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

Every Dog Has His Lucky Day.

As the Jacksonville Humane Society celebrates the grand opening of its new facilities, we revisit our story about the devastating fire in 2007.

Excerpted and edited from a story in the Holiday/Winter 2008/2009 edition of The New Barker.

It was late night/early morning on April 7, 2007, when Leona Sheddan, former Executive Director of the Jacksonville Humane Society received a startling phone call: The Humane Society had burned to the ground and all the animals were dead. With thoughts of death and destruction fresh in her mind, she rushed there not knowing what she would find.

To her disbelief as she approached the shelter, fire trucks had blocked off the roadways and dogs were running in the streets. At that moment, Sheddan said, “I felt things would be okay, because we could rebuild buildings, but we couldn’t bring back life.” Unfortunately, this would turn out not to be the case.

Animals were still trapped inside the burning structure. Firefighters began to open crates and toss animals out of the burning building, hoping they would run to safety. Dogs quickly exited, but cats burrowed themselves in corners and underneath crates making them more difficult to rescue. Dogs also proved to have their own difficulties as the very same ones brought out by firefighters were following them right back into the fire, forcing firefighters to put the dogs inside their trucks. Firefighters helped saved 80 animals that night, but another 86 lost their lives to a fire of unknown origin.

After the fire was extinguished, firefighters began to search what was left of the once lively building. They made a startling discovery: Belly deep in a pool of standing water, was a 10-month-old puppy. Luck struck this young pup twice that night as not only did he survive the fire, he found a home with the loving firefighters of Ladder 28. Fittingly, they dubbed him Lucky.

Lucky, a Labrador mix, was not the only miracle to come from the fire. A couple of days later, Sheddan and a few members of the staff were making another pass over the rubble, when a board member heard a noise. Silence quickly fell over the area, as everyone was intent on discovering the source of the sound, when a cat poked its head out of the debris. Sheddan remembered the face well, saying, “this cat gave us a look that said, where the heck have you people been? I’ve been here for two days. I’m hungry, tired, and dirty.” Like his canine counterpart, the pretentious feline was dubbed Lucky as well. Later that day T.J., Lucky the Cat’s brother, was also found alive. Of all the animals in that area, Lucky and his brother were the only survivors.

Lucky the Cat, painted by Ron Burns.

After the fire, the Jacksonville Humane Society was closed for five days. More than a year later, the shelter was still working out of close quarters. Two temporary modulars were moved onto the property, one housing adoptions and admissions, the second serving as a vet tech center for examinations of animals entering and leaving the shelter. Despite the cramped conditions, donations poured in from 27 states and two foreign countries. The community of Jacksonville was also quick to come to the aid of its Humane Society. The Boyd Family, long-time Jacksonville philanthropists, donated six acres of land worth $3.5 million. Artist Ron Burns, The U.S. Humane Society’s Artist-In-Residence, donated a percentage of his earnings from artwork sold at a local gallery. His donated paintings of Lucky the Dog and Lucky the Cat were on display at the temporary Humane Society offices as a constant reminder of hope. Donations were earmarked for a planned 45,000 square foot structure.

Priced at $12 million, construction of the new facility was estimated to take at least two years. The goal was to turn the Humane Society into more than just an animal shelter, by making it a destination point for families in the community, with expanded programs to benefit people as well as dogs and cats. One proposed program would allow senior citizens to leave assisted living homes for visits to the Humane Society, where they could interact with shelter animals. Another proposed program would allow for children’s parties and sleep overs.

Built along a creek, the Jacksonville Humane Society’s plans at the time, also called for construction of a promenade along the waterfront, where people could sip coffee and relax with their dog. Additional plans called for a Pooch Park, where people would bring their own dogs for interaction with the shelter’s dogs.

All surviving animals from the fire were adopted, many into the homes of emergency personnel who helped fight the fire that night. Lucky Dog spent most of his time at home, while his owner, Rod Zinick, continued to work at the fire department. For awhile, Zinick would take Lucky to the fire station with him during every shift. Lucky would play at a neighboring park or hang out at the station, but he never wandered far. “We would go out on a call,” Zinick says, “and when we came back, he was waiting in the bay.”

Lucky and his rescuers, the crew of Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department’s Ladder 28. Photographed in 2007.

