Guide Dog Foundation

Like America’s VetDogs, the Guide Dog Foundation is in Smithtown, NY.  It was established in 1946 to help the blind. Originally, the program focused on assisting returning WW2 veterans, but now services a huge variety of people who are visually impaired – those born with the disability, those who have suffered injury or illness, and those who have age-related loss of sight.

It costs $50,000 to breed, train, and place a service dog.  Puppies undergo evaluations to see if they have what it takes to be a guide dog.  They are put in many different social situations, and must be able to walk fearlessly over a wide variety of surfaces and inclines.

According to Charity Navigator, 84% of the organization’s expenses go towards the services it provides.  This is a pretty good statistic!  You can support the foundation through a regular monetary donation, or by shopping online at their website.  They have cute holiday cards for $8, and plush toys for under $20.

(YouTube video from the Guide Dog Foundation is below)

 

 

 

Prison Puppy Program

Yesterday I highlighted America’s VetDogs.  One more aspect of the organization I admire is the Prison Puppy Program.  From the America’s VetDogs website:

 

In order to be selected as dog handlers, inmates are required to submit a letter of intent to a liaison, after which a team of social workers, case managers, psychology, custody and program staff become involved in the selection process. Inmates who are honorably discharged veterans are given preference to become raisers, but all candidates must have acceptable behavioral records while they have been incarcerated and first must pass a screening of the prison intelligence department.

The puppies learn basic every-dog things like how to sit, stay, heel, and be housebroken.  The training then moves onward to include how to pick things up off the floor, how to turn lights on and off, and how to open and close doors.  The prison has three or four puppies at a time.  As you can imagine, they are popular residents so the puppies get used to being in busy environments.

On weekends, the puppies leave the facility and are placed in volunteers’ homes so they can become socialized with children, other animals, and be taken to many different public places.

video: YouTube, America’s VetDogs

America’s VetDogs

videos: America’s VetDogs, YouTube

Each year, I look for unique Christmas cards to send that mean something special to me.  It’s always a fun project for me to decide what to create or buy.  I often start months ahead!

Last year, I was thrilled to find animal themed cards that supported two organizations in my home state of NY: America’s VetDogs and The Guide Dog Foundation.  In the next few blog posts, I hope to share some information about these organizations.  After buying the cards, I’ve received news updates and have grown rather attached to their mission and hope to highlight the good work they do.

America’s VetDogs was founded in 2003 to help returning veterans not only with physical tasks, but also with mental health healing and support.

It costs $50,000 to train and place a service dog.  The Today Show has been following one dog, Charlie, in hopes to raise awareness and funds for the organization.  Operation VetDogs hopes to raise $250,000 or more.

An example of a success story featured in America’s VetDogs newsletter: Joe Worley lost much of his left leg (as well as suffering damage to the other leg) in Iraq.  He came home with mental anguish as well, finding it difficult to adjust to daily life as a civilian  with terrible injuries that required him to depend heavily on others.

His VetDog Benjamin gave him confidence to try more tasks and also opened him up socially.  Before having the dog, he would walk only a few steps from his wheelchair before becoming discouraged.  With Benjamin, he could spend 85% of his day wearing his prosthetic and looking forward to the tasks ahead of him.

Joe now works for America’s VetDogs, presenting at shows, conventions, and schools across the country.   He works as a veterans relations liaison, making sure dogs and vets are paired together well.

Benjamin is now retired and is a pet in his family.  His new service dog is Galaxie.

Above are videos showcasing some of the skills the dogs are trained to do.

You can shop at and/or support VetDogs here.

video below: Today Show featuring Joe, Benjamin, Galaxie, and Charlie

 

Zoo Society

IMG_4759My local zoo is involved in conservation efforts.  They raise money for the International Elephant Foundation through an event called ZooBrew, which allows local breweries to feature their beers as people go to the zoo after hours.  The 2016 fundraiser raised $9500 to IEF’s Protecting Elephants Conservation Detection Dog Network.  This program helps train dogs in Congo, DRC, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia to help track and defeat poachers.

The 2017 ZooBrew money will also go to this important organization.

The zoo also contributes money to the International Rhino Foundation with an event called Cinco de Rhino, another craft beer event.

I live in the Finger Lakes region of NY, so wine and beer sales boost our local economy.  Innovative programming like this help keeps our zoo able to reach out to the larger community and educate people about conservation efforts.

