Thursday, November 25, 2010

DDN2.0 - A Long Overdue Update, and a Hiatus for Dogged Writer

It's been a month of madness on the home front, between juggling day jobs and night jobs and writing jobs and teaching jobs... So many jobs, so little time. But I'm pleased to announce that as of last night, I finished the last of the editing for our Youthlinks issue of Downeast Dog News, which will come out at the beginning of December. Over the course of the eight weeks that I was working with them, the Youthlinks crew and I managed to get to Portland for a pit bull awareness seminar, Augusta for a stellar interview with Maine's Animal Welfare Program director Norma Worley, Rockland and Camden for visits to the local animal shelter, and we had an in-house session with DDN publisher Wendi Smith, designer Noreen Mullaney, and ad rep Pat Demos. My hot shot reporters Terri and Kyla did a great interview with their favorite teacher, Mr. Palmer, and his hearing dog Tango.

Caleb sat still long enough to come up with some excellent questions for our interview with Norma Worley and got some fabulous shots of the animals we visited at the shelter. Terri blew me away with her focus and dedication throughout the entire program, and I was particularly impressed with her when we checked out Pit Bull 101. These guys are not the smiling, picture-perfect faces you see on billboards, they're not class valedictorians and they won't be winning athletic scholarships anywhere... Terri told me at one point that when she graduates high school, she will be the first in her family to do so. Mikayla ended up moving a week before the program let out, but it was great to watch the bond of friendship that developed between she and Terri over the course of our time together. And while Caleb tried my patience at times, I think that in the end he enjoyed himself, and he was definitely a contributing member of our team on more than one occasion.

Sooo... The Downeast Dog 2.0 pentathlon is done. While there was a ton of work involved and I would do about four hundred and six thousand things differently next time out, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. And now all that's left is to see what the final product looks like, and check in with the students and the stellar Youthlinks staff to get their final thoughts.

In the meantime, it seems the time has come for me to pursue some other interests and writing endeavors for a while. I hope to return to Dogged Writer eventually, with renewed enthusiasm and some exciting projects to announce. Thanks to everyone who has provided such wonderful support of the writing I've done and the places I've gone. I'm sure I will be returning to the dogged side of life before too long!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Animal Welfare Success Reliant on Inter-Agency Cooperation

Being a kid in the 1970s, Sesame Street was a childhood fixture. One of the themes they were forever emphasizing on the Street was one that continues to play a crucial role in the success of our endeavors as adults: cooperation. In the world of pet pantries, where I have been immersed over the past several days, this concept is particularly crucial.

When Alyce Pincoske of the Pet Food Pantry of Maine first said "Pick us! Pick us!" in response to my query searching for animal rescue and animal welfare organizations to spotlight here in Maine, I posted a quick Facebook blurb and shot out a few e-mails to folks saying that the Fairfield-based, non-profit pet pantry was having some tough times. By the end of that first day, I'd received e-mail responses from the Humane Society of Knox County and the Penobscot Pet Pantry, my brother had agreed to let me put a container in his business to gather food donations, and the fine folks of The Postcard Dude (my little bro's business) had all put their heads together in an effort to help out. Within five days, I was able to fill my car with the food and sundries provided by those at the Postcard Dude and the Humane Society of Knox County, in addition to a tremendously generous donation from the Penobscot Pet Pantry.

With people feeling the financial pinch around the globe, and more and more causes vying for our attention - and our dollars - it becomes critical for animal welfare organizations to reach out to one another to achieve the common goal: saving more animals. Keeping pets together with the people who love them. Educating the masses about critical issues like proper nutrition, the importance of spaying and neutering, putting an end to animal cruelty. We all love animals; God knows, none of us are in this business for the money. And so when organizations come together to achieve that common goal, it makes sense that our rates of success will multiply. And so, how can we best foster the collaborative spirit celebrated in our childhoods, in a climate where numerous animal welfare organizations are vying for a relatively small amount of funds from a limited donor base?

