General Interest

Animal Control 411

posted September 21st, 2013 by
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by Rachael Weaver

Every day is different for an animal control officer. Seven officers serve the City of Tulsa and their day’s responsibilities could include stray and injured animal pick up, livestock on the roadway to mediating disagreements between neighbors. However, stray dogs are what they see most.

Jean Letcher, manager of Tulsa Animal Welfare, said an officer’s first duty is to enforce the ordinances of the City of Tulsa when it comes to animals, which includes all of Title 2 (the animal code) and part of Title 21, which specifically addresses the outside sale of animals—or “street corner vendors” as Letcher described them.

Barking dogs is one of many calls dispatch receives daily. To handle this, they send out letters. If the letter doesn’t work, then it becomes a matter of the Tulsa Police Department because then it’s disturbing the peace, Letcher said.

Dispatch will receive calls about barking dogs with citizens specifically asking the officers to retrieve the dogs. But they cannot walk onto an individual’s property because someone has made a complaint.

“We cannot just walk onto someone’s property and take their animal,” Letcher said. “In Oklahoma, pets are personal property just like your car, just like your stereo.”

Officers are not able to go through locked gates or able to arrest people. If they believe someone needs to be arrested, Letcher said they must call the Tulsa Police Department for assistance.

While officers cannot arrest an individual, they can write citations and question citizens in an investigation.

Animal cruelty is also something officers investigate if they receive a report that someone is either neglecting or abusing an animal.

“We’re the first line on that,” said Susan Stoker, field supervisor, who oversees all officers. “We get a lot of complaints for dogs that don’t have food, water, shelter, so we try to resolve those. More serious cruelties— we are the first to respond on most of those. And if they need follow-up, they go to our cruelty investigator.”

The cruelty investigator, who’s not one of the seven animal control officers, works on these cases until pet owners correct the problem or until the officers need to remove the animal. It can sometimes take weeks to resolve an issue.

If an animal is in imminent danger, officers can confiscate it. Imminent danger is classified as an “exigent circumstance,” meaning if an animal is about to die, the officer will take it. Examples include if animals are starving or if a dog on a tether is caught on a fence and might hang itself.

“If the chance is it’s not going to live, we’d rather take the dog and give it back then leave it there and have it die,” Stoker said.

Animals can also be confiscated if they have bitten someone. Animal control officers are mandated by the state to quarantine that animal for 10 days to determine it does not have rabies, Letcher said.

“So if your animal bites someone, we’re going to take your animal,” Letcher said. “If you prevent us from doing that, not only will you get a citation for not giving us your animal, we will call TPD (Tulsa Police Department), and you will probably be arrested for interfering with an officer.”

A Day in the Life

Officers work 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and each day they pick which area of the city in which they want to work. Then dispatch starts assigning calls to each officer.

“Some days they might be swamped with calls; other days are a little bit slower,” Stoker said.

Calls come in from citizen phone calls, the Mayor’s Action Center or the Tulsa Police Department and are run based on priority to some extent, Stoker said.

Animals can be impounded in the field, and officers take them to the Tulsa Animal Welfare Shelter (3031 N. Erie Ave.). Stoker said officers give animals their first set of vaccines as they check them in. They scan for microchips twice before the animal reaches a kennel. Then they take a photo that is placed on petharbor.com, which is updated throughout the day.

“So if someone is missing their animal, they can check on that and they will see a picture of their pet,” Stoker said. “Or if someone is looking to adopt an animal, they can see what we have too.”

As the end of the day nears, dispatch tries to slow down on calls. It doesn’t always quite work because some calls after 5 p.m. might not be able to wait until the next day. Starting at 5:30 p.m., Stoker said priority calls go to the standby officer who will respond on injured animals, police assists, some dog bites and loose livestock.

“We get a lot of livestock calls at night,” Stoker said. Whether a dog bite, police assist, or welfare check on an abandoned dog, officers are expected to perform their duties in a timely matter. “Response to the citizens of Tulsa is important,” Letcher said.

Officers are asked to “respect the citizens no matter what the situation is and to resolve the situation taking into account the ordinances and the laws of the community,” she added.

If you ask an officer what the most rewarding part of his or her job is, Stoker said it’s going to vary depending on who is answering.

“I think we all have different goals for what we’re trying to achieve,” she said. “For me, I’d like to see the animal that I pick up either get reunited with his family or get adopted. I want him out of here in a good way.”

Officers also experience frustrating aspects of their job, such as repeatedly returning to the same address because of the same problem.

“Our officers care about their jobs, and they care about animals,” Letcher said. “They want the best for the animals. Our job would be much easier if people would do the right thing by the animal.”

Stoker reiterates that idea. “Animals think; they feel. It’s not just a car you park out in your yard.”

Pepper

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Steve Sweeney

You know it going into the relationship. There are few doubts. It is, statistically, virtually unavoidable. But you’re a dog lover, so you do it anyway…

On the way up country, I said to Audrey, “You know we are suckers for a dog. As long as it has four paws, a mouth and a bum, we’re going to buy it.” With Harry, 7, and Kate, 5, in the back of the car, we made our way to Central Victoria and met our new best friend. She was an 8-week-old Rottweiler puppy full of mischief and fun with a grin so broad—so broad.

We met the mother, a huge, slovenly lug of an animal that immediately trusted our children’s affections and she just wanted more of that love. The pup already had her shots; we got her papers and some of the food she was on and made our way back home.

Not knowing how big an 8-week-old Rotty would be and not wanting her loose in the car, we brought a small cage to put her in for the travel home… Silly us. She was far too big for it. So with Audrey driving and two excited kids in the backseat, I held her on my chest for the two-hour trip, and it was then and there that my love affair began. She lay quietly, exhausted from the prior excitement and kiddie shenanigans. I stroked her to sleep while we debated about her name.

One name kept bubbling to the surface: Pepper. Over the years she also became known as Pepper Pooch, Peptide, the Peppermeister, Peppeteer and Pepperoni.

I’ll never forget her arrival home. I opened the door and off she shot. A puppy with two hours of sleep under her belt needs to run. We took her down to the dam, and in and out of the water she leapt and splashed. The water level was a bit low, exposing the muddy slopes so, soaking wet, she took to this like it was a velodrome and ran around and around and around. But at 8 weeks old, she didn’t possess all the coordination she would one day have, so her resemblance to a drunken cyclist on a slippery slope was unmistakable.

Days turned to months, months to years.

We have a small property with many fencing, planting and weeding jobs to do, so I’m always outside, and Pepper was always with me, slowing my progress in the best possible way. She had a knack for knowing what I wanted to use next and stealing it. Where are the pliers? Pepper took them. Where’s the hammer? Pepper took it. Where’s my drink bottle? You get the idea.

Pepper also had a penchant for eating anything that would make a grown man wince and then rolling in the leftovers. On a small property, this ranges from the carcasses that the local fox brigade left strewn over the paddocks to horse hoof clippings left by the farrier, and on to her favorite delicacy, the wet and runny horse poo that only lush spring grass can provide. Yes, she was all class. And it’s funny how she knew to come for affection when she was covered in the latter.

About two years ago, I noticed her limping a little. “Probably just a sprain,” I thought. She got over it, no biggie.

Then it happened again about a month later. “Uh-oh.” Off to the vet we went, and my dark suspicions were confirmed—hip dysplasia. That’s hip dysplasia at 2 years old. I know Rottweilers are prone to it but thought its onset would be much later. Not so in Pep’s case. We got the injections and managed her condition, but it was clear her best days were already behind her.

About a year ago, I noticed her vomiting. Once again, no biggie—dogs vomit, especially given her diet! But this continued. The vet advised it was quite natural, and as long as there was no blood, it was nothing to be concerned about. So our 3-year-old Pepper endured all too frequent stomach difficulties, had trouble walking some days and running hadn’t been encouraged for a year.

She still accompanied me into the paddocks, but I tried to do my jobs in a far less playful manner. I tightened my fencing wires or dug my holes, and she just lay in the sun watching and looking for an opportunity to steal something, so I would chase her. I reduced these incidents by keeping my tools in my belt and called her off eating her paddock delights too. She was living half a life.

We were out for dinner the other night and came home to find her cold and motionless on the patio. We have no idea what caused her death. It doesn’t matter; she’s gone. So what is it that is statistically unavoidable? What is it you know to be a truth before entering into the relationship? You know your best friend will die before you do.

We chose a sunny place in one of the fields she loved so much the next day, dug the hole and buried our fourth dog. I threw in one of my old hammers. You’d think it would get easier. But as I sit here weeping and typing, I can tell you, it doesn’t.

