I can't sing. I wish I could, but it's just not something I'm good at so I keep my singing pretty much limited to time spent inside my car. I grew up in a musical household - both mom and dad played acoustic guitars and my mom really could sing - so music is essentially woven into the fabric of who I am. We grew up listening to Dylan and Baez and James Taylor and to Peter, Paul and Mary. I know I have more song lyrics in my brain than belong there. That memory capacity is surely better used for other information, but I'm powerless to do anything about that.
After our parents died, I found that I had new songs inside my head. I'm not sure where they came from and I'm sure they don't follow conventional rules about song design. I like them all for different reasons and find them either entertaining or helpful to me, even if no one else will ever hear them. One of the songs just begged to be used in some way and I am happy to say that it now has been.
"Just No Looking Back" is written from the perspective of a rescued animal. It came to life through the talents and generosity of a woman I have never met, but with whom I share a bond which was meant to be. Cristina Lynn is one of those people in my life with whom I was destined to cross paths for some greater good. I knew the first time we spoke that she would be able to take what I thought of as some random ingredients and bake a beautiful cake, musically speaking. I knew I couldn't do it myself and that she was the one to take the song inside my head and turn it into something inspirational.
After Cristina recorded the song (with the help of Russ Holder who included a special "lick"), she sang it at some local events and I'm told it was well received One was an event for cancer survivors and that one meant a lot to me; we lost both mom and dad to cancer. I had some ideas for how to use the song that came and went. I knew I would use it to help a rescue or nonprofit group,with Cristina's permission, but for years nothing really felt right in terms of a good fit.
A few weeks ago, I was listening back to a video recorded for the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards ceremony about Harley Taylor, a puppy mill survivor and the "Emerging Hero" entry into the Hero Awards competition. Harley went on to be named the 2015 Hero Dog and I have written about him before. It was hearing Theresa Strader, founder of National Mill Dog Rescue, talk about how the former mill dogs just live now that it became totally obvious to me how to use the song: to highlight the resilience and forgiving nature of puppy mill survivors. I was just beginning to select photographs for the project when Harley died, most likely from a brain tumor. Harley was 15 years old and lived much longer than many (if not most) former mill dogs, but he had been in really good health and his sudden departure from this Earth was a shock to many of us who saw him as a larger than life figure in animal advocacy and rescue circles.
I am proud to say that I finally found the perfect fit for the song and that it's now being used to help National Mill Dog Rescue which is based in Colorado. When I read the lyrics now, I know they were somehow inspired by the plight of mill dogs and by their incredible capacity for resilience, forgiveness and joy. I just didn't realize it back in 2011 when the song took up residence inside my head. I guess I just needed a little time to understand and perhaps some inspiration from the other side.
You will find No Looking Back on my Youtube channel and the Facebook page for National Mill Dog Rescue. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you'll take some time to reflect on how you live your own life, on the life of Harley Taylor and all the other dogs saved from the ravages of the commercial dog breeding industry.
Thanks, Cristina. I am honored to say I know you and that we were brought together to help animals.
(Note: the dog seen in the video singing is "Gremmy." He is not in pain and is not upset; he is simply vocalizing. You can read Gremmy's story here on the blog about his life.)
There was a time in my past, before Snake left us, when I had this kinda sorta general idea about what happens in our nation’s animal shelters. I, like most people, knew in somewhat hazy terms that animals die in shelters, but I thought it was just those animals who were suffering or were broken in some way. I was wrong. I learned many years ago that the vast majority of animals destroyed in our shelters are either perfectly healthy or have some treatable condition and they really just need a second chance. This is a situation where we, as a society, tend to not delve too deeply into how our money is spent. If animals are being destroyed, surely there must be something wrong with them. No. Although there are some animals who are suffering and for whom the act of euthanasia is warranted, most are someone’s lost pet or just the victims of our poor choices. The vast majority of these animals are perfectly healthy and may be much healthier than that dog you may think you want from a breeder or you may think you are saving from a pet store or the back of a pick-up truck in a Walmart parking lot.
Then there are the special needs animals. Some are blind, some are deaf, some are missing limbs, some are old and some have conditions like epilepsy or diabetes. According to a survey performed by Petfinder.com, these “less adoptable” pets wait for homes nearly four times longer than most other adoptable pets. Some can be housed in shelters for years before being adopted, but in less progressive areas these animals are simply destroyed because they are harder to adopt. And that is nothing less than an absolute tragedy.
It is entirely true that special needs animals need some extra care and may require more of your time or patience. But the plus side is that you may very well find that having a special needs animal in your life and in your home will change your life in ways you never expected. We all know that shelter and rescue animals teach us the value of unconditional love. They don’t care what we look like or what we do for a living or whether or not we got impatient in the check-out line at the store or if we bounced a check. They just accept us as we are and love us without reservation. When it comes to special needs animals, the bonds we can form with these animals can simply go beyond description. Yes, they rely on us in ways “more adoptable” animals do not, but they also teach us invaluable lessons. They do not spend one minute on self-pity. They simply adapt. And they don’t ever even realize they are anything but perfect just the way they are.
I had been planning to do a project about special needs animals for years and the concept just never really came together until recently. Looking back, I think it was probably just meant to be. I was doing something on Facebook for my website when I ran across a post for a special needs dog named Walter “aka Walnut.” Walter had passed away recently and his mom, Gabi, was taking a memorial trip in his honor to go to places Walter had never been. I began reading about his life and his genetic condition and I just felt compelled to do a project about Walter on behalf of all the special needs kids. Gabi originally was interested in a different song for the video, but once I started downloading images and videos I knew just what song to use: Fisher’s “Anything For You.” It just fits Walter and his very charmed life with a family who loves him dearly. And there’s a connection which made it clear to me that this was meant to be. Walter’s favorite TV program was The Golden Girls. For those of you old enough to remember, Betty White was in the cast of the program. Betty was also recently in a TV Land series called Hot in Cleveland, scored by none other than Ron Wasserman of Fisher. I remember Ron telling me once in an email how he had been tasked to teach Betty how to play the drums.
Not everyone is cut out to have a special needs animal. The reality is that they require a very deep commitment and you will need to have plans in place for the care of a special needs animal if you cannot take them on a trip with you or in the event something happens to you. From where I sit, though, any companion animal is a long-term commitment and you have to be prepared for unexpected veterinary costs, short-term daycare and long-term rehoming in the event of a disaster.
The next time you’re looking to bring a new-to-you animal into your life, think about adopting a special needs animal. Yes, you can get the young dog or young cat with absolutely no health issues and that animal will probably live a really long time and make you very happy. Or you can decide to help that older dog and give him the very best years of his life. Or that diabetic cat who was having trouble finding someone to love her just the way she is. Or that little Miniature Pinscher a little like Walter who may not look like the other dogs you see, but who will make you smile and laugh and cry.
And who will remind you that life truly is precious. And that each day is a gift.
I've made a lot of new friends in the wake of the passing of Harley "Freight Train" Taylor on Sunday; Harley was the 2015 Hero Dog, one of my "clients" and one of my personal heroes.
Like many who have followed Harley's story, I am still struggling to process the fact that he no longer walks the Earth. Our sense of community loss simply cannot compare to the loss of Rudi Taylor and Dan Taylor or even those who spent a lot of time with him like Michele Burchfield, Teddy and National Mill Dog Rescue founders Theresa and Richard Strader. I mean no offense at all when I say that I'm still getting choked up knowing that he is no longer here. I don't really have a right to feel that way, but I do.
As I think about how we all came to know Harley, I think we can all agree that the whole sequence of events was extraordinary, if not magical. He was left in a bucket to die. What are the odds that he would be saved? Surely those odds were against him from the start. Mill dogs die each and every day in ways most of us would find criminal. It is a miracle that he was saved at all.
Then when we think about the family who took Harley in and made them their boy, that is also extraordinary. There are a lot of people who love dogs and a lot of people who could have given Harley a charmed life, far removed from his suffering in the mill. Surely the odds were against him crossing paths with the Taylors who we all must admit are extraordinary people. Their incredible work to help educate the public about mills and to help save other mill dogs is just something magical to behold and it is something many of us would not have the strength to endure.
When I think about the success of the Harley to the Rescue campaign, I just have to smile. Who could know that casting Harley and Teddy as little superheros would affect us all so profoundly? Saving mill dogs is dirty, difficult heart-wrenching work, but because of the incredibly positive energy behind the way it was and is handled, we all smiled and cheered every time they set out on a new mission to save more dogs.
Like all of you, I voted every day for Harley to be named the American Humane Association Hero Dog last year and when I heard he had won, my heart swelled with pride not because I had anything to do with it, but because I knew what it meant to his family and to Teddy's family and to the Straders and to every person who has supported or volunteered with National Mill Dog Rescue. I knew that him being named would change the national discussion about mills and reach so many more people so we can end the mills once and for all. When I watched the ceremony on television, I knew he had already won but I still got all choked up watching the process and hearing Theresa's voice when his name was announced. I found myself crying with a smile on my face so wide that it made my face hurt.
I will not compare losses with any of you. That would just be selfish. But I will say that life has taught me that no one gets to stay, human or canine. We all have a finite amount of time to live and love and learn and try to make a difference. When I find myself so incredibly sad for the loss of Harley, I am reminding myself how incredibly fortunate we all are that we even knew about him in the first place.
Harley's life was both extraordinary and magical. I plan to hold that in my heart when I think about him and as I move forward, working to honor his memory with my new projects related to mill dogs and related to National Mill Dog Rescue.
We are all so very blessed. It's time to get busy to continue Harley's legacy and to honor his truly extraordinary life.
I lost a very close friend of mine yesterday. He was covered with fur, was pretty short, walked kinda crooked and only had one eye, but I loved him dearly. And still do. His name is Harley Taylor. We never met in person, but that doesn’t really matter in the end. . .
I first started doing volunteer work for National Mill Dog Rescue back in 2009. I learned about the organization through something I read back on the former message boards for the Best Friends Animal Society about some puppy mill dogs who had been saved. I knew back then about what puppy mills in rather general terms, but my education had a long way to go. It was due to my association with NMDR that I really began to learn about the origin of mills, how they function and how we perpetuate their existence through our own choices. The reality is that all puppies are cute and we allow ourselves to be blinded by that cuteness we see when we tell ourselves it is okay to buy that dog from the pet store or the internet. It is not. And it must stop.
When I heard about a new player on the scene who was working as a “spokesdog” for NMDR, I marveled at the genius of the concept: Harley and his faithful sidekick, Teddy, began orchestrating “Harley to the Rescue!” missions to save other mill dogs. It was just perfect. Who better to not only speak for the mill dogs but to encourage all of us to help those dogs while educating the public to make better choices?
I did a number of projects involving Harley over a period of time, not because he or NMDR needed my help but just because I felt compelled to do something to be part of such wonderful, life-saving work. I wanted to be part of something I felt was magical. Our project called “A Dream to Call My Own” went semi-viral and is still one of my most popular projects I have ever done. When you combine the face of an irresistible dog with the music of Kathy Fisher and Ron Wasserman (my friends “Fisher”) with the voice of a child, who can stop smiling? No one. My other projects for Harley are less well known, but I think they still affect many people in many ways. Looking back, I am profoundly grateful that I came to know Harley and his family through our projects.
I think the most any of us can hope for, human or canine, is that we make some difference in our time here. Most of us will never cure a disease or invent something revolutionary, but we can all strive to change the world in some small way. Harley Taylor did just that. And while we all mourn the loss of this wonderful little soul, I hope our focus will be more on his remarkable life and how very many people he touched in such a very short period of time. He was a puppy mill survivor who led a truly purpose-driven life as he helped save other mill dogs and helped educate the public about the insidious nature of the commercial dog breeding industry. He was named the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog of 2015 and in the end, he Changed the World.
I cry for a dog I never met. I smile with pride for a boy who likely did more to change the national discussion about the commercial dog breeding industry than most people could ever hope for.
I will miss you, Harley. I am so very, very sorry you could not stay. I am so very, very grateful to have known you at all. Godspeed, little man. Your work here is done. And now we must continue it in your honor.
I am a no kill advocate and I support something called the no kill equation. It is a series of programs which, when fully implemented, bring an end to the killing of healthy and treatable pets in our tax-funded animal shelters while saving money in the process. The beauty of the equation is that it is a one-size-fits-all solution for any community. It works and is sustainable because it gets to the heart of why animals enter our shelters in the first place and it functions to keep animals out of the shelter and in existing homes. It also functions to take those animals who do end up in shelters and process them through the system quickly. I call this the "keep them out, get them out" functionality of the equation.
Ending the killing of healthy and treatable shelter pets is a choice; a decision. Some would call it a culture. When a shelter no longer kills savable pets, the ordinary byproduct of that is a save rate or "live release rate" of about 90%. There are some who would say that saving 90% is the focus, as if attaining that number if the goal.
I do not, and cannot, agree. The whole idea is to save those animals who are, well, savable. The end result may be that 98% of animals are saved. The end result may be that 88% of animals are saved if there are a large number who are genuinely suffering, irremediably ill or genuinely aggressive.
So. What's in a number? When we focus on a number as a goal, that means that our culture really has not changed. It means that we make it okay to kill your lost dog or my scared cat as long as we have achieved some number that someone thinks is "enough" as we all pat ourselves on the back and boast about having become "no kill."
We owe it to the animals who end up in our shelters, and our values as a society, to make this about ethics and standards and not about math. To do otherwise completely disregards the entire focus of the no kill movement: to stop destroying animals who were, or who could have been, someone's beloved pet.
It was Friday when I saw him for the first time. I backed down the driveway into the road, waved goodbye to the boys and there it was. A dog pen. On our neighbor's property. In which sat a yellow lab. In the rain.
We moved to our home only after being driven away from what we thought was our retirement parcel. Our state gives more legal rights to shooting ranges than to property owners and I just couldn't tolerate being forced to listen to automatic weapons fire while inside our home. Leaving was incredibly hard. We chose our new house because it's inside city limits (meaning we do have property owner rights), because it has a few acres and because no one near us had dogs living outside 24/7/365 on a chain or in a pen. So much for that plan.
I understand that I live in a region with cultural differences related to domesticated animals. I realize that some people were raised to believe that dogs don't belong inside because they are animals. But hasn't the time come to move past the 1870s? Haven't we learned enough about the intelligence of dogs and their emotional needs to do better for them than to imprison them in pens while denying their nature as pack animals?
Because of my job, I know far too well what happens when we force man's best friend to live as a resident dog, separated from our homes and more focused on a 100 square feet of dirt or the world found within the length of a chain than on anything else. I know about fatality attacks by dogs who were not properly socialized to people and who paid for our failings with their lives. The dangers of resident dogs are well documented by people much smarter than me. To me, forcing a dog to live outside chained or penned is abuse and simply abhorrent. If you put your dog in a pen outside for short periods of time in order to get fresh air and because you lack a fully fenced yard, I get that. But to put your dog inside a pen where he or she can only stand up, walk a few feet and turn around makes absolutely no sense to me. To force that dog to live in those conditions perpetually, regardless of weather conditions and with no human interaction beyond providing them food makes even less sense to me.
A dog kept chained (or confined to a pen) whether for hours, days, months, or years can suffer tremendous psychological damage. Under these limited conditions, dogs are forced to eat, drink, urinate and defecate all in the same small area. Because of the dog’s minimal physical space and lack of socialization, dogs kept penned or chained can become exceedingly hyper and aggressive. A penned or chained dog is not protective of the people who live in a nearby home. They are protective of and territorial toward the area in which they are confined. Left unsocialized to people on a regular basis, they can become aggressive toward anyone who comes near them, including unsupervised children.
The National Canine Research Council's investigations into dog bite-related fatalities reveals the majority of these tragic cases involved circumstances where owners failed to provide necessary care and human control of their dogs: 1) failure by dog owners to spay or neuter dogs not involved in a responsible breeding program; 2) maintaining dogs in semi-isolation on chains or in pens; 3) allowing dogs to run loose; 4) neglecting or abusing dogs; 5) maintaining dogs not as household pets, but as guard dogs, fighting dogs, intimidation dogs, breeding dogs or yard dogs; and 6) allowing children to interact with unfamiliar dogs.
My dog will never live outside. We keep him safe and dry. We provide him with the veterinary care he needs, the companionship he needs and he is a member of our family. He is not our child, but we are as responsible for his needs as if he were our child.
If yours is a resident dog, why do you even have a dog in the first place? I don't expect an answer to that. It just makes no sense to me at all. And it never will. Your dog deserves better than to be a prisoner in your yard.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson