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If you’ve never had your heart broken and want to see what it’s like, get a dog.
This one is Picco. He came to live with us on a cold November afternoon. My significant other called and asked if I was okay with her bringing him home. A few months earlier she helped me bail rain water out of a hole in our backyard. We wrapped my my 13-year-old Golden Retriever, Whitman, in his flannel blanket, laid him in the hole and covered him with the sodden chunks of clay from the pile nearby. After mowing around the mound all summer, she called because she knew I was still adrift.
His owners left Picco in their backyard with a house and some straw while they went on a two-week vacation that lasted 2 years. I said “Of course. Bring him home.” Judi opened the door from the garage and this mutt bounded into the house. He ran straight to the couch where I was sitting, jumped up next to me, put his paw on my arm and looked me straight in the eye. We’ve been moored ever since.
Picco and I have run over 5000 miles together. We’ve touched two oceans. He’s been with me at shows in bars across the midwest, down the Eastern seaboard and Southeast. We’ve fought bigger dogs together — he won. Through all of it I’ve wondered; who rescued who?
This episode is about rescues. Rescues as nouns. Rescues as verbs. And rescues as metaphors. Today’s thing is this shaggy mutt, Pico. This episode is titled “Emotional Rescue.”
I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true.
When Picco won me over he picked the easiest mark in the house. The one who needed him most. I see dogs do it all the time. Jacob”when people talk about vibrations, eastern philosophy, I totally think they pick up on stuff that we can’t.
This is Jacob Meyer. He works for Great Plains Society for Protection of Animals. Jacob’s experience is sort of like mine. One day his wife and her friends saw what looked like a raccoon next to a dumpster. They approached the animal and realized it was a black and tan, rotweiler- retriever mix puppy. The puppy was trying to eat the gravel around the dumpster. Jacob’s wife picked her up and took her home.
Jacob “I’d just got out of the emergency room. Cut hand down to the bone. “I got you a puppy.” It’s in the garage.”
The two of them went home and …Jacob “she was in a kennel in the garage and she just ran up, jumped in my lap started kissing my face and it was over.”
See, this is how they get you. Jacob “I was working in restaurant management, most miserable I’d been in my life. Crappy hours. Out drinking, working for selfish people. Came at just the right time. losing grip of things, something to hold on to, put things in perspective. — insert spun my life around and why I do what I do now.”
This story of how Sofie changed Jacob’s life came up over and over. Someone adopts and animal they had no intention of adopting and that creature upends their whole life. After he took in Sofie, Jacob got out of the restaurant business. He’s worked in animal rescue ever since. He’s done outreach, public relations, and marketing for pet adoption agencies. It gives him insight into the biggest challenges that these adoption and rescue organizations face. At first I thought this would be something like people just leaving animals around or turning them over. I was about to learn that the real challenges can be with the animal-loving public and the laws themselves.
Jacob “There are still a lot of cities that by law will not allow pit bulls…for no scientific reason other than they look like a pit bull. Sadly a lot of dogs that come through here are pit bulls.”
Jimmie Mae McConnell lived in Wyandotte County Kansas next-door to a home with 2 aggressive dogs in the back yard. Records show she called animal control several times about the dogs.
Animal control officers never came. After tending her garden Jimmie Mae would tell her family, “‘One day, one of those dogs are going to get me.” One did.
On July 27th, 2006 a dog identified as a pit bull leapt the fence, ran from the neighbors yard and attacked Jimmie Mae. She died of a heart attack. The Kansas City Star reported that quote “firefighters needed an ax and a pike pole to pry the snarling pit bull off of 71-year-old Jimmie Mae McConnell’s torn and bloody body.” Pit Bulls were banned from Wyandotte County at the time.
The American Bar Association, The Centers for Disease Control, State Farm Insurance, American Veterinary Medical Association and the Department of Justice have all issued statements and reports in opposition to breed-specific laws. At best, dog attack data is reported haphazardly. Various agencies, hospitals, and state health departments collect different types of data, or none at all.
