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    Rescuing the Dog Who Rescued Me

    Last year, when my book DJ: The Dog Who Rescued Me was published, after a two-year labor of love had been completed, sold, and released to the world, I threw a party in Chelsea to celebrate. We had booze (Pugatinis, in fact!), we had portraits of my dog up on the walls, we had a raffle, we had a professional photographer, we had celebrities, and we had what was, in my opinion, a wonderful evening.

    What we almost didn't have was DJ, my then eight-year-old pug who was the reason for all of the above.

    In my book, I accurately describe a six-year-old dog who leaps and spins and flies and jumps, who can spend hours at the local dog run playing fetch, who treats Tug-O-War as a matter of life or death -- not a game -- and who could outrun me on the street, my two long legs no match for his four galloping paws and ears flapping in the wind.

    A lot happens in two years, and a lot happens in the too-short life span of our dogs, our adopted children. Shortly before my book came out, DJ started having trouble walking, and even more trouble running to the park the way he used to, like a kid charging into Disney World once they open the doors.

    My first thought was arthritis, and after several neighbors confirmed the diagnosis (anyone who owns a canine knows that every other dog owner is a professional vet), I took him to see his real vet. For the first time in his life, DJ couldn't walk the ten blocks to the animal hospital and I had to put him in a taxi.

    The last time I'd put DJ in a taxi to take him to the vet was about a year previously, when I'd noticed a lump on his front right elbow bloom into what looked like a pimple to a flower bud in a matter of days. He had a malignant tumor, and the doctor removed it in time, telling me after the surgery that DJ was lucky I checked him so thoroughly. I didn't think I needed to add that DJ is 22 pounds, has short fur, and, that, as his guardian, I knew every spec of his frame. Still do.

    DJ has mild arthritis, but that wasn't causing the problems. DJ needed surgery on his spine, as he had disc disease, and, if left untreated, might eventually leave him all or partially paralyzed. In the meantime, the vet said I could take DJ to the book party, provided he stayed relatively still and did not go up or down stairs. He sat in my lap almost the entire time, sleeping peacefully or periodically planting a kiss on an unsuspecting guest. People oohed and awed at the pictures of him running in the Central Park snow, trotting among taxicabs downtown, playing with his three-legged Pit Bull friend -- activities that would be almost impossible to capture just two years later.

    My gut reaction to surgery was a resounding "No!" DJ is almost completely blind in one eye, and he survived his tumor. To put him -- and me -- through more procedures seemed unnecessarily cruel. And, loath as I am to admit it, he's getting older. Perhaps it would be better for him to enjoy the rest of his life cuddled up on the couch, not allowed to play with other dogs or toys or me. But he'd be free of more procedures and he'd be in his home.

    When DJ's walking got significantly worse, and when he started having accidents in the house -- a symptom of his nervous system not giving him the proper signals -- I opted for surgery. And I wanted it done before I had a chance to change my mind. I went to a specialist upstate, and it was four days of hell waiting for him to come home. When I took him from the assistant's arms, he panicked so much I had to struggle to keep from dropping him. It was crying mixed with whimpering mixed with what seemed an uncontrollable need to make sure I didn't leave him again. The people in the waiting room seemed stunned, not sure whether they were watching a reunion or a dog in the midst of a tragic accident.

    DJ came home, staples running down his neck, walking like a drunken sailor for several days. The surgeon informed me that this would be a natural part of the healing process, and it was both heartbreaking and heartwarming, knowing how confused he was and, at the same time, how dependent on me he'd become.

    My dog's surgery occurred a year ago this month -- Christmastime, almost exactly a year after his book came out. He's improved significantly, but he will never have the mobility he once had.

    Last February, I received permission to take him home to California, where I took him to a book signing in San Francisco and spent 10 days with him at the house where I grew up. On the first day home I placed him on my mother's lap, where he promptly stretched out and fell asleep. "He sleeps a lot, doesn't he?" Mom said, after joking that she'd have to stay on the couch all day. "He's tired," I replied. "He's spent his whole life being an athlete and now it's time for him to rest."

    I knew that I was viewing the natural aging process of two heavenly beings -- my mother is 82 and has spent a lifetime taking care of five kids and living a far more active lifestyle than I ever have -- and seeing them both resting, exhausted, filled me with warmth and sadness and love and an odd sense of serenity. They've earned their comfort, and the tranquility of relaxation can be breathtakingly beautiful to behold. And painful.

    When I was a kid of about 10, in that same house, I watched a pet rabbit die in my arms, convulsing, struggling for air and staring straight at me before closing her eyes forever. I looked at that almost-mythical animal, pitch black with thick fur, who maybe a week before had painted a picture of god's lush green goodness, eating grass on a suburban lawn, now fighting against our cruelest reality. I wanted to understand where she went because I knew I'd be going there at a later time.

    My only concern for DJ at Mom's home was the fear that he'd jump down the huge step to the sunken living room. Nope. Every time he wanted to explore that part of the house, which was pretty much anytime anyone visited the room, he stopped and whimpered. I would hear the "bell," and pick him up and place him on the floor. My mother has about 20 various rugs in her house and DJ managed to lie on each one at some point. He even scrunched up his body and slumped into a too-small basket reserved for a neighborhood cat -- DJ will seek out any new bed fit to be tired in.

    Back in New York my apartment is equipped for a Pug of a Certain Age. There are steps leading up and down the couch and the bed, and the food dishes are raised so he doesn't have to bend his neck. To my surprise DJ has come to abide by these new rules and, it would seem, enjoy them. After I got permission to play with him again, I've reinstated many of our rituals, but on a more age-appropriate level.

    We still play rapid-fire (or "Bootcamp") fetch, but only once a day, and, between you and me, I now let him win sooner than I used to. Tug-O-War is also more limited, as pulling on toys can strain his spine. Whereas I used to say "Movie Night" and he'd twirl and leap and jump up onto the bed, I now say it and then watch him slowly make his way to the bed, where he waits for me to pick him up. After about five minutes of kisses and chewing my T-shirt -- don't ask -- and going under and over the covers, he keels over and sleeps till the movie ends.

    DJ has to take four steps on his front paws for every two on his back, because of the weakness he still has in his spine. Long walks tire him out, and the hike to the park is out of the question. But we have adjusted. On nice-weather days, we sit on the front stoop in the morning, sometimes for an hour. I bring my coffee, and DJ watches and sniffs and takes in the neighborhood where he has spent his entire life. He's 52 in simplified pug-dog years, and when he sits up on the steps today he seems more of gargoyle to protect the building and its loyal occupants, guardian of his home, his city, his known world.

    Since he no longer has accidents, when we do get up from the stoop to walk it's usually because my bladder is giving me signals.

    Older dogs, like older people, aren't often photographed in cute calendars and in TV shows and, yes, books. And like older people, there is a special resilience in them that gives them more dimension and character. I no longer even try to make sure DJ understands what my words mean -- he's learned them all -- and if we don't yet look alike, we've become practically attached at the hip. He responds to all his nicknames as well as his actual name, he no longer even bothers trying to grab my attention when I'm holding that black thing next to my ear, and he won't even attempt to manipulate me into giving him table scraps -- friends who visit are a completely different story. When I walk DJ around the block everyone greets us and needs to say hi to him. When I walk alone, nobody seems to recognize me. I often joke that I live vicariously through my dog.

    I still work at home, and spend an exorbitant amount of time with my dog, time that grows more valuable as the statute of limitations shortens. Someone asked me not so long ago if I'd ever consider getting another pug, a companion for DJ. There are many reasons that won't happen, the biggest being that sharing my life with another dog would most likely break DJ's heart. We're buds, besties, stubborn creatures who more often than not prefer to spend a weekend snuggled up in bed with a movie than barking up trouble somewhere else.

    I turned 50 this year, which makes me officially two years younger than DJ, the dog who came into my life when he was three-months-old. If he rescued me then, from sadness and depression and loneliness and the sometimes selfish nature of human existence, I only hope I can return the favor as he enters his later years. It isn't watching our dogs grow older that brands our heart with the stamp of melancholy; it's that we watch them grow older than us.

    Photo of DJ: Piero Ribelli

    Source: Huffington Post 

    Beautiful Pit Bull Mix Tastes Freedom After Spending Over 4 Months At Chicago's City Pound

    Her name is Fancy, but at this point she may as well be named "Lucky."

    Photo credit: Amstaphy

    A 3-year-old pit bull mix who spent 135 days — more than four months — at the Chicago Animal Care and Control facility was finally saved by Woof Gang Rescue, a no-kill, volunteer-run nonprofit rescue group based in Wisconsin.

    The Chicago Animal Care and Control's Facebook page posted photos Saturday of Fancy’s “freedom ride:”

    According to the Dog News Examiner blog, which featured Fancy’s story in a post last month, Fancy was the longest resident of the city pound. She arrived as a stray in July and for the months that followed, adopters and rescue groups alike passed her by, despite her being described as intelligent, energetic and loving. With space running low at the pound, Fancy's days were numbered.

    It was unclear exactly how close Fancy had come to being euthanized, as CACC staff did not respond to a request for more information. In an e-mail to The Huffington Post, shelter volunteer Lucy Scharbach said she and other volunteers were surprised Fancy had been at the facility so long because “she is gorgeous, attentive and going to make a wonderful pet.”

    Fancy will now live with a professional trainer for a time before she is ready to transition from her extended stay in the shelter to life in a forever home. A YouCaring.com page set up to help fund her continued rehabilitation met its $1,000 fundraising goal almost immediately.

    "Fancy says hello to all her fans," read a Facebook update posted Monday. "She would like to tell you she is settling in at her trainers house nicely and has an awesome new coat."

    Source: Huffington Post

    Northern White Rhino Dies At California Zoo, Leaving Only 5 Alive In The World

    SAN DIEGO (AP) — A northern white rhinoceros that was only one of six left in the world died Sunday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, zoo officials said.

    Angalifu, who was about 44 years old, apparently died of old age.

    "Angalifu's death is a tremendous loss to all of us," safari park curator Randy Rieches said in a statement. "Not only because he was well beloved here at the park but also because his death brings this wonderful species one step closer to extinction."

    His death leaves only one northern white rhino at the San Diego zoo — a female named Nola — one at a zoo in the Czech Republic and three in a preserve in Kenya.

    Rhino horns are valued as dagger handles and are mistakenly seen as an aphrodisiac. As a result, poaching has pushed the critically endangered rhinos to the brink of extinction.

    Attempts to mate Angalifu with Nola weren't successful.

    Just last week, preservationists at the Old Pejeta animal sanctuary in Kenya conceded that their one male and two female northern white rhinos will not reproduce naturally. The animals were flown from the Czech zoo to the Kenyan conservancy in December 2009 in hopes that the natural environment could be easier for them to breed there than in captivity.

    Efforts will now be made to keep the species alive through in vitro fertilization. That experiment could take place with a southern white rhino surrogate mother. Southern white rhinos almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century, plunging down to only 20 at one point. Decades of conservation efforts gradually brought them back to life.

    Source: Huffington Post

    CNN Hero of the Year Reunites Soldiers with Stray Animals

    (CNN) -- Pen Farthing, who founded a nonprofit that reunites soldiers with stray dogs and cats they took in during combat, is the 2014 CNN Hero of the Year.

    "There is no stronger bond between man and dog than that formed during war," Farthing said at the annual tribute show, which aired Sunday night on CNN's global networks.

    The star-studded event, held in New York at the American Museum of Natural History, honored the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2014 -- everyday people making extraordinary efforts to change the world. Of those 10, CNN's audience voted Farthing as the Hero of the Year.

    "Wow, I am absolutely at a loss for words," Farthing said as he accepted the award. "This is absolutely amazing. I would really like to thank everybody who voted for the Nowzad charity and what we do in Afghanistan and believing in us. And I would also like to thank all the other heroes in this room for doing what they do to make this world an absolute better place. Thank you guys for doing what you do. Thank you."

    In addition to the $25,000 that each person receives for making the Top 10, Farthing will be awarded $100,000 for his cause.

    The inspiration for Nowzad Dogs came in 2006.

    When Farthing helped break up a dogfight in the town of Nowzad, Afghanistan, the Royal Marine sergeant didn't think much of it. The war-torn town was overrun with dogs.

    But when one of those dogs followed him back to base, it was hard to tell who rescued whom.

    "As the troop sergeant, I was there to motivate the guys and get them fired up again to go out and do the job. ... But no one was doing that for me," Farthing said earlier this year. "My time with this dog was a way of de-stressing, collecting my thoughts and popping my head back in the game."

    After his tour ended, Farthing went through a difficult process to get Nowzad home to Britain. Realizing he wasn't the only one, he soon founded Nowzad Dogs to help other soldiers whose lives were turned around by the animals they befriended.

    Nowzad Dogs also works to promote animal welfare in Afghanistan.

    The group's shelter and clinic in Kabul are staffed by 14 Afghan nationals, four of whom are trained veterinarians. The group spays and neuters street dogs and cats and vaccinates them against rabies to reduce the stray animal population. In turn, those efforts help protect residents by having fewer rabid animals roaming the streets.

    To date, Nowzad Dogs has reunited nearly 700 soldiers with the animals they adopted in Afghanistan.

    "I know that the dog I looked after was my saving grace from the stress of conflict," Farthing said. "And because of that initial bond, the work goes on: reuniting soldiers with their companions, tackling rabies and training veterinarians in Kabul. I would like to thank everybody for their support. We're making a difference for the Afghan people, the soldiers and one dog and cat at a time."

     Photo: http://www.nowzad.org/about/

    Celebrity presenters at the tribute show this year included actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Christina Hendricks, Taye Diggs, Rosie Perez, Uzo Aduba and John Leguizamo. Also appearing were comedian Kathy Griffin, musician Questlove of The Roots, Kelly Ripa of "Live with Kelly and Michael" and Morgan Spurlock of CNN's "Inside Man."

    The event included musical performances by Sheryl Crow and Trisha Yearwood. Yearwood performed her latest song, "PrizeFighter," while Crow performed "Wide River to Cross" with CNN Hero Arthur Bloom and his MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band.

    Photos: Stars on the 'Heroes' red carpet

    Musician Nick Jonas, actor Tyler James Williams and actress Quvenzhane Wallis were also on hand to present awards to remarkable "young wonders" who are doing their part to help change their communities.

    The stories of this year's Top 10 Heroes, who were nominated by CNN's global audience and profiled earlier this year on CNN, can be found at CNNHeroes.com. Through Amazon Payments, anyone who wants to contribute can make a direct charitable donation to a Hero's designated nonprofit until December 31.

    Since 2007, the CNN Heroes campaign has profiled more than 200 people on CNN and CNN.com. It has also received more than 50,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.

    As part of their award package, each of the Top 10 CNN Heroes will also receive organizational training through the Annenberg Foundation, a global supporter of nonprofit organizations. All 10 Heroes will participate in customized versions of the Annenberg Alchemy program, tailored to help grow their individual organizations.


    Source: http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/18/world/2014-cnn-hero-of-the-year-pen-farthing/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

    Bullhook Ban Reaches Oakland and Celebs Speak Up

    A Bullhook is  an elephant goad with a sharp spike and a hook that is used to prod into a state of motion. These are most commonly used by Circus' to motion elephants and other large animals. Recently Bullhooks were banned in Los Angeles causing many circus acts to cross LA off their tour. This ban has just now reached Oakland, CA causing Circus acts to once again cross another city of their tour. These are two major victories against another cruel unjust act against animals. This ban may of not been possible if not for major Celebs backing the cause. Davey Havok, the lead singer of the band AFI and an Oakland native, says, “The use of a bullhook is cruel and unjust. We need only imagine being held captive and beaten for the sake of another’s entertainment to know that this tool of torture and slavery should be banned.” Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who has long been vocal against circus bullhook abuse, says, “I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe elephants in their natural habitat in South Africa. The magnificent animals I encountered weren’t performing headstands or standing on tubs like they do at the circus, where they’re routinely beaten with bullhooks. Instead, they were tending to their young, running free, and living in peace. I urge the Oakland City Council to ban this weapon that causes elephants such immense suffering.” These are small victories but none the less a huge step in the right direction! You may not be a huge time celebrity but maybe the next time you decide to go to the circus do a bit of reasearch and please do not support anyone who uses the bullhook on their animals. Who knows, your city may be the next to ban the bullhook.... Read the full story here