Tag Archives: pit bulls

At Kindness Ranch

Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary is a unique place, the only sanctuary in the United States that cares for animals used in research and laboratory facilities.  At this property, you’ll find horses, cows, sheep, pigs, cats and dogs.

The small team at Kindness, which is a fairly new sanctuary at only 12 years old (founded in 2006), work hard to care for the animals and maintain their large Wyoming property to the highest of standards.  Animals that can be rehabilitated are put up for adoption; the others will simply remain at the property with a secure and safe home for life.

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I have just finished a week of work with the dog care team at Kindness, discussing things like behavioral adjustment programs, enrichment, gait analysis, physical rehabilitation and senior dog care.    I also introduced them to the range of flower essences I use to support emotional health whilst working on training and rehab.

I chose to travel to Kindness Ranch because, for anyone who follows my blog, I often include items about research.  I’m a self-confessed science geek.  But I am not naive.  I know that much of the research which is published involves dogs as study subjects.  The life of a lab animal, in most cases, isn’t pretty.

The ranch is in remote Wyoming – Hartville to be exact with a permanent population of 69 people.  For this reason, if you’d like to visit Kindness (there are 4 guest yurts on the property which can be hired for your stay – and these are well-appointed and very comfortable), you need to book ahead.  The ranch is also a good place for a digital detox, too,  because the guest yurts do not have television and cell phone reception is patchy at best.  WiFi is available but is slower than most are used to and not suitable for streaming.

Dogs coming from a laboratory situation often have unique needs.  Most have never experienced grass under the feet, the sights and sounds of the home environment, and some will have healthcare issues that require attention before adoption is possible.  Many have never been house trained.  Their ages vary depending on how long they were used for study.

And while Beagles are the dogs most often associated with laboratory research, expect to see other breeds of dogs, too.  Larger breed dogs are often used by veterinary schools, for example, so students can learn blood draws, how to vaccinate, etc.  These dogs become living pin cushions and are not surprisingly fearful whenever a needle is presented.

I deliberately chose Kindness as a destination because of the special niche it holds in the animal rescue world.  It takes special people to liaise with laboratories and encourage them to release their animals rather than choosing to simply euthanize them (described as the ‘cost effective’ option).  Kindness walks a tightrope of sorts to ensure that the animals are given safe passage out of the lab and onto the sanctuary whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the labs.

And it also takes special people to live remotely and care for these  animals.

I hope you enjoy these photos of my time at Kindness and, if you believe in their mission, please consider making a donation.  Every bit helps.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Hank

Hank was the first dog to stay with me overnight in my yurt. Hank is an older boy who spent the first 7 or 8 years of his life in a laboratory. He’s a bit stiff, and has trouble with stairs (as many of the Beagles do).

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Hank in for a cuddle

One of Hank’s favourite pastimes is being held like a baby on your lap. He makes himself totally relaxed and floppy and will stay for as long as you like. It’s amazing how trusting these dogs can be given their treatment at the hands of others.

 

Rocky

Rocky is a big boy who doesn’t know his own strength (he needs more training about walking nicely on leash) and he’s afraid of men.  We suspect his life as a veterinary school practice animal meant that he didn’t have a positive relationship with a male lab assistant and/or vet students.  So we worked on setting up a system where the men on the ranch will visit and quietly enter and feed him high value treats. Handlers will praise Rocky when he is quiet and doesn’t bark and will start using a ‘click for quiet’ approach to clicker training.

Frieda

Frieda is a pit bull who loves to go to the dog park on the ranch, appropriately called the K9 Corral. She has good recall and knows most of her basic cues including sit and down. She’s very intelligent!

Gus

Gus is another senior Beagle used in pharmacokinetic studies for at least 7 years. (These studies introduce drugs and watch their effects on other organs in the body.) He’s a bit achy in the joints, too. Gabapentin and muscle relaxants prescribed by the vet have helped him a lot and his caregiver says that he is a different dog with the support of his meds.

 

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Willa – Our Sweet Girl

Willa is a special dog.

An American Pit Bull x Boxer, Willa has breast cancer which has likely spread. She’s on medication, but with time being precious, it’s important to focus on quality of life.   Willa is a popular sleepover dog at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – every precious sleepover adds to Willa’s quality of life and enrichment.  She really enjoys getting out of kennels, getting cuddles and having a good, deep sleep.

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Willa loves rides in the car

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A special tag for a special girl

I really enjoyed staying with Willa and seeing her sweet nature in person.  Let’s hope she gets a home soon.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Breed Labels: When Guesses Turn Into Predictions

The NZ Government has proposed breed specific legislation that would prohibit animal shelters from re-homing ‘menacing’ breeds. These breeds would be identified solely based on appearance. This is a wonderful blog post on the subject of labeling of breeds.  It’s certainly timely – since the City of Montreal has also proposed a ban on pit-bull type dogs (which has been temporarily stopped by the courts – with the Mayor of Montreal promising to fight to retain the law).

Fingers crossed for all rescues and dogs out there.  These are challenging times.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

As we travel around the country, having conversations with shelters and rescues about the “pit bull” dogs in their care, we find that there are always a few big a-ha! moments that help people understand that all dogs are individuals just a bit better.

One of the more exciting moments typically happens during our Labels & Language presentation where we discuss the role of breed labeling in shelters and the assumptions we make about dogs based on those labels.

