Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Perks and Quirks

There are some weird perks of my job. There are some weird things about me, and my roommate, T. It's true. I'm not going to pretend.

One day, the same day as a massive cock fight, actually, I was flagged down and asked to pick up a cow head. Not a cow, just a cow head. I picked it up. I was fascinated by it, and more importantly, knew that T would be even more fascinated by it. She studied animals in college. Like, not animal shelter animals, animal animals. Dead animals and how animals work and stuff. Biology. That kind of thing. I called her, and told her I had something Very Exciting for her. I told you, we're weird. We took it back to the shelter, and, well, cleaned it. It wasn't clean enough, so we left it in the very back of the backyard.

Maybe 6 months later, new people moved in upstairs. They called our landlord and asked him if he knew there was a cow head in the backyard. He told them to call us, because yes, he knew there was a cow head in the backyard. He knows we're weird. Periodically, we would talk about the cow head, but no one ever fished the cow head out and the ivy grew over the cow head.

Some strange things happened yesterday, and T and I were having beer in the backyard. She was supervising my usage of power tools. (Someone should always supervise both my beer intake and my usage of power tools. She obviously wasn't doing a very good job, since I was intaking beer AND using power tools....) We decided to fish the cow head out. I did this with the power tool. (See above comment about how T wasn't doing a very good job of supervision.) The cow head looks great. It is dry, there is nothing gross left. Proof:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Privilege, Class, and Animal Cruelty

Note: I'm still working this out in my head, and I welcome other thoughts from people in (and out of) the profession. I'm not playing the apologist, or making excuses, just trying to view a bigger picture from my years of experience.

Most animal control officers (and probably police officers, I don't know), know that there are some neighborhoods that you get to know intimately during your job and some neighborhoods that no matter how long you're working your area, you will still need a map for, because you just don't go there very often. I've realized that these neighborhoods seem to break down around class lines. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a general discussion can be had about class and animal cruelty, as well as the definition of "animal cruelty" and the role of the animal control/humane services officer.

I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood. I'm not sure I ever saw a "pound truck" in my neighborhood. It was a quiet neighborhood and felt a little suburban, though it wasn't, and was on the edge of both a wealthier neighborhood and a more impoverished one. These are the kind of neighborhoods that I almost never visit as an animal control officer. The kinds of calls that we get from these neighborhoods are for loose stray dogs with tags. I generally don't have time to look for an unconfined dog (I'm NOT the dog catcher), and if we don't get a repeat call, in this type of generally wealthy neighborhood, the dogs are brought home by neighbors who know each other. We might get wild animal calls or dog bite calls, or neighbor dispute barking dog calls. With the exception of the bite calls, which can be handled over the phone unless they're in progress, these are not cases of animal cruelty.

There are middle class neighborhoods, with solidly built houses and many home owners, and we do get a fair amount of calls in these neighborhoods- more loose dogs which causes more dog fights and bites, many more barking dog disputes, sick cats etc. There are some animal cruelty calls which tend to be more of the neglect type- a dog is underfed, no dog house, etc. The houses are closer together and it's easier to see what your neighbor is doing. I live in one of these neighborhoods now, and have called on my neighbor who had their dog tied up (illegal in California, unnecessary in this case!). An officer went out, the dog hasn't been tied up since then. This kind of "cruelty" calls are common in these neighborhoods.

And then there are the neighborhoods where people are just getting by. This is where the bulk of our work takes place, and where we encounter the most "cruelty" situations. I have "cruelty" in quotation marks here, because, though I have seen some serious instances of animal cruelty and abuse and neglect, I have never heard or read or seen any serious discussions of the systemic problems that lead to these things. I am not talking about an individual act of violence: someone hitting their animal over the head with a baseball bat is animal abuse and cruelty, no quotation marks at all. It occurs here, there, everywhere, across class lines, as does human abuse and cruelty, but I'm not experienced in that. The kind of "cruelty" issues that I see in the poorest neighborhoods of my jurisdiction are often systemic, and this is what I want to talk about. It's possible that this is just an excuse: duh, themacinator, you just proved yourself wrong: if the rich (mostly white) people where you grew up could find a way not to abuse and neglect their animals, why can't the poor (mostly POC) people find a way to do it right in the other neighborhoods?

