Sunday, June 10, 2012

An article of mine from Growing Up in Santa Cruz

There have always been pets in my family. Animals were important figures in my childhood: from the little yellow mutt that jumped in our car when we were driving cross country, to my cousin’s chickens, to the neighborhood cats that would often accompany me when I walked down to my best friend’s house down the street – they were constant, if changing, adored companions. Now I share my life with two cats, and two dogs, and a revolving cast of foster pets who stay with us just a while until they are ready to find their permanent homes through adoption from the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter where I work.

Some things have certainly changed in a few decades. When I was growing up: cats did not come inside the house, dogs mostly lived outside, chickens were for eggs and meat, and rabbits lived in hutches. New pets were bought from someone across town, given as impulse gifts, or found in boxes that said “free puppies” outside the grocery store. They were not given: annual healthy pet veterinary visits, carefully selected (or even homemade) pet foods, dog training classes, canine play-dates, scratching posts, or even litter boxes! The pets of my childhood lived much shorter, harsher lives – often dying young from accidents or preventable illness.

I am grateful everyday at the changes in the way that pets are viewed these days, the better lives they lead, and the wonder and joy they continue to bring to the children who love them. When thinking about a new pet, how to plan for, where to find, and how to help your new pet settle in to your home are all important things to consider. Thinking such a decision through, as a family, instead of falling prey to an impulse that might bring an inappropriate pet into your lives will save a lot of stress and possible heartache. Having everyone involved in the conversation will help all family members to voice their hopes and needs related to a pet and to recognize their part in pet-care, before a new pet is a reality in the home.

Start by getting together and honestly discussing what everyone’s perfect pet would be. You might be surprised to find that one family member is afraid of a certain breed of dogs, or that another has very fond memories of a particular orange tabby cat from when they were small! Writing down everyone’s input sketches out a range of what pets will be most welcomed into your family. Then do some research as to what sort of care the pet that you are looking for is likely to need. Are they prone to any health issues, what are their grooming needs, how are they likely to get along with any current pets in your household – are all important questions. Seeking answers to these questions as a family again reinforces the feeling of joint action and commitment. Resources abound to help you with your questions: the local library, the Internet, to veterinarians, and your local shelter.

Your local Shelter is a vast storehouse of knowledge about pets and the care they need. A pet adopted from a shelter will already have been given much of the veterinary care that they need to begin their lives with you. The shelter pet will have been spayed or neutered, be up to date on their vaccinations, been microchipped, and have had a health exam. Few of the pets from my childhood had any of this basic health care! Pets who are spayed/neutered live longer healthier lives and cannot contribute to the pet overpopulation crisis that our community faces. Vaccinated pets are safe from many life-threatening illnesses. Microchipped pets have permanent identification which is their ticket home if they were ever to be lost.

Once your family has decided what sort of pet would best fit into your lives, it is time to make your house ready for the arrival by creating a safe secure place for them to slowly settle in. For a dog, crate training is way to give them a “room of their own”, or really a den. For a new cat, having a small, quiet room with all their needs available for the first days will help to create a perfect transition. Frequent, low-key visits by family members will welcome a new kitty in an appropriate, non-overwhelming way. Pocket pets (such as hamsters, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits) have special specific needs of their own. The best answer, once you are ready, though is to get out there and meet a number of pets. It often takes a while to find the right match! Everyone in the family should meet the pets and be part of the decision.

Visit your local Shelter, talk to them about who you are looking for. Go to local adoption fairs to meet a variety of pets there. Your new best friend is waiting to meet you! Instructional handouts on pet care, local trainers, and many other animal related issues can be obtained at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter 2200 7th Ave Santa Cruz.

Jen Walker is the Volunteer Coordinator and Humane Educator at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter. She is the grateful caretaker of two herding dog mixes, two indoor cats, and now and again fosters pets who are welcome guests in her home.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grateful to be back where I belong

Driving down Highway 1 I catch myself leaning forward, head, neck, shoulders away from the car’s seat. I’m excited to be on my way today. It’s a bright afternoon, sun brilliant off the Pacific Ocean, trees tossed wild by the wind. The gusts make staying on course down the twisty California roadway challenging but it’s a route I know well. I’m on my way down from the Hills to the Pajara Valley to bring humane education presentations to Head Start students.

Earlier this week, I was returning to a classroom where I had been before. Outside the Head Start portable classroom building I was greeted by, “Hola Pet Lady”. A dozen or so children and a few adults were outside in the playground. One child, maybe eight or nine, who I had not met before, reached out to pat my canine ambassador Moon. His younger sibling, from the Head Start class, spoke up. “Hey, you gotta ask first!”, he said to his brother. Their mother was watching us. The older boy stopped as his brother asked, “Mama may I pet the dog”. She nodded but said nothing. The boy asked me if he could pet Moon. I told him he was welcome to and thanked him for asking. Then he curled his fingers up and offered Moon his tucked hand to sniff. She pushed her head under his hand playfully. “See”, proclaimed the younger boy proudly. A few other kids quickly asked if they could pet Moon. “Suavecito manos, por favor*” I remind them. A couple of the parents, smiling, moved closer to pat Moon as well.

I am learning with the students. They know more about how to care for pets, how to be safer around animals, and more about how much their pets are like them. My Spanish is still very limited and simple but they teach me kindly and welcome me into their circle. I am always eager to meet with the children and their teachers. Our shared smiles and laughter are a blessing. Our joy in and our love of animals binds us together.

*"soft hands please" a phrase I picked up from listening to the teachers. I understand more and more of what is said in Spanish around me but I don't have a lot words to share myself yet.

Monday, October 31, 2011

I fall in love everyday

Every Monday morning I have a dog-walking shift at our local shelter. I spend my time primarily with the dogs on the Stray Side, those dogs who are waiting out their time to see (hope in many of their eyes through the shock and fear of being shut into a space they do not understand) if anyone comes to claim them.

There are dogs that are Red Dots, which means they cannot be interacted hands-on by volunteers. I can offer them soft encouraging words and cookies through the bars. Sometimes I sit outside their kennels and chat with them, if they come close and request comfort with their body language and expressions.

Then there are dogs who are Green Dots, who have passed their initial behavior evaluations and are available to be taken out to the enclosed dog yards for sunshine, play, fresh air, and some freedom.

Finally there are the Blue Dots who are too fearful to be allowed out of their kennels yet but are likely to pose no threat to trained volunteers. I dote on the Blue Dots, they remind me painfully of my own poor Rio and what he must have been like - shocked to be closed into a concrete floored and metal bared world after his life as a ranch dog, under the sky.

Today one dog met me with a cringing but hopeful full toothy submissive grin, and a wiggly soft jig. He ran to his bed, other end of the small kennel, when I unlocked entered his run. I settled to the floor to wait. I could catch him watching me when I checked in out of the corner of my eyes. I droned on quietly. Sometimes they will come to me first time I visit with them, sometimes they will not. Soft nose, touch and sniff...hesitate paw...then all at once little warm trembling body in my lap. I stayed a long time with him. His stiff body and stress panting at last gave way to a few heavy sighs and his head resting on his paws across my crossed legs.

Will he make it? I hope so. I think so.

Some will not.

There was an ancient sweet old Border Collie bitch last week. She was rail thin and seemed ill. She leaned into my touch and seemed glad to be released of the mats I brushed out of her filthy coat. She was not in her kennel when I looked for her today.

Cats and dogs, rabbits and birds - they come to the shelter and we hope for the best but trust most in the time we have with them.

Here is a snippet of my interaction with a couple of folks who came to visit a shelter where I used to work - on my last day there.

All these animals matter while they are with us.


My last day at work at the local county shelter where I was temping I took part in a difficult but certainly interesting exchange in the cattery.

There were a few folks viewing cats, interacting in a variety of ways, and I was there welcoming them and listening to them, inviting conversations as best I could. One set was a young mother and her middle school aged daughter. They seemed interested in adopting a pet and had stopped to visited, through the kennel doors, with a number of the kitties. The daughter turned her face up to her mother and asked if they could have a kitty and how much they cost. The mother replied that they were free, didn't cost anything - and here was the kicker - because no one wanted them anyway, that is why they were here.

I took a deep breath and waded in.

I explained there was an adoption fee and what it covered (spay or neuter, FIV/FLV testing, de-worming and de-fleaing, up to date on all vaccines, micro-chipping and a free free vet visit with any vet in the county). I went on, once I had their attention, to tell them that we at the shelter thought about them all as our cats: out cats at home, our cats at the shelter. It was our job to find our cats at the shelter their real homes because the shelter, no matter how nice we and the volunteers tried to make it, was never nearly as good as a real home.

I think they heard me. They did take a cat home that day. I hope it all worked out well. I hope they learn a lot from each other. As I have learned so much from my cats, at the shelter and at home.


Thank you all for the care you give, everyday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Introducing Growing Kinder

So - what is DogLogic doing these days? Well, I've been forming a nonprofit to provide humane education! A website is being build at Please visit there and let me know what suggestions, comments, concerns you might have. All input is most welcome both on what I am creating and what the website is saying.

I have received solid and enthusiastic community support. There will be a huge amount of work between finding and nurturing connections, learning new skills, presenting and administering programs, and grant writing. I do have a worthy goal though!


Jen Walker founded Growing Kinder in 2011, based professional experience in animal welfare and humane education. She has previously run most of the programs offered by Growing Kinder while employed at animal shelters in Washington and Oregon, and was the Shelter Manager for Pets Lifeline, an open-admission shelter in Sonoma, California. She has also taught summer-camp, and after-school programs in general science, environmental studies and animal welfare, has been an environmental docent for Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, and interned at a wildlife rehabilitation center. The thread that weaves through these activities is responsible stewardship for all, for animals (both domestic and wild), and for the world around us.

Jen has pet partners who assist her with many of humane education programs. Moon, a rescue dog from Halfway, Oregon who spent the first year of her life as an outside dog on a chain, teaches children empathy and dog safety. Guido, a shelter cat from Salem, Oregon, specializes in feline-human communications and cat safety. Pi, (a young, previously abandoned young tortoiseshell cat – Guido’s apprentice), is the latest addition, teaching a different variety of feline affection and enthusiasm.

Growing Kinder is a non-profit organization (501(3)(c) approval pending) dedicated to providing humane education throughout our community. It offers a variety of programs, beginning with preschool, through high school (service learning, programs for at-risk youth and Boy Scout merit badge counseling) to adult education (pet first aid, new parents with dogs, and disaster preparedness).

Growing Kinder is built upon partnerships with other local and national organizations, most especially with the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter, which provides logistical support for many of these programs. Other current partners include Head Start, Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Dogs&Storks™, Delta Society, Kids Scoop, and the Boy Scouts of America.

Program details:

Pet Start
Pet Start serves the youngest students in our community, prekindergarten (in Head Start classrooms and private preschools). It is an introduction to responsible behavior and safety around pets, involving three sessions: Case of Care, Tail Talk, and Meeting a Dog. The latter two include a feline and a canine animal ambassador, respectively.

Kids Speak for Pets
Kids Speak for Pets teaches basic reporting skills (interviewing, editing, and audience awareness), empathy for others, and the importance of community involvement. Middle School students take part in this program. Participants are introduced to an ambassador animal and learn its story, including asking open-ended questions about it as though interviewing a person. They then meet animals in a shelter setting and write up “interviews,” which they then transform into coherent biographies for publication online or in print for the general public. The program emphasizes both literacy and community involvement.

Service Learning Together
Multi-session program (generally, 3 to 8 sessions) educating participants in what animal shelters do and how they care for animals. Includes both classroom and hands-on components, often (in SL) with a presentation by the student at the conclusion. Students are generally aged 13 to 18

Boy Scouts merit badge counseling
Boy Scouts of America offers merit badges in dozens of subjects, and scouts must earn badges to advance in scouting. The badges typically require a variety of specific tasks, accomplishments, and demonstrations of knowledge satisfactory to Merit Badge Counselors, who must receive prior approval as relevant experts from each Boy Scout Council. Growing Kinder is capable of providing counseling regarding the following badges: Pet Care, Dogs, and Veterinary Medicine.

Healing Species™ (2012)
An 11-session program with weekly sessions focused on empathy, leadership and alternatives to violence. Uses a multimedia approach (videos, books, role-playing and group discussion) to examine positive choices and personal responsibility, with companion and wild animals serving as the jumping-off point for discussions regarding moral questions. A rescued pet animal serves as a recurring focal point and member of the staff.

Safe & Sound (late 2011)
A single-session workshop, typically two hours, derived largely from materials created by the Humane Society of the United States and American Red Cross and aimed at training pet owners in disaster preparedness and basic pet first aid.

Dogs & Storks (late 2011)
Education for expectant families that own dogs, on how to prepare their household for the arrival of an infant. Program focuses on safety techniques, dispelling myths, and evaluating individual situations. May also include private sessions regarding dog behavioral analysis and training.
Delta Society training and evaluation (2012)

The Pet Partners program trains volunteers and screens volunteers and their pets for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and other facilities. Growing Kinder intends to offer both training and evaluation of potential teams, and may also coordinate team visits with partner organizations. Although Delta Society is currently revising the program, training without a companion animal present has typically taken eight hours in 1 or 2 sessions, and with a companion animal, 4 to 6 weeks of two- to three-hour sessions. Evaluation involves a written test and a half-hour hands-on assessment; multiple candidate teams are usually evaluated in a single day.

Growing Kinder operates primarily in Santa Cruz County, from Watsonville - through the city of Santa Cruz - north to Scotts Valley and out to the mountain communities of Felton, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, as well as the Santa Clara County area of the Santa Cruz mountains. Many programs have sessions held at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter as well as at the partner organization’s facilities.

If you are interested in learning more about Growing Kinder’s programs, and to schedule presentations including shelter tours, please contact us at We welcome questions and comments.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Walking the Dogs

I've been volunteering dog walking at our local shelter. It is a return. Driving down off the Hill, from the early sun, down into the coastal fog. I did the first shift for the first time this morning, arriving at seven. The shelter was mostly dark, very few folks around, I was the only dog walker on.

I signed in, got my necessaries (keys, poop-bags, treats, "out for a walk" sign, and pen to record information on kennel cards) and went out to the dogs. There is always the cacophony of barking when someone opens that door. I walk calmly, soft-bodied, down the aisle and open the first kennel lock. Vinnie, Poppy, Philip, Domino, Manny, and others and others, from the bouncy to the shaking timid, take a ten minute break with me. There will be a crowd of dog walkers in at nine to give them more but for now they are out and about, relieving themselves, and smelling the day - just a bit, with me.

Afterward I was thinking of the odd change from being the Shelter Manager to being a new recruit volunteer, walking dogs and helping at the Front Desk. It brought to mind the intricacy of all the different folks, doing their different jobs, making the shelter function. Also how essential it is for people in vastly different roles, who may or may not interact with each other in their individual functions, to respect each other and the work that they are all doing.

Simple gestures go a surprisingly long way to making the atmosphere a pleasant one: greetings, eye-contact, thanking everyone for their time. It is a culture of kindness and support that is built internally, that radiates outward into the community.