michael-distefano

Dollar-a-day Dogfather

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by Joya DiStefano

 Introduction: Who is the PAWS Dogfather and why should you care?

“There are 25,567 days in 70 years, and this year I want to raise a dollar for every single one of them.”

 “Welcome to Bedlam” reads a sign coming up our driveway. Michael had it made for me one Christmas. It is a testimonial to the love he bears for me – and recognition of the life to which he is wedded. I responded the following year with the one under it that says, “Must Love Dogs,” which he does – all the dogs, all the many, many dogs, even Percy and probably Benny, too. Michael is a dog-lover. Michael has been my partner for over 23 years, and my husband for 22, in large part because he is a dog-lover. Close to a 100 dogs have come through our lives over our years together, some for no more than a night, others for their lifetime.

This man, this rock-solid man, this uncomplicated, dedicated man, has made many lives possible – mine for starters, and many, many more, most of them four-legged. If I am a kite, Michael holds my string; if PAWS is a sailboat, Michael is its keel.

The idea to celebrate Michael’s seventieth birthday for a year prior, as a tribute that could also serve as a unique fundraiser for PAWS, our animal welfare organization, occurred as PAWS, Inc. confronted a $6,000.00 vet bill just before his 69th birthday in early May. Michael is the Treasurer of Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, which he helped establish to address critical problems in the periphery of a very large rural county with two new animal shelters in its center. Michael is one of those behind-the-scenes guys; the kind who goes unnoticed until they are not there and the bottom falls out.

As our new county shelter opened, designed and equipped to address the existing problem of unwanted and neglected animal, PAWS was established to keep that problem from outgrowing the new facility by addressing the plight dogs and cats where they live, before they get to the shelter.

In a little over two years, PAWS has either rescued or facilitated the rescue of more than 700 dogs (and a few cats), and it has funded all or part of the spay/neuter surgeries for at least 600 animals. For more than seven years, Michael has established and maintained the financial systems to keep all our animal welfare efforts solvent, documented and reported as necessary. Michael’s training is in accounting, but his love is golf, and sports, good food and travel…and me and our dogs, all thirteen of them, except for maybe Benny.

This month, PAWS is launching a year-long fundraiser to honor our wonderful Dogfather. It will run through next May 2017, when Michael turns 70. We hope that if you know and love this man, or what he stands for, you will make a monthly pledge for the next year: $30-31/month gets your tribute on the Dogfather Tee, all publicity, and an invitation to the party; $15-21/month gets you on the t-shirt and your name in the drawing for the party; $7-14/month gets you a t-shirt. Any amount you donate to the Dollar-a-Day Dogfather Fundraiser gets you the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping PAWS do more of the work we were established to do: see that no healthy or treatable companion animal has to die for want of a good home!

Do it for Michael. Do it for PAWS. Most importantly, do it for the animals.

Click here to donate.

More stories to come from the annals of The Dollar-a-Day Dogfather in monthly installments…

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“Bully4You & Other PAWS Too” hold its 1st Adoption Event!

bully-Think about a very-first-adoption-event-ever from the perspective of the event’s organizer. This is a woman who, along with her two young children and their father, dedicated their home and most of their home life to the care of the majority of the animals that they are about to offer up to strangers for adoption.

B4Y Event #1On February 20th, the PAWS Bully 4 You & Other PAWS Too adoptions were held in a new location, Tractor Supply on Whiskey Road in Aiken, SC. In addition to showing off the seven bully breed dogs at their best, the PAWS organization would be represented and promoted as a deserving 501(c)(3) Rescue Charity that counts on the approval and support of the public for its revenue and success.

Toni Maria King Smith, the event organizer, has a great deal of which to be proud. She managed everything: dogs, hats and T-shirts, volunteers, applications, info-flyers and crates, snacks and water for the critters.

“I wasn’t worried about the dogs. They love attention, and are all excellently behaved!” she said, “I was worried about organizing, planning, and executing our very first adoption event.”

20150528_111159They pulled into Tractor Supply, in “Clara Bark-on,” PAWS’s marquee vehicle, a ‘93 retired ambulance whose signage speaks to PAWS’ mission and the network that enables and supports it. “PAWS works with any and all animal welfare efforts in and around Aiken County to see that no healthy or treatable companion animal has to suffer or die for want of a responsible loving home.”

Toni wrote, “We gathered up with the manager in charge, and she told us where to set up. We set up our tables, and chairs, and shirts, and hats, and donation bucket. We got all the dogs out and set up in their own little areas. Shortly after that, our Bully4You team began to arrive. We had people walking our dogs around the parking lot, and through the store. We had people helping standing by the door with our donation bucket. We also had someone standing at the door handing out our wish-list.”

The specific charges seeking that special home that day were all bully dogs:

  • Hopper, 6 months old, and Dusty, young adult, both bullies found wandering the streets of Edgefield after their owner died. A retired couple rescued them and contacted PAWS for help. They were vetted, neutered and loved by Toni and her family.
  • Copper, 11 month old bully, thrown from a truck and taken into foster by Toni. Copper was vetted, neutered and is still looking for his forever family.
  • Jacob and Hercules were county shelter rescues. Beautiful Pit Bulls who ran out of luck and time. PAWS pulled them.
  • Jasmine, thrown over a fence as a puppy, vetted, spayed and fostered by PAWS until her special someone finally came along.
  • Moon, rescued by Toni as a runt-at-risk from a backyard pit bull breeder who would only sell her. Without the funds, Toni bartered for Moon’s life with her husband’s hunting bow. Toni raised Moon.

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“I was talking to people about what we do, about how together we are working to save them all!” Toni wrote, “I talked to people about our dogs, about their rescue stories, and I listened, laughing and learning, about other people’s experiences. Next thing I know one of our volunteers came up with a wonderful couple wanting to adopt Moon. It was hard and sad to see Moon go, having raised her from a pup, but the hurt was soon replaced by the thrill of one of our fur-babies finding her fur-ever family!”

Jasmine - ADOPTED!

Jasmine – ADOPTED!

Soon, Jasmine’s foster mom was introducing her to a young woman and her kids. Then the kids were on the ground playing with Jasmine; who, after being in foster care for months and months, finally found a loving family to call her own. This too was a bittersweet parting. So many months of foster care left Jasmine’s foster mom feeling the loss keenly while also being so very happy to see Jasmine find a family with kids to love her non-stop.

Long before the event was over it happened again. Hopper was adopted. This adorable replica of the Target mascot got very lucky that day. Hopper was abandoned, rescued from the streets, fostered, fixed, and finally placed in a good, permanent, loving home.

Hopper

“Our first adoption event ever and three dogs found good homes!” Toni says, “Four hours flew by and we were loading the four dogs to go home. It didn’t really hit me how truly awesome the day had been until I heard our group gather and reflect on the day, and then the messages, comments and reviews started coming in on Facebook. We had really had a positive impact on people.

To our delight, we succeeded. To my delight, I accomplished a new chapter on this life saving journey. I must say, I am thrilled, and enlightened, and excited to see what happens next.

To all those who came out to help, show your support, adopt… From our hearts, we thank you!”

HerculesBy the end of the week that followed, Hercules went home to the family that had adopted his buddy Moon, Dusty was adopted by someone who had hoped to meet him at the event, and Jacob finally found his forever family with a child to love on him.

Only Copper, the tossed pup with one blue and one green eye, remains, waiting for his own happily-ever-after miracle.

You can help PAWS and Bully 4 You & Other PAWS Too continue their work by donating your time and/or money to PAWS, P.O. Box 392, Aiken, SC 29802 or hit the DONATE buttons at www.paws4nokill.org! Thank you for caring! Also, check out our adoptable dogs on the PAWS website. Perhaps your next best friend is waiting there?

Oliver on Day One

The Miracle of Rescue Dog Love

by Joya DiStefano

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs? ~ Mary Oliver

The day was like most days, full of compelling things, distractions, and obligations, when a message came in the way they do nowadays, with the force of an urgent need. It was a Facebook message on a Saturday. Can someone please help? People had moved and left a puppy… Sometimes it is just the right time to do a good thing, and so an everyday woman left the demands of her day and responded to the call.

