His Past Did Not Determine His Happiness.

 

Jason and Sugar Mama – the dog who saved his life.

This story first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2018 edition of The New Barker dog magazine in our Men Who Love Dogs series. by Anna Cooke

FIGHTING HATE WITH LOVE. The longer you’re in prison, the more hardened you become. “Suddenly, a dog in my life I learned how to control my anger. I was allowed to finally show emotion because it was with a dog,” said Jason Bertrand. “Sugar Mama meant love. She gave me hope while I was in prison. She gave me a reason to want to get out.”

Having been incarcerated since the age of 12, Jason spent most of his life in prison. “Being a good person is not easy when you’re used to being a bad person, and you think it’s easier to be bad. I’ve lived my life in a fight mode. It was easier to stop someone physically than to talk it through,” he said. “But, I don’t want to be that guy anymore. The world I grew up in, isn’t this world. It’s kind of like the Tarzan movie, where the world he grew up in wasn’t the real world.”

Jason was released from prison in December 2016. “I’m beating the odds,” he told us. We spoke with Jason and his wife Crystal over a cup of coffee, outside Cappuccino’s Fine Wine & Espresso Bar in Dunedin in September 2018. We met Sugar Mama, the dog who helped Jason change his attitude and turn his life around while still in prison. They were introduced by the TAILS program.

TAILS (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills) is a collaborative effort that brings together prison inmates and hard-to-adopt shelter dogs. Through partnerships with Northeast Florida shelters and the State of Florida Correctional System, dogs are placed in correctional facilities to be trained, socialized and cared for. The program was developed by First Coast No More Homeless Pets, now operated by Pit Sisters, a Jacksonville-based 501c3 organization that finds foster and permanent homes for hard-to-adopt dogs. Members of the Pit Sisters team assess at-risk dogs at the shelters to select candidates for the TAILS program, matching them with inmates signed up for the program. Pit Sisters also provides transport of the dogs to the correctional facilities.

“TAILS benefits dogs, trainers, families, prison staff and the entire community,” said Jennifer (Jen) Deane, founder and executive director of Pit Sisters. Sugar Mama had been confiscated in a raid to break up a dog fighting ring. She ended up at Putnam County Animal Control. Jason was at the Jacksonville Bridge Community Release Center, a transitional program, when Jen brought Sugar Mama there in April 2016.

When Jason first laid eyes on Sugar Mama, and was told her story, he was filled with a lot of different emotions, all at once. “Here is this dog, with scars and a broken back, recovering from surgery, and she’s smiling and wagging her tail,” said Jason. “I asked myself, why am I so angry? If this dog, with what she’s been through, can be happy, why couldn’t I be happy?”

As he sat with Sugar Mama at their first TAILS meeting, Jason also wondered what kind of person could do this to an innocent being? What kind of person could be so cruel and selfish and intimidating? “Then, I realized that the person I was describing was someone like me. I had been that kind of person.”

He breaks down easily at the memories of hurting the people he loved through his behavior; scaring people – the victims of his crimes. “Just when I think I’m over the tears, every time they come, I’m surprised by them. Prison made my heart calloused and hard. I shut down my emotions and became the kind of man that other men are afraid of. You’re either scared and victimized, or you’re tough. I was dangerous, because I felt that I had needed to be. And that’s how I lost myself. Sugar Mama gave me back my humanity. She melted my heart.”

The reality is, rehabilitation at the Department of Corrections doesn’t exist. In 2018, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed an $87 million budget that was $28 million short in prison funding. To close the gap, the Florida Department of Corrections began eliminating programs that prepare inmates for their return to the community. One of those recently closed was Bridges of Northeast Florida, the transitional program that Jason was in when he met Sugar Mama, almost two years ago.

The goal of the TAILS program is to have the inmates train and socialize the dogs, readying them for adoption to families outside the prison system. After the eight-week program of living with and caring for the dogs, they are taken from the inmates, who know this going into the program. Jason knew it. When he finished the program with Sugar Mama, he would have four months left in the transitional program before being released into society. Four months without her. The rest of his life without her, if she was adopted by someone else.

