Anyone who’s been involved in animal rescue for at least five nanoseconds has probably figured out it’s likely easier to make rainbows out of a mud puddle than it is to please every Tom, Dick, and Fanny who’ve got fabulously bad intentions for how they’d like the rescue operation to fit into their agendas. Sometimes Tom, Dick, and Fanny have great ideas that serve the needs of our dogs’ adoptive processes; sometimes, though, Tom, Dick, and Fanny need a reality check. That happened this past week.
It all started when “Betty” (sorry, Betties of the world) wanted our group to send over twenty puppies for a “puppy bowl,” which was to take place in a large arena. Betty’s email rattled on AND ON about her expectations for her client. I mean, we hadn’t ever talked to this woman, and here she was delivering explicit details regarding what was to follow as if she was doing our rescue a huge favor we’d be nuts to refuse. She wanted breed-specific dogs, namely “at least two yellow Lab puppies.” She wanted to give points to dogs for defecating and urinating before spectators to her game. Why? Because that’s just so cute to freak out young dogs, who are already scared and nervous, so strangers can laugh and point fingers — to bet on their fear. Right. Making matters worse, Betty explained that “not all dogs would be adopted.” Well. Thanks for that hot news flash, ladycakes. I’ll cut to the chase: Betty paved a yellow brick road straight to Crazytown in her email, and we weren’t gonna let her take Toto down with her.
A short, yet polite decline was fired off immediately to Betty, but she wasn’t having it. She wanted a referral to another puppy “agency.” Without dragging it out further, it was decided to tell Betty why we wouldn’t help her humiliate our dogs or any other dogs. After thinking about it this week, I’d like to also stick the reply here for all to read because it pertains to everyone who doesn’t understand the line between abuse and otherwise. We are here to rescue animals, not to perpetuate and catapult the sick ideals of man.
No pussyfooting about it:
After considering your request carefully, I feel the need to fully explain why our rescue, as well as any reputable rescue that focuses on addressing animal welfare needs, will not participate.
When we bring dogs into our system, including puppies, it’s for the sole purpose of locating good homes. These animals have been dumped. They’ve been abandoned. They’ve been stuck on city streets without food, water, love, shelter, etc. Humans have not been kind to them, and because of that, these guys have no reason to trust us. Our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect — to give them what they deserve rather than to utilize them as puppets for what sounds an awful lot like a precursor for some sort of bizarre Roman Olympics opening act.
Our volunteers don’t receive compensation for assisting these dogs. They use their own gas, vehicles, homes, time, etc. When someone applies to adopt a dog, we want it to be because s/he loves that creature — not because the individual saw the poor dog scared and confused and “cute” in a gaming arena with 19 other puppies feeling the same way. We will not strain our volunteers’ resources to accommodate requests like yours when we could spend that time finding homes for their fosters at a legitimate adoption event. Read as: That’s a slap in the face to every rescuer who gives more than what can ever be received in return.
You’ve requested for your “client,” gag, to have in attendance a couple of breed-specific dogs. At least “two.” For crying in a bucket, I hope I don’t trip over all the breeders dumping yellow Lab puppies at the pound in my effort to nab the right actors for your production. You want a couple unicorns with that order? How ’bout some fries and a magical talking narwhal, too? The biggest part of what we do as rescue workers is to help the public understand we have a huge crisis that affects us all going on in city shelters. It’s about battling discrimination and irresponsible breeding. It’s about serving the needs of the animals who are left behind by people who want the fluffy lookers, about giving taxpayers a break from footing the bill for that sort of flippancy. All of our puppies are cute, damn it, even the ones that may be ugly ducklings to your “client.” What you’re asking is akin to calling an orphanage and suggesting it rush over twenty orphans for your Hunger Games mockery — a couple with blue eyes, some with golden hair, etc., for the viewing pleasure of someone who’s paying to see it, for someone who stands to make money off of our rescued dogs’ misfortunes. That’s disgusting and slimy, and we want no part of this trivialization.