Well, I don't think it's that easy. And I also want to put out there right away that this is not just about the whatever-they're-calling this economic bad time. Animal cruelty/neglect is not a recent problem since George W. Bush. If I could blame it on him, I would, trust me. It's easy to blame poor pet stewardship on foreclosures and the economy, and many people have, but I'm unwilling to go there. People who have the resources and education to make pet ownership work do, even with limited financial resources. People who don't have the right type of resources don't. This is not always about money- think about the rich person who buys a dog and surrenders it to the shelter because it barks. Emotional, intellectual resources and a little time would help this rich person keep their dog. Or they could surrender it to a shelter and blame it On The Dog. On the other extreme is the transient gentleman who works with multiple people and keeps his dog for 15 years, until is is no longer feasible. The dog dies humanely, neutered, microchipped, licensed, in the arms of one of his previous rescuers (true story). There are resources, even they aren't green. It's finding them, using them, and wanting them.

Or having them available, amidst the day to day of just getting by. This is what I'm wondering about in lower-middle, lower, and I don't know the word for basically just surviving, neighborhoods. The kinds of calls that involve people having injured animals- maybe hit by car- and taking the animal to the vet but leaving without accepting treatment because they can't afford the vet bills. The kinds of calls where there are dogs chained to trees in the back yard because there is no fence and the landlord won't build one. The kind of house with roosters for fighting. It's really easy (especially in the rooster case) to say that obviously, this is animal cruelty, and maybe, if we're feeling generous, animal neglect, depending on the severity of the situation. It's easy to say that owning animals is a privilege not a right and that people shouldn't have animals if they can't feed/treat/house them, etc.

But it's not that easy to live like that. First, people love animals. The bond between people and animals is uncontested at this point, and I'm just not sure that I think we should cut people off from pets because they are poor. (See above case of transient person and 15+ year old dog.) Second, animals fall into people's laps. My sister/daughter/brother/baby daddy brought this dog/cat/rabbit home. I didn't really know what to do with it, so now it's here. And I'm doing with it the best I can. That's real. People end up with their pets, and they may or may not have had previous education on what is best for their pets. And in the neighborhoods I'm talking about, in the economic situations I'm referring to, they may not have the resources to GET the education on what is best for these pets. In areas where it's easier to get liquor than groceries (see my previous posts about food), it's not really easy to get good information about proper animal caretaking. Many people in these neighborhoods don't have access to cars, and public transportation is shoddy. There are a lot of elderly people who get "stuck" with their kids and grandkids pets. These same elderly people may not have access to transportation, or the internet to do research. They may not be able to adequately exercise the pet. They may not even LIKE the pet, but they care for it as best they can.

So, when the call comes in that a dog has been lying in the backyard, unable to stand for a few days, and I respond, and the dog really can't stand, let's say it's a situation like the above. (I'm making this one up as I go along- not to protect the innocent, but as a hypothetical). It's a large rottweiler mix, and it's clear that his back legs aren't working. Maybe he's tied to a tree, maybe not. He has water, and is in decent weight. Grandma is home, and during our conversation, grandson shows up, but grandson doesn't stay there. He left the dog with Grandma months ago. Grandma can't drive or walk the dog. She doesn't even go out in the backyard. But it's her grandson's dog, and she doesn't really feel she can do anything with it (she can't physically, but she doesn't feel the dog belongs to her- it's HIS dog). He thinks it's HIS dog and why are we there? In the meantime, ownership has fallen through the gaps, and no one has taken the dog to the vet. Grandma is on fixed income, grandson isn't working, and the rottie is possibly dying in the backyard.