There have been occasions when an inmate is able to adopt the dog they’ve been paired with in the TAILS program. A family member must be available to take in and foster the dog until the inmate is released from prison. “Jason approached me about adopting Sugar Mama,” Jen told us over the phone. “But, he didn’t have family to send her to; he didn’t even have a home. He told me he would live under a bridge if it meant keeping her with him. She was that critical to his humanity.”

“I had to have her in my life,” said Jason. “She was the first living and breathing being I had ever had unconditional love for. And she reciprocated that love.” Jen went to the Community Release Center’s supervisor on Jason’s behalf. “We both saw the changes, not only in Jason, but Sugar Mama. We agreed that without Sugar Mama, Jason would most likely end up back in the prison system,” said Jen. “We made an exception and let Sugar Mama stay with him until his release, four months later.”

What makes the TAILS program unique is that it is not funded by the Department of Corrections. “Our program is the one vehicle that helps the inmates transition. We pair hardworking guys with positive reinforcement training that gives them experience and discipline, making them more employable when they’re released. They receive certificates from the program,” said Jen. “While we’ve seen a decline in recidivism, we’re working with a professor at the University of North Florida who is helping us pull those numbers together and quantify the benefits of the program. TAILS has been in existence for three years and all of the dogs have been adopted. Zero percent have been returned to the shelter,” said Jen.

The TAILS program teaches inmates how to be responsible. “It’s about being part of a team. It’s about showing up when you’re supposed to,” said Jason. “Yes, it’s about getting up at 5am to put food in the dog’s bowl, but that’s just the superficial level. It’s a lot deeper than that.”

Jason has a lot going for him now, including a good job working as a technician for a heating and air conditioning company. He has a family – Crystal, Sugar Mama and the couple’s other dog, Emma, a Jack Russell Terrier. He has a home and a car. It’s the first time in his life he’s putting the needs of others before himself. He’s also become a spokesperson for TAILS, traveling to the facilities that have the program to talk to inmates.

When speaking to a group of inmates, the first thing Jason tells them is his DOC number, so they know he was an inmate. “It’s a way of letting them know that I am no different from them. Inmates don’t care what the free world thinks. Sharing my DOC number helps break the ice. I want them to know that there is life after prison.”

While in Tallahassee, Jason listened to an inmate speak. “He had a tough guy presence; acted like he didn’t care about anything. Just then, one of the TAILS dogs walked over to the inmate and nudged his hand. Instinctively, the guy started petting the dog, as he continued to talk. And, I had to stop him to point out what was happening. I told him that, right there, that was an act of unconditional love and kindness towards him. I reminded the group to never minimize any experience.”

It costs $300 for a dog to go through the TAILS program. When sponsoring a dog, you’ll be able to choose your dog for the program and receive updates about the dog you are sponsoring.You’ll be invited to attend graduation where you’ll meet your sponsored dog, along with the trainers and the new adopters.

“Never minimize any experience.” Jason Bertrand with Sugar Mama.

For more information on TAILS, contact Jennifer Deane, Founder/President and Executive Director of Pit Sisters for more information. Email Jen Deane at jen@PitSisters.org Jen is also a Regional Director for the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation. Since 1989, it has been illegal in Miami-Dade County to own or keep American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers or any other dog that substantially conforms to any of these breeds’ characteristics. More info on TAILS at: PitSisters.org/Tails Miami Coalition Against BSL: MCABSL.com

The Dog Homefront: The Perfect Accessories for A Dog Lover’s Home.

Day trips are perks in our line of work. We meet new dogs and enjoy listening to humans tell their favorite  dog stories. Talking about dogs instantly puts a smile on everyone’s face and the room at ease. Here are some of our favorite stops over the last couple of weeks.
DUNEDIN
We recently met Charlie at Waterside Furnishings in Dunedin where “Dogs Are Allowed But Husbands Must Be On A Leash.” Charlie was born in Scotland and moved to Dunedin with his humans a couple of years ago. He has the sweetest face and the biggest Westie ears we’ve ever seen.
Charlie, the West Highland Terrier.
Our House a very fine house on Main Street in Dunedin has some beautiful treasures for the dog lover’s home and garden. Proprietor and fellow dog lover René Johnson has a special creative touch for retail. We fell in love with the outdoor accent sculptures, like this one. Cat Lovers, check out the Frida Cathlo art.
A variety of artisan dog sculptures for outdoor living rooms.
Cat lovers, you’ll find some surprises as well.

