Good Fences Make Good Dogs!

Notice anything different about our backyard?!

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It has changed our lives! The dogs love to spend lazy mornings relaxing in the yard. They are able to spend so much more time outdoors, because I don’t have to worry about them chasing rabbits or wondering into the horse pastures.

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Our longest readers may remember a post we made almost a year ago now, when we originally planned to have a fence installed. Unfortunately the prices at that point were much more than we had anticipated, and so we spent a year saving up and selling things we weren’t using. The fence does not encompass our whole yard, but it’s perfect for quick trips outside or spending time together without having to worry about the dogs. We still make sure to take them for daily walks and hikes. It’s been a long year of waiting, but the wait was so worth it! We spend more time outside with the dogs, and it has made our house feel bigger.

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This comes at a perfect time, because we leave this weekend for a family vacation at the beach! Tonka will be going with us, but the girls will be staying home with my best friend N. The yard makes it much easier for N and also more worry-free for us! Finally, this may make it easier for us to have a foster again down the road… but time will tell!

Is your yard fenced or unfenced? Would you say that they get more or less exercise because of it? Any advice for us?

Daddy’s Girl

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I talk a lot about the dogs in this space, and a little bit about myself, but I speak even less about the guy who supports it all… otherwise known as J! He is late-night duty doggie dad, the breakfast maker of the house, the car maintenance man, the one who shakes his head and smiles as he supports my wild and crazy dreams and helps me find ways to make them a reality. He is also my strong shoulder to cry on, and the one who never fails to make me laugh. Of all of the people I’ve met in my life, he is the hardest working and most courageous. You will often find him standing up for the underdog and supporting what is right, regardless of whatever scrutiny he might face. He always jumps at the chance to help others. More than that, he faces every day as an opportunity to learn and become a better husband, son, brother, uncle, employee, manager, and friend. He is an amazing person in so many ways, and I don’t know where I would be without him! I am a very lucky girl, and not a day goes by that I don’t say prayers of gratitude for his presence in my life.

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To say that J is a masculine guy would be an understatement. He is most at ease in one of two places; the gym, or the garage. He is happiest when tinkering under the hood of his classic car (a ’67 Camaro, for those of you who are curious) and spends his days managing and problem-solving at a busy local trucking company, when he’s not out on the tractor taking care of his parents’ farm. But bring up his little girl Gaige, and he becomes putty in your hands. That dog has him wrapped around her little paw, and he loves anything that involves her.

And Foster Makes Five012If you ask me, Gaige is our resident trouble-maker. Yes, she is adorable and sweet, but her mischevious side is never far behind. But in J’s eyes, she can do no wrong. She takes a toy from another dog? Oh, she just didn’t know they were playing with it. She runs off in the yard? Well, she just wanted to take herself for a walk. She eats his (Oakley sunglasses, Bose headphones, brand new steel-toed work boots… insert any expensive gift here), and he says it’s just because she smells him and wishes he were there.

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Call him oblivious, say he is in denial… you can’t deny that Gaige means the world to him, and you can’t help but smile when you watch them interact. There is no doubt that J is an excellent ‘dad’ to all of our pups, but Gaige’s entrance into his life was unique. Enjoy some photos of their adventures together, and the special bond they share!

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Going trucking!

Going trucking!

Farmer's Daughter? Mowing pastures in the John Deere

Farmer’s Daughter? Mowing pastures in the John Deere

The Great Debate

When you read this blog title, what did you imagine the controversial topic would be? To be fair, the options are seemingly endless.

I want to talk to you today about something that I can almost guarantee all of our readers will not agree on. The No-Kill Movement. This is a topic that came up during my time at the AFF Internship, and the conversation was an especially deep one, given that we had individuals present from both No-Kill and Municipal/Open-Admission Shelters. I appreciate that AFF takes a neutral stance on all controversial issues, but it was also eye-opening to hear the perspectives from individuals who are in the ‘pits,’ so to speak. Let’s start with the background…

Another photo from AFF!

Another photo from AFF!