This situation sucks, and happens all the time. It's cruelty, I think, and it's neglect. But it's also not that Grandma is a bad person, or even that grandson is a bad person (though chances are that he had the resources to make better decisions if he's young and able bodied, at least in this scenario). Grandma did not set out to let rottie die in the backyard. Grandma thought she was helping her grandson out, it's what families do. She doesn't even know where a vet is. Sometimes these dogs look terrible, like pictures would make you cry. But there's people involved in these stories, and in my opinion, systems at the heart of them. Systems that are failing. Some people, especially in the no-kill movement, want to blame the shelter systems, but I think it's a lot bigger than the animal welfare movement. It's systems that force people to choose what mouths in the family to feed. It's systems that force people to make choices about whether or not to provide veterinary care to their pets based on funds. It's systems that, like making booze easier to purchase than vegetables, make it really easy to buy a puppy or kitten, but don't provide the equivalent of "owner's manuals" about vaccines and lifelong pet care.

Sure, you can "find what you need." Same as finding vegetables. They're out there. But they're not easy to access. Education and access go together. The more I think about it, the more I feel that in most areas, including animal welfare, education and access come with money, and privilege. This doesn't excuse bad behavior, or cruelty. It IS another way to look at what we do, how we do it, and how to approach people who may be treating animals in ways that we don't approve of.

So what is the role of the humane/animal control officer? The letter of the law often allows for prosecution, sometimes up for felony charges, for the neglect and cruelty that I see. Sometimes, I believe that this is appropriate. For example, I think that the rampant rooster fighting that I deal with is also a question of class. Almost all of the rooster owners that I have encountered are in poor neighborhoods, and the uproar when the birds are seized is always in terms of the "love" for the birds. This is hard for most people (including me) to grasp, as the same men (always men) who claim to love the birds will later fight them in a gruesome manner. What is also at stake is a lot of money: money that they paid to get and keep the birds, money they might get from selling the birds, money they may owe on the birds, and the major money made at cock fights. This is a pretty cut and dry case, and I would argue that this is an intentional act of cruelty.

But I'm not sure that I can accept the California Penal code definition of cruelty as is, without further analyzing the situation. (See PC 597 for full text.)
(b) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (a) or (c), every person who overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so overdriven, overloaded, driven when overloaded, overworked, tortured, tormented, deprived of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, or to be cruelly beaten, mutilated, or cruelly killed; and whoever, having the charge or custody of any animal, either as owner or otherwise, subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal, or fails to provide the animal with proper food, drink, or shelter or protection from the weather, or who drives, rides, or otherwise uses the animal when unfit for labor, is for every such offence, guilty of a crime punishable as a misdemeanoror as a felony or alternatively punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony and by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000).

Failure to provide... deprive of necessary sustenance... It's so easy to say, so easy to say that DUH it's obvious. When written out like this, I can almost hear myself arguing against myself.

With that, I'm closing this out. I've been writing this for days, and I'm just throwing it out there. Animal Welfare, like anything, should be taken in context.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oakland Murals

The blog has been on a mini-hiatus due to a couple things on the way to a Big Thing. I was inspired by some of the fine folks in the flickr Guess Where SF group who made a beautiful new website of the San Francisco Murals. I love street art- more than art in a museum or on a wall, at least hanging on a wall. I've written about street art and graffiti and about public space.

And now I'm doing something about it.

After lots of arguing back and forth with my server and the technicians who run it, I have finally got a new site up and running without corrupting anything else. The new site is called Oakland Murals. I'm hoping it will be a collaborative affair- I've already solicited (and received!) photos of murals from many photographers. I want to facilitate artists and photogs in upping Oakland pride, in showing off what we have to offer here. Feel free to share the website, to take photos, to submit, and generally make this site part of the Oakland community.

(It feels weird being a self-promoter!)

I've also created this handy button to add the Oakland Murals site to your website.

Oakland MUrals

Friday, July 09, 2010

Film Friday


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Inciting a Riot, (Social) Media Style

It finally happened- Over a year and a half later, Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of unarmed Oscar Grant. Oakland has been preparing for this day for weeks, or months, in ways that have been making me privately adopt a contrarian stance: hell no, there won't be riots. "Operation Verdict," really? Groups came out with a PSA discouraging violence and the city set up positive open spaces that people could go to and "share their feelings." I just rolled my eyes on that last one. At the same time as the city was setting up this nice, Berkeley-esque sharing is caring stuff, they were also helping businesses board up stores all around the city, creating a creepy apocalyptic feeling near my house (Fruitvale) and downtown to "prevent" property damage with broken windows.

