puppy mills. A basic dictionary definition would describe puppy mills as “a commercial farming operation in which dogs are raised in large numbers.” Animal welfare organizations such as Prisoners of Greed would emphasize that puppy mills are distinguished by their inhumane conditions and the constant breeding of dogs solely for profit.

Puppy Mills Wikipedia Commons

Puppy Mills
Wikipedia Commons

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) elaborates on the latter two points. Puppy mill dogs face inhumane conditions, being kept in small wire cages for their entire lives. They do not receive adequate veterinary care, food, or water. Kohl notes these dogs often develop a host of crippling diseases and illnesses, along with heartworm, ticks, and broken limbs. Her own puppy mill survivor lacked vocal cords, due to their being cut so that the breeder wouldn’t need to listen to her bark. Nor do puppy mill dogs receive basic grooming. Kohl talks about how in puppy mills, cages are stacked upon one another, the urine and feces dripping onto one another. Is it any wonder the dogs are covered with matted, filthy hair? Nor do puppy mills dogs receive exercise, treats, or toys. Kohl shares how in 2007, there was an effort in Pennsylvania to require dogs be given twenty minutes a day outside of their cage for exercise. Unbelievably, the proposal met with resistance.

Puppy mills dogs are bred for profit. For that reason,  puppy mill owners breed their female dogs at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. One article included in A Rare Breed of Love provided the statistic that there are over 150,000 breeding dogs in puppy mills and that these dogs produce two to four million puppies each year. When breeding dogs are physically no longer able to reproduce, they are often killed. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) emphasizes how the parents of the puppies who are sold are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive. Nor will any of their puppies who are born with overt physical problems that make them unsalable.

As part of my research, I also talked to a representative at a local no-kill shelter, who has been involved in trying to shut down puppy mills. Since 1996, one main mission of Hearts United for Animals has been the rescue and rehabilitation of puppy mill dogs. The organization has rescued over 5,000 dogs from puppy mills.

ALLISON: Why did you get involved with trying to close down puppy mills?

LORI: I got involved about 12 years ago when I adopted my first puppy mill dog from Hearts United for Animals. She was obviously terrified of humans and had been abused. I decided that was unacceptable.

ALLISON: What are some some of your experiences in visiting puppy mills?

LORI: Generally the puppy millers do not let you in, they insist on meeting at a gas station or some remote location. The ones I have been to have been atrocious. The dogs are always in small cages, multiple dogs to a cage, often quite filthy. The puppy millers pick up the dogs and swing them in the air by the scruff of their neck or only a front or back leg. Sometimes they scoop them up with a shovel because the dogs will fight them because they think they are about to be handled roughly. They know that from experience.

ALLISON: What are some of your experiences in rescuing dogs?

LORI: The puppy mill auctions are awful. There are so many puppy millers in one place. Watching dogs thrown six at a time on an auction table in either heat or freezing cold and be sold off to other puppy millers is just the worst. They brag that they are bred or heavy bred and that people can double their money overnight. They talk about how they may have no jaw but “that’s not where she breeds.” Dogs collapse from heat exhaustion on the tables. Moms with new born puppies are handed off to the highest bidder. The dogs all look terrified, as they should be.

ALLISON: What has been one high? One low?

LORI: A high recently was being able to get several dogs out of a puppy mill that was going out of business and having an auction. We took the ones who had prior c-sections to save them from future lives of surgery after surgery. Getting them so they weren’t sold into slavery yet again and could lead happy lives was great.

A low would be recently rescuing dogs from a puppy mill that the state refuses to shut down. The dogs were in hideous condition. We saw two broken jaws, dogs who are heartworm positive, had hookworms, giardia, severe heart problems, couldn’t eat because mouth and teeth infections were so bad, one turning blue from lack of oxygen from pneumonia. Knowing that it has been going on for years and continues to go on there is almost too much to bear.

ALLISON: How can others support the cause of shutting down puppy mills?

LORI: They can donate to organizations like Hearts United for Animals that help rescue puppy mill dogs and fight puppy mills and also let their legislators know it is a concern. Most importantly they should never buy a puppy from a pet store and should spread the word to their friends that buying pups from pet stores keeps this cruel industry in business.

ALLISON: How would you explain puppy mills to young people?

LORI: I would say that dogs are kept sometimes hundreds at a time in small cages and are used only to breed puppies so those puppies can be sold to pet stores who sell them to the public. I would tell them that they don’t get good food or medical care and the people who do it only care about the money they get from the sale of the puppies. I have spoken with 7th and 8th graders and they seem to understand it well.

Pet Shop Puppies, a non-profit organization based in Missouri, calls the pet industry is a multi-billion dollar one that depends on the mass production of puppies for America’s pet stores. It encourages anyone who has purchased a puppy from a pet store to request your free “puppy report.”