As for the games themselves, your description involved something “similar” to what Animal Planet does for its puppy bowl. Animal Planet doesn’t throw puppies in the XXXXXXXXXX Ballroom in front of a bunch of strangers attending a XXXXXXXX. And just because AP does something, it doesn’t make it ethical. There’s nothing cute or kind about giving a puppy points for taking a dump in public.
This is not to suggest that our group is a stranger to mankind’s insistence upon demanding dogs and other animals play games for human enjoyment. Not at all. We’ve dealt with a lot of that. I’m attaching a photo as proof.
Allow me to describe what you’re seeing. This is Bubbles. I was nice and sent you the “after” shot. When we found her, we weren’t sure she’d make it, but she did. It wasn’t cheap. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of tears and anger from a lot of people. Today she’s living with the most wonderful couple along with a pack of other dogs (none of them yellow Lab puppies, mind you). Bubbles wasn’t forced to attend a XXXXXXXXX puppy bowl, but she was possibly forced to bait other dogs into fighting as a source of amusement and financial gain for those who wanted to see it. I realize the analogy might run the gamut between comparisons here, but I want you to understand how very seriously we stand against animals being used in any capacity against their wills for gaming purposes of any shape, size, or color. If we were to allow our dogs to participate in ANY end of this spectrum, that would blur the line between what is acceptable and what is abuse. We label abuse as anything degrading to an animal, and your puppy bowl certainly falls into that category, even if only at an entry level. After everything that we’ve done to help Bubbles and many dogs just like her, we can’t look her in the eyes now and say, “Give us your puppies for people to laugh at…but only the cute ones. Thanks, girl.” Ain’t happening.
This email might seem a tad harsh, but I hope you’ll take a minute to truly examine why. There’s a reason we run one of the most successful dog adoption programs in north Texas. We’re fair. We’re honest. We are tough. We get it done. And now I’ve got to get back to the mission.
Thanks, but no thanks.
DFW Rescue Me and its 1300 adopted dogs not attending the puppy bowl
So there you have it, “Betty.”
And about this Thanksgiving bizwax? Well, I’m super grateful to volunteer for a rescue that isn’t afraid to tell Tom, Dick, and Fanny what time it is.
Disclaimer: I’ll add here in all fairness that there were no witnesses to Bubbles’ injuries. Therefore, it can’t be written with certainty that she was, without a doubt, used for fighting.
I know it sounds corny, but for me the State Fair of Texas is where my heart can always be centered. It’s crowded. It’s crazy. The weather can be temperamental. Still, this is the place where I first fell in love with caramel apples, renewed my wedding vows atop the Texas Star, and showed my child the sort of arts and crafts I’d known growing up as a preacher’s kid in tiny towns across north Texas.
The fair is also where I accidentally discovered my place in the animal rescue world, hence the blog’s header up there. It’s safe to say my life has been changed forever at this point. The animals and people I’ve met have become an enormous, extended family. Through the efforts of many, I’ve witnessed the group morph from a handful of volunteers into a full scale network of almost twenty-thousand Facebook followers with almost 1,200 successful adoptions. We’ve worked together within the community to create educational presentations, spay and neuter days, low cost microchipping events, donation drives, and many, many other beneficial programs benefiting not only the animals, but also the people in the DFW area. That said, every day is a fair day in our world.
DFW Rescue Me is hosting its third annual month-long adoption drive at the State Fair of Texas, and I’m really excited to be a part of it yet again. The past two years, we’ve been fortunate to host the event alongside Dallas Animal Services. However, this year our group will be running the show on our own and will need all hands on deck in order to ensure our dogs are present and attended by as many caring folks as possible.
If you’ve been considering getting involved in animal rescue, this is a fantastic opportunity to learn a boatload about the work we do in a very short amount of time. I promise the experience will be one you’ll not forget, and you’ll be rewarded handsomely in ways that cannot be measured when you witness a dog you’ve grown to love go from near hopelessness to enjoying the new warmth and comfort of a great home.