All of this made me feel rather disgusted with the whole thing. What were we saying to the rest of the world other than "of course Oakland will riot?" "Of course Oakland can't manage to express their feelings without taking it out on their own city." Sure, there is precedent, as everyone reminds me when I bring up this point of view: Oakland even burned itself down when the Raiders lost the Super Bowl. And there were "skirmishes" last year about Mehserle/Grant. But this whole thing seemed too much: if we say it's going to happen, and we act like it's going to happen (boarding up windows, preparing with riot gear and cannons), and we read and write lengthy newspaper articles that it's going to happen- well, why not?

Once the judge removed 1st Degree Murder from the options, the sentiment was that there was nothing "good enough" for justice for Oscar Grant. Colorlines has a helpful graphic showing what each verdict would have meant:

The "involuntary manslaughter" verdict was just shy of acquittal, and of course people are angry.

I am sad about all of this. It's too early to tell- it's 947, and "violence" and "looting" are just starting, even though the verdict has been out for 5+ hours, but the word is that outside instigators/agitators are startign the problems. I feel like outside instigators/agitators have been starting the problems all along, on the news, in the beauracracy, etc. Read some of these articles, for other perspectives: from Oakbook, from the from the Ella Baker Center, from KALW news, from Oakland North, from Colorlines, another from Oakbook. I've read a lot of awesome stuff on twitter, some great people urging alternatives to violence, and creative solutions, along with the above articles. I've also read some alarming "I told you so's."

Most upsetting are all of the "look-y loo's." I've written before about look-y loos, and even my ambivalence about being a look-y loo. But today it's just getting to me. People, this is life, not an event. All of this hype, all of this preparation- Oscar Grant was a man, shot and killed. All of these people are upset, furious, angry, sad, frustrated, devastated about his killing, by a law enforcement professional who was supposed to be protecting and serving. They are protesting (or agitating, and maybe those people don't care) because they care. Because they have been sitting on the edge of their seats to find out if the jury cares, because judges and juries are part of our checks and balances, and we want justice. This is not a photo op. This is Oakland. We are people. Riots are not something fun to shoot. It's not a "scoop" to make your photography career.

Unless it is. Unless you're an adrenaline junky, or work for the police who need this kind of shit to go down to stay in business. Maybe I am a conspiracy theorist. People love to see other people suffer. People love to hate on Oakland. And this is voyerism at it's best. I'm turning it off now, if I can tear my eyes away from the trainwreck- I'm watching the rubberneckers watch my city suffer.

I can't help it. I'm from Oakland. I love Oakland. I'm an optimist, and I can't believe that we will do this to ourselves. Stand up Oakland, make me proud.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sunday, July 04, 2010

David Chidester: Authentic Fakes

I started to write a pregame show review of David Chidester's "Authentic Fakes," about the section on baseball, but it never took off, or I got distracted with Oakland Murals, so most of this review will be about the baseball section.

I picked up this book on my most recent trip to Los Angeles. I meant to go take pictures at the Santa Monica pier, but it was foggy and the parking was expensive, and I had finished my book and needed something to keep me company since I can't sleep without Mac and I figured I'd want to read on the plane home. Right, the plane ride that I slept through from before takeoff till after landing. Anyway, you can take the girl out of college, but you can't take the nerd out of the girl. David Chidester rocked my world in college, and he still does. The premise of "Authentic Fakes" is that lots of things that Americans participate in as "popular culture" actually fall under the category of "religion," if the definition/category is expanded or even evaluated enough. If you look beyond disparaging words like "fetish," "superstitious," "cult," and "magic," which Chidester finds counterproductive in his analyses, there is a lot to discuss in the intersections of religion and popular culture.

