Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Incredible Journey

First let me introduce my pack, there is Sydney an 11 year old spayed/female pit bull, Samantha (now deceased) but at the time of our journey was a 10 year old spayed/female ‘pitador,' Murphy a 3 year old neutered male pit bull, Foster a 16 month old neutered male pit bull, Kipling a 13 year old kitty and an assortment of freshwater fish. I have been very fortunate that all of my critters get along together. Of course I always take precautions and always supervise their interactions, but at least so far they have always been friendly towards each other. Recently however, that friendship was put to the ultimate test!

My career took a sudden change that required a cross country move of my family from the western edge of Montana to the eastern edge of Virginia. Mapquest indicated that this would be a journey of more than 2300 miles and take an estimated 35.5 hours crossing at least part of 9 different states including Ohio in which BSL is rampant. Oh and did I mention my mother was coming along for the ride? Although I was looking forward to the new start in life, this journey was a huge concern. Mom doesn’t like riding in a car for more than 8-10 hours at a time and with 4 dogs, I was also planning on stopping for breaks every 3-4 hours. So that meant that we would all be stuck in an SUV together for at least 4 very long days and in a different hotel every night.

The Journey:

Day 1: We started out early on Saturday morning, got the car packed up in record time, made sure the house was completely empty and clean, waiting for the new owner. The dogs were excited to be going for a ride and were eager to get going….little did they know! I had reduced the stuff to carry myself to the absolute minimum so most of it could fit on top of the car, but there were various odds and ends that inevitably ended up inside taking up precious cargo room. Each of the dogs had a bed and a corner of the truck, the cat was in his carrier toward the front and the assorted fish were in a Tupperware box in the back. All of this was packed to make entry and exit from the car as easy as possible for the dogs at rest stops.

The beginning of our route took us past our most favorite hiking trails so we had to stop for one last quick hike before leaving our valley forever. Back in the car the dogs finally settled down to sleep.

Unfortunately however, my mom is a very conscientious driver who religiously uses her turn signals. Now normally that is a good thing, except to Sydney, turn signals indicate potty breaks so every time my mom would switch lanes, Sydney woke up and wanted a potty break. A couple raps with a rolled up newspaper taught my stubborn mom not to use her turn signals anymore!

It must have been a crazy site at the rest stops when two women and four pit bulls all come tumbling out of an SUV! The first day was relatively uneventful, the three older dogs were used to long drives and baby Foster took his cue from them and slept quietly in the back.

Our next test however was how to sneak 4 pit bulls and a cat into the hotels at night. This was where having two people came in handy. Pulling around the corner of the office allowed me to register with “I’m traveling with a medium-sized dog." Fortunately we were always lucky to get rooms far from the front desk so that we could then sneak them in two by two and take them for potty breaks the same way. The problem came when Foster after sleeping away the whole day in the car woke up and wanted to play all night long! Plus he had never been in a hotel before so it was a lot of fun jumping from one bed to the next.

The next few days were mostly uneventful. The dogs and cat got into the routine and were quite easy to deal with during our “pit” stops. Trying to keep Foster amused was rather difficult however. I had planned for this and brought his favorite toy--bubbles, to try to burn off some of his energy. So during a few of our rest stops and at hotels I tried exercising him on a long leash by blowing bubbles. It helped, but was not enough for a high energy pup who was used to running around a one acre yard everyday! Mid way, we decided to change our route somewhat so that we could avoid driving through Ohio entirely so that we wouldn’t face any of the rampant BSL. It added a few hours and an extra state or two to our trip, but the peace of mind was worth it.

Day four finally arrived, we had four more states to get through, but we were determined to make it to my new house if it killed us! It’s a good thing too because tempers were starting to flare in the back of the car. I t doesn’t matter how good of friends you are, when there is no room to move and brothers and sisters keep stepping on each other and sitting on each other, there is always the inevitable “MOM, He’s touching me!” which in this case came as growls and general pissy attitudes. But we made it, 12 hours later we arrived at our new home. The yard was not yet fenced so running around was still out of the question, but a large new home with no furniture yet made for some exciting races.

