The Guggenheim Debacle

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In case you have been living under a rock, or in a remote mountain cabin somewhere, here is the back story about the cancelled Guggenheim China exhibit.  To many of us, the piece “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” a work by husband and wife Chinese conceptual artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, was the worst possible subject for an artistic exhibit. It is an 8 minute film showing 4 sets of pit bull terrier type dogs, running on treadmills, attempting to get at each other.  As the film goes on the dogs become visibly exhausted, foaming at the mouth, muscles bulging, as they continue their fruitless run.  Caution:  here is a link to the film, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone who has a heart actually watch it….

The uproar started when the Guggenheim released a statement celebrating the up-coming exhibit.  They were not prepared for the outrage and activism that instantly came to bear on them.   On-line petitions, on-site protesters, and countless emails bombarded their site.  The museum expressed confusion that so many people were so upset by this “art”.

When the woman artist responsible for this film was asked if she thought it was cruel, she responded that no, it wasn’t.  Pit bulls are “naturally pugnacious” so it wasn’t cruel to pit them against each other, just a demonstration of their nature.  Here is her complete statement on the controversy:

Were the dogs being abused? The answer should be no. These dogs are naturally pugnacious. We only separated them and let them run on the treadmill, which became a sport for the dogs. For those who consider this animal abuse, I don’t understand what they are protesting about. In fact, human nature and animal nature are the same. China hosted the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. What is the goal of this type of sporting event? Actually, it is a conversion of actual fighting into regulated competition. It’s agreeable to most people because most people are supportive of the convention of the Olympic Games.

Apparently she has no concept of the difference between a human athlete who chooses to compete and an animal who is forced to.  An extremely troubling thought that shows a total lack of respect for life.

Eventually the Guggenheim agreed to pull this portion of the exhibit.  But not for the reasons you think.  Not because it was a blatant expression of cruelty, but because they feared for the safety of their staff.  The moral disconnect in this statement is horrifying.

There have been many discussions, blog posts and articles written about the film, the artists, the dogs, and the museum.  But there is one particular point of view no one has visited:

This film, all by itself, adds ammunition to the DBO fanatics war.  Their insistence that pit bull dogs are inherently aggressive.  That there are no safe pit bull terrier type dogs.  I have nightmares thinking of anti-pit hysterics getting a hold of this film and sending it to every community government body which is looking at enacting BSL.  It is an 8-minute validation of their point of view.

And even more frightening is the thought of the thousands of people who could have seen this film and taken away a belief that these dogs are made to kill.  People who have had no experience with a beloved family goofball pibble.  People who have no basis to dispute the concept of the film.  We have worked too long and too hard to allow cruelty based “art” to tar our dogs with an aggressive brush.

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Art by definition causes us to think.  It can make us uncomfortable.  That’s what it’s designed to do.  But when art is based upon cruelty to others, even four legged others, it loses the moral high-ground.  Animals are not here to entertain us.  And causing harm or pain to others does nothing but tarnish our souls.

Sorry Guggenheim.  You were wrong on this one.  The right thing to have done was never book this film to begin with.

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Helping the Helpless

 

shelter2Do you know what emergency response animal sheltering consists of? It’s not “oh, look at the nice people feeding the animals”. No, it is hard, grueling days. You stumble out of bed in the morning, and stumble back at the end of your shift, which if you are lucky only lasted 16 hours or so. You try to stay awake long enough to hit the shower. You eat whatever volunteers bring to the site, or hit the fast food on the way home. You walk, socialize, groom and care for dogs/cats/others all day long. Everyone needs to be fed, everyone needs to be cleaned, everyone needs to be walked a couple of times a day. You have to deal with the mess and smell of animals with upset stomachs from stress and unfamiliar food.

