Tag Archive | "dogs"

Dog Walks and Cocktails: Second Annual Steinbeck Festival at the Bay Street Theatre

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Artists recreate the "Grapes of Wrath" cover on their way to the Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, California last year. Image courtesy of the National Steinbeck Center.

Artists recreate the “Grapes of Wrath” cover on their way to the Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, California last year. Photo courtesy of the National Steinbeck Center.

By Tessa Raebeck

In 1960, John Steinbeck and his French poodle Charley left their home in Sag Harbor to drive across America, meeting with strangers and staying at campgrounds in an effort to reconnect with the country the 58-year-old Steinbeck had been writing about for decades.

As part of the 2nd Annual Steinbeck Festival at Bay Street Theatre May 1 to 4, the “Travels with Charley” Dog Walk will honor Mr. Steinbeck’s account of the journey, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America,” which became a bestseller.

Author John Steinbeck.

Author John Steinbeck.

In conjunction with the annual festival hosted by the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, the author’s birthplace, Bay Street is hosting eight film screenings and other celebratory events across four days. The festival begins Thursday, May 1 with a screening of “Tortilla Flat,” the 1942 film adaptation of Mr. Steinbeck’s 1935 novel and first commercial success. The 1992 version of “Of Mice and Men” with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise and “Grapes of Wrath” starring Henry Fonda will screen on Saturday, May 3.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, “Grapes of Wrath” will be further honored at a cocktail reception at a private waterfront estate sponsored in part by Wölffer Estate Vineyard Saturday evening. While sipping on the namesake vintage of Wölffer winemaker Roman Roth, “The Grapes of Roth,” guests can view Mr. Steinbeck’s home and writing studio by boat from Upper Sag Harbor Cove.

At the “Travels with Charley” Dog Walk Sunday morning, dogs and their owners will walk a loop from Bay Street to Haven’s Beach and back, finishing the festival with a “Bones and Bagels” reception at the theatre.

For $150, the VIP Pass for the festival includes the cocktail reception, film festival and dog walk. The dog walk alone is $35, film festival passes are $30 and individual film tickets are $10 each. For tickets and information, call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

The Serious Side of Pet Adoption

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By Claire Walla

“Do not buy the rabbits! Do not buy the chickens!”

Just about this time of year, when baby animals are born and images of fluffy white bunnies mark the onset of Easter, East Hampton resident Pat Lillis gets extra upset.

“I know, ‘they’re sooo cute,”’ Lillis mocked with a strained, high-pitched inflection. “But, who’s going to take care of them?”

If you’ve ever met Lillis, then you know this dialogue, written as it is, does little to capture the full spectrum of her husky, Irish, curse-word-ridden speech. And it does nothing to convey the passion she has for this issue.

Wearing Ugg boots, ripped cargo shorts and a t-shirt with the phrase “Defend human rights today, prevent tragedy tomorrow” — a year-round look for the 61-year-old — Lillis tended to the animals in her home as she railed against a segment of the population she has many issues with: “animal lovers.”

“There’s a reason why these cats are here,” she continued, referring to the posse of felines lounging in her kitchen. “It’s because people ‘fell in love’ with them.”

Twelve years ago, Lillis founded a non-profit organization called Elsa’s Ark, which raises funds to care for injured or abandoned animals. The organization is run out of her home in Springs, and can best be described by a hand-made sign she has hung on a bulletin board in her garage: Only one question allowed, how can I help?

“I had another one, but it fell down and the cats pissed on it,” she explained.

Lillis herself has cared for rabbits and chickens over the years, and is now caring for precisely two dogs, 15 chickens and nearly three-dozen cats, only one of which — Houdini, whom she described as “a thug” — is her own.

Lillis goes through roughly 574 cans of cat food a week. She counted.

“I don’t go looking for animals,” Lillis was very quick to explain. “And I don’t buy them.”

This is one of the many talking points that flips her lid. Lillis believes nobody should ever buy an animal. And even if they have plans to adopt, she urges interested parties to think long and hard before bringing a cat, a dog or even a chicken into their home.

Every now and then, she said, a “brave soul” will knock on the window of her Volvo and ask for her help. Lillis gritted her teeth before continuing: “If I meet you and you tell me you’re going to give up your animal, you’d better be in the ready position to start the 100 meters.”

According to Ginny Frati of the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, located in Southampton, the center sees about 12 domesticated rabbits each year. It is currently caring for two baby bunnies, in fact, which, at three inches long, she estimates are about two-and-a-half weeks old. They were allegedly found in East Port.

The Center also sees its fair share of chicks and ducks. Last year, she said there were two domesticated geese found along the banks of Otter Pond right here in Sag Harbor. Rescue crews were able to secure the animals, rehabilitate them and find them new homes.

However, Franti said most are not so lucky.

“People often bring them to a pond when they don’t want them anymore,” she explained. “Usually a fox or a raccoon will get them in the first year.” And with domestic ducks, she added, “Dogs will attack them, then we get them after they’ve been attacked.”

More than two decades before Elsa’s Ark was established, three East End residents created the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) to address the growing population of abandoned animals on the East End.

ARF’s executive director Sara Davison said the situation has improved dramatically for Hamptons cats and dogs. Now, only about 15 percent of the dogs at ARF are abandoned. However, about half the cat population at ARF is there due to “owner abandonment.”

According to Director of Operations Michele Forrester, the shelter can keep up to 160 dogs and cats at one time, and it’s almost always at capacity.

“We’re now approaching kitten season,” Forrester further explained. Around this time of year, the feral cat population has an explosion of new litters, many of which end up at ARF. She said there are hundreds of volunteers throughout the community who not only help to feed feral cat colonies, but help locate new litters of kittens and bring them to ARF to be spayed or neutered.

“We call that ‘breaking the feral cat cycle,’” Executive Director Sara Davison added.

Because of these practices, Forrester said ARF has seen a decline in the number of kittens it’s seen for the past four years. However, she added, there are still too many cats for ARF to handle on its own. Because it is a private facility, ARF is able to pick and choose which animals it keeps for adoption. There’s a waiting list for the rest.

“You can’t overwhelm the staff, we have to stay at a level we can handle,” Forrester continued.

Like ARF, Pat Lillis is a big proponent of “breaking the feral cat cycle.” Elsa’s Ark provides free spaying and neutering services for anyone wishing to sterilize their cat.

But, she acknowledges that curbing reproduction is only half the battle.

In the backyard of her home, surrounded by her chickens Charlie Brown, Bertha, Red Red, Jeanne, Aggy, Mattie and Phyllis Diller (a light brown bird with a feathery ‘fro), Lillis explained that people’s attitudes toward animals are a big part of the problem.

For example, several of Lillis’ birds came from a man in Westhampton Beach who had moved from Mastic with 11 chickens in tow. He abandoned the birds when his neighbor complained.

“People don’t think before they get animals,” Lillis railed.

The cleaning, the feeding, the going into the chicken coop at dusk with a flashlight to check every nook and cranny for threatening four-legged species with an appetite for breast meat, she said it’s all part of the job.

At the beginning of January, Lillis said two cats were left in their cat carrier with a note: “We know you will give them a home.”

Just repeating the story put Lillis on edge.

“F— that!” she roared. “I’m a spinster at 61-years-old, how much longer am I going to live?! The nerve!”

“People make the mistake of saying I love animals,” she continued. But, she she said it’s not love.

“I believe everyone should be looked after,” Lillis said. “You have to be part of this world you’re hanging out in. I pick up everything. I pick up people, I pick up animals, I pick up garbage… If you see something that has to be done, it’s your civic duty to do it. It’s just your civic duty.”

Sit. Stay … Really, I Mean It!

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Dog Obedience photo

By Annette Hinkle

With temperatures inching down toward the 30s, and a brisk wind picking up, last Saturday morning hardly seemed the ideal day for an outdoor graduation ceremony.

But in the enclosed pen outside the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons it was, in fact, a very big day for ARF’s newest graduates — Cheddar, Razzle, Buddy, Raider, Louie, Lucky, Dixie and Gracie, all of whom took their diplomas and the plummeting temperatures in stride as they sniffed the ground for fallen treats or took part in a game of tag with fellow alumni.

The dogs (and their owners) had just completed Dog Obedience 101, a class offered by ARF’s Gail Murphy that covers all the basics— sit, stay, down, heel and loose leash walking. Over the course of the five weeks, all the students made admirable progress toward becoming good canine citizens, which Murphy cites as the primary goal of the course.

“I’m a huge advocate of taking dogs as many places as possible,” says Murphy. “I want your dog to perform like a guide dog, walking through town at your side, not interacting with dogs, sitting down while you stop to talk to people.”

But Murphy also stresses safety and she feels it’s imperative that dogs learn to come when called and be taught to wait before exiting a car or house. Murphy knows first hand about losing a dog tragically. Five years ago, her own dog, Zephyr, was killed by a hunter’s trap in the Long Pond Greenbelt. As a result, Murphy became actively involved with ARF to get trap laws changed.

“When I got the opportunity to teach these classes I thought it was fantastic,” says Murphy. “It had been 10 years since I had taught obedience and I had always used compulsive training, which is hands on manipulation to correct behavior. Then I was introduced to positive reinforcement which is all about relationship building.”

“With positive reinforcement, the worse thing that will happen is the dog will get an extra cookie, play time or praise,” she says. “In compulsive training, If the dog is not understanding you, you’ll only escalate the strength of your punishment. If your timing is not right, you’ve lost the lesson.”

“Dogs make us live in moment,” she adds. “What better way than to catch the dog just before he does something wrong, redirect him and say great job when he’s doing something right? You always give them some way to be good.”

“It’s changed my life completely,” adds Murphy. “I took a different course because of Zephyr. Though his death was such a tragedy, I don’t regret a moment of anything, because it was through him that I came to this.”

At the first obedience class, the dogs moved tentatively around the space, unsure of themselves and the others. But Murphy, who has something of a sixth sense when it comes to dogs, quickly put it all in perspective, identifying play bows and interpreting the scene from a dog’s point of view, including the nearby vocalizations of ARF’s tenants.

“This is a shelter. Those dogs out there are barking. They’re saying ‘I hear you’re out there. I’ll kick your ass.’ Everyone’s talking trash,” says Murphy.  “This is a distracting environment. There’s a loose cat that loves to patrol right at the edge of the pen and drive the dogs nuts, the train is right here, the airport’s over there and jets fly in over head.”

“If you’re trying to teach new behavior, ideally you want to take away all the distractions. Going outdoors is not a place to start a new technique,” she says.

But outdoors is where the class must be, so Murphy encourages owners to act like a trusted tour guide by getting their dog’s attention and redirecting them away from the surrounding distractions.

The dogs enrolled in the class represent a range of breeds and ages. There are small dogs prone to heel nipping, puppies like Louie the golden doodle who needs focus, and Buddy, a golden retriever with so much energy he’s difficult for his owner to control, and Raider, the 105 pound rottweiler whose previous owner used some undesirable training techniques on him that need to be undone.

Then there’s Gracie, the six month old chow/corgi/shar-pei mix who has become something of the office dog at the Sag Harbor Express. Because Gracie is so young, owner Judy Clempner notes her behaviors are related largely to just being a puppy. Among her issues is a tendency to jump up on people.

“That’s a normal behavior for dogs,” notes Murphy who explains that puppies lick their mother’s mouths in order to get remnants of food. “It’s nice to get the dogs when they’re young. All is new and they’re learning the lay of the land.”

“If it’s an older dog that has been with their person for a long time, usually you’re trying to change the person,” she adds. “It’s like a husband/wife relationship. I want everyone to be a team. It’s also good for people to see this person is having the same doggie problem. It’s like therapy.”

Because she’s still on the small side, Gracie also tends to be intimidated when meeting new dogs. So what’s an owner to do if a dog comes to the class with behavioral issues from an earlier encounter with people or other dogs?

“You rebuild the trust if there’s been a bad association by being diligent and with the right motivation,” says Murphy who notes that it takes just one bad encounter to instill a specific fear in a dog and advises Clempner to become Gracie’s protector.

“If she sees another dog on the street, distract her and say ‘Gracie, good girl, look at me, here’s  a piece of cheese. That dog doesn’t have to come over to bother you, but you get cheese with when you see others dogs.’ It’s positive reinforcement.”

Murphy likens being a good dog owner to being a good boss. Think of the dog as the employee, she says, you pay him in cookies or toys, and you are a benevolent leader. You create trust, motivation and provide feedback.

But in order to take the lessons from the theoretical to the practical, Murphy puts the dogs and owners in a series of hypothetical situations. One such imaginary scenario is the dog friendly concert. In this drill, some of the owners sit in chairs and keep their dogs sitting quietly beside them while another dog and owner must weave around the chairs and prevent their dog from interacting with the others. Other drills include passing a full cup of water while walking the dogs, or shaking hands on the street while keeping the dogs separated and heeled at the side.

Finally, on the last day of class, the graduates and their owners are put through the paces in a timed relay race in which each dog must sit on command at a series of orange cones spread out across the pen. In the end, the winning dog was Louie, the five month old golden doodle owned by Emma Walton Hamilton who came to the class with her son, Sam.

“It’s been a great experience. I’m disappointed it’s ending,” says Hamilton who’s considering enrolling Louie in ARF’s agility class the next time it’s offered. “Louie’s smart and has responded so well. He’s come a long way. I know a huge part of our responsibility is to practice at home.”

“He’s still a baby and very distractible, but I’m pleased with his progress,” she adds. “I wouldn’t say he’s the best student in the class, but he’s not the worst either. He was one of the worst in the beginning.”

And Gracie?

“She’s still young, and the issues still exist, but I feel I have the skills to deal with them,” says Clempner. “I can see a difference in her response to me. Food is king. She gets very excited for treats.”

The next Obedience 101 and Intermediate Dog Obedience classes at ARF will be offered by Gail Murphy in spring. The cost is $125 for five classes ($100 for ARF dogs adopted within the last year). For more information about enrolling, call 537-0400.

Top: Sniffing the camera at the first Obedience 101 class at ARF on November 6, 2010 (Michael Heller photo).