TAMPA’S HYDE PARK

Pottery Barn Old Hyde Park is having a Summer Sale and look what we found. Bulldog Bookends and a dog statue.

DADE CITY AND SAN ANTONIO
We’ve been traveling to and from Dade City for years, and enjoy our shopping visits at the always-evolving Dog Mania & Cats. On a recent visit, instead of heading straight out of town, we made a left at the light towards San Antonio. An old red brick building caught our eye, as did the sign of one of the businesses: Tangerine Hill – Red Dog Designer Home. The shop’s proprietor, Rose, is a dog lover and full of colorful stories, so naturally, her store has some surprising dog-themed finds. Afterwards, she insisted we visit with Uncle Johnny, next door, at San Antonio Antiques for some more surprises.
Fun signs and yard art at Tangerine Hill – Red Dog Designer Home.
Paper Towel Holder for Cat Lovers.
Porcelain dog figurines and cast iron dog candle holders.
Life size Standard Poodle glass statue at San Antonio Antiques.
Our new Wiener Paper Towel Holder from Tangerine Hill. Perfect!

 

Happiness Is Running With A Friend.

Have you ever considered running a marathon with your dog?

by Anna Cooke – Have you signed up for the 2017 Goody Goody Turkey Gobble? It is dog-friendly with giveaways, awards and a delicious post-race meal. Information below.

Jeff Odell has been running with his dog Kuma since she was old enough to start training.  “I did enough reading to know that it is not healthy to run a dog before they are at least a year old,” said Jeff, who ran a fair amount when he was younger.

Eventually, raising a family and other things would take precedence, placing Jeff’s running on hold for many years. He picked it up again about 18 years ago when he was 42, focusing on long distance running and marathon training. He has completed 27 marathons and led a local chapter of the Jeff Galloway Marathon Training group in Tampa for five years. It was with that group in Temple Terrace where we first met Jeff, Kuma and some of the other runners early one Saturday morning. They had just completed their morning run of between 10 to 15 miles. Kuma, a Golden Retriever/Black Labrador Retriever mix, had done about five miles with Jeff. “Ten miles is her cool weather run,” said Jeff. “She let’s me know, but we usually keep it to between three and five miles in hot weather.”

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Jeff Odell, racing buddies Sandi Lake and Kuma. Temple Terrace, 2017.

Kuma has the coat of a Golden Retriever that is the color of a black Labrador. She is almost seven and sports a little white around her muzzle now. It would be three years after the death of Lightning, the family’s beloved Golden Retriever, before Jeff’s wife Therese considered another dog. “It took Therese a long time to get over losing Lightning, who had grown up with our kids. She thought she could never have another dog, until we met Kuma,” said Jeff. The couple’s middle child Joseph, who lives in Japan, took one look at the puppy, and said she looked like a fuzzy little bear cub or Kuma – the Japanese word for bear. “We liked it and the name stuck,” said Jeff.

IMG_KumaJeff and Kuma bonded right away and he knew he wanted to eventually run her for exercise, if she took to it. “When I was a kid in upstate New York, I had a mixed breed dog that followed me everywhere around town. The idea of generally doing things with a dog in tow is pretty ingrained in me. When you have a dog the size of Kuma, at 65 pounds, you need to give her plenty of exercise, so I thought, why not both of us?”

Jeff began working with the puppy by taking her on walks with a six foot leash, training her to stay on his left side. When she was around a year old, Jeff began taking her for shorter runs, gradually increasing their length. As part of her training, he also mixed in running and walking to help ease Kuma into it.

“She took to running right away,” said Jeff. “She was so in tune with walking that running just seemed the next natural step.”

Jeff said that Kuma has never run on the wrong side of a mailbox or sign. “She knows to stay on the same side as me. We never end up wrapped around anything – except on the rare occasion when a squirrel gets her attention,” laughed Jeff.

One of the most important tips Jeff stresses for running with a dog is learning to recognize the signs of fatigue. “As long as Kuma’s tail and ears are up, she’s good. When they start to droop, it’s time to take her home.”