The No-Kill Movement

Nathan Winograd is the advocate of a comprehensive movement for animal-shelter reform. Winograd and his supporters believe that no animal should ever be killed for any reason other than to alleviate the animalโ€™s suffering or because the animal is so vicious as to be uncontrollable.

Private Shelters

A private shelter is funded by private donations. The primary purpose of these shelters is to find homes for lost or displaced animals, and provide them with a safe haven until such a home may be found. While specifics may vary, these organizations typically do not euthanize animals for reasons other than health or quality of life. However, no facility is limitless. Because of this, they often only admit animals that would be considered highly adoptable.

Animal Friends, a private animal shelter that is local to our area

Animal Friends, a private animal shelter that is local to our area

Municipal Shelters

A municipal shelter is run by a city, county, or other such public entity. These shelters are funded by taxpayer dollars. They are staffed by government employees, who may or may not have a background or education in regards to animals. Most often, these facilities are required by law to take in any unwanted animal that is brought in, regardless of available space or the animal’s condition.

Manhattan's Animal Care & Control, which is infamous for its conditions

Manhattan’s Animal Care & Control, which is infamous for its conditions

My Perspective

By now you should know that while I always strive to share authentic truths in this space, it would be dishonest of me to claim that the things I write are always without opinion or bias. I am not a journalist, reporting facts for the nightly news… this is my creative space where I attempt to share information that will interest others with similar passions and morals.

You also know by now that I adore my pets more than life itself. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do or give up to make their lives better. More importantly, I believe that the animals sitting in shelters are just as “special” as the ones who sleep soundly, curled up at my feet now, as I type this out to for all of you to read. I believe this so deeply that I reserve much of my life (financially and so far as my time and emotions) toward this cause. For anyone to say that my efforts are not made with the animals’ best interest at the forefront of my mind would be incredibly misguided.

Of course, I would love it if one day, all animal shelters were able to have 99%+ rates of release (meaning, that 99% of the animals that come into the shelter are released into loving homes, as opposed to being euthanized). With all of that being said, it might surprise you that I am not entirely in support of the No-Kill Movement. There. I said it. Now you wanna know why, right?

There are worse things than death

The reality of our world, is that many municipal and open-admission shelters are working with minimal budgets and mediocre facilities. They may operate with a miniscule staff or volunteer base. From experiences shared with me directly from employees in such shelters, animals are often kept in small cages (think of the stacked kennels you see in your veterinary office) and may or may not be walked a few times per week. Yes, you read that right… they are certainly not guaranteed even a daily walk, much less multiple times per day. There are no toys or blankets in their kennels, and kennel enrichment is a non-event. Can you imagine how quickly the dogs’ attitudes decline in such an environment? As for health care, it is procured by the local government worker, who has worked his way up, but boasts no prior experience with animals, and certainly not with veterinary care. This all may sound bad, but can I say that it is not anywhere close to one of the worst shelters in our country? If I told you which shelter it was, you would be astounded.

Don’t forget, these facilities are required to admit any animal that walks through their door. Young or old, sick or healthy, well-trained or aggressive, surrendered or ‘found’ as a stray… any animal must be accepted. Most importantly, these requirements are made regardless of space. There are only so many open kennels in any facility, and if adopters do not come through their doors, difficult decisions must be made. There is truly no other option.

None of us want to see photos like this, but they are a grim reality. This dog is available for rescue in CA.

None of us want to see photos like this, but they are a grim reality. This dog is available for rescue in CA.

It is a community problem

You may have read the above, ready to lay blame on the employees in that facility. But in reality, that does nothing. Those people are performing a thankless task, with endless stress and emotional strain, nights, weekends, and holidays, for very little financial return. Believe it or not, most of them are there because they can’t imagine walking away, and they want to make a difference for any animal they can.

The larger problem exists in our community. This large group of people who still believe that animals are disposable. This isn’t to be blamed on those of a certain ethnicity, in a specific zip code, or of a particular socio-economic status. If there are animals being killed in your community due to improper facilities, lack of homes, or lack of space, then it is a problem we are all responsible for. To me, the biggest problem with the No-Kill mentality, is that if a community has a shelter that claims to be No-Kill, what do they do when they run out of space? Regardless of a shelter’s social designations, each one is simply a collection of rooms in a building, with kennels or runs that end at some predetermined number. There is no magic button to add space! When a No-Kill shelter runs out of available room, they must turn animals away at their door. There is no other option for them, just as there is no other option for the municipal shelters. In this way, they are the same.

