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

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.

 

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.

What Do Our Dogs Think Of Us?

The following, by Anna Cooke, first appeared as a feature in the Spring 2011 issue of The New Barker dog magazine.

Many of us who live with dogs probably don’t really want to know what they’re thinking. To know may bring in the realities of life like dealing with what they think of us. Who needs that extra burden? We already have to cope with what our parents, siblings, significant others and business associates think of us. It’s one of the reasons we love dogs so much. We believe everything they have to say to us is said through their eyes. And of course, it’s nothing short of adoration and unconditional love, right? Our dogs are sentient beings with a conscience and feelings. They are intelligent and many people believe, they live with a purpose and set goals. The Reverend Nedda Wittels, M.A., M.S. believes that dogs make life choices. Maybe that’s why we don’t really choose dogs, rather they choose us.

It seems that every one in the animal world can tell a story of how they loved and lived with animals since they were very young. Jo Maldonado is not much different. As a young girl she would try to save the fish her father caught. In her teens she took dog-training classes and won ribbons with her devoted companion Rex; in her 20’s she rode horses and in her 30’s and 40’s she volunteered with German Shepherd Rescue in Pennsylvania doing canine assessment and fostering.  And, for almost 30 years she lead a successful career as a publicist, owning her agency. But it wasn’t until she and her husband moved to Florida and her children had moved on with their lives, that a continuous odd series of events forced her to change her life’s path. Volunteering at local shelters and seeing the infinite line of discarded animals, and almost losing one of her dogs, led Jo to follow her animal passion and give back to the community.

“Three years ago I realized that I was not following my soul’s purpose, not fulfilling what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I was hospitalized twice, broke my hip, had two surgeries, was in two car accidents and almost lost two members of my family.” But it wasn’t until a series of events involving animals that Jo finally listened to what some other worldly force was trying to tell her. There was the black bear that began appearing in her driveway on a regular basis. Then hundreds of crows began following her around. A woodpecker began “talking to her.” And one day the door to her china cabinet flew open spewing forth china from past relationships.

Jo began reading every book on animal communication and angel healing that she could find. After she completed several classes on the same subject matter, it became clear to Jo that her purpose in life was to work with her first love: animals. Her Centers for Animal Therapies is based on the theory that both sides of the brain are necessary to truly communicate with the animal world. “The left side of the brain is the fact based, scientific side, while the right brain is intuitive, innate and natural,” said Jo.

Animal communicators speak with pet companions who live with humans, oftentimes facilitating a change in varied situations. Why is the cat spraying? Why is the dog cowering or food aggressive? Each situation may have something in common with another situation going on within the pet’s home. For instance, when there is a fear problem there is generally a kidney problem that results in uncontrolled urinating in the house. By communicating with the dog, Jo can show their humans the relationship their dogs would like to have with them. How we live with our dogs can result in a positive or negative affect on them and ourselves.

No telepathic communicator is one hundred percent accurate all the time. The reasons for error may include a weak telepathic connection; the human client has emotional and/or mental blocks about the situation; or the dog may be choosing not to communicate fully. Reverend Wittels adds that each telepathic communicator can bring their own emotional and mental baggage to the situation: belief systems, expectations, past experiences or emotions. A good animal communicator will know how to leave their baggage behind in order to be a clear channel.

As with any professional, it’s good to have a rapport with them before delving into this area of you and your pet’s lives. We had been working and speaking with Jo for the past year on various projects. One thing lead to another, and it seemed almost a natural progression to agree to let Jo communicate with our brood: Zoe, a 13 year-old Cockapoo, her 11 year-old niece Chloe, our adopted MinPin Rita, and our most recent adopted addition, Dougie (pronounced Doogie), a two year-old Scottish Terrier.

There were four dogs and so it took Jo a little longer to assess the situation and discern their different personalities. “I took a deep breath before looking at each photograph you sent of the dogs,” said Jo, who told us she took classes to learn how to communicate through the eyes of an animal. “But dogs don’t like for you to look directly into their eyes. That is why I like to use photos,” she told us. “I pick up the physical characteristics and I pick up the soul. I try to get through the layers in order to connect and communicate.”

She began first by saying that each of these four dogs represents a characteristic in each human member of our household, in this instance a husband and wife. “It’s up to you to figure out those characteristics of you,” said Jo. From the pictures, Jo described the aura of energy emanating from each dog, which assisted in giving the following information. “Your life to them seems scattered. You’re in multiple places at one time. You seem to be going from point A to point B in an instant. You are way too busy and they’re picking up on that. I received a strong sense from the dogs that you are very tired,” Jo said.

