Power trips

“National Affair”: I don’t watch the Ellen DeGeneres show, but I know people who do. There’s this whole controversy (probably over by now) over a dog she adopted from a pet adoption agency, decided she couldn’t keep, and unwittingly gave to some friends in violation of an adoption contract. Agency showed up at friends’ house and (supposedly) ripped dog away from sad children who wanted the dog. Ellen made an on-the-air fuss; she wants to use power of TV show to guilt adoption agency to yield the dog back to the kids; meanwhile, idiots are calling with death threats to the adoption agency owner, blah blah. People I know who watch the show seem equally disgusted with Ellen’s and adoption agency’s behavior (to the point where one of them is considering a switch to Oprah, a real Catch-22 if there ever was one).

I’m just wondering how it came to pass that Americans became such bossy control freaks with each other about children and pets both. There is sometimes paranoid talk about how America is primed for a totalitarian takeover in the future, but there are plenty of individual citizens who already really get off on telling each other what to do. Whatever happened to going to the pound and picking out a dog, for example? I can understand paying mandatory fees for neutering and puppy shots, but what’s with this adoption-agency power trip where you need a home inspection, personal evaluation, your vet history has to be reviewed, and where children under 14 aren’t to be trusted with dogs? My family members have had multiple pets for 40 years and yet I don’t think we’d pass muster with some of these people. Is this just a phase American society is going through? Because honestly I don’t see where this legalistic attitude toward life and lack of trust in one’s fellow citizens makes for a sustainable society.

As for Ellen, using a TV show disingenuously as a bully pulpit for one’s own bullying is the crudest tactic around. Which is why I’m delighted that Stephen Colbert has (apparently) decided to run for president, at least in South Carolina, his home state. Has he really? No one’s quite sure, and uncertainty of course is the nuclear fuel rod at the heart of Colbert’s satire. On one hand, this is a really serious election in a time of bloody and insane war where people are dying needlessly every day. On the other hand – and perhaps this says too much about me – the prospect of Colbert possibly being able to blow apart the entire presidential election charade the way he blew apart the White House Press Association Dinner fills me with giddy anticipation. It is wise and prudent of Colbert to limit himself to South Carolina, as this is both Pure Comedy Gold and Pure Political Plutonium. However broken the process, we must take it seriously. Which is why I’m glad he’s starting in S.C., which is probably where he can do the most damage. See this NYT story for things we’re already learning about the nomination process just because he’s declared.

12 thoughts on “Power trips

  1. sean

    hey, nyco. remember this column? in the end, the dog did not go back. but readers went berserk; there was a flood of reaction.


    The Post-Standard
    Monday, December 13, 2004
    COLUMN: Sean Kirst, The Post-Standard

    The emotional dispute over Lenny the greyhound leads us to look to readers for their wisdom. Since the dog itself cannot tell us what it wants, we ask you to read the tale and to offer a solution:

    For more than eight months, from late March into November, Lenny lived with Bill and Maryanne Grady of Lathrop Road in Geddes. If the Gradys sound familiar, it is because of the bad fortune they experienced last winter: Their dog, Hunter, a 10-year-old Labrador retriever, was killed in their back yard by a sheet of ice that slid off the roof.

    The Gradys, bereaved, turned down some offers of Labrador puppies. They chose instead to adopt a greyhound, a retired racing animal. The Gradys say they’d heard wonderful things about the greyhound disposition, and they contacted Greyhound Outreach of Central New York, whose members do presentations and screenings before matching dogs with potential owners.

    On March 3, the Gradys signed a contract with Greyhound Outreach. The first written provision demands that the owner keep “a leash on your greyhound whenever it is outdoors, unless it is in a fenced-in area. NEVER ‘trust’ it not to run away.” The Gradys were then matched with Lenny, whose racing days were done.

    “His nose was literally on your hip wherever you went,” said Bill, describing the bond the couple built with the dog. Bill said he paid $240 to Greyhound Outreach to cover adoption expenses. Between putting up a new fence in the yard and taking Lenny to the veterinarian to get a tumor removed, the Gradys estimate they spent at least $1,600 on the dog.

    Maryanne said they taught Lenny to fetch and to play in the grass. Bill returned to the routine he’d enjoyed with Hunter: He took Lenny for walks at Westcott Reservoir or other open areas. Once he was comfortable with the dog, Bill said, he sometimes cheated on the no-leash rule, allowing the dog to go free while Lenny did “his business” in a little woods. On at least two occasions, when that happened, Lenny took off and ran home.

    In November, Lenny ran again. This time, he disappeared.

    The Gradys organized a search party of friends and relatives. They say they called a woman with Greyhound Outreach the following morning, and that they did not receive a return call until the day after that. Wendy Case, a founder of the group, disputes the timing of the Gradys’ call.