On November 10 and 11, 2017 the Jacksonville Humane Society will be hosting Grand Opening celebrations of their new Adoption, Education and Community Resource Center. Bacon Group Architects, out of Clearwater, Florida, was the Architect of Record and Project Manager. The shelter, led by current Executive Director Denise Deisler, is located at 8464 Beach Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida. JaxHumane.org

 

Unconditional Love. It Works Both Ways.

How much money would you spend on your dog’s medical care? The following appears in the current/winter issue of THE NEW BARKER. It is the story of Zack, a Lakeland Terrier, and his devoted human, Stella. Today, sadly, we learned of Zack’s passing this week. Rest in peace, Zacky. This edition of Weekend PUPdates is dedicated to you.

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Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses melanin, the pigment that determines the color of skin, hair and eyes. If the cells that produce melanin die, depigmentation occurs, causing patches of white irregular shapes to appear on the skin. It usually starts as small areas of pigment loss that become larger with time, striking any part of the body and anyone, regardless of race. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious, but alters the life of the patient physically, limiting sun exposure to avoid severe burning and blistering. It can also have an extremely emotional effect on the patient, especially children.

When Stella Pavlides developed vitiligo, she was only 22 and had just given birth to her son, Greg. The cosmetologist with flawless skin suddenly looked like a patchwork quilt, as she describes it. “I’ve had people refuse to take money from me,” said Pavlides. “They think what I have is contagious.”

After learning there was no cure, and that between four and five million people in the United States are afflicted with the condition, Pavlides contacted the Vitiligo Foundation. She wanted to help fund research to find a cure for vitiligo and became a faithful donor. When the animal advocate discovered that animals, including dogs, were being used for research and testing, she was conflicted. “I wanted a cure for vitiligo, but I wanted more humane research.” She asked the president of the foundation to consider going the humane route after discussing her concerns with the now late Dr. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Dermatology Service at Boston’s Mass General. She was turned away.

The Clearwater resident then traveled to Gainesville to meet with Wayne McCormack, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine. McCormack told Pavlides that if she provided the funding for the research, he would use donated blood and skin from people with vitiligo, not animals.

Since 1995, the American Vitiligo Research Foundation Pavlides founded, has given around $200,000 toward vitiligo research at UF. The money comes through fundraisers and donations.

To say this woman is unstoppable in whatever she takes on is a gross understatement. Even baseball legend Tony La Russa, who founded the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in 1991 with his wife Elaine, said of Pavlides, “She is a dedicated, hard-working person, devoted to her causes. She is also an avid animal lover. I admire her tenacity and drive as well as her determination to overcome obstacles.” Pavlides’ own rescue Airedale, Alex, was one of ARF’s first mascots.

In February of 1999, Pavlides adopted another dog, Sophie, a Lakeland Terrier. Several months later she received a phone call asking if she could foster another Lakeland Terrier who was just a puppy – one of Sophie’s puppies, in fact. Where Sophie was sweet, kind, high-spirited and loving, Zack was the exact opposite. He was aggressive, suffered separation anxiety and self-mutilated in addition to a host of health issues that would surface several years after Pavlides adopted him.

Pavlides allows herself to wonder, once in awhile, whether she would have adopted Zack had she known about his issues beforehand. One thing is certain: this determined, tenacious woman never gave up on Zack once she committed to bringing him into her home.

She did all the right things. Neutering Zack seemed to help with some of his aggressive behavior, but not to the extent she had hoped. She hired a professional dog trainer who told her he had trained many dogs and was certain he could train Zack. After Pavlides invested a lot of money for Zack’s training sessions, the trainer told her the dog was not trainable. Pavlides then took Zack to a licensed dog psychologist. She attended a presentation at the Humane Society of Manatee County by Cesar Millan. She purchased and read his book and applied his theories on Zack. Nothing seemed to help with her dog’s anxiety or aggressive behavioral issues.

Eventually, Pavlides accepted Zack for the dog he was. She realized his aggression and anxiety were all fear-based, and vowed to never put him in a position to fail ever again.

