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Why Do Rescued Animals Make The Best Pets?

An audio recording of this interview will be posted here within a few hours of the live broadcast. A transcript will also be added within 24 hours. Thank you for your patience.
Why Do Rescued Animals Make The Best Pets?
"Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform," is a book by award-winning journalist Karin Winegar.
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Above: "Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform," is a book by award-winning journalist Karin Winegar.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The subject is still pets, but the issue is different for the rest of this hour. We'll be talking about a new book that documents the stories of pets that were not lucky enough to get preventive care. In fact, they had to be, as the book title tells us, saved. Author Karin Winegar and photographer Judy Olausen traveled across America finding stories of animals who survived great danger and cruelty, and finding the people who saved them. Parts of these stories are heartbreaking, but the other half, about the dedicated people who rescue, take in, nurture and bring back to life injured and traumatized animals, are inspiring and enriching stories. And then, there's the end of the story, when those animals who were hurt, turn around to give healing to others. I’d like to welcome Karin Winegar, author of the new book “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform.” Karin is also an award-winning journalist who has written for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Karin, welcome to These Days.

KARIN WINEGAR (Author): Thank you, Maureen. I’m thrilled to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Katy Allen, our vet and owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services, is still with us. Katy, thanks for staying on.

DR. KATY ALLEN (Veterinarian): Oh, my pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Have you ever rescued an animal from a bad situation? Tell us about it. Do you own an animal who has been saved, call us with your questions or comments. 1-888-895-5727. Karin, I’m wondering, where did the idea of this book, “Saved,” come from?

WINEGAR: Well, I’d really experienced this myself, Maureen. I think animals have given back to me so much more than I’ve given to them. All my life, they’ve kept me in the moment, they’ve kept me healthy, mentally and physically, they’ve given me a real purpose in my life, a real joy, whether the dachshunds I grew up with as a little kid or the horses I have now or the cats I’ve rescued. There’s just so much joy I get back from my animals and I think that’s true of most people who have experienced them.

CAVANAUGH: Now what kind of stories did you want to tell when you started writing this book?

WINEGAR: We were really open to the adventure of asking people about their animals, the animals they’d rescued. So we simply took off across the United States and talked to absolutely everyone. And people talked to us about animals they’d saved who were hit by cars, animals they’d saved who’d been abandoned, animals who’d been thrown out, animals who were scrounging for life behind a dumpster in a restaurant, animals who’d been dumped in East St. Louis in the ghetto. It really is a whole spectrum of creatures out there whether they were horses or donkeys or tropical birds, they all gave back to the people who rescued them.

CAVANAUGH: It’s an amazing book because it’s not just about the really sad stories of what these animals had to go through but the amazing stories of the people who decide, in a way just like you, to devote their lives to making sure these animals find a better life. Tell us about some of the people that you met along the way.

WINEGAR: Well, they’re just a spectrum you wouldn’t believe, old and young and of every race. We met people who lived, for example, in Virginia in a tiny town called Millwood, and they’re all women who work in a jewelry store and they bring their rescued animals to work, cats and dogs, and they work in a very chic jewelry atelier but the animals enjoy working with them and cheer everybody up. They also keep Have-A-Heart traps in their car trunks and whenever they hear of an animal lost or an animal strayed on the highway or somebody in need, off they go together, the sort of jewelry shop posse and they rescue animals.

CAVANAUGH: Now you also profiled a man named Randy Grim who works to rescue dogs and cats in a very, very bad area of East St. Louis. Tell us a little about his story.

WINEGAR: Randy is just remarkable. He’s a former flight attendant who used to, when he was in Europe on trips, smuggle animals back from Europe and stick them in the bathroom and lock the door on the airplane. So if you couldn’t use the bathroom on your flight back, that was probably Randy smuggling the needy animals back to the United States. He’s decided to make a career of rescuing dogs and cats, but chiefly dogs who are abandoned in the streets of St. Louis. And East St. Louis, he estimates, has something like 30,000 animals, mostly dogs, living, breeding, suffering and dying in the streets. And he’s especially extraordinary because the dog he works with is named Quentin, and Quentin was surrendered to the local pound when he was a very young dog for no particular good reason. He was put in a gas chamber with a load of dogs to be euthanized because there simply are too many and when they opened the door after 30 minutes, Quentin was standing on the pile of bodies growling and wagging his tail.

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

WINEGAR: And Randy was notified, he came down. He adopted Quentin on the spot and he and Quentin go into the ghetto in the most dangerous streets in America, arguably, and confront people who use dogs for dog fighting, use dogs for dog fighting bait, throw dogs away, and he brings dog food and gets dogs to expect a meal and jumples them, captures them, takes them to a clinic and he and his volunteers have saved thousands of dogs.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Karin Winegar. She is the author of the new book “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform.” I want to just ask Dr. Katy Allen, you’ve been hearing the stories that Karin has been telling us.

DR. ALLEN: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: And you, as a vet, must be aware of similar situations.