It also provides a history of puppy mills. Briefly, in 1966, Congress passed the federal Animal Welfare Act, after public outrage at a growing business of stealing dogs and selling them for research. The original Act only regulated animals being sold to research, but as the media began to focus on the way dogs were treated in wholesale kennels and the way puppies were shipped from coast to coast, the public again asked Congress to address the situation. The 1970 amendments to the Act began the licensing and inspection process of anyone wholesaling puppies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now responsible for ensuring that the puppies sold to consumers come from a healthy environment where the adult dogs are housed and cared for in a kennel that meets “minimum standards.”

The problem is what constitutes minimum standards. The videos in the below links are disturbing, but you owe it to all animals to educate yourself about puppy mills. And then to lend your support to the fight against puppy mills.

A Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl is a difficult but important book to read. To its discredit, Kohl at times strayed from her topic and a part of her book is dated. To its credit, more than once, I found myself crying at the stories Kohl shared or rethinking what I knew about puppy mills.

Kohl calls herself an accidental activist. After she lost her dog Blue to cancer, Kohl began the search for another dog. Innocently, Kohl began browsing online breeder sites. An animal welfare friend tried to warn Kohl that dogs sold at pet stores typically come from breeding factories, and to sell her on the idea of adopting from a shelter of a rescue group. Kohl didn’t listen. Perhaps that’s just as well, because what happened next changed Kohl’s life.

Desperate cries of dogs barking reached her ears as soon as she stepped out of her car at the home of a so-called reputable Texas breeder. The breeder first showed Kohl the smaller of two sheds, which housed several wire cages with puppies in each one. The larger shed, however, is what most impacted Kohl. In it, adult breeding dogs were crowded into cages and trampling each other. Some were spinning endlessly from having gone crazy, while others were maimed, and some were near death…. Kohl walked away, determined to stop puppy mills, no matter how long or what sacrifices it would require.

The first half of A Rare Breed of Love is mostly about Kohl’s discovery and adoption of a toy poodle named Baby, whom Kohl found through a rescue group. Baby had a missing leg, no vocal cords, a nervous tick, and a number tattooed on her ear, the latter marking the date Baby would have been killed at the puppy mill where she grew up. In the loving care of Kohl, Baby reveled in her new life where she felt grass on her feet, received baths, and felt the comfort both of warm blankets and human love. In the middle of telling Baby’s story, Kohl sidetracks to talk about other animal welfare issues such as the sale of foie gras. While I appreciate Kohl’s passion for animals on every level, these asides take the focus away from the topic of puppy mills.

The second half of A Rare Breed of Love is mostly about Kohl’s journey to Washington, where she introduced Baby to the men and women of Congress as a living example of the cruelty of puppy mills, and her eventual realization that laws are not enough. Kohl next turned to celebrities, in an attempt to broaden public awareness and inspire change amongst the public. In her showcase of photos of and speeches from politicians and celebrities, the material is dated. I understand her reason for reaching out to the famous; their support delivers more “bang for the buck” than that of any average person. And of course her gracious response for their support is to honor them in the pages of her book. At the same time, it’s not exactly material that I want to spend money to read. (However, all proceeds from the book are given to the Human Society of the United States to support their fight against puppy mills, and so do know a purchase will be for a good cause.)

Although my husband and I have long supported a local no-kill shelter and its campaign against puppy mills, Kohl’s descriptions of her crash course in puppy mills proved tough to read. What I’ve shared in my review barely begins to covers the horror of Kohl’s tales. As a result of reading A Rare Breed of Love, I have recommitted our family to continuing to help financially with the costs of petitioning against puppy mills. Moreover, the next time protesters picket against puppy mills, I plan to stand with them. I encourage you to educate yourself about puppy mills and to help with this critical fight–for the sake of all the animals that can’t speak for themselves.

JanaKohlJana Kohl wears many hats. The one which interests me most is that of author. On her website, Kohl states that she was a bookworm as a kid and so her love of writing may be an extension of this. She loves to express herself through many creative outlets, but particularly in words.

Writing for Kohl is not only a mean of entertaining people, but also a way to reach people on an issue. Words help Kohl perform her other jobs as activist and psychologist. Her favorite type of feedback is to get letters from readers who tell her that A Rare Breed of Love inspired them to adopt a dog, write their elected officials, volunteer at a shelter, start a petition, or in some other way change their life.

Kohl’s livelihood is earned through her work as a psychologist. On her website, Kohl shares that years before she got her doctorate, she worked for the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, which exposed her to “one of the most heinous examples of cruelty mankind has ever known”. She became a psychologist to understand why humans can be cruel and to learn how to ease the suffering of others.

As an activist, Kohl has worked to raise awareness about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. She’s also a member of the Board of an organization that seeks to help orphaned children. Since adopting Baby, a puppy mill survivor, Kohl has also devoted her life to end the suffering of animals in industries that abuse them for profit.

Kohl wears other hats too. For example, although she admits to having stage fright in her younger years, since becoming an adult Kohl has discovered a love of the public speech. During a tour for her book, A Rare Breed of Love, Kohl found herself enjoying the experience of stopping at bookstores, schools and conferences. I found it interesting to read that Kohl is fascinated by the phenomenon of something that formerly instilled anxiety in her now has become a source of pleasure.

