Saturday, January 18, 2014

Street Dog Shows Empathy

In the years I've been observing feral dog behavior in Puerto Rico, I've seen a mother terrorize her six month old daughter with painful bites to teach her to stay away from food even when mom wasn't near. This starving mother behaved ruthlessly.
Piles of kibble well spaced allowed the pup to eat after I demonstrated to her that I could keep mom at bay, which I did by spritzing mom’s paws with vinegar and water. This puppy was close to death from starvation when I first met her, so telling you mom, Blondie, was ruthless, no joke.
Regular feeding of the three resident street dogs gradually decreased Blondie’s food guarding to a less lethal level with occasional spritzing required.
Other strays were soundly routed by resident three with the puppy learning to attack viciously. Two meals a day at the Carr casa attracted street dogs from the area, before long eyes peered out of the tall grass at the edge of my yard with as many as six dogs at a time. The home team worked hard to chase the interlopers away.
One white and lemon starving yearling bitch refused to go no matter how hard they bit her. She would retreat, but not leave. Other dogs were chased off, but returned. The three were a formidable team, but food twice a day! Personally, I've always wondered how some dogs I’d seen over a mile away ended up on my door. Who snitched?
I don’t know what the “right” thing to do was, but I started putting piles of kibble close to each pair of eyes in the grass. The three retreated to protecting the yard. Every time they would chase a dog on one side a dog would dart in from the other to snatch a mouthful of food. The three would have murder in their eyes and force in their bites, packing calories of energy for a fight.
My husband said I was pulling them in to the house, but starving in front of me is not going to happen, most left after a meal or two, with added energy to pursue usual methods of feeding. Home team convinced them. My first encounter with dogs coming out of the grass in volume felt surrealistic like my favorite thing gone wild.

The white and lemon girl now named Snow White hidden in the grass approached the pile of kibble slowly, one stutter step at a time, her head so low it touched the grass. Her tucked tail and lowly haunches spoke to how sorry she was to be there. She gazed at the ground under her waiting to be attacked. So many times Blondie did just that; until I spritzed in her vicinity. For whatever reason, Snow White never ran in to grab a mouthful the way the other dogs did. She humbly, slowly walked up, if she got bit she didn't move, she took it, collapsing on the spot ever closer to the kibble. Most times she would be forced to retreat to the tall grass.
Snow White repeated this behavior until Blondie tolerated her lying down five or six feet away from the kibble. And then one day from the down she rose to a sit with low head and eyes on the ground she sat! Blondie rushed to establish dominance by towering over her in an upright posture, standing on her toes, but didn't just beat the snot out of her as per usual. Snow White looked prepared to drop, but held her sit. Blondie looked like she didn't know what to do, as the two maintained their positions. Snow White was the perfect pacifist. Blondie tired of it and walked over to a pile of kibble. Blondie never seemed to notice that as she walked away, Snow’s haunches rose from the ground. She was two steps closer before Blondie looked at her again. To my surprise Blondie only resumed eating. She had not walked to the closest pile of kibble, but allowed two piles of kibble in between them. Before long Snow crept to the nearest pile, before she could open her mouth. Blondie stood over her growling. Snow froze, Blondie gradually calmed down.
Blondie stepped to the right, obliquely away from Snow White. Blondie lowered her head in the direction of the kibble and Snow began to eat, slowly, cautiously with the tip of her tail swishing low.
Blondie in that moment decided to allow Snow White to eat, no coercion from me. I only intervened to prevent dogs from being wounded.

Was this empathy? Altruism, giving up her kibble? Did she finally think she had enough to share?  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Traveling Veterinarians of Puerto Rico

Forty Veterinarians neutering 40 dogs three days a week for a year equals 249,600; that’ll put a dent in the critter population growth, so how do we get to that goal?  
Being clueless in Puerto Rico, I talked to my friend and local La Que Sabe, Alma Febus, whose direct, no shit approach to things I adore.

Alma said, “Before you think about getting forty vets, find out what’s happening with the two vets on the island, who have the travelling clinics. Are they busy with neutering, vaccinating; learn what’s going on with them.”
Did you know that Alma Febus was a member of the NYPD? She has that logical cop’s mind.
I’m the new kid on the block, what do the island activists want to know about the traveling Veterinarians of Puerto Rico?
Where or how far will you travel?
How long in advance do we need to schedule a neuter/veterinary care day?
Contact information:
How is the day billed?
Cost per spay or castration, table of available treatments and charges. Pre advertised prices reduce misunderstandings and lost revenue.
For the benefit of the veterinarian providing this valuable service collaboration between rescues will provide the amount a vet needs in order to make a living.

Do the vets provide pre and post care handouts with the service list and prices?
The best location for a clinic day is? What should we look for?
What funding is available to subsidize a clinic day?

Prices need to be low enough that poor families will make a non essential purchase because it’s the right thing to do.

Who on your staff works with non profits to set up a clinic day?

I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Cruz’s team in action in Pinones; two thumbs up for a fine team. Dr. Rivera has the other traveling set up, I haven’t met him yet.

