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WHY is a Facility Necessary?

Most of our supporters are already well aware of our current campaign to raise the necessary funds for our first ever facility. However, we realize that many may not fully understand why this facility is so important to Central Florida.

First, this facility will save lives – which is obviously the primary objective. Yes, we already save lives using the foster based rescue model that we – and many other local area rescues – have been using for years. The foster model relies on local families opening their homes to foster dogs in need – but, these families aren’t experienced in training or dog rehabilitation. This means that the dogs we are able to save in foster homes, are generally already highly adoptable. Unfortunately, the majority of dogs euthanized in Central Florida have negative temperament notes and are in need of behavioral rehabilitation. In order to save these dogs – who need it the most – we need a safe place to house, train and rehabilitate them. This facility would be the first of it’s kind in Central Florida, the only rehabilitation center for shelter dogs in need of behavioral rehabilitation to make them adoptable.

Won’t it create more expense than it is worth? No. Actually, it will SAVE us money while increasing the number of dogs we are able to rehabilitate. Currently, in order to save dogs in need of behavioral rehabilitation, we have to place these dogs in privately owned training facilities. These for profit facilities owned by local trainers have done an AMAZING job at helping us save the lives of dogs we would not have been able to help otherwise – but, they come with a hefty price tag – an average cost of $2500 PER DOG. Using the funds we spend monthly helping these dogs, we could provide training and rehabilitation to far more dogs using our own facility than we can currently.

The facility will also provide stability to the rescue and the dogs we are responsible for, something that is desperately needed. With a foster network and no physical location – what happens to the dog if the volunteer foster home quits? Or if a dog that was adopted last year suddenly and unexpectedly needs to return? For almost every foster based rescue, including ours, these dogs wind up in boarding while we scramble to find somewhere for them to go. This is not only less than ideal for the dog, but it creates enough stress on the rescues that the burnout rate is very high – with so many new rescues not surviving their first year. It is so imperative that our rescue organization have a home – a place where the dogs are ALWAYS welcome.

Lastly, this facility will provide community support that is also lacking in Central Florida. Most owners who start to experience behavioral issues with their own dogs at home, do not really feel like they have anywhere to turn. Just choosing a trainer is challenging for someone with no experience – since training is not a licensed profession, and so many trainers may be excellent at teaching a dog to sit and heel but have no practical experience with more serious behavioral issues – it can be difficult for a dog owner to find a trainer that can actually help with the issues they struggle with. When they do find a great trainer – it also comes at a large cost – which many pet owners struggle to afford. The new rescue facility would provide low-cost training services – and FREE training and education workshops – to pet owners in Central Florida. We hope these services will have an impact in reducing the number of dogs that arrive in local shelters due to behavioral concerns, and help educate owners on the importance training and socialization.

We hope to be able to open our new facility in early 2018! We have currently raised over $30,000 of the start-up capital needed. If you are able to make a contribution, large or small, towards this milestone in Central Florida rescue – please visit our website http://www.HappyTrailsAnimalRescue.com and view the donate tab for more information on ways to contribute. Or click Contact Us if you are interested in making a large contribution or sponsorship to our facility – we would love to discuss ways you could commemorate your contribution with a plaque or dedication at our new location!

Placing Your Dog With A Rescue

As a rescue, one of the most frequent things we deal with is owners wanting to surrender their dog to our organization. This can be frustrating for both the rescue and the owner. Many owners have a misconception that it is easy to find a rescue for their dog – I mean, that is what rescues are there for, right?

The reality is, many rescue do not even accept owner surrenders – WHY?! – because dogs are dying every single day in shelters across America, and usually every available resource is consumed trying to save those dogs.  Here are some realistic tips for trying to place your dogs with a rescue organization:

  1. START EARLY! If you know you are going to need to find a new place for your dog start looking AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The rescues who do accept owner surrenders often have a wait list – so calling on a Tuesday evening to ask where you can surrender your dog Wednesday morning before you move isn’t realistic.
  2. If it isn’t an emergency that will leave your dog homeless (EX: Your dog isn’t housebroken, you don’t have time for training, it is not getting along with your other dog, you aren’t home enough, etc) then most rescues will expect you to house your own dog while they help you find it a new home. This can take weeks or even months. But, the reality is – why should another dog in a local shelter die so that you can relocate your dog faster? Be prepared to work with the rescue to find a new placement for your dog, not expect the rescue to take the dog immediately instead of helping a dog that dies in the morning.
  3. MAKE SURE YOUR DOG IS FULLY VETTED! All rescue dogs in a reputable rescue will be spayed/neutered, current on vaccines, and current on HW test and prevention. Do not expect the rescue to spend precious funds meant for saving lives on getting a dog that is your responsibility vetted. Most rescues can refer you to local low cost clinics/programs where you can do this at a reasonable price.
  4. But what if I found a stray? Rescue organizations are not really the right place to contact for found dogs. You should hold onto the dog and make every possible effort to locate the dog’s owners – this can include having the dog scanned for a micro chip, contacting your local animal services to report the dog found and see if anyone is looking for it, putting up posters on your street, and even letting the dog “lead” your walk to see if they lead you to their home. If all efforts are exhausted to find the owners and you cannot hold onto the dog, by law many areas will require you to surrender it to animal services for a stray hold so that the owners have an opportunity to reclaim the dog. Rescues are usually contacted by animal services if the dog is in need of rescue placement after evaluating the animal’s medical and temperament concerns.
  5. DO YOUR RESEARCH – Make sure the rescues you contact are legitimate. Ask for veterinary references, check out online reviews, contact local animal control to see if they have heard of the organization, etc.

And OF COURSE – If you are able, make a donation to the organization to cover things like food, prevention, and other care for your dog AND help save the lives of additional dogs in the community.

Behavioral Rehabilitation

When you post photos of a dog that is clearly badly injured/neglected and in need of veterinary care – people immediately start clicking donate without question, raising thousands of dollars in a matter of hours. Yet, when it comes to dogs in need of extensive emotional and behavioral rehabilitation – it is not only challenging to raise funds, it is often criticized and questioned.

The reality is, these dogs are at just as high a risk of being euthanized for the abuse and neglect they have suffered as the dogs with broken legs or Heartworm disease – actually, they are MORE likely to be euthanized because they pose a greater liability to the shelter when released, and less rescues are able and willing to consider them good candidates for rescue.

The problem is, for dogs that have truly suffered emotional abuse and neglect that has caused fear based behavioral issues to develop – the rehabilitation for these dogs can be just as costly as hospitalization. Because a majority of Central Florida rescue organizations are foster networks (like us!), the dogs are going into volunteer foster families (like yours!) to receive training, veterinary care, and to wait for the right permanent home to adopt them. Would you know how to rehabilitate a traumatized dog with behavioral issues and fear aggression? Neither do most of our foster homes. Sometimes the issues are minor enough for just experienced support in a foster home – but, many times the most extreme cases who are being killed for their behaviors are not safe to be placed in an inexperienced home and need professional rehabilitation.

WHY is this rehabilitation so expensive? If the dogs are not capable of going into a foster home due to the severity of their behaviors, the only SAFE way to rescue and rehabilitate these dogs is to place them in a board and train program – this means the dogs LIVE at a facility full time while receiving structure and training every single day by trained professionals. Think about how much it costs you to board your dogs for a week when you travel – now think about how much it would cost to have a trainer come to your home for 2 or 3 training sessions every day that same week … Exactly. The roughly $500/week it costs us on average is actually NOT unreasonable when you consider everything we are receiving for that cost – a SAFE, secure place for an aggressive/unstable dog to live day in and day out, AND intensive training multiple times a day every single day.

The other problem is, even if you understand WHY the training is expensive – it is still met with heavy criticism every single time we try to assist a dog that is a good candidate for this rehabilitation. It is an uphill battle to prove that the dog needs our help – if the video we post of the dog’s behavior appears “fine” to the average person who does not know enough about animal behavior and body language, no one wants to donate or help the animal because it doesn’t “really need” training. Do you REALLY think we WANT to pay $500+ per week for no reason? Of course not! If we have determined that is the only way to safely rescue a dog, it is because we are having to make a difficult call for the safety of everyone involved including the foster family, their children, pets, the community AND the dog. We don’t want it to be HARDER to rescue the dog, but – sometimes that is the uphill battle we are faced with to save these dogs.