The small black and red creature felt like a newborn fawn in her arms as she lifted him out of the mud. He was leggier than he’d first appeared sitting hunched and boney, trying desperately to disappear into his own emaciated frame. A black harness, open at the girth, secured the pup to a fence. Once unfastened, the pup was free of the fence, but the harness strap had grown into the puppy’s flesh under his foreleg with the foul smell of infection – evidence that the harness would have to be cut off.   She placed him carefully on a blanket on the passenger seat of her truck and he watched her the entire time she drove. She glanced over often. She spoke with quiet reassurance. He lay on his side, head against the door, and watched. She named him Oliver.

Oliver on Day One

Oliver in the beginning

In the beginning, Oliver had a large elevated dog bed filled with soft clean quilts. In the beginning, Oliver did not need to move much more than his head each time small nutritious meals were placed beside him. She made a video when he first wagged the end of his tail. Then the pup moved to drink and to use the newspapers at the end of his pen, and she began to leave his food next to the water bowl. In the beginning, it was as if the miracles of food, water, safety and comfort were apparitions to a small creature for whom survival had been a questionable blessing.

OliverTwenty-four hours later, Oliver had developed enough confidence in the abundance that surrounded him to choose his own human, and a surprising choice it was. He did not choose the bearer of food and water, the one who ministered to his wound and maintained the cleanliness of his space. He was not concerned when she left his sight, nor did he delight in her presence. He did not cry if she moved through a door without him, nor did he sit and stare at the door until she returned. He chose the man, her husband, the one who had let him curl under his desk for a couple of hours that Sunday, with the sporting noise on the TV and the reassuring smell of a man’s feet. When the man napped, Oliver napped on his chest; when the man moved, Oliver followed as far as the man would allow. And Oliver quickly learned that when they went through the front door together, he made his man very happy if he peed and pooped.
A few days later, Oliver’s wound from the ingrown harness was surgically repaired, and for nearly two weeks he pranced around behind his man with the e-collar wagging – a bell with a tiny hound-faced clapper. His joy in life was not to be diminished by such an innocuous contraption, not after what he had been through.

 

“Because of a dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased,” says poet Mary Oliver in the opening quote. But the joy of a dog that started his life in the mud, without enough food or clean water, as its small malnourished body sustained every known southern parasite; the joy of a dog as it experiences the abundance of safety, sustenance and love; hikes, toys, rides and companions; the sights and sounds of family, is a joy that only rescue can offer. It is the joy of gratitude, the awareness of miracles. Living with that depth of joy is to be wrapped in the loving embrace of Creation.

Oliver and his new friend Sasha

On Saturday, February 20, PAWS will sponsor Bully 4 You & Other PAWS Too first adoption event at Tractor Supply on Whiskey Road in Aiken from 10 am to 2 pm. Bully 4 You will be joined by fostered adoptables from Molly’s Militia. Each of the dogs available for adoption has its own story, many much like Oliver’s. These rescue programs are proud to offer these special dogs with no additional charge for the depth of the joy they will bring a deserving family. Seeing is believing. Please plan to stop by. Maybe you have a role to play in their future. Buy a hat or shirt. Consider making a contribution to the worthy efforts that may one day offer you or someone you know that perfect dog. (Click here to see some of the adoptable dogs that will be on hand.)

In so doing, we spread the miracle of rescue dog love. There is nothing like it.

As for Oliver, he has charmed his way into the heart and home of a man whose wife always seemed to star in their canine productions, always, that is, until Oliver. The dog that was meant for you will find you, if that dog gets the right help along the way. Try it.

A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS and founder of PAWS, Inc.
Glacier

PAWS Leaps into the Adoption Business with a Pibble Grin!

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By Joya J. DiStefano

PAWS never ever intended to enter the adoption arena. When we formed our group, two very attractive new animal shelters had just opened in the City and the County, and Aiken appeared to be headed for membership in in the “Save Them All” movement sweeping the country. Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc. was organized in the spring of 2014 with a “root cause” focus on the problem of shelter over-crowding and high kill rate. PAWS would keep animals out of shelters through litter prevention and pet retention, and get animals at risk out of shelters by supporting existing rescue efforts.