The difference is that when a No-Kill shelter turns away an animal, they do not know what happens to it. If it is an animal being surrendered, the owner may find another home for it or reconsider their decision. However, realistically the shelter is their last option, and so all others have been exhausted. Perhaps they take matters into their own hands, and find a way to ‘get rid’ of it, one way or another. If finances are the issue, maybe the animal starves or is neglected and denied medical attention. More positively, they may turn the animal loose or run it off, in hopes that someone will take it in. But most likely? If the animal is not admitted to the No-Kill shelter, the one that usually boasts extensive funding and eye-catching marketing tools, the animal somehow finds its way to the municipal shelter, who will not turn it away. To make room in the shelter for this new dog, space, and difficult decisions, must be made. Do you see how this comes full circle?

Because of this, I believe that until all shelters in a community, both private and municipal, are simultaneously able to boast high release rates and open-door practices, then no shelter should be able to call themselves No-Kill. Maybe these shelters don’t practice euthanasia within their walls, but if it is happening to animals in their community that they have turned away or are not able to accommodate, then they need to recognize that until they are part of the solution, they are still a part of the problem.

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A Pittsburgh night walk that raises money for local shelters

Conclusion

I am not suggesting that the No-Kill Movement is a pointless one, or that it is misguided. We have to start somewhere, and their objectives are admirable. Furthermore, I am certainly not suggesting that municipal shelters have it all right, and that euthanasia is our only option. What I am suggesting, is that instead of labeling shelters in this way, taking sides, and pointing fingers, why don’t we all start working toward the same common goal? Let’s stop labeling each other… shelters should not be designated as Kill and No-Kill. These so-called ‘No-Kill’ shelters should not be advertising themselves as such until they are able to pull all At-Risk dogs from the municipal shelters. And perhaps instead of continuing to argue advocate our own missions, we should focus on marketing our adoptable animals, as well as Spay/Neuter programs and other practices that support the eradication of unwanted pets.

I would love to hear from readers on this subject. Did you have a strong viewpoint on this subject before you read my own? If so, what was it, and has it varied at all after you read my thoughts? Are there any facts that I have missed? I look forward to input from you all!

This is the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh, our area's only Open-Admission shelter. They admirably claim not to euthanize for space reasons, and advocate very hard for the animals in their care

This is the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh, our area’s only Open-Admission shelter. They admirably claim not to euthanize for space reasons, and advocate very hard for the animals in their care

Animal Farm Foundation: Adoption Approach

Happy Sells!

There is a saying in animal rescue that ‘no one buys the loser’s T shirt’. This is in reference to sports events like the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup. Every year, paraphernalia that reflects the champion team is sold out in stores and online. While the losers are realistically only #2 in their profession, their items go unsold.

In our industry, some rescues and shelters have a tendency to approach the marketing of their animals as though they are ‘selling’ them to one another. As animal advocates, we are always interested in saving the underdog, the victim, the innocent, the project. However, the majority of our society is looking for a happy, well-adjusted animal that can be added almost effortlessly to their family. We need to consider our audience, and market our dogs accordingly. Don’t focus on a dog’s past, or make assumptions based on scarring or physical manipulations like ear-cropping… the dog who needs a home has probably recovered more quickly from enduring any supposed ordeal, than you have from imagining or hearing about it! They just want to know when lunch is! Focus on their adoptability, and all of their characteristics that should make potential adopters fight to make him or her a member of their families.

Finally, remember that there are unfortunately still individuals out there who are misguided in believing that shelter and rescue dogs are somehow ‘damaged goods,’ and less-desirable than purebred or pet store pets. By only highlighting the sob stories of our available pets, as opposed to their many appealing characteristics, we are reinforcing the negative stereotypes some hold in regards to shelter animals.