On the alternate side of the spectrum, if the videos of the dog’s behavior show CLEAR concerning behavior and aggression – then no one wants to donate because they do not understand dog behavior enough to understand that the dog is not too dangerous or too  far gone to be saved and we are not “Wasting our time” saving a dog that shouldn’t be saved. We work extremely hard with the shelters and our trainers to assess the safety of the dogs we choose to rehabilitate and the types of behaviors we are dealing with – and have successfully been a last resort for so many dogs within hours of being euthanized for their behavior – dogs who are now happy, successful members of families and society.

Just because a dog’s wounds and scars aren’t on the outside, doesn’t make them less deserving of a second chance. If you wouldn’t question our judgement on whether or not an injured or sick dog was a “smart save”, whether or not they could be rehabilitated, whether or not the vets have made the right diagnosis – please give us the same faith and support when we rescue dogs with emotional scars and behavioral needs. They might even need us more, need your support more.

Bringing Up Puppy

Everyone always says that the breed doesn’t matter – it is all in how you raise them! But, what does that really mean? Raising a puppy to be a well behaved, well socialized part of society is much more complex than most people realize. Everyone understands that puppies require housebreaking, and might chew your shoes… But, there are much more complex and fundamental needs that a puppy requires in order to truly become the perfect pooch you have always wanted.

One of the most important fundamental needs of your puppy, is exercise. This may seem simple enough – “I have a big back yard, puppy will have plenty of room to exercise!” However, if you get up and walk from your living room to your back yard – are you exercising? Your puppy isn’t going to exercise itself just because it is outdoors instead of indoors. It may sniff around and explore a little, but without interaction it will likely be bored and cry to come back in – never having exercised at all. Adopting a puppy means the commitment to provide healthy exercise and play for your puppy. Long walks, time playing fetch, etc EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Most puppies need a minimum of one hour of exercise twice a day, every day. If you adopt a high energy/high drive dog – it may need even more than that! Dogs that are not getting adequate exercise often develop a variety of behavioral issues from destructive boredom behaviors, to more serious issues like taking their pent up energy out as aggression on other animals or even people!

The second major need your puppy has, is structure and boundaries. When you bring home a baby puppy, EVERYTHING it does is cute! It is hilarious if it attacks your shoelaces as you walk by, or tries to take your sock while you are putting in on in the morning – But fast forward a few months, your puppy is suddenly 50+lbs and stealing your son’s socks every morning as he gets dressed, or tripping you trying to attack your shoelaces as you walk by. Start with consistent structure and discipline on unwanted behaviors from an early age – remembering that behaviors that are cute now, may not be so cute in the future. I also highly recommend either reading books or articles or watching YouTube videos on basic obedience training, or signing up for some obedience classes – following basic commands like sit, stay, heel, and come can truly make every dog much more manageable as they become larger and more difficult to control – especially out in public.

The third, and perhaps most important, thing that your puppy needs is SOCIALIZATION! Now, what does this mean? It means your dog needs to be consistently exposed to new people, animals, and places. You should have the time to take puppy out of your home environment at least a few times a week – go to a pet store, a public park, anywhere where there are new people, animals, sounds and smells. Dogs that are not properly socialized in the developmental period of their life (the first 18 months) can develop socialization problems that can be as minor as being fearful or anxious out in public, to as severe as fear based aggression towards people, and aggression towards other animals. A lack of socialization is the root cause of a large majority of aggression in dogs. This fundamental part of raising a puppy that becomes a well polished member of society is frequently overlooked and the price you could pay later on is the most detrimental of all.

Finally, your puppy needs intellectual challenge and stimulation. There are so many ways your dog can have healthy mental stimulation – basic obedience classes and learning new tricks and commands is one simple way to provide for this need. Additionally, you can play games with your puppy that exercise their mind – make them sit and stay or have a family member hold them and hide a treat in front of them then release them and allow them to “find” it. Once they understand the game, start hiding the treats when they are in another room and make them use their noses and brains to find them. Get creative and have fun! There are also a variety of special puzzle toys made for dogs to stimulate their minds – available at any local pet store or online.