 Wouldn’t you like to know more about them?  What should we ask?
The information will be shared, so we can keep these guys working, and then others will want to join them. Alma, you’re brilliant.
It’s easy to comment on the blog; I fixed the settings. What do we want to know?
 I’ll think of the good questions after, like I did when I interviewed Iris Quinones, President of OICA.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Dog Lover in Puerto Rico

Every trip to the store becomes an adventure, when stopping to feed and water dogs along the way. That’s what it’s like to be an animal lover in Puerto Rico.
A female pit bull, looking stunned stands alone in the parking lot where I found Lefty a few months ago, I mean Sandy, as his forever mom in Boston calls him. She’s a big beautiful grey and white with massive head. I swing into the parking lot, whistle for her, but she doesn’t budge. She has that just dropped off look about her. As she recovers a little food and water will help calm her down, so I open the kit with the kibble and water bowls.
Hi, Sweetheart, I know you’re scared, who could dump a babe like you.  I prattle while pouring water in my last remaining Styrofoam bowl, a small pile of kibble on the ground next to it and I leave before she moves from the spot where she’s frozen from fear. She munches on the kibble after I pull out of the parking lot. Good, food and water helps a newly discarded dog calm down. Being abandoned can't be easy to face.  
Just a bit down the road a dog I fed before chases my car. Oh, rats, I didn't see him, so I pull over. He catches up with wagging tail. Only some kibble for you today, pal. I look around for a cup or something to pour water in for him, but see nothing. I have to remember to refill my kit.
Later, a gaunt white and black spaniel mix comes up to my car while I wait for my friend in a parking lot. He chows down. The boy lives in the neighborhood, so he’s an experienced perro de calle or street dog. I find a cup, he’s thirsty. The dogs need water as much or more than they need the food, so it's time to buy some plastic bowls.

The trick for me is to help the dogs without getting emotional. Just do what I can and move on without worrying what will happen to them next, do what I can. It’s NOT enough, but it's something. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Puppy's Hood in Puerto Rico

Finding her place in the pack as it mobilizes, eight week old Darla avoids Chi-Ping who snapped at her earlier for giving play bows. Chi takes her crabby old lady role seriously enough to discourage pups from over stepping a Chi boundary.  Darla brings up the rear, giving Lucky a lick on the corner of the mouth as she walks past, towards Robert Redford to give him a corner mouth lick, and then she gets along Lucky’s right side to take her position. The crew tiptoes to the edge of the plateau to look over the side at our neighbor trimming his tree with a machete.
Blondie, the only dog not upset over this turn of events, stands nearby. The man trims his tree paying no notice to the dogs sizing him up only twenty feet away. Robert Redford decides it’s not worthy of his attention, returning to the porch. Lucky watches longer, but comes to the same conclusion. After they leave, Darla peeks over the edge to see what the fuss was about. The man returns her gaze, so pell-mell she catches the boys. Chi vanished a second after she saw it was the neighbor.
In the late afternoon the dogs hunt mostly lizards in the tall grass. With keen forward ears they zero in on prey. This time of day most rats are in their dens. I hope they’re not after the neighbor’s chickens. They got another one yesterday. Darla bounds straight up the side of the hill to come sliding down. Soon she’ll run the ridges like the boys.
A disturbance on the road commands attention, so one by one they leap the single step, running across the carport to investigate. Darla didn’t make it first try so she backed up a foot for a running start and on to join the guard dogs.
Learning canine behavior, the rules of the road for her world is important. A dog not knowing how to get along with other dogs is as dysfunctional a person not knowing how to get along with other people. Gees, maybe, that’s not a good choice, but you understand that having a good foundation in your own culture helps you understand the rules of somebody else’s road.  
Lucky teases Darla with a toy, shaking it in her face and then running around the house with her in hot pursuit, if a tad late. Everything is going well in her puppy life now; I hate to think of finding the forever home she needs. I can’t keep her, Robert Redford and Lucky need homes. This isn't good for them long term.

I pray for wonderful people to adopt these amazing animals. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Puppy Behavior Eight Week Maturation Point

Darla entered her first fear period today, her normally up, wagging tail in a position seldom, if ever seen on her before, neutral. My little girl must be about right weeks old for this stage of development. About three weeks ago I found her in a bucket along the side of the road.
Today she no longer bounds straight up to me, but approaches obliquely, making an arc in her travel to approach me from the side. Her wide eyed puppy innocence is gone. As she nibbled out the bowl, I walked by and she circled with a piece of kibble in her mouth, which is reminiscent of Chi-Ping’s behavior with me, when she first came. She also exhibits watchfulness of the surroundings that I’ve just seen her do in the last couple of days. Our group has remained stable, nothing outward has happened to influence her behavior.
Witnessing puppies enter this maturation phase before was probably more chaotic with people and dogs, me being busy, and most of all other puppies. What surprises me the most is the suddenness of the shift; yesterday she was the quintessential idiot puppy, today she’s caution girl.
Protect her from big scares during this time was my first thought. Today is Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico, which means parandas or parades and here it came right down our road, loud, pulsating, horns blaring, whistles blowing loud, loud. I went to the door in time to see Darla running to the back side of the house to get away. I called her to the door which meant she had to come back towards her fear. To my surprise she scurried into her safe house, where she calmed and stood at the door. Gone are her puppy forward ears, unless focused, she’s pretty much carried them to the side. This is a change for her.

Like you, I love watching dog behavior. I’d love to hear your stories and comments on this maturation point.