Zack’s physical issues began to manifest when he was five years old. He had surgery to remove cataracts in both of his eyes. He has suffered from chronic allergies, ear infections, and extensive seizures. His self mutilation involved spinning and biting his tail to the point of requiring surgery. He has seen almost every kind of veterinarian specialist within the Tampa Bay Area. At The University of Florida in Gainesville, he was seen by specialists in dermatology, ophthalmology, acupuncture, neurology and a licensed dietician.

Zack’s veterinary bills are currently more than $80,000. That does not include the money Pavlides has spent around her home to help keep her dog’s allergies in check: having the grass removed and replaced with cement; replacing her carpet with tile; providing Zack with a special daily diet of fresh cooked tilapia, salt-less peas and cream of rice.

The point at which we, as pet owners, determine enough is enough is a different decision for each of us. Factors will include the dog’s overall health and well-being, the bank account balance, and our own ability to cope with the situation.

There was a time, in the not so distant past, where euthanasia was the only solution for our pets’ suffering from chronic disease. Dogs have moved from the backyard doghouse into our homes, living as part of the family blend. We have come to learn how diet plays a role in the health of our dogs. Veterinary medicine has vastly improved over the last 10 years, offering pet owners a multitude of options.

We move forward and base our decisions on all the facts presented to us. Living with dogs takes a certain amount of patience, devotion and lots of faith.

It has been almost two years since Zack has had a seizure. Pavlides credits Dr. Gregory Todd at Animal Hospital of Dunedin, and his recommended combination treatment of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. “Zack’s indomitable spirit has been a great ally in overcoming his health challenges. But, none of it would be possible without Stella’s unwavering commitment as a pet parent, to a lifetime of love and care,” said Dr. Todd.

Pavlides knows that without each and every veterinarian and caregiver in Zack’s life, he would not be here today. Through her own trials and tribulations, as Pavlides puts it, Zack is now 16 years-old and has become a very kind, loving soul. To her, Zack has been worth every penny spent, every tear shed.

"Our last picture together," said Stella, shown here holding Zack.
“Our last picture together,” said Stella, shown here holding Zack.

We wanted to share a story that was first reported by the New York Daily News on Monday, December 17. The comfort dogs are able to bring is no surprise to dog lovers. The New Barker joins the nation in sending our thoughts and prayers to those who lost loved ones as a result of this tragedy.

Comfort dogs help ease pain of mourning Newtown Community. By Jennifer H. Cunningham and Adam Edelman for the New York Daily News. Photography is by Allison Joyce for the New York Daily News.

A pack of sympathetic groups bearing supportive canines spent much of Monday with bereaved Connecticut residents affected by last week’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, providing children and adults alike with the cuddly comfort that only a four-legged friend can give.

The therapy dogs were brought in by at least three groups late Sunday to help kids and adults alike cope with last week’s horrific shooting in Newtown that left 20 first graders and six school officials dead.

Among the groups was the Hudson Valley Golden Retrievers Club, whose members spent the afternoon at a makeshift memorial near the town center, where both kids and adults in need of compassion stopped to pet and cuddle the dogs.

Mourning or otherwise devastated children and parents said that petting the dogs gave them relief from their sadness.

“I just love dogs, so whenever I’m around them, they make me feel better,” said 12-year-old Ryan Williams. “When they come over and you pet them you kind of forget about what’s happening for a little bit.”

Jenna Stuart, a school bus driver from Newtown, said the dogs were an enormous help to her four-year-old daughter, Kylie, who attends preschool at the Children’s Adventure Center in front of Sandy Hook Elementary and lost friends in the tragedy.

“I like the dogs because they made me happy,” said Kylie, after petting one on the head. “The dogs love me.”

Some residents, who weren’t directly affected by the bloodshed, found peace in simply bringing their own dogs to help others.

Sandy Hook resident Ann Mari Cioffi, a member of the Hudson Valley Golden Retrievers Club, brought her dog, Libby, 5, to comfort victims, at a memorial in the center of town.

“They’re just gentle, caring, kind and sweet. Cioffi said of the dogs. “They just seem to sense it. They just sense when somebody’s sad.”

Massachusetts- based K-9’s For Kids Pediatric Therapy Dogs was also among the groups sharing their tail-wagging buddies.

Crystal Wright, 52, of Becket, Mass., a dog handler with the group for Rhiku, a 5 year old Sheltie, said the canine had been easing frowns all day.

