Tag Archive | "dogs"

East Hampton’s Save A Dog A Day Finds Homes For Dogs, Friends for Humans

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Caroline Whelan and Ollie in Sag Harbor Tuesday, July 15. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Caroline Whelan and Ollie in Sag Harbor Tuesday, July 15. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

If no one had rescued Ollie from the cardboard box advertising “free puppies” he and his siblings were sharing at a yard sale in South Carolina, he would have been thrown into a river and drowned.

Instead, thanks to a network of volunteers dedicated to saving dogs from abuse, neglect and euthanasia, on New Year’s Day 2011, Ollie came to Sag Harbor and met Caroline Whelan.

Ollie, a “fourth-generation mutt,” according to Ms. Whelan, was brought up north and given a second chance by the Save A Dog A Day organization, a non-profit group based in East Hampton that rescues and finds new homes for dogs in danger of euthanasia.

“He just has the biggest heart and we’ve bonded since that first day,” Ms. Whelan said Tuesday, adding, “I think that’s one of the special things about rescue dogs; they have this knowing that they escaped something that could have been really ugly and scary, so he always seems so appreciative of the little things.”

Started by Colleen Fennell, a retired employee of the East Hampton School District, Save A Dog A Day has grown from a 2004 pipe dream to a national organization with 50 volunteers that rescues over 500 dogs annually—passing their goal of saving at least a dog a day.

The organization is hosting a fundraiser Sunday, July 20, at 230 Elm in Southampton. A two-hour open bar cocktail party will be followed by a comedy show with Carmen Lynch and Andy Pitz, who both performed on the Late Show with David Letterman.

During a visit to Puerto Rico, Ms. Fennell fell in love with the stray dogs there and realized she wanted—and needed—to do something to unite destitute animals across the United States with permanent homes. According to Ms. Fennell, over four million healthy animals are killed each year in the United States.

“She just wanted to do something, so she started the organization,” said Liz Miller of Springs, who has volunteered at Ms. Fennell’s side since the beginning, when she was only 15.

They connected with friends down south, establishing a secondary base in Fayetteville, North Carolina, “’cause there are so many kill shelters down there,” Ms. Miller said.

Lethal injection is the most humane method by which dogs are killed, but in many shelters in the United States—and the South, in particular—dogs are gassed or administered a heart stick, a practice that injects a burning, acid-like substance through the chests of conscious dogs that is not only illegal, but also an extremely painful way to die.

“Part of our challenge,” Ms. Fennell writes on the organization’s website, saveadogaday.net, “is to eradicate these cruel practices, while still maintaining a working relationship with these shelters.”

Caroline Whelan and Ollie on the day they met, January 1, 2011.

Caroline Whelan and Ollie on the day they met, January 1, 2011.

After a dog is recognized, a volunteer “pulls” it from the shelter. Puppies are quarantined, usually in a vet’s office, for two weeks to ensure they’re healthy. During that period, the dog is advertised via the website, email blasts and Facebook for potential foster and adoptive parents.

“The kill shelters are really bad for a billion reasons,” said Ms. Miller, “but another reason a lot of the rescues need fostering time is because they need to be re-acclimated to what it’s like to be in a normal environment. In kill shelters, 24/7 the dogs are stressed out. They feel the hate coming from the humans; there’s no affection, there’s no love there…It’s like death row for dogs.”

Once the dogs are cleared, the Pilots N Paws rescue service, “really great people who volunteer,” according to Ms. Miller, transports them on small planes.

Save A Dog A Day’s volunteers in the south bring the rescued dogs to the pilots, who fly them to small airports up north, usually in Wainscott, Brookhaven, Farmingdale or Connecticut. Once the dogs arrive, they are picked up and brought to foster parents.

“Fosters are the most crucial part,” said Ms. Miller. “The more fosters we have, the more dogs we can pull out.”

If the dogs aren’t flown by plane, an email chain gets sent out that says when a transport needs to happen. People sign up for two- to four-hour increments, driving the dog a portion of the way and handing them over to the next driver at a highway rest stop.

“It’s like a domino and they’ll just keep switching the dogs from car to car until they get to their destination,” Ms. Miller said. “There are a lot of good people who do that.”

After the dogs are distributed to their foster parents, Save A Dog A Day keeps advertising until they are adopted into a forever home. When an adoptive parent comes forward, a home visit is done to ensure it’s a safe and fitting environment for the dog’s needs and personality.

No one at Save A Dog A Day accepts a salary, and much of the non-profit’s funding comes from the pockets of Ms. Fennell and her volunteer network.

“The reason we do fundraisers is to pay for the vetting,” Ms. Miller said of the July 20 event. “We pay for a little transportation, but a lot the pilots donate. Most of the money Colleen [Fennell] pays out of her pocket.”

In addition to the regular shots and quarantine period, some expenses are unforeseen.

“A lot of times with a lot of dogs they have health issues because they’ve been kept in such horrible conditions,” Ms. Miller said.

A Rottweiler mix had a limp at the kill shelter. Once he was pulled out, they realized the limp was due to three bullets lodged in his hind leg, which cost the non-profit an unexpected $3,000 to remove.

Although a lot of sad stories come out of Save A Dog A Day’s daily work, the plight of the dogs often brings out the compassion in people.

Ms. Whelan picked out Ollie, fresh off a plane from South Carolina, with the intention of fostering him for two weeks. Three and a half years later, he’s her best friend.

“Ollie’s been with me through good times, bad times, break-ups, and he is that one constant in my life that I really cherish,” Ms. Whelan said.

If you’re interested in fostering or adopting a pet, please email Liz Miller at saveadogadayny@gmail.com. To purchase tickets to Sunday’s fundraiser, click hereFor more information on Save A Dog A Day, visit saveadogaday.net.

After Tragedy, Woman Petitions for Dog Park

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Tina Pignatelli and her dog Huckleberry.


By Stephen J. Kotz

A Bay Point woman whose pet dog was struck and killed by a Sag Harbor Village truck at Havens Beach a few weeks ago has started an online petition drive to have a portion of the park fenced off as a dog park.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful dog,” said Tina Pignatelli of her 6-year-old golden doodle, Huckleberry. “I felt like I could talk to him and he understood exactly what I was saying.”

Ms. Pignatelli said she has already collected about 160 signatures on her iPetition and has an ultimate goal of 500. She hopes to pitch her idea to the Sag Harbor Village Board at its next meeting, on June 10.

“I’m not trying to go against the village,” she said. “I’m just trying to make this a really beautiful place for people and make it safer for dogs.”

The field on the eastern side of the park is an informal gathering place for dog owners and their pets.

Mayor Brian Gilbride said on Wednesday that even though he was sympathetic to Ms. Pignatelli, he would not be inclined to support her idea. “At the end of the day that is not a dog park, nor is it supposed to be,” he said. “It is really supposed to be a picnic park.”

The mayor added that the village has spent a lot of money trying to clean up Havens Beach and pointed out that a person hired by the village to take water samples there recently remarked that there was a significant amount of dog feces on the beach.

Ms. Pignatelli said she thought most dog owners were conscientious about cleaning up after their pets, adding that she thought a formal, fenced-in dog park might result in them becoming even more diligent.

As part of her proposal, Ms. Pignatelli said she had reached out to landscape architects, Jack Delashmet Associates, and they had agreed to design a landscaped area on the south side of the field, leaving ample space for landing Medevac helicopters and a wide enough gate to accommodate cars if the field is needed for parking for events like the fire department’s annual carnival.

“I’m willing to raise the money,” she said. “I’m not asking for village’s money. I just want their permission.

Ms. Pignatelli said on the fateful day, Huckleberry was in a playful mood when she brought him to the beach to exercise him off his leash. When she tried to get him back in the car, he dashed out in front of a village work truck that was leaving the parking area.

She was able to get the injured dog back in her vehicle, but he died as she drove him to Old Towne Animal Hospital in Southampton. “There was nothing that anyone could have done,” she said. “He came to me during a hard time in my life. I miss him every day.”

ARF Celebrates 40 Years of Protecting Man’s Best Friend

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ARF Trainer Matthew Posnick gets a kiss from Pretty Girl, a pit bull mix rescued from a dog fighting ring. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

ARF Trainer Matthew Posnick gets a kiss from Pretty Girl, a pit bull mix rescued from a dog-fighting ring. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Forty years ago, Sag Harbor Village was overrun with strays, cat colonies had overtaken the East Hampton Town dump and feral dogs roamed the Northwest Woods in wild packs.

The commonplace conversion of house pets to wild animals seems unbelievable on the East End today—and that change is in large part thanks to the efforts of ARF, the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary this Saturday.

People have been encouraged to bring their dogs on leashes and their cats in carriers to the celebration, which includes dog agility courses and contests, free pet microchipping and rabies vaccines, an “Ask the Vet” booth with Dr. Sarah Alward, music, fresh food for both humans and pets, and proclamations from elected officials and the Humane Society.

“We’re celebrating 280 years in dog years,” said Executive Director Sara Davison, noting that guests can also visit the shelter and view pets for adoption.

“A lot has changed since ARF was founded and we’re very, very proud of the role we’ve played in helping to make the East End a no-kill community—and by that I mean that no animal now in most of the East End towns is euthanized for lack of space,” she said.

“Through ARF’s work of advocating for spay and neuter, the numbers of unwanted litters of kittens and puppies are way, way down and we’re able to take all the animals that are healthy or can be rehabilitated and we get them homes,” Ms. Davison added.

ARF Executive Director Sara Davison poses with cats at the Wainscott adoption center. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

ARF Executive Director Sara Davison poses with cats at the Wainscott adoption center. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

When ARF was founded in 1974, “People were abandoning animals left and right…. There were huge tracts of woodlands where there were feral dogs, a lot of suffering, a lot of animals abandoned—and that’s all changed,” she said.

In 1973, the late Cleveland Amory, an American author who devoted his life to promoting animal rights, brought three local women together for a meeting at what was then the Paradise Restaurant in Sag Harbor.

Mr. Amory contacted the women—Barbara Posener, Sony Schotland and Dorothy Wahl—because of their respective contributions to animal welfare on the East End.

The late Ms. Posener had made flyers calling on summer residents to leave their house, not their dog, when they left the area in the fall. Ms. Wahl had reached out to Mr. Amory to notify him of someone who was illegally selling leopards and other wildlife. Mr. Amory approached Ms. Schotland, the owner of a shop on Main Street at the time, because she had raised money to buy a fence for the Hampton Animal Shelter, a shelter on Brick Kiln Road with a bad reputation.

“I constantly tried to help them, but it was to no avail,” she recounted.

After Ms. Schotland raised funds for a fence, the shelter owner took the money but applied it elsewhere, she said, rather than using it to enclose the cats and dogs in her care. Claiming to take in strays, the shelter actually perpetuated the problem, said Ms. Schotland, as its animals would wander from Brick Kiln Road into Sag Harbor.

“The warden in Southampton told me, ‘I have never been to any place where I pick up so many strays, I pick up an average of 30 strays a month out of just Sag Harbor,” Ms. Schotland said.

Mr. Amory, “the god of the animal world in those days,” according to Ms. Schotland, brought the women together, approaching the shelter to offer their help.

When the group’s offer was rejected, ARF was born.

“If she had not rejected us, ARF would never have been,” Ms. Schotland said.

The trio founded the new shelter “with little more than a passion for animal welfare, a backyard and indomitable determination,” according to ARF board president Lisa McCarthy.

“We had no clue what to do and it felt like having an elephant by the tail, but then, little by little, it worked,” Ms. Schotland said.

In the beginning, the founders boarded animals in their homes, in the back of Ms. Schotland’s shop, and at local animal hospitals, vets and friends’ places.

It is it’s required that found animals first be taken to a designated shelter, Southampton Animal Shelter in Southampton or the East Hampton Veterinary Group in East Hampton, to be held for a period of time, so there is a standard place for an owner to look for their pet.

In the early 1980s, ARF, still a fledgling organization, brought a four-month old black lab, “adorable” according to Ms. Schotland, to Southampton Town as mandated.

“That was terrible,” she recalled. “By the next weekend, when the people came back to look for it, it had been destroyed, it had been euthanized.”

Following the incident, Ms. Schotland, Helena Curtis and ARF successfully lobbied the town to increase the mandatory holding time for stray dogs from five to 10 days.

As ARF’s reputation grew through such efforts, bigger names signed on.

ARF Trainer Matthew Posnick plays with Pretty Girl. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

ARF Trainer Matthew Posnick plays with Pretty Girl. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

“Little by little, we formed a board and we got more organized,” Ms. Schotland said.

With help from philanthropists Edward and Susan Yawney, ARF celebrated its 10th anniversary with the purchase of 22 acres on Daniels Hole Road in Wainscott.

Today, ARF has 27 professional employees, hundreds of volunteers and an annual budget of $2.5 million—and plenty of stories supporting its initial mission to protect homeless and abandoned cats and dogs.

“They all have a story,” said Jamie Berger, director of marketing and communications. “Some we know, some we don’t.”

A year ago, a pit bull mix was found lying close to death on the floor of a dog-fighting ring in North Hempstead.

“She’s pretty well chewed up from what they did to her,” said Matthew Posnick, ARF’s trainer who is in the process of rehabilitating the dog, now affectionately called Pretty Girl.

ARF Trainer Matthew Posnick shows the scars on Pretty Girl's face from her days in a North Hempstead dog-fighting ring. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

ARF Trainer Matthew Posnick shows the scars on Pretty Girl’s face from her days in a North Hempstead dog-fighting ring. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Within about 10 weeks, Pretty Girl was out of a muzzle and socializing with other dogs. She was on the pier at HarborFest, playing with dogs and kids and although she isn’t up for adoption quite yet, the shelter is hopeful she will be ready for a home soon.

“Of all the things I’ve done here in four years, I’m most proud of that,” Mr. Posnick said, as Pretty Girl licked his face. “She’s a really happy dog.”

Nancy Butts, who has worked at ARF for 21 years—topped only by Debbie Downes’s 28 years—was never allowed to have an animal growing up.

“My father used to say to me, when you get married you can have all the dogs you want,” said Ms. Butts, who now has four. “I got married on a Saturday and got an animal on a Monday.”

Snuggled below her desk was Patrick, a Pomeranian who looks like a puppy but is actually 7. Rescued from a puppy mill in Ohio, Patrick is patiently awaiting a home.

With an extremely high release rate—the rate of how many animals come into the shelter versus how many leave alive—ARF has adopted out 20,000 animals to date.

Longtime ARF employee Nancy Butts with Patrick, a seven-year-old Pomeranian rescued from a puppy mill. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Longtime ARF employee Nancy Butts with Patrick, a seven-year-old Pomeranian rescued from a puppy mill. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Ms. McCarthy’s personal goal is to adopt out 2,000 animals yearly by 2017.

“We’re very proud of the community,” Ms. Davison said. “We’re thankful for the support that we’ve gotten through the years from the community, and it’s enabled us to create one of the leading shelters in our country.”

“Not every shelter can afford to do the kinds of surgeries and rehabilitative care that we provide, but once we admit an animal into our doors, we really make a pledge to them that we’re going to do everything we can to get them healthy and get them adopted,” she added.

ARF’s 40th Anniversary Celebration is Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the ARF Adoption Center, 90 Daniels Hole Road in Wainscott. For more information or to RSVP, email tdix@arfhamptons.org or call 537-0400.

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).