If you made it through this article – you are probably already a notch above a majority of new puppy owners! Remember these tips and utilize them throughout your puppies development – never lose sight of their importance in raising the perfect, polite, balanced pup your family has dreamed of!

All About “Bully’s”

The “pit bull” is perhaps the most controversial dog in the United States. Some worship them, others fear them – some cities and counties have enacted actual laws prohibiting them, some police forces have hired them to serve other communities. So, what is a pit bull REALLY?

First, it is important to DEFINE the term “pit bull” which is not in fact a breed but rather a slang term like “retriever” or “spaniel” that encompasses a wide variety of breeds that all have similar appearance – whether they are a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier, or a mix of this breed and other breeds that are also bully breeds, or even other breeds that are NOT bully breeds. FUN PITBULL FACT: Many professionals struggle to correctly identify the “pit bull” from a photo quiz online, and there have been studies showing that animal control officers frequently misidentify dogs as pit bulls, and even fail to identify dogs that ARE pit bulls. If the professionals cannot identify them correctly a large majority of the time, it is safe to assume you also mislabel and misidentify dogs you meet in your daily life as being “pit bull” dogs, as well.

So – where did these “pit bull” dogs come from? Unfortunately, the rumor that they are bred to fight other animals/other dogs, is true. Hundreds of years ago there was a popular sport called “Baiting” – this sport involved placing a large animal, usually a bull, into a ring and unleashing one or more dogs to “fight” it to the death. The dogs used in these sports were given the name “bull dogs” which is where we get the terminology of the “bully breeds” we know today. When “baiting” became outlawed, attempts to continue to sport on a small scale that drew less attention led to the development of dog fighting. Dog fights were easier to hold in small, concealed spaces than say a fight with a full grown bull. “Bull dogs” like the English Bulldog, Bullmastiff, American Bulldog and a variety of other tenacious and powerful breeds were crossed with terriers to make a smaller more agile and athletic dog to use in dog fighting- the “pit bull”. Over the years several “registered” bloodlines developed – the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier. But, a majority of “pit bull” dogs remained widely home grown and do not follow a true “bloodline”.

Unfortunately, because of this background, it does make some “pit bull” breed dogs more prone to aggression towards other animals. It is EXTREMELY important that these dogs receive proper socialization with a variety of other animals and dogs from a young age. Properly raised and well socialized, these dogs pose no threat to other animals in most cases. It is a MYTH that “pit bull” type dogs are more aggressive towards humans than other breeds! In fact, because the dog fighters needed to be able to quickly and safely break up dog fights – they deliberately looked for and bred the dogs that exhibited no human aggression, even when in the heat of a raging fight with another animal. “Pit Bull” type dogs have consistently tested higher on many temperament tests than a majority of the most friendly dog breeds – and have even out performed favorites like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers!

Over the years as dog fighting waned – these dogs found new purpose in their relationship with humans. They are a versatile dog that has been used for herding, hunting, military and police work, and to protect settlers homesteads. They are smart, loyal, and amazing animals – like any breed, they require an owner who truly understands their temperament and is prepared to provide them with adequate socialization, structure, and exercise to make them a wonderful member of the family and society!

Don’t fear them because of their appearance – and remember, if you do hear a story about an “evil” pit bull – it was probably the product of an evil owner, who didn’t socialize (or even worse, deliberately abused or neglected) and train their bully properly!  Be kind – these dogs face the largest challenges of any breed of dog in our Country. They are outlawed in multiple large cities including Miami, Boston, and Denver – where they are not even allowed to leave their homes without a muzzle, and are frequently confiscated and euthanized as a “banned breed”. Many HOA’s, Home Owners Insurance and Landlords will not allow them. They are frequently the status symbol of choice for uneducated pet owners who do not spay and neuter and even deliberately overbreed them for money. They are euthanized at ALARMINGLY high rates in our public shelters; and, of course, they are still the dog of choice for individuals participating in illegal dog fighting. These dogs need our help – they are not villains, they are puppy breath and happy tails and big wide smiles!