Friday, October 3, 2014

From Wynne to Maine

Wynne to Maine is a journey. A journey that many puppies/dogs at “Wynne Friends of Animals” (Arkansas) undertake to find their forever homes.  This write up is dedicated to all elements that involve themselves and co-ordinate together to make it happen. I am amused to think that if I were a dog and I was supposed to take this journey then most probably I would see myself imagining the whole process as a tunnel, and at the end of which lies the happiness of meeting my family members. A moment in waiting that will make a family of humans complete with my addition. A happy union. A complete picture. A happy moment that would be captured and tucked safely in a snugly little corner of our hearts.

If I could only have a small part of this moment, what joy would it bring to my life! My wife and I have experienced it first hand and have seen so many others feeling the same. It’s been a little over a year and a half but the memory is still so fresh and vivid that I remember every detail of that ecstatic moment. Every time we pass by the “Drop off” point which happens to be very near to where I stay, I never fail to reminisce and say “This is where we got Bud”. That day was not only joyous but also very important. Our family grew that day.

I feel fortunate to be part of the one of the numerous such moments and I would like to thank and congratulate people for their selfless dedication to make it happen again and again.
Please allow me to introduce them good folks who are instrumental in generating so much good karma in this world. The ball is set rolling in a southern state of United States of America, Arkansas. In Arkansas, City of Wynne is home to an organization “Wynne Friends of Animals” that owns and operates “Wynne Animal Rescue Shelter”. If you can spare some time then please read through the website of WFOA. Like I felt, I am sure you too would feel that this is one shelter that is definitely one of its kind. It has been taking care of strays/surrendered dogs since the year 2007. It has been surviving on grants, charities, donations, love, care and kindness. It has been voted The Best Shelter in Arkansas every year since 2007 (year of inception). That is some serious feat. But they don’t stop here, they go far beyond this. They have been recognized among top 100 shelters in whole of USA. Producers from Animal Planet, and a film crew have visited them, filmed at their shelter, interviewed people there and while leaving they complimented on the cleanliness there. Another glorious feather. I guess, these are enough evidences to tell me about the dedication, seriousness and passion of the folks running WFOA. And, here I wish to congratulate not only the founders (co-founders) but also all the volunteers who help with the chores regularly. Really exceptional people. The animals who come here are really lucky dudes.

WFOA houses about 125-150 dogs on premises and is always full. There is always a wait list for admission. WFOA is connected by a network of good friends/rescue groups such as Fetching Hope. Friends/Partners like Fetching Hope help dogs find their forever homes. Writing this sentence seems simple enough but tons of details goes into the co-ordination activity till a lucky dog finds its forever home. As a first step, WFOA distributes a list of adoptable dogs to their friends/partners. A dog at WFOA goes through a full check both physical and psychological before it can make it to the list of adoptable pet. The folks at WFOA first make sure that they understand each and every aspect about the dog and make a profile. This profiling is very important as this helps the rescue groups in selecting the right family for the dog. After a dog makes it to this list, it can be safely assumed that he is fully updated on his vaccines, is healthy, is neutered/spayed and is mild tempered.