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The Champions

In my local community of Christchurch, New Zealand, I am sponsoring a community viewing of The Champions, a documentary by Darcy Dennett.  Proceeds will go to four local dog charities:  K9 Rescue and Rehoming, SPCA Canterbury, Dogwatch and Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue.

This film, which follows the story of some of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels, is a good news story.  It makes you think about recovery and a dog’s capacity to endure and survive.  Since I am very familiar with the work of the Best Friends Animal Society, it is also great to see the work done by them and BADRAP in San Francisco in finding these dogs homes.

I commend this film to you and encourage you to see it for yourselves.

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Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Previous posts relevant to the Vick case and dog fighting include:

 

 

The mis-labelling of pit bulls

DNA results show that shelter workers are often mistaken when they label a dog as a pit bull, with potentially devastating consequences for the dogs, a new University of Florida study has found.

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Dr. Julie Levy holds a dog currently up for adoption at the Alachua County Animal Services facility in Gainesville, Florida

“Animal shelter staff and veterinarians are frequently expected to guess the breed of dogs based on appearance alone,” said Julie Levy, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of shelter medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the lead author of a study published recently in The Veterinary Journal.

“Unlike many other things people can’t quite define but ‘know when they see it,’ identification of dogs as pit bulls can trigger an array of negative consequences, from the loss of housing, to being seized by animal control, to the taking of the dog’s life,” she said. “In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog’s life might depend on a potential adopter’s momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If the shelter staff has labeled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters.”

The past few decades have brought an increase in ownership restrictions on breeds including pit bulls and dogs that resemble them. The restrictions are based on assumptions that certain breeds are inherently dangerous, that such dogs can be reliably identified and that the restrictions will improve public safety, the study states.

The study focused on how accurately shelter staff identified dogs believed to be pit bulls. ‘Pit bull’ is not a recognized breed, but a term applied to dogs derived from the heritage breeds American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier. The purebred American pit bull terrier is also derived from these breeds and is often included in the loose definition of ‘pit bull.’

The research team evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 shelter staff members, including four veterinarians, at four shelters. These staff members all had at least three years of experience working in a shelter environment. The researchers then took blood samples from the dogs, developed DNA profiles for each animal and compared the DNA findings against the staff’s initial assessments.

“We found that different shelter staffers who evaluated the same dogs at the same time had only a moderate level of agreement among themselves,” Levy said. Results of the study also showed that while limitations in available DNA profiles make absolute breed identification problematic, when visual identification was compared with DNA test results, the assessors in the study fared even worse.

Dogs with pit bull heritage breed DNA were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on which of the staff members was judging them. Conversely, dogs lacking any genetic evidence of relevant breeds were labeled as pit bull-type dogs from 0 to 48 percent of the time, the researchers reported.

“Essentially we found that the marked lack of agreement observed among shelter staff members in categorizing the breeds of shelter dogs illustrates that reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible, even by experts,” Levy said. “These results raise difficult questions because shelter workers and veterinarians are expected to determine the breeds of dogs in their facilities on a daily basis.

Additionally, they are often called on as experts as to whether a dog’s breed will trigger confiscation or regulatory action. The stakes for these dogs and their owners are in many cases very high.”

Dog breeds contain many genetic traits and variants, and the behavior of any individual dog is impossible to predict based on possible combinations.

“A dog’s physical appearance cannot tell observers anything about its behavior. Even dogs of similar appearance and the same breed often have diverse behavioral traits in the same way that human siblings often have very different personalities,”Levy said.

Even though most pet dogs are of unknown mixed breeds, there is a natural inclination among pet owners to speculate on what their dog’s breed heritage might be, the authors said.

“This has fueled an entire industry of pet dog DNA analysis,” Levy said. “These tests are fun, but they won’t help predict behavior or health traits. Shelters and veterinary clinics are better off entering ‘mixed breed’ or ‘unknown’ in their records unless the actual pedigrees are available.”

As for legal restrictions on dogs based on their appearance, Levy said public safety would be better served by reducing risk factors for dog bites, such as supervising children, recognizing canine body language, avoiding an unfamiliar dog in its territory, neutering dogs and raising puppies to be social companions.

Source:  University of Florida media release

See also my 2013 post on Visual identification of breed – one reason why BSL doesn’t work

Now Paw-tucket can live up to its name

The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island had a 10-year old ordinance banning the ownership of pit bulls until earlier this week.  A judge ruled that a 2013 state law banning breed-specific legislation meant that the city’s law was now illegal.

This is a win for the fight against breed specific laws and restrictions.

Pit bull owners in Pawtucket celebrated on Sunday with a parade.  There was also a free dog training class offered afterwards.  A local group, Pit Bulls for PTSD, also participated in the parade.  The group trains pit bulls to become service dogs for autistic children and veterans suffering from PTSD.

Please remember:  punish the deed and not the breed!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Life lessons from the Vicktory dogs

I do not support breed specific legislation.  One of the agencies leading the way in changing the perception of pit bulls, and breed specific legislation more generally, is Best Friends Animal Society.

In this TEDx talk filmed in Salt Lake City, Julie Castle, the Chief Marketing and Development Officer for Best Friends Animal Society, talks about the 22 pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting kennels that were sent to the Best Friends sanctuary.  Alongside their journey of recovery, Castle discusses how Best Friends built a coalition to change perceptions about pit bulls and to advocate for saving rather than killing pit bull dogs.

I hope you find this story as inspirational as I do.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand