Tag Archives: rescue

92 cats, dead and alive, taken from Wisconsin home

Authorities have removed dozens of dead cats from the freezer of a home in southern Wisconsin.

Police confiscated 50 live cats from the residence in Monroe. Authorities say when they executed a search warrant, 35 kittens and six adult cats were found in a freezer.

They also found a dead cat in the garage.

WKOW-TV reports firefighters wore gas masks and oxygen tanks to enter the residence because of the smell.

Police Chief Fred Kelley says one of the 50 cats taken had to be euthanized because of its poor condition.


Dogs sniff out bedbugs with 95 percent accuracy

Willy, an 18-month-old corgi-Chihuahua mix, was on a mission when he entered a South Bend, Indiana, home. His goal? To find three vials with living bedbugs by sniffing their scent.

The dog was accompanied by a canine handler during the demonstration by Rose Pest Solutions at the residence of a Tribune reporter. Willy first found a vial hidden beneath a bed mattress, scratching the area to alert the handler. He then found the other two vials wedged between the cushions of a couch, finishing the entire task in about one minute.

Dogs are increasingly being used by the pest-control industry as a tool in the fight against bedbugs. When properly trained, dogs use their keen sense of smell — about a thousand times more sensitive than a human — to find bedbugs much faster than pest-control technicians and with better accuracy, said Monica Gruss, Willy’s handler. The pair serves clients in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

“The dog’s nose can pick up things that our eyes can’t. We can do a small apartment in about two or three minutes, but a technician would have to go in and tear the bed apart,” said Gruss, who lives with Willy in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The dogs are rewarded with food when they find bedbugs. Even when Willy is at home, he is allowed to eat only after finding a hidden vial of bedbugs.

Rose, which has a district office in South Bend, began using dogs to search for bedbugs in 2011. It has eight certified handlers with trained dogs, offering the service in northern Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, along with portions of Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Terry Giffin, canine division manager for Rose who is based in Lansing, Michigan, said the dogs are especially effective for searching apartment complexes, schools and hospitals. The majority of the firm’s clients are apartment complexes that routinely check for bedbugs. The cost to search up to 20 apartments is $375.

“It takes humans about 20 minutes per apartment and they’re going to charge by the hour. Dogs are much more economical,” Giffin said.

Rose’s dogs are typically adopted from shelters. Willy, for example, was adopted last year at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Michigan. Sandy Clark, the shelter’s lead kennel attendant, said Willy might not have been adopted if Rose hadn’t claimed him.

“He was returned by a family because he was a little bit too energetic,” she said. “But he fit Rose’s profile because of his high-energy behavior.”

For his part, Giffin said the company looks for “young dogs at shelters that are high-energy and food-driven. Some aren’t properly socialized or obedient, but we take them in.”

Not many pest-control businesses use dogs to detect bedbugs because of the cost, Giffin said. At Rose, each dog completes a three-month, $12,000 training program offered by Scentworx in High Springs, Florida. The dogs are trained to pick up the scent of living bedbugs and their eggs.

About 450 bedbug-sniffing dogs have been trained over the past five years at Scentworx, said CEO Pepe Peruyero. He said dogs are going to be increasingly used by the pest-control industry because of their effectiveness. Field studies have shown the company’s dogs are about 95 percent accurate at detecting bedbugs.

“A technician can search a room and find evidence, such as a dead bedbug or fecal matter and say he thinks there are bugs and treat it. But a dog can go into a seemingly pristine room and it can smell a bedbug inside a mattress,” Peruyero said.

Published via the AP member exchange.

San Antonio now saves a majority of unwanted dogs, cats

As the director of Austin Pets Alive!, Ellen Jefferson gets a lot of urgent phone calls. Agency heads from municipal animal shelters across the country want to know how her nonprofit group, which adopts the sickest, least-loved dogs and cats, helped to make Austin the largest city in America with “no kill” shelters.

In 2011, one of those calls came from San Antonio, Texas.

“I walked into a city that was only saving about 30 percent of their animals,” said Jefferson, who agreed to open a San Antonio chapter of Pets Alive! the next year.

But things were changing. After decades of official neglect and public indifference, the Alamo City had begun to turn around its poor record of saving unwanted pets. In 2004, the old city shelter at Brackenridge Park euthanized more than 50,000 dogs and cats, the highest per-capita rate in the country.

Two years later, then-Mayor Phil Hardberger issued a challenge to significantly reduce the problem with strays. The City Council approved a plan to make San Antonio a “no-kill” city, which commonly means saving at least 90 percent of the unwanted animals.

A new city shelter with space for 22,000 animals opened in 2007 on the South Side. By November 2011, the city was saving more pets than it was killing. And by 2012, the kill total had declined to 13,559.

Since then, in big and small ways, multiple changes brought San Antonio to its first “no kill” status in December.

Money was key. The ACS budget nearly tripled in a decade, from $4.8 million in 2006 to $12.5 million this fiscal year. National animal groups like the Humane Society, the Petco Foundation, PetSmart Charities and ASPCA found money for San Antonio ACS projects.

The ACS embraced animal adoption groups, hired new staff, blanketed area schools and walked door-to-door in the city’s toughest neighborhoods to promote responsible pet ownership. Education became as important as enforcement.

There are critics. Some animal-rights activists say the no-kill threshold should not have taken 10 years after the problems were identified. They still find it unacceptable that 10 percent of cats and dogs — primarily the sickest, oldest, most-injured and ill-behaved — are put to death.

“It is commendable that we are saving more animals,” said John Bachman, co-director of VOICE For Animals, in an email to the San Antonio Express-News. “However, the city’s preoccupation with the 90 percent live-release rate and No Kill distracted from what should be the overall objective — no more homeless pets. That means no more strays on the streets menacing people and getting killed by cars.”

Animal Care Services has estimated that more than 150,000 stray dogs and cats roam the city.

Despite their efforts, ACS officials acknowledge that every month, dozens of healthy dogs also are put to death because other available options have been exhausted. Last year the ACS euthanized 4,448 animals, and something called the “5 p.m. list” — those animals who will be killed _ must still be compiled each day by a staff member.

“What makes that manager’s job so difficult is the awareness that this isn’t the animal’s fault,” said ACS outreach director Lisa Norwood. “This is a people problem.”

Animal shelter experts and city management publications have praised the San Antonio turnaround. Several cities _ Houston, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Baton Rouge and Las Vegas, among them _ have sent people to study the San Antonio experience.

“They’re no longer just animal catchers in San Antonio,” said Katie Jarl, the Texas state director of The Humane Society of the United States. “This is now a sophisticated operation dedicated to keeping more animals out of the shelters to begin with.”

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said she counts the “heartening” change in ACS as one of the five most important accomplishments of her 11-year tenure here.

It was not a quick transformation, said City Councilman Rey Saldana, who had his animal welfare epiphany in 2011, shortly after being elected.

“I was raised on the South Side and just thought that dangerous dogs running in packs was a fact of life. I actually owe it all to my wife,” he said. “She changed me 180 degrees on this. I told the city manager we needed to go door-to-door and talk to people about dogs. We had a terrible problem.”

“We had to change our image,” said Kathy Davis, who became the ACS director in 2012 and recently retired. “Before you ask the city to trust you, you have to clean up your own house first. We all knew the goal, but you don’t become a no-kill city overnight.”

Some ACS staff cautioned the public not to fixate on the “no-kill” number, itself a misleading term. With warmer months and the breeding season, the percentage dipped slightly below 90 percent for the total live-release in April and May, a figure that includes all healthy and unhealthy animals. If current adoption levels remain constant, as more animals come to ACS, more will fail to find a home and will be euthanized.

“We will not simply keep animals in the shelter, in a cage, for months, so that we can say we didn’t euthanize them,” Norwood said. “That’s not humane treatment.”

Davis and others track the start of the reform efforts to a San Antonio Express-News investigative report, “Death By The Pound,” in November 2004, by then-Staff Writer Lisa Sandberg, who documented the slaughter at its height. On her first day as director in August 2012, Davis said, an ACS board member handed her a copy of the story.

“It was eye-opening,” she said.

Among the grim facts: Almost nine of every 10 cats and dogs that entered the pound were put to death, many within an hour. Critiques of ACS by outside consulting agencies were ignored. Some staffers reported being traumatized from killing thousands of animals in a gas chamber and hearing their wails.

The city stopped using gas and switched to injections in the wake of the story. One year later, in November 2005, Sculley became city manager.

“I’m a runner,” recalled Sculley. “And I was amazed back then at the number of stray animals throughout the city. I used to always carry pepper spray for the dogs. . Ten years ago, our ACS people were taking one ton of animal carcasses to the landfill each day, in plastic garbage bags.”

In 2006, after hearing stories about children and the elderly being mauled in San Antonio by loose dogs, Sculley convened an ACS advisory board that put together a five-year plan. The goal was to be a no kill city by 2012.

“We had to change a culture about dogs,” Sculley said. “Many people just viewed their dogs as security for their property. Nothing more. I remember that there used to be people who before Spring Break would just bring their dog and turn it in to the pound. . They’d say, ‘We’ll just get another one when we come back.’ And that dog would be put to death.”

Progress was slow. But the numbers did improve.

From 2006 to 2011, ACS increased annual citations from 550 to 5,000, spay-neuter surgeries rose from 8,000 to 52,000 and the department tripled its live-release rate to 31 percent.

Animal advocates such as Bachman say the city must treat its dog population problem like an epidemic and boost spay-neutering to about 100,000 animals per year for several years to achieve zero growth.

The city studied what worked at other animal shelters and identified three areas: strong enforcement, an aggressive spay-neuter program and active partnerships with major animal groups to increase adoptions.