WING IT

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Lauren Cavagnolo

One afternoon, over the course of a couple of hours, four WING IT volunteers fielded multiple calls from the public with questions about wildlife, orchestrated pickups of various animals from different veterinary hospitals, fed bunnies, birds, a raccoon and a flying squirrel and discussed the best way to tell whether or not a mother bunny had returned to the nest to feed her babies.

It was a chaotic and thrilling two hours, to say the least.

“It’s real typical for what we do and the time of year. I’ve already been on the phone a couple of hours today,” said Kim Doner, one of WING IT’s organizers. “We attempted to fix a duck problem that we still need to resolve. I’ve talked to vets today; I’ve talked to three other rehabbers today… and been emailing and everything else.”

WING IT, which stands for Wildlife In Need Group In Tulsa, has been together officially for about a year. However, many of the volunteers have been rehabbing and caring for wildlife much longer than that.

The group has since been taken on as a nonprofit extension of the Tulsa Audubon Society and is now working on attracting dedicated volunteers, educating the public about wildlife and raising donations.

At the time we spoke, there were roughly 140 animals in the care of about 10 active volunteers. Of course, the number of wildlife changes daily based on intake and release. The homes of the volunteers have become a revolving door of orphaned and injured wildlife, mostly birds and small mammals.

While there are larger wildlife rehab facilities in Oklahoma that receive funding and grants, they tend to be overwhelmed, Doner said. In addition, people are not always willing to make the drive two or three hours to get animals to the facilities.

And there are advantages to having people in town dedicated to caring for Tulsa’s injured and needy wildlife.

“We are able to spend more quality time with an animal,” said volunteer Kathy Locker. “I can pick up on the slightest changes in an animal’s health, which may take a center longer because of the multiple staff members and volunteers who handle them.

“Also, one ‘mom’ is a lot less stressful to a baby. We have the luxury of evaluating each animal separately and holding them back if need be instead of keeping everyone on the same schedule.”

Dr. Welch, DVM at Forest Trails Animal Hospital, agrees that having a group in town like WING IT is vital.

“The problem is when [people] bring [animals] here, I can put them back together and things like that, but if you don’t have someone to take them, then I’m dead in the water,” Welch said.

And that is where WING IT steps in, taking in wildlife that have been stabilized but are not yet ready for release.

Forest Trails is one of three animal hospitals in the area that works with WING IT. Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists and South Memorial Animal Hospital also accept injured wildlife from the public and coordinate with the group.

“I can’t do what I do unless they do what they do,” Welch said. “But the goal is for them to be the primary and me be the helper instead of me being the primary and them being the helper.”

Welch said during baby season, his staff can spend up to two hours a day answering calls about wildlife.

“That’s probably the reason that more vets don’t do this sort of thing,” he said. “And this is all free. Not only is it free, but we now have a responsibility to do something with [the animals]. If it weren’t for the volunteers I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

VOLUNTEERING WITH WING IT

“We will warn you, rehabbing wildlife is a contagious situation,” Doner said. “You drag everyone in your life into it.”

And she’s right: several of her neighbors are now involved in wildlife rehab, one even has an 8x10x12 pen for rehabbing raccoons.

Though having an outdoor pen for wildlife is not necessary.

“People often believe they need a lot of room at home or that the commitment is to create your own zoo. These are misconceptions.”

Most of the baby animals taken in by the group need a small box or cage for the duration of their care. Depending on the animal, it can be released in as little as a few days or stay as long as a few weeks.

“We are super appreciative of those who are serious about learning and applying skills to truly help the wild babies,” Doner said. “For people who are interested, just contact us. Some people will try it and say oh, this isn’t what we had in mind; this is much harder and more demanding. If a volunteer would call and say I can drive, I would be sending them to two different vets right now and having them run a loop.”

When it comes to training volunteers, oftentimes the group has to ‘wing it.’ Because they never know what the day will bring, the group can’t plan to train volunteers on a certain species until they have that animal in their care.

“What happens is you might end up with 12 of one animal that afternoon, and you’re trying to feed it, heat it, stabilize it, medicate it and show someone else who is scared and nervous and unsure of proper procedure,” Doner said. “It’s not for the faint of heart or people who want an easy thing.”

The group also advises new volunteers to get a state license through the Tulsa County Game Warden.

“It’s not hard or complex, just necessary,” Doner said.

And like any nonprofit, if someone does not have the time to volunteer, donations are always appreciated.