I found a lot of this book tedious- I mean, it really is a book you'd read in college, in an anthro course, or a religion course- and not all of it believable. There's sections on the "American" gang in South Africa, and internet religions, and they didn't all make me buy into Chidester's thesis that "popular culture is doing a kind of religious work." I like the thesis, but I just lost him sometimes- Tupperware? The Tupperware factory as a pilgrimage site? He lost me sometimes, and partly because he didn't go into enough details, choosing to go for breadth rather than depth. In the baseball section, he went into a lot of details, and I knew the rest. So I will cut to the chase, because it was my favorite part, and because I had already written it out and never posted it: The Church of Baseball.

We're just past the All Star Break, and I am very much involved in the Church of Baseball. My boyfriend, Joe Blanton, pitched a pretty poor game again today, after getting better his last few starts, and it seems like things are going downhill for the Phils. (Actually, since I wrote this, he pitched a stellar game into the ninth, which his team then busted up for him.This sucks, because the Phillies are my backup team. I only have a backup team because a) my boyfriend moved there and b) the A's always suck. I love the A's, I'm a diehard A's fan, but it can be truly depressing to be a diehard A's fan.

There are good times. And there are bad times. I've written before that baseball is an outlet for fans to express their emotions while players are supposed to play their role of stoic heroes. For Chidester, the Church of Baseball is like any church: it is an institution, governed by rules. You follow? Because I do! Baseball, Chidester writes, also "ensures a sense of continuity in the midst of a constantly changing America... Like a church, Major League Baseball institutionalizes a sacred memory of the past that informs the present." (I can see my dad, resenter of all organized religions cringing right now.) But it's true- we think of Babe Ruth when we discuss home run hitters, and Lou Gherig when we discuss Cal Ripken when we discuss Miguel Tejada.

"Baseball," Chidester continues, "supporst a sense of uniformity, a sense of belonging to a vast, extended American family that attends the same church." When I was a kid, dad and I didn't stand for the national anthem. I don't know what changed, but we do now (no, it wasn't 9/11). Forget the patriotism, it's true- I smile at people in A's hats and scowl at Yankee's fans (this also evokes the us/them dichotomy of religion). Church is about ritual belonging, as is baseball. We sit in a stadium, we rise and sit together, not because a priest or rabbi tells us to, but because of good and bad plays. It's a religious ritual. I'm still in.

As if you weren't convinced (OK maybe you weren't), "baseball represents the sacred time of ritual... the entire proceedings of the game are coordinated through a ritualization of time. But baseball also affords those extraordinary moments of ecstasy and enthusiasm, revelation and inspiration that seem to stand outside the ordinary temporal flow." It doesn't get better than this- the 9 innings, 3 outs, ritualized start times, day games, night games, 162 games, etc. And then, the moments of plays you've never seen, clutch hits, and the roar of the crowd when something INCREDIBLE happens. The triple play (yes I was there!), the bungled play, the amazing play where everything seems to slow down and speed up, collectively, for all of the fans.

Chidester goes on with many examples- some believable, some not. I was particularly baffled by some of the talk of aliens, Africa/America connections (this didn't seem religious, but historical to me), and the internet stuff. This isn't a book normal people should pick up. But think about the baseball thing, lo ye baseball dorks. Just think about it. And bow to the Shrine of Baseball as you root, root, root, for the home team!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Search and Rescue

My grandmother's dog of many years passed away a few weeks ago. She was a miniature schnauzer that was a perfect companion to my grandmother, Jackie. "Pepi" was actually the second Pepi- the first Pepi was a rescue mini schnauzer who I remember as being slightly nicer than the second Pepi, and was also a great fit for Jackie and my grandfather, Bert, who has since passed away. Bert had Alzheimer's, and when Pepi 1 was alive, was still in the earlier stages. Pepi 1 always dragged a leash, whether because Pepi 1 was quick moving or because Bert was slow moving, I don't know. Pepi 1 unfortunately did get out of the unfenced yard and get hit by a car on a nearby fast moving street. The version we now hear is that Pepi 1 was always trying to run away- this may also be true. Miniature Schnauzer rescue found Jackie and Bert another dog, who was named Pepi as well, or Pepi 2, or Pepi, too. My version of the story is that Bert, who was remembering very little, could remember this dog's name, if not that this was a different dog. Who knows if this is "true." All I know is that I credit my love for dogs to Bert, and Bert loved Pepi. Pepi 2 had all kinds of medical issues, and before she came home, J&B removed many of her teeth, mammary tumors, etc. Apparently, prior to rescue, she had been a retired show champion, but her breeder hadn't bother to socialize her much, or deal with her health problems.

