BY MICHELLE SEROCKI, FREELANCER

What a strange time we’re living in. Imagine how strange your pets must think it is too. They feel your unsettled energy. If their routine has been upended, they’re likely feeling unsettled too. It’s been a long end to winter with even more isolation than our Wisconsin hibernation typically includes. Spring brings new hope with rising temperatures, buds sprouting and the pandemic on the decline. Experts say that fresh air is crucial to sustain good mental health, and this applies to our dogs as well. But with people flocking to limited public outdoor outlets, it can seem like there’s nowhere safe to go with your favorite Fido.

Pit Bull Advocates of America (PBAOA) has Southeastern Wisconsin’s only private dog park open year-round. In exchange for a modest donation, the Dog Days program allows pet parents the opportunity to reserve over an acre of fenced-in yard space for their dog to play, explore and relax in a completely private and safe environment. All dogs benefit from a change in scenery, new smells and fun exploration. Relax and bond with your dog, play fetch, work on training or tackle the agility course. Watch your dog light up and be free at the Rescue Retreat.

When the Rescue Retreat became a reality for PBAOA in 2016, they had no idea it held so many unknown possibilities. The nonprofit was ultra-focused on programs they were already running and excited to have the new location to expand in. As volunteers sat in the breathtaking and secure space watching their rescue dogs run freely, explore vigorously and relax effortlessly, the concept of Dog Days was born. A vision for dogs that had nowhere to freely and safely explore the world… until now. A vision of dog play dates and parties. A vision of dogs doing what they should be free to do best. Just. Be. Dogs.

There are no unknown humans or animals to be concerned with during your scheduled play time. It’s your choice if anyone joins you and who those people and/or pets will be. The folks at the Rescue Retreat have a special spot in their hearts for reactive rovers, and Dog Days is an ideal offering for animals that can’t be around other dogs and/or people. No judgement. No scrutiny. All 30-minute play times must be scheduled. No walk-ins will be accommodated. All breeds are always welcome.

Your private play session will not involve any unfamiliar dogs or people. There are no volunteers present. You will need to monitor your own scheduled play time. This means you must arrive and leave on time. Others are relying on you to make this safe for their dogs.

Scheduled play time is always in 30-minute increments. If you arrive 15 minutes late for a 30-minute play session, you cannot stay an extra 15 minutes. Play sessions are scheduled and are often booked up. Please be on time, and be kind to others using this service for their dogs by leaving at your scheduled end time.

If you arrive early and there’s still another dog playing, you must stay in your car with your dog until they exit the yard and are back in their car. As mentioned, many of the dogs that have used the private park for years do so because they can’t be around other dogs and/or humans. It’s so important that players are respectful of other players limitations and challenges.

During the pandemic, the folks at the Rescue Retreat have taken extra precautions to remain open while not contributing to the spread of COVID-19. We have hand sanitizer at the gate and Clorox wipes onsite. We encourage all players to wash their hands as soon as possible once they’ve left.

Treat yourself and your dog to some safe, socially distant outside time at the Rescue Retreat. You can find more information on the Dog Days program as well as the schedule on the PBAOA website: https://pitbulladvocates.org/owner-support/dog-days/

BY MICHELLE SEROCKI, FREELANCER

I have a dog that doesn’t like to be touched. His name is TK. I have no idea why he was named that, but I pretend it’s short for Taco King. He’s got spicy taco pajamas now to prove that’s what it means. He loves the jammies that came with his new life, and I love that he makes my life new. However, I must constantly remind friends and family of his aversion to being pet.

We traveled to an overwhelmed shelter in Chattanooga, Tenn., for two dogs, TK and Ms. Pocket. When I arrived at McKamey Animal Center, I was met by a very friendly and slightly frazzled worker. It was obvious she loved her job and the animals involved despite the visible stress displayed on her face. She gave my friend and me the dime tour of their quite spacious and uncommonly clean shelter, at least compared to what I was used to seeing around the country. They had sufficient adoption space for animals to meet potential families and ample outdoor play yards, both grassy and concrete, created for different uses. It was really quite nice, which helped me to convince myself that things were a little better for the hundreds of homeless animals contained within.

TK and Ms. Pocket had been sharing a kennel run because TK was shutting down until they tried the buddy system. It worked like a charm and made their long shelter stay more bearable. This was TK’s fourth time at the “Animal Control Hotel.” His parents had frequent run-ins with the law, and while they went to jail, TK would be dropped off at the shelter. This particular stay lasted four months. This time, instead of being picked up when his parents got out of jail, he was signed over, no longer wanted by anyone.

The staff knew that we were coming, so they moved TK and Ms. Pocket into wire crates until our arrival. That way their run could be used for other dogs with no place to go. These two dogs couldn’t have been more different. Their brindle brown coats were about all they had in common. Ms. Pocket was pocket-sized as her name suggests. Her ears stood tall and were, by far, the biggest part of her body. She wiggled and wagged so hard at the sight of her rescuers that her whole crate moved. TK stood tall and although thin, he probably almost doubled Ms. Pocket’s weight. His ears were cut off low and the tops were all scar tissue, the result of years and year of flies biting at them. I moved a foot toward TK’s crate, expecting the same sweet welcome I had gotten a moment ago from his girlfriend but instead received a low, barely audible growl. He froze and glared at me from the corner of his eye. I backed off and knew at that moment this guy had been through some things.

It’s unusual in rescue to have an accurate and lengthy backstory. Many animals are strays with a completely unknown past. Others belong to people like TK did, but they typically don’t share information over years of drop-offs and pick-ups. We know TK’s birthday is 7/30/11. We know the first 7 years of his life were lonely. The reason is unclear, but it’s known that he was kept on a chain in the yard for the entirety of his life. You might think that this meant he enjoyed visiting McKamey where he was offered shelter and human interaction, but that was not his reality. Being confined to a space much smaller than a yard and surrounded by humans would have been very stressful. His anxiety came out in unwanted behaviors like growling, pacing, shaking and lack of appetite.

TK has been home with me now for a little over a year. I love animal behavior and rehabilitation, so I decided to foster him and see what we could learn and accomplish together. His trust issues abounded, and his lack of human handling made physical touch aversive to him. It took months for us to build enough of a bond and positive association with touch for him to tolerate it from me. He’s still incredibly hand-shy, and his skin jumps unless you tell him you’re going to touch him and do it ever so slowly. He solicits interaction with people and enjoys their company while sitting by them, but that’s where he draws the line. It’s by far harder on people than it is on him. He’s so handsome and sweet, and everyone just wants to love on him.

He wants to love back, and together we think we’ve found a way.

I’m excited to announce that TK’s taking over writing The Hydrant in 2020 to share his perspective on dog-related stories.

He’s excited to be part of your lives in this way. Please join TK this coming year to experience his adventures, friends and firsts as an official FETCH writer!

BY MICHELLE SEROCKI, FREELANCE COLUMNIST

We’ve all heard the age-old adage, “the elephant in the room,” which refers to a problem or awkwardness that is huge, but everyone ignores it. I don’t know about you, but I have elephants all over the place. They’re certainly not contained to one room. One room and one elephant sounds blissfully ignorant to me.

I’ve got an elephant in my bedroom. He’s supposedly a foster dog that bears a striking resemblance to an adopted pet and takes up more then his share of my bed. He has all but spoke in tongues about the fact that he’s never leaving.

I’ve got an elephant wherever my teenager is, so I try incredibly hard to avoid that room… or teacher conference… or vehicle. That elephant is incredibly mobile.

I’ve got work elephants and coworker elephants. My co-worker’s elephants hang out with mine… if I wasn’t so incredibly pro-spay and neuter, I’d have some very serious suspicions about where all these elephants were coming from.

We all have elephants of different shapes and sizes in our lives. Life comes with problems that we don’t want to talk about. Sometimes the problems are so overwhelming or unfamiliar that we look the other way. And sometimes we have no knowledge of a problem even though it’s HUGE.

Today, while standing around the hydrant, we’re exposing some animal welfare elephants. Some big, big problems that aren’t getting the attention they deserve or being addressed on the enormous platforms they warrant.

I’ll ease you into the watering hole… did you know that there’s an amazing problem in the United States of pet overpopulation? I had NO idea about this for the first 35 years of my life even though I religiously watched The Price is Right with the same sign off for decades—“This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population—have your pets spayed or neutered.” Drew Carey still says it. Did you know what he’s trying to say is there are millions of pets at this very moment that have no home? Millions and millions. No joke. Homeless. Some in shelters. Some on the streets. But all without a home or a family. Often without food or water. WHY?!? Because they’re bred like crazy and no one knows about it! Because people are still buying pets from pet stores. Didn’t know that was a problem? Believe me, you don’t want to know where they’re coming from. Welcome to National Elephant #1.

