Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Walk in the Dog Park of Promise: The Best Friend's Adoption Festival

By Kristen Kochamba

It was a vibrant day, buzzing with glee and anticipation from people and pets alike. The noise of chattered excitement and clasping handlers to their dogs as the dogs barked vivaciously at one another filled the air with high spirits and hope. It was 11:15, on a Sunday “fun day” morning as I walked into the furry frenzy of the Best Friend’s Annual Spring Adoption Festival located at Westchester Park in Los Angeles, California. The banner that waved friendly in the sky was entitled “find your new best friend,” and people looked determined to do so.

The annual festival’s goal is to place hundreds of homeless animals in loving and caring homes. The animals range from dogs, cats, bunnies and birds with infinite numbers of shapes, sizes, and temperaments included. The shelters come from all over Los Angeles County and some shelters specialize in specific breeds such as the Westside German Sheppard Rescue and others compromise of a mix of animals such as the Pasadena Humane Society. The main advocacy of the shelters is to save animals by petitioning for the establishment of only no-kill shelters. No-kill shelters are defined as “a place where all adoptable and treatable animals are saved and where only unadoptable or non-rehabilitatable animals are euthanized”(Best Friends Animal Society). California has one of the most rigorous and animal-friendly shelter laws in the country. The California legislature passed the “Hayden Law” which states that only animals that are unadoptable or not capable of rehabilitation such as animals eight weeks or younger, animals that pose a health or safety risk which make it unsuitable as a pet, or animals that have manifested a lethal disease should be euthanized. But animal advocates are finding that hundreds of shelters across California are completely disregarding this law and getting away with it due to the lack of initiated regulatory agencies. They would rather euthanize the animals then board them due to expenses such as costs of medical attention, food, water and bathing supplies. This has resulted in one lawsuit so far filed by activists against Kern County, CA but there is still so much more to be done over the killings of an estimated 250,000,000 companions in the last decade in the United States. This event is about bringing shelters together who care about the welfare of homeless animals and reinstating the initial purpose of shelters as being a safe refuge for animals.

The dogs generously panted, with their tongues out and saliva slippery like syrup coming down from their mouths. Their tails wagged high to the sky as potential candidates threw tennis balls and scratched their furry behinds. I met a pooch named Sheba, who was a stray and found by a volunteer at the Pasadena Humane Society. The volunteer holding her, Ginny Mancini (Burbank, CA), said, “I nick named her Sheba because her face kind of looked like one,” referring to the Sheba Cavaliers. Sheba had warm brown eyes with feathered white ears and a beautiful silky hazel brown, black and white curly coat. Her fur coat shined with beauty in the sun and her relaxed manner displayed her calm disposition. She just sat in the volunteer’s arms with her head perched up, looking straight forward as though a performance by the philharmonic had her in deep concentration. “We are a no-kill shelter. We have a ranch where the dogs are kept until they are adopted and we also have foster homes for the dogs until they get adopted,” Ginny explained. She also mentioned that she found a lot of pet owners due to the economy and not being able to support their animal’s needs, such as paying medical bills, were giving their dogs up to shelters. I also found that to be a common theme amongst the stories of where the animals came from such as from my visit with Elena Felix, a board member of the Lange Foundation, a no-kill shelter, remarked, “We have a lot of animals from owners that are suffering from the economic crisis and can no longer support their dogs.” The festival also consisted of high-end boutiques offering samples of the latest pet owner’s flavors of the month. A vendor entitled “the Healthy Spot- for your dog’s mind, body and bowl,” was attended by smiling faces and helpful people as they offered samples of Ziwi Peak, which is a new dog diet that reportedly makes your pet’s poop firm and odorless. The festival was filling up as the day progressed and at around 12:30pm an announcement was made on the loud speaker that a CPR demonstration was being held on the front stage. The demonstration featured a health care expert, whom provided information on what to do if your dog stops breathing. She said to lay your dog on his right side, open his mouth and have his head and neck aligned so air is also going in a straight line and proceed by giving your pet mouth to mouth CPR. The performance was shocking due to the realness of a lady putting her mouth on a sloppy pooch even though the dog was just a stuffed animal.