In between you are frantically trying to organize supplies and volunteers.  You need to make sure each animal has temporary identification which specifies where he/she was found.  You have to pause a million times a day to talk to people, intake animals, direct volunteers.  You do not stop.  There are no meal times, no coffee breaks.  There is only the constant pressing need to do more, do it all, give all you have.  And if, by sheer chance, you have an extra moment, you give it to an animal who is scare and worried about where he’s ended up…missing home and family, scared of the sounds, the smells, the sights.

You grimly smile and grit your teeth when people show up who are obviously taking this opportunity to dump animals they are tired of.  You worry about every single being under your care; the old, the sick, the scared, the aggressive.  You do everything you can to give them a modicum of comfort in such an alien situation.

You patiently give owners the time and space to visit their beloved family members, and you tear up as you watch them have to leave their companions behind.  You deal with people who are rude or aggressive because of the stress they are under.  You hold your tongue, because you know how hard it must be to have lost everything.

You cry at the condition of some of the animals.  You cry when you see their terror.  You cry when new animals come in.  You cry when they are reunited with their people.  You cry until there are no tears left, just pure exhaustion.

That is the reality of what our emergency response teams are up against.  I know, I’ve done it.

Beware the Scam – Paws Family Ranch

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Animal welfare and rescue people have the biggest hearts in the world.  They will share their last dime to help a dog or cat.  They will share photos of dogs needing homes.  They will share links to fund-raisers.  They will work their butts off to help make a difference.

But the same thing that makes them so wonderful also can make them a target of unscrupulous people.  People who try and take advantage of those caring hearts.

Today a friend alerted me to the fact that a “rescue” called Paws Family Ranch was using a photo of Bubba G to raise money.  They didn’t outright say it, but the way the post was written it was made to sound like they were asking for money for Bubba’s medical expenses.  Medical expenses which were incurred and paid by Denver Animal Control more than 2 years ago.

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And Bubba isn’t the only dog they are using….there are plenty of well-known dogs that are showing up on their page.  How stupid do you have to be to use photos of dogs people know?

The people are the worst leeches on the earth.  They are taking advantage of people who desperately want to help dogs in need.  And they need to be stopped.  Their Go Fund Me campaign is currently closed, but people like this don’t give up, they just move on to the next scam.

I have filed a formal complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office.  I don’t know if it will do any good.  But I want to work to make sure not one more person is taken advantage of by this scum.  They picked the wrong person to screw with.  Ray’s page has about 150K followers, and Bubba has about 50K……we have a pretty broad audience to share this with.

A word of advice……do not donate to anyone you do not know.  Do not donate to anyone you can’t verify is on the up and up.  Don’t send your hard earned money to someone on their say so.  I’ve seen this happen too many times.  It can be fairly easy to check to see if a rescue is legitimate…you can visit a Non-Profit site like Charity Navigator, or you can check to see if the rescue is listed as a non-profit with their state.

There a lot of amazing rescues that deserve your support….this is not one of them.

 

Virginia Tech Uproar

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Disclaimer:  (I am finding this necessary, as not everyone appreciates my point of view).  Full disclosure:  my husband and I worked with several of the V dogs, and ended up adopting RayRay.  We have a huge stake in how the world perceives fighting dogs.  I have no right to tell others how to react to the situation….this is just how I choose to react, to preserve my peace of mind.

Animal lovers, especially pit bull terrier type dog lovers, are up in arms about Virginia Tech’s decision to induct Michael Vick into their Hall of Fame.  I’ve seen an incredible array of petitions, articles and Facebook posts full of vitriol and anger.  Unfortunately, not one of those actions is going to effect the school’s decision.

Here’s the deal: Michael Vick was probably the best athlete Virginia Tech has ever had enrolled.  He lead the school to an amazing 11-0 season, which culminated in a spot on the National Championship game.  Vick was, and in many cases still is, an incredibly gifted football player.  He had amazing skills on the field, and for many people, that is all that matters.

You also have to understand his standing in that part of the country.  In many ways, he is seen as a local boy who made good.  He has donated a lot of money to children’s sports programs.  He has worked with inner-city kids to help them increase their skills.  In many people’s eyes, this man is still a hero, regardless of what happened with the dogs.