For many dogs, a situation such as the one Jo described could be confusing to them, causing problems such as becoming the take-charge being within the household. The Alpha dog if you will. But in this instance the dogs all seem to have adjusted. “Each one of them knows their role within your family,” she told me. “And,” she added, “Your dogs are all very funny. They are just all real characters.”

Dougie

Dougie, the two-year old Scotty, knows exactly what he is supposed to do. He looks around at his humans and the other dogs and wonders why they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing? He knows he is a purebred. In fact, somewhere in his lineage, there is a champion or two. So he demonstrates quite a lot of pride as if to say, “Of course I can do that. It’s exactly what I am supposed to do.” Jo said that if she were to humanize Dougie, he would be a career fisherman. “I could see him bellying up to the bar at the end of each successful fishing excursion,” she said. Dougie is a highly intuitive dog and would be excellent in agility. “Oh, he would be a natural,” said Jo.

ChloeTastesOrange

Chloe, the 11 year-old Cockapoo.“Dougie was pointing at Chloe when I was communicating with him. He told me that while he feels very grounded, Chloe is constantly running around in circles, figuratively. Yet, she thinks she’s the one that has it all under control. But she doesn’t.” Jo explained that she sensed a bit of a Napoleonic complex in Chloe. She is constantly reminding everyone that she is in control; she is in charge, but she isn’t, of course. “If she could talk to you, she would be a tattle-tail and rat everyone else out. Chloe does feel confused most of the time, but thinks that’s okay because her humans are confused and running around in circles too.” Chloe communicated with Jo in such a rapid-fire way that she was almost stuttering. “I have too much to do and too little time in which to do everything,” is what Chloe communicated to Jo. “Interestingly, Chloe and Dougie have similar personalities. If you were to put Chloe in another pack, the other dogs would find her annoying. But she is well-accepted in your pack.”

Zoe_Flowers

Zoe, the 13 year-old Cockapoo. “She tends to believe she is the matriarch of the family. I could sense her little quirks. She does like her food and is set in her ways. She has a sense of entitlement, that whatever she gets, the others should not be allowed to have because they are not as deserving as she is. She can get snappy, only to let others know that she does not approve of what they are doing. But she would never display any kind of aggressive behavior towards anyone, human or animal, within her pack.” Jo spoke to me directly about the next point. “Anna, Zoe feels that the two of you are one. She is content to follow you and be wherever you are.” And then Jo added, “Oh, I’m hearing from her again that she really does love her food though. She likes that crunchiness and soft combination you give her.”

Rita_Profile

Rita, a five year-old MinPin, found wandering the streets. “I like Rita very much. She has this I-am-cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor. She likes to check things out, like a private detective before getting all excited, unlike the rest of the dogs in your pack. She smirks at the other dogs as if they’re ridiculously out of control. If I were to humanize Rita, she would have red hair, red-painted fingernails and a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She’s like one of those cool people you may see at a party. You don’t know them, but you walk up to them anyway and compliment them on the shirt they’re wearing. Instead of saying thank you, Rita would answer, ‘Huh. You don’t really give a damn about my shirt now, do you?’”

So it appears we have an odd little pack, with a funny mixture of personalities, each one of them strong in their own way. They all have their quirks but everyone gets along, albeit grumbling along the way. Most important, they all seem to be functioning as a pack and each feels they have jobs, which is a good thing. “They are all who they are as long as they’re all with the two of you. And as long as you make sure what your expectations are of them, they’re all pretty happy,” Jo said.

Brat_Pack
The Cooke Brat Pack, photographed at Steinhatchee Landing Resort, soon after Jo Maldonado’s reading.

The dogs were all in agreement with one special request. “What they would like you to do is schedule more family time with them, altogether. They would prefer daily, but they’ll settle for weekly jaunts to a big fenced in field or park to run around.” I told Jo that we have a big backyard and take them out many times throughout the day. “No,” she answered, “They want family time. They want everyone in the car at the same time, to go somewhere together. And Chloe said not to forget the treats. That was a very strong communication to me. They want you to think about nothing but the present during these field trips with them.”

QUOTES:

“Somewhere in time, an animal’s soul has made a pact with the human’s soul to help them. I look at what I am doing as my privilege to be able to work with two beings, human and animal, to decipher what that help might be,” Jo Maldonado.