Early in their training, Jeff noticed something else about Kuma. “In hot weather, she would want to stop and spread out in heavy dewy grass. She was cooling herself by getting herself damp. Now, I find that if I give her 10 to 15 seconds, she rolls over one side, then the other, gets up, shakes if off and is ready to go again. She does this every couple of miles. Sometimes, dogs are smarter than we are.”

A RUNNING TIP FROM JEFF:  There’s lots of gimmicky running  gear for dogs. I don’t use any of it. Save your money. You need a leash and a light.  Don’t use an adjustable leash. I use a six foot leash that also has a handle-like loop near the dog in case I need to grab it and pull her in tight. I do not use one of those ‘hands free’ leashes that attaches around your waist. I don’t want my 65 pound dog, upon seeing a squirrel or a duck, to pull me over. I’m more comfortable holding the leash in my hand.

Jeff blames the Labrador half of Kuma for her wanting to pick up and swallow all manner of junk along the road. “I have to keep a good eye on her, and my running group does too. They have heard me say ‘drop it’ so many times that they will tease me whenever I say it – which is often.”

At a race, Kuma is a great icebreaker. “Runners are, for the most part, pretty social. Having Kuma around attracts all kinds of people and sparks conversations on how she was trained and what is her longest run (13 miles). Many people tell me of their successes or failures at getting their dogs to run with them,” said Jeff.

For Jeff, having Kuma in his life has been very rewarding. “Finding activities that your dog can participate in with you makes the dog part of your family and everyday life. In that sense, I’m like any dog owner that likes their dog around in varying circumstances.”

Knowing he has to walk or run Kuma continues to motivate Jeff. “When a personal or family issue arises and you don’t feel like getting out there, knowing Kuma will enjoy it gets me going when I otherwise might not want to.”

The New Barker dog magazine is a co-sponsor of the 2017 Goody Goody Turkey Gobble, 5K, 8K and 1 mile run on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 23, 2017. Reeves Volkswagen will provide the official Pace Car. The start/finish is near Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa.

Reeves_Pacecar

Here are some FAQ’s – good information for run day. Registered runners and their dogs will receive a Doggie Swag Bag from THE NEW BARKER. Post race will include a delicious meal provided by Goody Goody Famous Burgers. Sign up today for the best prices. We are limiting the number of dogs to 150. The best part of the race is that the proceeds will go to support LIVESTRONG at the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA for cancer survivors and their families. We’ll see you on race day, bright and early.

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Last year, Rita was ready for some post-race chow.

I’ve Got Your 6.

The unconditional love of a dog heals the soul, reaching into the heart to cross canyons of loneliness and despair. Military researchers are trying to learn if there’s real science behind that semi-mystical link and whether it can help treat the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

by Anna Cooke

“We had never trained a tripod to be a service dog,” said Mary Peter, CEO and founder of K9 Partners For Patriots. The Brooksville, Florida program is helping veterans win the war against suicide, depression and anxiety through the experience of training their own service dog. The dog Mary was referring to, a Jack Russell Terrier mix, had been pulled from a kill shelter by a Spring Hill rescue group called Furever Friendz Inc. When volunteers picked him up, he was jaundiced with an infection in his right leg and parts of his right shoulder. He looked as if he’d been to hell and back. Once his caregivers nursed him back to health, including treating his infections, he was scheduled for surgery to save his leg. During surgery, the doctor discovered that the injury to the dog’s leg was so severe, amputation would be the best solution.

The happy little guy re-habbed really well, hardly noticing the difference. Furever Friendz Rescue Inc. made him available for adoption. He ended up in a most unusual place.

Lt. Dan, the tripod, pulled from a kill shelter, fostered by a rescue group, adopted by a veteran to be his service dog.

In War, There Are No Unwounded Soldiers. Every veteran has a story. Sometimes, it’s the wounds that are unseen that hurt the most. The conditions of Post Traumatic Stress Disease (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are often invisible to other service members, family and society. Each condition affects mood, thoughts and behavior. Yet, these wounds often go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, according to new data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The problem is particularly worrisome among female veterans, who saw their suicide rates rise more than 85 percent between 2001 and 2014. Women make up 15 percent of our All Volunteer Force. About one-third of these women will be sexually assaulted during their time in service.