Good plan, except for the one major obstacle: no one wanted to deal with the “pit bulls.” Transfer programs to Northern states would not transfer them. Fosters would not, or could not, foster them. Those that made it to the adoption floor often languished there. And so these dogs came into the shelters and most died there.

That was before Robin Mitchell and Toni King Smith joined PAWS.

Glacier

Glacier, passed over because he of his breed type.

For Robin, it began with trying to save Glacier. She went to the County Shelter last May to rescue him from imminent death and was told that she was too late. He was “in the back.” She had no access. No! Unacceptable, she thought. Robin had lobbied strenuously for a week to save this lovely eight-month-old, blue-eyed, heartworm positive “bully” dog that found her while she’d been on another mission. His looks had given him his death sentence. No one wants a bully dog, so why spend $700 to save one? The shelters are chock full of bully breeds, and in the south they have 1:2 chance of having heartworm. Robin managed to locate Glacier, already caged in the room with the county vet, waiting his turn to die. She got him out and ended up keeping him. Today, he wears a special vest to indicate that he is a therapy dog in training.

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Sophie: heartworm positive, pregnant and doomed!

Summers are slow and the demand is low for any dog in need of a home. In September, PAWS got an urgent Facebook plea to save a dog called Sofie: black, very pregnant, and heartworm positive. She, too, was doomed. The local program that saves heartworm positive dogs does not handle puppies, and black dogs are hard to place. But Toni had just come to PAWS, and Toni loved to raise puppies. The miracle of Toni offered another unlikely rescue a chance – lucky Sofie and her nine puppies born the day before she was pulled!

Sweetie Pie pushed PAWS into the adoption business.

Sweetie Pie pushed PAWS into the adoption business.

Then came Sweetie Pie, who was wrapped in an inmate’s arms as Robin entered the shelter one day in late September. The man in prisoner’s garb began to plead as soon as he saw Robin. Please help save this one! Please! The pup’s gentle gaze looked out from under over-sized ears folded across the top of her head. Sweetie Pie has the distinction of being the dog that pushed Palmetto Animal Welfare Services officially into the adoption business. If none of the other organizations were ready to rescue, rehabilitate and find homes for pitbulls, PAWS would fill that gap. It was a big step . . would we be able to find homes for the dogs we saved? The answer was a resounding yes. In the very first month they operated the program, Robin and Toni placed 20 dogs in vetted and approved forever homes. Twenty.

How do we save the unlikeliest dogs from an unnecessary and untimely death in our public shelters? By placing them in good homes. How do we do it again and again? The answer begins with people like Robin Mitchell and Toni King Smith, two determined, dedicated and knowledgeable women with a passion for rescue, especially for saving those dogs that need them the most. PAWS named the new program Bully 4 You (& other PAWS too!). The Bully 4 You program has stepped up to help move “America’s dog” back into the mainstream for dog-loving, dog-desiring households.

Robin Mitchell at HIC Warehouse Skateshop.

Robin with Glacier and Victoria at the HIC Warehouse Skateshop in downtown Aiken.

Why do we say, “America’s dog?” If you are a “baby-boomer,” you might recall Petey from the Little Rascals, or the RCA Victor dog, or “Buster Brown” shoes – all bully dogs.  Yet recently, much of our nation has jumped on the band wagon to vilify and discriminate against “pit bulls,” as a “breed,” one that is unpredictably aggressive and a dangerous liability. Legislation abounds that prevents these bully dogs from being shipped into some states. Locally, there are rules proscribing pit bull ownership for some households. There is no statistical evidence that “bully breeds:” bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, boxers, bulldogs, or any combination that produces the sleek, blocky-body-and-head-look known as “pits,” are any more aggressive, or even as aggressive as breeds such as German Shepherds, Dobermans or “Rotties.” The new term, “Pibbles,” more accurately connotes their personality: funny, affectionate, loyal, playful and very, very smart.

Robin and Toni are a team, and together they lead the PAWS adoption efforts through Bully 4 You, which was created for pit bulls, but will serve any dog in danger of slipping through the rescue cracks. They identify the lucky dogs for the program and make sure that the dogs get the care and training that will make them healthy and desirable pets. The dogs are spayed or neutered and up to date on all shots and vaccines. Adoptables are posted on a variety of adoption websites all accessible through the www.paws4nokill.org link. Applications are available online. Applicants are interviewed and meet-ups are arranged by the two women. In the first six weeks of the Bully 4 You program, 24 adoptions have been completed and two more are pending. This is a magical beginning – and your support is essential to sustain it. The success of the Bully 4 You program proves that, if we all work together, we CAN save them all. But we need everyone’s support to do it.

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Bully-4-YouHere is the current Bully 4 You “Wish List:” insulated dog houses, collars, leashes, food bowls, crates, and toys. They need money for food, training treats, and to pay for both basic and critical veterinary services. They need foster homes and people who would like to help fund-raise. The program needs people to help staff community events where it can demonstrate to our local communities what it means to have a good healthy loving dog as a family member.

If you want to help Bully 4 You & Other PAWS too, you can go online to www.paws4nokill.org or the “Bully 4 You” Facebook page for all the program information. To contribute you can also mail a check to PAWS, P.O. Box 392, Aiken, SC 29802. Put B4Y in the “For” line. Or donate online here.

Please help. Lives, good lives, depend on it.

 

SC Bill S. 687 Open Letter

Dear South Carolina Senators:

Please consider stopping Bill S. 687 where it stands. Limiting or preventing the ability of rescues, affordable/accessible wellness clinics, and affordable/accessible spay/neuter clinics to provide for our state’s animals and their caregivers will result in a tragic reversal of a very positive trend in our state. Limiting access to affordable care will result in more unwanted animals, more suffering animals, and then shifting the burden to public pounds, sending the kill-rates through the roof (again). Continue reading

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God is in the Dog Tales

by Joya DiStefano

Once we communicated with all animals as our equals and we had great respect for all forms of life. Then one day a chasm began to open between the worlds of humans and animals. While the chasm was narrow, the dog pondered its options, to stay with the humans or to go with the animals. The dog jumped with his animal friends. As the chasm widened he jumped back and forth between the animals and the humans, unable to decide. Finally, as the last opportunity to jump arrived, the dog took the final leap to join his fate with the humans. The cat, of course, has never had to choose. – from a Native American legend
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What it Means to Save Them All

by Joya DiStefano

“If your dreams do not scare you, then they are not real.” – quoted by Adam Braun, “The Promise of a Pencil.”

Of “euthanasia,” the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language says, “also called ‘mercy killing.’ The act of putting to death painlessly (or allowing to die by withholding extreme medical measures) a person or animal suffering from an incurable, esp. a painful disease or condition.”
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Ziggy

One Animal Advocate: A Love Story

“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character…” – Schopenhauer

I opened the door just a crack to keep my golden retriever Sunny from bounding through, and peered at the man on my doorstep. He wore a navy blue hoody that had “Coach” embroidered above his name, jeans with leather piping down the seams, and Doc Martin oxfords. He sported a burgundy Phillies ball cap, and an Errol Flynn mustache under thick large lenses in wireless frames. He held a video cassette of highlights from his little league championship football team in his right hand. He had advertised himself as “Financially and emotionally secure,” traits, as it turned out, that have come in very handy over the ensuing 21 years, especially the last five.
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May Annual Stats Figures in Column

Messages in Six Months of May

Let’s face it; there is nothing sexy about preventing a problem. You can’t look in the face of the kitten or puppy that was never born and heave a sigh of relief that you don’t have to be concerned about an unwanted life that never happened. There are no heartrending pictures of the consequent neglect, or abandonment. There are no pleading fur faces peering through cage wire. I know this is true, because I watch the money roll in for the PAWS rescue programs that can press that emotion button over and over again and have people from all over the county, state, and country pressing PAWS donate buttons to save another lucky puppy or dog from certain death. They deserve it. It feels good to do something that essential to life. Continue reading

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Good-Bye Herbie Brown

I took the Camp Rawls-Cooks Bridge route back from Wagener and a leisurely conversation about rescue and spay/neuter. Passing the brand spanking new Aiken County Animal Shelter on the corner of May Royal and Wire Road, I decided to stop, say hello to my friends, and have a look around. Continue reading