“The people who do this are from all walks of life, and some of them are pretty strapped but very willing to spend a ton of time with the animals,” Doner said. “So donations are wonderful to ensure everyone wins.”

MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS OF WILDLIFE REHAB

One big issue the group faces is public perception that baby wildlife are cute and can be turned into pets. Though people are acting with the best of intentions, it usually does not end well.

“People think ‘Oh this is cute. It will be a pet of mine,’ or ‘I can rehab it.’ And then when the animal starts failing, they realize ‘Oh no, I don’t want to watch it die, here take it,’” Locker said. “And then we have to deal with something that’s dying.”

Much of the public also assumes that the volunteers get paid for their work. Though they are now a nonprofit and are working on fundraising, the group currently receives no funding or grants. All of the money for supplies and food comes from the volunteers’ own pockets.

“To be given a hatchling owl and have it raised up to release is about $300 in mice. And it comes out of the rehabber’s pocket. Which is why we got started with WING IT as a nonprofit, so that people can contribute if they would like,” Doner said. “It’s always a considerate thing to do when you are asking someone to take an animal for you.”

One scenario that has played itself out repeatedly is the rescue of baby animals that don’t really need to be rescued, much to the frustration of the group and area veterinarians.

“A lot of these babies that come in here don’t need rescue,” Welch said. “They are baby bunnies, and baby bunnies aren’t going to outrun you, they are just going to sit there. Leave them, they’ll hop away later on or mom will come take care of them.”

And when it comes to baby birds, it is OK to put them back in the nest, Doner said.

“You can touch them; you can touch mammals, and you can touch birds,” Doner said. “It’s not the scent; it’s the drive of the mother, and she will overcome any fears to feed and come back and take care of her babies.”

If you find an animal and have any question about its needs, call WING IT and ask before taking the animal to a veterinarian. The group has a shared cell phone, and a volunteer is always on call to answer questions.

Watson Does Disney

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Anna Holton-Dean

Vacation season is in full swing. While some families board their pets at that time, it’s a perfect opportunity for service dogs in training to experience unique situations and places. Watson, a service dog in training for Therapetics, was lucky enough to travel with his trainer and temporary mom, Casey Rose Largent, and her family to the happiest place on earth—Disneyland.

Therapetics Service Dogs of Oklahoma Director Susan Hartman and full-time Instructor Donna Willis knew the trip would provide excellent training for Watson. “Everything from the flight to California, the hotel stay and the Disneyland parks were all new experiences for him, and thus, great exposure for him too,” Largent says.

The trip did prove to be full of new experiences for 2-year-old Watson, starting the moment they reached airport security. “Getting through security was a bit challenging,” Largent says.

“I had to take everything off of him—backpack, vest, harness, leash and collar. Then he had to walk through the metal detector by himself. When you factor in the fact that I had to remove my shoes and put my carry-ons and his gear through the conveyor and have him walk through the metal detector before I could go through it, it was a bit hectic and time consuming.”

But with his laid back personality, Watson wasn’t too fazed—probably less than most human flyers would be after a run in with TSA.

“He did great on the plane ride,” Largent says. “We rode on the first row of the plane, so he had plenty of room to stretch out. When we first boarded, he wanted to look out the window. He watched the ground crew load luggage onto the plane. When we took off, he laid on the floor and slept. He did pretty well for a first-time flyer.”

Once reaching California, what better place could one go to experience sensory overload than Disneyland? Watson’s response to the house of mouse was in keeping with his typical personality. “There were lots of new sights, smells and sounds at Disneyland,” Largent says. “There were lots of kids, food and rides everywhere, but he didn’t seem bothered or nervous at all. He’s a pretty easygoing boy, so not much gets to him. He stuck close to me though as it was a little crowded.”

Disneyland even has a list of service dog approved rides, so Watson was able to enjoy Haunted Mansion, Alice in Wonderland, Buzz Lightyear As- tro Blaster and Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. At California Adventure park, he rode Toy Story Mania, Monsters, Inc.: Mike and Sully to the Rescue, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and he watched Muppet Vision 3D. And Largent says he had an obvious favorite.

“He really seemed fascinated by the Jungle Cruise, a riverboat ride featuring animatronic animals,” she says. “The animals all move and make noises, and that seemed to really get his attention. He sat in the seat next to me and watched as animatronic hippos, elephants, lions and monkeys moved around and made lots of noise.”