That dog was perfect for my grandparents. She would jump on the couch and sit next to Bert who would pet her, and stare into space, or rest his eyes. A bittersweet story near the end has Bert walking the dog, only without the dog. No one could find Bert, because Pepi was still inside. He was walking an empty leash. But walking the dog was what he liked to do. After Bert passed away, Pepi was Jackie's friend and guardian. Jackie lives in a gorgeous, spacious condo, with an elevator that only opens to her unit, but Pepi would bark ferociously to tell her master when anyone was coming. Later, she'd also bark ferociously as we moved room to room: Jackie, that person is following us! Do you want her in your bedroom? Woof woof woof! Pepi also bit me, and muzzle punched me and threatened me multiple times. I did not tell Jackie this. I believe other people told her, but honestly, the dog had very few teeth, so she became "the only dog that's allowed to bite me." I mean, she was Jackie's friend. I could tolerate it. Pepi had a peculiar, but endearing habit of walking into Jackie's walk-in closet and walking in slow motion under Jackie's clothes. Very odd to watch.

The last six months, Jackie would send me emails asking what to do and when. But when Pepi was in the hospital, we sort of talked about how it would be clear, and one day it was. (This is an un-fun part of being the family dog guru. I don't like giving advice like this.) It became clear that Jackie needed another dog, soon. She felt guilty (I feel guilty thinking of After Mac- which is a time that will never come, so I don't' worry too much) about filling Pepi's shoes, but it was a necessity. So I was enlisted to help. Jackie lives in Los Angeles, so about three weeks ago, I went down for my first trip. Jackie has a lot of criteria, the kind ta ht rescuers (including me) have been known to joke about. When you're actually in that position, it's not a joke. She's older, lives in a condo (though I think that's a plus!), wants a dog under 10 pounds, would prefer a dog between 5 and 8 years, and does not want a chihuahua.

Our first stop, and only stop that time, was to the Lange Foundation. Jackie had donated money to them in the past, and has a friend who adopted a schnauzer, or schnauzer type from them. The facility seemed a little odd to me, but they are cramming as many adoptable animals into a small space as possible. Most of the cats live in large, shared, "catio" type spaces, and look very happy. The dogs are caged in rooms that run through many tiny rooms, and it's easy to get lost. We visited with three small dogs. The visiting area, such as it was, was a tiny corridor with a couch. None of the dogs seemed to have been in the area before, and cound't really settle. The first dog was a chihuahua mix thing, who was shaking in the stereotypical chihuahua way, a major turnoff for Jackie. I convinced her to look at chihuahuas, because that's what we have in California- chihuahua mixes. Small things that people call chihuahuas, but are really some kind of small, nondescript dogs. The second dog we met was perfect. She was a Maltese mix, about 8 pounds, and supposedly 10 years old. Jackie was okay with the age, although I'm not sure she was really 10. She had the beginning of cataracts, and had had some mammary tumors removed, but she was spry and lively and very affectionate. We took her on a short walk, and Jackie was able to handle her. When the dog got ahead, she would stop, check in with Jackie, and stop and wait. We checked out one more dog, a bichon mix. He was not social at all. It was like we were not in the room.

We made a fatal mistake though, and I will never know if they gave the perfect dog to someone else because of it, or if she really had an adoption pending. A woman, who turned out to be the vice president of the organization, overheard Jackie saying something about not wanting a clingy dog. Jackie is, and Pepi was, very independent. Pepi knew when to be around, but is not a lap dog, like Mac, for example, who needs to be touching me at all times. The perfect dog seemed to be a much more social dog, who wanted to be in the room at all times. When we went to go discuss the perfect dog, all of a sudden she had separation anxiety and needed someone who wanted to pet her and touch her at every moment. Jackie is almost never out of her house, and was already talking about having the dog on her lap at the computer. She didn't want the dog in the bed with her at night, but that was about it. The lady, the vice president, saw the word "crate" on the application that we filled out and got that tone in her voice that I know perfectly well, since I've been known to use it when talking to potential adopters. Oh, this dog will NOT want to be in a crate. Jackie explained that she doesn't shut the door on the crate, but that it's an option.