We need transporters. We need people to walk dogs. We need people to sell merchandise. We need kissing booth attendants. We need people to reassure pups who are scared and uncertain of their environment. We need people who are willing to fill water bowls and distribute treats and remind fair-goers that our dogs aren’t part of a petting zoo. So, you see, there are a lot of ways you can get your feet wet in this shindig.
Reach out to fairvolunteer[at]dfwrescueme.org for more info and to schedule your time with us during this year’s event. The fair begins September 27th and runs through October 20th, so there are lots of times and dates available for you to assist.
This is officially *your* Six Days at the Fair (and more)!
(And now I probably need to give our coordinator my volunteer fair schedule, too, before she strangles me. Sorry, Mer.)
I’ll be honest: I haven’t given much thought to judicial elections in the past, but the entire ordeal with Judge Larry Mitchell grandly fudging up his original decision in the Justice case this week demonstrated how important it is to use the people’s power as wisely as possible moving forward. And how convenient; we are entering an election cycle as I type.
A quick jaunt on social media revealed the name of a prosecutor running against Mitchell: Brandon Birmingham. Mr. Birmingham’s website provided enough information for me to determine he wasn’t on a mission to become the next Montgomery Burns of the 292nd Judicial District Court, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to throw my full support toward a candidate I didn’t know. Therefore, I decided to introduce him to the toughest possible critic, Sweetie the Pit Bull, who’s never failed at separating the wannabes from the true contenders. With Birmingham and Sweetie both game, I set out to meet our next judge hopeful. I told Birmingham, “Wear comfortable clothes. It’s one thousand degrees where we’re heading, and you’re going to get covered in dog fur.”
What he didn’t know was the great significance of our meeting place. As I opened the hatch of my vehicle, I told Birmingham, “This facility is where I met Sweetie. She was abandoned here for six months a year and a half ago by people who’d neglected her for a lifetime, dumped her when she was dying. Luckily, DFW Rescue Me and Toothacres were able to step in and save her life. Give me a minute to make sure she’s comfortable being here, ok?” I searched for compassion in his eyes. Found it.
Sweetie lumbered her way out of my car and greeted him. Happy tail, so we were off for a walk around the grassy perimeter of the property. We bragged about our kids and families, the rescue effort in north Texas, and it felt like I was really just walking dogs with a new volunteer rather than discovering more about a politician. After a bit, Birmingham asked if Sweetie wanted some water, so we headed over to where an oscillating sprinkler was being operated by a couple of other volunteers. He coaxed, “Come on, Sweetie! Cool down a little,” and stood next to her while she tested things out. I tried to stop him: “Wait, I was going to get a photo of you. You’re going to be all wet,” but Birmingham laughed, “Oh, it’s fine. I don’t mind. She’s hot. You can take a picture anyway.” I watched the sprinkler chase them while Sweetie rolled in the mud like a pig. Hard to imagine Judge Mitchell doing any of that. Really hard.
One of the ladies introduced herself from Duck Team 6, a local rescue group that serves the needs of Dallas’s street dog population. When I mentioned my guest was running against Mitchell, who presided over the Justice case, she couldn’t conceal her excitement. “You’re running? And you’re here? That’s wonderful. Thank you!” Suffice it to say that finding political candidates willing to spend their free time walking around a deserted pet cemetery with a wet-and-muddy, old, rescued Pit Bull is akin to spotting a unicorn riding a narwhal over a rainbow; it just doesn’t happen often enough.
While we visited, I asked the prosecutor where he stands on animal welfare: “I always look at why people commit crimes. What were their motivations? If I find a lawless person has been senseless with no mitigating reason, I feel those responsible for acts of violence deserve to be punished severely. Animal cruelty cases fall into the spectrum of individuals who cannot stand up for themselves. They don’t deserve what happens to them. Those are the class of victims I take to heart and have throughout my career.”
