The Pet Ombuds

Occasional conflicts at the intersection of human and non-human animal behavior

Sick & Tired of BSL?

If you are fed up with dogs being directly or indirectly legislated out of existence, please read on.

We know that breed specific legislation is borne of trauma, fear and ignorance. We also know that it has an inordinately disproportionate impact on people and animals who aren’t creating the problems. That’s correct, isn’t it?

Are you one of those people? Do you have one or more of the phenotypically targeted  dogs who is struggling – to find housing? To to find places to safely exercise your dog? Are you afraid that your dog (and, by associatioñ YOU) may be randomly targeted by scared and ignorant people who are legally entitled to torment you?

In New York City, we’ve been dealing with the shenanigans if the uninformed, and frightened people since they discovered the brain to cranial cavity issue in Doberman Pinschers and quantified the crushing jaw power of the American Pit Bull Terrier. The Rottweilers always seemed to feel cheated – this is why they guarded everything and every one – simple insecurity, ya know?

I am committed to tackling #BSL in 2017. Can you help me? Are you or people that you know and trust truly game to kill #BSL? If so, drop me an email – share how #BSL affects you and I will reply personally and suggest one or more ways that your contribution(s) can help.

You know how animal lovers sometimes focus on the challenges and what they dislike about various people and projects? That’s not what I’m doing. I will work with anyone, and/or any organization that is committed to taking constructive action to #endBSL

Naysayers: Carry on. I plan to be too busy to debate with you. You don’t have to like what I’m doing or what I’m speaking about. If you have constructive criticism – please email me.

If you are in or around NYC, let’s sit down and grab a bite, or a cup. If you are available by Threema, WhatsApp, Facebook, TweetChat, Skype or otherwise, let me know how best to connect with you!

Here’s an overview: To address fear and ignorance, we need champions. This goes beyond BSL Warriors having breed ambassadors. Warriors against BSLpromote the selection, training and socialization of all community dogs because WE LOVE ALL PEOPLE and COMPANION ANIMALS.

WE look for ways to promote practical obedience training and socialization and to lead by example. We relentlessly plug our friends’ and neighbors’ successes. We offer free training and behavior management advice through SMS and social media. We celebrate and support our neighbors in doing the fight thing and recruit others to do the same. We create public events to demonstrate that we are the solution and then, we welcome warriors who would join us.

Time to get to work.

The Pet Ombuds
TbePetOmbuds at gmail dot com


Nancy Wants A Service Dog, But Should She Get One?

One of my tribe works at an Independent Living Center in New York City. She frequently intersects with incredible people, who happen to be disabled – there are occasionally individuals who are interested in obtaining service dogs. Sadly, disabled people often face illegal discrimination when they attempt to access service dog prospects through animal shelters and rescue organizations. While responsible breeders sometimes have puppies or dogs available, the cost may be prohibitive. Some breeders and pet owners occasionally donate dogs.

“Dennis, the client I’d like to refer to you is Nancy (the person’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity). She is currently homeless. She’s got more than her share of challenges and she’s easiest to communicate with, in-person,” advised my friend and colleague. I recognized the number she called from as her cell phone. She probably had moved away from her office mates, and was attempting to be discreet. In a polite, and professional manner, she told me that this client was going to be challenging. People are sometimes complicated. I am rarely bored. I am thankful that I’m often able to help people who are challenged to access more mainstream resources.

After some schedule wrangling, we set an early weekday appointment. We were to meet at the shelter and walk over to a local diner, where we’d sit and speak a little about what she was considering. She wanted to share how she is affected by disabilities – and how a task trained dog could support her in her activities of daily living (ADL). I came to learn that the scope of my client’s challenges were significant and that, in fact, her lifespan is expected to be shortened, as a result of a genetic disorder. I wasn’t very well informed about her chief complaint, but I understood that it featured prominently in her daily life. My interest in medical information serves me well, as I have an opportunity to learn about various conditions and diseases. Most importantly, my clients share how they their daily activities are impacted by physical, psychiatric, developmental, and congenital disabilities. I am grateful for the trust they place in me.