The first step to helping our veterans is to educate them about PTSD and what is going on inside of them. “They need to stop seeing themselves as broken, instead understanding that their brain did exactly what it was supposed to do to keep them safe in combat. They trained for combat; now they need to train to be home,” said Diane Scotland-Coogan, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Saint Leo University. She provides counseling for many veterans with PTSD.

Two major U.S. government studies are investigating the ways that trained service dogs may help veterans with TBI and/or PTSD. The first study is underway at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Participating troops are paired with puppies that they will raise for two years to serve as assistance dogs for other injured veterans.

A second study, conducted by the VA, has taken several years and is almost complete. The focus of the study is to determine if “there are things a dog can do for a veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a service dog for PTSD.” K9 Partners for Patriots is participating in the study.

IMG_8453_TheNewBarkerWe All Have A Destiny. Mike, a retired veteran, has been through many tours of duty, including theatres in Desert Storm and Panama. Daily, he faces the mental, emotional and physical challenges as a result. Like many graduates of the K9 Partners for Patriots program, Mike returns to volunteer his services, wherever needed. His wife Lana volunteers as well. The day we met Mike, he was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Standing next to him was Lt. Dan, the aforementioned tripod Jack Russell Terrier mix. Mike named the dog after the character in the movie Forest Gump. Lt. Dan is now Mike’s service dog. It turns out this burly man with the imposing presence has a soft spot for the feisty little breed.

When Lana first found the three-legged dog on the Furever Friendz Rescue website, she called her husband. “Honey, I’ve found a Jack Russell but, there might be one problem; he only has three legs.” Mike didn’t miss a beat. “Not a problem. Let’s bring him home,” he told her. Once home, the dog instinctively began alerting Mike to oncoming anxiety attacks. Mike’s wife noticed the overall calming effect Lt. Dan had on her husband and wondered if he could be trained to do more as a service dog. Lt. Dan passed the preliminary tests conducted by the trainers at K9 Partners for Patriots. He and Mike were immediately enrolled in the 19-week program.

Lt. Dan was further trained to alert Mike to oncoming anxiety attacks, wake him from nightmares and calm him down in other certain trigger situations. At home, throughout the day and night, Lt. Dan never leaves Mike’s side.

Never Give Up. Never Give In. In the Army for 23 years (1983-2007), Paul had been working at one of the highest security clearance levels. “There was a sense of purpose,” he said. “But once the VA slaps you with a diagnosis, you’re out. And all dignity is lost. Once, we were someone important. Now, we’re forgotten.”

Army veteran Paul and his service dog Hans, a Lemon Dalmatian/Treeing Coonhound mix.

Paul was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and GWS (Gulf War Syndrome). “I’ve seen quite a bit; lost friends,” he told us. “I was taking so many medications, just to get my head clear.” In 2000, a doctor predicted Paul would be dead in three years. He credits his faith, sense of honor and the medical profession with keeping him alive. “And my two daughters, Caroline and Viktoria. They’ve stuck with me through it all,” he said.

About two years ago, Dr. Mueller, Paul’s clinical psychiatrist with the VA in New Port Richey, handed Paul a piece of paper. It had the phone number for K9 Partners for Patriots. When he called, he was told they would be able to evaluate his dog Moose, a black Labrador Retriever. If his dog passed, they would be trained together over the course of 19 weeks.

“How much is this going to cost me?” he asked. Not a dime, he was told. There had to be a catch. “Nothing is free,” he thought, out loud. “You’re right, Paul. Nothing is free. You’ve already given us a lot. All we need now is your commitment to participate,” he was told.

One in 25 dogs assessed actually makes it into the K9 Partners for Patriots program. “We look for dogs who can sense the adrenaline. Some dogs are repelled by it. Others could care less. We look for a dog who is attuned to it,” said Mary. Moose was 12 years old and it was determined he was too old for the service dog program. The Acquisition Team set out to find the perfect partner for Paul, which usually takes anywhere from two to six weeks.