And Birmingham’s record attests to his claims. With over a decade of prosecuting experience, he successfully tried the state’s case against Willie Atkins, who was sentenced to life in prison for intentionally spreading AIDS to many unknowing people. Imagine proving THAT. Bank robbery cases? Yep. Abuse cases? Check. He was even able to deliver a guilty conviction in the case of unapologetic, child killer Jose Sifuentes by presenting evidence recovered through the enlistment of superdogs Vodin and Pace from Search One Rescue Team. “Because of those dogs, the defendant pled guilty and got a life sentence,” he mentioned. In addition, Birmingham was the key prosecutor in the conviction of Juan Cantu, a member of the Mexican Mafia who received life for the brutal murders of his friend’s child and ex-girlfriend in 2004.
“The defendant was mad at his friend’s girlfriend, went to the house where he found not just her, but also her poor kid and another woman. He raped and tried to kill the other woman, even set her on fire. Just a horrible crime. We got him on DNA evidence and witness testimony. It was a tense case, and I admit there were a few times I feared for my personal safety, but that’s a part of my job.” Elaborating further on proving cases through DNA, Birmingham, who is also Chief of the Cold Case Unit, pointed toward his role in the judgments against Marion Sayles and Frederick Anderson last winter. “Once the DNA previously exonerated [Raymond Jackson and James Wilson in court proceedings prior to Birmingham's involvement], we had the DNA from the rape exam entered into the CODIS database — it’s a database of DNA profiles created from inmates in TDC — and the DNA matched two inmates. The case was indicted, and I was asked to try it. I did — both of them with Russell WIlson, Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit. I wish I could say that I shook the hands of the exonerated [who'd been wrongly imprisoned for 29 years]; I hugged the victim Mary Smith after the trial and was proud to do so.” He credits the partnership between the two units as being instrumental in securing life sentences for the “true perpetrators who committed this horrendous crime.” Nice.
When I asked about a case that really touched his heart, he paused and inquired, “Do you remember Monika Korra? She was the SMU student who was abducted by three men as she was walking with her friends and repeatedly sexually assaulted. They just stopped and swept her away. She lived and wanted to come forward to stand up as a voice for rape victims; she didn’t want to be silent. Very, very brave young woman. A book about her plight is currently being written.” He continued, “It feels good to stand up for a victim as a prosecutor, to channel anger to prove a case. There are long hours. It’s tedious and like a roller coaster, but at the end of the day, I really feel honored to do the work on a case and tell the story from the victim’s standpoint, revealing all the vile and deceitful acts of a violent criminal. I know more about their crimes than they do. Because of that, I can’t wait to tell twelve people what I found out.”
Sweetie is all about changing the world for the better, so I thought I should throw in a couple of questions for her about what Birmingham would like to see happen in the future. He obliged. “The judicial system is set up to be reactive and tends to not, by nature, be proactive. I like to see programs put in place by groups that enlist our help to go into the community.” He says he’d be happy to lose his job as a prosecutor if it meant there were no more cases for him to try. “That would be great, but right now there’s a need. Violent offenders need to be locked up, and we need to be vigilant about those other non-violent offenders to help them become productive members of society.”
Having covered the heavy stuff, I figured I should give the guy a break. After all, Sweetie reeeaaally wanted to know: “Do you have a dog?”
[Laughing] “A cat.”
I assured him, “I can fix that.”
“Yes, we’re quickly on our way then! No, we have a thirteen-almost-fourteen-year-old cat named ‘Macy’.” Then he quickly added, “That’s ‘M-A-C-Y’.” (Love that.)
“Got it. Macy. ‘M-A-C-Y’?”
“Yes, that’s correct. I adopted her from the Houston SPCA. She was with me through law school and has been my friend ever since.” He whipped out his cell phone and scrolled through pictures of his girl. “This is her right here,” he smiled.
“And what would Macy have to say about you?”
“Oh, Macy would say something like she prefers to be fed by hand and drink water directly from the faucet. She’d also say she misses me because I work too much.”