The goal for every advertisement and marketing opportunity should be to make your reader imagine how much better their life could be with a new pet in it!

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Protecting or Killing?

When it comes to adoption policies, even the most well-intentioned among us can be hurting the dogs more than we are helping them. So often, we enact policies based on rare events that may or may not ever happen. (Ex: No adoptions in the ***** area code, because many dog fighting crimes occur there.) This also occurs when shelters and rescues make blanket policies in regards to the ages of children in the home… remember, dogs can’t read birth certificates! As much as we want our dogs to be judged as individuals, we need to make sure we are offering our adopters the same opportunity. In these cases, we are ruling out an entire group of potential adopters, in order to protect our dogs from the few that might have cruel or misguided intentions. When it comes to dogs facing time-limits in open-admission shelters, these types of policies are essentially protecting the dogs to death.

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Every Application is an Opportunity

Remember to approach every adoption application with a positive attitude. A willing adopter is a potential to get a dog into a home, and out of your rescue or shelter, which opens up another spot for a dog on the street or in poor condition. If nothing else, an application that may not seem perfect at the onset may be an opportunity to educate! For example, someone who says that their dog will be left out on a chain may not understand the consequences of this. By educating them, at best you have an opportunity for them to learn and improve their approach to dog ownership. At worst, you avoid the conversation and deny the application, which causes them to go to a shelter or breeder with less stringent application processes. The dog they adopt may live its life on a chain, all because you didn’t take the time to approach the conversation. (And who’s to say that some time spent on a chain is worse than euthanasia or life in a shelter? But that is a conversation for another time…) If nothing else, their application may not be appropriate for the dog they are applying to adopt, but perhaps there is another dog in your organization that would suit their needs. Just because your dogs may be safe in your rescue or your No-Kill shelter, does not mean that there are not many other dogs facing euthanasia in shelters in your community… why is one life any more precious than the others?

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Every Adoption is a BIGGER Opportunity

By maintaining communication with your adopters, you are able to help them resolve any issues they might be facing with their new family member before it becomes a seemingly insurmountable problem. Many rescues, which often have more available resources than some municipal shelters, employ a 3 day, 3 week, and 3 month check-in policy. Furthermore, these conversations are an opportune time to advocate that they share their positive experiences with your organization with their friends and family.

Marketing

Through the grants Animal Farm Foundation makes available for marketing, many of the advertisements in this post have been made possible! There are lots of creative ways to showcase your adoptable shelter, rescue, or foster pets. In the name of finding homes for available animals, feel free to use their ideas to be inspired. Don’t get caught in the trap of selling to people like US!

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Intrigued by this post? Visit Animal Farm Foundation’s Marketing page to learn more!

Animal Farm Foundation: Mission

History

Animal Farm Foundation was founded and funded by a private individual, Jane Berkey, in 1985. A competitive dressage rider, Berkey originally intended AFF to serve as a haven for all animals, but most especially horses. She donated 25 of her 400 acres to AFF . In 1989, the focus shifted to serving dogs who were the victims of discrimination, and today, to restore the image of the pit bull dog as a member of the family. Their goal is simply that pit bull dogs be judged in accordance with all dogs, being no better or worse. A dog is a dog, after all! Because of this, AFF is careful to share their grants and programs with organizations that serve dogs of all types, not just pit bull dogs.

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This pooch was rescued from the Spindeltop hoarding and neglect case

Pit Bull Placebo

AFF believes that pit bull discrimination comes from a basis in fear. However, this fear oftentimes does not come from personal experience with a legitimate pit bull dog. Instead, it often takes place as a socially constructed image. For example, many people do not understand that pit bulls are a breed or type of dog… instead, they assume that any dog that is aggressive or vicious or dangerous is considered a pit bull. This can largely be attributed to the ignorance in some of our media ‘professionals’… every negative dog story describes the dog as a pit bull, whether or not that has any relevance. These uninformed individuals are not able to understand that there are pit bull puppies or senior pit bull dogs or pit bull family members, because the perception of a puppy or fragile senior does not align with their concept of a snarling animal. You can understand then why they would not consider adopting or embracing a dog labeled as a pit bull.

All Dogs are Individuals

One of the most interesting studies (and there were many!) that were shared with the interns during our time at AFF, was one in regards to visual breed ID. It has been proven that not only are our attempts at breed identification incorrect at least 75% of the time (yes!!) but that professionals (vets, scientists, shelter workers) cannot even agree on the breeds each dog should be identified as. This is because our personal experiences play a large role in the comparisons we draw between a dog’s appearance and their breed of origin. The problem with this? An incredibly tiny percentage of DNA determines the entire physical appearance in our dogs. Out of approximately 20,000 genes, less than 100 play a role in physical appearance. Wow!

Does this look like a golden retriever and boxer mix to you?!

Does this look like a golden retriever and boxer mix to you?!

Labeling

Aside from the obvious, what are the issues with labeling our dogs?

Well for one, it makes them disposable. Think about your favorite ‘brand’. Oftentimes, our society proudly aligns themselves with brands they use regularly (Ford, Oakley, Steelers, etc.) That may be all well and good, but if you prefer a specific brand, you probably find yourself comparing it to others by minimizing the competition. You prefer Ford because you think Dodges are unreliable. And in dogs, many well-intentioned but misguided attempts at pit bull advocacy have the speaker spouting off unfounded statements about bite statistics in pit bulls compared to Chihuahuas. To see value in our dogs, they need not be a specific breed, and we need not bash other breeds. By viewing our dogs as individuals, we can appreciate them for all that they are. Your lab might be a phenomenal dog, but that has so much more to do with his individual personality and experiences than his breeding and lineage.

Furthermore, labeling can lead to confirmation bias. Many first-time pit bull dog owners tell silly stories of bringing home their dog, and watching them cautiously, waiting for them to ‘snap’ or otherwise lash out. Of course, in these stories the dogs teach their owners a thing or two by cuddling up to them on the couch and licking them into submission, but this can end poorly. In any situation in life, if we approach with negativity and trepidation, we oftentimes set ourselves up for failure, and unintentionally cause the very events we are anticipating.

Regardless of ‘breed’ or ‘type’ of dog, false expectations can be dangerous or unfair to the animal. For example, if we assume that every lab is going to be naturally comfortable around children and have an affinity for water, we might not take the time to set the individual dog up for success through careful introduction and training. This may create a dog that has fear or anxiety issues. No breed description should be considered a fool-proof road map of a dog’s preferences, personality, or ability. These qualities are heavily influenced by environment and management. If we approach each dog as an individual, and let the animal tell us more than we assume based on their appearance, we are much more likely to wind up with a dog that is a happy member of our families, and of our society.

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Additionally, these preferences, personality traits, and abilities, have a large propensity for change over time. When Georgia came to us, she was deemed ‘aggressive’ with other animals, and we saw this with our own eyes. However, by carefully evaluating her actions (her lashing out was not in fact aggressive, but defensive based on fear and lack of comfort) we were able to manage her interactions with other dogs. She is now an entirely happy and confident member of our home, which includes 2 other dogs (one male, one female) and a cat. If we assumed that a dog’s genetic composition determines their personality traits, we would have never taken the opportunity to improve her associations with other animals… we would have assumed that her preferences were intact and not subject to change. This refutes the common animal rescuer statement that ‘it’s all in how they’re raised,‘ because it is in fact, more in how they are managed, that matters most. If we assumed that all dog behaviors were set by their genetics or their early life experiences, we would never give cruelty or neglect victims a chance, and everyone searching for a new family member would be getting their dogs from breeders. And that would be a huge problem!

As rescuers, shelter workers, and animal advocates, it is always in our best interest to be as honest as possible with potential adopters, volunteers, and the general public at large. By labeling dogs without factual knowledge of their true backgrounds, we are unintentionally being dishonest, and may be setting the dogs up for failure. Instead of meeting an adopter who wants a Golden Retriever, and providing them with dogs that match that physical description, we need to start advocating for “types” of dog. Maybe to the average dog owner, a Golden Retriever fills them with ideas of a dog who will happily play fetch and join the family on hikes, while snuggling in their childrens’ beds at night. Perhaps your shelter has 3 dogs that match this description, but who may or may not look like a Golden Retriever. In this case, you are providing the family with a variety of dog types, all of whom are more likely to be compatible with their lifestyle long-term, and giving many of your rescue or shelter residents an opportunity at a proper home. At the same time, you are doing your part to not reinforce stereotypes or set up false expectations. No breed description entitles an adopter the guarantee that a dog will act a certain way, or have specific preferences… only each individual dog can tell us that!