    While the contract demands that an owner contact the group immediately if a dog is lost, Case said it took the Gradys two days to call, which she said gave the dog time to cover a lot of ground.

    In any event, a group of roughly 70 local men and women that Case describes as “the greyhound community” took up the hunt. They distributed fliers, put an advertisement in the paper and began daily searches of areas close to reported sightings.

    Late last month, 11 days after Lenny vanished, the Greyhound Outreach searchers found the dog hiding in a shed near Howlett Hill Road. Lenny was emaciated, Case said, and needed care from a vet. Board members from the Greyhound group talked by telephone, and they discussed what Grady had said about the dog being off-leash.

    Case said the rule offers no room for compromise. During adoption meetings, she said, potential owners are told that greyhounds run so far and so fast that one time off-leash can be fatal to the dog. The board members chose to uphold the letter of the contract. They made sure Lenny was secure in a new home, and they decided against returning the dog to the Gradys.

    “They’re good people, but the sense I get from the way he told us he let (Lenny) run is that a greyhound is not the breed for him,” Case said of Bill Grady.

    The Gradys say they never got a call telling them Lenny was safe. Maryanne found out when a parking lot attendant who had seen her flier for the dog, an attendant who had a connection to someone in the greyhound group, stopped her and said, “I heard they found your dog.” Her husband began calling members of Greyhound Outreach, until Bill learned in a phone conversation that he and Maryanne weren’t getting Lenny back.

    At that point, the Gradys sought help from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office. Greyhound Outreach turned Lenny’s contract over to a law firm, Rivette & Rivette. Bill and Maryanne Grady say they can’t afford to go to court, and they say they’d know better than to ever again allow the dog off the leash.

    What they want, they say, is Lenny.

    “Bill may have made a mistake (but) Lenny was a happy, content and loved grey,” Maryanne wrote in an e-mail last week. She maintained some members of the greyhound group “let their egos … get in the way (because they want) to teach a lesson.”

    Wendy Case responds that none of it is personal. She said her group, in the past, has returned lost greyhounds to responsible owners. With Bill Grady, Case said, “I didn’t see any remorse. It sounds as if he enjoyed letting the dog run loose, and, if you do that, the day will come when they don’t come back.”

    Readers, please respond: Should the Gradys get another chance?

    Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard. To offer your thoughts on this column, e-mail him at citynews@syracuse.com or write him in care of The Post-Standard at Clinton Square, Syracuse 13221.

  2. Ellen

    Threecollie – You seem to speak as one who has three collies. (although, I could be wrong…)

    Sean – yes I remember the column and I also remember the poor dog who got killed by the ice because it was just one more sad story in an unusually rough winter.

    I thought the greyhound’s new owner was very unwise to let a new dog off the leash (repeatedly!), regardless of breed. A little hard to paint him as an “everydogowner.” Most responsible dog owners are not that reckless.

    Still, it seems to me that when you adopt a dog from this local greyhound club, they need to make it more crystal clear what the deal really is – that you’re not just adopting a dog, you’re now considered (contractually?) a “member” of the “local greyhound community” or perhaps a member of a “greyhound owner’s association” (like a homeowner’s association and all that entails). I think that concept is pretty alien to most people – around here, anyway – and mere existence of a contract may not be enough to clue them in to that.

    Personally, to such an arrangement, I say “Nice dogs, but no thanks.” A lifelong relationship with a pet requires a lot of judgment and commitment – I’m not sure I can take on an instant relationship with 70 people too. And “A man’s dog is his best friend” seems second only to “A man’s home is his castle.” Should that bond be regulated by a committee?

  3. JS

    i remember memories of when dogs didn’t need to be leashed all the time. i put it in the fond memories of leaving your door unlocked.

    where i live, it’s more cruel to keep a dog leashed. i think the fact that communities emotionally demand that all dogs be leashed if not fenced is a sign of cultural decline. this excepts more aggressive dogs.

    but there used to be a day, that thankfully still exists in some parts of the country, that you could judge the nature of a dog, and decide whether to keep him or her leashed.

    the thinking that a dog must be always leashed, i’d argue, is only a few steps away from that insane dog adoption group. i mean, how many dogs are euthanized due to those incredibly difficult, control and power based rules!?!?! it’s insane.

    and we just went through the same thing, in a different state. insane control freakish people at the dog adoption place, who incidentally, every time i went there, only saw cages full of dog excrement (with the dogs walking through and their paws covered in it) and empty water dishes. and i was there probably 6 different times over the course of a month. a person there even pretended to be a veterinarian, lying to my wife!!! when i had our vet called the other “vet” to ask about the dog’s background, because this SPCA had refused to provide ANY detail, the answer he got was, “there is no vet here by that name.” oddly, when i picked up the dog, the lady who had repeatedly claimed she was vet, was the lady who gave me the dog. i decided it wasn’t worth the time or effort, especially since it’d probably put her on a power trip to take back our dog, the best guy around.

    so here’s a question…would you call state services on this person, blatantly pretending to be a veterinarian?!

    but either way, the insanity of dog adoption today, i think, reflects deeper truths about our culture and where we’re going.

  4. Taylor Made

    My wife and I were the rescue folks for a breed for NY and NJ for a number of years — it became too exhausting and emotionally draining. Basically we dealt with two types of dogs: abused and mistreated dogs and shameful castoffs by breeders that were rejected by their so-called owners. An ethical and responsible breeder ALWAYS takes back a dog. The folks running backyard kennels, pet stores, puppy mills, etc. do not do this. Please note — backyard breeders saying that their puppies are from X Champion or Y Champion is meaningless — they are not in the sport.

    Rescue calls basically came around Christmas — from folks that were to freakin’ cheap to buy a decent dog from a breeder. Note most breeders are selling their castoffs — and should have a spay/neuter clause in the contract — the ethical ones make certain the dog is not able to breed. There are plenty of purebred dogs to go around — most of the dogs in a litter are not necessarily show quality. We were stringent in terms of conditions — dogs did not go to homes without fences and yes…the leash requirement as in owners NEEDED to walk their dogs on a leash because the type of dog we rescued love to bolt.

    We always talked with the other folks vet — because frankly we did not want to have to go and rescue the dog again. We invested a ton of money, time and patience and refused to let a dog go to a bad house. BTW we still have a number of dogs — they are crippled and lame and are unadoptable. They should never have been bred — currently we have a dog who is crippled and cannot control his bowels — that is the kind of dog we still keep in our house.

    So if you wonder why folks are kinda crazy that deal with rescue dogs…well imagine what we’ve done, the several thousands of dollars expended on behalf of those dogs, and the countless hours trying to get the dog to no longer have a peeing or biting reflex — ponder the above along with recognizing that animals have rights and well……it may give you some idea of what people who rescue think……and why we are so crazy.

  5. Ellen

    Taylor Made: I appreciate what you do. I’ve also seen firsthand how hard it is to care for a “downer” dog that is still getting some enjoyment out of life. It’s like completing a Ph.D. in pet ownership as far as I’m concerned (not a masterclass I’d seek out, but sometimes it finds you)

    To me, the key is that people in dog rescue really need to be good at sizing up adopters. Sounds like you do the homework — and that’s got to be better than “repossessing” a dog.

  6. Ellen

    I now have a part-time dog in the house (who is actually my sister’s dog… she coincidentally adopted a second dog, a mutt, just today – no contract either! )

    But my own family dog was put to sleep in January and had slowly progressing paralysis for a couple years, so I know some of what Taylor Made is talking about.

  7. Robinia

    Well, here on the coyote ranch, we have a completely different attitude about these things. That, of course, may be partly explained by my allergies to dogs, and my daughter’s recent experience in Brooklyn of being badly bitten by a pit bull, whose owner circumvented both leash laws and the bolting problem by letting her dog up on the block’s interconnected roofs to defecate without leash or supervision. The human (my daughter) could no more run than the dog could up there, so, she will have scar tissue and mangled muscle the rest of her life.

    Attitude re: canines. Rather than breed and train and chain and fence, why not let them have their own society and do their own thing? That approach here on the coyote ranch has meant that we have superior deer, rodent and stray cat control (control, not erradication– they only take the weak) on our property, and the thrill of hearing and, every once in a while, seeing, magnificent animals living in the way they want to live, as a part of a functioning ecosystem. Humans, it is not all about you, you know. If you get lonely, go visit a nursing home– they will love you as quickly as a mutt would.

    Add to that the fact that our human society has homeless and hungry children, old people, infirm people, and veterans going uncared for every day, and the idea of devoting substantial energy to the breeding, training, controlling, and then the “rescue” of pets from other humans who have been allowed to develop hearts hard enough to walk by the suffering of their fellows… well, it seems a bit of misplaced priorities.

    But, don’t mind me… I don’t watch TV, either. Clearly poorly socialized…. which might explain the joy I find in hearing the coyotes carrying on their society unmolested by the global Ubermeisters.

  8. Mrs. Mecomber

    I hear the Planned DogOwnerHood mantra and see the picketer’s signs before me:

    “Every dog a wanted dog.”

    “A dog’s rights to a happy healthy home.”

    “We’re not owners, we’re guardians.”

  9. DD

    I’m all for Greyhound Outreach taking the dog back for good. You who don’t agree know NOTHING about greyhounds on the track, transport to rescue groups all over the country, assembly lines with tens of volunteers to vet the dogs, give them names, leashes, and collars, move them into foster homes, and find them adoptive homes that FOLLOW the CONTRACT and take the mandatory advice NOT to ever let them go offleash. And those who don’t understand or respect this really don’t deserve ANY dog!

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