As noted at the start, Kohl loves to express herself through many creative outlets. Since a child, one of them has been through art. Today she is also a blogger, which is of course another way of using words.

Tomorrow I’ll review A Rare Breed of Love here and on Friday I’ll interview a representative from Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill animal shelter dedicated to shutting down puppy mills. Save the dates: August 14-15!

My Saturday selection is a juvenile novel about a young girl who helps out an animal shelter. In conjunction with it, I’d like to introduce you to two animal welfare organizations that my husband and I are connected with. Both are no-kill. One has actual facilities where animals are housed. The other depends on volunteers to foster any intake animals.

One of my favorite ways of being involved with Hearts United for Animals is visiting a dog or cat whom I had picked to financially sponsor and to help socialize it. Many of HUA’s dogs come from puppy mills, which means they aren’t used to human affection. As for the cats, several of them are strays that may or may not be used to having love in their lives. Socializing animals at HUA could involve anything from holding them and talking to them to grooming them and taking them outside for some exercise. (Of course, HUA also has full-fledged volunteers who take care of the day-to-day upkeep: feeding, cleaning kennels, etc.) Helping these animals start to accept and look forward to human contact is a pure joy.

MoccasinMy first match was a chihuahua named Moccasin. Not only was this grey-fringed dog a senior, but he was also a biter with health issues. Adoption did not seem likely. Elation is the only way to describe how I felt when I received an email telling me that Moccasin had found his forever home with a lady who loved chihuahuas.

PedroAfter Moccasin, I became a buddy to Pedro. His needs were similar to Moccasin’s, but he was also aggressive towards every dog other than his kennel mates. Sadly, Pedro never did find his forever home. Whenever I hear of the death of a dog at HUA, I feel happy that the dog was loved at the shelter, but also heartbroken that the dog never had a home and knew what it meant to be a companion.

Over time, my husband and I began spending time with other animals besides our buddy. Most often, this meant a papillon for me and a poodle for my husband. The more frequently we visited, the more we became attached to certain dogs and the more often we were asked about adopting one of them. However, with a dog, cat, and guinea pig back in our rented home, we were already at our limit. But that’s not to say we were never tempted. HUA has so many animals in need of loving homes; driving away empty-handed was never easy.

HUA_PotluckAnother favorite part of my involvement with Hearts United for Animals is the annual Christmas potluck. The idea behind this tradition is that for 364 days every year, the animals would receive daily attention. But on Christmas Day their caretakers would naturally instead spend time with their families. This meant that Christmas was a lonely time for the residents of HUA. To rectify that, volunteers gather together at the shelter on Christmas morning. For the first couple hours, we all disperse to hand out biscuits to every single animal at the shelter. Then we gather in the sun-room for a potluck Christmas feast. Of course, we humans don’t feast alone. We’re joined by perhaps twenty of the friendliest dogs. It’s a heady time for them, what with all the “dropped” crumbs.

GizmoAfter I married and moved to my husband’s hometown, it became more difficult to visit Hearts United for Animals. I began to seek out a different way of becoming involved with animal welfare. One thing that Hearts United for Animals does not offer is the opportunity to foster an animal. My husband and I found this instead with a local no-kill organization called Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue. Initially, I intended to just help out with their newsletter or website. About a year ago, while receiving notices from NE No Kill of their needs, I saw their desperate plea for fosters over the Christmas season. My husband and I filled out an application, and shortly thereafter we were contacted about a senior silky terrier.

Gizmo’s owner had moved into a retirement home and given him over to her daughter. However, her daughter already had a dog who didn’t take kindly to the newcomer. The two had frequent violent squabbles. She wanted to find a new home for Gizmo before he ended up being seriously hurt. Besides his age, Gizmo had other disadvantages such as not being used to children or cats. Moreover, he took daily medication for his health issues. In the first months with us, we also saw a deterioration in his ability to see and hear.

One time when we took our dogs for a walk, a neighbor inquired about Gizmo. After finding out his age and needs, our neighbor commented, “He’s a heartache waiting to happen.” Apparently, others who read Gizmo’s bio felt the same, because no stepped up to adopt him. While NE No Kill quickly finds adoptive homes for many of its dogs, the reality is that sometimes fosters end up being the ones to adopt. A year after seeing Gizmo through a back injury and a decline in appetite, we decided to be his forever home.

Whatever volunteer route one decides to take, there are many animals out there who need love. Some have never felt even a gentle human touch. Their photos are almost unbearable to see and their histories prior to their rescues are tragic. Others have known love, but these stories are just as sad. By necessity or sometimes even from apathy, owners end up relinquishing their family pet to a shelter. Imagine having a family and being surrounded by love, and then suddenly find yourself in a kennel. Even in the best shelters, these dogs and cats start to look unkempt and their eyes take on an eternal sadness. While none of us can give all animals a forever home, we can at least shower love on them in the shelters, which will make them one day more likely to be adopted. Won’t you open up your heart?

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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