Did you know that according to the Humane Society of the United States, 1 million of the planet’s 8 million species of animals are facing the threat of extinction? WHAT?!? First off, who knew there were 8 million species of animals?!? Secondly, WHY are all these animals possibly going extinct? And furthermore, WHAT is being done about it? It’s not all obscure types of animals either. It’s elephants and polar bears and rhinos and sharks and sea turtles to name just a few. This elephant is hovering all throughout our atmosphere begging someone to take notice. Not the next generation’s grandkids either. By then it will be too late. Say hello to Global Elephant #2.

I’ll wrap up our time at the hydrant with an elephant that’s plopped its big self down smack dab all over our great nation along with some other nations. This is one that our country works hard, hard, hard to make sure no one notices and no one talks about. It’s a tough one. Parents and grandparents alike flock to stores for Fisher-Price’s traditional farm full of smiling pigs, cows and chickens to give for a child’s first gift. Elementary teachers everywhere sing songs about Old MacDonald and his fantastic farm. Zoos across America celebrate the traditional farm and its happy-go-lucky inhabitants. But unfortunately, Walmart and all the other grocery giants can’t stock their stores with the amount that Old MacDonald’s Farm can produce. McDonald’s didn’t serve it’s first billion people with food from old-fashioned farms with happy, carefree animals. When we take a moment to consider the math, we know that it doesn’t add up. What supplies all that food? Cue elephant #3, Factory Farming.

The hydrant is a somber place today. It’s hard to navigate this life surrounded by elephants. The animals of the world rely on us humans to care of them and their environment. If you want to learn more about these and other animal welfare issues, global and national elephants, please Google the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Research pet overpopulation, wildlife extinction, and/or factory farming. Look an elephant in the eye, introduce yourself and give it a voice. The animals will absolutely appreciate you for taking the time to address the elephant in the room!

By MICHELLE SEROCKI

There are things in this world that many of us don’t want to think about, talk about, or even read about. I understand that and am certainly not immune to it. I too would like to look the other way and pretend that some things don’t exist—things such as dogfighting. However, there’s a big problem with burying our heads in the sand: Education and awareness can cause big change in our world.

I’ve been educating myself and the public about the heinous “sport” of dogfighting for almost 10 years. It’s almost as hard to teach about as it is to learn about. I’m not a shock value educator. It doesn’t make sense, especially when it comes to dogfighting. It’s naturally scary, violent and awful—plain and simple. There’s no need for embellishment to make it sad or gruesome or heartbreaking. I encourage you to continue reading because the knowledge that you gain could end up saving a life somehow. I promise I’ll be gentle for the ultimate benefit of some potential survivor out there who needs you to pay attention and understand.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that more than 40,000 people participate in organized dogfighting in the U.S., and hundreds of thousands more take part in impromptu street dogfighting. Those numbers are staggering and unexpected by most when they first hear them.

Most Americans have heard of one dogfighting bust in 2007. NFL superstar Michael Vick was caught and prosecuted, and 53 dogs were saved from the appropriately named Bad Newz Kennels. Many think this was an isolated incident or that dogfighting doesn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s likely that thousands of dogs are living a horrific life at this very moment, waiting for their next brutal training session, their next fight and their next day of living a loveless life.

Ten years ago, on July 8, 2009, was the largest dogfighting bust in United States history. Over 400 dogs were removed in 10 hours from multiple properties in multiple states. Those 400-plus dogs went on to have more than 120 puppies in the following 60 days. The surviving dogs and their offspring became known as the Missouri 500. Four years later, on August 23, 2013, the second-largest dogfighting bust took place. This one confiscated 367 dogs from multiple properties and states and became known as the Alabama 367. These historic busts, along with at least three others in the 10 years following the Michael Vick bust, netted over 1,200 dogs from organized dogfighting situations.

Although organized dogfighting is most prevalent in the southern states of the U.S., there are problems in all areas of the country, including Wisconsin. The Milwaukee area had a couple small-organized busts in 2011 and 2014, where less then three dozen dogs were confiscated from each. Milwaukee, like larger cities, is home to a street-fighting problem rather then the large-scale organized rings that are found further south. Street fighting is common in urban areas where people face off their dogs in primarily unplanned altercations. Many times the fights are for resources such as clothes, shoes or small amounts of money. Other times fights are used for street cred or status.

Break the Cycle

There are things you can do to help end the barbaric abuse.