When it came time to repeal the pit bull ban, you’d think the science and information would change the minds of the commission in Wyandotte County. But that’s not what happened. In December 2014 the commission voted to uphold the pitbull ban. Commissioner Hal Walker — who knew Jimmie Mae’s family — said “There shouldn’t be any pit bulls in Wyandotte County whatsoever.”
Jacob “you’ve got to look at the right end of the leash. You can train any dog to be mean.”And it’s not like the commissioners who voted to uphold the ban didn’t realize the evidence didn’t support their position Jacob “one of the commissioners, was from a different city who lifted the ban, but in KCK voted against it” The cost of these Breed Specific Laws isn’t just in their inherent disparate treatment of one breed either.
This is important. The opportunity cost of breed-specific laws is the life of the dog who doesn’t get rescued. It’s not fewer pit bulls. It’s the lives of dogs who may or may not be bit pulls. Those are the dogs who don’t survive breed specific laws. See, the pit bulls stay in the shelter longer, because it’s illegal for them to adopt the dogs out to cities with bans. Jacob “there’s been a lot of missed opportunities for homes for these dogs. family will meet a pitfall want to adopt, you can’t adopt this dog.”
The kennel with that pit bull never empties. So the next dog that needs to get in to that kennel never gets a chance. That’s the dog who never gets placed. THat’s the dog who’s hurt by the beed law.
You’re just a poor girl in a rich man’s house, yeah, Baby I’m crying over you
One pit bull who had an extended stay in an animal shelter in New Jersey a girl named Baby.
Billy”and Baby had been there at the shelter for quite a while months, scar from her neck down to the base of her tail, former owners had poured acid down her back
During her stay at that shelter, Baby met this guy: Billy Eichorn. He’d come to the shelter to volunteer and took an instant shine to baby. On his visits Billy walked Baby, then he’d walk some other dogs, then he’d walk Baby again. Billy “that was the fist dog I became attached to.
I talked to Billy outside the Great Plains SPCA facility and he told me about how despite the terrible thing someone had done to Baby, she showed no signs of holding it agains him. He said when he took Baby outside the shelter, she acted like it was a totally different world.
Billy would go with Baby to the adoption events every other Sunday. Then, he’d come back to the shelter with her after the event was over. He’d taker her back to her kennel and watch her go back into stress mode. People would see her sweet face and spend time with Baby. They’d see the scar, and the pit bull, and move along. Her history — and her breed — kept her in the kennel. Until one day when a young couple showed up at an event and met Baby. And her dad.
Billy “I have a 9 year old daughter and it was like screening prospective boyfriends.The couple liked Baby. They realized she was special. They also realized, she was special to someone else. Billy: “I think it was fairly obvious my connection with baby, and how important it was she go to the right home she was a special dog The couple adopted Baby. Finally she had a real home. It’s great. Sort of.Billy “it’s bittersweet, they went home but on the other hand you sort of hand them over the name of the game.”
Besides being a kind hearted guy, there was another reason Billy latched on to Baby. They had a connection. Billy “I was out of work, bad spot in my life. Doctor told me to volunteer for some sort of routine.” What I’d learn is why Billy was in this condition. MUSIC
Billy, “In 2002 I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, PTSD, alcoholism, the list goes on”
Billy told me when he was four years old, he was sexually assaulted by the adult son of his baby sitter. Then, again, when he was 13 Billy was molested by a coach in his hometown in New Jersey.
Like Baby, these scars stretched from one end of Billy to another. After years of living with the pain, he got to a point where he couldn’t function. Billy “My psychologist said the worst thing you can do is sit at home, some sort of routine, what about volunteering.” Billy began volunteering at the shelter where he found Baby. The rescuer and the rescue. Billy “It wasn’t just something to do to get out of the house it gave me a purpose, I helped the dogs but I would leave there and I would feel good
So he went more. Billy “I would go 4 days 5 days any time I had time I would go He didn’t stop when Baby was adopted. Just because she was gone, didn’t mean his scars went away. Billy, “I continue to do it because I need it, what I deal with will never be gone. It’s part of my routine It’s a routine that mirrors the life. Billy “still today I battle depression, and anxiety, I’m married, wife struggles with the idea that I can’t make him happy.