“We interview the veteran to find out their needs. We also want to see a commitment from the veteran before we spend the time and money to find a dog,” said Mary. “We ask them to spend time at our facility to get used to the environment and meet the other veterans in the program. We invite their families.”

Hans, a two-year-old Lemon Dalmatian Treeing Coonhound mix, was transported from a North Georgia shelter to the K9 Partners for Patriots campus and paired with Paul. During their second night together, Hans pushed his head into Paul to wake him. “It was late and he was just looking at me. I thought he had to go outside. But he didn’t. Then I realized, I was having a flashback, and Hans woke me up and stayed by my side.”

Paul and Hans graduated from the K9 Partners for Patriots program earlier this year. They continue to come to the campus to volunteer wherever they’re needed. “I’ll cut the grass. I figure if I can do something to free up the trainers so they can focus on what they do, then, it’ll help save another vet’s life,” he said.

I’ve Got Your Back. Mary has never been in combat. “But I’ve seen some things that affected me while working in forensics recovery, and I had no one to talk to about it,” she said. She feels a higher power called her into action to help her community. “I cannot change the world, but I can sure help my corner of it,” she told us. The second hardest part of Mary’s job is convincing the medical field that the program is working. “Many of our veterans come into this program as highly medicated, barely functioning individuals,” she said.

In spite of this roadblock put up by some medical practitioners, K9 Partners for Patriots has been recognized by experts as a successful path forward for veterans living with PTSD. “When veterans come to K9 Partners for Patriots, they may not be able to visualize what their life could be because of the symptoms of PTSD. But if they trust the process, they can take control away from the symptoms of PTSD and start to live their lives again,” said Diane Scotland-Coogan, the associate professor at Saint Leo College. She has been working with K9 Partners for Patriots, conducting the double-blind studies that will be presented as a report to the Department of Defense. Continue reading “I’ve Got Your 6.”

We See What We Choose To See.

by Anna Cooke, Editor in Chief, The New Barker dog magazine.

Would you be able to tell whether or not someone was homeless just by their appearance? According to the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI), data collected in 2016 counted 1817 homeless men, women and children. There are 67 counties in Florida.

Bob Blair, a member of the Tampa Elks organization, helps organize a monthly outreach program that assists the homeless. Once a month, volunteers visit homeless camps throughout the city to provide food, counseling, toiletries and other necessities. The roaming outreaches, as they’ve been dubbed, help to determine where each quarterly outreach program will be held, which is much larger in scope.

During the roaming outreach visits, volunteers have noticed an increase in the number of pets living with many of their homeless humans. While it is clear the pets, mostly cats and dogs, are loved, it is obvious they need care. About half the animals are spayed or neutered.

Thankfully, word travels fast among animal lovers, and Victoria Parker of Bayshore Dog Training pulled together some pretty incredible can-do partners, including Second Chance Friends Rescue and 4 Lucky Dogs Pet Rescue. All three organizations pooled their resources and were able to collect large donations of pet food, flea, tick and de-wormer medication, collars, leashes, toys, bowls and tarps. They attended their first quarterly community outreach event as the Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group, which was held yesterday, June 13 at The American Legion Post 111 in Seminole Heights on the corner of Florida Avenue and Sligh.

The group’s volunteers set up tables inside and outside The American Legion. They were just one of many businesses and volunteers donating their products and services to those less fortunate. The Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group connected with more than 50 dog owners, many of whom had not brought their pets with them.

“Oftentimes, when we visit the camps, these folks will refuse any help – whether it’s money or food. There are trust issues with many of these people,” said Bob Blair, the Tampa Elk volunteer. He estimated they would most likely see about 250 people during the day’s event. A hot meal was guaranteed to every person who attended. The food, donated by The Tampa Elks organization, was prepared and being served by Salvation Army volunteers.

“It was an emotional day for me; seeing the gratitude of the people passing by our table,” said Victoria.

“We didn’t know what to expect and ended up helping a lot of grateful people. We gathered good information,” said Bill Gray of Second Chance Rescue. “The biggest thing I learned is that nobody is actively helping these people. We found out that some of the pets are in need of immediate medical care.”

