Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Animal Planet - Animal Shelters

If there ever was a cable network that had both the ability to change lives and alter perceptions of how we see other forms of life it is Animal Planet. Animal Planet provides fun and goofy glimpses into our everyday encounters with our domestic pets, but it also displays some heartbreaking moments of real life abuse, cruelty and neglect with these same animals. Of course, the other side of Animal Planet features the wild and somewhat wacky side of nature. Did anyone ever think they would be enthralled with the life of Meerkats? Be honest with yourself - you never would have thought twice about a Meerkat if you hadn't seen "Meerkat Manor." Does it matter how many documentaries I see on lions, tigers and bears? Nope. I could watch one a week and never get bored. These animals are usually far more interesting than anyone on any reality show.

Back in 2001, Animal Precinct (the one set in NYC) premiered and I discovered it one night while I was looking for some new programming. Working in television made me feel guilty at times. I had a sense that I better know what was out there and I attempted to check out most channels at some point over the course of a season. Watching my first episode of Animal Precinct had me hooked. Since then multiple numbers of other animal cops shows have premiered including ones set in Detroit, Miami, Phoenix, San Francisco, South Africa and Houston. Houston became my favorite since it featured horses and I have a tremendous affection for our equine friends. Jim Boller, Charles Janzten and the other Houston investigators became my heroes. All of these investigators became my heroes. You may not know who these people are, but I would like to name a few of them. Shawn Hariston, Mark Ramos, Debby MacDonald, Joann Sandano and all of the other people who work the streets in our big cities to find the emaciated dogs, the cats held by hoarders, the roosters who have been fighting, the horses who have been left, literally left for dead in empty paddocks.

I had always liked animals, but I never saw myself nor did anyone else ever see me as the St. Francis of Assisi type (I'm not Catholic, but I know that Roman Catholics regard him as the patron saint of animals). I was shocked by some of what I saw, but I shouldn't have been shocked. Look at the cruelty foisted upon humans (children, seniors and victims of domestic abuse - not to mention all of the other brutal crimes committed from sea to shining sea). One night early on in my nightly viewing of the animal heroes I picked up my Bible and recalled that King Solomon discussed taking care of the animals. In case anyone cares to look it up or not - here it is. The Book of Proverbs chapter 12 verse 10 states the following: A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel. There you have it: God himself wants us to take care of the beasts. For those of you who don't believe in God go along for the ride on this one.

I love the animal cops, but the show triggered something in me that I never thought would have happened. I signed up as a volunteer at an animal shelter in Los Angeles. I'd done volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, Wildlife Waystation (clearly, animals were on my mind already) and the Alzheimer's Association, but I had never thought about cleaning up cages that included urine and poop. I never thought of walking dogs that don't get walked by friendly owners. I grew to love the shelter world; and it is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. I got involved in volunteering at shelters because of Animal Planet. I'm not being self-righteous, but I am trying to make a point. Television can be meaningful in ways we wouldn't have imagined.

Animal Planet is doing more service for the world than ten other channels lumped into one. Don't get me wrong since I love watching ice cream and pizza heaven shows on the Travel Channel, great films on Turner Classic Movies, baseball games in season, documentaries on Discovery and NatGeo; Nature on PBS and local on the 8's on the Weather Channel, but none of these channels have inspired me to get out of the chair and into the car and go do something.

I will probably never forget the painful faces and moments from some of these episodes. Could I ever forget the Dachshund who was mutilated and beaten to the point where he lost an eye? His owner wanted him to be tough and menacing. A Dachshund? Yes, a Dachshund! The German Shepherd left under a porch to fend for itself and its pack. The beautiful dog could never be socialized and when he was taken into the rescue he stared at the wall and that was it. He had to be put down since the folks on staff never knew when he would become violent since they thought he would become violent. I don't argue with the dog shrinks, so I'm not laying blame on them, but to think that this beautiful, living, breathing creature had to be put down. Don't get depressed at this point, because there is always hope even though there are multiple numbers of stories featuring emaciated dogs, horses and cats. I found myself coming home and watching these painful stories on a nightly basis. When I mentioned this to some people they seemed horrified by these shows. Many people aren't capable of watching these shows and I understand that, but for some reason this pain in my heart fortunately led me to do something and not just watch other people doing something. I took that pain and did something with it. I got off my couch and decided to use some spare time power washing poop out of animal cages, replacing newspaper and towels and blankets and water. Of course, the highlight of any day at the shelter is the dog walking. I love the big dogs! Dogs have character! The best part about these shows is there is hope at the end of the episode. After the pain, you do get to see how some of these animals end up in good homes. Fantastic news!!!

Again, I'm not being self-righteous, nor am I laying out a dish (dog dish or human dish) of guilt. I am only trying to say that television can be more than entertainment (not that there is anything wrong with that). Television has great power and it can serve us well. Television gave me an outlet to show my maternal instincts. I am convinced that is why so many childless women have cats and dogs. Women need to show their love and since they have no children they have to nurture something and they do. I know I'm on to something with this theory.