The volunteering and the therapy helps. But still, Billy “sometimes it’s impossible and you have to board up the windows and ride it out.” Dealing with all of this, sounds a lot like animal rescue work. It never ends. Billy “there’s not a starting line and a finish line. There’s a starting line which was my bottom and then it’s just ups and downs an no finish line just riding it out, making sure I have more good day than bad days and stringing my good days togetherBeing around Baby taught Billy something; MUSIC
Billy “she had been through a lot of the same things I had been through …Showed no signs of any sort of anger or any aggression, like a human typically would.” But that wasn’t Billy Billy “I was not in that spot I was in a spot where most people suck and maybe I can find 1 or 2 that don’t” BREATH Billy “yeah there are some bad people, some bad people that hurt animals and dogs but for the most part people are good, and it was my experience with Baby that sort of helped me make that connection” And then I wondered, was this all part of their identity.
I asked Billy, if he thought maybe he connected with Baby because they’re both survivors. Billy, “People tell me that about me I don’t know why but I don’t see that in myself, I can see that, yeah, I’ve been through a bunch of stuff and stay productive , so yeah, I’m a survivor and I think I should give myself a little more credit I guess.
Don’t you know promises were never meant to keep?
Meeting Billy, you understand why professionals recommend volunteering with animals as therapy. Connecting with animals teaches us about ourselves. Cat Simpson, showed me how it can lead some people eto a completely different vocation. Cat “there’s nothing particularly unique about Gary, that stands out, like oh i rescuers him in a dumpster in a back alley, something about the bond, greater sense of empathy for living beings outside of humans.” Cat has her Bachelors in Psychology, an MBA, and she ran her own business for over six years. She was getting her masters while she was running the business. She was working away, minding her own business — literally — then one day she meets this cat. music beginsCat “him and I just developed this incredible bond, through that bond I just knew that’s what I wanted to be involved with, started volunteering, the rest is kind of history” What’s weird is how close this call came to not happening. . . because of a dude.
Cat “and I almost didn’t adopt him because his shelter name was the same as my boyfriend at the time. That I was having issues with, ‘oh no not that cat.’ Crawled in my lap and it was done. It was Gary” MUSIC ENDS Cat’s one of those people who goes to grad school and runs a business, works a second job and sometimes a third. With all that you’re probably thinking, “non-profit work must’ve been like a vacation. Cat “ I think it’s harder work so you gotta have the desire to do it. I don’t think people choose it because it’s the lucrative career path.” Cat started volunteering and eventually working at Wayside Waifs — a no-kill pet shelter in Kansas City for a few years. Now, Wayside Waifs places over 5,000 pets in homes every year. You’d think just seeing that scale would be enough to give someone an idea of the size of the problem of animal rescue. ”Cat “I didn’t know before I started working here how many stray cats and dogs there are in the country. What she’d learn is that the scale she dealt with every day was just the beginning.
See, Cat would go out on these animal welfare trips around the US, helping rescue and take care of animals and transfer them to shelters for adoption. Those trips would peel back a whole new layer to this giant onion of pet over-population. That came when she got a new job with the ASPCA’s Field Investigation and Response team.
Cat “…and what they do is that they get called out to large scale situations dog fighting, or large scale hoard situations. The majority of the ones they’ve done started out as a rescue that got out of control
One of the biggest contributing factors of companion animal over-population is hoarding. We tend to overlook this problem because when we hear statistics hoarding gets lumped in with abandonment. But it’s it’s own problem. According to Doctor Gary Patronek, founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University, there are three “types” of animal hoarders: The Overwhelmed Caregiver, the Rescue Hoarder, and the Exploitative Hoarder. And you don’t need to dig very deep to find examples of all of these.