“Everyone likes to pet a dog,” she said. “It changes the mood. It kind of takes them away from what they’re going through for a moment. I think it’s helping. I think they needed it.”

Some canines even traveled across the country to help out.

Trainers from the Chicago-based Lutheran Church Charities, which has deployed its comfort dogs to other communities hit by tragedy in the past, brought in 10 to 15 Golden Retrievers and their handlers to Connecticut to help with the consolation efforts, Tim Hetzner, the president of the organization, said.

For information on becoming a therapy dog team with your dog, contact the following organizations: Therapy Dogs International: http://www.TDI-Dog.org; Delta Society: http://www.DeltaSociety.org; Therapy Dogs Inc.: http://www.TherapyDogs.com

Florida’s New Tourism Slogan: The Good Dog State.

This month, the Governor’s Office of  Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development might want to consider re-branding the Sunshine State to the Good Dog State. From Jacksonville to West Palm Beach, Tampa Bay to Orlando and everywhere in between, Florida is chockfull of dog friendly events.

What’s more, if you’ve been thinking about bringing another dog into the family, October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Many of the events this weekend and next will have rescue groups and their adoptables on hand.

This is Petey, available for adoption through All Dog Rescue of Florida.

Over the last couple of weeks we have met some pretty amazing people who donate whatever time they have to volunteer for various rescue groups. Of course, we’ve met some pretty incredible dogs too. Like Petey, who was abandoned as a puppy along with his mom, both found wandering the streets. All Dog Rescue of Florida is fostering Petey, and has already put $800 into him for his medical treatment. And still, his adoption fee is only $300. So, in your travels over the weekend, should you happen to attend one of the following events and come upon a rescue group, please drop a dollar or two in the donation jar. Petey (and many more like him) will thank you with puppy love and sweet kisses.

While you’re out and about on Saturday, October 20, you will definitely work up an appetite. And that’s a good thing, because our best event pick of the day is happening at the Clearwater Quaker Steak & Lube.  Don’t miss the Red Hot Rescue Chili Cook Off from 1p until 6p, hosted by the Florida Great Pyrenees Club. There will be some delicious samplings from some pretty competitive cooks, along with live entertainment, rescue groups, raffle items, giveaways, auctions and demonstrations. Not only will you satisfy your appetite, but your heart and soul will be filled up as well. All proceeds will benefit the participating rescue groups.

If you happen to be traveling through Lutz on Saturday, you might think you’re seeing spots. You would be right, since Dalmatian Rescue of Tampa Bay will be hosting their annual fundraiser, Dal-loween at Lake Park just off North Dale Mabry Highway. This is another one of those rescue groups whose volunteers have worked tirelessly over the years, and this is the one event that helps them sustain as a 501c3 all year long. Go, Spots. Go.

About 2000 people and hundreds of their dogs are expected to be at the Shell Factory’s Doggy Heaven this Saturday, October 20 for Goldenfest, hosted by Golden Retriever Rescue of Southwest Florida. If you know Golden Retrievers, you’ll love that one of the offerings throughout the day will be Pet Brushing and Furminating. The Shell Factory (located in Fort Myers) is also home to SunCoast DockDogs, so demonstrations and competitions will be held. Other organizations on hand with adoptables: SW Florida Wiener Dog Club, Healing Paws-Ability Agility, Gulf Coast Humane Society, Grey Muzzle, Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, and the Pitbull Crew of Florida.If you happen to stick around through Sunday, check out the Doggie Church, a half hour non-denominational service held at 12:30 pm. By the way, our choice for dog friendly hotel accommodations would be Hotel Indigo, just minutes from the Shell Factory.

Maybe you’re a fan of the low-riding wiener dog. You’re in luck. The annual Dachstoberfest takes place on Sunday, October 21 between 10a and 2p at Centennial Square in West Palm Beach. There will be a Dachshund Parade, Doxie Dash Race, and a Costume Contest Competition conducted by The New Barker rover reporter and award-winning photographer, Tina Valant. Proceeds from this event benefit Dachshund Rescue of South Florida. Tina will also be handing out complimentary copies of The New Barker while supplies last. Travel tip: You’ll receive a delicious brunch during your stay at Hibiscus House B&B in West Palm Beach. Your dogs get to wander around the lushly landscaped, fenced-in yard, while you dine poolside.

We’re betting that the biggest gathering of dogs and people in Florida will take place this Sunday, October 21, at the 12th Annual Stride for Strays 3k Walk and Fundraiser for Animal Coalition of Tampa. Curtis Hixon Park on the Riverfront is one of the coolest venues in Florida. Stride for Strays has proven time and again, to be one of the most entertaining, fun-filled afternoons for the entire family. The Doggie Fun Zone will be set up for Agility demonstrations, and there will be plenty of food available (including vegan-friendly menus). Be sure to check out Groovy Cats & Dogs and Lucky Dog Daycare for specials and treats.

Also this Sunday, The Jacksonville Landing is hosting their 4th Annual Howl-O-Ween Bash and Yappy Hour between 2p and 5p. This has become known as the Largest Dog Costume Contest in Jacksonville. Complimentary copies of The New Barker will be available. Travel tip: Hotel Indigo does have a Jacksonville location as well.

Pitbull advocate and singer/songwriter John Shipe will be coming to Florida next weekend, courtesy of Pitbull Happenings. He will be at the 4th Annual Dogtoberfest at The Shops of Wiregrass, a daylong adoptathon on Saturday, October 27 with multiple rescue groups from all over Florida on hand. The event is hosted by Animal Based Charities.

For more howling good times, be sure to check out The New Barker calendar. Spooktacular picks, including the 6th Annual Barkoween, hosted by Fluffy Puppies, and A Pawsitively Posh Halloween Party, hosted by Pawsitively Posh Pooch are always good bets for a whole lotta fun. One Lucky Dog in St. Petersburg and Wet Noses Boutique in Sarasota are each hosting their own dog-friendly Halloween Parties, as are Pet Food Warehouse, Gone to the Dogs Boutique, What A Dog Play Center and The Doggie Door.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, be safe. Florida dogs are counting on you to look out for them (and to not leave them behind). For now, we’ll leave you with a funny (yet, sadly true) PSA from The Shelter Pet Project.

Is That Any Way to Support Our Troops?

A preliminary report by the Department of Veterans Affairs states that benefits for service dogs will be provided to the vision, hearing and mobility impaired. But benefits will not be provided for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disease (note…it is a disease, not a disorder). This ruling will become final in 30 days.

In the spring issue of The New Barker dog magazine, we featured a story by Heidi Joy Howard on K9s for Warriors out of Ponte Vedra Beach. Today, we asked Shari Duval, president of K9s for Warriors for her thoughts on the Department of Veterans Affairs report. “The new ruling is extremely disappointing and a setback for our Veterans suffering from PTSD.  Since 9/11 there are more than 500,000 disabled veterans. One in five suffers from PTSD. One in six will attempt or commit suicide. Service Dogs are medical equipment for PTSD, and should be regarded as such, the same as a wheelchair, or walker. Service canines are proven recovery aids for PTSD, often reducing the need for massive medications.  Until the VA recognizes the enormity and severity of PTSD we are moving backwards, certainly not towards recovery for our veterans.  The VA will pay for equine therapy, but not service dogs?  This ruling will not effect K9s For Warriors efforts as we are a non-profit organization and our resource is free to our warriors.  We are also in compliance with the ADI (Assistance Dogs International) .”

Also, this week in Jacksonville, veterans who were enrolled in the K9s for Warriors program were asked to leave a business in Jacksonville Beach while out on a training session. The owner of Surf and Skate Shop asked the veterans and their dogs to leave his business, claiming disruption of the business. Again, we asked Shari for her thoughts.

“The situation at the Surf and Skate Shop involving three of our warriors, and our Trainer was a very upsetting and disappointing day.  My warriors felt humiliated and demeaned when asked to leave.  A huge problem with those who suffer from PTSD is isolation.  Service canines offer the warrior the freedom to return to civilian life with dignity and independence.  Service canines give the warriors the security and confidence to step out of their comfort zone, isolation.  When the Shop owner told them to leave, the warriors felt humiliated , singled out; all the symptoms they struggle with.  Afterwards, we talked long and hard about what happened, and we went back as a group, together to accept the owner’s apology.  We are about second chances at K9s; our shelter dogs, our broken warriors, even those who have wronged us.  Giving the owner a chance to say “I’m sorry”, gave our Warriors respect.  They deserve that.”

