Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Solution

I've noticed a trend in the animal welfare community, although it is present in other areas of life, as well. I experienced some of it myself, but thankfully I'm doing pretty good about growing and learning from my life lessons as they come.

A while back, the director of animal control in my hometown decided to start these meetings in the community in an effort to fight animal cruelty. There were some complicated politics involved, but regardless, the point was to come together, discuss the community issues and present workable solutions. For my part, I contributed to a new draft of the current laws regarding animal control, proposing stricter laws and a better fine/punishment system. The goal was to dissuade animal abuse and to reward responsible owners. Others worked towards fundraising, local education, and volunteering.

Of course, being that the Humane Society was also present and involved, the conversation revolved less around the anti-animal cruelty projects and more around the shelter itself. Oh, what big plans they had! How many animals could be saved if they just did this and this, and so-an-so could totally foster, and, well, what about sending more animals to rescue? Why isn't the shelter no-kill already? What if we made colorful posters or hosted a huge party adoptathon?

So many big ideas, but no one really had a game plan.

See, the Humane Society isn't out to kill all the animals. Seriously. That is so not their goal. They want to see them all healthy and happy in forever homes, just like you and me. They work hard to screen potential adopters, to hopefully weed out potentially abusive, neglectful, or otherwise irresponsible homes. They're not so much jaded as they are experienced. While fresh ideas are great, we must remember -- if it were a current, viable solution, the Humane Society would have already done it.

I could go on and on explaining things, but I think I'll leave you with a fable from good ol' Aesop, paraphrased, of course.

There once was a bunch of mice that lived in constant fear of a cat. Many of their comrades had fallen to the whiskered foe, and they were pondering what to do. One young mouse spoke up boldly, "The cat is a sneak, on that we can agree! Let us tie a bell around his neck so that we can hear him before he sneaks up on us!"

Everyone cheered. What a wonderful idea! Everyone that heard the bell would know to run to safety!

As the crowd applauded the young mouse on his brilliance, an old mouse that had been leaning quietly in a corner spoke up, "What an ingenious idea, but who, pray tell me, is going to tie the bell around the cat's neck?"

Everyone looked to the bold young mouse, who just hung his head and stared at the floor.

Friday, August 1, 2014

RRR Service Dogs Scam and When Politics Rule

Raja Renata Ranch, RRR Service Dogs, whatever you want to call it, has been shut down. You can read my Dogster article about it here. You can read another blogger's coverage here.

What I wanted to expound upon was....

I. TOLD. YOU. SO.

Ok, ok, bear with me here. Back when I was more involved in the animal welfare community, particularly volunteering for a local shelter and encouraging rescue/adoption in the public, I got wind of a fake rescue. I investigated it and pushed local authorities until it was investigated, shut down, and the owner (somewhat) appropriately punished. In this journey, I met a lot of people passionate about saving animals AND ensuring responsible practices in rescue and individual ownership. We used a private Facebook group to contact each other and post updated information on various rescues.

Along came Raja Renata Ranch and Nicole/Niki/whathaveyou. The whole situation sounded shifty. We had evidence that she was running a breeding program along with her service/rescue dog program, and things weren't adding up. She had no credentials, didn't follow proper quarantine, and was evasive about questions regarding her facility, etc. Overall rating on the Meghan scale? Fishy as heck.

When I heard my local shelter was sending dogs there, I quickly voiced my concerns. I also contacted RRR Service Dogs to see what they would respond.

On Jan 7, 2013 5:37 PM, "Meghan Lodge" <meghan.hunt@live.com> wrote:
Hi,

I was interested in more information on your service dog program. Who does your training? Are they certified? Also, is it possible to self-train to train dogs? Do you do training outside of rescue dogs?

Thanks.

From: Nicole Schifando <rrrservicedogs@gmail.com>
To: 
Meghan Lodge <meghan.hunt@live.com>
Sent: 
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 16:44:35 GMT+00:00
Subject: 
Re: Service Dogs
Hi Meghan,
  Charlene McCuller told me we would possibly be hearing from you.  I believe we answered all of your questions when you posted on the page. 
Thank you.

Apparently, I came with a warning. HAHA.

On Jan 10, 2013 11:02 AM, "meghan.hunt@live.com" <meghan.hunt@live.com> wrote:
Nicole,

Yes, I saw where you had answered my Facebook post. I still have more questions, however.

Do you have your 501c3 status yet?

How does a soldier go about getting one of your dogs? Is it a private cost for them or something covered by their VA benefits? How long is their training?

