Westside Story

Westside German Shepherd Rescue, Los Angeles

UPDATE: Not good news, folks. I checked with Westside German Shepherd Rescue today and discovered that the group did indeed lose their funding and so now they’ve lost this beautiful facility. I’m leaving the post up because it’s still a beautifully designed space, but more importantly because WGSR is an amazing and dedicated group that deserves attention. And even more important than that, this development serves as a reminder just how delicate budgets are for rescue groups. If you’re thinking about donating money this year as holiday gifts, please consider a shelter or rescue organization. :-)

So it turns out there’s something else that makes everything better, and that something else is DESIGN! I’m not only saying this because I am a designer, but also because it’s true. And, in my opinion, one of the areas where design really moves mountains is when it’s applied to projects that are typically mundane and just a little too darn utilitarian. Case in point: the beautiful new design for Westside German Shepherd Rescue in Los Angeles, designed by RA-DA. Instead of a sad, depressing shelter, they’ve created a comfortable and beautiful environment with a Cape Cod flavor for some special guests while they get ready for their new homes. Of course dogs love comfort, but if you’re thinking that dogs don’t care about beautiful environments, think again: if it means a shelter is more inviting to potential new families, I think they’re all for it!

As RA-DA states about the project: “This project reconceptualizes the environment surrounding the adoption of pets. Replacing the concept of adoption is an idea of ‘re-homing’. With this term comes the implication that these animals are well-adjusted and just going from one home to another home. The design responds directly to this and although the site is in an industrial area, the architecture is more residential from the exterior siding to the interior design. Past the front lobby area is a gallery that is designed to resemble an outdoor boardwalk. The kennel rooms line the edges of this boardwalk as a series of separate ‘houses’. A training yard at the end and large doors connect the space to the back of the property, used every day for exercising the dogs and on Saturdays for adoption events.”

Westside German Shepherd Rescue exterior

Westside German Shepherd Rescue exterior

Westside German Shepherd Rescue lobby

Westside German Shepherd Rescue boardwalk

Westside German Shepherd Rescue offices

So big high-fives to RA-DA for designing such a beautiful stopover home for German Shepherds on the move, and also for just using their design power for good!

If you’d like more information on Westside German Shepherd Rescue, click here. There’s also a wonderful video about this rescue organization and its founder Robin here.
For more information on the West Hollywood-based architecture firm RA-DA or to see more of their stunning work (which includes some other animal facility projects–yay!), click here.

All photographs courtesy RA-DA. Photography by Ralf Strathmann.

Sally and International Homeless Pets Day

My dog Sally

This is my dog Sally, often referred to as Sal. Another “mystery mix”, her face and legs feel like velvet but the rest of her feels prickly like strands of steel wool. Her ears are huge and her tail is a lot like Pluto’s or maybe a stingray’s. In a house full of boys she’s my only girl dog, so I should probably refrain from calling her Sal and reinforce what few girly aspects she does have, but she’s just not into it. The only time she ever “works it” is when my husband comes home, and then look out. It’s all wiggling and wagging and shameless flirting and good grief. I never get a reception like that…what is it about girl dogs? They can really lay it on thick when they want to!

She is a pretty good dog, she even came to work with me for two weeks one summer at the San Francisco office of Pentagram and made lots of friends. But most of the time Sally’s big thing is squirrels. She can and will sit completely still for hours observing and studying every little squirrel twitch. Her other big thing is the “freedom run”, leash or not. On several occasions while out for a run I’ve gone flying when a squirrel zips across the road in front of us. As a result, I’m convinced my right arm is now at least a few inches longer.

My dog Sally in puppyhood and today

Sally’s always been a pretty happy-go-lucky gal, but things didn’t start out so great for her. They could have been really disastrous: a woman drove her giant Cadillac into a gas station on the corner of a busy intersection, barely slowing down as she opened the door and threw out what appeared to be a black sweater. Except this black sweater was a puppy that picked itself up and started running frantically for its life. Luckily she was rescued before being hit by a car.

So in honor of Sally who did make it, I’m going to light a candle tomorrow on International Homeless Pets Day for all the dogs who don’t make it, or are right now on that hairline verge. For all the dogs who are put into precarious situations all over the world by rotten women in giant Cadillacs at busy intersections and every other horribly cruel individual. And I’m hoping that like that black sweater, they can all get up and run.

How Technology Saves Dogs in China

Zhang Xiaoqiu and his rescued dogs

Having Sirius radio in my car is wonderful, so much to choose from. But 95% of the time my station of choice is the BBC World Service and I just can’t get enough of it. Not only do I get to hear great stories and perspectives I would otherwise miss, I also get to avoid U.S. election year mud-slinging, toddlers in pageants and the Kardashians for a while. This story was so fantastic that I almost spun out of control when I heard it. Oh happy day.

Basically, in China they have their own rapidly growing version of Twitter called Weibo and this story was about how this amazing technology is creating enormous change within the country. They give five examples of how this is impacting lives and social issues, the first one being the story of animal activist Zhang Xiaoqiu and how he has started a movement to save dogs. Below is the text about Zhang Xiaoqiu from the BBC’s site, but you can find the entire technology story by correspondent Duncan Hewitt here. If you prefer to listen to the BBC’s audio, click here.

Zhang Xiaoqiu still remembers the date – 15 April 2011. It was when Weibo changed his life, and saved those of several hundred dogs. The Beijing-based businessman, originally from southern China, had always been an animal lover, but the news he heard via Weibo that day led him to take action.

Fellow internet users had spotted a truck on the motorway heading out of Beijing, loaded with dogs in tiny cages. This could only mean one thing – they were destined for restaurants in China’s north-east, where dog-eating remains more common than in many other parts of the country.

Pictures of the caged animals, posted on Weibo, soon attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people across China, and at least 100 animal lovers quickly answered an appeal to jump in their cars and block the truck’s path on the road.

Zhang was one of them. He and his wife arrived to find police and local government officials at the scene, and animal lovers attempting to persuade the truck driver to sell them the dogs.

Finally, after Xiaoqiu and other campaigners raised about £1,000 ($1,556), the driver agreed to drive the animals to the compound of the China Small Animals Protection Association (CSAPA) – the country’s only officially recognised animal rights NGO.

Today, Zhang is a volunteer organiser for the CSAPA. He says there has been a dozen more dog rescues over the past year or so, all organised online via Weibo.

“Each time someone will send out a message on Weibo and volunteers from all over the country will find out about it.

“They start to phone the company transporting the dogs, phone the police, phone the animal protection society and the government. It puts enormous public pressure on these people, so they really have no choice but to take action.”

Story text and photo from the BBC’s website.

The Story of Finn

This story about Finn is the inaugural post of my blog Dogs Make Everything Better because she embodies everything that’s great about dogs. She will forever serve as inspiration for my business venture as well as being “the one that got away.” Apologies for the length, future posts will be much shorter.

Before I begin, I must disclose that I currently have a household with 4 dogs, and really had no business sniffing around for another, but…

One day I was looking at the available dogs online at my local county shelter. There was one that had caught my eye, in fact I’d read her bio on a previous visit to the site. She was described as a “Spitz Mix”, which ended up being a Chow Mix but I have learned since that shelter staff can get colorful when it comes to creating curb appeal. When I called, they said she was still available so I decided to stop in the next day on my way out of town (who does that?) to see her.

I had never been to the county shelter before, because it’s just too heartbreaking for me. So in the lobby I asked them to bring her out so I could avoid the trip to the back kennel area. She was beautiful, I knew she would be. The color of French vanilla ice cream and a very regal stance, curled tail and splotchy tongue. She ignored me at first, this dog called Sophie that was not at all a Sophie. I took her outside to the enclosure to spend some time with her and eventually she gave me the time of day, sort of. We watched together as people backed up their SUVs, popped their hatches and discarded dogs they no longer wanted. When the crowds left we went back inside and I told them that I was thinking about adopting her but I’d need a day or two to think it over. I was told that she had already been there for 44 days, which is a very long time for an over-crowded shelter. By law they must take new strays and keep them for a minimum of one week and therefore adequate shelter space is at a premium, so there was no guarantee that she would not be euthanized that very afternoon in order to make room for newcomers. And, as they pointed out, seven had come in during the last hour alone.

The dog looked up at me on cue and somehow made her eyes sparkle. She turned her head this way and that way, making eye contact and sparkling like I’ve never seen. Even if she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have left her there. I was going to save her. Somehow. The system, an irresponsible owner, a bad economy, the backing up of an SUV and a popping hatch, whatever circumstances had brought her to this point, I wasn’t going to let them to take her from this world. No way. In February I lost my dog Henry, a beautiful Malamute mix, to cancer and I did everything I could to give him as much life as possible, down to the minute and the morsel and literally the very last warming ray of sunshine on his body. So how could I justify turning my back on this beautiful healthy sparkling dog? I figured she was still owed a lot of rays of sunshine.

She had a good bath. A trip to the vet. A few hours with a trainer. Lots of good food and a nice bone. Brushing, ear scratching, massages. Walks. A few escapes (but who wouldn’t want to just run after being kept in a cage for 44 days, exercise limited to brief walks and only on Saturdays?). We had a long conversation one evening under the stars and we figured out that her name should be Finn. We said she was always Finn, and nobody knew that before, but we did. Finn.

And just as we settled in to be best friends forever, it became apparent that things were a little sticky at our house. Introducing her to my other dogs wasn’t so successful. And having just spent 11 years in a household with keeping two dogs separated that didn’t get along wasn’t something I could enter into again. The trainer’s advice was “you do not have to fix this…what you should do is take her straight back to the shelter.” Um, no. Because Finn is such a sparkly star and the heavens knew just what to do with a star like that (and also because I’m an extremely stubborn Capricorn) she ended up getting the best life instead. Ever.

My mom mentioned to me that her friends had been recently talking about the void left in their lives, their dog having passed away almost two years before and they missed her so much. Having no other pets at home and grandchildren that lived out of state, I knew that Finn would be the star of the show with them. And so they met Finn. She apparently turned on the sparkles and they all fell in love with each other on the spot. Now Finn (sigh, they changed her name to something else, but a rose by any other name…) spends her days and nights lavished with attention and love and ear scratches and you name it. What’s better than that?

Now I have to be honest: I was pretty blue the following week. We’d really bonded, Finn and I. But she taught me stuff, just the way dogs always do. I learned to let go and recognize my limitations. I reminded myself that she was better off with these people who were such a great fit and could give her the kind of home that I could not. And what a warm feeling to ease someone’s sadness with a new dog, never to replace the one they lost but to create a new perfect match. But what really took my breath away, what still takes my breath away, is the realization that I saved her! So yes, another victory for the underdog! It means that people popping the hatches on their SUVs and dumping dogs at shelters like garbage don’t win when someone does something to step up. Dogs like Finn can win. And win big. And that’s really huge.