Currently, I am in a stressful situation for the first time at a shelter. I've never gotten too emotionally involved with any of the animals since I knew I needed to be like a clinician and remove all personal elements from my poop cleaning duties, but I have fallen hard for one animal. He is an American Staffordshire Terrier and he's about five or six years old which means he will be a tough one to adopt. One, he's an American Staffordshire Terrier and two he's an adult dog. He's a beauty with the sweetest disposition. He's been in this shelter since February 8 and I realized last week that he hadn't even been named, so I finally named him. I gave him the name of Jimmy. Jimmy (James, Jim) is a popular name on both sides of my family and there are two of them in my immediate family, so I knew immediately that this sweet boy was going to be named after family members. I take Jimmy for walks and I talk to him. Lest you think I'm a kook - I'm not. I feel sorry for this pooch who basically doesn't stand a chance if he isn't adopted soon. I fear that the next time I go in he may be put down. I actually lay awake thinking about this dog. Now, I know you will think I'm a weirdo when you read this, but I started praying for a good owner to adopt Jimmy. I live in a townhouse with strict HOA rules regarding BIG DOGS, so there is no adopting coming from my household. Boo-hoo. I'd take him home in a heartbeat if I could. American Staffordshire dogs have a bad reputation, but since working in shelters I've experienced first hand how sweet these dogs can be. Jimmy is a sweetie pie! He's strong, but sweet. Keep that in mind. American Staffs are strong dogs, so they aren't for everyone, but Goldens and Labs are strong dogs and for all intents and purposes they aren't for everyone.

I ran into an old college friend yesterday and she has gotten four Dachshund dogs from a puppy mill. I had the good fortune to have a five month old Dachshund get adopted last week under my supervision, so you don't need to use puppy mills for purebreds. All kinds of dogs end up in shelters.

Next time you flip to Animal Planet do yourself a favor and pull out your checkbook and write a check out to a local shelter or humane association. They get no funds other than private donations and they need the money. If you can't give money then bring them old towels, blankets, food or even newspaper (lots of newspaper is needed for the cages). More and more dogs, cats and rabbits are ending up in shelters due to carelessness (I adopted him or her, but now I have no time or I can't afford them), cruelty (burnings and beatings are a reality) the economy (some dogs and cats are being let go in forest preserve areas - great, the coyotes have a good meal since dogs and cats cannot take care of themselves in the wild) and natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes leave people without a lot of options). I just read in the paper today that people just walked away from their homes after the floods with their animals chained up in their backyards. I don't think Louis Armstrong had this in mind when he emoted about a wonderful world.

Join me as I try to get Jimmy a home. There are lots of Jimmy's and Mary's and Lucy's and Fido's out there.

Thanks to Animal Planet for providing animal heroes to our country and to our world! These shows are among the best shows on television.


Lisa said...

Judith, you know that we're all big animal lovers here on The Nose. Your story of being inspired to volunteer for your local shelter reminds us that it's something we all can do. I have worked with the SPCA here in my little Nova Scotia town. My particular weak spot is cats, and it's kind of weird around here because it's kind of rural and also a farming area, and the way they think about animals is a lot different than the way us city folks do. Kind of hard to take and hard to get people to realize that the barn cats aren't disposable and so forth. Your post, and especially the story of Jimmy who so needs a home, is so sad but let's all hope for a happy life for him. We all know that Jimmy is a better dog for having met you. You are an inspiration to all of us. Thanks for a beautiful post, Judith!

Jane said...

Excellent post, Judith. And so important. I have become an animal rights activist too these days, and support local animal shelters as well as global efforts like the WWF which helps endangered species. It's safe to say that I probably watch more Animal Planet than any other network on TV. They are a fantastic channel, and the programming has really evolved over the past few years. You are much braver than me, however. I can't watch Animal Precinct because it is way too upsetting for me and I end up being haunted for days. Everyone must do their part, whether it is by helping out at a shelter like you have (magnificent!), or writing a check or (VERY important) spaying and neutering their pets. I will have an opportunity in my new town to work with a local organization that uses horses to help handicapped kids. This is a great program, because both the horses and the kids benefit. I will say a prayer for Jimmie and all the other dogs and cats who need loving homes. I have to go now before I get all weepy!

Dean Treadway said...

Great article, great cause, great effort on your part and on the parts of all who join you. Yes, I'm an animal lover, too, and I applaud you, Judith, for all that you're doing...and that includes your telling us about your experiences and relating them to the medium we love so well.

Judith said...


Jimmy the dog was adopted today. Great news! I hope he has a healthy, happy, safe home forever.

Zuzana said...

I look forward to reading what you're planning on next, because your blog is a nice read, you're writing with passion.