One example of the Rescue Hoarder was an Animal Control Officer in Arkansas. One day his supervisor called him in. He told the officer if he picked up any strays, they had a week to be placed. If they didn’t get a home after a week, he was to take them out and shoot them. They weren’t going to pay for chemical euthanasia any more. The control officer couldn’t do it. So he started taking the animals home. What began as a few dogs turned in to 56. Then, the officer got sick. So, he surrendered the dogs to the ASPCA for healthcare and adoption. Now, the news is full of these stories; 52 dogs in Waco, 57 cats in Tuscon, 70 in Muncie. But nothing I read could touch a case Cat Simpson told me about. Her first in her new gig with with the FIR team at ASPCA.
Cat “The largest companion animal seizure in US history was in North Carolina, rescue organization lost it’s way, 700 dogs cats, horses, largest in US history of companion animals
In January 2016 law enforcement, Animal Control Officers and the ASPCA raided The Haven- Friends for Life no-kill animal shelter in Raeford North Carolina. They found over 700 animals. Mostly were alive. Many were dead, buried around the property. Some of the animals had been surrendered to The Haven by soldiers deploying from nearby Fort Bragg. They left their dogs to the shelter to care for them and find them good homes. Police arrested the owners, Linden and Stephen Spear, on four counts of animal cruelty and three counts of possession of a controlled substance. 700 animals. 4 counts of cruelty.
Stephen Spear, the husband, was arrested again, earlier this month, on 114 counts of child pornography. Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said investigators found child pornography on two computers confiscated during the animal cruelty raid on the property in January, 2016.
Records show Inspectors had visited the shelter several times between 2005 and 2015. They cited unsanitary conditions, a lack of veterinary care and other violations of North Carolina’s Animal Welfare Act. Over the decade, the State took legal action. The Spears used every legal means to fight it ever time. A spokesperson for the ASPCA called this “one of the most difficult logistically and probably one of the most horrendous” cases they’d dealt with. And this is where I learned that this case comes with a big wrinkle. Those 700 animals? Cat “They cannot go to a shelter. They’re evidence. And some of those animals from January are still evidence.”
Remember when I said earlier that the Spear’s were charged with a crime? And remember how Cat said it’s the largest case of it’s kind in US history. That giant criminal case is still winding it’s way through the court. The animals have all been placed in makeshift animal shelters — or evidence lockers. These converted warehouses stretch from Ohio to North Carolina. The animals will be there until the sprawling case is resolved. Cat had been working with the animals at one of those shelters the weekend before I met with her. Cat “one of the temp workers that was helping, said ‘man, it sucks that they’re stuck here to the judge this could be a bunch of kennels full of x-boxes. And actually if it was an x-box people would be trying harder to get ’em out.”
You might hear this and think, “well those two people will go away for animal cruelty. At least that’s something.” Cat “the felony charges are not for animal cruelty, neglect is not a felony, the felony charge is controlled substances. So the animals aren’t necessarily being held because they’re evidence of animal abuse. They’re being held because they’re evidence of a drug crime. Cat “…So they’re basically just sitting there, in kind of a death row situation.”
When you see this kind of stuff, it activates you. It activated Cat. She started working in the field and animal welfare became her passion. In Missouri, in 2010, that meant being active in lobbying for Missouri Proposition B. Cat “I campaigned really hard for that bill. I did a lot of work on it.
You think you’re one of a special breed.
In 2010 a fourth of the breeders federally licensed across all 50 sates were located in just one; Missouri. Proposition B was passed by Missouri votes in 2010. It was an attempt to undo the conditions that had led to the state being labeled the puppy mill capital of America. As state auditor. Now Senator Clair McCaskill found that endangered animals violations were not being punished. Later audits confirmed showed the state was not inspecting kennels, a requirement under Missouri law. It’s not a stretch to say instances of animal abuse were common. So, voters passed proposition B to help protect dogs and cats in roughly 1450 breeders across the state. Problem solved, right? Cat “…Recently it started bumming me out too hard with just how bad they gutted it. The bill passed…but it met a lot of opposition in the Missouri House and people who were just convinced it would infringe on their farming rights.”
Megan “I’ve been involved in politics my whole life. Big Liberal Democrat but I was down there with the Republicans on this one. I went down and testified to overturn it. That was a lot of money coming into our state from outsiders trying to tell us what to do. The core issue is we got an unfunded mandate. Our Animal care Act officers are so overworked. We need more funding for more officers and we need to enforce the laws that are on the books now.” This is Megan Tallman. She runs Midwest Visla Rescue in Kansas City Missouri. When she described Prop B as an unfunded mandate she wasn’t being hyperbolic. Those audits showed Missouri was doing a terrible job of funding their inspection operations. Animal Care investigators carried an average of 240 cases. The Missouri program coordinator wanted the number reduced to a more reasonable 150. That case load meant the inspections were not getting done. Then Megan hit me with the some of the real impediments to Prop B; Megan “You know we’re an ag state. This swath of states here we get the ag mentality. It’s a business and you can’t deny a man his right to business. Again, Cat Simpson Cat “companion animals and ag animals are tied together. Anytime there’s companion animal legislation the ag people think we’re coming for them next Besides being afraid that animal rights advocates were coming for their agricultural animals, Prop B opponents said that it would put dog breeders out of business. They insisted that their animals were well taken care of. One breeder, a guy named Hubert Lavy from Silex Missouri told a St. Louis newspaper that his dogs, quote “live better than most of the people in the inner city,”
Somehow, insisting that most people in the cities live worse than dogs in Silex Missouri wasn’t a winning strategy. Prop B narrowly won. Now Cat was right — folks in the ag industry did take this law as a sign of future crack down on agricultural animals. And Megan was right, Missouri was woefully underfunding their animal welfare program. But the will of the citizens means a lot less after the election is over.
In 2011, a few months after voters approved the law, the Missouri state legislature rejected the will of the citizens who elected them and repealed Prop B. Governor Jay Nixon signed the repeal. In it’s place, they passed a new law. It removed limits on the number of dogs in a kennel. Removed limits on number of females a breeder can own, and eliminated the limitations on how often that female can have a litter. It did increase the maximum fees for a Commercial Breeder’s license in the state.
Missouri Breeders were happy. This new law was great, right? Breeders helped draft it. So no more excuses, right? We’re going to do right by animals, right? Megan “got a call one night…woman up around Savannah…divorce…8 dogs..we don’t buy dogs…well I have another bitch puppies, not here to clean up breeders’ messes either
Because she runs a breed-specific rescue, Megan gets calls like this. Megan “she says I’ll dump ‘em…they’re your dogs to do what you will…it killed me is she gonna do it? That caller released the dogs in Northwest Missouri near a shelter called Meshoogies. One day Megan got a call from Meshoogies about a group of Vislas they’d found. The pups had their dew claws removed. Megan realized it was probably the woman who’d called. She took in an adult female. That Viszla was sitting there next to us in Megan’s dining room as we talked. Megan “I can’t stop these people. our bigger problem its’ the commercial breeder.” Megan calls people like that woman on the other end of the phone “bad actors.” Megan “she was doing it for the money. She needed to dump these dogs because she had more coming in
Now, Megan comes by her attachment to the Visla breed about as honestly as anyone can. Megan “my folks brought ’em into the US in 1950 came down to the old Wheeler airport…Mell Slesigner… Shari…Got bad Weims.”
Megan parents found a male, Rex and established the breed in the US. The family became active in the American Kennel Club, and especially with local Viszla owners. Megan “so that was my folks’ legacy. Mine is rescue. The vet stepped down.” So Megan took over Viszla rescue and expanded the reach to the entire region of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas. After 50 years of working with one breed, and 25 years in rescue I think you begin to understand the dogs. It’s the people who defy explanation. Which is what Megan was about to show me next.