 

The world of animal rescue and advocacy is a huge one, and perhaps because of that, it is constantly evolving. That is a great thing for the animals, because it means that we are always being presented with new tools to improve our understanding, and become more competent at finding homes for unwanted pups, cats, rabbits, horses, etc. We have all been guilty of unintentionally spreading misinformation a time or two. What matters is that you take the time to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, and keep your own missions and morals at the forefront of your mind. Let’s make sure that when we are well-intentioned in advocating for our animals, that we are doing more GOOD than harm.

 

 

While these sentiments come from my time spent at the Animal Farm Foundation internship, any errors, omissions, or miscommunications are my own. The information comes from my own notes and understanding, but I have referenced AFF literature, and the inspiration is owed to them.

Animal Farm Foundation: The Experience

I’ve had a hard time getting started on the posts revolving around my experience at the Animal Farm Foundation Language and Advocacy Internship. There is just so much important information, some of which I haven’t even fully wrapped my head around! I will be splitting it into a few parts, for those of you interested in applying in the future, or at least improving your advocacy abilities.

I left my house in Pittsburgh early Wednesday morning, as I had 7.5 hour drive before I had to be in New York at the Animal Farm at 5:00. I was also planning to stop along the way for some puppy snuggles with some of the dogs in our rescue!

This is what the drive looked like…

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We were having torrential downpours and flash flooding! But I still looked like this:

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Because I was so excited for what the next few days would hold.

Fast forward a few hours later, and this is what I was surrounded by…

Pictures just don't do it justice

Pictures just don’t do it justice

Even though I was in a hurry and anxious to reach my destination, I couldn’t resist stopping every few miles to capture some photos of the breath-taking scenery. The area was dotted with stunning estates, farmland and horse farms.

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This was the lane pulling into the farm

This was the lane pulling into the farm

The next few pictures are of the Animal Farm Foundation property

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Agility Field

Agility Field

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All of the interns were split up between a few different houses. I was lucky enough to stay in the lake house, which was just a short drive (or long walk) from where our meetings were held each day.

This was the view from the porch on the front of our house

This was the view from the porch on the front of our house

The best part about the trip?! This adorable face!!

DSC_0006Her name is Marilyn. She is an absolute snuggle-bug with a slight giant ball obsession, and exceptional house manners. She was our house dog for the time we were there. She slept with us, and we were responsible for her care. It was so hard to say goodbye to her!

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The other interns came from all over the country. There were local visitors that drove in each day from a No-Kill shelter in Duchess County. There were rescue advocates from Cincinnati Pit Crew in OH, Pets Alive Sanctuary in NY and Pit Bull Crew in FL, as well as an education and advocacy group in Las Vegas called Incred-a-bull. Finally, there were women from municipal shelters in VA and NJ.

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It was inspiring to meet so many bright, driven, compassionate, and competent women who were passionate about the same cause as I. However, it was also at times difficult to hear the challenges and struggles they face in their endeavors with advocating and rescuing pit bull dogs… as much as I feel that I put myself in the midst of the issues in our area, it was disturbing to learn that there are so many locations where pit bull dogs face much worse discrimination and difficulty.

However, if there is one thing I learned during my time at Animal Farm Foundation, it is that we must always focus on the positive. If this is just a small sampling of the individuals who are advocating for pit bull dogs, then it is just a matter of time before discriminatory tendencies are a thing of the past!

This post has highlighted the overview of the experience, but in the next few posts I will paraphrase the actual content and information that Caitlin from AFF shared with us. This trip was immensely educational, and part of my goal was to be able to convey the things I learned to all of you. So please stay tuned!