Who in their right mind, has the guts or the heart to mess with these guys? Photograph by Heidi Joy Howard for The New Barker dog magazine.

Please visit K9s for Warriors and Canine Companions for Independence Wounded Veteran Initiative (a national organization with an Orlando center). We have witnessed firsthand the good these two exemplary organizations are doing for our veterans. Again, these organizations are privately funded. They rely on donations in order to provide their services and the dogs at no charge to the veterans. Now that’s the way to support our troops.

Keep this conversation alive by sharing this blog with others. Visit the social media sites of each of these two organizations. Many of the graduates stay in touch via these networks. Send them words of encouragement.

 

When the Unthinkable Happens, These Dogs and Handlers Spring Into Action.

Two National Disaster Search Dog Foundation Teams out of Florida have been placed on standby as a result of Hurricane Isaac. Julie Padelford-Jansen and her dog Lilly-Belle, based out of Miami, and Marshia Hall and her dogs Lilah and Trapper, out of Tampa.

National Disaster Search Dog Foundation Team, Marshia and Trapper.

Marshia and Trapper were featured in the summer, 2011 issue of The New Barker. The article appears below. More photos, taken by Anna Cooke, may be found on The New Barker facebook page.

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The deadly 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan in early 2011 grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go. The devastation and loss, unfathomable to us in a land that was on the other side of the world. And then the devastation hit closer to home in Joplin, Missouri with the deadly tornado just weeks later. Through it all, The New Barker was receiving daily updates from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, based in Ojai, California with 76 SDF Search teams stationed across the United States. On call 24/7, search teams were deployed during both disasters. The updates were posted on The New Barker Facebook page, generating the most response to date from anything ever posted there. We recently had the good fortune to meet up with one SDF team out of Tampa.

Marshia Hall and Trapper. The dogs who are certified by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and their humans are incredibly dedicated to their work. But even more incredible is the fact that many of these dogs were once cast-offs – dogs no one else wanted, many found in shelters across the country. SDF’s Lead Trainer, Pluis Davern said this of the teams deployed to Joplin in May, “Watching these once cast-off dogs that with training have become life-saving tools fills me with unmitigated pride and a deep (sense) of humility for this species that can and does do so much for humankind.”

In Trapper’s case, he flunked out of training to become a guide dog through Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar, California. He is an excitable boy, which proved detrimental to completing his full training as a guide dog. He needed some kind of work more fitting to his personality, and SDF looks for dogs with the non- stop drive and personality that Trapper had. Guide dog training requires dogs not to bark, to walk around obstacles and not to climb on anything – the very skills needed to become an SDF dog. Marshia, who is an Engineer Paramedic with the Temple Terrace Fire Department, was paired with Trapper in July 2004. During their first week of training together Marshia witnessed firsthand the dog’s high energy and drive, and that uncanny Labrador Retriever personality. Every night, after returning to their motel room from training, Trapper, a 70 pound dog, would head for the bathtub and stared at Marshia. “I got the feeling he was just waiting for me to turn on the water so he could jump in to play,” said Marshia. Trapper’s puppy raisers had a swimming pool, so he grew up as a pool puppy. One of their first visits to a Florida beach demonstrated Trapper’s other drive: toys. As soon as they arrived at the beach, Trapper spotted a buoy about 75 yards out in the water. Thinking it was a toy, he intently swam for it. “I had to bring him back three times. The final time he actually got to the buoy and had brought it back a good distance towards shore. I had to wrestle it from his jaws. He was having a blast. I was exhausted,” said Marshia, laughing as she recalled the incident.

