Thursday, December 30, 2010

Give a Dog a Bone cares for animals in custody

Give a Dog a Bone cares for animals in custodyPepper was an emaciated pit bull who arrived at San Francisco Animal Care and Control for the first time in 2007. The 9-year-old dog was held in city custody while her owner was investigated on charges of starving an animal. For 11 months, Pepper spent her days in a small kennel while waiting for the legal system to decide her fate. Ultimately, the district attorney lost the case and, because animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law, Pepper was returned to her abusive owner. As a volunteer at Give a Dog a Bone at San Francisco Animal Care and Control, Susie Leni sees dogs like Pepper all the time. Pepper is but one among thousands of dogs in similar situations throughout the country.

Custody dogs, as they're called, end up in shelters because their owners are hospitalized, have been jailed or evicted or, as in Pepper's case, face animal cruelty charges. While a shelter may have custody of the dog, often the owner wants it back.

Previously, custody dogs were not taken on walks and were not touched or even let out of their kennels to relieve themselves. Since the creation of Give a Dog a Bone, custody dogs receive quality-of-life enrichment, affection, attention and mental and physical stimulation. The program was founded in 1999 by Animal Care and Control volunteer Corinne Dowling. When she learned about custody dogs, her dedication became a full-time commitment to address the needs of dogs in long-term shelter care.

As a volunteer, I help attend to custody dogs, even those that may be too dangerous to take out of their kennels; these we touch with special devices designed to mimic human contact. All dogs get treat-driven puzzles to keep their brains stimulated, and enjoy loving attention until they can be released for adoption, returned to their owner, or, in some cases, euthanized. Volunteers provide custody dogs with compassion, even holding and stroking their heads and whispering lovingly to them as they die. We may not be able to save their lives, but we ease their pain with love and care, even if only for a few days or weeks.

In July, a gaunt Pepper was impounded once again. She arrived 20 pounds underweight, but at least was at a place where she could eat, play and receive love from her shelter family - things she never experienced with her owner. Despite her fragile state, Pepper showed promise, engaging with us, offering kisses and running for toys to bring back to us. It was obvious she had been deprived in many ways. Knowing that Pepper had spent many months in confinement at the shelter, we were determined to help turn her into the beautiful, well-fed dog she should have always been. Gradually, Pepper's energy and zest for life were restored. And this time her outcome was different.

Though the district attorney again failed to protect Pepper in its prosecution of her owner, Animal Care and Control managed to persuade the owner to surrender her to the city's custody, and had someone willing to adopt Pepper so she could live out her life with love, stimulation and food. Despite her many years of abuse and neglect, Pepper now lives peacefully with two other dogs and her human guardian. And I consider myself blessed to have worked with a dog like Pepper and to witness the happy ending that all dogs deserve.


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