by Steven Kotler | on August 1st, 2011 | in Small Furry Blog, Tidbits
Bob Barker spent almost 50 years on television and along the way used his considerable platform and resources to fight on behalf of animals. His alma mater, Drury University, got $2 million to establish a professorship for animal rights and an animal ethics course. In 2010 Barker gave the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society $2 million to fight whaling and $1 million to SHARK to fight pigeon shooting. And, despite being 87 years old, the crusade continues. let Last month he donated another $230,ooo to Chimp Haven in Keithville, La., to create a 200-acre chimp habitat. The initial residents are 5 chimps rescued from a medical experimentation facility in Texas. There’s only one thing to say: thank you Bob, very much appreciated!
by Steven Kotler | on July 29th, 2011 | in Features, Small Furry Blog
So about seven years ago the LA Weekly sent me to Nevada to write a story about Ex-Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, who was then trying to go legit and open up the America’s first all male brothel. The story was just about as crazy as you might expect. You can read the original here. But one reason the whole experience was so nuts was because Fleiss was then grieving for her neighbor. As she told me—when she got out of jail and moved to Nevada she moved to a weird little town called Pahrump. She knew very little about the place beforehand, but ended up buying property next to a lady she described as “the oldest living hooker in Nevada.” As these things go, the oldest hooker in Nevada loved parrots. She had dozens. Just before I went to interview Heidi, Nevada’s oldest prostitute died—and Heidi was frantic trying to figure out what to do with all those damn birds… Well according to today’s New York Times she figured it out. Ladies and Gentleman, may I suggest a career trajectory in the key of “P”. Prostitutes to Prison to Pahrump to Parrots to Pet Therapy. Animal Planet debuts their new show Heidi Fleiss: Prostitutes to Parrots this week.
by Steven Kotler | on October 25th, 2010 | in Features, Small Furry Blog, Training
Every now and again, I’m reminded of what an incredible and improbable relationship we have with dogs.
Partially, I’m talking about our cross-species friendship, the likes of which exists (as far as we can tell) nowhere else on the planet. Mountain lions and coyotes are both predators that inhabit the terrain around my house, but they don’t team up and have play dates. They don’t sleep in the same dens or share their meals. And neither do any other groups of social carnivores except humans and dogs.
But what makes this relationship all the more improbable is that we were not originally hard-wired for the experience. The best example I can offer of this is from something that happens occasionally when I’m out hiking my dogs through the backcountry. During those hikes, I often like to stop and sit down and close my eyes and listen. I like how nature sounds. The chirp of the birds. The buzz of the insects. My dogs running around to inspect this hole or that. And that low hum—some distant echo off the canyon walls that always seems to be there.
A few days back, I was sitting and listening, ears open, eyes closed, when my dog Bella, a pit-bull/healer mix, came running up to me. She’s been around me long enough that, when I sitting with my eyes closed, I never worry about her crashing into me
And this day was no different. Bella did what she often does—stopped directly in front of me to lick my face a few times. Normally, after this happens, she trots away. But the other day, she lingered with her mouth right beside my ear. She had been running, so after she stopped licking me she started panting: hot, hard animal pants that boomed in my ear.
While she was licking my face, there was almost no reaction. Sure, I got that slight bit of pleasure I always get from a dog licking my face, but that wasn’t much more than a light buzz in my nervous system. But when she panted in my ear, my entire body freaked out. My stomach dropped—as if I had gone over the first hill on a roller-coaster—and then my body jolted—like a bolt of electricity had shot through me.
Even before I realized it, I had jumped to my feet and taken up a wide-eyed, aggressive stance and the entire reaction was completely automatic.
What was actually happening was I was getting a chance to watch my amygdala at work. Here’s what I mean: The human senses take in about 400 billion different bits of information every second. The very first place this information travels is the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain governing primal emotions such as fear and rage.
Among the oldest portions of the human brain, the amygdala is old enough that certain reactions have become hardwired instinct. For example, when we see a dark, twisty shape in the grass, we will automatically jump backwards before our brain has time to realize we’ve seen a stick not a snake. This get-me-the-hell-out-of-here response shows up around heights, snakes, spiders, and—yes—the throaty pant of a live animal in one’s ear.
Certainly, we co-evolved to live with dogs. Certainly we have been cohabitating with them for somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 years, but for millions of years before that the hot pant of an animal in our ear meant nothing good. And the memory of that is still buried deep in our brain.
So when something happens, like my dear friend and constant companion Bella triggering a fight-or-flight response, I am again reminded of how improbable is our cross-species friendship. How long and hard both my forbearers and Bella’s forbearers had to work to make that connection. And how much responsibility I still have to cherish it.
Steven Kotler is the author of A Small Furry Prayer.
by Grayson Schaffer | on September 27th, 2010 | in Features, Media, Small Furry Blog
So you think you’ve got big dog problems? Check out the small dog problems Steven Kotler, author of A Small Furry Prayer, which hits bookshelves this month, deals with on a daily basis. Kotler, who also wrote West of Jesus, and his wife, fellow author Joy Nicholson, moved from Los Angeles to Chimayo, New Mexico, a few years back to start Rancho de Chihuahua (www.ranchodechihuahua.org) as a sanctuary for small dogs. Amazingly, they’ve managed to preserve both their sanity and their relationship. The book is a sidelong look at the world of dog rescue as told by a novice—Kotler—who fell into animal activism by falling in love with an activist. If you’ve ever thought the world dog rescuers live in is probably a kooky place, Kotler and the bazaar culture of northern New Mexico don’t disappoint. When you put 30 chihuahuas and their L.A.-transplant rescuers in the black-tar heroin capital of America, crazy things are bound to happen. When I asked Kotler whether all of the stories—from the coyote that wanted to play with his pack to the altruistic lesbian dogs—he responded: Not only are these stories all true, but there are a dozen others that are even crazier. I didn’t include those because nobody would have believed them.
Read an excerpt of the book in Outside’s October issue and then buy it
by Steven Kotler | on August 24th, 2010 | in Features, Small Furry Blog
Welcome to a Small, Furry Blog. I thought I’d begin by making a somewhat brief introduction. For starters, there are a few other dog blogs on the Outside website and those are filled with sagacious, hard-earned advice about how to train and care for your dog. This advice comes from folks who really know what they’re talking about.
This is definitely not that blog.
In fact, whatever wisdom I might have on subject canid is ad hoc at best and probably better ignored.
The reasons for this are two-fold. First, the dogs in my care are not your average dogs. Alongside my wife, Joy Nicholson, I co-run the Rancho de Chihuahua dog sanctuary—a dog sanctuary for special needs dogs.
Our pack size varies, but usually we have around 25 dogs in our care. Those dogs fall into three categories. We do hospice care for the aged, giving elderly dogs a place to die in peace. We also do long term rehabilitation for severely abused, terribly ill and mentally and physically handicapped dogs. These are dogs that usually need a year or two of work before they’re eligible for adoption. Most of these do eventually find new homes, but a few end up loving too crazy for adoption. Rescuers call these dogs “lifers,” and we have about eight of those right now. Finally, we also take on a couple young fosters at a time. These are usually healthy puppies with mild traumas. We nurse them back to health in a month or two and then find them homes.
Our dogs have great lives—that much for certain. My wife has something of an international reputation for her ability to heal dogs. It’s not unusual for us to receive a dog from a vet with a warning that the dog has a month to live at best, but much of the time that month stretches into two, three, four…usually years. If you ask my wife the secret to her technique she’ll say “I just let the dogs be dogs and love them for it.”
What does that really mean? Well, we don’t cage any of our dogs. We don’t separate them from one another or from us. Outside of “No Fighting” our sanctuary has almost no rules. This is done intentionally. We go out of our way to cultivate an environment as close to the hunter-gather environment that dogs evolved to live in. This means large packs of dogs, a few humans, and a completely different rule structure—and that’s the real reason you might not want to take my advice.
Our goal—what we’ve discovered to be the very best way to promote healing and happiness— is loving cooperation. I want to find the best way to cooperate with the dog, and the best way for them to cooperate with me. This means I bend to their will the vast majority of the time.
Let me give you one example. We have a few feral dogs here—some have been here for years—none have I yet to touch. I co-exist in the same space with these ferals. I feed them and care for them and mostly stay out of their way. Why should you ignore this advice? Simple. Most people don’t want to be around a dog they can’t touch.
Another version of this is how we do our adoptions. If you want one of our dogs, you come over, sit down at a table on the back porch and then we open the door to the house and let the dogs pour out. The point of this is not to let the human do the choosing. We let our dogs choose. And if they don’t like the potential adopter, well they don’t go home with the potential adopter.
Essentially, if I were to sum it up in a sentence, we try to look at every situation from the dog’s perspective and then we try to cooperate with their vision. Of course, since we lack a verbal common language, this can get pretty messy at times.
But truthfully, that’s the real fun. And sometimes those feral dogs do come around. And when you’ve been living with a dog for two years before they finally walk over and decide to give your hand a lick—well that one lick, let’s just say it’s astronomically more than worth the wait.