Trapper’s first deployment was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Deployed to Mississippi as part of the Central Florida Task Fource 4, Trapper’s job was to search residential subdivisions in Pascagoula, Gautier and Biloxi. Marshia described what the areas looked like when they arrived on the scene. “It looked as if a huge explosion had gone off. A cross between a landfill and a lumber mill. Just a river of debris. You couldn’t tell where one house began and another ended. Toys, including pet toys, were scattered everywhere. And even though Trapper is toy-driven, he never lost his focus or became distracted. His job was to find people, alive but trapped in the debris.” They worked 12 hour shifts going into homes and cars that were partially collapsed. Trapper either walked on top of the debris or went directly inside, trying to pick up a scent of life. Search Dog Foundation training teaches the dogs the ability and agility to maneuver over extremely difficult terrain, including unstable, slippery surfaces. The dogs are able to penetrate debris and small spaces more quickly than any human can. The dogs are also trained not to touch any water or food they find at a search site in case of contamination. Because the dogs are so focused while they’re working, their handlers keep a close eye out for injury, overheating or thirst.

December 6, 2007 Search and Rescue teams in Florida were called out to assist the Jacksonville Fire Department with a structural collapse. Parts of a six-story parking garage had gone down while under construction. Marshia and Trapper had just returned to Orlando from a Miami search team training session. With their gear still in the car, she, Trapper and her other search dog at the time, Shade headed to Jacksonville to join five other K9 teams. “We assessed the situation and determined what each dog was best suited for: who tunneled best, who wouldn’t jump off the cantilevered floors, whose weight wouldn’t cause a secondary collapse in weakened areas. We divided up into teams, assigned areas to search, and went to work. Before searching, we verified that veterinary treatment was available, should any of the dogs be injured,” explained Marshia. There was rebar every four inches, either broken and protruding, or stretched to its limit, waiting to snap. Walls of cement were dangling over the areas that needed to be searched. Loose four-by-four boards and sheets of plywood were balancing precariously over deep voids. “It was extremely noisy, due to the cranes removing debris and generators operating tools and lights. At one point, they needed to call for “all quiet” when the K-9’s were on the pile in order for us to hear them alert. Everyone stopped and watched hoping to hear one of them bark—an alert that would mean the dogs had found someone alive,” said Marshia. At one point, Marshia said that Trapper, choosing his own route as always, stepped off a ladder onto a piece of plywood. As it slid all the way back down to the bottom of the pile, he rode it like it was the teeter totter he trains on. “He just waited until it stopped, looked up and got back on the ladder and climbed up again,” said Marshia.

Trapper is a search and rescue dog, trained to find people who are alive. For example, if 20 people are missing in the rubble of a disaster site, and three are alive, Trapper will only alert by barking in those three places. If the dogs don’t alert, then cadaver dogs are brought in to search and recover the dead. The searches at the Jacksonville site were held around the clock for two days, with the fire department doing selective breaching and debris removal. Although the dogs showed interest in some areas, they did not alert. This can be discouraging and depressing at times for the dogs. So, in the dark of night, volunteers hid, allowing the dogs to be rewarded for their good work after finding them. “This gave them the incentive to go out and search the following day,” Marshia continued.

Soon, two dogs that search for cadavers were brought up to the area and immediately alerted. Rescue workers carried out the body nearly 60 hours after the building collapsed. Despite the outcome, the teams are always at the ready for the next call.

How Was the Foundation Formed? April 19, 1995 At 9:03 a.m., just after parents dropped their children off at day-care at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, the unthinkable happened. A massive bomb inside a rental truck exploded, blowing half of the nine-story building into oblivion. A stunned nation watched as the bodies of men, women, and children were pulled from the rubble for nearly two weeks. When the smoke cleared and the exhausted rescue workers packed up and left, 168 people were dead. Eleven FEMA Task Forces were deployed to the disaster—the largest number used at a single disaster in U.S. history. Among the canine search teams was Wilma Melville, a retired teacher, and Murphy, her Black Lab. Murphy and the other search dogs were able to cover large areas of rubble, saving precious time for firefighters by indicating where victims were buried. In 1995, there were only 15 FEMA Advanced Certified disaster search dog-handler teams in the entire United States. Recognizing the critical need for more advanced teams, Wilma founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation as a way to train teams in a better, more cost-efficient manner.

How You Can Help People across America are becoming “Part of the Search” by helping a dog, once abused and/or abandoned, enter the ranks of the most highly trained search dogs in the nation. Individuals, families, schools and companies are sponsoring an SDF Search Dog. Sponsors get to know the dog and handler; follow their training and progress toward FEMA Certification, and disaster deployments. For more information, contact Celeste at 888.459.4376, extension 101. http://www.SearchDogFoundation.org.