It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the stop of our Volunteer Education Program that was launched almost 2 years ago. This program offers all of our classes and education events at no charge to volunteers, and we also provided a full scholarship for our Canine Behaviour & Handling Certificate. There have been a variety of events that have led up to this and I feel that a full explanation as to why we are ending it is needed.
Like everyone in this industry, I was born with a love for animals. Those of us who work with animals seem to have always had a different understanding and level of compassion towards them, and we are thrilled when our life path leads us towards having the privelege of being able to help them. I always feel so lucky for what I do. The schedule is insane and the workload too much, but I love what I do and wish I had extra hours to do more. I take what I do very seriously, and put education at the top of my list of importance in what I do. I feel like I need to stand up and ensure the emotional and behavioural well-being of all of the animals I interact with. And, I am lucky enough to have an amazing team of people behind me who all feel the same way.
I started in the shelter world and it was my first introduction into training work and rescue. Animal rescue is close to my heart and is a large focus with dogma. We have made it our mandate and mission to assist rescue, and always will. I have loved to watch the growth of animal rescue in Calgary. We have an amazing group of rescues and Calgarians truly support them. I am so proud to be part of it all in this city. This is what makes this decision and change in direction so hard. It feels like I am giving up. However, I can no longer put this strain on myself, business and team.
There are amazing people in animal rescue. I am always in awe of the commitment and work that they do. We understand they are not dog trainers, and like so many other trainers in the city, we wanted to help by sharing our knowledge. As many already know, dogma is strict with who we become affiliated and work with. If reward-based methods are not used, and if you use physical corrections of any kind, we will not promote or support your business. This goes way beyond the simple argument of using food in training. It is how we choose to handle and interact with the animals. It is how we take a stand for these animals that do not have voice for themselves. (You can read my other posts on regulation, training and the divide to learn more about our stance on this).
I support rescue and their ultimate goal. We understand how overwhelming that line of work can be. However, we can no longer participate with groups that are not taking absolute care in how their animals are being handled. We cannot participate with a rescue these obtains these animals and then puts them into the hands of people who are going to work with them through fear and intimidation as tools. These dogs have already gone through enough.
My decision to end this program really began at Pet Expo. I watched groups that had made the right choice to get dogs with concerns into our classes, bring the same dog to this busy event and proceed to pin it to the ground to stop it from reacting, while it trembled in fear. This animal is terrified and should not be there, and we think we have the right to physically correct and terrify this animal even more?? We then tried to host an adoptathon at our annual Mutt Show that is meant to showcase rescue dogs and what wonderful pets they can be. We requested that fearful dogs not be brought as it is too stressful and unfair. There were a few concerning situations, but all the people were so gracious for the help and quickly changed how the dogs were being handled. Throughout the day we witnessed a poor dog that was so scared it was screaming for help, and was being continually corrected through harsh collar corrections. This dog was scared, stressed and completely overwhelmed by the busyness of the event. We had trainers at the event to help and the group was approached many times with alternate ways to handle the dog. Finally, the animal was corrected so hard that all four paws came off the ground that we had to interrupt, and the group was very angry that we did. This was at our own event, we were protecting their animal, and I began to think that this was hopeless for us to try to change.
These dogs are rescued from a variety of situations and many of them have never even been in a city. It is a terrifying experience for a human from a small town to come into the big city, so I cannot imagine what it is like for a dog. The dog is thrown in an environment they do not know, surrounded by scary things and we chose to teach them by attaching a leash and collar to them and correcting them for making the wrong choice? When problems develop, we send them to trainers who are going to hurt them when they are scared? I cannot even being to imagine the kind of stress these poor dogs are under. It breaks our hearts everytime we see or even hear about what is being done to these dogs.
How are we becoming the bad guys when we are the ones concerned for how your animals are being handled? You are responsible for them. I have an amazing team who love people as much as they love the dogs. We do not attack, and we try so many ways to help these people understand why it is unfair to treat any dog this way. It surprises, discourages and confuses me that we get such fight back on this from groups that pride themselves for saving animals, and as a whole are truly amazing and so committed to this cause. It is not just about how many you get in the door though, but what you do with them when you get them. A friend of mine wrote a brilliant article on this (http://paws4udogs.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/responsible-rescues/).
I have been torn apart while coming to this decision. We could do so much to change the lives of so many animals, if we all began to stand up more for how they are being treated. It is not in my nature to be quiet and allow this stuff to happen, which is why I am writing this post. Yes, it will likely make people angry and we are prepared for any negativity that is thrown our way. However, the emotional strain at watching dogs continally being treated through harsh methods becomes too much. I am now going to move dogma towards being able to focus our energy where we will see it grow in a more positive way.
“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong … Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” – Thich Nhat Hanh
This is the next chapter and direction for dogma with animal rescue. If we have a specific program set up with us and promote only reward-based training and are against aversive handling, we will continue. Otherwise, we are still here to help, if you should choose to take a stand for your animals with how they are handled/trained.
Please do not try to register a foster in classes if you are not going to commit to how they are handled (this includes providing the required support to the foster home). We will no longer be victim to having dogs brought to us that have been handled incorrectly, and then all the blame be put on us when you will not follow through on the training. We will not be put into one more situation where we are brought a terrified but highly aggressive dog, our suggestions are not followed in the least, and then we are subjected to ridicule and negativity amongst our peers. We cannot watch another fearful dog be taken to trainer who will punish them and allow them to live a life of terror. We can no longer worry that if we cannot get the dog into class at no charge, and fill the spot with a committed dog owner instead, that they will be instead be put in a class with such harsh handling, that they will be terrified and stressed the whole time. We can no longer take on this responsibility for groups that will not take a stand for the handling and training of the dogs in their care. We are going to drop the heartache caused by this experience and focus on where we can really help. We were able to bring great change to ARF and I am excited for our involvement with pause4change. I look forward to seeing what changes we can make, and to be involved with a group of people that are so committed and share our views on how these dogs deserve to be treated.