We need to look at this through a different lens.  This sociopathic man and his appalling treatment of the dogs helped change things for fighting dogs across the nation…because he was a celebrity.  This was the first time fighting dogs were saved, and it was only because the case was front page news.  If it had just been some guy, we’d still be wholesale killing all dogs from fighting busts.  If you look at it that way, the idiot actually did something to improve the world.

Many years ago I decided that this man had no place in my life.  I refuse to give him the power to control my thoughts or emotions.  Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass about him, one way or another.  Let Virginia Tech induct him.  It doesn’t change who he is, what he’s done, or his final judgement in the here-after.

I had the chance to spend time with the most incredible dogs I’ve ever met, because Vick was a star athlete.  He really did me a favor.  I would never have loved Oscar, Layla, Squeaker or Ray, I never would have spent time with Little Red, Cherry, Handsome Dan, Lucas, Ellen, Meryl, Curley, Mya and Lance.   These dogs changed the trajectory of my life.  That’s what I need to keep in mind.

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Instead of filling my head and heart with anger, I am going to channel this feeling into something good.  Something that might help improve things for these dogs who have changed my life.

I am going to write a book that will be my personal Pit Bull Hall of Fame.  I want to write about all the dogs who have helped change the country.  The Vicktory Dogs, other fighting dogs, abuse survivors, dogs who have saved their people, dogs in public service as police dogs, therapy dogs, service dogs.

This will be my legacy to my beloved Ray, and the dogs who have followed in his paw prints.  And it’s a way to permanently thumb my nose at Michael Vick and all the people who have abused and vilified some amazing dogs.

If you know of an incredible pit bull terrier type dog (and yes, pit mixes as well) please send me a note at pitbullmom57@gmail.com.   Celebrating the dogs is all that really matters.

Moose of a Dog

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Bubba G

Two years ago Kevin and I were reeling from the unexpectedly loss of our little brown dog RayRay.  Our house and hearts seemed empty and joyless.  We needed to find a new dog.  So I put out some tentative feelers…..just to see if the right dog was out there somewhere.

I had some pretty specific requirements:  the dog had to be male (Turtle is the queen of the house and has no intention of sharing her throne), the dog had to be a pit bull terrier type dog, he had to have decent dog skills, he had to be smart and willing to learn.  And most of all, he had to be completely human oriented.  I took Ray to work with me every day, and I wanted a dog who would be happy hanging around my office while I worked.

People emailed from all over, asking us to take this dog or that dog.  Frankly, it was a little overwhelming.  So many wonderful dogs who need homes.  It is heart-breaking. But none of the dogs seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

Eventually I reached out to Coloradogs because Vicktory mom Rachel was volunteering there.  I emailed my list of requirements to Nancy, and she responded almost immediately:

We actually have a great boy here named Bubba G we are searching for the perfect home for. He was found in Denver terribly wounded and with his ears completely removed. He spent 2 months at the Denver shelter getting fixed up and we pulled him a week ago.
He is so so sweet, loves being out around town, has done great with large dogs but can be a bit drivey around small ones. He is most likely a no cat boy but is super soft in temperament and so responds really week to correction. he has shown zero tendency to be destructive at all or to go to the bathroom inside the Rad Pad. Rachel hung out with him yesterday so she can give you a great run down.
Let me know if you’re interested.
Cheers!
Nancy
She sent along a photo, and that was all it took.  I had found my dog.  Kevin was a little less sure.  He had been following Bubba’s story on Facebook, and was worried about any on-going medical issues.  But he could tell I had already set my mind, and was willing to give this boy a shot.
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Volunteer Deanne Sullivan drove Bubba from Denver to a gas station on the Utah/Colorado border.  I was waiting when they drove up and my first thought was “Holy Cow that’s a big dog”.  We were definitely going to need more dog food!
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Rachel, Nancy and Deanne had all mentioned that Bubba was “a little mouthy”.  Ray could be a little over exuberant with his mouth, so I wasn’t overly concerned.  That is, until I was back on the interstate with Bubba, and he tried to climb into my lap at 80 miles per hour.  I used my forearm to block him, and he engulfed the entire thing into that massive mouth.  That certainly got my attention!  He didn’t bite down, it wasn’t aggressive, he was just bored after 5 hours in the car and wanted to play.  I pulled into the next town and walked him around for several minutes.  That seemed to do the trick, and within minutes he was snoozing in the back seat.
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Bubba is an amazing dog.  He is happy and goofy and loving.  But he was also undisciplined, unruly and full of the devil.  Every time he wanted my attention he would bite me, just like he’d do to another dog he wanted to play with.  That wasn’t ok.  But we worked with an amazing trainer (thanks Keith!) to help him learn more appropriate ways of interacting with humans.
It took 2 days to break Bubba of the habit of biting my butt when I was working and he was bored.  He’s put his mouth on me, and I’d get up and leave the room without saying a word.  I looked like a jack-in-the-box for those two days, but he has never put his mouth on me since.
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After more than 18 months of intense training, Bubba is pretty much a model citizen.  He meets hundreds of people a year with courtesy and care.  He helps teach kids how to safely meet a dog.  He flies with me wherever I go.  He is am amazing ambassador for the breed.  I can’t imagine my life without him.
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Happy Gotcha day to my beloved boy.  You have enriched my life in uncountable ways.

In Ray’s Words, Three Years Ago

Ray CGC win!

“Seven years ago today I was rescued from Bad Newz Kennels, along with 50 other pit bulls, and assorted other dogs, including rotties, cane corsos, and beagles.

What is important about that date is not just that a new life began for all of us, but that we became a symbol of something that needed changing in this country.

Before this, if a fighting ring was busted, the dogs were all euthanized after the court case. We were considered implements of a crime, not victims. That all changed with the Vicktory Dogs.

A court battle was waged to have us evaluated as individuals. The evaluators were experienced dog people. They hoped they would be able to save one or two of us. Imagine their surprise when all but one passed every test they threw at us. For the first time ever, fighting dogs were being given a chance to show that our past did not define who we are.

Some of us were ready to go into homes right away. Some of us to weeks, months or years to get there. It took me 6 1/2 years. There is always hope. There is always time to do the right thing.

And because of us…the Vicktory Dogs: Hector, Jonny Justice, Halle, Mel, Little Red, Oscar, Cherry, Shadow, Squeaker, Audie, Georgia, Handsome Dan, Layla, Ellen, Lucas, Willie Boy, Denzel, Curly, Mia, Lance, Tug…and all the rest of us….we have together changed the world. We stand for so much more than what we are. We have shown that the heart of a dog can overcome the worst of upbringings…the worst of treatment…the worst that humans can throw at us. We are dogs. We are not monsters. We are individuals…and we can love with hearts as big as the world.

Seven years ago we didn’t know the kindness of a human touch. We didn’t know about couches or beds, or stuffies, or leftovers. We didn’t know that butt scratches were the best things ever. But now we do. And because of us, many, many other dogs have been saved, rehabilitated, and are now enjoying these wonders themselves. And that’s a good thing.

So today, in honor of this occasion, please give the canine companion in your life an extra hug and kiss. Think about dropping a few bully sticks or stuffies at your local shelter. Instead of remembering where we were let’s celebrate where we are. Thank you.”

Vick Fans Need to Know the Truth

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Every year on this date we remember the dog fighting bust at Bad Newz Kennels on Moonlight Road.  We celebrate the lives of the dogs who were saved, and we try not to think of the man who was at the bottom of the fighting operation: Michael Vick.  I try hard not to think about this man at all.  But then one of his fans says something stupid to me, and I lose it.