The volunteers at Fetching Hope then creates an online profile of every dog on that list at (great site to adopt these loyal BFF). This profile matches the profile provided by WFOA. Interested parents or prospective adopters then contacts Fetching Hope providing them with all requested details as mentioned on . The application is then reviewed in detail by a volunteer of Fetching Hope. Once the interested parent has met all the conditions and satisfactorily passed background checks/Vet checks/Reference checks then the volunteer schedules a home visit of prospective parents to ascertain and match dog’s temperament and energy level with that of the family. This is the last step and the parents are approved for adoption as soon as it is established that dog will be happy at the prospective parent’s place. This is an important step as the goal of every rescue is that the dog does not end up abandoned again. So, checks and double checks are a necessity.
You may argue here that this just one side of the coin. What about the prospective adopter’s need to meet and greet the dog? Shouldn’t prospective parents be allowed to meet and then make a decision about the dog? Absolutely yes, I agree. Consider a scenario when the adopter resides in Arkansas and likes a dog at WFOA. They can go to the shelter, meet the dog and if they are approved by WFOA they can then easily adopt the dog of their choice. This was a simple case. But consider a case where the partner rescue is in a faraway state like Maine such as Fetching Hope. Meet and greet is a challenge in such cases. In the real world, there is always a dearth of foster parents given the rate at which dogs are abandoned. As a result, the shelter (WFOA) ends up lifting most of this heavy load. Hence, most of the adoptable dogs remain in Arkansas. But technology comes to the rescue here and try to bridge the gap. WFOA or available fosters prepare a video profile of dogs and upload at or on . WFOA and Fetching Hope, in this way, try to work around this logistical challenge with the hope to satisfactorily provide an insight about the dog in question to the adopter. Moreover, Fetching Hope provides a two week return policy keeping in mind the wellness of the dog. They give every opportunity to prospective adopters to make themselves fully comfortable before making a full commitment towards a dog. If there is even slightest of doubt in prospective parent’s mind then Fetching Hope does not shy away from taking the dog back and provides it with as many chances that it may take to find the perfect forever home. Fund raisers are organized, adoption events are organized and every such opportunity is provided to help a dog find its forever home. They never compromise with the wellness of any dog that they undertake. A very motivated and committed group.

Now, we have a fully approved adopter by Fetching Hope and also we have a dog ready to find its forever home. But the problem is parents are in a northern state and their “four legged companion/kid” resides in a southern state. P.E.T.S comes to our rescue here. They transport all the dogs from the shelter to destinations across the country and hence help close that important link that creates that special moment of happiness for the dog and their parents. An important link that creates that complete picture for some fortunate and kind families. P.E.T.S has some conveniently located fixed stop points in every state it drives. P.E.T.S also has stop points in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont is its last stop. Parents, approved by Fetching Hope, wait for this truck at the designated spots either in Connecticut, New Hampshire or Vermont and take possession of their dogs. At every stop that P.E.T.S makes they become a part of that moment when a parent holds the dog for first time. It is indeed a very touching moment. I have been there and I know the feeling.

This is how each lucky dog reaches the light that it saw at end of the tunnel when it started his journey. It marks a new beginning in the lives of so many families.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Are you ready for a dog?