Not everyone reaching out was homeless, but they were definitely in need of assistance, and education. One woman, with two small children, said the family’s young female Chihuahua had lots of fleas. While the medication and supplies were being put together for her, Gray asked if her dog was spayed. “No, we want her to experience motherhood, so we’re going to let her have one litter of puppies before having her fixed.” In a most eloquent and respectful conversation with the woman, Gray was able to convince her that spaying would be beneficial to everyone – the dog and the woman’s family. “Give your contact information to one of our volunteers right here, and we’ll arrange to have your dog spayed. We’ll cover the costs.” The woman looked relieved.

As a result of their willingness to reach out, yesterday, the Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group has been asked to meet with both Metropolitan Ministries and Hillsborough County’s homeless veterans liaison. They are already preparing for the next quarterly outreach program in September.

It would be wonderful to see the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, Animal Coalition of Tampa and the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation partner with the Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group and provide on-site animal wellness checks, vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures during the Tampa Elks quarterly outreach events.

In a previous issue of The New Barker (winter 2010), we featured a story on Gainesville’s St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic. At that time, the clinic was still operating in the back of the St. Francis House homeless shelter. While driving across town in Gainesville, Chris Machen noticed what others chose to ignore: the proliferation of homeless people with pets; mostly dogs, some cats. She observed how well-loved the pets were when their humans wandered into the St. Francis House soup kitchen and homeless shelter, where she volunteered. Wanting to become more involved in her community, Machen listened as her friend, Gainesville veterinarian Dr. Dale Kaplan-Stein, talked about wanting to open a clinic for animals of Gainesville’s homeless population.

“The homeless are not faceless,” Dr. Kaplan-Stein would tell her detractors. “They are people. Those who say that the poor should not own pets should rethink that statement, because that pet could be the only thing that gives them joy, love and hope. Pets make us all better people. Besides, if these animals are healthier, our community will be healthier.”

We met Sir Drake, a seven year-old Poodle, during the Community Outreach event for the Homeless in Tampa on Tuesday, June 13. His human, Charles, has lung cancer and is no longer able to drive. The New Barker has made arrangements with Tampa’s Rover Done Over Grooming to visit Charles at home and give Sir Drake a bath and groom.

 

Belle Of The Ball.

As Laura drives down the road that leads up to the Aquatic Center, Lucy is already jumping around in the car.

Florida municipalities, hip on the dog revolution, open up their public pools for dog swims at the end of their swim seasons. Public pools in Fort Lauderdale, Largo, St. Petersburg and Tampa have been doing it for several years now, much to the delight of their canine citizens. On Saturday, November 5, the City of Tampa hosts Drool In The Pool Doggie Paddle at Copeland Park Pool in North Tampa (11001 North 15th Street). There is a $5 per dog charge. Humans enter free (but no humans are allowed in the pool). Next Saturday at Largo’s Highland Family Aquatic Center, the annual Soggy Doggy Splash Party will be from 11a-1p (400 Highland Avenue). There is a bonus day on Sunday from Noon-3p. Again, this is strictly a dog swim. No humans are allowed in the pools.

Lucy, a Labrador Retriever who lives with her human Laura Allen, loves the Soggy Doggy Splash Party. The following is an excerpt from a feature that appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of The New Barker dog magazine.

As Laura drives down the road that leads up to the Aquatic Center, before even seeing the other dogs or the pool, Lucy is already jumping around in the car.  When the gates to the pool open, this dog is ready for some serious play time. She takes off with the other dogs, barely looking back at Laura. Occasionally, Lucy will look up and around for Laura, just to make sure. She gives Laura a reassuring smile before going back to playing.

Oliver and his human drive from South Tampa each year to attend Largo's Soggy Doggy Splash Day. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.
Lucy and Oliver. Oliver and his human drive from South Tampa each year to attend Largo’s Soggy Doggy Splash Party. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker dog magazine.

Lucy is the life of any party and has never met another dog she didn’t like. One moment she is relentlessly flirting with her best friend, Catahoula mix Oliver, adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. The next moment, she’s taking her toy to another human she doesn’t even know, coaxing him to throw it. No one can resist Lucy’s charm or her invitation to play ball. No one. She will continue to pick up and drop the toy in front of a stranger, until he finally picks it up to throw it into the pool. Mission accomplished, and off she runs.