After four months, we’ve finally settled in, the fence is up and the furniture finally arrived. Sadly, Samantha lost her battle with cancer a few weeks after we arrived.

Despite our huge loss and our incredible journey, we are all still friends and we hope to never have to do it again.

~ Amanda and the BullyBrigade

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Best Speech I Never Gave!

Recently, I had to go to my dentist to get fitted for a crown. After I got settled, the doctor gave me my numbing shot and then left the office so I could get loopy. His assistant and I immediately started talking about my favorite topic – pit bulls.

Several minutes later, the doc returns and begins to work on my tooth. Just as he puts his tools in my mouth, he asks, "What were you gals in here chatting about?" The assistant replies, "Pit bulls". His response was, "Awww, you can throw them all away as far as I'm concerned."

I get a look of horror on my face and the assistant immediately begins to explains my love of pit bulls and how I work with a group that provides educational services as well as rescue assistance. He looks me in the eye and says, "You like pit bulls?" Since his tools were still in my mouth, I replied "AWWWWUVVVWITWULLS"!

What ensue after was an exchange between the dentist and assistant that consisted of each tossing out various myths and stories about pit bulls. Each would say something they had heard and then the other would correct them citing an article or TV show they'd seen. I was trying desperately to get a word in, but hey – that guy had a drill!

Needless to say, over the next half hour, the two of them came to the agreement that pit bulls weren't so bad after all and that much of what they'd heard was erroneous. As they finished up and the assistant was removing the gauze from my mouth, my dentist says, "Thank you so much for all the great information, we really learned a lot today."

I just smiled with my numb mouth and said, "Yaw Walcom"

~ Lynn, aka The Bat Whisperer

Friday, January 11, 2008

Woman to address ban of certain dogs at police assembly

Ledy VanKavage continues to spread her message that banning breeds of dogs does not make a difference in public safety.

On Sunday she will speak at the Winter 2008 Training Conference on Police Ethics for the Illinois Chiefs of Police in Collinsville at the Gateway Center.

"I'm talking about breed specific legislation and whether or not canine profiling is effective," she said.

It is a topic she addresses frequently.

"I'll talk about how it doesn't work," she said.

VanKavage is an attorney and the senior director of legislation and legal training for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She has a long history of activism in animal welfare matters and has founded and served on the boards of several organizations.

She lives in Collinsville and she practices what she preaches. She has rescued some pit bulls, a breed that many want banned because of viciousness. VanKavage has three rescued brindle pit bulls named Clarence Darrow, Che and Bella.

At the conference she will offer alternatives for police to help get dangerous dogs under control.

"There are dangerous dog laws in Illinois that a lot of police don't know about," she said. "Under Illinois law, it is very easy to get a dog declared dangerous. Not vicious. That's a much more involved procedure involving the court system."

VanKavage said dangerous dogs should be identified by behavior, not breed.

"I'm working on trying to get the police to focus on that," she said. "That is what I will be educating them about."

She said experience has shown that banning specific breeds doesn't change the number of dog bite incidents.

"Specific breed laws don't work," she said. "We've seen it in several different countries where they enacted breed restrictions. Even with the breeds restricted, their bite statistics don't change."

She offers her rescued pit bulls as an example of how a supposed dangerous breed can be handled. She said her cats dominate the much larger animals.

People used to go off trail to avoid the dogs when they were walked. But when the pit bulls have on some sort of costume, people come over and talk to them and are fascinated, she said.

"A lot of it is perception," she said.