Locally, we had a training course for therapy dog teams that would be visiting nursing facilities. The course lasted about 6-7 weeks and the CGC was administered by a licensed CGC representative afterwards. The dog were then tested by Therapy Dogs International. These dogs were still limited in their service abilities to welcoming facilities only.

I know each soldier's need is different, but can you give me examples of what your dogs have been trained to do beyond CGC requirements?

Thanks,
Meghan

From: Nicole Schifando <rrrservicedogs@gmail.com>
To: 
Meghan Lodge <meghan.hunt@live.com>
Sent: 
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 17:25:44 GMT+00:00
Subject: 
Re: Service Dogs
We currently have a lawyer working on our 501c3 status for us.   The paperwork should be ready to submit to the IRS within the next 60 days.  However, we are a registered non-profit with the state of Tennessee and are licensed by the state gaming commission to solicit funds.
In order to receive a dog, a Soldier must go through an extensive application process and home visit including providing medical documentation of their condition.  We must also speak with their care provider and we interview the Soldiers at length.  Obviously, everyone is not suited for a dog so this process is very indepth.
There is absolutely NO cost to the Soldier or the VA.  The VA has also stopped funding any type of psychiatric service dog and now only funds seeing eye dogs, etc.  Funding is done exclusively through donations to RRR.  The only thing the Soldier ever pays for is the regular cost associated with owning a dog such as food, yearly check ups, etc.  We provide their heartworm prevention, shots, etc for the life of the dog.
Training depends on each team.  Some dogs already know basic obedience when they go to the Soldiers, others do not so they are literally starting from the ground up.  We have been very lucky that though we have not yet received our ADI certification (the process takes over a year), Fort Campbell has been very willing to work with us after reviewing our program and seeing the benefits to Soldiers.  With the training we do (where the veteran/Soldier works with the dog on a specific task or two all week and then we review their work and proceed to the next task or command the next training) the process usually takes six months to a year but the Soldier is still receiving the benefit of having the dog with him during that time and they are forming a stronger bond.
Therapy dogs and service dogs are very different.  Service dogs are covered under the Americans With Disabilities act and do not require certification the way a therapy dog would.  The only 'requirement' the ADA needs for a dog to be granted public access as a service dog is that the dog perform three tasks to accommodate it's owners disability.  There is no other required training etc, hence why we personally require the public access test provided by ADI and the CGC.  CGC testing is done by a licensed CGC evaluator, as there is no other way to get granted that.  
As an idea of what tasks our dogs are trained for that assist with disability...we have dogs who alert to seizures, interrupt flashbacks, dogs who provide balance assist, some have been trained to wake their Soldier from night terrors/nightmares, we even have one who wakes his Soldier when the alarm clock goes off because he can't hear very well while sleeping due to his prescription medication. We are VERY proud of the work the guys put in with these dogs and how far each of these dogs have come.  I am also attaching a letter that was initially sent to a commander here at Ft Campbell when one of our Soldiers was seeking exception to the rules to bring his dog to work.  Not only did they approve him, the dogs behavior was complimented multiple times by leaders within his unit and his unit commander.

*Nicole

From: Nicole Schifando <rrrservicedogs@gmail.com>
To: 
Meghan Lodge <meghan.hunt@live.com>
Sent: 
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 18:08:53 GMT+00:00
Subject: 
Re: Service Dogs
Megan, 
I understand your concern.  There are many people who unfortunately don't like or appreciate our stance on some issues and they have bashed us plenty for it.  I, however, am a person of my word who holds true to my beliefs and doesn't back away from what i believe in just because someone distorts it or doesn't agree.  I obviously don't get much appreciation for that lol but any time you feel like you have a question are welcome to come to me and you will get an honest answer.  I can't always guarantee it will be what you WANT to hear but it will be honest.  You are welcome to keep watching updates of Simmer, now Layla, and Church, now Mika, on our page or ask me personally. 
Thank you.

If you've read Nicole's blog at all, you'll see that Nicole wasn't a total idiot. I have little sympathy for someone that steals from soldiers, children, the community, and starves animals; however, one might hypothesize that Nicole was (seriously) mentally ill. She wrote as though she fully believed in what she was doing and that it was right. I have no clue how she validated the dead/dying/starving dogs in her mind, or the fact that she wasn't delivering on any of her promises, but I reckon that's something she'd have to answer.

Anyhooo, I've wandered off topic.

