HSWM Project B.A.R.C. volunteer among missionaries killed in Haiti

I was so sorry to read a Facebook post from the Humane Society of West Michigan regarding the deaths of four missionaries from west Michigan, who were killed in a car accident in Haiti  on Friday.

One of the accident victims was a member of the HSWM volunteer staff who worked with the kids at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center on Project B.A.R.C. Here’s the post from HSWM:

We were deeply saddened to receive the news last night of the 4 victims involved in the accident in Haiti. Matt Kutsche, one of the victims, was one of our Project B.A.R.C. volunteers. Through his volunteer work, he not only helped many of our dogs but he made a tremendous impact on the residents in the program. Matt was a very dedicated volunteer who helped many young men at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center learn how to train and treat dogs. His enthusiasm, dedication and inspiration will be deeply missed.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the friends and family of Matt and the other victims in this tragic accident.

Project B.A.R.C. works with detention center youth (they must apply for the position, just as they would apply for a job) to train select dogs (they, too, must meet criteria) from HSWM. It’s a win-win in that the kids learn responsibility, unconditional love and much more, while the newly trained dog becomes more attractive to potential adoptive owners.

The Project B.A.R.C. program is featured in the latest issue of Dogs Unleashed magazine.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Matt’s family, including his family at HSWM and the juvenile detention center, and families and friends of all the victims.


Dog lovers, take note: “Running Dogs” in the running for ArtPrize

Kent Ambler has been running with dogs most of his life. Beginning Sept. 19, he’s hoping the hundreds of thousands of ArtPrize visitors will do the same.

Ambler, a native of northwest Indiana now living in Greenville, S.C., will be displaying his “Running Dogs” exhibit at DeVos Place Convention Center in this year’s ArtPrize, which runs from Sept. 19-Oct. 7.

Running Dogs features 100 dogs painted on wood panels. The dogs, Ambler said, are an interpretation of those he and his wife, Peggy, have owned throughout the years, as well as dogs he has sketched while visiting friends, relatives and animal shelters.

“I’ve had dogs since I was born,” Ambler said in a phone interview. “These are an amalgamation of all the different dogs I’ve had, or friends dogs and whatnot. They’re based on a boxy-looking Shar Pei mix. I made templates sketched out from old drawings and I use the basic shapes of dogs.

“When I paint them, it’s more intuitive. I don’t know when I start how it will look when I’m finished. I just start painting the cutout panels I’ve made… it’s not based solely on dog XYZ, it’s an intuitive approach.”

Each dog panel — Ambler uses 15 different templates of dogs he has sketched over the years before painting — is about 30 inches wide by 18 inches high. His exhibition space is 7 feet high by 60 feet long. Each dog will “float” and inch or so off the wall of a corridor at DeVos. Ambler installed the piece on Sept. 4 and will be returning for the private ArtPrize Artist  party on Sept. 16.

He’s hoping he has to return Oct. 5, when the Top Ten vote-getters are announced. Should Ambler win the grand prize of $200,000, he plans to help out — what else? — dogs. Aside from expanding his current studio, Ambler said he will donate $10,000 to the ASPCA and also will help out a few dog rescues in the Greenville area with cash donations.

With 1,517 artists competing at 162 venues this year, Ambler said he’s optimistic about his location.

“I combed through all the venues and found about 12 that would work for my exhibit,” Ambler said. “So, I made my profile and connected with the venues. Of the 12 I selected, six declined, so then it was sort of a waiting game. Finally, I heard from DeVos Place Convention Center and it worked out.”

Last year’s ArtPrize winner, Mia Tavonatti‘s mosaic “Crucifixion,” had DeVos Place as its venue.

“It’s a huge space, and there’s a good thing about being in a space like that,” Ambler said. “It has multiple artists. There are 54 artists in there, and people tend to go to venues where they can see a bunch of things rather than a restaurant where there might be one thing there and they had to walk eight blocks to see it.

“Hopefully, it works to my benefit.”

Ambler, whose work is featured in galleries in Asheville, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.;, Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Vicksburg, Miss., among others in the southwest, also works with woodcuts, block constructs and sculpture, He said he usually attends festivals and shows within an 8-hour radius of his home, but once a year goes outside those boundaries.