“People will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their pets while totally ignoring the obvious to help themselves. We humans must recognize that we need to change to improve our own health and well-being. Through the voice of their pets, a person can help themselves,” Jo Maldonado.

“I’ve never found an animal who communicated to me that they hated their human. I know instantly when I go into that animal that there is a need for them to express themselves as to why they are here,” Jo Maldonado.

Jo Maldonado can be reached at jo@cat-edu.com or 386.279.0257

 

Positive Poodle Power.

We first met Jolene, a beautiful white Standard Poodle, in Tampa at Woofstock, hosted by TampaPets.org. Her fur had been accented in pink to show her support for Breast Cancer Awareness. The following is an original feature from the winter 2015/16 (current) issue of The New Barker dog magazine, written by Anna Cooke.

At fifty years old, Barbara Mahoney decided to end her abusive marriage and sell her business. She knew the change would be good for her, but realized she was still not in a good place, emotionally. She recalled how happy she felt around her mother’s dogs while growing up, especially the Poodles. Now, she wanted a constant companion, someone who would give her unconditional love. A dog who would go swimming with her. Heck, maybe she’d even get into agility, she thought. Jolene came into Barbara’s life in 2011, and she decided to let the dog show her just what she wanted to do in the way of “work.”

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When she was just a year old, Jolene began her athletic career in dock diving. She received her canine therapy certification in water rehabilitation. She took the Southeastern Regional Division championship in her class, and all was good. Then, someone threw a Frisbee. Jolene ran after it, and caught it. She and Barbara were hooked. Barbara sought out competitions and talked to other people about Jolene’s talent. “I even found people to throw Jolene the disc when I broke my clavicle,” she said. “I didn’t want her to stop having fun while I was laid up.” The duo’s devotion to the sport and hard work quickly paid off. Jolene became the only World Qualifying Standard Poodle in the sport.

“Working with dogs in activities like disc and agility enriches and completes our relationship with them,” Barbara told us. “Jolene is an exceptional Poodle, but she is also an incredible disc dog.”

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Barbara and five other people formed Up Dog Challenge, an organization they hope will inform dog lovers how “awesome this sport is,” she told us. The group’s goal is to provide a non-intimidating forum where people will feel comfortable asking questions about the sport. Go to an Up Dog Challenge event and everyone involved is approachable and enthusiastic about the sport. “We want more people to know how fun this is,” added Barbara. “All ages and skill levels are welcome. All breed types, size, and shape. We’ll even teach you how to throw a disc so that your dog will catch it. We have trainers that are very good with newcomers to the sport. They explain how your dog thinks and will train you to throw the disc in a way that maximizes your dog’s success. We want to optimize that play for you both.”

Dogs are happiest when they have something to do, when people play with them. “Happy dogs equal happy people,” said Barbara. “Look what Jolene did for me. She changed my life.”

MORE: 2016 marks the 42nd consecutive year of competitive canine disc sports. The first annual UpDog International Finals will be held March 18 – 20 in Brooksville, Florida at Florida Classic Park (5360 Lockhart Road). Qualified teams must pre-register by Sunday, January 31. For more information, visit UpDogChallenge.com

This story originally appeared in the current issue of The New Barker dog magazine.

A Case for the Power of Love.

INTRO: One of the recipients of the 14th annual AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) was featured in the spring issue of The New Barker dog magazine. His just-announced award is well-deserved. Only four months after his front leg was amputated and three weeks after completing chemotherapy, Bart earned his Senior Hunter title and continued to the Master Hunter level. Bart and Darcy, his human, were invited to visit with soldiers from the Wounded Warrior program. Bart, who ran fast and hard during a guided hunt, was an inspiration to the soldiers without limbs, and overcoming their own battle scars. Our story, A Case for the Power of Love, was written by Pam Stuart, a member of the Tampa Bay Vizsla Club. It may look like a long read, but if you’re in need of a smile and some inspiration, it’s well worth your time.

Bart with Darcy, getting ready for a run to guide Wounded Warriors.
Bart with Darcy, getting ready for a run to guide Wounded Warriors.