“Dad, look!!! Uncle John has also gotten a dog for himself. Why can’t we have one?”
“Dad, I want a dog for my birthday!”
Many parents might have heard these questions umpteen times from their kids. Puerility or innocence or maybe just ignorance? I guess it depends from person to person. When I had asked this question to my parents it was a pure case of ignorance and also silliness to an extent because neither I had any idea about the seriousness of my demand nor I had any idea about the level of involvement required. For me, the movies had totally glorified the experience of having a pet especially a dog. Later in my life, thanks to my wife, I discovered that you have to be willingly ready to have a dog in your life. It’s a life full of commitment and compromise. It is not a toy that you can afford to get bored of. It has a personality, psychology, emotion and moreover a dog trusts with its life on you and you have to be prepared to reciprocate with all your heart. In short - It is parenthood.
Whenever I hear a question that is in lines of “Can I have a dog?” I suddenly develop a very intense urge to interrogate that person about it . But then I remind myself that the person in question is a small child and if I don’t curb my urge and end up asking him/her some “matter of fact” type questions it might result in intimidation of an impressionable mind. And hence every time I have to retreat in my cocoon praying to God that their parents be granted with all the knowledge to teach the child THE right things in the most loving way possible. Well, having said that, I do not intend to sound like “I believe that kids are incapable of handling dogs (pets)”. I have met and seen, at least a few well taught kids, who tend to their pets with full responsibility, care and devotion that many adults might feel challenged to match up to. And I am superlatively proud of such children when I see them. But then again, such devoted souls are few. Magnitude of the lot falls in the category that I belonged in earlier i.e. of ignorance and hence I speak here of them.
Sometimes parents, rather adults, fall into the “peer pressure” trap. “Getting a dog” decision is then driven by the decisions taken by a neighbor, colleague, friends or relatives. In this case, not only getting a dog becomes a priority but also to acquire a better one (in god only knows what respect). You could well imagine the plight of the poor dog who would join that household. He would be subjected to all kinds of comparison and might be expected to match up to so many insane objectives. “Oh, his dog can do it, why can’t ours?” becomes the motto then. In some cases non-compliance on dog’s part might result in its ill-treatment. Is this justified? Dogs are not slaves but companions. And, to me this is brutality and cowardice. Give them a break and let them enjoy a life that is free from the shackles of expectations and you as a human should enjoy the pure love that they are willing to offer unconditionally.
Anyway, while in my cocoon, I was thinking of an imaginary situation. What if my child asks this question to me? Assuming that I never had a dog in my life, most likely I would not be in a position to justify not having a dog as transparently that I would have wanted to. There is a possibility that I would give in to the demand out of love for my child without considering the dog’s plight. That would mean momentary happiness for my child but life full of neglect to the dog if not chosen well. What a horrible way of life for the dog. Thankfully, in real time, I am a fortunate dog parent and, I guess, now I am well equipped to answer this question because I have experienced it first hand and now know the pros and cons of this deal. Also, I wish to mention that Fetching Hope Rescue (FHR) did a fantastic job in educating us and telling us what we are getting into before we adopted Bud. If you go through their application procedures then you would know what I am talking about. It is pretty thorough and enlightening. The questions make you think about your decision. I am sure, other rescues too would be doing an equally fantastic job in this regard. FHR and other such organizations strive very hard to give them a second chance to a good life. I don’t feel ashamed to say that we were rejected on multiple occasions from many local shelters. This actually led us to research more and build our knowledge base more. So no regrets there .
Buying a dog from a breeder is the easiest way to get a dog but you should also consider the fact that every day shelters across the country find stray dogs in hundreds at least. “Tin Can”, “Little Hangman”, “Gas Cat”, “Graves Pups”, “Super Hero pups”, “Trailer Pups” are some of the names of the dogs/litter taken in by the partner shelter of FHR called “Wynne Friends of Animals (WFOA)” located in Arkansas. Tin Can had an actual tin can attached to his head and was abandoned by its owner. It took more than a day for volunteers/doctors to detach that can from its head. Little hangman was found hanging through a wire in an old dilapidated building that could have fallen anytime to the ground. Little hangman was deeply cut on his neck and chest when rescued. His other littler mates were also rescued from the same shamble. Gas Cat has an amazing story too. She was delivered to the shelter totally covered in gasoline. Last when I had heard about her, vets had managed to save her eyes but she had lost all her hair. Grave pups, whole litter, were found in a graveyard. Trailer Pups were abandoned on a trailer.  These are some of the dogs that were spotted by some kind soul and delivered to this shelter.  Do you think others too are this lucky to get rescued? There are so many instances that I could just go on writing about. Someone or rather lack of something is responsible for such a sad state. What is this lack of something? What is that something? The more I think about this, I feel, ultimately that something is the feeling, the understanding, the maturity to understand the gravity of the responsibility of owning a pet. If we are not cognizant and sensitive of the above we can never value their existence in our lives. And this results in situations where we find a “Tin Can” or “a Trailer Pup” or a “Gas Cat” being found and rescued by generous and angelic shelters/rescues such as WFOA and FHR.
Before you buy or adopt, please take a moment and ask these basic question to yourselves – Are you ready for a dog? Are you ready to be a parent to these lovely devoted souls? Do you understand the responsibilities of handling another life which trusts you with blind faith? Is it financially viable now and in future? Yes pets have costs. Is your family ready to accept a companion and respect it? Most important of all, is there someone who can take care of the dog when you will not be around? Rescue organizations like FHR make it simpler in such situations as they purposefully try to make the adoption process a little intense with the hope that no dog under them should go through the same hell of desertion twice. The questions are so well structured that people are bound to think and revisit their decision of getting a pet. They try to provide clarity and an opportunity for better judgment to new adopters.
Don’t buy just on a whim. Let your pet be a well thought over and informed decision rather than one bought on a whim. I am sure it will bring a lot of positive energy in the household for good of all in the family. BTW, don’t we all aspire for it?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mutts – The Impure