By sharing resources in those rare times of plenty. Helping one another in education efforts. Spearheading community efforts that encourage collaboration between agencies, rather than fostering competition and small-mindedness.

Andrew East of the Penobscot Pet Pantry is currently working toward establishing a state-wide Pet Food Bank from which pet food pantries around the state could draw whenever there is a need. Food stores would be kept in a central location, and individual pet food pantries - like the one in Fairfield - could then provide food for their communities and focus their fundraising efforts on education, spaying and neutering, and providing outreach so that, ideally, there are fewer people and pets in need in the future.

It's an idea the fine folks at Sesame Street would no doubt be happy to sing about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Downeast Dog High School Edition Takes to the Streets

Today, we had our first outing with Downeast Dog 2.0, the high school team putting together the December issue of Downeast Dog News. Up to this point, it's been a lot of me standing in front of the classroom babbling about how great being a journalist is, and then forcing my intrepid reporters to look things up online. Last week, we had a small presentation by DDN publisher Wendi Smith, designer Noreen Mullaney, and sales exec Pat Demos, which was excellent but, again, from the students' perspectives it was mostly them sitting quietly for two hours and listening to what other people had to say.

This afternoon, however, Youthlinks guru Scott Browning and I piled the students - Caleb, Mikayla, and Terri - into the YL van, and we headed to area animal rescues Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League and the Humane Society of Knox County. The point was for the students to have an opportunity to get some photos of the animals, find out a little more about the workings and dynamics of these two shelters, and specifically to ask a couple of questions for an article they'll be doing for the paper. Mostly, though, I wanted the students to have an opportunity to see firsthand why I love what I do: you get to go meet amazing people doing great things for the community, AND you get to play with awesome animals. Seriously, now, what's not to love about that?

Though the shelters are only a few miles apart here in Knox County, they have entirely different atmospheres. The students are all familiar with HSKC, but have had limited exposure up to this point to CRARL; I was pleased that they had an opportunity to look critically at both set-ups, and see firsthand that there are many different breeds of animal shelter out there. At both shelters, we all got the chance to play with kittens and ooh and aahh over the dogs (and Poppy the Pig at HSKC, who was a huge hit), and we got tours of the facilities. CRARL shelter manager Laura Stupca did a great job of showing everyone around and making us feel welcome.

At the end of the afternoon, we had an opportunity to speak with HSKC shelter manager Theresa Gargan for a few minutes, and I got a glimpse of the vision I had when I first came up with the idea of having an issue of DDN written exclusively by teens. Because my Youthlinks gang is familiar with HSKC and they know Theresa quite well, the normal reserve between teens and adults vanished; there was joking, conversation, and plenty of questions. When we piled back into the van at the end of the day, Mikayla was listing all the cats she wanted to take home, Terri was pining over a deaf pit bull at the Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League, and Caleb was still comparing the long-haired, half-blind cat we'd just met at the Humane Society to an elder in the Warriors series.

I'm having such fun getting to know these guys better, and have been so impressed with their compassion and devotion to the animals in our world. On Saturday, we head to Portland for a day of pit bull awareness with SOME Pit! - Terri's a HUGE pit bull fan, so she's totally psyched, and I'm pretty sure Caleb has never met a dog he didn't like. I imagine Mikayla will be plotting ways to sneak the bullies we meet back home, and with Kyla along for the trek, there's no worry that the Q&A session at the end of the SOME Pit! presentation will be dull. There's no doubt that it will be an interesting day for the whole gang - myself most definitely included!

Mikayla & Caleb with Fred the beagle

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rescue ME Monday: The Pet Food Pantry of Maine

On a cold day last February, I rented a car and make the trek to Fairfield, Maine, to do a story on their local Pet Food Pantry for Downeast Dog News. While there, I was alternately amused, impressed, and charmed by the interaction between the dozen or so volunteers who keep this little pantry going in an area that has been particularly hard-hit by the struggling Maine economy. Now, nine months later, I'm happy to say that I've been able to stay in touch with a couple of the volunteers at the Pantry, and was thrilled to hear that they were interested in being spotlighted for Rescue ME.