STORY: Life. It’s been said that life is what happens to you while you’re making plans. If you’re familiar with the sport of agility, life is like running an agility course: you have a start line at the beginning and a finish line at the end, with lots of obstacles in between. Sometimes there are challenges—wrong courses and dropped bars—but you and your dog run the course together and there is always praise and joy because you tried. You may not have a perfect run, you may not have earned a “Q”, but you and your best friend ran together, did as well as you could, and lived and loved in that moment.

Life. In times of strife, those challenges—those wrong courses and dropped bars—become the defining moments in which we find our strengths and our capabilities. Those moments test our mettle, our courage, our fortitude and our resolve. It is a great test for us when our beloved dog, our best friend and our heart on four legs, is diagnosed with a serious illness. Shock. Sadness. Denial. Reality. How did this happen and why? If we had the answers, oh, if we had the answers. It’s always been Darcy and Bart. For years. I can’t remember how or when we met, but it has always been Darcy and Bart. Darcy is a friend of immeasurable love, kindness, and strength. Strength that was tested when she and her Vizsla Bart, started on their journey.

It began with a limp early in 2008, during hunt and field season. It was just a sports-related injury. Bart was only three years old; a strong, young dog from a well-planned breeding who had already finished his show championship. He ran marathons with Darcy, his longest at 16 miles. He was on his way to great success in the field as nothing was slowing him down. Not even this limp. Dogs have their way of communicating with us. We know. We know our dogs and we just know. Is it a look? Is it intuition? Whatever It is—it is.

One June morning, Bart came out of his crate, looked up at Darcy and they went to the vet. The doctor found a lump on the top of the left shoulder and x-rays were ordered. They revealed that 80% of the scapula had been eaten away by cancer. Thankfully, Bart was young and in peak physical condition, which may have prevented further injury. After a biopsy confirmed osteosarcoma, Darcy, without hesitation, looked at the vet and asked how quickly Bart’s leg could be removed. Bart underwent a full scapulectomy. The surgery was a success as the doctor was able to get clean margins.

How could this happen to such a sweet, young dog? And why? Everything about Bart was not about cancer. Everything about osteosarcoma was bleak: the statistics, the poor prognoses, the dismal outcomes. Again, why? When word went out through the Vizsla grapevine of Darcy and Bart’s plight, I remember the sinking feeling of knowing osteosarcoma, and all that this diagnosis meant. I asked Darcy how she found the strength. She said: “Love. When he was first diagnosed, I kept asking myself why we were going through this and twice I saw the word LOVE, in bright, luminescent letters, inside my mind’s eye. When I saw it the second time, I gave in and took a leap of faith that this was going to be a journey of LOVE. Love of Bart, love from friends, love from strangers, love of this journey—and that has been my strength. It has been the best worst thing that has ever happened to me. Thankfully, there is an endless supply of love, so I feel we are prepared to keep on keepin’ on for as long as we need to.”

Friends came together in the name of love, as true friends do. Bart’s breeder became the Research and Development Department, attending vet appointments, taking notes, supporting her friend through this maze of science, medicine and spirituality. A TeamBarty Yahoo group sprang up so everyone could be kept up to date on the latest developments through photos and shared stories. Darcy put it best: “Friends became family, and strangers became friends.” TeamBarty gained traction and folks began to send items for the fund-raising yard sales, financial support, emotional support, prayers, toys and treats. Cards and letters from across the country started appearing in the mail box, often from strangers offering their sympathy, love and support.

When Bart came home from surgery, Darcy’s first priority was to try to get back to a sense of normalcy and Bart was all for that. They would take their morning walks, at first only to the end of the driveway. Then to the neighbor’s yard, then further down the street. Walks became runs. A milestone was reached when a run included an easy jump over a low retaining wall. Barty was back. A Vizsla is a hunting dog and hunting was deep in Bart’s genes. In October 2008, as a tri-paw, four months after an amputation and three weeks after completing his chemotherapy, Bart earned the fourth and final leg towards his Senior Hunter title for pointing breeds. For those not familiar with pointing breed hunt and field titles, to qualify for the SH title, the dog must run and hunt birds for 30 minutes, find, point and retrieve to the AKC’s exacting standards. Many dogs don’t get that far on four legs. Bart did it in grand style on three.

Bart continues to amaze and inspire those around him.
Bart continues to amaze and inspire those around him.