Wrapping things up since Sweetie was past due for her third afternoon nap, I asked my new legal friend what he’d be doing if he wasn’t in law. After assuring me he’d be point guard for the Mavs, Birmingham admitted he’d love to teach history or philosophy . . . or become a musician. I shouldn’t second guess his aspirations. He’s already appeared on “The First 48,” lectured around the nation regarding rules of evidence as well as constitutional and ethical issues, learned how to play guitar and drums, and, of course, continues to fulfill his most important role as family guy to his wife and two kiddos and Macy.
For now, though, he’s prepared to put aside his secret ambition to join the Dallas Mavs in order to serve the residents of Dallas County. He assures, “I pledge to be a full-time judge, who is decisive, consistent, fair, and tough when needed.”
“So you’ll hammer and hammer to get us what we deserve?” (I had to.)
“Ha, ha! YES!”
(Hear that? March 4th. Mark it on your calendars. That’s the big day, not to be missed, folks. He’s got to win the primary in order to make it to November’s ballot. Click here for precinct and voting info.)
After submitting to Sweetie’s pressing inquiries, Birmingham told her goodbye and that he really enjoyed meeting her. She reciprocated the sentiment and prepared for her big nap home.
Sometimes you meet someone who sincerely wants to make the world better for everybody in it. There’s just an obvious quality about that sort of genuine kindness you can’t fake. That was the overwhelming feeling I had about Brandon Birmingham as I drove away: What a super nice guy. Just don’t tick him off by breaking the law because, evidently, then he’s, eh, not such a nice guy.
And that’s what we need.
I admit I am super bummed about the comments you made while interviewing Christopher Walken on your nationally televised talk show this week. Two reasons: (a) I like watching your banter with Andy Cohen, and (b) I like pit bulls.
“[...] if it’s a gangster it would have to be a dangerous pit bull kind of dog, right?”
Oh, Kelly. Gaw. There are a bazillion kindhearted, scared pits sitting in pounds across this country — hopeful someone might give them a second chance before they’re fatally overlooked, and you laid out a death-sentencing stereotype for a ginormous viewing audience. You’re a human; you say dumb stuff like the rest of us. I get it. Of course, the difference is when I say ridiculous things rooted in ignorance, my face isn’t in front of a camera that’s feeding to millions of households. That said, you’ve got the tools to make it right, so, come on with it.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I used to believe pit bulls were dangerous dogs, too. In fact, I almost spontaneously combusted when my daughter returned from a visit with her father and announced, “Dad got a new puppy. He’s a pit bull/Mastiff named Rupert.” Certain the pit mix was going to eat my daughter’s face, I scrambled to the phone so I could yell, “Why are you taking a chance like this with our child? What are you thinking?!” I complained to anyone who would listen until one day a friend of mine said, “You know, I respect you, but you’re way off base here. Rupert is going to be a great dog.”
Years later, I’ve discovered my friend was…wrong. Rupert isn’t a great dog; he’s an exceptionally outstanding, magnificent dog. And I was an uneducated jackass.
Since meeting Rupert, I’ve worked with quite a few disadvantaged pitties in the animal rescue circuit. The shelters are full of them not because they are dangerous, but because the mythic stereotype — like the one you and I perpetuated about them — keeps many prospective adopters at bay. Even worse, breed specific legislation (BSL), which is an unjustified witch hunt against protecting the welfare of dogs who “look dangerous” to the nosy-old-bitty Miss Suzy Q. Peabodies of the world, is a current item voters in many areas are addressing as I type.
Kelly, whether you realize it or not, there’s probably at least one dog who died today because your fans decided not to adopt a pit bull on death row. There are probably many other fans who decided to vote in favor of BSL because: “Kelly Ripa is a savvy chick, and she thinks pit bulls are dangerous.”
You have the power to say you’re sorry and make a difference in a way most of us combined would be unable to achieve within our lifetimes. I bet you could have an intelligent pit bull advocate on your show tomorrow morning. I bet you could have a hundred. Or a thousand. I bet you could save a lot of lives and reverse an enormous amount of bigotry by giving these dogs five minutes of your airtime.
You slipped. It happens. Fix it, homegurl.
