Monday, July 27, 2009

A hot dog boils to death in a police car

A desperate dog trapped in a NOPD car this past May destroyed the interior in a futile attempt to escape. Photo by the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

I’ve worked hard to build up a tolerance for viewing horrific scenes of animal neglect and cruelty. If I didn’t thicken my skin, I couldn’t do my job writing about these chilling subjects. I’d simply have to stop, or fall apart.

But despite all that I see and read, there are still times when a story makes me recoil with sheer horror. Tears prick to my eyes, my heart starts hammering, and I feel physically sick to my stomach.

Today’s blog update was one of those moments. For days, I dreaded opening the link emailed to me by Shelly Patton, information technology manager for the Louisiana SPCA. Her shelter is helping to investigate a case of neglect that is typical in some ways. But highly unusual in another.

It’s the identity of the perpetrator that makes this incident of negligence noteworthy. He’s a New Orleans police officer from the K-9 unit. Someone hired to serve and protect. Someone who should have known better.

On May 27, officer Jason Lewis left his 6-year-old Belgian Malinois partner Primo locked up in his police car. Temperatures in New Orleans that day peaked at 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a desperate attempt to escape the sweltering torture chamber he found himself locked into, Primo ripped apart the interior of the vehicle, reducing its seats to shredded yellow foam.

By the time Primo was admitted to a veterinary clinic, his temperature had reached a shocking 109.8 degrees. Before he died, he collapsed and endured three seizures. Normal body temperature for a dog is 100 to 102.5 degrees.

"Those photos confirm the horrible and excruciating death this animal suffered," said Rafael Goyeneche, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans. "Police officers are supposed to treat these dogs as their partners."

The necropsy -- the animal version of an autopsy -- determined Primo's likely cause of death was "shock due to heat stress," according to the report compiled by the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

Primo wasn't the only dog to die in the care of the NOPD K-9 unit recently. Around the same time period, a canine named Phantom didn't survive the fall down an elevator shaft during a training exercise at a hospital. And a police dog named Carlos died from heartworms, a serious but treatable disease.

Thankfully, Lewis won’t be tasked with caring for another police dog. On June 21, he was transferred out of the K-9 unit to another district.

The NOPD has launched its own internal investigation through the Public Integrity Bureau, according to spokesman Bob Young. And the Orleans Parish district attorney's office is considering charging Lewis under Louisiana’s cruelty to animals statute.

Just like a human police officer, Primo risked his life to protect ours. And in exchange, he suffered a painful, terrifying death at the hands of his guardian. If the officer couldn’t even protect his dog, how could he be expected to protect us?

The word “Primo” means the best of its kind, and no doubt this police dog was one of the best of his breed.

Now it's time to get him the best justice.

I've seen dogs locked up in hot cars on many occasions. People run into the grocery store for a few minutes thinking their dogs will survive. This card is handed out at Washington State car dealerships warning people of the dangers. It can be placed under an offender's windshield wipers.

When temperatures have reached only the low 80s outdoors, your car will become a furnace in minutes, even with the windows cracked.
  • In 10 minutes, the inside of your car can reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or hotter.
  • By 30 minutes, it will have heated up to 120 degrees.
  • At 110 degrees Fahrenheit, your animal may have only minutes to live -- heatstroke will result in brain damage and a horrendous death.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The road is paved with good intentions

As you have probably figured out already, most of my worldly -- and wordy -- attention goes into covering animals.

But once in a while, I come across a story about interesting human beings that I can’t resist telling.

Today I was cruising along on the Sea to Sky Highway, which connects Vancouver to Whistler Mountain. I was thinking about the Olympian athletes who will be jumping, twirling and triumphing at next year’s Winter Games.

The highway is home to many projects this summer as the province spruces up its trail into the mountains, getting the route into shape for the expected onslaught of visitors.

That’s when I came upon a stunning and unusual piece of artwork. Stunning because of its massive size. Unusual because of its location and the probable identity of the rebel artist.

Most likely a construction worker.

The giant boulders -- much too heavy to lift without a piece of heavy machinery -- had been carefully placed in a pattern along the roadside, arranged as if to delight the motorists driving by. The renegade rock art reminded me of England’s Stonehenge, or an Inukshuk built by Inuit to mark trails.

It will probably be gone by the time the Olympians get here. But at least I got to see it.

Look at the surveyor on the left side of the photo to give you perspective on the size of the boulders.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A spontaneous game of pickup

This is Marley, a Weimaraner, but not one of the ones I saw riding in the pickup truck. Photos courtesy of his dad Seth Goldberg.

I was already an hour late on my way to pick up an out-of-town friend in Vancouver when I happened upon a distraction that was too distressing for me to turn a blind eye.

I was about to turn into the gas station near my home when a woman pulled out driving a battered white GMC pickup truck.

She wasn’t traveling solo. In my community, it’s illegal to drive with a dog loose in the back of a pickup truck. They must be crated or tethered. But she didn’t have one loose dog.

She had three.

In big cities, responsible people usually wouldn’t consider engaging in this high-risk behavior. But in the rural area where I reside, this is common practice. It’s so prevalent that I drive with pen and pad on the dashboard’s ledge to write down the pertinent information. Then I email the shelter with the infraction: license plate, type of vehicle and type of dogs, date and time of day, location. The offender gets a warning letter in the mail.

This time -- because I was astounded by the three dogs bobbing and swaying loose in the back -- I diverted from my standard procedure. Instead, I decided to take chase.

Granted, it was a slow chase. She wasn’t driving like a maniac or anything, coasting slightly below the 35-mph speed limit. But no matter how carefully she was driving, her maneuver wasn’t safe. Besides the danger of flying debris hitting the dogs in the eyes -- pebbles, litter, bits of blown-out tires -- there is also the possibility of animals being dislodged from the back, and subsequently rolling around in traffic.

A sudden stop by her, or a careless rear-end accident caused by someone else; it’s not uncommon for dogs to be launched into the path of traffic. Even if you aren’t an animal lover, this is dangerous to people, too. Just imagine. What would you do you saw a dog propelled in front of your vehicle in traffic? Instinctively slam on the brakes, of course. And the domino effect of a multi-car pile-up begins there.

I drove for several miles, further and further out of my comfort zone, before we ended up at her house.

When I crept my vehicle up behind hers in her long private driveway, I was made. She knew she was being followed. She stepped out of her truck already in a defensive body stance. And she was burning mad.

To give her a wide berth, I stopped several car lengths behind her vehicle and got out, declaring my intentions weren’t nefarious. I smiled in the hopes of disarming her, and told her how beautiful her dogs were. That I was here to deliver a message.

But she didn’t wait to hear it.

The moment she started yelling at me, her Weimaraners jumped off the truck bed, and a few more bolted out of the house. They surrounded me, barking and growling. They had picked up on her agitated state, and they were there to protect. They were doing their jobs.

I wasn’t scared. There isn’t an animal on the planet who frightens me more than the average human being.

I got down on bended knee and stretched out my right hand, cooing to the lead dog to disarm the pack.

It worked.

The dogs started to lick my hand. But she wasn’t so hospitable.

Ordering me off the property, she screamed at me as my car inched down her long driveway. I went, but not before explaining that it wasn’t her driving that was the problem.

It's the others who follow. Not paying attention, perhaps sending a text.

She yelled that people aren’t supposed to text while they’re driving.

What they are “supposed” to do isn’t relevant. When you are the guardian of a helpless animal, it doesn’t matter what people are supposed to do.

It’s up to you to anticipate what people will do, and act accordingly to keep your animal safe.

It’s not just the animals who rely on it. Those of us out on the road with you depend on it, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Safety in numbers

Coyotes prowl the perimeter of the property. I keep my cats safe with an enclosure that screens in the porch facing the forest. All day, they go in and out to lounge around, cuddle up together, or just watch the creatures moving in the forest -- birds, mice, grasshoppers. It's all TV to them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cat (bird) on a wire

Little C is still searching for the purr-fect sleeping spot. This cord doesn't look like a comfortable pillow to me, but she tucked herself in neatly.

Little C is wired with energy most of the time, so her new bedding is fitting.

Cat on a computer

In my last post, I told you about Little C's penchant for finding sky-high perches, causing me to bite my nails to the quick.