The green grass was pervasive as people paraded around on it to different sections of the park. The wind fluttered the white tents while the dogs under them paced back and fourth in cages and others strutted around on leashes. A cage of small terrier looking dogs was positioned in the center of the park and contained a dog that would not stop barking. Although when it was given attention, it attracted the gang of puppies that accompanied it in the cage got up and they joined in it’s barking with fierce demand. The little dogs’ vivacious barks were more intimidating then the bigger dogs as they appeared in their formation as one giant creature. There was a friendly woman sitting by dogs in the cage and I stated, “Wow what energy these little dogs have.” And she replied, “You, know I’m sorry they have to be shown this way because I had all four of these guys in my house and they were terrible. And then I said I can’t have all four of these guys, so we took the boys elsewhere and the girls are much better at home. So I know when people see them all together they are really not like that.” The woman’s name is Barbra Saunders (Sherman Oaks, CA), and she said that a lot of the volunteers from the organizations and shelters actually board the dogs at their own homes. The volunteers were very generous in that they were people opening their private lives to animals who really have a shot in the dark at their own. Barbara’s organization is called Lhasa Apso Happy Homes, and they are a no boarding shelter, which means that unless the dogs need training or special assistance they stay with volunteers in their own home until they can find the dogs a home. This organization’s commitment to their animals by allowing them to stay at their home showed true dedication to saving the lives of deprived endangered dogs.

At around 1 the highlight of the event occurred when the Dancing with the Dogs Competition hosted by the Four Legged Friend Foundation was announced to begin. The Competition was located at the Northeast section of the park and the small arena was overrun with cheering fans. The “just for fun” competition is a celebration of dogs of all shapes, colors, sizes, ages and personalities showcasing their loving capabilities. The bright eyed and busy-tailed creatures smiled with glee as they pranced around proud and noble. The first group routine included Tillie and Linda Brown and they performed a “sport dance.” The sport dance is based on a type of free-style rendition where no treats or toys are used and only obedience is applied. The dog’s motivation and desire to dance showed true motivation and impressed the crowd greatly. The routine began with two trainers and two dogs, in opposite corners of the arena. As an upbeat folk tango music track began to blare from the loud speaker, the trainers signaled the dogs to sit and stay as they circled around them a few times. Then the dogs were given another signal to disperse into a starburst formation and they began to trot around the arena with their heads high and their trainer’s face engulfed with a smile. It made in turn the whole audience of people smile. All these dogs were representing a sad story that did not have to have a sad ending. Their hopes and dreams were resonating in this dance and they gained a sense of belonging and conviction that not even being homeless can take away from them. The question that remains to be answered by all the animal shelters out there that are completely disregarding the Hayden Law and killing perfectly adoptable pets, “Why put these animals down when they hold a type of unsurpassed hope that even we humans can even from?” There is one lesson that people took away from this event which is “every dog must have its day” and that day was the Best Friend’s Annual Spring Adoption Festival.

To follow up on the event, which placed close to 400 dogs, cats, bunnies and birds in safe homes over the course of five hours it was without doubt a huge success. Only two out of seventy dogs that were present at the event were adopted or placed in local rescue groups. The two that are still not rescued are at the Harbor Shelter because there simply was not enough room in recues but are on the radar of many rescues and should be taken care of very shortly. They were chosen because they are in the most stable condition and are most likely to be adopted soon. The outstanding shelters that took the most animals for the team, in which gave a chance to a lot of helpless animals were Karma Rescue, Nancy Heigl, Katherine Heigl’s mother who runs the Heigl’s Hound of Hope rescue and Pnina Gerston, a so called “local legend” in dog rescue. The Spring Adoption Festival was a hit and they could not be happier with the outcome, in which exceeded their goals of saving animal’s lives. The Hayden law remains below funds because although California is good at passing liberal laws there is not enough money to back them up. The key debate now lies in requiring people to spray and neuter their pets to prevent the epidemic of stray animals and save funds without resorting to euthanizing.

Reporting Log:

-Interview with board member of Lange Foundation

-Volunteered/observed for one hour twice a month

-Attended Annual Spring Adoption Festival in Westchester Park on May 23,1010 from 11am-4pm


--Pictures from the event

-Spring Adoption Festival Flyer

-PDF of Hayden Law

-PDF of lawsuit filed against Kern County, CA testing the Hayden Law and Vincent Law

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