The other rides didn’t elicit much excitement or interest from Watson, which is actually a sign that his Therapetics’ training is working well. “Since he’s been exposed to everything since he was 8 weeks old, not much gets to him, including the rides. He doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to his surroundings; mostly, he pays attention to me, which is what he is trained to do,” Largent says.

While he may not have gotten any iconic Disney treats like the Mickey ice cream bar—he ate his usual treats—he did get his own pair of Mickey ears, which he wore long enough to humor Largent for a photo.

Watson seemed to take the whole trip in stride, but how did others react to the pooch in the parks? Largent says cast members (the term for Disney park employees) and park guests were all very accommodating and complimentary. While the average Joe can’t bring an average Fido (aka: non-service dog) into the park, Disney welcomes true service dogs.

“Watson got lots of compliments on how handsome he is,” she says. “Cast members are pretty used to seeing service dogs. There were several other service dogs there on the days we visited. I think people were surprised the most to see him actually riding the rides with me.”

Watson even turned out to be an attraction himself for characters like Alice, the Mad Hatter, Donald Duck, Cruella De Vil, Pinocchio and Peter Pan who all came over for a photo. “They loved him and couldn’t wait to have their photos taken with him,” Largent says. “Those costumed characters didn’t bother Watson either. In fact, there’s a photo of him giving Pinocchio a kiss.”

In addition to Disneyland, Watson checked out other destinations like Anaheim Garden Walk and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. So far, it has been his biggest public experience, but Largent says for Watson, it’s probably just another outing.

However, it is one more step toward his certification. Next fall, he will take his Public Access Test designed to ensure he is stable, well-behaved, and unobtrusive to the public, along with a skills test. He will then be matched with a qualified applicant to serve as his or her mobility assistance dog.

Largent says she gets a little emotional imagining the day she has to part with Watson, but their time at Disneyland is one more memory the pair will always have to cherish.

Philbrook’s ‘Purrrfect’ Personnel

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Kiley Roberson

Hiding in the cool, tall grass, he waited. Watching his subject with intense, knowing eyes, then he laughed to himself at the thought of just how sneaky he was. Surprises were his specialty. Slowly, he shifted from the brush then darted across the lawn where his victim sat unsuspecting.

He was to her before anyone could shout, before anyone could move. There was a click, a flash and a beautiful black and white Tomcat forever remembered in a young girl’s senior pictures. Just another day’s work for Acer, the tuxedo cat at Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum.

The Philbrook is home to numerous works of art, a majestic garden and a little known pair of very spoiled siblings. Acer and Perilla joined the Philbrook staff when they were just tiny kittens, now they’re 7 years old. Their names reflect the horticultural influence of their colleagues—”Acer” is the Latin name for the maple tree, while “Perilla” is the Latin term for a certain type of multicolored vegetation, in reference to her calico markings.

Melinda McMillan, manager of the Philbrook gardens, actually refers to the duo as her employees and says they play a very important role in the garden. “They are excellent at rodent and pest control,” McMillan says.

It’s up to this brother and sister to keep the garden’s rodent and rabbit population from overrunning the place, and Acer takes this job very seriously.

“He likes to lie up on top of the Tempietto area, surveying his kingdom, or down under shrubs hiding,” McMillan explains. “He is the hunter, big time.”

Perilla, on the other hand, is more of a princess. She doesn’t like to work and prefers to be chauffeured around her palace grounds.

“Perilla knows that she is pretty and is more affectionate,” says McMillan. “She doesn’t work very hard and likes to ride the garden vehicles to get to her preferred destination rather than walk. It’s pretty funny to see a gardener headed out to work in their sections and then to look back and see a cat riding on the back end, or even riding shotgun. She is quite the character.”

As employees of the Philbrook, the “purrrfect” personnel receive a very nice benefits package, which includes full veterinary care, unlimited treats and toys, and scratches in return for their hunting prowess.

“They actually have an “employee file” if you can believe it,” explains McMillan. “It’s where I keep all of their veterinary records. They also have Christmas stockings that are overflowing every season. And it’s not just the garden staff that spoils them; they have many benefactors on the museum staff that randomly drop off presents for them too.”

McMillan admits that these fancy felines never really had an option but to be spoiled with attention. As kittens, their human colleagues took turns taking them home at night and with them as they went about their jobs during the day to help the cats bond both with the staff members and the concept of the museum’s grounds as their home. Seven years later, their reign still stands supreme.

