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Friends sitting around the room, Rocky lying on his bed at my feet. He's coughing. It's a cough that is a part of him now. I know it won't go away, a signal that his time here is nearly done. As the coughing fits become more frequent, at some point I'll have to make the decision.

The cough could be the cancer spread to his lungs. It could be his heart giving up. It could be something else. After tests and x-rays and examinations, the vets don't really know and at this point, it's almost not worth knowing. He's on prednisone again, giving it a last hurrah, as there's not much else that can be done anymore except more open ended, uncertain tests and I don't want to put him through that.

Friends sitting around the room last night and, though I don't exactly remember who said what and what exactly was said, part of the conversation goes something like this:

"It's strange, with Rocky getting old, his heart failing, his lungs failing, the cancer in his lymph nodes, his legs ... arthritis ... I wonder what "Rocky" is. It's not his body. That's not "Rocky". So what is he?"

"We'll be able to replace body parts soon."

"Did you know we are completely new people every 7 years? Yeah, our cells completely replace themselves every 7 years."

"Does that mean we are a different person than we were 7 years ago?"

"That's the question: what is the soul?"

"Does everything alive have a soul?"

"There was a doctor who weighed people just before they died and just after and he said the difference was about 21 grams less after death and that's the weight of the soul."

"Amoebas don't have souls."

"I think raccoons have souls."


"Then, why not amoeba?"

"There's this scientist who is pretty sure we'll be able to upload our consciousness onto computers in the future. He says we'll lose our individuality and merge into a collective consciousness."

"The soul is the part of life which is not the body."

"You mean we'll all be uploading our souls onto Facebook?"

Later, as I lay in the dark trying to sleep, I think about duplicating myself online. I can see the technical ability to do something like that becoming available but whatever thing would be online would not be me, at least not the original me. It would be like when you upload a photo online. The uploaded version is not the original even though it is an exact duplicate. But is it as good as the original? Yes, it's the exact same. So would the uploaded version of myself be as good as the original? Could it ever be the same? Would the online version be considered alive? Would it have a soul? Would it be a duplicate of my soul, whatever that is? And then what if someone else takes the uploaded version and manipulates it into something else, maybe something better than the original? You know, like with Photoshop. Would I be able to delete that newer version of me because I don't want a better me out there, outsmarting me, meeting cooler people than me, doing who knows what else to make the real me look outdated?

And on and on and on. Stupid thought games. Really, as I lie there in the dark, all I'm trying to do is think about something else, absurd and abstract, and not think about Rocky in his bed, coughing and settling, coughing and settling.

If I could replace Rocky's heart, he would still be Rocky. If I could replace his lungs, he would still be Rocky. If I could replace his cloudy eyes, his insensitive eardrums, his shattered knees, he would still be my Rocky. His body will fail him but his body is not who he is. His body is an old vehicle, running down. If I could just open the door, take the passenger out, keep him safe.

For adoption information on this dog and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

For adoption information on Max and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

For adoption information on Baby and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

For adoption information on Reggie and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

This morning someone sent me an email linking an article from SFGate: "Oakland: Neighbors honored for taping dog beating". It's about a guy who secretly video taped his neighbour beating his dog which resulted in the animal abuser getting a jail sentence of four years and, perhaps more importantly, a new home for Blueberry, the canine victim.

Finally, on Feb. 19, 2010, they got it: a high-quality video of their neighbor, Charles Black, striking Blueberry repeatedly with an ax handle raised high over his head. In the film, the dog emits harrowing squeals and cries as it cowers against the blows.

It's encouraging to think that somewhere on this continent, there are tough enough animal abuse laws which actually result in abusers going to jail. In Ontario, this scenario would likely have played out quite differently. The abuser would have claimed that he was simply disciplining the dog with no real intention of causing the dog unnecessary suffering and he would have been released (in order to successfully prosecute an animal abuse case here, there must be proof of intent to cause unnecessary suffering). The dog, on the other hand, because it looks somewhat like one of the banned breeds in Ontario, would have been confiscated and then put down.

Here in Ontario, when it comes to dog legislation, we don't just blame the victim, we sometimes kill the victim.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) put out a report in 2008 comparing Canada's animal cruelty with those of several other countries. We don't rate so well.

Canadians were outraged when NFL Star Michael Vick was found guilty of several dog fighting related charges. In Canada Michael Vick could not have been charged because it is not an offence to train animals to fight each other, it is only an offence to encourage, aid or assist in the fighting of dogs. In Canada dog fight perpetrators have to be caught red-handed in order to be charged. For example, in 2005 the RCMP and the British Columbia SPCA raided a property and found a dog fighting ring and other paraphernalia used for training dogs to fight. A total of 25 scar and wound inflicted dogs were confiscated that day and later had to be returned to their owner because under Canada's animal cruelty provisions a crime had not occurred. In fact, there have been no convictions of any individual involved with dog fighting in BC.

The IFAW report asks 10 questions when comparing cruelty legislation between the different countries.

For example, Question 1 is "Does the legislation protect animals from neglect?".

The Criminal Code of Canada uses the term "willful neglect" which requires neglect to be a product of predetermined action. In all other countries reviewed, the animal cruelty legislation makes clear reference and provisions for cases of neglect. The "willfulness" of the perpetrator is kept out of the wording, so that intent or motive does not need to be present for the courts to punish crimes of neglectn against animals.

There aren't many animal abusers who will admit to intent when they can just say, "I didn't mean to be cruel," and like the ex-owner of this dog here or of these animals here, that's of course what they almost always do say. If you're a glutton for punishment, there are more cases listed here by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, where the abusers went unpunished.

Even in the recent slaughter of the huskies in B.C., it's anyone's guess whether or not any charges will be laid especially when the prevailing attitude of one of the people on the task force investigating the killings is one of disregard for the dogs. From The Star, Sled dog slaughter task force meets to review mass killing:

"In over 20 years of practise, I probably have euthanized hundreds of animals, and, of course, in an acceptable and humane way," Lake said. "These are not pet dogs we are dealing with, and so the method of euthanasia in a veterinary office is not the only humane method of euthanasia. I think that's an important thing to say."

(I wonder what's on Dr. Lake's list of "humane" methods of euthanasia.)

Compare our law to Malaysia's. From the IFAW report:

In Malaysia, the issue of neglect is legislatively addressed in s.44(1)(d) of the Animal Act which bars any person from either wantonly or unreasonably doing or committing an act that causes any pain or suffering or, as an owner, permits unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal. The willingness on the part of the offender to commit the offence is not necessary in cases of neglect. Under the legislation it is only required that the individual unreasonably committed an act that caused the unnecessary pain and suffering of an animal.

Malaysia has better animal cruelty laws than Canada. Malaysia. So do Great Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria, Norway, Croatia and most of the other countries in the IFAW survey.

The disconnect between how much Canadians love their pets and how little our laws protect our pets is puzzling. The outrage expressed whenever stories of animal abuse are reported in the news is huge but it never seems to translate into effective legislation. Are there just too many bloodsport enthusiasts who are worried that more enforceable laws against cruelty will hinder their enjoyment when they're out hunting? Are factory farmers worried that better protection for animals means they will have to treat their livestock more humanely? Who exactly is preventing stronger legislation from moving forward? Or is it just that not enough of our lawmakers care?

Mark Holland, MP for Ajax-Pickering has been a supporter of more effective animal cruelty legislation for years now. His private member's bill, C-229, would be a big step in the right direction, effectively closing many of the loopholes used by animal abusers to get off scot-free.

Here are some differences between C-229 and the existing bill, Bill S-203 which was passed in 2008 and considered by many to be a placebo for animal cruelty concerns:

• Bill S-203 leaves in place the dysfunctional term "willful neglect" requiring the court to prove motive for neglecting animals. For example, a farmer who starved his sheep despite repeated warnings was found not guilty because the court couldn't prove he intended to starve them. Bill C-229 instead uses the term "negligent" which is defined as "departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use."

• Bill S-203 leaves in place wording that allows people to kill animals brutally and viciously if the animal dies immediately. For example, someone who ties an animal to a train track can get off by arguing that the animal died quickly and didn't suffer. Bill C-229 makes it an offence to kill an animal with brutal and or vicious intent, whether or not the animal dies immediately.

You can read the complete list of differences here.

Presently, it seems Bill C-229 is still sitting in line as it has been since 2006 waiting to be read in Parliament.

From Holland's website:

Holland has tried on several occasions to get the Harper government to take his bill and expedite it through all legislative stages. In 2009, following a horrific animal cruelty case in New Brunswick, he reached out to NB Tory MP Keith Ashfield, after hearing reports that the MP, who currently serves as Minister of National Revenue, expressed an interest in Holland’s bill. Ashfield never responded to several calls made by Holland.

Assuaging concerns of partisanship, Holland stated in his letter that this “issue doesn’t fall into an ideological category. The cause for reforming our animal cruelty laws unites voters of both our parties, indeed all Canadians. It’s a real motherhood and apple pie issue.”

You can keep up-to-date on this issue by joining the Facebook group Stop animal cruelty in Canada with effective legislation.

(cross post from Toronto Humane Society)

Hercules is a 10 years young Jack Russell Terrier with an indomitable spirit who is very patiently waiting for a place to call his own. The Toronto Humane Society is working hard to find him a forever home but people keep passing him by. While he’s been at the THS he’s had a small taste of fame: visiting Ann Rohmers on Animal House Calls and also being featured in a Cause 4 Paws newsletter. Santa even dropped by to visit him in December! Thanks to some dedicated THS volunteers who just adore him, the mighty Hercules is enjoying his YouTube debut (see ).

Hercules may have limited hearing but that doesn't stop him from enjoying life! He is eager to be with people and loves going for walks. All Hercules wants and needs is a peaceful happy home to give him the sense of stability he’s been craving.

Hercules is one very smart fellow. His intelligence combined with the tenacity so common to terriers means that his adopter will need to be consistent and not let Hercules outsmart them!

A cat free house or apartment is what he’s looking for. Hercules gets along with most other dogs but really, “handsome Herc” is at his happiest with the company of humans.

If you think you could give Hercules the forever home he so clearly deserves, please contact the Toronto Humane Society.

Every time I crouched down to take a photo of Pixie, she would shyly walk over and lift a paw onto my lap and then try to climb up. She was cold after about ten minutes outside so I brought her in and she laid in my lap for half an hour until she stopped shivering.

For adoption information on this dog and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

Lovely dog. Lovely temperament. A little chunky.

Seal pup impressions anyone?

For adoption information on this dog and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

For adoption information on this dog and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

Sunday didn't want to come out of her kennel so the dog walker gently carried her outside. After their walk, she handed her off to me and Sunday was all shy again. Sunday is a sweet dog and she'll need an owner with a gentle touch to help her come out of her shell.

For adoption information on this dog and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

Governor Brown of California "adopted" a Corgi, named Sutter, who has just been designated "First Dog". The press and, supposedly, even some Republicans are gushing over the squat pooch.

From The Sacramento Bee, Anne Gust Brown names Sutter "first dog":

The rumors had been circulating for weeks about Sutter, the corgi that Gov. Jerry Brown has been watching for his sister Kathleen Brown. This afternoon on the east steps of the state Capitol, Brown's wife Anne Gust Brown put the rumors to rest: Sutter is officially the "first dog."

Gust Brown, Brown strategist Steve Glazer and a fair share of the Sacramento press corps analyzed the news in great detail with Sutter, who rolled on the lawn and sniffed well-wishers. At about the same time, the governor's press office announced via e-mail a statewide hiring freeze, which went unremarked on during Sutter's event.

I don't know if anything can help McGuinty win the next provincial election but adopting a dog, preferably a homeless one, and doing a warm and fuzzy press release for the event might be a step in the right direction (so would getting rid of the Pit Bull ban). Ontario deserves its own First Dog.

From the owners of Dominic, now Domino:

Attached is a picture of our beautiful adopted dog Dominick. We call him Domino. He is such a joy in our lives and we love him so much.

We are starting our 4th week of obedience training. He is very good at halting when we walk. We are now working on the sit stay command. Right now Domino wants to sit and then lie down :). but we will get it. We will also be attending level 2 obedience classes. We want to make sure he is fully trained before we try any off leash dog park activities.

He loves to play ball. There is a fenced in tennis court we use to play ball. He loves it!!! He can play ball for hours. We know that there is a long way to go before he can go off leash as when ball is over and we decide to leave, he takes a bit of time before he will come to us.

Thank you for helping us add this beautiful dog to our family. We are now a very happy family of 3.

For those of you who like watching reruns, last month Toronto Life ran an article on the fall of the Toronto Humane Society under Tim Trow: "Dog’s best friend: the story behind the Toronto Humane Society’s mutiny, raid and shutdown". It's a fairly good summation of events with respect to how some of the main actors conducted themselves but it doesn't delve into how the animals fared and so, for me, it only presents half the story. The posted comments, as always, provide insight into the various camps entrenched at the THS back then, some of whom remain as intransigent as ever.

Zoe, 14 years old and abandoned by her owner. She has a huge lipoma on her back leg but it doesn't seem to slow her down. She'll be going into a Boston Terrier rescue.

For adoption information on Zoe and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

The wind gathers up loose snow from the surface of the farmer's field and blows it over the snowbanks and across the road in a frenzy. I drive through these turbulences and there are moments when I cannot see a thing. The windshield becomes a sheet of opaque whiteness.

Coupled with the half foot deep snow drifts which I have to plow through, this makes for fear inducing driving conditions. It's only this bad for a short spell, though. I came upon it unexpectedly and unexpectedly, the treacherous bit of weather ended, contained to a deserted two hundred meter stretch of Crowes Road, ten minutes outside of Picton in Prince Edward County.

I come out the other side and my heart is beating fast. I find a clear spot to pull over, somewhere out of the blowing snow where I'll be visible to any approaching traffic. I look in the back seat. Smitten is looking back at me. She's asking me the same question she's been asking me the whole time we've been in the County: Can I go out now? Please, please, please. Can I?

I had folded the back of the seat down to give the dogs more room and a flat surface upon which to lie and because the back is down, Rocky has been able to burrow into the trunk of the car. It's his cave. He's warm. He's snoring.

"Some consideration would be appreciated," I say. "After all, I'm doing this for you guys." Well, that's true but not entirely true. On this blustery winter day, I'm driving around to get a sense of what the County is like in mid February - if I could actually live out here. Smitten's obviously in love with the area. Rocky is too, in his own way, though these days his sense of belonging is not so expansive enough to encompass geographic locales and, instead, is more limited to warm, soft beds, preferably raised off the floor and right next to his humans. Here, in the County, because I'm not at work and I'm around all day, Rocky's happy.

I'm looking at properties. I'm thinking about buying some parcel of land to build a house on. I'd like a stream, a pond, a stand of trees, enough land for a big garden and long walks, enough land so that if I wanted to take in some wayward dogs, it wouldn't disturb the neighbours. And it wouldn't be extravagant. It's considerably more economical to buy a large acreage in Prince Edward County than a small house in Toronto.

It's not easy finding all the places I've got marked on the map. Nothing is obviously delineated, at least not to my eyes. Some of the lots have for sale signs up, some don't and on others, the signs are buried in snow.

I stop the car in front of one spot where the map tells me there is something for sale but all I can see is a steep, tree covered incline. It's supposed to be a field. I get out and open the back door to let the dogs out. Smitten jumps out graceful and smooth like a cat. Rocky is burrowed deep in the back and, because of his arthritis, he has a hard time pushing himself out so I grab his harness and pull on him like a sack of potatoes. I lower him to the ground and he takes a step, stops and goes pee with all four feet planted, too much effort for him now to raise either hind leg. Smitten watches him, impatient. She wants to get going somewhere, anywhere.

Rocky finishes and we walk along the edge of the property. Smitten finds an inviting patch of snow and plops down on it, rolls on her back and imitates a flopping fish. She loves the snow. She would be happy to be cocooned in snow. Rocky looks at her like she's crazy. He does that a lot.

I see a for sale sign nailed up on the a tree but I can't reconcile the description of the property with what I'm seeing in front of me. The field must be behind the hill or around the next corner or, more likely, I'm looking at the wrong parcel of land.

We head back to the car, walking by the side of the road. Since we've been out here, Smitten has decided that she likes peeing in deep powder so she's walking as far off the road as the leash will allow. The snow is hard packed and not to her liking. She keeps walking to find fluffier stuff. Suddenly, the ground gives way beneath her. Her legs fall through the surface and she's up past her belly in snow. Rocky, wondering what's going on, stops and steps towards Smitten only to fall into the deep snow himself.

It's deceptive. The plow must have come along and pushed the snow off the road surface and into the ditch beside the road, only now the two surfaces are level and it's impossible to tell where the road ends and the ditch starts. Over one spot the snow is on solid asphalt and a couple of inches over, the snow is camouflaging a four foot deep ditch.

Smitten manages to clamber out but Rocky's having a hard time. He looks up at me with his most forlorn gaze. I reach over to grab his harness but he's in too deep and he's too far out and I'm too unbalanced. I take a step towards him.

It's like that old black and white movie skit where someone steps off a curb into a puddle which turns out to be a deep hole. I step in and the snow is like quicksand, hard to get a solid surface to push off against. I'm in snow up to my hips. I step back and I can feel snow spilling into my boot. I put my hand down trying to get balance, expecting support, but the snow just gives way and I fall in. My ass hits the side of the ditch and my foot finds solid ground. I'm now sitting in snow up to my chest.

I stand up. I lift/shove Rocky out of the ditch then climb out. I brush the snow off Rocky. I brush the snow off myself.

"That was exciting," I say but Smitten doesn't know what the fuss is about. She looks at me then leaps back into the powder. Her legs disappear but she sinks no further. She sticks her head deep into the snow, pushes deeper, trying to find some scent. She comes up for air. She lifts her legs up high to take a few steps forward. She sticks her head back into the snow. She shuffles around a bit, shifts her weight back and there's a big smile on her face and even though I can't see what she's doing, I can tell. She's taking a piss.

Later in the evening, after I drive into a ditch, after I knock on a stranger's door to ask for help, after I meet her dog who's a rescue from Anne and Pete's, after the tow truck driver comes by and pulls the car out and says, "I've been doing these all day today", after I make it back home and feed Rocky and Smitten and feed myself, after we go out for a walk under a half moon which is so brightly reflected by plains of snow and re-reflected by clouds that it seems like dusk, after I watch a movie, after I take the dogs out again, only this time the moon is behind clouds and the darkness is like a blindfold and Smitty doesn't care but Rocky needs to be guided, and after we return and finally all settle in for the evening and I look out the window at the houses with lights still on, scattered sparsely around, I wonder who lives out here, alone, retired or with families and I think about how all that open space between us and them and all around is filled with wind and snow and all around almost nothing else, just life in waiting under the wind and snow, and I am warm but outside the night is stark, resolute, almost intimidating and I wonder if this is the place.

For adoption information on this dog and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

No, I don't know which one is which.

For adoption information on these puppies and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

Here are Mr. Magoo's four puff balls.

And of course, there's always one black sheep.

More photos of these guys tomorrow.

For adoption information on these puppies and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.


A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.