Sometimes, animals in shelters, especially adult dogs
and cats, have a difficult time getting adopted. Most potential
adopters, if they can get past the need for a purebred dog or cat, still
feel that they would have an easier time with kittens and puppies than
they would with an adult animal. In some cases, that is true,
particularly if there are already dogs and cats in residence. It is
difficult to bring an adult dog into your home and family not knowing
what is in his personal history. Remember the movie with Harrison Ford
and Brad Pitt where Ford brings Brad Pitt into his home and family in
good faith only to find out he's an IRA activist who is out for blood?
It can be that way with a big dog from the shelter. A little scary, a
little uncertain. Without some kind of training from the start, the
chances for a successful, PERMANENT adoption are very, very slim.
A lawyer friend of mine called me recently to say he
found two big dogs in terrible shape running down a busy highway. I
thought he was calling me to ask if he could bring them to the shelter,
but no, he was asking for advice on how to help them. This kind soul
took these dogs to his vet, had them neutered, treated for all their
illnesses and injuries, and gave them a loving place in his own home. A
week later he called to tell me that his beloved cat of seven years was
in critical condition because one of the dogs he took in attacked her
and severed her tail. It's a heartbreaking story, but with older dogs,
you never REALLY know what they are capable of.
A while back, I wrote an article, an expose' really,
about the Mannheimer foundation. Mannheimer was a man who made a place
in his heart and in his home for chimpanzees. He wanted them to have
sanctuary, but upon his death, his trusted friends instead turned the
animals over to a research and breeding facility in South Florida. It
was a tragic story with a tragic end.
This article is about a man who also loved animals and
wanted to help them. A man who also had a vision for animals and didn't
live long enough to see his vision realized. However, this article has a
happy ending, because those entrusted to carry out this man's vision are
doing so - with remarkable
The man's name was Walter D. Turken. We need to know his
I first learned of the Walter Turken program through the
humane society where I am Director of Education. It seemed impossible to
me that the program would work when I first heard of it, but it is
working, and we have the numbers to prove it.
Walter Turken was not an animal-rights activist or even
an animal person in any real sense of the word. He was a businessman who
happened to have a profound love for dogs in his heart. He took note,
however, of the fact that so many dogs were turned over to shelters
simply because they were unruly or untrained. Indeed, inability to
control a dog is one of the top ten reasons for giving up a dog. His
heart broke when he heard these stories of unwanted dogs - good dogs
with good hearts who simply never
learned the right manners or what behavior is appropriate. In his heart,
he knew most of these dogs would be euthanized, never knowing the love
of a family or what it means to be a loyal friend.
Turken decided to make a difference in the lives of
these dogs. Like so many before him who had a vision, he put himself on
a mission to save these dogs. Unfortunately, he died before he could
realize his dream. He did, however, speak of his passion to his friends,
authors and animal-advocates Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.
I first met Brian in December when he came to our
shelter to explain about the Walter Turken program. Training shelter
dogs to be good citizens and loving friends has become Brian's mission
now. Unlike the rogues in the Mannheimer story, Brian's friendship with
Walter Turken proved to be solid gold, and that meant good news for the
dogs in shelters across America.
Brian is also an author of several books on getting
along with our companion animals, and one in particular, Mutts:
America's Dogs is an important validation that best friends don't NEED a
pedigree! He's also written about cats and their behavior, and though,
of course, nobody can truly be called a cat expert, I found his book
helpful when I brought yet another shelter cat into my home. And I was
surprised and delighted to read words in Brian's books that are very
much oriented to animal rights, though his is not a name often
associated with animal rights activism.
The Turken Program is working in our shelter. The first
weekend after beginning the program, we placed thirteen large dogs! This
broke all previous records.
The way it works is this: Volunteers are recruited from
the community. They commit to several weekends where they come and work
with professional trainers and shelter dogs. They come during the week
and work with the dogs as well. They teach simple commands, like sit,
stay, heel. Just simple things. But these simple commands are so
impressive when one is walking through the shelter seeking the perfect
housemate. One who will sit when asked is one who has an advantage. What
if all the dogs in the shelter learn to sit when asked? Then they all
have an advantage! That's what is happening in our shelter, and it's
very exciting to watch. At a meeting of our soon-to-be Federation of
Florida Humane Societies last month, I told the assembly about the
Turken program. Maybe they will bring it to their own shelters as well.
And there is one more thing. Being that unruly behavior
is one of the top ten reasons for giving up a dog, wouldn't it make
sense to try to remedy that behavior BEFORE it becomes a terrible
problem? It seems if guardians could find inexpensive, or better yet,
free help for their dog's behavior problems they may be able to avoid
taking him or her to a shelter in the first place. Animals have the
right to make mistakes and be given a second chance. Animals deserve
that much. So there's a website where we can post our behavior questions
and have them answered by experts in the field. I am pleased to share
that website with our readers, because maybe one day a reader may hear
of an animal being given up because of behavior problems, and can
intervene on that animals' behalf as they have done so many times before
for the whales and the wolves and the rabbits in laboratories.
Because dogs have rights too. We forget that sometimes
when we get caught up in all the issues we face as animal-rights
activists. Dogs have rights too.
For information on behavior problems, or to learn more
about the Turken program, visit
Greatpets.com Good Owners. Great Pets.
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