Mutt or Mongrel – Dog of mixed or unknown breed. Mongrel sounds more like a cuss words if used for name calling. Interesting, I guess!!! But today I am going to write about dogs of mixed lineage and also about my experience with them.
Bud, my Mutt <proudly>, enjoys playing so much that we make sure that we take him to the nearest dog park regularly. Not only Bud but we (parents) also get a chance to interact with other dog parents. At a dog park, the ice breakers are generally the questions about each other’s dog. After the usual pleasantries it is usual that we politely ask about each other’s dog. Questions such as “What your dog’s Name?”, “Is it a he or she?” or “What breed is he/she?” etc are considered the norm and falls within the boundaries of politeness. When it comes to the breed question I have had different experiences with different people. In the realm of dog parents there are owners of “Purebreds” and owners of “Mutts or Mixed Breeds”. Most of the time I have seen happiness and pride in both these groups of people. And, both these group of people have their own reasons to feel that way. However, there is a third kind of breed in humans who dislike Mutts for whatever petty and constricted reason. I fail to understand this dislike and I personally try to avoid this kind I if I can. Never mind, God has made me and he has made them too. Ever heard about “Anti-Christ” or “Anti-Matter”. Antagonistic forces exist everywhere and who am I to fight that. I accept them. So let’s talk and focus on good people and gather positive energy.   
Coming back to the breed question – When we are posed with this question our response is “Lab mix”. To some people it comes as surprise because Bud resembles a lot to a purebred lab prima-facie. Some people also call him “Blondie” or “Pinky Nose” (which used to black initially) ha ha.. But there are many experienced people who have not failed to notice some “Hound” features in Bud. To tell you the truth, we were least bothered about it and considered these trivial when we were looking to adopt from (great website). We have never gotten Bud DNA tested but sometimes my wife gets curious to know what mixes are there in Bud and claims that she wants it done only to understand him better. J Although, I guess I have discovered that there is another reason behind it. She had once exclaimed that she would like to adopt another “lab mix” just like Bud. I thought about it and then I realized that my wife actually wants to have another Bud because he is BUD and not because he is a MUTT. I am sure she knows about this but it took me sometime to figure this out. Yes, between us, she is the smarter one J. Anyway, that Bud is a mutt – is a fact, but Bud is our BUD too – which means that he has his own personality, a temperament, energy level and all other things that makes Bud our BUD. Even if we spend a fortune and get to find what mixes are there in Bud then also manage to match another dog with the same breed distributions. But even after going through this pain can we still be sure that we can get another BUD. The straight answer is NO. Irrespective of breed, I believe, every dog is unique and has its own personality. I feel, the breed information should only be used as a vague guide to understand if a particular dog would match up for the household or not. Again, this is just to have a vague idea as, believe me, I have seen supposedly high energy worker dogs behaving like super couch potatoes. Like I said, every dog is unique. Also, please note that I use the term “household” because when you take a dog in, it becomes a part of the family and just not of one person who spent the dollars. He affects everyone and gets affected by everyone in the house.
For a minute and sake of argument, let’s even suppose that Bud was a purebred. So, does that mean that if we get another purebred of the same breed he will be same as Bud? I am sure that you would agree with my answer that this is not possible and that breeders don’t produce robots or have a set-mold to fashion the same dog each time. Even a breeder would agree with me here that each dog in their kennel is unique. Although, they may tell you the standard characteristics with a great deal of guestimation such as weight, height or expected capabilities or known habits. But again, all of these are not accurate information about a particular dog. I firmly believe that it really doesn’t make a difference whether a dog is a purebred or a mutt if a household can accommodate its needs.
There is another term that is often used in this (Mutt) context – Cross Breeding. Cross breeding and Mixed breeding are almost same except for the fact that former is artificial selection and latter is a process of natural selection. Cross breeding is mostly controlled by humans who try to engineer or preserve a particular mix in dogs. There is another type of breeding that happens called inbreeding. Although I condone it and consider it against the natural laws of eugenics but it is known to be practiced at some places for selfish motives. Most of the times Inbreeding produces unhealthy progeny. Demand for purebreds and their high selling price is also another reason that some puppy mills resort to inbreeding. Why are purebred so much in demand? And, that people are ready to pay few grand for the purebred puppies irrespective of the fact that what sad conditions these puppies may have come from is astounding. Commercialization to be blamed here?? Or the simple logic of economics – Demand & Supply to be blamed? Whatever be the reason but resultant is that dogs have attained a status of toys for many. Nevertheless, in-spite of the ill-treatment and abuse it continues to be man’s best friend and if you ask me why then I just have one answer, that is, because they have a heart of gold and that my friend only good people can appreciate.  
I also believe that, choosing a purebred or a mutt is totally an individual choice but should the mutts be viewed as lesser beings? I don’t agree with that. Moreover, I have read and also many people would agree with me that Mutts tend to take the best of all the breeds they have within them and thus making their progeny stronger and better in many ways.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Sniffer