"I don't know you. But, throw my toy and we will be BFF," coaxes Lucy to a stranger. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.
Throw My Toy. Now. “I don’t know you. But, throw my toy and we will be BFF,” coaxed Lucy to a stranger. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.

Toy-driven and focused, Lucy will dive down three to five feet in the water to retrieve a toy. She loves swimming with Laura in the Gulf or in a swimming pool, so she has definitely honed her aquatic skills. That came in handy during the 25-yard swim, another event held during the Soggy Doggy Day Splash Party. On this particular day, there was a massive start at the relay, as the dogs all jumped in the water at the same time. Every dog was swimming in all directions. Every dog, that is, except Lucy. With an almost inaudible whistle from Laura, Lucy quickly spotted her mark at the other end of the pool, and was soon cutting through the water like an arrow. Of course it didn’t hurt that Laura held one of Lucy’s toys in her hand. Advantage: Team Lucy, winner of the 2013 Soggy Doggy Splash Party 25-yard swim.

Lucy checks out how far down her toy is before diving in after it. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Lucy checks out how far down her toy is before diving in after it. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker dog magazine.

Lucy embodies the complete and utter joy of a dog, and Laura brings the best of that out in her. They go almost everywhere together when Laura is not working on location or on assignment as a professional photographer. Laura, who completely appreciates our domestication of dogs as a society, also believes dogs should be allowed to be dogs. Like children, dogs sometimes like to get dirty, and roll around in the grass, or mud.  Laura believes in taking it all in stride.

“If I know we’re going to a place where Lucy will get dirty, I just make it a bath day. I try to live in the moment, just like Lucy does, and to not stress about the little things,” said Laura.

Lucy. The Belle of the Ball. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker Dog Magazine.
Lucy. The Belle of the Ball. Photograph by Laura Allen Studios for The New Barker Dog Magazine.

 

The Good. The Bad. And, The Ugly.

Each story in The New Barker dog magazine offers up some kind of hope. While the story may start out sad, there is always an ending that will make the reader feel good.

In its 10th year of publishing, The New Barker features the Florida lifestyle. The quarterly magazine is all about dogs and the people who love them. Each day we sort through press releases, phone messages and emails from people who have a story to tell about a dog. We review the news-feeds of the good, the bad and the ugly to determine which ones we want to pursue to develop a story. Most of the time, we are heartened by the stories. Other times, we cannot believe how cruel humans can be towards the creature known for its devotion. Man’s best friend.

There is so much negativity in the news already, and many of you dog lovers are most likely already aware of the atrocities occurring. We usually make the decision not to write about the bad or the ugly, unless there is a good side to it.

The following story, however, does not have a good side to it. And yet, we cannot look away. It makes us angry.

lady_opa_locka
This is Lady, one of two dogs confiscated by Miami-Dade Animal Services in a cruelty case.

In a court appearance last week, Ronald Wilson, the former police chief of Opa-locka, pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of animal cruelty with intent to injure or kill. “He’s a really nice guy, very honorable,” said his defense lawyer, Sky Smith. “He has tremendous guilt over what he’s charged with.”

Really nice guy? In the yard of his Miami Gardens home, authorities discovered two German Shepherd mixes named Lady and Thug. They were severely emaciated. Their skin was cracked and bleeding. Most of their teeth were missing, their eyes oozing. Tremendous guilt? The dogs were removed while Wilson was out of town on a cruise.

X-rays revealed that Thug has two bullets lodged inside him.
X-rays revealed that Thug has two bullets lodged inside him.

Wilson has voluntarily turned over the dogs to Miami-Dade Animal Services.

Lady had to have several surgeries to remove 28 growths from her body. She needs eye surgery. Putting on a little weight and regaining some of her fur, she is faring better than Thug. X-rays revealed he has two bullets lodged in his body and suffered broken bones that have not properly healed. He is barely able to walk. Both dogs are currently being cared for by volunteers at Dezzy’s Second Chance Animal Rescue, a five-acre animal sanctuary in Palm Beach County.

“Mr. Wilson had no explanation why the two dogs were in horrible physical condition,” county animal services investigator Lisa Yambrich wrote in her report.