That’s where Ellen Jefferson and San Antonio Pets Alive!, plus groups like the Animal Defense League and Humane Society, have become indispensable. From 2012 through 2015, SAPA took in 26,310 of the toughest-to-adopt cats and dogs _ animals with amputations, behavior problems, the elderly _ and found homes for them.

“The Pets Alive! model is only focused on the city shelter and the animals who are left behind in the normal adoption process,” Jefferson said. “So, if the city is doing a great job at adoptions, then Pets Alive! will really have a small pet population.”

But SAPA needs money, too. It has a staff of 45 yet handles a similar number of animals as its Austin chapter, which has a staff of 100. If SAPA and similar groups do not fully function in San Antonio, then ACS says its no kill status will not be sustainable.

“My goal is to raise about a half million to one million dollars for three years running,” Jefferson said. “There is simply too much work for us to do in San Antonio with the people we have. That leads to a poor adoption process, a poor fostering experience.”

Like many who have dealt with ACS over the years, Jefferson agrees that the institutional change in a few short years has saved tens of thousands of animals.

At the 42,000-square-foot ACS shelter, the buildings are clean and airy, the workers appear busy and motivated. (Dozens of ACS staff have adopted or fostered pets.) Last week, veterinarians were doing more than 70 spay-neuter surgeries a day, yet the clinic was hardly chaotic. Enforcement officers quietly monitored calls throughout the city on big TV screens, yet only one flashed red, meaning a dog bite had been reported.

A herd of happy “community cats” _ they don’t say “feral” much at ACS _ relaxed in the sun on benches. The adoption area was teeming with kids nuzzling puppies.

On a recent Saturday morning, several ACS staffers, volunteers and enforcement officers walked through one of the city’s highest-need neighborhoods, handing out information about free spay-neuter programs and reminding residents that their dogs must be behind fences or leashed, must have their rabies shots and, as of 2015, all dogs and cats must be micro-chipped.

In the 400 block of Peabody, ACS health program specialist Jesse Enriquez, a tall engaging guy who has been doing this more than 20 years, bounded from one side of the street to the other to shake hands with residents.

“Loose dogs are still a problem here,” said Maria Godina, a bit timid at first, in Spanish. “They bother people going to the senior citizens center. I go there, too. They should teach people about their dogs.”

At the corner of Peabody and Creighton, two small kids ran out from a nearby church yard sale and waved happily at Enriquez, who they recognized from talks he has given at nearby Elm Creek Elementary. They flashed the peace sign and he handed them spay-neuter flyers for the church crowd.

At one point, Enriquez stopped in the intersection and held out his arms wide.

“I want you to look all the way down Creighton,” he said, eyeing the modest neighborhood. Some yards had rowdy pit bulls, but they were fenced.

“Now look all down this other side. Not a single loose dog anywhere! We were in this exact spot in 2012 and there were packs of stray dogs,” Enriquez said. “This makes you think that what you’re doing is working.”

An ACS outreach team member, Lyssa MacMillan, herself the daughter of a veterinarian, saw change in the making.

“Overwhelmingly, people are glad to see us out here,” she said. “Some people still think of us as being ‘The Man’ _ dog catchers, cops _ but all of us like this, talking to people, so much more than just rounding up dogs.

“Education is a very difficult thing to measure,” MacMillan added. “It’s not like rabies shots. But San Antonio is now seeing the dog problem as a public health issue. San Antonio is changing.”

Miniature horses recovering after farm rescue

Jenna Dickson expected to rescue only the miniature horses in the worst conditions when she headed to a farm in central Illinois.

No more than six would be coming back to the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, Illinois, she thought. But then she saw all 14 miniature horses.

“They kind of greet you at the fence, so you walk up and it’s like, ‘What cute little ponies. This will be great,’ “ said Dickson, the organization’s adoption coordinator. “And then you look at their feet. Some of them, their feet were so long and curling up (that) when they walked, their feet were flapping.

“We can’t just leave some of them here to get worse,” she said.

The first rescue came in early December after someone called the Hooved Animal Humane Society to alert them to the animals’ deteriorating conditions. One of the owners had died, and the widower was in poor health and couldn’t provide the animals the proper care, said Tracy McGonigle, executive director and Illinois Department of Agriculture-certified investigator.

The animals’ hooves were overgrown to the point where it was likely painful and could have caused permanent damage to their skeletons leaving them with constant discomfort.

Among the worst of the pack was Pony Boy, a 10-year-old stallion whose hooves likely had not been cut for about five years. In comparison, Dickson said her organization typically trims hooves every six to eight weeks.

A farrier and veterinarian visited the animals after they arrived – eight at first, and six a week later – and it doesn’t appear they sustained any irreversible injuries. It cost the nonprofit, which is responsible for about 140 animals in total, more than $4,000 for the triage.

The ponies will need additional trims, as well as dental care, but they’re in good shape otherwise, Dickson said. Most will be ready for adoption in about two months.

Some will use that time to get comfortable with people. Dickson said the horses in the second lot were hard to catch and seemed as if they had never had a halter put on before.

