A few weeks back while Zee was busy getting adopted, foster mom headed up to Dutchess County, NY for a four-day learning-and-fun program for pit bull advocates and shelter professionals at Animal Farm Foundation.
AFF is a private not-for-profit foundation devoted to restoring the image of pit bull type dogs — the organization does its work through advocacy, research, best practices, and rescue of a small number of dogs, which are cared for, rehabilitated, and trained on their property.
Not only is the mission of the organization noble, but the property itself could hardly be more idyllic. AFF sits nestled among the rolling hills of Dutchess County amidst working horse farms and beautiful estates. My visit coincided with the very start of leaf-turning season. The nightly rains turned the ponds into rivers and the mornings into misty wonderlands.
Upon arrival, each participant (or “intern”) is assigned a dog who they will feed, care for, sleep with, and work with at training sessions. My partner was this gorgeous hunk, Ivan:
More on Ivan tomorrow, but for now let’s just say he is quite a catch. Gorgeous, smart, athletic, funny, and loves to cuddle. Sounds almost like a personals ad, huh?
Daily activities were split between classroom-style learning (including a presentations by the National Canine Research Council on the Pit Bull Placebo, by AFF about how language and policies — even seemingly good ones — affect broad attitudes toward pit bull type dogs, and even a short lecture on dog nutrition and digestion), and hands-on work with the dogs. One particularly interesting classroom session was about how dog breeding and genetic composition affects appearance, behavior, preferences, and other characteristics, and how often humans get it wrong when we guess at a dog’s breed makeup (and consequentially, its behavior) based on its physical appearance. Hands-on work with the dogs included some hikes, walks, several short training sessions, basic shaping and luring work, some clicker training, and enrichment in a kennel setting.
Resident dogs attended some of the sessions with us, and took good advantage of their time in the spotlight to show off their hammiest hamminess. My own Ivan was proud to display his ability to wiggle and worm his way from one lap onto the next in our seated row without ever touching the ground; Lotti Dotti’s special talent is laying splayed out in a lap, displaying all of her most beautiful spots:
In addition to the organization’s advocacy and rescue work, Animal Farm Foundation also runs a few specialized training programs for pit bull type dogs, including assistance dogs, therapy dogs, and sports dogs (frisbee, flyball, dock jumping, and agility).
Well-matched dogs not only love this work, but their presence out in public amongst people and other animals helps advance the idea that AFF works so hard on — that pit bull type dogs are just dogs like any others– nothing different, nothing unique.
A couple of quick phone-cam videos of AFF dogs demonstrating their evolving frisbee skills and dock diving skills:
AFF will resume offering the (FREE!) program in the spring, and the four days will be well worth your while if you’re a shelter or rescue worker or an advocate with an interest in issues of pit bull advocacy and adoption. Although individuals with a wide range of knowledge can benefit from the program, it seems especially geared toward individuals with intermediate level of knowledge about and experience with pit bull type dogs, who want to step up their game and be able to advocate for them with more confidence and authority. AFF’s lessons are widely applicable, but would be easiest to take home to a small or medium-sized shelter or rescue with a strong volunteer base.
Interested? Contact AFF for more info on how to apply.