Michael Vick fans have three major arguments:

  1.  Michael Vick had no idea what was going on at his property, and even if he did, he only bankrolled the operation.
  2. Michael Vick has served his time and we should just all shut up and go away.
  3. Anyone who isn’t willing to totally forgive the man is a racist and only hates him because he is black.

Unfortunately for his fans, none of the above is true.

When the dog-fighting bust occurred, it was quickly apparent that the State’s Attorney had absolutely no intention of pressing charges against these hometown boys.  The only way anyone was going to trial is if the Feds stepped in.  So in a highly unusual decision, they did.  But because there is no federal cruelty statutes, the charges had to be for violations of the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) for racketeering related to the gambling offenses.

You can read the federal indictment against Vick here.

When the bust went down, Michael Vick, through his lawyer, released a statement proclaiming his innocence and stating that he looked forward to “clearing his good name”.  That statement is the one his fans cling to.

However, once his co-defendants started making plea deals and pleading guilty, things started looking pretty dicey for Vick. His lawyers got hold of some of the plea agreements and statements of fact from others in the dog fighting bust: including this summary of facts from Quanis Phillips, and this plea agreement for Tony Taylor.

Michael Vick came to an agreement with the feds for a plea bargain.  One of the stipulations of the agreement is that Mr. Vick would be totally honest about his involvement in every aspect of the operation, including the kennels, the matches, the gambling, and his involvement in killing under-performing dogs.  Here is a copy of his summary of facts.

Unfortunately for Michael Vick, his summary of facts varied widely from those of his co-defendants.  FBI agents felt that he was not being forthcoming.  After more than 6 hours of intense questioning, they ordered Vick to undergo a polygraph examination, which he failed miserably.  (The failed lie-detector test was mentioned as a reason the judge increased Vick’s jail time, above what prosecutors were asking for). Vick also tested positive for marijuana at the same time, another violation of his plea agreement.

After failing the test, Vick admitted to everything his co-defendants had stated.  He was personally involved in the dog fighting operation for more than 6 years.  He bankrolled purchase of the dogs, the gambling purses (some bouts had purses of up to $26K) and he personally killed dogs by hanging, drowning, electrocution, and on at least one occasion by slamming the dog into the ground repeatedly until he died.  He admitted to throwing pet dogs to the fighting dogs and laughing as they were torn apart.  He admitted to throwing his own children’s dog into the ring.

One of the witnesses at the sentencing hearing was an old time “dogman” who had been in dog-fighting for decades.  He helped Vick set up the kennels.  He taught Vick how to train and fight the dogs.  But he eventually refused to work with the operation any further, and agreed to testify against Vick.  Why?  Because he said Vick “didn’t respect the dogs”.  How low do you have to be when dog-fighters think you are scum?

Eventually the state brought one charge of dog-fighting against each of the defendants, which was plea bargained down to a fine.  Vick didn’t spend a single day in jail for any of his actions against the dogs.

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When he first got out of prison, Vick made a deal with the HSUS, and came out against dog-fighting in carefully orchestrated performances.  He said he had seen the error of his ways.  But when one of the Vicktory Dog adopters tried to talk to him about the dogs, he was told by Vick’s entourage that “we don’t care about the damn dogs”.   Richard Hunter (Mel’s dad) got the entire interaction on video and posted it on YouTube.

As far as the racist argument goes, I don’t think there is a dog advocate in the world who would have responded any differently, no matter what color of the offender.  The thought of dogs being killed in such horrific ways makes us shudder.  Cruelty and torture is not a matter of race, but of morality.

Thanks to Melissa, Cherry’s mom, here is a link to the USDA Investigative Report.  

I didn’t write this because I hate the man. Frankly, I try very hard not to even think about him.  Our dog Ray didn’t spend one minute of the day thinking about the man who abused him.  I want to strive to be in the moment as much as he was. The reason I wrote this was to have a record we can point to when his fans start in on us.  This is the truth.  There is documentation…. in your hero’s own words.

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