Animal group continues to struggle – January 2, 2006


The Daily Oakland Press
Jan 2, 2006

Animal group continues to struggle

Ann Zaniewski of The Oakland Press

Kim Biafora of Royal Oak is a volunteer of her time and money, caring for neglected dogs and cats in different locations in Pontiac that have been neglected. Often the dogs are chained up, living out in the cold, and have no water or food. As a member of the Animal Care Network, she and others they have been doing this for several years. They often rescue abused and neglected dogs and cats from Pontiac residents. Here Kim digs up a frozen bowl of what used to be this dogs water, deep in the snow while she (the dog) approaches a fresh bowl of food.   -Doug Bauman/THE OAKLAND PRESS


PONTIAC – One volunteer grabbed a handful of snow and scrubbed the dirt from the inside of a bowl.

Another poured in fresh water. Tails wagging, two stocky female bulldogs pushed their pink faces along the ground like vacuums looking for just-dropped treats.

The bright spot in the dogs’ day was courtesy of the Animal Care Network, a band of volunteers who provide food, water and shelter to outdoor animals in Pontiac. The bulldogs that four volunteers encountered a couple of days after Christmas appeared well-fed and happy. They were chained but had doghouses with straw and heaters inside.

Some animals don’t have lives as lucky. In wintertime, volunteers see frozen-over water bowls and dogs huddling in shoddy shelters that don’t keep out the biting cold. Last winter, volunteers and animal control officials found more than 20 dogs that had frozen to death.

“Basically, it’s depressing,” said Amy Wettlaufer, manager for the Michigan Animal Adoption Network, the umbrella group over the Animal Care Network. “It’s very depressing. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting. “At the same time, as crazy as it sounds, it’s also sort of comforting because we’re also providing something these animals wouldn’t normally have.”

The network – which has one full-time staff member, a part-time staffer and about 35 volunteers – has been helping Pontiac’s animals for several years. It works to place unwanted animals in caring homes and has held low-cost vaccination and spaying and neutering programs.

Teams drive through the city’s neighborhoods every weekend and sometimes daily, armed with supplies, often responding to concerned neighbors’ calls. In the summer, worst-case scenarios are dogs suffering from heat exhaustion that have cooked to death. At their stops, volunteers try to educate homeowners about proper care. Some people welcome them. Others are indifferent or irritated.

“Some of them know us, and they’re very grateful,” volunteer Carrie Griffi n said. “Others look at us, ‘Why do you have an interest in my dog? I don’t have an interest in my dog, so why should you?’ ”

Like other nonprofit agencies, the Animal Care Network is struggling to make ends meet. The group occupied an office in Livonia. But it had trouble affording the $1,200-a-month rent, so now home base is a temporary location in Ferndale. Almost 100 percent of the supplies it uses – from dog food to doghouses – is donated.

Network president Marie Skladd and volunteers have met with Pontiac officials about leasing a building in the city for a nominal fee that could house the network and the strays it takes in, as well as serving as the city’s animal shelter. The city lacks a shelter and takes animals to a county facility, which Skladd argues is more expensive. Though Skladd said officials seemed interested, nothing came of the meetings. She said members are hoping to chat with incoming Mayor Clarence Phillips once he settles into office. Meanwhile, she’s been contacted by officials with Detroit’s animal control about a potential joint operating agreement there.

A goal, she said, would be to help animals in both cities. “We hope not to be void in Pontiac, but there’s a great need in the city of Detroit, as well,” Skladd said. “It’s just that Detroit realizes that it’s a problem, and they’ve come more with open arms.”

Care Network volunteers have been especially busy since Pontiac laid off one of its two animal control officers over the summer. Skladd said calls for help instantly skyrocketed. “We’re getting about 225 calls a week,” she said. On a recent day, the team of four loaded straw, food and water jugs into two vehicles.

Their first stop was a home on the city’s east side. They knocked on the door and got permission from a man inside to visit the dogs in the back. He said they belonged to his brother-in-law. Two angry pit bulls viciously barked from inside a small fenced-in rectangle in the back of the back yard. At the end of short chains just long enough so their faces almost touched, barks and growls at the volunteers were interspersed with the dogs’ angry attempts to tear at each other. The volunteers trudged back out of the yard without dropping off food, worried that doing so would further agitate them.

“They’ll kill each other,” volunteer Evan Deutsch said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” As they walked away, one dog started gnawing on the corner of his doghouse. “It’s frustration,” volunteer Kim Biafora said. “They have no outlet. They’re constantly tormented by each other.”

The next stop was the house with the bulldogs. Though they were generally in good shape, Biafora said their short coats don’t provide much protection in cold weather.

In the winter, Skladd said, people should bring dogs inside as much as possible, especially overnight. Dogs need a constant supply of fresh water – snow doesn’t count – and should have extra food to help them build up their body fat and ability to stay warm.

Dogs need an adequate, protective shelter filled with insulating hay. It should be placed with regard to wind direction and where the sun shines. And, whether living indoors or outdoors, dogs should have nylon or leather collars – not chains – that are loose enough to fit two fingers underneath.

The third stop of the day was the blue home of Bob Crump. In the back yard, volunteers found Zeus, a happy 11-year-old terrier mix with a bushy coat. Crump, 53, said he appreciates the volunteers, who care for the dog even when the snow in the back yard gets too deep and he can’t.

Crump is a father of two and grandfather of four. Except for Zeus – or “Zeusy Boy” – he lives alone. “Only friend I got left,” he said.

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