Last year, he did Madison, Wis. Next year, he’s hoping to make it to a festival in Kalamazoo in June. This year, it’s ArtPrize.

Ambler has recruited one of his three dogs, Grubby, to help him get out the vote. Grubby has his own Twitter account (@GrubbytheDog) and has taken over Ambler’s Facebook page. A postcard Ambler had made for the event features a photo of Grubby telling people about Running Dogs, including the code to vote via text for it, and about ArtPrize in general.

Grubby, a mixed breed who is part Shar Pei by the looks of him, is 9. He was adopted from a shelter, as were his “sister” dogs, Spooky and Pixie. Spooky, a 4-year-old mix, likely also is part Shar Pei. Pixie, who is 2, is anybody’s guess.

“She’s about 30 pounds, but it’s a dense 30 pounds, like with a Jack Russell,” Ambler said. “But she’s black and brown, and she’s got that curly tail, so it’s hard to say what she is.”


Grubby, with artist Kent Ambler’s wife, Peggy (left), Pixie (center) and Spooky.

Hey, Grand Rapids: Do UC Pawz? What gives?

I’ve been seeing Facebook posts the past couple of days various animal lovers/advocates I’m friends with. They’re leading me — and their other Facebook friends, I would presume — to visit a website, icpawz.com.

Because I trust the people who posted them, I went to the site. (Don’t worry, it’s not some sort of virus … I tested!)

Have you seen these on Facebook or, better yet, around Grand Rapids?

Today, the Facebook post includes a photo. It shows the yellow paw print/logo that’s featured on the website, but it’s drawn in chalk on a sidewalk near Aberdeen Park. I suspect the paws are elsewhere in GR but haven’t been “in the city” for a few days.

Anyone around Grand Rapids seeing these yellow paw prints? Take photos and share them with Press Unleashed (send to photos@pressunleashed.com), including where you spotted them, or “like” the Press Unleashed Facebook page and share them there.

And be sure to check out the icpawz.com site. There’s a countdown, presumably to when this mystery will be unveiled. Not sure what else will show up in the coming days, but I’m sure my Facebook friends will keep me posted, so to speak.

I’ll admit it, they’ve piqued my curiosity. I wonder how many are out there and what they mean. Is Rob Bliss at it again? Has Grand Rapids gone to the dogs? Stay tuned.


First-round voting ends this week in Erhardt’s ‘Building Our Community’ contest

I have received a few emails and noticed several Facebook posts asking for my vote in the “Building Our Community” contest. Erhardt Construction is celebrating its 50th Anniversary by joining project partners to give away a construction project and prizes totaling $50,000 to West Michigan non-profit organizations.

Among the 60 non-profits who sought votes in the contest, which began June 18, are four organizations whose mission is to reduce pet overpopulation and promote adoption from shelters and rescues: C-SNIP, Crash’s Landing, Harbor Humane Society and the Humane Society of West Michigan.

Until now, vote totals could be viewed by the public. This week, however, voters will not be able to see which organization is among the leaders. It is the final week of voting, so if you haven’t already, I encourage you to register and vote for your non-profit organization. You may vote once per day.

Press Unleashed has not weighed in on the contest to ask support for any particular organization for good reason. With so many dedicated hard-working non-profits in our community, I can’t possibly single one out.

I think all of those entered, whether related to pets or not, are deserving of the grand prize, $45,000 toward a construction or renovation project. I know all of them struggle to raise that kind of funding, and I know all would put the prize to good use.

The first round of voting ends Friday. On Monday, July 16, the top five vote-getters will be announced. Voting among those top five begins July 23 and continues until Aug. 17. The grand prize winner of the $45,000 toward the construction will be announced Aug. 23.

The other four finalists will receive cash donations: $2,000 for the first runner-up, $1,500 for second runner-up and $1,000 each for the final two finalists.

It’s not too late to vote for your favorite non-profit. And once the top five is announced, it’s my hope you will continue voting, whether your favorite organization is among them or not.

Here’s more information on the animal-related entries, and how they would benefit from the money toward a construction project (be sure to check out more detailed information, including photos and videos, on the Erhardt’s voting page):

C-SNIP (Community Spay/Neuter Initiative Partnership)

C-SNIP, a non-profit spay/neuter clinic, has performed over 88,000 surgeries since its opening providing high quality, low cost spays and neuters for pet owners in the community not able afford to have their pets altered through a private veterinarian. C-SNIP and its rescue partners provide transportation services for clients unable to bring their pets to the clinic for surgery. A GARAGE to provide an enclosed area for the safety of the transported cats and dogs and a safe place for staff to clean as well as a protected area for the vehicles is a real necessity. Presently, the dogs and cats are unloaded at our back door regardless of weather conditions (rain, snow, sleet, extreme heat). Not only does this create a hazard it also presents a safety issue as transported animals could escape from their leashes or carriers during drop-off and loading. Also, staff has to wash, clean, and sterilize crates and carriers every day. The only area available is outside and this is a major hardship especially in the winter and rainy seasons.

 Crash’s Landing

Our greatest need is an addition for a medical treatment room. 85% of the cats we take in are sick or injured. Our founder, veterinarian Dr. Jen Petrovich nurses the cats back to health and then we find them fur-ever homes. An on-site treatment room will allow us to provide top-notch medical care in a hospital-like setting. It will prevent the spread of infection, reduce stress on the cats and decrease medical costs as we serve the community by reducing the numbers of homeless pets in our area.

Harbor Humane Society

 A leaky roof. Structural damage. Pets confined to small spaces. These are all problems facing Harbor Humane Society. But, if fixed, they would allow us to provide more secure and ample housing for the animals in our care, more appropriate quarantine, surgical and recovery areas, and more healthy and adoptable animals to the public at a faster pace. Vote to help us help the animals and build our community together.

Humane Society of West Michigan

Humane Society of West Michigan seeks to improve our cat viewing sanctuary to increase adoptions by creating an environment for our cats that allow them to be happier & healthier. Kittens & cats should have sufficient room to stretch their full body length; a safe hiding place when stressed; freedom from dog view & noise; space to jump, climb & run; resting surfaces; & space for playing with toys. Happy cats provide adopters with social support, stress relief & health benefits.


Freaked over fireworks? Here’s a natural alternative to keep your canine calm

We’ve all seen the posts from our Facebook friends:

“Fido is shaking and panting! He hates thunderstorms!”

“Boo Boo won’t come out from under the bed. She hates thunderstorms!”

“Our neighbors lit off fireworks. Our Lab, Murphy, went berserk and tore up our couch!”

Courtesy image

Many friends swear by Thundershirt, which uses gentle, constant pressure to calm your dog. Others say it doesn’t have much effect on their dog.

I discovered an alternative while surfing online, just in time to order some for the July 4 fireworks (Stuart, our Jack Russell, is quite anxious when it comes to fireworks and thunderstorms).

The product is called Canine Calm, and it’s a spray mist made of all natural ingredients, including pure essential oils such as lavender, tangerine and geranium.

The maker of Canine Calm, Earth Heart, is running a “buy one get one free” special right now. Those ordering via earthheartinc.com/ by July 1 can type ShareTheCalm into the promotion code area and get a second bottle free. The idea is to give the second bottle to  a friend with a fireworks-phobic dog. (I know a few).

Vicki Rae Thorne, Earth Heart founder, assured me those ordering by July 1 will receive it in time for the fireworks. I ordered Monday and it was shipped out the same day. I plan to give it a try with Stuart since we’re expecting thunderstorms later this week.

Thorne, based in Dundee, Ill., recommends misting your fingertips with Canine Calm and then applying it to your dog’s ear tips. One or both ear tips is fine, she said.

“There are a lot of blood vessels in the ears, and applying the mist there allows you to get it into the bloodstream quickly,” Thorne said in a phone interview. “It also keeps you from overwhelming their sense of smell. It’s a very diluted solution so as not to overwhelm a dog and it can be applied as often as needed to any size dog.”

It also can be sprayed into your car or dog crate for traveling, even if you’re only headed to the vet or the groomer’s. Thorne told me her product has a 90 percent-plus success rate. She said the reason it may not appear to work on some dogs is simply because the owner isn’t using enough, or isn’t using it often enough.