When I warned the shelter about this rescue, I almost ended up banned as a volunteer. The then-president of the board and her henchwoman had seized control over the rescue operations as self-proclaimed rescue coordinators. Said president called me a "rogue volunteer," and said it was not my place to contact rescues to screen them. Well, as a US citizen, it's my right to question anyone I darn well please. (Of note, we citizens are also entitled to this wonderful thing called the Freedom of Information Act. Look it up.) I wasn't a paid worker of the shelter, and I didn't say I was doing it on their behalf. I would usually note that I volunteered there, simply so the rescue would know I had a reason to be concerned, but also so they would know that I was not in a position of any type of power.

Ah, power. I think that's what this whole situation boiled down to. See, I have no interest in the politics of the little empires these people and others likes them have built. My only concern then was (and continues to be) the well-being of the animals. If I knew a rescue wasn't good, even if I had nothing more than scant evidence and a serious gut feeling, why not at least take a little more time investigating it before shipping dogs off to whatever?

It would have been better if I had been wrong. That would mean there would not be 37+ bags of animal remains where Raja Renata Ranch operated. There wouldn't be dead puppies in the house, or disabled children lacking a service dog that their families had raised money for.

I'm such a troublemaker. *eyeroll*

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

NSFW: Contains the "S" Word. Repeatedly. The Entire Post.

Don't read this post if you can't handle swearing. Seriously. I'm a writer. It's my art, and cursing is like writing in high contrast. Complaints will be filed under the "Please Grow Up" tab. 

This morning, as I watched my cat, Toby, hurl himself out of the bathroom at lightning speed to avoid the smelly shit he’d just made, I had an epiphany. We all need to stop running from our shit. Toby usually gets away with it because by the time he returns for round two, I've already scooped the box. He also has two boxes to choose from, so he can avoid the smelly box until after it’s scooped. Since my house is his whole “world,” and I scoop the box daily, Toby can, in theory, shit forever and never have to actually deal with it. We humans, on the other hand, cannot eternally run from our shit – our figurative shit, not our literal shit, although I’m pretty sure that might catch up with us one day as well.
 
They're cute, but they are still little shits.
Pet Shit
 
This one’s a given. Your pets literally shit, and it’s up to you to clean it up and dispose of it properly. Putting it in non-biodegradable plastic baggies and filling up the landfill should not be your modus operandi. It’s better than avoiding the shit altogether, but it’s making a bigger pile of shit to deal with later. For best results, clean up shit daily and dispose of in pet septic tanks, biodegradable baggies, a compost pile, or some other EPA-approved method.
 
More Pet Shit
 
Other than actual shit, pets also do things like make messes, chew/scratch things they shouldn't, and even attack you (mostly applies to cats). The best way to handle that kind of siht is to address the problem, not the symptoms. Have you watched My Cat From Hell? What about the Dog Whisperer? Your cat or dog isn't just a bad little shit, there’s something causing that behavior. Talk it over with your vet and see a behavior expert if necessary, but definitely get a handle on that shit!
 
Willow says relationships are hard.
Relationship Shit
 
Ah yes, relationships. You have them with your cats, people, and even with inanimate objects. Cut the negative people out of your life, especially if your cat tells you to by practically clawing their eyes out or howling furiously when they walk in, or your dog insists on marking them. Some people just have bad energy, and that’s not the kind of shit you want in your life. As far as inanimate objects that are harmful to your life, your cat is actually pretty spot on about sprawling across your laptop while you’re scrolling social media. “Unplug” yourself at least thirty minutes a day and spend that time petting your Furry Master…er, your cat (or your dog). Also get rid of anything your cat or especially your dog pees on. I could say it’s a message from the pet gods, but really it’s because you’re not likely to get rid of the urine odor (especially if it’s a soft surface).
 
Life Shit
 
It’s time we all stop running from our shit. We made the shit, let’s deal with it. “I’m in some pretty deep shit, though,” you might say. “It’s so much easier to just not think about it.” Well, you’d be right. Speaking strictly short-term, the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy works great. However, much like pet shit, life shit will build and build and become one giant pile of shit that is likely to fall right on top of you. No ignoring it now that you’re covered in it, huh? Life is a long-term kinda thing. You aren't born with an expiration date tattooed on your foot (excuse me while I double-check…nope, no tattoo). Whatever you do in life has consequences, some immediate and some future. The best way to be happy and move forward with your life is to handle life shit as it happens. Face it head on, make a decision, and follow through.

Get a grip on that shit already.