It is sometimes necessary for me to decline working with a client. Most often, this isn’t a permanent prohibition, but an issue that directly relates to the welfare of the human handler or a dog in the would be in a client’s care. I am concerned that this is such a situation. While Nancy would very much from the presence of a task trained dog to mitigate the effects of her challenges, she is currently unable to directly participate in a plan to provide for the training of a service dog candidate. Additionally, living at the (Women Only) homeless shelter creates impediments to my conveniently accessing Nancy and training a dog. It is true that the management team at this shelter could alter or suspend their rules and regulations, so as to accommodate Nancy, but Nancy has no friends, family or reliable individuals whom she can call upon to assist her in the routine care and management of a dog, should she need it. If an emergent situation arises, or if Nancy is otherwise unable to care for her dog, it may place the dog in jeopardy.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to explore this further with Nancy. I’ll keep you posted about how the situation develops.



Pet Ombuds

thepetombuds @ gmail dot com
canephile at gmail dot com

Before Pet Parenting

Michael and Alicia

I was contacted by a couple – a referral from another family in their coop building. From our initial email exchanges, they seemed to both want to adopt a puppy, in the next 6 months or so. We spoke on the phone, and scheduled an face to face for the following week. The discussion started as many do – with beverages, snacks and pleasantries.  Michael, the male of the household – a financial consultant of some sort and the lady of the household – Alicia, an RN, working at the Emergency Department of a busy NYC hospital.

Michael is considered to be a rising star at the upstart consulting firm, where he’s been working for the past 18 months. They are both busy, young professionals and expect that Alicia will pursue graduate work in the next year or so.

Their aspirations include travel and starting a family. Michael has casually mentioned the importance of maintaining a reasonable work-life balance, yet both Michael and Alicia describe their day and evening schedules as very full. It would be interesting to learn how they pull off an end run around the law of the conservation of energy. I take creative liberty with it and say time, like energy, can neither be created nor destroyed. Where would this couple score more of this scarce resource? Did they really have time for a puppy?

As it turned out, they were ahead of the game – they had friends and family members in the building. Alicia’s mother and another couple had committed to being part of their puppy care team. They hadn’t worked out all of the details, but they were well on their way. They were working on redundancies – the people they had in place were not always going to available, so they needed backup.

They hadn’t decided on the type of dog they would bring home. It was shaping up to be a classic schism – Alicia had done some research and really wanted a Coton de Tulear. When I asked her about it, I was surprised that the breeds reputed hypoallergenic properties hadn’t factored into Alicia’s thought process. There weren’t any allergy issues to contend with, though. Alicia had attended a function at Megan’s (a coworker) home and she became enraptured with Brody, a young male Coton de Tulear that belongs to the hostess.

As Alicia shared her interest in a small fluffy puppy, Michael sat beside her and seemed to deliberately not comment. I assumed that his interests are somewhat less fluffy and cute and, more likely run toward a more physically rough and tumble kind of pet experience. I knew little of Michael and Alicia’s prior experience with pets, but my view of the pictures and sports trophies on display indicated that Michael had a history as a Lacrosse player. I knew I was straying into all sorts of stereotypes, but Michael’s next words were not unexpected.

“We may need his and hers dogs,” Michael said. Alicia looked at her husband and said, “It would be silly to get two dogs. You will love having a Coton puppy, Michael!” Why would you want another dog, as well?”

Michael replied, “You want a Coton because it’s a cute, furry lap dog, which I can understand for you, but I wouldn’t make that choice for me. With a concerned look on her face, Alicia said, “ What’s wrong with lap dogs? You don’t think it would be fun to have a dog that’s focused on hanging out with us? Gingerly, Michael said, “I’m a guy, baby. I want to play and interact with a dog that is larger and sturdier that a hormonally enhanced gerbil. I’m worried about tripping over the kind of dog you want. You know me… I’m like a bull in a china shop. Alicia frowned. “I hope you’ll avoid stepping on our puppy, sweetheart.” Michael smirked, and said, “I’ll do my best, but it would be helpful if the dog was larger, and not as fragile as a Coton.” 