I'm thinking to myself, Jackie is the perfect elderly adopter. She's gone about 3 hours a week. She has a dog walker, and other people who will help her out. She doesn't even have a yard to cause problems, she has a small balcony that she hasn't decided if she will use yet, but if she does, it's closed off with plexiglass, so the dog can't escape and tumble to the ground. She has told me she knows new dogs will pee in the house, and she hasn't reupholstered the couch since Pepi, becuase she knows new dog might make some kind of mess, as well. She donated all of Pepi's stuff so that a new dog can have her own stuff. She's willing to take an older dog with health problems. And we're getting "the voice." Jackie didn't get the dog, but didn't stop talking about her for a week. She consoled herself that the dog got a good home, which I'm sure she did. I was bitter.

I tried for the next two weeks to get ahold of the Amanda Foundation. I later read their Yelp reviews and found that I was not alone in being terribly frustrated by them. I gave them a chance, though, because I know that rescues are overburdened and understaffed. I'm a shelter worker, after all. And if we got there, the rewards could be worth it. But we didn't get there. I called three times before I got a call back, and when I did, I had to wade through a long speech before I could put out what I was trying to do, before I became human in the eyes of the person on the other end of the phone. She told me to send her an email, but I never got a response. I called two more times, and left specific times when I would be in town, since the kennel is appointment only, but it was no use. I never heard back. Not a great way to find homes for adoptable animals.

When I came back to LA this week, we went to Lange on Wednesday morning. Mostly the same dogs, and some new chihuahua mixes. We looked at one older miniature pinscher who was the right size and age. She was partially blind, which I didn't really think would matter, but when I went to pick her up, she went to bite me multiple times. I vetoed that dog. Whatever dog Jackie has needs to be able to be handled by multiple people, and if I can't touch her, it's a bad sign. The other dog we saw was five years old but acted three. He would have been perfect for a family, and was probably sturdy enough for kids, which is what Jackie said: he needs kids! A nicer woman at Lange steered us down the street to Friends of Animals. A volunteer greeted us with mistrust when we told her we had been recommended by Lange- I don't know if she thought they had turned us down, or what. But we talked to the director, Martha, an elderly woman who asked us to fill out an application and sat us down and had her kennel person show us some dogs. Martha knew she mostly had younger dogs and bigger dogs, but brought some out. She also only had chihuahuas. There was one dog who she thought was only one year old, but seemed much too calm for that, who I thought was perfect. But it was a chihuahua thing, and Jackie really doesn't want a chihuahua. I liked Martha, and she liked us, I think, or played along. But no dog for us.

The next day, we stopped by the Santa Monica city shelter, as I had heard that it was smaller, more accessible, and had small dogs. It did, and it was, but they made no effort to adopt animals out, at all. The woman at the front desk didn't get off the phone to talk to us. There were no signs of where the adoptable animals were. The kennels were being cleaned, so we walked around the outside, but there was no signage on the cages. An animal care attendant came out to talk to us about the dogs, but he had nothing nice to say about any of the dogs. At one point, he told me one of the dogs was "going to meet his maker" later today. He told me that they had "wasted 20,000 dollars" on a new femur for a great pit bull mix that was hanging out in a central courtyard area. I never did learn how much an adoption cost or what the process was. The only dog we wanted to visit was spoken for. We left. I was very disappointed that a progressive city like Santa Monica had such a crappy program. They gave us a handout with all the big public shelters in the area, but that wasn't what we were looking for.

I left, and Jackie still doesn't have a dog. She was disheartened by the end of the day, and I don't blame her. I am too. She has a couple of local leads- even a woman who finds dogs for people as a profession- what a niche! I will go back to help her if she needs me to.