Darcy and Bart went even further and began competing for the Master Hunter title. There were times during their hunt tests when judges would have a sympathetic look for that poor girl and her three legged dog. Sympathy changed to awe as many grown men and women, often with tears in their eyes, were so moved by the courage and determination of the beautiful spirit in that beautiful dog. And Bart did earn that Master Hunter title, ten months after his amputation. Bart is the first Vizsla in history to have completed the Master Hunter title, start to finish—on three legs. Darcy and Bart have soldiered on, continuing their journey together in living life and performing in the field. They have also participated in the Vizsla Club of America All-Star review which honors Vizslas that have earned both their conformation championship along with one of the highest hunt or field titles.

Darcy with Bart, who gets some attention from one of the Wounded Warriors members.
Darcy with Bart, who gets some attention from one of the Wounded Warriors members.

The ribbons, the titles, the accolades—that’s all a bonus. Darcy and Bart have already won the real prize. They have lived, loved and grown through this journey that continues still. In the summer of 2010, Darcy and Bart were invited to visit with the military personnel in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who are part of the Wounded Warrior Project. Later that fall, the Wounded Warriors came to Atlanta over Thanksgiving weekend and watched Bart compete in a field trial. Most recently, in January 2013, Bart, who will soon turn eight, ran fast and hard during a guided hunt with the Wounded Warriors, inspiring soldiers returning home who are overcoming their own battle scars.

Bart, on point. Love, in bright luminescent letters.
Bart, on point. Love, in bright luminescent letters.

Bart leads by example—thriving; never giving up and living life to the fullest thanks to love—in bright, luminescent letters.

We look forward to meeting Bart and the other ACE recipients this December in Orlando during a ceremony at the AKC Eukanuba Nationals.

Her Name is Lucca, the Military Working Dog.

'Canines With Courage'
Retired U.S. Marine Rober Harr, 86 (center) with U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham (right) and U.S. Marine Cpl. Juan Rodriguez (left) with Lucca on the Natural Balance 2013 Rose Parade Float, Canines with Courage. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times).

A decade ago, Military Working Dogs like Lucca would have most likely been euthanized after her service. The dogs were considered government equipment and too dangerous to return to domestic life. Thousands of dogs working for the military have been sent overseas since 1942. Over the years, many have been left behind as excess equipment. During the Vietnam War, about 4,000 American war dogs were employed in various capacities. About 300 dogs were killed in action or were victims of either tropical diseases or infections. The rest of the dogs were reportedly put down by military veterinarians or given to the South Vietnamese Army.

In 2000, President Clinton signed a law allowing retired soldiers and civilians to adopt the Military Working Dogs after their deployments.

John Burnam, who served in Vietnam and wrote a first-person account of working with a front-line scout dog named Clipper, will also be riding on the float today. Clipper never made it back to the United States. Burnam is president of the foundation that established the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument, which is scheduled to be completed in October, 2013. Burnam’s story about Clipper inspired Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC), who introduced legislation for a national monument. In 2008, President Bush signed the bill into law, and President Obama authorized Burnam’s foundation to build and maintain the San Antonio, Texas monument.

The bronze statue features a Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever and a Belgian Malinois leading a dog handler on patrol. The $1.2 million dollar price tag was funded solely by grants and donations led by sponsors Natural Balance, Petco and Maddie’s Fund.

Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, 23, credits Lucca with saving his life. The dog sniffed out a booby trap, setting off the bomb that took her leg. Cpl. Rodriguez later escorted Lucca to her first handler, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, 33. Lucca is living the life of spoiled retirement, and enjoying every minute of it.

The New Barker dog magazine is honored to be a longtime supporter and sponsor of Military Working Dog Team Support Association (MWDTSA). Over the years, through the support of our retail advertisers and their own generous customers, supplies have been collected for the dogs and their handlers currently deployed overseas. We have collected the donations and transported them to the SPCA Florida in Lakeland. There, they are either shipped to Atlanta, or Dixie Whitman, the executive director of MWDTSA drives to Lakeland from Atlanta to pick up the supplies. Dixie then packages and ships the supplies directly to the deployed handlers and their dogs.

You can learn more about this fine organization by reading Lucca’s story. Supplies continue to be collected at Fluffy Puppies, Clearwater; Gone to the Dogs, St. Pete Beach; Groovy Cats & Dogs, Tampa; One Lucky Dog, St. Petersburg; Paw Paws Pet Boutique, Madeira Beach; Pawsitively Posh Pooch, St. Petersburg; Pet Food Warehouse, St. Petersburg; Pet Supplies Plus, Clearwater & Pinellas Park; and Wet Noses Boutique, Sarasota.