“They are special felines for sure,” Mc- Millan says. “They are incredibly spoiled, and visitors love them, especially children. They have a following of sorts on Philbook’s Facebook page, receiving as many if not more “likes” as our other posts. People have even left comments that in their next life they want to come back as a Philbrook cat.”

Facebook isn’t their only presence in the tech world. These cats are also equipped with cameras. The “cat cams” hang around their necks and record in about 12-minute increments, including sound. The small cameras are about the size of a cell phone and offer a special glimpse into the daily lives of these kitty companions. Then the staff posts the feline footage to the museum’s website and social media accounts. So far, Mc- Millan says they’ve learned that napping in the shade is a very common occurrence.

The rest of their day is pretty standard. Actually, Mc- Millan says they are on a pretty regular schedule just like all the other employees. Their day begins when the gardeners arrive to work at 7 a.m., but they’re usually in their beds sleeping at that time. They have their own cat door, so they have access in and out all the time.

They get up and make the rounds for a good scratch and pet, taking the time to find a nice lap for a few minutes. Then they wander out to the greenhouse area or the parking lot, snooping around. When they’re ready, they often jump on a vehicle to hitch a ride or wander into the gardens in their own sweet time. They hang out all day, sleeping in the shade, checking out groups of kids and occasionally hunting. At the end of the work day, they come back to the garden building for their afternoon meal.

“When the staff heads home, the cats just continue to do what cats do best, whatever they want,” Mc- Millan laughs.

When it gets too cold or hot outside, or in stormy weather, the cats take their escapades inside the museum to a downstairs studio. “They don’t like this very much and typically protest,” she says. “But while they are indoors, they get many staff visitors going down to check on them and play.”

With 75 owners to love and care for them and a 24-acre backyard to call home, you would think the spoils might go to their heads. But these pampered pets still make time to socialize with the little people, especially Acer. The museum actually thinks of him as ambassador of the gardens. He likes to make an appearance at wedding ceremonies, senior graduation pictures and other museum events. After all, he does already have on his tuxedo.

McMillan says he has been photographed more times than she can even count, but posing for pictures isn’t all this diplomat does. He is also known for his bipartisan abilities to really reach across the aisle, literally.

“He is great at breaking the ice at weddings,” McMillan says. “The groom’s family and bride’s family are total strangers with a divide between the aisle, and [there are] some uncomfortable moments for the families. Acer tends to just walk right down the aisle or between the chair rows and gets the attention of the children. The kids from both sides of the aisle will start to play with him, and then the parents come over to see what the kids are up to. By that time, the families have been forced to mingle with one another, and the wedding begins on a more comfortable note.”

Bringing people together and to the Philbrook, these cats have definitely earned their keep.

“They really are special kitties,” McMillan says. “We wouldn’t be able to have as much character in our gardens without them.”

Schooling for Success

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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Free Training Classes Help Shelter Dogs
and Their New Owners

by Nancy Gallimore Werhane, CPDT-KA

It is 6:15 p.m., on a Thursday at Pooches, my dog care facility in Tulsa. Boarding dogs are being fed dinner, and daycare dogs are heading out the door to their homes—another busy day is winding down. At the same time, several dogs and owners parade in the door and head for the training room where their work is just beginning. There, they are greeted by the wonderful smile of Beth Sharp.

Beth Sharp is a dog enthusiast, trainer and unsung hero who well understands the journey a rescued dog and new owner can take. Her interest in working with dogs was born when she adopted her dog, Cooper, a stray that showed up on her property about nine years ago. Cooper uncovered the “latent dog lover” in Sharp, who had not had a dog since her childhood.

“The training bug bit while taking classes with my unruly Pit Bull mix,” Sharp says. “It was fascinating to watch him learn and to have this completely different species understand what it was I was asking. You can actually see the wheels turning in their little brains, and I love it!”

Sharp participated in several training classes with Cooper, exploring different training methods until she was introduced to force-free, positive training techniques. “I completely geeked-out on it and read every book about learning theory and animal behavior that I could get my hands on— and I still do,” she says. “The results I got were amazing, and I never looked back.”