Wantin’ to be your fan,
***UPDATE 4/18/2012: Reward for information leading to conviction in Justice’s case is now $25,000.00. Justice died 4/14/2012 from injuries suffered as a result of the abuse.***
During an adoption event last weekend, one of the volunteers described Justice, the newest puppy our rescue group is fighting to save from an animal cruelty case.
Attempted strangulation. Doused in lighter fluid. Lit on fire. Found hiding behind an air-conditioning unit after a group of young men tried to kill him for fun. Luckily, a good Samaritan called 911 and extinguished the flames with a t-shirt.
Poor Justice. It’s hard to feel anything that isn’t completely primal when you see images of a blistered, badly abused pup struggling to stay alive.
Obviously, this is what severe abuse looks like. No question there. Lots of comments from outraged individuals expressed the need to understand how anyone could do this. How could a group gather to collectively torture a young puppy? What causes someone to be so heartless, to be uncaring, to think this kind of thing is acceptable or funny or entertaining? I admit, I don’t get it either.
Even so, I believe bullies aren’t innately insensitive. They learn from society, from their families, from the people who are their role models. These learned ideals — often rooted from systemic abuse — manifest themselves in various harmful behaviors. This doesn’t excuse the crime in any way, only goes to show that we need to take a closer look at prevention.
Abuse begins somewhere.
On Sunday, a local church minister encouraged his congregation to attend Easter services, during which he promised to unveil a huge surprise. When the big moment arrived, the pastor revealed a small cage on wheels with bent bars. Inside this janky-looking contraption sat a living, breathing, seventeen-year-old lion, who’d been forced to spend his life performing for the sole purpose of human entertainment. Without debate, this creature served as nothing more than slave to mankind — an unnecessary prop.
The crowd watched as the handler riled the lion into moving, defending himself for the audience’s bewilderment as the church leader — proud of himself — attempted to connect the spectacle to a message within his religious service.
While holding a crying, newborn baby lamb, the minister paced the stage near the lion, as he delivered the rest of his performance.
Public outrage followed. Some church members who witnessed Easter services defended their minister’s actions by claiming that no animals were harmed. The comments on various articles insisted this was a “lion who had been in movies.”
But there it is — the beginning of a cycle. The public accepts this dog-and-pony show as non-abusive because the scars aren’t evident. There are no blisters, no burns, no blood. They believe everything must be fine because that is how it appears on the outside. In itself, I understand how someone, without knowing differently, might fail to see the picture in its entirety. In this case, groupthink perpetuates the cycle and, as in the case of Justice the puppy, the crowd enjoys watching for entertainment purposes, unable to grasp the undertones of extreme psychological abuse. I’m sure if some of them realized what was truly going on behind the curtain, they would be horrified.
Sadly, some of the people in commentary expressed irritation that the lion and the lamb made news. They claimed these were only animals, that the message was delivered. So what. Pfft. Who cares? “Don’t these people have something bigger to complain about?”
To those folk, I’d ask if they value their lives, the lives of their families. I’m sure they must. Animal abuse, which begins at the point we accept discouragement of proper care, is directly connected to many well documented, violent crimes against humanity — rape, torture, murder, etc. By embracing various levels of abuse as “OK” and “not OK,” we’re segueing further into a world where people who commit crimes against creatures don’t signal portents that can be corrected and addressed before affecting our children, for instance.
This afternoon, though, with his undeniable scars visible for all to witness, Justice waits another day to see if he will live tomorrow. Then tomorrow, he’ll wait again. With thousands of dollars in reward money offered for the capture of his attackers, I hope someone will be brave enough to step forward. Until then, all we can do is hope, demonstrate love, and donate for his extensive care.
Let’s begin something new now: Teach our children and educate others about understanding the abuse cycle, where it begins, and how to end it together. Kindly and with compassion. Ask yourself: What harm is there in that?
For information on how you can help donate to save Justice’s life, and the lives of other dogs being treated and rescued from cruelty and neglect, please visit: http://www.dfwrescueme.org/Donate/.