At the conference, a pair of rescued pit bulls who are drug sniffing dogs for the Washington State Police also will perform a demonstration.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reuniting best pals

A gift brings a youth and his beloved dog together again

By DAVID FILKINS, Staff writer
First published: Thursday, January 3, 2008

SCOTIA -- Nathan Grier had problems in math, problems in science, problems socializing -- problems that, as bad as they were, seemed to disappear the minute he went home to his 2 year old pit bull, Booger.

They were inseparable friends living in Ocala, Fla. Booger accompanied 13-year-old Nathan to the bathroom and shower. They even slept in the same bed, Nathan nestled under the covers, Booger flat on his back, nose pointed, all four legs extended toward the ceiling.

It was a perfect relationship.

Then it was over.

In September, Nathan's mother, Bonnie, who grew up in Schenectady, talked her husband, Steve, into moving to New York state. She knew the schools were equipped for helping students like Nathan, who has a learning disability. In Florida, he spent most of his school days confused, with his forehead on his desk.

However, the family was flying and couldn't afford the $1,000 price tag for transporting Booger. Bonnie works as an aide for the elderly and Steve is an unemployed electrician.

The effect on Nathan, however, couldn't be measured in fiscal terms. In his world, where not much came easy, his relationship with Booger was a breeze. It made sense.

Nathan took the move hard, screaming hysterically when Booger was dragged away on a leash.

The separation wasn't much easier for Booger. His new home would be safe and full of love, the Griers thought. Instead, he ended up in what resembled the pooch version of a bad prison.

He was hardly fed. Water was a rarity. And fleas infested his tan-and-white body, gnawing holes in his ears that are visible today, even after repeated doses of Neosporin. After nearly a month, Booger broke a window to get outside.

But he was scared to jump. So he stood at the window frame until a friend of the Griers happened to drive past and saw him surrounded by broken glass. The friends knocked on the door then went inside to find the house had been abandoned. Booger had been abandoned.

The friends took Booger home in October. He had been an inside dog with the Griers but became an outside dog with his newest caretakers. It was better than being abandoned. Still, Booger needed his buddy. He needed Nathan.

Nathan began to flourish at Scotia Middle School. With the help of educators like social worker Jessica Brennan, he raised his average in math from a 30 to a 93. Nathan had been placed in classes that are tailored to his ability, and suddenly, the numbers began to add up.

He answered questions. He handed his homework in on time. He no longer sat in class with his forehead on his desk. But he wasn't happy. Booger was 1,200 miles away.

Nathan talked about Booger the first time he met with Brennan, and continued to retell Booger stories every time they spoke. One thing, it seemed, allowed the shy boy to open up and reveal his thoughts. Brennan listened and listened some more. Then she had an idea: Why not bring Booger to New York?

Brennan logged onto her computer at home one night and Googled "pet charities and Florida." A few organizations popped up and she e-mailed each one. She received two responses. One told her to hold a fundraiser. The other, Pet Togethers, asked for more information.

She explained the situation and in early December, Pet Togethers agreed to pay the expenses to send Booger north. He needed immunizations, flight papers and transportation to and from the airport.

As it turns out, Pet Togethers isn't normally in the make-a-wish-come-true business.

It's a pet supplement company.

On Dec. 29, Pet Togethers employees loaded Booger into a crate and onto a plane at Tampa International Airport. He arrived in Albany at 4 p.m. and was placed in a van. About an hour later, the van rolled up to the curb in front of the Grier home.

Nathan knew a package was coming. The contents of that package, however, had been a mystery.

"Nathan, something's here for you," Bonnie said as Nathan looked out the window.

He ran outside, looked in the van, and was too stunned to say anything. Booger was skinnier than Nathan had ever seen him. But Booger was still Booger, and he licked Nathan's face through the bars of the cage.

Nathan began to cry as he embraced Booger. Over the next few hours, the doorbell rang almost constantly, as Nathan's friends, who had all heard about Booger, stopped by to meet the dog.

In the days since, Booger has begun the process of acclimating to his new environment. He hates the cold and refuses to set foot in snow. But he still follows Nathan into the bathroom. They're still inseparable. And Booger still sleeps with his feet skyward.