1. Tell your family and friends about this article, and raise awareness of this problem. Education and awareness are the two best ways to end violence.

2. Help local organizations to fight this type of cruelty. Check out the Brew City Bully Club and how they’re working against dogfighting. brewcitybullies.org

3. Support national organizations efforts too. The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA both do amazing work against dogfighting.

We all want to live in a world without animal cruelty, abuse and dogfighting. We all want to see the day when dogfighting has been eradicated from our community, country and world! Get involved in one way or another. The more we unite in our stand against animal crimes, the quicker we will see progress!

By MICHELLE SEROCKI

Breed Specific Legislation. Breed Discriminatory Legislation. BSL or BDL for short. Many of you may have heard these buzzwords or abbreviations at some point, especially in the last several years, as the topic has become a hot one. So, what exactly is Breed Specific Legislation and why is it important for all of us to understand it?

BSL is a law that is passed to ban or place strict limitations on certain breeds of dogs that have been deemed dangerous. Originally, the purpose of these laws was to protect the community. Sounds like a great idea by that simple definition, doesn’t it? However, BSL has a whole host of problems that start as early as the motivation for the law and can extend all the way through the law being enforced.

Unfortunately, laws applying to only one breed don’t protect the community from dangerous dogs as they come in all shapes and sizes. These dogs may be genetically deformed or the product of environments where there has been neglect, lack of socialization, and/or lack of medical care. Any dog can be dangerous as a result of these or several other reasons as well.

Most often, BSL is a knee-jerk reaction to fear. A serious dog bite will occur, the media may become involved, and suddenly legislation needs to be passed. Other times, people with deep-rooted fear and dislike for certain breeds work tirelessly to scare more and more people into believing that BSL will protect them. Throughout the past 20 years, the dogs that are typically targeted for BSL are those referred to as Pit Bull-type dogs.

This is an enormous problem, as “Pit Bulls” are the modern day “mutt.” While there are hundreds of thousands of Pit Bull-type dogs in the country, a very small percentage of those dogs are actually purebred representations of any of the three breeds that make up the slang term “Pit Bull.” Those three breeds are the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. DNA testing is helping professionals and laypeople alike to prove this fact. Pit Bull-type dogs are a huge mixed bag of genetics, making it impossible to predict dangerous behavior from them as a group.

Even more concerning is how the legislation is being written to identify the dogs that will be banned or subject to strict rules and regulations. Most BSL that targets Pit Bull-type dogs identifies them as any of the three breeds known as Pit Bulls, any mix with any of those three breeds, and/or ANY dog that resembles any of the breeds or mixes. So the family with the Labrador/Boxer mix that has never hurt a flea and is loved by all is now going to have to euthanize their dog or rehome it or move out of the community or any number of other possibilities because their dog simply resembles a Pit Bull-type mix. Meanwhile, there’s a house down the street with a non-Pit Bull-type dog chained in the backyard that hardly gets food or water, has never been socialized, and whose chain is rusting. When that dog breaks its chain and mauls the next passerby, who is to blame? In this real-life example, BSL fails. So what alternatives are there to BSL? How can we make our communities safe without this type of legislation?

Protecting Communities

There are many proven strategies that work in communities to protect against dog bites and dangerous dogs. Providing education and resources to dog owners is one of the most effective. Teaching people how to provide the appropriate environment for their dog, the value of spay and neuter, and helping them to bond with their pets is key. I’ve met many dog owners that didn’t know chaining a dog was mentally debilitating or could cause aggressive behavior. Once they learned this, they took their dog off the chain. So here’s how to help:

1. Educating youth is incredibly effective. Introducing the next generations of pet owners to proper ownership strategies stops the problems before they even start.

2. Effective animal control agencies can also lend a hand towards safer communities. Proper fees and incentives for responsible ownership can go a long way!

3. Lastly, there are very effective ordinances and legislation that can be considered. Many cities and towns around the country have been replacing their BSL with well-balanced wording that protects against all dangerous dogs and identifies the traits that would suggest they’re dangerous. These are typically described as dogs that are at large repeatedly, dogs that bite repeatedly, and dogs that cause other harm as well as other criteria per the specific problems in the area.

We all want to live with our pets in a safe community. Breed specific legislation has failed to provide comprehensive protection time and time again. Education, offering resources, effective animal control, and well-worded, non-discriminatory legislation are all pieces that, when put together, create long-lasting success.