The Sniffer

Why do dogs sniff?? If they meet a human they sniff, if they meet a fellow dog they sniff, if they have to poop they sniff, if they need to pee they sniff, if they have to eat they sniff, if they walk they sniff. This question has intrigued me a lot. Afraid of the admonition this question may generate I have not dared to ask anybody about this funny curiosity of mine. Imagine yourselves asking this question to an acquaintance. Do you think their response would be any different than “Coz, they are dogs.. genius” or “Dogs are supposed to do that dude” or even “DUH, Einstein!!” You may laugh at me but I have finally taken the courage to ask this question to myself. I sincerely hope that I am able to satisfy myself by answering this question. Somebody said “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”  Boredom or curiosity, I have no interest in channeling my energies into finding that out but at the end of it, the question, for me, still remains – “Why do dogs sniff as if their life depended on it.”

If you are a dog parent and that too a new one then I am sure you would sympathize with me and understand how difficult it is to walk a dog whose whole mission in life seems to be sniffing every leaf on the bush or every rock that he/she passes by. This being primary but apart from it the secondary and tertiary reason to go so deep in this matter, that many may consider trivial, because I believe that this endeavor of mine will help me bring closer to my adopted non-human child Bud. Some of you may question if this subject is really worthy of exploring or is it just a waste of time and a vomit of my brain for the sake of writing something. Let’s see. 

Edward de Bono – does the name sound familiar. If it did not ring a bell then I would request you to look him up. If nothing else, his ideas will help add another spectrum to your thought process. So, yes, he motivated me, though not personally but through one his many intelligent writings about the subject of “Lateral Thinking”. There are many a words and volumes written on this subject but I find Edward de Bono’s to be most clear. You are free to disagree with me and no offense will be taken. Never mind, progressing on the topic, I have come to understand, courtesy Edward de Bono, that there are “Critical Thinking” and “Lateral Thinking” approaches that can be employed to reach to a conclusion or a solution of a given problem. From whatever little that I have read about the subject I can safely say that “Critical Thinking” empowers a person to discover if a statement is fully true or partially true or fully false by placing the observations and facts in right order. On the other hand, “Lateral Thinking” takes the help of creativity plus reasoning and lets you create a new idea from an already existing known fact or idea. Critical or Lateral, both are just different approaches to reach to the end goal of problem solving. Latter is employed less as it deals a little bit with diving in the abstract world and requires a lot of practice to master. I also call it “Brain Cultivating”. I wonder whether Hercule Poirot refers to THIS alternate thinking approach when he says, “Mon Ami, let the little grey cells do their work”.  Since I am an avid follower and believer of this subject so I have some faith that this creative and off-the-beaten-track approach would help quench my thirst at least for the time being. Now, I hope, I have established a connection between the two subjects that we are talking about (Dog sniff and Lateral thinking). So, if we are no longer feeling lost or disinterested let’s proceed. Although, I am warning the weak of heart that henceforth whatever is going to come is a vomit of my brain and is bound to disgust some part of the diaspora. So, please proceed at your own risk. 