My role was to facilitate effective communication. Since they were doing well, I remained quiet. Now that they’d both understood that they were looking for different pet parenting experiences, they’d need to move the discussion a little farther. I had been under the assumption that the question: “what kind of dog do we bring home?” had already been answered. Oops!

“Licia,” he said, “What about a sturdier dog? It wouldn’t necessarily have the same stuffed animal effect, but it could still be cute! It means that I won’t always look like I’m walking my wife’s dog.” “Hmm,” Alicia said. “I suppose that means that you’d have to suffer through less of the chick magnet effect?” Michael’s eyes got wide, and he said, I am willing to put up with a certain amount of female attention, but it would certainly be less of a chore, if we could minimize the number of gawking women that I need to deal with!” Alicia cut Michael a look that seemed to suggest that perhaps he protests too much.

Michael turned to me, laughed and inquired, “What do think about Rottweilers, Dennis?” I smiled and said told Michael that I happen to adore Rottweilers, but like any other type of dog, they aren’t a great choice for everyone. Thinking that the Rottweiler is a vastly different experience from the Coton de Tulear, I asked the couple, “Is the Rottweiler one of the breeds that you and Alicia have discussed?”

Alicia snapped out a decidedly clear “No!” Michael was taken aback by the strength of his wife’s response. “Alicia, Rott puppies are adorable! Take a look!” Michael pulled his smartphone off of his hip holster and quickly displayed a picture of a Rottweiler puppy to Alicia, whose facial expression was now decidedly transformed. Saddened seemed an appropriate way to describe her, now. I think she felt that her fantasy was being threatened.

Alicia barely glanced at the proffered image before asking, “Michael, are you SERIOUSLY saying that a Coton puppy is “too girly” and that you’d like something different because you’d be embarrassed to walk the dog? You have never before seemed to be quite so sensitive to what neighbors and passersby think about your choices.”

“Baby, I’m not saying that I MUST have a Rottweiler,” offered Michael. “I’m thinking that you and I want very different experiences out of having a dog. Also, what does Dennis think? I’m sure that our situation isn’t unusual. Is it reasonable to get his and her’s dogs? What do couples do when their are huge differences in what each want out of having a dog?”

Time to earn my Scooby Snacks…

My suggestion is that you each write two concise lists. List #1 is about what you want to get out of having a dog. List #2 is what you believe your spouse wants to get out of the experience of living with the dog that you would choose. Alicia, in your case, the second list would be about what you believe Michael would enjoy about living with a Coton de Tulear. Michael, your second list would be about what you believe Alicia would enjoy about living with a Rottweiler. Writing these list means that you’ve have done some research on your own preferences and, ideally you will have some basis for understanding your partner’s wants and needs, in the context of the very different breeds we’ve discussed, so far.

Rescue groups can be a valuable source for information, especially when it’s a group that specializes in a particular breed. They are often able to discuss the challenges that the breeders and owners face, both physically and importantly, involving the breed’s temperament. A question that I typically ask is, “Why do these dogs typically need to be re-homed?” Also, I have a client who loves  Cotons. I’ll reach out to her and see if I can arrange an introduction. Would you like to speak to an additional Coton lover? If I can dig up a physically active, “bull in a china shop” male Coton owner, I’ll try to get you a male perspective, if you believe it would be helpful? “Dennis, if you can help us find a male outlook on these dogs, I think it would be helpful.” Michael said the words, but Alicia’s nodding co-signed the notion.

Alicia offered, “Meg is going away for a weekend, sometime soon, Michael. I was going to speak to you about asking her if we could watch Brody, but I’m afraid that you’ve made up your mind that Cotons are prissy and embarrassing.” Michael shook his head, slowly, squeezed his wife’s knee and said, “If I was dead set against the dogs, I would tell you and explain why I felt so strongly about not bringing one home. I’m game to welcome Brody for a weekend. It would give me firsthand experience and make it less theoretical and more substantial for me.”

From my perspective, this seemed a reasonable point for us to separate. They had work to do, as did I. I also needed to prepare for another client.

I’ll continue the story of this couple’s journey to pet parenthood another day. As they say, “It ain’t over.”

Dennis P. Owens
The Pet Ombuds
thepetombuds “at” gmail “dot” com

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