I get nervous every time she picks a new spot. On the crisp Pacific Northwest evenings and early mornings, she's started settling in for a nap on my warm laptop keyboard. I tried to foil her efforts by placing the laptop on my desktop tower when unattended. Obviously she's outsmarted me.

Fortunately, her latest sleeping spot isn't death-defying. At least not for her -- just for my laptop.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cat on a ledge

I never dreamed any of the cats would sit on this skinny ledge when I built the house. If I had, I would have re-designed to thwart their craving for high perches.

When you live with cats, you don’t get to decide where they’ll be taking their naps.

They choose. And the places they pick aren't always where you want them to be.

You’ll think it’s all been squared away, that you found the perfect comfortable and appropriate place for your cats to sleep, and then they decide to seek change.

Take Little C, for example. As the newest cat to join the clan, she’s been moving her napping place every couple of days, trying to figure out where she feels most comfortable.

A few days ago, she finally settled on a favorite place, and I'm not happy about it.

This isn't over.

Clearly Little C doesn't share my concerns, and is quite content with her birds-eye view.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pups in the park

I spotted this furry pod in White Rock, British Columbia, an oceanfront city just north of the Washington State border. Do you see the family resemblance?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A dolphin's tail tells the tale

Look closely at the bottom right corner of the photo to see the ball of fishing line trailing behind this poor dolphin. Note the resulting damage to her tail. In this shot, she waits for Larry to free her. Photo courtesy of Cheryl McClure.

This dolphin chose her rescuers well.

Larry McClure had been hanging off his boat's swim ladder treading water 30 miles into the Gulf of New Mexico when an indigenous resident of the seas came calling.

The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin circled the boat for 45 minutes before the retired United Airlines pilot and experienced diver figured out what she was angling for. A ball of monofilament -- more commonly known as fishing line -- had wound around her tail, and the rest of the ball still trailed behind it. The flukes on her dorsal fin were being shredded by the synthetic fiber, and parasites had started to take root in the decaying flesh.

"She came right up next to me and stopped," Larry told me when I was in Sarasota, Florida recently. "I really feel like she came to ask for my help. It had to be a hindrance to her ability to catch fish. Conceivably she might have starved to death."

The 1,400-pound creature depends on her tail to help her catch small fish and squid.

Larry was wearing full diving gear. He and his wife Cheryl have been diving for 15 years, and each have more than 500 dives under their belt. While Larry dove underwater and went to work on freeing the dolphin's tail, Cheryl -- a professional photographer -- captured the moment indelibly on film.

Larry held the tail with his left hand while he hung onto the swim ladder with his knees. With his right hand, he began to slowly unwind the fishing line from her tail. She didn't move and watched him work. As he got near to the end, the last bit was embedded. The dolphin began to get nervous as if she was in pain, and decided it was time to take off.

Larry grabbed hold and pulled as she swam away.

"I felt confident I got most of it off."

Dolphins are famous for showing curiosity towards humans who are in or near water, and have been known to rescue people. There are stories of dolphins using their bodies to bob injured divers close to the surface to save them from drowning.

This time, the people returned the favor.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mowed down by progress

I watched in helpless horror as this poor deer kept trying to get up
and cross the road, despite her broken back legs.

Some days I'm scared to leave my house. But not because of agoraphobia.

It's the animals.

Everywhere I go, I find animals -- dumped, lost, frightened, injured. I regularly encounter horrific suffering that doesn't escape my mind once I leave the scene.

I'm not the only one who has this affliction for finding animals in trouble. Most of the rescuers I know report the same phenomenon.

It's gotten so I can't leave the house without a carload of rescue gear.

Today it was a deer who had been cut down by traffic. As I drove by, I spotted her lying marooned on the grassy center median of the busy freeway. She was crawling and trying to get up, but her disabled back legs kept failing her and knocking her back down again.

When I see an animal in trouble, all thoughts of personal safety evaporate.

I slammed on the brakes and hugged my car into the guardrail as the road's shoulder was rapidly disappearing. Just before it tapered off completely, I was able to lodge my car out of the path of traffic barreling at me from behind. The 5 Freeway is the main thoroughfare from Canada. All day, it rumbles with massive trucks.

As the vehicles rolled by, I tried to figure how I was going to travel the 500 feet or so backwards to get to her.

But first I fumbled with my cell phone and called 911.

With breaks in traffic coming in short bursts, I was able to back up close to the deer. I waited for my moment to shoot across, and drove my car onto the median.

I was careful to park a good distance away from her, because when I tried to get near, she struggled to get up and away, and back into the path of danger.

Like all wildlife, she was more scared of people than cars.

I stayed hidden behind my vehicle and watched her while I waited for the police to arrive. When the male and female officer got there, they kindly explained to me that there was nothing that could be done for a deer with broken legs.

I already knew that. All I wanted to know was when would this be over.

They got on their radio calling for wildlife rescuers to respond and perform the euthanasia.

But it didn't seem like they would be there fast enough. Again and again, she tried to get up and fell back onto the grass.

I begged them to shoot her and put her out of her misery, and they admitted that if they didn't get a rapid response, that's what they planned to do.

But not while I was there.

They wanted me to leave so they could stop traffic and do what needed to be done, without the tender eyes of the general public to witness it.

In rescue, there are cases that blur together, and those that stick out. The ones you don't forget haunt you because you couldn't do anything to help.

It doesn't matter that you did all you could.

Sometimes that's just not enough.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fur baby on board

Loki winged her way across the country to find a better life.
All photos courtesy of Kelly Baxter-Osborne.

I was waiting to catch a Southwest flight out of Kansas City when I had a familiar sensation.

I’m referring to the uncanny magnetism between animal rescuers recognizing their own kind. It could be called animal attraction, this bond cultivated from common experiences in the trenches.

This time, it was Kelly Baxter-Osborne who crossed my radar. The 32-year-old was traveling back to Seattle from her hometown in Missouri, and we promptly struck up a conversation while people milled about at the gate.

When animal rescuers get together, it’s not long before we lapse into our own vernacular. We speak rescue. Our insider language springs from the assumed knowledge we’ve picked up from years working in the system set up for discarded animals, whether at shelters, sanctuaries or independent rescue groups.

Kelly, who has been riding horses since she was just a toddling two-year-old, gave me some fascinating tips on equine rescue. And she talked about her volunteer work as a member of the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team. The organization buys horses from slaughterhouses, then trains them to be adoption-ready with the help of choreographed drill exercises. The drills balance out the horses’ skittish natures by building up their confidence.

Kelly gave me a peek inside her duffle bag, which contained a nine-week-old Husky-Australian Shepherd puppy she had rescued from dire circumstances. Even though Kelly had been out of town on a family vacation, she couldn’t turn her eyes away from an animal in trouble.

Fortunately Southwest doesn’t pre-assign seating, so Kelly and I stowed the pup and ourselves into an exit row and got to work.

As is usual, we knew people in common, and we began trading information. We talked about groups we knew, rumors we had heard, and all the gossip -- disputed and credible. We discussed projects we had worked on. For example, Kelly had rescued a dog from a hoarder house I was planning to penetrate to survey the conditions of the animals. Rumors described the place as a putrid mess, but Kelly said it checked out fine.

As it turned out, it was lucky that Kelly and I were traveling together for another reason. The pup went down so hard on sedatives that we were worried she might never wake up. That’s when I was able to share something with Kelly that I’ve learned as a rescuer. I don’t sedate animals because I get nervous about their drug reactions in the air when I’m far from a veterinary clinic.

I've taken pet CPR, and Kelly's spent her share of time around animals too. We were both concerned. We brought the duffle bag up from under the seat and kept a close watch over the puppy. Periodically, we checked her breathing, looked to see if her gums were healthy and pink, and pulled her eyelids back to see if she was responding. She stretched and gave a couple of yawns, so we got back to rescue speak.

Upon arrival, the puppy's head popped up right on cue. She was just fine.

When Kelly and I parted ways at baggage claim, she hadn’t yet decided if the dog she had called Loki would be staying with her permanently, or moving on to another home.

Either way, I don’t doubt that Loki will end up somewhere safe.

Whether traveling by plane or pony express -- or should I say puppy express -- Kelly will make sure of that.

Kelly takes the lead in the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team procession.

Loki lounges on the lawn before her big adventure in the friendly sky.