Let us consider humans as an example of class animal on planet earth. We all know what incredible feats humans are capable of in today’s world? There remains very little that man has not tried. We have sized the universe. I believe that if Shashank S can start blogging out of the blue then there is nothing in the world that other humans cannot achieve. The point of the analogy is that a task may seem impossible at a time but if effort is applied with little love and labor then success will be surely achieved. Persistence is another factor but for now let’s assume the former to be main ingredient that helps us start walking towards our goal. Let’s try and circle back to our main topic. Before we jump to the original question let’s get deviated again a little in trying to understand humans from nature’s perspective. What is the biggest advantage that humans have over other fellow inhabitants and makes us say that we are superior to other species on planet Earth? In other words what has man received from Nature in order to survive on Earth? Unlimited Brain power, five senses, ability to use our digits, communication via spoken language, display emotions, communication via body language, skill to organize and stay together (and not limited to)are just some of the many abilities that we have acquired over thousands of years of evolution and are still evolving. We say the next generation is always smarter and better than the last. Nature has built humans as they need to be so that they can continuously learn, evolve and survive. They are a perfectly designed unit capable of sustaining their life.

 In the same light, let’s compare what dogs have received as rewards from our mother nature. They are four legged, have enhanced listening powers, have  enhanced smelling power, enhanced running power, have good eyes, very efficient anatomy to survive in the wild and other plethora of abilities that helps them survive on planet Earth. From the above we can safely say that dogs are also built as a perfect unit that makes them well capable of sustaining their life. Someone may pitch in and say “Well, this is all good but are we talking about wild dogs or domesticated ones because they differ at so many different levels?” Good question and a factor worthy of taking into consideration and to keep things at parity let us focus on anatomy only. I am sure, considering anatomically, we all can agree with my statements above as they would apply to both types. And, we should not forget dogs are descendants of wolves and share many similar traits.

Initially, Nature had put dogs almost at the top of the food chain until man used his brain power to climb to the top and displaced the harmony created by nature. Maybe this is a part of the big picture that Nature sees or a side effect of big chemical/biological process. It’s hard to imagine Nature making a mistake. Yeah?  Anyway, my thoughts are that dog and human are built perfect and exactly to their needs by mother Nature. If observed carefully, the attributes of a dog and human can be actually compared as apples to apples since Nature has given almost the same things to both but in varying degrees of proportions. Again, compare them anatomically and you will understand what I am talking about. We both have ears but they listen more. We both have eyes but we see better in daylight and they in dark. We both have nose but they parse a smell better.  We both have legs but they run faster. We both have brains but humans are much better in its application. We both have spine but we walk straight. And so on… But all the above prove nothing except that Nature has provided us with precisely what we need. And the answer to the topic of this blog actually lies in the last statement that I just made. Dogs have exactly what they need. They have a weak vision during daylight so that they can see better in dark. Their eyes do not register the same colors and depth as a human eye does. They see a paler shade of everything but deficiency helps them to see better in dark. Hmm.. sounds like another classic example of natural trade-off to better the efficiency of the body. Nevertheless, this deficiency of sight is more than compensated by heightened sense of smell and hearing. These three qualities in conjunction helps a dog to register the exact nature of the object and hence classify it as dangerous or friendly. In short if you consider the perils of living on earth with limited resources then using their eyes, long range ears and smelling skills in combination is the best strategy to stay alive. The more they know and understand the more they would be safer and hence live longer. So, what may be an annoyance to some is a survival strategy for the other. 

Another interesting idea, try investigating why a human child (infants) always takes things in its mouth. You would be surprised to know that it is for the same reason that dogs sniff. To compensate for the lack of perfectly developed vision they employ sense of touch to understand about the object. Although, often times they end up hurting themselves in this process but this is how they learn and make choices in future if presented with same objects again. Human child takes very long to mature and needs protection and help at all stages to survive. Humans have mastered this art by building infrastructures and facilities to save a child from perishing to the elements before its maturity. I am veering towards another blog topic but I guess you would have got my point by now that infants like any other species try to employ whatever best option they have (in this case touch) to perceive and understand about objects. 

We have talked and compared two species here. No numbers were involved, no statistics were consulted but we had some scattered ideas, some reasoning and some creativity which helped us to build new ones. This looks like we have successfully used a pattern of lateral thinking approach. And also we have a conclusion too. So, at this juncture, I am pretty satisfied with the justification. So the bottom line is it is all part of survival strategy and that each species is made the way it is.
So what should you do when your dog sniffs like crazy? I guess, since he/she is domesticated he/she has lost its right of survival. What do you think?

Shashank S