But I learned what it's like to be on the other side. I have moved slowly but surely in my time as a shelter worker towards believing that many rescues and shelters are too restrictive in their adoption process, which turns people off to rescuing. All of the rescues that we visited required a home inspection, which is fine, but unnecessary. I found myself bristling a little at that, though Jackie was ok with it. I wouldn't want someone coming to my house, and my house wouldn't pass with its crappy fence. But my dog isn't unattended in my yard. Would a rescue worker believe that, or care? Would I be placed on a do not adopt list because of that? Are rescue workers rolling their eyes at Jackie's specific demands? Are they denying her because of her age or because she won't be walking the dog, even though the dog will be walked 3 times a day? I know I have thought that before. Jackie's dog will be well cared for if it outlives her, though Jackie is in very good health and is looking at older dogs. The process was frustrating, especially the groups who didn't return phone calls. Many groups in LA only show their dogs at mobile adoptions, and I can't come on weekends, since I am working my own animal job then. Also, I don't know that mobiles are good venues to find your perfect dog, and certainly not the best venue for Jackie, who does better in a one-on-one, less crowded setting than a mall or a farmer's market.

We'll find Jackie the perfect dog, who will have the perfect life, with trips to the groomer and the vet, and a nightly treat placed in the crate with an open door.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mark Obmascik: Big Year

Every year, all over the place, birders challenge themselves to do more, to be more, to find more. The birdiest of the birders participate in a "Big Year," a competition to find the most birds in one calendar year in the areas including the continental United States, Canada, surrounding waters, and some islands nearby. Mark Obmascik has written a engaging account of the landmark competition of 1998, when three birders broke a long standing record and each saw over 700 birds in a cutthroat contest to beat each other and themselves. Readers learn a lot about what it means to be a serious birder- it's not just a casual hobby, you know- and about human nature. Two of the three contestants are very wealthy, and spend vast sums (about $100,000) to find their birds, though one does it in a secretive, snarky, competitive way, while the other is a laid back, sometimes retired outdoorsy guy, who birds when he feels like it. The third competitor, who finishes in second, is a divorced computer dude who works full time plus in between frantic scrambles to find birds for his list and ends up in debt that he is still trying to pay off when the book ends.

I have a confession to make. I am a birder. These guys do crazy things to see birds that they "need" to get to the top of the list. They are addicted to finding birds, sometimes to the detriment of their lives, to their jobs, their relationships. They take long trips to far away places and suffer extreme climates to see birds that sometimes they've already seen before. Sometimes, they see them for two seconds, because it's not polite to stand too long at the front of a line of birders waiting to look. Sometimes they see the birds for two seconds because birds don't wait around to be birded. The birders are addicted.

About a year ago I wrote about my addiction to baseball. I'm actually not a birder at all. I can't tell you a crow from a raven, or even if they are two separate birds or just two different names for the same black bird. I know what a pigeon is, but I don't find them interesting. I care about birds, in that I think we're destroying the environment. But I loved this book, because I'm a birder: I'm an addict for the chase, for the need to see something through, to collect. When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. Where birders read and studied field guides and then had a moment of bliss when they saw a bird in the wild and could positively identify it because of their hours of poring over books, I loved to know all of the players faces and stats on the back of the Topps cards. Then, when I could see them at games, and know what teams they had played on before, it was like a moment of clarity: THAT'S the one, the bird in the red and white uniform with the "C" on the chest that I've been looking for this year! The same dorky drive to collect keeps me pulling over to take pictures of the sofas around town- look, a rare velour straddler spotted two miles south of its native habitat! That's 140 for the year!


"The Big Year" is a great read. You don't have to be a real birder or a fake birder, like me, to enjoy it. But being a collector or something brings out an extra level of enjoyment- Obmasik tenderly describes a group of outcasts that have found their niche and become part of an in crowd. The birders have their favorite places, and when they show up to find a rare bird, everyone knows why they are there. They are a club of people with kinks in their neck from looking up. It's like being an A's fan- you know when you go to the game that the 8000 other people there with you are addicts, following a pathetic club just like you. Wearing green and gold, cheering pathetic almost major leaguers, just like you. All grit, no glory, taking one for the team.