Friday, January 4, 2008

2008 Hero Dog of the Year!

Meet Maya!

"We chose Maya for this award not only because she saved (Angela Marcelino) her human mommy's life from an attacker, but because the organization behind National Dog Day, the Animal Miracle Foundation, loves and supports ALL dog breeds. We don't believe in breed bans and Maya is a testament to the fact that the Pit Bull breed can be hero dogs just like any other breed.

All dogs are capable of biting and even attacking, but it's our firm belief that humans are to blame behind the dogs who get the bad rap. Sadly, so many dogs suffer a tragic fate simply because of their breed. Not only is Maya our Hero Dog of 2008, she is what we're calling our AmbassaBULL to all bull breeds.

It's clear, in this situation, as is the case in many life-threatening situations that involve attacks on women, that Angela was fortunate to have a Pit Bull as her protector. But the most heartwarming aspect of this story is that Angela rescued Maya from the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter....and on June 17th, 2007, Maya returned the favor." ~National Dog Day


Instead of writing a standard 3rd party editorial, we felt that this story is best told by the woman who not only loves this dog - but who is alive today because of her.

It was Fathers Day 2007. I opened my front door and was about to walk inside when I saw someone’s shadow out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head just as a man pushed me into my house. I screamed as loud as I could, but the man had slammed the door shut behind him. “Shut up” were the only words he said to me. He was choking me with one hand. I was able to scream one last time. After I did, his grip tightened around my neck. That is when I saw a white streak run in from the other room. His grip was so tight that I could only gurgle the words “Maya, get him.” He still had a grip on my throat, as his other hand was busy trying to fight off my angry dog. I don’t know how, but I managed to get on my feet.

His attention turned away from Maya for a second so that he could push my front door open and she followed. At that point I grabbed him in the groin as hard as I could. He doubled over and released the grip around my neck. I pushed him away and grabbed Maya by the collar. I like to think, at that moment, he told himself he had picked the wrong woman to mess with. He looked at me one last time, only for a second, and then simply walked away. I waited and followed him from a distance just in case he decided he wasn’t done yet. He was getting into a car. I repeated the license plate number over and over in my head and ran back inside to call 911.
The police arrived after only a couple of minutes. Officers gathered evidence and asked so many questions. I told them how Maya had come to my rescue. I also told them that Maya had something red on her face. They asked me if she was alright or if she was injured. When I checked her, she looked up at me and had such a proud look on her face. She was licking her chops and wagging her tail. If dogs could talk, I think at that moment she would have said “he sure wasn’t expecting to see me, was he?” Maya was fine. Now the officers were trying to determine the best way to swab the head of an angry pit bull. After a couple of tries, and lots of patience, they were able to retrieve what they needed. I told myself that he was going to be arrested the same day. He wasn’t. Everyday following the attack, I worried that he would be back.

Sometime later, Detective Kimber asked me to come down to the station. He had pictures of potential suspects and wanted to know if any of them looked like my attacker. After writing out a statement about one of the photos, Detective Kimber said “we processed the DNA and got a match.” It was same man that I had picked from the photos. The lab had processed the blood from Maya’s face and got a match. I could not believe it. It turns out this man had a record and this was his third strike. He was arrested shortly after being identified. Anthony Easley, 38 years old, now facing life in prison if convicted. After the arrest, Maya became the local hero. I’ve learned that our story has reached across the country. I wish everyone knew how grateful I am for the support and the prayers. It makes each day a little easier to deal with. I cry sometimes when I hug Maya and ask her “ What would I do without you?” But first, I thank God for bringing Maya into my life.

"I'm so proud and grateful that Maya has been honored with the National Dog Day Hero Dog Award for 2008 and feel truly blessed to have her as part of the family. We cant imagine life without her." ~Angela Marcelino