The Pet Food Pantry of Maine currently serves close to a hundred families, and that number is growing. They are responsible for feeding around 220 cats and 210 dogs, as well as smaller animals like rabbits, ferrets, parrakeets, and guinea pigs, every month. The Pantry also does what it can to educate families about the importance of spaying and neutering, good nutrition, and health care, and provides literature on low-cost spay/neuter programs offered around the state. As a result of their efforts working in conjunction with the Vet Tech Program at the University College of Bangor, sixteen dogs were spayed and neutered in September. There's no question that these hard-working volunteers go the extra mile everyday to accomplish their goals. In order to continue doing their good work, the Pantry was granted 501(c)3, federal non-profit status last spring, and they hold regular fundraising breakfasts, dinners, and dances. Through their efforts, individuals who might have had to surrender their pets as a result of financial hardship are now able to stay together through these tough times.

To read more about this great organization, check out my feature article in Downeast Dog News last winter.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Innovative Programs at the Humane Society of Knox County

For our final post to close out a week with the Humane Society of Knox County, I thought I'd take a look at some of the programs this great organization offers. Since 1989, the Humane Society of Knox County has sponsored innovative fundraising and educational programs to keep going in an economically challenged area. Here are three great programs the organization offers to the midcoast Maine area; they are by no means the only things that HSKC does, but they are certainly standouts!


Working with Rockland-based Youthlinks for the second year, Run-a-Hound is a program that encourages physical fitness for young people by taking shelter dogs and high school students out every Monday afternoon for a lengthy run. You can read more about the Run-a-Hound program in the feature story written by Ivy Demos for Downeast Dog News last winter.

K-9 Corrections

My former obedience training mentor, Marie Finnegan, is the trainer-in-residence for this program teaming up inmates from the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, Maine, with shelter dogs at HSKC. Once the K-9 Corrections dog has been selected, he (or she) actually goes to the Facility and lives on-site with the inmates, who are responsible for feeding, exercise, and intensive training over a period of eight to ten weeks. During that time, the goal is for each dog to become a certified Canine Good Citizen, while the inmates learn practical skills like dog training along while a hands-on lesson in compassion and responsibility. To learn more about this great program and how you can help, check out this fact sheet.

The HSKC Volunteer Mobile

Looking for a way to make your advertising stand out from the rest? The Volunteer Mobile may be just the thing: a Smart Car with ad space galore to get your message across and convey that yours is a business that truly cares. Want to learn more? Read all about it here, and find out how you can help the planet, the animals, and your business, in one fell swoop!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cats, Dogs... Pigs? Truly Something for Everyone at the Humane Society of Knox County

To close out my week featuring the Humane Society of Knox County in Rescue ME, I spent the afternoon chilling with some of my very favorite people and pets. HSKC is home to nearly two hundred cats at the moment, between those housed at the shelter and those kept in foster homes, as well as between fifteen and twenty dogs at any given time. They also house rabbits, parakeets, guinea pigs, and just about anything else that will fit inside the small shelter and is in need of a home. This week, that means they are also home to a pink and white pig named Poppy, who I found entirely by accident snoring contentedly in the corner of a dog kennel. Poppy was the final survivor in an animal cruelty case in Etna, Maine, where a number of horses and other farm animals were found in need of rescue. Because the lighting wasn't great, she was difficult to photograph, but here's my shot of Poppy the Pig:

In addition to Poppy the Pig, there were of course a ton of cats of all shapes and sizes to choose from. HSKC has a great community feel, with cats roaming freely around the lobby and in and out of the cat community room. Here are a few shots of the wonderful facility the folks at the Society have put together:

And some of the very contented residents...