“Even the ones who are hard to handle, you can tell they’re curious. They want to and then they just get nervous,” Dickson said. “So I think as long as we’re gentle and keep working with them, they’ll come around really nice.”

In all, however, they’ve made strides since they first arrived, a couple even allowing a volunteer groomer to braid their hair. In the barn where they’re all being kept, they “talk” to each other, the horses named after “The Outsiders” characters neighing to those with “Harry Potter”-themed monikers.

Their calls reach across the barn to Pony Boy, who’s being kept separate until he’s gelded.

Playing and talking aside, they’re favorite pastime is eating hay.

“It’s rewarding for everyone,” McGonigle said, looking at the mini-horses muzzles peeking out of a gate. “It’s nice. It’s seeing them act like horses again, like normal animals.”

Published through the AP member exchange. 

PETA turns 35, still using sex and shock for animal causes

PETA has done a lot with a little sex, shock and shame.

One of the longest-running and sexiest stunts you will see in online ads around the world is a group of naked women who choose to wear nothing rather than wear fur, said Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

For shame, there are photos, group posts and videos, like one of an angora rabbit screaming as its fur is yanked out one tuft at a time.

For shock value, two of the hundreds of petitions and lawsuits PETA has filed over the years stand out. One in 1982 sought to make PETA the guardian of all animals used in research experiments; and another in 2011 asked a federal court to declare five SeaWorld orcas to be considered slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment.

PETA did not win the guardian case, and whales were not declared slaves. But the Norfolk, Virginia-based non-profit is still using attention-getting tactics to fight for animal welfare as it marks its 35th year. It now has 3 million members and supporters, including celebrities ranging from Paul McCartney to Bill Maher. Its fundraising brought in nearly $52 million in 2014.

“Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way,” is the organization’s credo. And while its push for animal rights has coincided with larger trends, like the popularity of vegan diets, it’s also led to real achievements, like an end to using live animals in car crash tests following a PETA campaign.

But wacky stunts and some questionable dealings complicate PETA’s standing in the animal rights world. The group sometimes clashes with researchers and other organizations.

“By campaigning against animal research, PETA presents a threat to the development of human and veterinary medicine. Only days ago we saw the Nobel Prize awarded to Tu Youyou, whose work in monkeys and mice paved the way for the use of artemisinin to protect against malaria, saving over 100,000 lives every year,” said Tom Holder, director of Speaking of Research, an international British-based advocacy group.

“If PETA had got their way 30 years ago, we would not have vaccines for HPV, hepatitis B or meningitis, nor would we have treatments for leprosy, modern asthma treatments and life support for premature babies,” Holder said.

Newkirk was in charge of a Washington, D.C., animal shelter in 1980 when she co-founded PETA to publicize what was going on in slaughterhouses, factory fur farms and laboratories. One of PETA’s first targets was the Ringling Bros. circus. After PETA acquired images of baby elephants being yanked from their mothers and trainers using whips and bull hooks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Ringling Bros. $270,000 for violating the Animal Welfare Act.

Thousands of PETA demonstrations later, the circus pledged this year to stop using elephants by 2018.

Former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson, who’s been working with PETA for 20 years, says she thinks PETA’s methods are “brilliant,” especially the out-of-the-box campaigns. “Humor can bring attention to something that is difficult to listen to,” she said.

One thing PETA’s been criticized for is the euthanasia of animals at its lone shelter in Norfolk. PETA’s 2014 annual report showed the shelter placed 162 cats and dogs, but euthanized 2,454. Newkirk notes that 500 of those animals were brought in by owners who wanted to relieve their pets’ suffering from old age, illness or injury. Many of the other animals euthanized were feral, aggressive or otherwise unadoptable, and had been rejected by no-kill shelters.

“Animals don’t evaporate if you refuse them admission to your shelter, which is the new game in town,” Newkirk said. When shelters refuse to accept animals, pet owners “let the old dog die slowly on the rug or throw it in the woods.”

PETA does not charge for euthanizing animals, and the shelter also spayed or neutered 10,950 animals for free or at low cost; provided free medical care for 1,500 pets; took 312 adoptable animals to shelters with more foot traffic, and helped 2,500 people work through behavior problems with their pets.

In addition to its big campaigns, PETA works with local groups. Projects with the San Diego Humane Society included the rescue of 83 rabbits from a backyard breeder. “We’ll do all we can to give animals a second chance,” said Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society.

Kathy Stevens, founder and executive director of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York, says she doesn’t agree with all of PETA’s tactics. But, she adds, “I think they have been an important voice in our work for a more compassionate world.”

On the web


With rescue near, Boko Haram stoned girls to death

Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom.

Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on May 3, their first day out of the war zone.

“We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived,” said 27-year-old Lami Musa as she cradled her 5-day-old baby girl.

She was among 275 girls, women and their young children, many bewildered and traumatized, who were getting medical care and being registered a day after making it to safety.

Nigeria’s military said it has freed nearly 700 Boko Haram captives in the past week. It is still unclear if any of them were among the so-called “Chibok girls,” whose mass abduction from their school a year ago sparked outrage worldwide and a campaign for their freedom under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Musa was in the first group of rescued women and girls to be transported by road over three days to the safety of the Malkohi refugee camp, a dust-blown deserted school set among baobab trees opposite a military barracks on the outskirts of Yola, the capital of northeastern Adamawa state.

Last week’s rescue saved her from a forced marriage to one of the killers of her husband, she said.

“They took me so I can marry one of their commanders,” she said of the militants who carried her away from her village after slaughtering her husband and forcing her to abandon their three young children, whose fates remain unknown. That was five months ago in Lassa village.

“When they realized I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel, and we have killed him. Once you deliver, within a week we will marry you to our commander,” she said, tears running down her cheeks as she recalled her husband and lost children.

Musa gave birth to a curly-haired daughter the night before last week’s rescue.

As gunshots rang out, “Boko Haram came and told us they were moving out and that we should run away with them. But we said no,” she said from a bed in the camp clinic, a blanket wrapped around ankles so swollen that each step had been agony.

“Then they started stoning us. I held my baby to my stomach and doubled over to protect her,” she said, bending reflexively at the waist as though she still had to shield her newborn.

She and another survivor of the stoning, 20-year-old Salamatu Bulama, said several girls and women were killed, but they did not know how many.

The horrors did not end once the military arrived.

A group of women were hiding under some bushes, where they could not be seen by soldiers riding in an armored personnel carrier, who drove right over them.

“I think those killed there were about 10,” Bulama said.

Other women died from stray bullets, she said, identifying three by name.

There were not enough vehicles to transport all of the freed captives and some women had to walk, Musa said. Those on foot were told to walk in the tire tracks made by the convoy because Boko Haram militants had mined much of the forest. But some of the women must have strayed because a land mine exploded, killing three, she said.

Bulama shielded her face with her veil and cried when she thought about another death: Her only son, a 2-year-old toddler who died two months ago of an illness she said was aggravated by malnutrition.

“What will I tell my husband?” she sobbed after learning from other survivors who used borrowed cell phones to try to trace relatives that her husband was alive and in the northern town of Kaduna.

Musa, who had been in pain and withdrawn after her arrival the night before, greeted a reporter with smiles on Sunday – and the news that her breasts were finally giving milk and nourishment to her yet-to-be-named daughter.

Another survivor, Binta Ibrahim, was 16 years old and accompanying her sister-in-law to the dressmaker when Boko Haram insurgents rode into their village of Izghe, firing randomly at civilians. On that day in February 2014, the AP reported at least 109 people were killed and almost every hut destroyed as the militants lobbed firebombs onto their thatch roofs.

Ibrahim, her sister-in-law and two of Ibrahim’s sisters were among scores of young women abducted.

Her two sisters escaped in the pandemonium that surrounded an air raid, but Ibrahim, who was caring for three children she found abandoned after the insurgents moved into the neighboring village of Nbitha, did not go with them.

“I had these three kids to care for and I couldn’t abandon them a second time,” she explained.

She described trekking for two days from Nbitha to Boko Haram’s hideout in the Sambisa Forest with 2-year-old Matthew and 4-year-old Elija Yohanna strapped to her back and 4-year-old Maryam Samaila clinging to her waist.

“They were so weak from lack of food that they couldn’t walk. There was nothing to do but rest when I couldn’t take another step, and then press ahead when I had recovered,” she said.

The children are Christian and Ibrahim is a Muslim. While Nigeria’s northeastern Islamic insurgency has polarized many of Nigeria’s people on religious lines, that was the last thing in Ibrahim’s big heart.

“I love them as if they are my own,” she said, striking her breast with both fists to show the depth of her love for the children, who were rescued with her and still remain in her care.

Star-studded TV show to help needy dogs find homes

Oscar winner Hilary Swank is unleashing some serious star power to help rescue dogs get adopted by families who want to make a difference on Thanksgiving — or those who just want to watch terriers instead of touchdowns on TV.

“Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular” will air on Nov. 27 and feature a slew of celebrities aiming to find thousands of needy dogs a home by Black Friday.

Hosted by Swank and “Glee” actress Jane Lynch, the two-hour program crams in dog stories, viral videos, musical tributes, a fundraiser, contests and glitterati galore.

It ranks among the many telethons to which celebrities have lent their fame to benefit everything from breast cancer research to Hurricane Katrina victims, but the program is believed to be the first televised effort to raise money for rescue dogs and get the animals adopted.

Though much more high-profile, the show comes amid a flurry of campaigns by rescues, shelters and animal welfare groups to get at-risk pets loving homes, from local adoption events to social media blitzes such as “muttbombing,” digitally altered images that insert a needy dog into a photo of a celebrity.

“More than 9 million animals end up in shelters every year and only half of them make it out,” said Swank, who has won Academy Awards for “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby” and is a co-executive producer of the show. The program running 8-10 p.m. is partnering with Petfinder.com to help pet seekers nationwide find a dog or cat in need, she said.

Actors Scarlett Johansson, Betty White, Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell as well as singers Fergie, Miranda Lambert, Paula Abdul, LeAnn Rimes and Kesha will be on hand to help the animals and, hopefully, turn the event into an annual affair, Swank said.

“We’ve seen the entertainment industry come together for so many worthwhile causes benefiting people, now it’s time for them to rally for man’s best friend,” co-executive producer Michael Levitt said.

The show will star 35 adoptable pooches and feature a performance by the 10 flipping, twirling Olate dogs, past million-dollar winners of “America’s Got Talent.” There will be contests for cutest puppy, best celebrity lookalike, best licker, smartest dog and best viral dog video.

All the dogs on the show will be from rescues — animals that have been saved from shelters but still need homes, Levitt said. Until then, they are in foster care or kennels.

There will be segments devoted to spay-and-neuter awareness, the live-saving role of fostering and the joys of adopting senior or special-needs dogs.

“Rescue dogs are not broken animals,” Levitt said. “They are the victims of bad circumstances, but most are loving and most grateful creatures.”

If all the dogs on hand are placed, viewers will be urged to visit Petfinder.com to look at other adoptable dogs in their areas. Celebrities will also solicit donations to help support participating rescues.

Rica Powell’s Smiling Dog Rescue in Tucson, Arizona, will bring a dog to the telethon. The group she founded in 2007 specializes in pit bulls, the breed that accounts for 70 percent of dogs in rescues.

Powell said the dog she’s bringing is “a fabulous boy. I know we are going to get hundreds of applications for that dog.”

Also up for adoption from rescues nationwide will be three-legged great Dane, a pooch that weighs just 4 pounds and a Chihuahua who uses a tiny wheelchair, among others.

The show’s biggest competition on Thanksgiving will be football.

“We think we are amazing counterprogramming,” Levitt said.

Hapless stray rehabilitates the Brewers’ image

On a recent day before the season started, in the bunkered Milwaukee Brewers interview room deep within Miller Park, Hank the Dog was splayed by handlers on a table before a smartly-dressed team executive, surrounded by a small guard of gaudy bobblehead dolls.

A dozen members of Milwaukee’s media clustered around as it was announced that a “Bobble Hank” doll would be offered to 45,000 fans on Sept. 13.

In the first hour after the promotion was announced, the team sold an unprecedented 2,200 tickets to that game. President of baseball operations Rick Schlesinger afterward remarked on the oddness of the Days of Hank, which he entered midstream.

(Painfully, he had to announce that he had heard the fans “barking” for the result. Don’t worry. Plenty of puns to follow.)

Tyler Barnes, the Brewers media vice president, who might be called the “father of Hank,” watched from the periphery with a half smile.

He’d had his “a-Hank” moment a few weeks back.

That was when he found himself in a sporty part of Phoenix, in a year-round Halloween store. Barnes was waiting for an attendant to find the hooked pole needed to reach up a few stories and retrieve the hot dog costume that the once-battered bichon mix, now a Wisconsin media star, would wear in an Arizona re-enactment of the Brewers’ popular sausage race.

Back at the Brewers’ news conference, after the media horde had departed, Barnes said he had to steady himself after retrieving the hot dog costume. He was beginning to realize what he had helped to start.

Where, he asked, really not knowing the answer, does it go now?

Perfect timing

Not even the Brewers seem to know, as the team enters uncharted territory a year after an annus horribilis of media coverage. In addition to its losing record, the team was hit by a headline-grabbing scandal involving former MVP Ryan Braun, once the face of the franchise. Braun was suspended, fined and scorned after admitting that he’d violated Major League Baseball’s anti-drug policy and used performance-enhancing drugs, then lied about it.  

That story dominated the headlines last summer, but now Milwaukee is getting a far more flattering view of the franchise as Hank coverage saturates newscasts, the instruments of Journal Communications (Brewers’ broadcast partners along with Fox Sports) and local sports talk radio, where Hank mania has fomented a backlash.

The frenzy over Hank hasn’t stopped at the state’s borders. It’s spread far and wide, with no predictable media pathway. Hipster websites such as Deadspin.com and middlebrow articles in People magazine products have fueled the howl. Hank’s had his run around the social media infield, officially as #BallParkPup, but also with some admiring copycat Twitter feeds. And there’s no end in sight.

But Hank’s saga is not only helping to rehabilitate the Brewer’s public image, it’s also benefiting his furry brethren. The Brewers plan to donate a portion of the proceeds from tickets sales for the Sept. 13 game to the Wisconsin Humane Society’s “Hank Fund,” which helps care for stray animals. In addition to a portion of ticket sales, contributions to the fund will be made by Brewers players, according to the team.

Angela Speed, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Humane Society, had a simple explanation for the arc and momentum of the Hank story. Her take would muzzle even the most snarling cynicism.

“One little dog’s story can change a lot of hearts,” she said.

From stray to star

How did it begin?

The Hank truthers out there will never believe it, but Hank’s tale is a combination of good PR work, some savvy and kind people. Add in a bit of luck.

The Hank “creation story” was not really unlike that of other strays who have wandered into the Brewers’ spring training camp and been “adopted” in a wind-blown and economically challenged part of the Phoenix metropolis.

Unlike Milwaukee, Phoenix officials don’t enforce leash laws and strays are abundant in the wide, brutal, sun-blasted expanses. The majority of them avoid human contact.

Not so with Hank. On the morning of Feb. 17, he wandered into the premises in the morning. Arriving early, coach Ed Sedar, a “dog person,” was united with Hank by a friendly security guard, Barnes said.

After a questionably healthy meal of eggs and sausage, the dog understandably lingered. The Brewers Arizona staff, which gets little credit in the narrative, kicked into gear and saw that the dog was hurt.

In the Official Hank Hagiography, he had a black streak, a tire mark on his back that was probably the result of being chewed up and spat out after sleeping under an unmoving car. He also had injuries to his chest and tail.

Still, Hank was calm and chill. That’s what Barnes noticed on Feb. 18, when he found Hank dozing at the feet of someone in the ticket office.

The rest of the story is documented, because there happened to be national press at Brewers’ camp that day, including espn.com’s Jerry Crasnick. They responded just as Barnes thought they might after he brought the cute-as-hell pooch through the clubhouse to a ball team that raced to embrace the mutt.

Later that day, the Brewers’ committed an act of brilliant PR and put together a collection of images and video that flared an already-burning fuse.

Thanks to Barnes and the rest of his colleagues, Hank didn’t run, he galloped around the larger landscape, ensuring — well, ensuring something.

Hank was christened by Maryvale ballpark staff, who sought to honor the most famous Brewer, who played most of his career with the Milwaukee and the Atlanta Braves — the one true home-run king, Henry Aaron.

They didn’t clear the christening with Aaron before the media storm erupted. But then nobody could have predicted it.

Barnes understood Aaron’s sensitivity and said “one of his first calls” was to Aaron’s longtime assistant, whom he knew from his own time in Atlanta. Barnes was assured that Hank Aaron was full-square behind his canine namesake. (Stay tuned on that front.)

One of the Brewers’ next calls, not two days later, was to the Wisconsin Humane Society and Arizona Humane Society, which began offering help.

“We’re a baseball organization, not a place that cares for pets,” Barnes explained.

As Hank’s legend began to grow, the Brewers enacted some controls to ensure his health. (And this is not to mention the attention from the Brewers players, who, every bit of evidence shows, love that fricking dog.).

The truth of the team’s love was borne out at his bobblehead news conference in Milwaukee, where Hank spent 20 minutes with the press. Not long after a local reporter grabbed Hank without permission — perhaps hoping to win a local Emmy — the Brewers got Hank the heck out of there.

But Hank didn’t mind. The dog didn’t even bark. The Humane Society’s Speed says calmness is part of his character.

“It’s clearly evident he’s a very special dog,” Speed said. “He’s very confident. He’s not spooked by cameras or crowds. I schedule dogs for TV all the time. He truly is a special dog. To have a dog who can get off an airplane and have a crowd waiting for him and be confident about it is pretty cool and unique.”

Speed was referring to Hank’s official arrival in Milwaukee, when he was greeted at Mitchell Field exiting a chartered plane by such dignitaries as Mayor Tom Barrett, County Executive Chris Abele and others.

Standing by the jetway, Abele said, “It occurred to me at the time that Hank probably polls better than Scott Walker, Mary Burke, Tom Barrett, or me.  I understand he hasn’t yet declared for office, so for now it’s more money raised for the Wisconsin Humane Society and probably a lot more tickets sold for the Brewers. All good.”

About an hour before this reporter met Hank for the first time, I was having lunch at Miss Katie’s with a priest who ministers to the inner-city poor.

His own take was, “The reason that people like this little dog is that he represents second chances, he represents hope.”

Homeless youth and the next battle for LGBT equality

Iro Uikka clutches his throat as he describes the violent clash that led to spending his nights sleeping in New York City subway cars.

“When I told my mother I was gay, she grabbed me by the neck and threw me out,” he says. “Then she threw my coat on top of me and shut the door.”

That was five years ago when he was 18, still living at home in Florida.

Uikka is among tens of thousands of homeless youths across America who are LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Most are on the streets because they have nowhere else to go – outcasts who leave home after being rejected by family members or flee shelters because residents bully or beat them.

LGBT young people represent a dramatically high proportion of an estimated 600,000 or more homeless youths across the country – between 20 percent and 40 percent, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. But only about 5 percent of youths identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ve won battles for gay marriage and gays in the military,” says Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of the New York-based Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest organization for LGBT youth. “This is the next frontier, the next battle: helping these youths.”

The White House has taken notice. Members of the Obama Administration hosted a national conference on housing and homelessness in America’s LGBT communities on March 9 in Detroit.

Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, who is openly gay, was one of the participants.

“I take this discussion personally because I know too many people who have been kicked out of their homes because of their orientation,” he told The Associated Press. “To get this kind of attention from the White House is exactly what we need to raise conscientiousness and to help parents find a way to deal with their kids’ orientation.”

Detroit has the only nonprofit agency in the Midwest that focuses on LGBT youth – the Ruth Ellis Center, co-host of the Friday conference. But the largely voiceless, powerless youth are fighting to survive from coast to coast.

They live on streets, in subways and train stations, on river piers, in parks and abandoned houses. They’re robbed, raped and assaulted. Some are murdered.

And they’re invisible to most Americans.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are about four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, according to the CDC. And one in three is thrown out by their parents, according to data collected from youth across the country by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.

Some youth use “survival sex” to land in a warm bed, or they move from home to home of friends and acquaintances.

In the past, Ryan Kennedy resorted to survival sex. He lists his education on Facebook as “Urban Survivalism at University of NYC Streets.” He adopted a rebellious middle name for his page, calling himself “Ryan TransEquality Kennedy.”

“I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t get some help,” says Kennedy, a transgender youth whose Connecticut family threw him out at 15.

After years living on the streets, Kennedy, now 22, has a bed thanks to The Door, a New York nonprofit that offers shelter, food, counseling and job training programs.

On any given day, there are almost 4,000 homeless youths in New York City, and at least 1,000 are LGBT, according to a 2008 census released by the city council.

Meager government funds and private donations cover about 350 New York beds for homeless youth. Hundreds more are on waiting lists, providers say.  

For the past two years, the New York Legislature has cut funding to support homeless youth shelters in general by about 70 percent.

Somehow, these vulnerable Americans survive, without beds.

Each night, some fill tables at a fast-food shop off Manhattan’s Union Square. One is a lively 19-year-old bisexual man from Virginia.

When he leaves in the late evening, Baresco Escobar goes to the far end of Brooklyn to sleep in an abandoned house with dozens of homeless kids, covering bare floors with blankets and cuddling for warmth.

“Home is where you’re supposed to have stability, unconditional love, support, a foundation,” he says. Instead, back in Virginia, “I was in a place of dysfunction, with expectations that didn’t apply to me – full of judgment, discrimination and hypocrisy.”   

Escobar goes to the Ali Forney drop-in center on Manhattan’s West Side, which offers clothing, counseling, workshops in life skills, showers, laundry facilities and HIV testing. A nurse is available for quick checkups, sending clients for follow-ups with doctors.

Escobar couldn’t get into Ali Forney’s emergency housing units, which have a total of 47 beds in Brooklyn and Queens assigned for a few months at a time. The center also has limited transitional housing where residents get coached on how to prepare for job or school interviews.

The Ali Forney Center opened in 2002. Siciliano named it after a transgender youth who was kicked out of his home at 13. He was found shot to death on a Harlem sidewalk in 1997, at 22. By then, he had become a counselor to his homeless friends.

Siciliano knows of five other LGBT youths who were murdered in New York over the years.

Despite the hardships, the city is a magnet for young people who grew up with conservative traditions, whether among immigrants from Caribbean and Asian countries or parts of the United States where residents are less accepting of sexual diversity.

Gizmo Lopez, 19, comes from a staunchly Catholic family with Puerto Rican roots. She now sleeps on the subway.  

“I’m bisexual, and my stepfather didn’t approve; he said it’s wrong,” said the teenager, whose mother died two years ago.

Her father moved to Puerto Rico with her two half-brothers, leaving her behind – alone in the family’s apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. One day afternoon, when she came home from school, “I found a pink slip on the door.”

She was evicted.  

“I took my stuff, cried and left,” she says. “We’re nomads.”

In Detroit, the Ruth Ellis Center offers meals and other basic services and has 10 beds.

The support saved Demetrius Smith, an 18-year-old who left his great-grandmother’s Michigan farm years ago because “she whipped me, and she beat me with an umbrella because she thought I acted like a girl.”

He bought food and other necessities by working as an escort. That ended last August. An older friend is letting Smith stay with him and the teenager is finishing high school.

Siciliano believes there’s a new reason for the rising number of LGBT youths seeking shelter. As some states legalize gay marriage and the military welcomes openly gay soldiers, “many kids think, ‘Oh, I’m ready to come out,’” he says.

As a result, the average age of young people declaring their sexuality – or at least sharing their doubts – has dropped dramatically in recent years to as young as the early teens, according to Family Acceptance Project.   

Some families are not ready for them, nor are segments of society, he says. Each rejection turns into a homeless youth looking for a bed. And there aren’t enough.

“These kids are the collateral damage of our cultural wars,” Siciliano says.

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