“Sometimes a little dog might need just one spray, or it might need four,” she said. “Sometimes, a big dog might need one spray, or it might need six or eight. It depends on the individual dog — the size, the age, the health, the level of anxiety.”

Thorne also recommends spraying a bit of the mist on yourself (it won’t stain or leave a residue) and being around your dog during a normal, calm period when first trying it.

“Spritz your shirt or your hand and hang out with your dog,” Thorne said. “You can then see how your dog responds to the scent. If your dog starts to relax even more in a calm non-stressful situation, you’ll have an indication of how long it takes to take effect. You’ll also bond the dog with the scent. It will be a comforting scent to them when you go to use it again.”

She said it typically takes 10 to 20 minutes for Canine Calm to have an effect. Try using it  the moment your dog starts behaving anxiously because of an impending thunderstorm, Thorne said.

“Your dog’s behavior changes when there’s a thunderstorm coming,” she said. “They might pant, pace, whimper or hide. You can apply it right at that moment, and they’ll quiet down before the storm hits.”

Because it’s made of essential oils, Canine Calm is safe for you and your dog.

“I started my company working in aroma therapy in 1992,” she said. “At the time, I had a 5-year-old and I was pregnant with my second child. I started working with pure essential oils, which are very concentrated, and I needed to be sure they were safe, with me being pregnant and with a 5-year-old.  Our main goal since the beginning is that everything has to be family friendly.”

Canine Calm may not be for everyone wearing fur, Thorne said.

“It can be used in limited capacity with cats,” she said. “A cat’s skin is different from a dog’s. It’s physiology is different. It is OK for occasional use with extremely diluted products. If a cat freaks out when you’re trying to put it in a cage to take to the vet once or twice a year, spraying Canine Calm on a blanket in the cat carrier will help reduce stress. One spritz is going to help a cat a lot more than stressing it out. I don’t recommend it for cats on a daily basis, but it doesn’t hurt them to be around it or to use it with them a couple times a year.”

Thorne said she has had customers who told her Canine Calm did nothing to ease their dog’s anxiety.

“Some people use it in combination with a Thundershirt or herbal remedy,” Thorne said. “Some say it didn’t work at all. At $11.98 a bottle, that’s about two cents per spray, so it can be one of the least expensive things you do for your dog. If it works for you, it’s a very low investment.”

Canine Calm is in about 200 retail stores now, although none in Michigan at the moment. Thorne didn’t even take it to the retail market until a few years ago, and said it’s “flying off the shelves” in the Chicago area.

“I have been working with aromatherapy, massage oils and body care products since 1992,” Thorne said. “About 12 years ago, a kennel owner took a class from me and asked if I could help in calming down her dogs. That’s when Canine Calm was born, to use in her kennels. After about two years she came in and said her customers wanted to take it home with them, that they loved how calm their dogs were when they picked them up from the kennel.

“So, we came up with the mist, and it started selling locally and was spreading by word of mouth. It got picked up by a distributor and I bought my first ad about 2 1/2 years ago. It has started to take off.”

BISSELL Blocktail sets records for fundraising, attendance

BISSELL’s Blocktail Party crushed its previous attendance record … for people and dogs. (Mary Ullmer photo)

Talk about going to the dogs! This year’s BISSELL Blocktail Party, held Wednesday night at Mangiamo! in Grand Rapids, easily was the biggest in its 7-year history. Continue reading

All Things Considered, story of missing corgi Andy deserved a few minutes of time on NPR

It’s likely NPR‘s wonderful afternoon program “All Things Considered” will receive some negative feedback regarding Thursday’s story on the search for Andy, the corgi who went missing in Connecticut on New Year’s eve.

Andy, who ran off New Year's eve, is still missing in Connecticut.

Before the story from WSHU in Fairfield, Conn., was broadcast, NPR’s website posted a written preview, and a few of the comments took shots, questioning why the respected public radio program would do a story about a missing dog when there are so many other things in the world we should be concerned about. Some blamed Andy’s owners for not having him on a leash as they sat by a bonfire with friends. (Andy and his owners, from Massachusetts, were visiting friends in Connecticut when a neighbor shot off fireworks, which sent Andy running). Others questioned why missing people don’t get as much exposure.

I, for one, love the fact that NPR did the story. I know many of my Facebook friends, most of whom I’ve never met, are glad, too. And many of us support public radio through their spring and fall pledge drives.

We started following Andy’s story the day it happened. Our corgi, Truman, is in a Facebook fraternity of sorts, which dubs itself “Corgi Nation.” Thousands of corgi owners across the country — the world, actually, since friends are in Canada, Russia, Australia, England, New Zealand, etc. — are part of this group.

My partner, Truman’s alter ego, spotted the post about Andy’s disappearance and immediately got involved. Soon, hundreds, then thousands, were following the posts by Andy’s owners. The posts became a page, “Bring Andy Home.”

Weeks went by with daily updates. Andy’s owners, Jordina and Michael Ghiggeri, were not about to give up searching for their little lost dog. They printed fliers, took out newspaper ads, went door-to-door. People they never met volunteered to help in the search. Night-vision cameras were purchased, a pet detective was brought in.

And Corgi Nation, without any solicitation from Jordina or Michael, stepped up to help. Online auctions, where people donated artwork, services, dog items, books, anything of value, fetched enough money to help bring in the pet detective from out of state and to purchase more cameras.

Andy has been sighted on these cameras, and the pet detective’s dogs have picked up his scent. He’s hanging around a particular area, but he has been on the loose so long that he is frightened of people (and probably many other things) and has been incredibly elusive. But Jordina and Michael have not given up hope. Nor have the thousands of followers — friends — on Facebook.

While Corgi Nation has been aware of this story for quite some time, NPR helped bring it to the masses. We only wish it had the power to Bring Andy Home.


A lesson learned, the hard way, about restraint when it comes to traveling with pets

I debated for a good week on whether or not to write about this. What convinced me? A couple of things:

1. A good friend told the Facebook world of a pretty silly thing she had done — basically trying to get into a car after stopping traffic and realizing it wasn’t her husband who had come to pick her up but a complete stranger. If she’ll admit to nearly carjacking someone by mistake, how bad can my little incident be?

2. This morning, one of the many websites regarding pets to which I subscribe took on the topic of travel and restraining your pets (dogs) in the car. It’s a rather long blog post on Life With Dogs by Dr. Jason Nicholas, but well worth reading.

Stuart's days of roaming unrestrained in the car are over (but I had to shoot his picture to prove a point).

After checking out the blog post, I figured it’s as good a time as any to share my rather embarrassing episode.

We do not often travel with our pets, except to the vet or perhaps to my dad’s land in Montague, where they can exhaust themselves in his 10 acres of woods. On the rare occasions the dogs do travel with us, we have not used restraints.

Such was the case last week, when I was taking our Jack Russell terrier, Stuart, to a photo shoot at Kendra Stanley-Mills‘ studio. She was photographing some products for an upcoming publication, and Stuart was going to model one of the items.

You must understand that, in our household, getting one dog into the car is a bit tricky when the others want to come along. This day, I lured the dogs into the garage and opened the car door. Stuart hopped in and I shut the door. I was then able to lure the others back into our “mud room” connecting the garage to the house, rather easily, I might add. In fact, I commented out loud to myself, “Wow. That was easier than I thought.”

Lo and behold, when I returned to the garage to get in the car, Stuart, unrestrained, had hit the automatic locks on the car doors. With the keys in the car. I panicked. I didn’t know where the extra set of keys were. But I did notice the driver’s side window was cracked a bit. My arm is skinny enough, I figured, so I squeezed it in, struggling at the elbow, and managed to reach down to the door handle. To my amazement, I was able to open the door.

Unfortunately, may maneuver triggered the car alarm, which sent Stuart bounding from the back seat to the front, against the windows and every which way. The blaring high-pitched alarm also sent the dogs waiting in the mud room into a tizzy. I panicked again.

To make matters worse, my arm was now stuck in the window and I couldn’t get to the keys. I struggled, dangling from outside the car, to free my arm. After about 30 seconds, which seemed like 30 minutes, I began to weigh my options. Cutting off my arm like the hiker in “127 Hours” wasn’t one of them. Nor was breaking the window, since I had only one arm free and couldn’t reach anything. Finally, I gritted my teeth and yanked my arm with all my might, freeing it from the window and door. I leaped into the car and grabbed my keys, hitting the button to silence the alarm.

My arm, not to mention my ego, sported a nice bruise after the incident.

Stuart jumped from the car and into the garage. Going for a “ride” suddenly didn’t seem like much fun to him. I managed to swoop him up and put him back in the car, and we were on our way. After the big adventure, Stuart sat perfectly still in the car and was well-behaved during the photo shoot, the first he’d ever done.

Me? My ego, and my arm, were bruised from my stupidity. As someone who writes about pets, I should know better.

I made a couple of notes to self: A. Do not ever put the dog into the car when the keys are in it and B. Get restraints to buckle the dogs in our vehicles and avoid the many mishaps, which could be far worse than my silly little alarm incident,  that can occur. I only hope others will take note of this as well.

Details on adoption process released for seized puppy mill dogs in Allegan County

The Allegan Shelter Facebook page posted a message Friday afternoon with a link to a list  of additional shelters that have taken in dogs from a puppy mill/hoarding situation this week.

One of the small mixed breed dogs from the Allegan County seizure this week who soon will be available for adoption. (Allegan Shelter photo)

The link takes readers to an Allegan County Animal Shelter home page, which now is different from the shelter’s Petfinder page. Those seeking information on adopting one of the small breed dogs, or any other dog, from the Allegan shelter can fill out an online application and learn more about the process from the home page.

Allegan County’s page also refers potential adopters to the many shelters and rescue groups that took in dogs because of the limited capacity at Allegan. It also provides links to those groups. Nearly 320 dogs of mixed breeds, Shih Tzus mixed with Pomeranian, Papillon, Maltese and Yorkies, were transported to other temporary facilities.

The folks at Allegan County also cautioned people to be patient with the process:

Due to the limited capacity of the Allegan Animal Shelter, we have moved approximately 320 Shih Tzus to other shelters and private rescue groups both locally and through out Michigan. The following is a partial list of those organizations. At this time, you must contact them directly for information about adopting a Shih Tzu that was taken from our shelter. Please be patient. It is very likely that the majority of these organizations will impose a 10-day quarantine before adopting out these dogs to insure their health.

I’d love to hear from any Press Unleashed readers who happen to bring one of these dogs into a loving forever home. Feel free to check out my contact information and e-mail me.

It’s only the beginning for Allegan County dogs rescued from deplorable conditions

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard a blurb on television saying that more than 350 dogs had been seized from a property in Allegan County was, “They’re going to need a lot of help.”

Many of the small dogs seized and brought to the Allegan County Animal Shelter were covered in feces and filth, and cleanup began immediately. (WOOD TV8 photo)

Judging from the photos and video on WOOD-TV’s website, I was right. Fortunately, many West Michigan area veterinarians and volunteers lined up to aid in the initial intake of the dogs, most of which were Pomeranians and Shih Tzus. The dogs, some of which were pregnant, were covered in filth and feces. The task to clean them up began immediately, and they were given the proper medication. Understandably, they weren’t in the best of health upon arrival.

Now comes the hard part. The shelter has a capacity of 36 dogs and will need these rescued dogs to find homes, whether it be a temporary foster home or a “forever” home.

If you’re interested in fostering or adopting, check out the Allegan County Animal Shelter Facebook page or see the available animals at its Petfinder site.

The shelter also is seeking donations to help care for the dogs, from monetary donations to items such as blankets, bleach and canned dog food.

Anyone who can help is urged to call the shelter at 269.686.5112 and leave a voicemail. Keep in mind they’re overwhelmed with calls and might take a day or two to return the call.

If you wish to send a check to help out, the address is: Allegan County Animal Shelter, 2283 33rd Street, Allegan, MI, 49010. You also may donate online via Wishbone Pet Rescue, or through this PayItSquare link organized by the Allegan County Animal Shelter.