Sharp’s experience with Cooper inspired her to want to help other dogs, but she wasn’t ready to commit to adding another dog permanently to her family. Instead, she opted to foster dogs waiting for adoption. Providing a temporary home for a variety of dogs not only helped local rescue groups but also gave Sharp a great opportunity to develop her training skills. “I loved the idea of fostering, of helping a dog past its fears and showing it how to be part of a family,” she says. And a bonus was the strong sense of accomplishment she felt when her foster dogs were adopted into good homes.

In addition to providing a foster home, Sharp also started volunteering at the City of Tulsa Animal Welfare shelter (TAW). “I’d been feeling like I wanted to try to have a bigger impact on the animal overpopulation problem in Tulsa. Helping one or two dogs at a time is a lot of fun and very much needed, but I was looking for ways to do more,” she says.

Initially, she helped out at the shelter by walking dogs and assisting with adoptions. As she spent time at the shelter, she realized that it would be helpful to offer some basic training tips to new dog owners in an effort to help adopted dogs settle into new homes successfully and reduce the number of dogs that are returned to the shelter. “I would have loved some tips when I got Cooper to help me avoid wasting time and effort, trying a litany of things that don’t really work,” Sharp says.

“Sometimes new and even experienced dog owners have issues with their dogs that seem overwhelming, but many issues have very simple solutions and that can be the difference between keeping a pet or having to return it to the shelter,” explains Sharp. That theory quickly developed into a free, three-session training class that Sharp would make available to anyone adopting a dog from TAW.

With the help of TAW Manager Jean Letcher, and volunteers Ann Stiles and Cindy Bucher, the training program started in May 2011. Classes were initially held in a small trailer behind the shelter but moved to the Pooches training room for additional space to accommodate more students.

According to Letcher, the program is making a difference. “It’s such a neat deal to be able to tell people about the class—especially if they are adopting their first dog. I have no doubt Beth’s classes have helped reduce our return rate,” Letcher says.

Sharp’s goal for the shelter training program is to show people how to communicate clearly with their dogs in a manner that focuses on positive motivation rather than correction-based training that might include yanking on the leash, yelling at the dog, or using prong collars and choke chain collars. “That stuff really is no fun and not terribly effective—in fact, it can actually be counter-productive to training goals,” Sharp says.

One of Sharp’s former students has nothing but praise for the free classes. Anne Lassiter adopted her Terrier mix, Woodstock, from TAW. A very fearful dog, Lassiter felt that bad experiences in Woodstock’s past had caused his issues, and she wanted to help him learn to enjoy his new life. When Lassiter and Woodstock arrived at their first class, the little dog tucked his tail, raised his hackles and immediately retreated to the space under Lassiter’s chair.

“I thought I made a mistake by bringing him, but Beth assured me that this was exactly what Woodstock needed,” Lassiter says. Sharp helped Lassiter understand that with time, training and positive experience, Woodstock could gain self-confidence. “He quickly fell in love with Beth and would not let her out of his sight,” she says. “He might be under the chair, but he was watching and learning from her.”

Sharp encouraged Lassiter to continue formal training with Woodstock following the three complimentary classes, and that’s exactly what they did. Since that time, Woodstock has graduated from four levels of training, including a trick class that required Lassiter and Woodstock to perform in a show.

“It was hard to believe the little dog I found curled up in the corner of the shelter cage was now on stage performing like a pro,” Lassiter says. “He now has boundless confidence… the transformation has been amazing, and I thank Beth for helping us get started.”

Lassiter says the jumpstart with training that Sharp provides is of vital importance during a crucial time of transition for shelter dogs. “Her gentle hand is reaching out to help, so they are not returned to the shelter before they have time to adjust to their new lives,” Lassiter says. She is certain Woodstock would not be the happy, wellbehaved dog he is today without Sharp’s assistance and encouragement. One glance at Sharp’s new group of students tells a story in itself. One dog is barking nonstop.

One dog is sitting in a corner drooling. One dog is straining at his leash, trying to visit everyone in the room. In the middle of the chaos, Beth Sharp smiles, introduces herself and dives right in, helping each owner/dog team learn how to work together. Before the hourlong class ends, the dogs have settled, the owners have relaxed and progress is underway.

When asked about her classes, Sharp’s response is immediate. “I’m having a blast doing this!” she says. “To date over 150 dogs and owners have gone through the program, and we’re adding more every month.” That’s a lot of dogs and people—past, present and future—who can be very grateful for the inspiration of a once unruly dog named Cooper and a very devoted dog trainer named Beth.