Photo: taken at my local zoo

 

 

Animal Welfare

img_1603I love all animals, not just elephants, so I must dedicate a post to this terrible news.

I was horrified that the USDA removed animal welfare records from its website this past week.

What did the animal welfare site report?

You could look up a breeder to see if conditions were humane, and you could make an informed decision on that dog or horse you were hoping to purchase.

You could look up a lab to see a census of the animals they studied, and how they were handled.  Was your local university wisely spending research money?  Was the lab giving animals like chimpanzees adequate space, adequate food, and adequate care?

You could find a corporation and read reports about animal testing.  You could read reports about zoo animals, circus animals, and learn how animals were transported.

USDA inspectors wrote detailed reports about sites they visited, noting violations that often made the companies/labs/zoos/breeders make positive changes.

Overall, 1200 research labs were included on the site, many which use your taxpayer dollars.  Over 7000 facilities keeping animals had reports open to the public.

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Why was the site removed?

According to Science Magazine, “The agency said in a statement that it revoked public access to the reports ‘based on our commitment to being transparent … and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals.'”

This sounds like a terrible excuse.

OK, so why was the site really removed?

Blame the lobbyists working for “Big Ag” – i.e. huge agriculture firms that could care less about animal welfare and/or human safety and focus solely on massive profits.   An explanation from Science Magazine:

“The Trump administration hired Brian Klippenstein to lead the USDA transition team. Klippenstein is the executive director of Protect the Harvest, a Columbia, Missouri–based pro-agriculture group that has supported Right to Farm bills, which protect the agriculture industry from certain lawsuits and regulations, including those involving animal welfare. The group has also opposed restrictions on large-scale dog breeding operations—sometimes referred to as “puppy mills”– which are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act. USDA’s decision to remove documents relating to violations of both the Horse Protection Act and Animal Welfare Act would be consistent with Protect the Harvest’s policy goals.”

Why should I care?

If you care about animals, you should care.

If you don’t like animals, you should still care – how we treat animals offers a window into how we treat human beings.  If regulations can be swept aside for animal welfare, you better believe regulations will be swept aside for human health and safety too.

What can I do?

First, take heart that the USDA says the decision is not yet final.  There is still a little time to make your voice heard.

Second, be happy that usual adversaries are coming together to protest.  After all, research labs (often highly distrusted by animal rights groups) also like to have this information easily accessible – they use the reports to find scientific trends, as well as make their case to the public as to why animal research may be beneficial.

But, we can’t depend solely on animal rights organizations, the Humane Society, labs, or zoos to petition the USDA.  Citizens need to speak out too.

1. Leave feedback on the USDA website

2. Write and call the USDA

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

(202-720-2791)

3. Social media users should post comments and animal photos with #noUSDAblackout

4. Notify your senators and congress people and urge them to speak out.

5. Support organizations like the Humane Society.

In the meantime, how do I get animal welfare reports?

You would have to file a formal request through the Freedom of Information Act, which can take months to be approved.

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Photos: my beloved dog, my local zoo, and at a local horse rescue organization where I volunteer every year from April to October

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working like a dog

Dogs are part of the anti-poaching team, working out in the field and in the airports and shipyards to stop the ivory trade.  In the past few years, wildlife officials have seen the importance of their work and have invested more time, energy, and money into training these brave, intelligent canines.  Their sense of smell allows them to find well hidden ivory that sometimes remains undetected by even the most sensitive machine technology.

In 2015, the African Wildlife Foundation helped train eight dogs in Kenya to sniff out ivory.  The work paid off handsomely as the dogs found over $60,000 of ivory ready to be sent to Asia from the Nairobi airport.

Here is a video from National Geographic showing Diego, an anti-poaching dog in the field.  You can see just how fast and athletic he is, thanks to the GoPro camera.

 

The most popular breed for such work is the Belgian Malinois.

The dog handlers also need to be well trained, and now undergo two months of intense training before being dispatched to work alongside their canine companions.

If you want to see some more truly adventurous dogs, check out this clip of the German Shepherd, Giant, and his Belgian Malinois friend Arrow as they skydive and practice attack skills so they can bring down poachers.  I’m not sure how long this video will remain posted, as someone took it from BBC (who no longer has it on their official channel.)

Videos: BBC World, National Geographic, BBC News