Doing the breed specific work, Megan gets both sides of the issue. It seems like she’s constantly dealing with a problem in animal welfare that’s been around forever; it’s humans who screw things up. Megan “every month we run an ad in the KC star no matter who’s advertising…ask questions before you buy, so we have a KS and MO number I’ll tell folks, who are you dealing with, I have had their dogs not a member of the local club questions you need to be asking them. once you touch that puppy it’s over. If I hear someone is going to Sam Sausage I’m going to tell them to be very careful because that there have been known health issues”
I asked Megan how her work in breed-specific rescue and on Prop B has gone over with folks in the big animal shelters. Megan “It’s kind of put me in with some of the shelters and out with some of the shelter folks. That’s the way it goes, today’s enemy is tomorrow’s friend.” She said she understands the risks to animals from those years before Prop B. Megan also saw where it failed, and how the law affected the lives of dogs, breeders and owners. Megan MOVE THIS FROM END OF EDIT “(cut um Amendment 2…) I’m not about punishing those that are going by the regulations and that’s what what happening. What it also did was made the bad actors go way underground they start breeding back and forth to each other. Health issues go skyrocketing, selling in a Walmart parking lot. Rescues that are bad actors. This is Jacob Myer again,Jacob “this story comes to my mind, puppy bleeding from parvo, lady said she got him from someone selling puppies at the park who said he’d been vaccinated and that was all that he needed, she was crying, it was an education issue, that guy made his 200 off the puppy and here we are euthanizing a five month old puppy” And this is the inherent tension for me. There are so many people — some who even have good intentions — and some just out to exploit — who are just incapable of doing right by these animals.
Cat “a lot of people don’t really understand, there’s plenty of nice awesome pet owners who have bought their dogs, keep opinions tempered, don’t think people really have an appreciation how many
animals don’t have a chance to be in a no-kill shelter because there’s WAY too many of them. Cat” It’s just seeing that when you’re faced with those statistics it’s like of course I’m going to adopt.
Rescues — both the nouns and the verbs — are messy. I wish it were as simple as saying that no one should get a pure bred dog. I also have to live in the real world. People get pure-bred pets. There are good breeders out there. There are also a lot of bad breeders out there. If you buy a pet for companionship, say a hunting dog or a working breed, maybe you shouldn’t just decide, “Well, I’m going to turn this little guy into a profit center so I can get my money’s worth out of it.” Animals are not Photoshop. You don’t pay for a copy and just decide you’re going to hang out your shingle as a breeder.
Look, as humans, we’ve deprived animals of their agency. It happened thousands of years before you and I ever met our first dog or cat or horse or chicken. But because these animals don’t have agency, we are responsible for them. We make their choices for them. And that means we don’t put them in a situation that we wouldn’t feel safe and secure in ourselves. We don’t treat them in a way we wouldn’t want to be treated. The Golden Rule — compassion — applies to animals and humans alike.
I think there’s room for people like Megan and Jacob and Cat in this world. They may have been on opposite sides of one piece of legislation. But they’re on the same side where it comes to the mission of reducing suffering and abuse. The real lesson is what a need there is for more people like Billy; people who see their selves in animals are the best at protecting them. The way animals work is, they see us as their pack. Their family. And what is a family but people who share a connection that’s more than genetic material and bigger and more mysterious than we can describe? That’s how we come to see ourselves in pets — we’re connected to them. If we can get more people to do that, we’ll get to a place where the rescues get less messy as verbs, because all of us noun-rescues act with more compassion and care for each other.
I want to thank Jacob Myer at Great Plains SPCA, Billy Eichborn, Cat Simpson and Wayside Waifs, as well has Megan Tallman at Midwest Viszla Rescue for being a part of this episode. If you go to iconoclast of things dot com you’ll see links to their organizations.
The music for Iconoclast of Things is composed and performed by me. I’m also the researcher and recording engineer.
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Originally published at www.iconoclastofthings.com on March 6, 2017.