Since this is the Dogged Writer, I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the fine canines at HSKC. I got to meet Fred, the most awesome beagle EVER, who was scared of the cats and played with both kids and other dogs with complete abandon. Young, handsome, and utterly lovable, Fred is definitely a dog who deserves a great home. I watched an adorable Corgi go home with a sweet elderly gentleman, fell in love with a gorgeous, six-year-old male German shepherd named King, and made doe eyes at a couple of soulful hounds by the names of Devon and Abby:

A man among men: King

Irresistible: Devon

Princess Hound: Abby

And then there was this fellow, a twelve-year-old terrier with a severe flea allergy whose owners are trying to make the difficult decision whether or not they can afford to care for the little guy as he enters his twilight years:

Times are tough around the country, and I can't imagine having to make the decision to part with such a sweet old guy as little Ozzie. If his folks do indeed decide that they can't keep him any longer, however, I'm sure it won't be long before people will be lining up to give him a new forever home.

So, that was my day at HSKC. Stay tuned tomorrow as I do a final round-up and talk about three innovative, educational programs the Humane Society of Knox County is spearheading, and how you can help them continue their good work. Hope you're having a great weekend, and thanks for stopping by!

CC Comes Home: Another Old Lady Cat Retires With My Mom

Over the last couple of years, my mom has taken to providing a sort of retirement home for some lucky old lady cat or other - first with Seraphina, a lanky, funny black and white cat who was with my mom for eighteen years before she passed over the Rainbow Bridge about a year and a half ago. Then came Gabby, a cantankerous old calico who had belonged to my sister-in-law; when they had kids and the house got crowded, however, Gabby wasn't the happiest cat on the block. When space opened up at Mom's, she volunteered to take Gabs in. For a little less than a year, the calico lived the life of a queen - she slept with my mom, had the run of the house, and sat by the glass doors with tail twitching as she kept watch over the birds and squirrels who frequent Mom's back deck.

About a month ago, Mom noticed that Gabby wasn't getting around as well as she had been. When Brandi (my sister-in-law) took Gabs to the vet, they found that the old girl was riddled with cancer and her lungs had filled with fluid. After some discussion, they agreed that it would be best if Gabby was put down. Mom and Brandi - the two mamas Gabby loved best - were there for those final moments, cried together, and spent the weekend remembering all the things that made Gabby the extraordinary cat that she was.

It didn't take long, however, before Mom realized that she couldn't possibly live in a cat-free house. "I haven't lived more than two weeks without a kitty, my whole life," she told me the other day. It was sad to come home to an empty house, she said; sad to watch TV or work on the computer without a kitty purring at her side.

Last Saturday, I went to the Humane Society of Knox County to get some pictures of the cats and dogs and volunteers, in anticipation of my week featuring HSKC in Rescue ME. While there, I started talking to Jen - a shelter worker at HSKC - about my Mom's predicament, and asked her if she knew of any old lady cats who might need a good home.

Enter CC, a lanky black and white kitty who spent the first ten years of her life with a little old lady who treated the fabulous feline like a queen. Sadly, CC had nowhere to go when her owner passed away. When she came to the shelter, she refused to eat; Jen took her on as a special project, force feeding the girl until she finally decided that, perhaps, she would like to try living a little longer after all. For over a year, Jen has been fostering CC at her house.

"She gets too stressed out at the shelter, but she deserves a house where she can have the run of the place - and she's not exactly best friends with my dogs. She's a great cat, but right now she's just not getting what she deserves."

Today, Mom and I went over to HSKC and picked up CC. We were told that she would likely hide for at least a week, if not more, and not to expect too much of her at first. So... Here's CC, about ten minutes after her arrival at Mom's Home for Old Lady Cats:

Clearly, she's settling in pretty nicely, and hasn't shown the least bit of interest in hiding. She ate shortly after arriving, and has been happily exploring her new world ever since. Mom is already completely won over, and has begun rearranging the house in anticipation of any little thing CC could possibly want in her retirement - including a big, fluffy bed by the door, so that she, too, can pass her days watching the squirrels and birds on the other side of the glass. It seems CC has come home.