DR. ALLEN: We do have a – we have a lot of actually active rescue organizations in San Diego County. Greyhound Rescue does a lot of work. There are a lot of breed rescue organizations and if anybody is being inspired by this to get involved, they can go online and Google any of them and get involved because there are a lot of animals that are being, right now, just being left. You know, a house is foreclosed on and they leave the pets behind, too. So we’re seeing a lot, lot more animals that are either strays or being turned in to the pound and we need people who are able to just step up to the mark.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call now. John is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

JOHN: Well, I’ve got a question. I have successfully rescued two sets of dogs, some West Highland Terriers. Two lived a very, very healthy life and I’ve got two new ones. I’ve just rescued a girl. She’s – when we picked her up, she was three and a half years old and the breeder’s dog and very, very shy, very skittish. We’re struggling right now with her training, her house training, and do we take her back to like puppy type of training to let her know? Do we crate her? She’s well behaved, leash trained but she was never really introduced to potty training and that’s where we’re at. And is it too old in her life? Or do we pick up as if she was a puppy?

CAVANAUGH: Dr. Allen, I think that’s a question for you.

DR. ALLEN: I think that’s a question for me. Is the best device that I can offer is that, yes, you need to just take her back to square one. Crate training will be huge for her. That would be the best way to go because she needs to feel secure. She needs her little happy place to go to, and that’s what a crate will do for her. So just, yes, start at square one as though she’s a puppy, get a crate for her, and, you know, I wish you luck. It is – You can teach an old dog new tricks, okay, so don’t believe the old adage, and thank you for doing that for them.

CAVANAUGH: Karin, I wonder, what is the relationship between humans and animals that creates such a strong emotional bond that somebody like Randy would do what he does or the other people profiled in your book, “Saved,” would do what they do for animals.

WINEGAR: Well, you know, it not only gives them a sense of purpose, I think, but among the people that we spoke to and spent time with, it really lifts their spirits up to do something good for something suffering. And, you know, unlike people, I always say animals have all of our virtues and none of our vices. They really exemplify gratitude and joy and love, unconditional love. And for many people, they don’t receive a lot of that in their life and you can never have too much unconditional love.

CAVANAUGH: Right, and…

WINEGAR: So it’s a real reciprocity that happens.

CAVANAUGH: And that unconditional love, you’ve actually done some research on how that’s been documented to provide health benefits for people who own pets.

WINEGAR: That’s true. There’s a growing body of science that is really specializing in analyzing the animal-human bond and we know it feels good when we’re around dogs and cats and birds and horses and all of our creatures but now they’re documenting what goes on in the brain and one of the things is you simply get a chemical boost. You get things rush into your bloodstream like dopamine and endorphins and oxytocin. Those promote feeling of well being. And then you also reduce your stress hormones like cortisol when you’re around animals. They literally change your neurochemistry in a positive way.

CAVANAUGH: That’s amazing. Katy, have you found people who are ‘I’m not feeling too well’ perk up once they get a pet?

DR. ALLEN: Oh, absolutely, and it is well documented that it can lower your blood pressure if you have your little, you know, kitty cat on your lap and you’re just petting their fur. Your blood pressure will go down.

CAVANAUGH: What, however, Karin, I’m wondering should people be aware of before they start thinking about adopting perhaps a rescued animal or, you know, getting into this line of work or this vocation? It must take a certain type of person who is really in it for the long haul.

WINEGAR: I think a lifetime commitment to your pet is an optimum thing, and not getting too many animals, and I speak as a chronic horse-a-holic myself. I’m now up to six. But not getting too many animals because you’ve got a big heart. When I worked as journalist, I began to be interested in this issue and I then became a marketing media person at a humane society and I saw what happened when people who wanted to become a rescuer took in too many animals and they, themselves, became a disaster. The animals were really abused and it was not through bad intentions. So, you know, know what you’re capable of financially and timewise and try not to get too many animals in your life. But along that line, the best thing you can do always is support a spay and neuter service. Have your creatures spayed and neutered and try to contribute to those services that are providing that for other people.

CAVANAUGH: Because, Katy, an animal that has been poorly treated can actually be a tremendous responsibility if someone else decides to adopt that animal, I would imagine, because of the physical and emotional problems that animal has.

DR. ALLEN: Exactly. They’re going to bring behavioral problems into the house. They’re going to mess with the mix in your house if you already have pets. And so a household of several animals is getting on just fine, you bring another one in, you’re going to upset that balance. If they’ve been abused, sometimes that just makes them scaredy-cats, sometimes that makes them aggressive, and so there might be some danger to people in the house. And if they are prone to get into fights then it becomes expensive too, so, yes, I’m so glad that Susan said everything that I wanted to say is that, yes, you’ve got to think it through very, very well and will this particular animal fit into your particular household or not. And can you afford it.

CAVANAUGH: Karin, in your book “Saved,” I wonder what message you’d like for people to take away from the book? Should they become more involved in saving animals? Or is there something that’s a positive for animals and for society in people just being aware?

WINEGAR: I think having compassion is the message of the book, and acting out of compassion and whether that’s financially or with your resources or your time for needy animals. That’s really the message I’d like to get out to people, that animals need us. And as one woman told us in Arizona, she’s a fundraiser for an organization down there that helps animals, and she said we are responsible for what we have tamed. They really can’t exist without our help. And that goes for their food, their shelter and their birth control. And that’s the best thing we can do for them, is be loving and responsible.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Karin, I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today.

WINEGAR: Thank you. I’m pleased to have done it. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Karin Winegar is author of the new book “Saved: Rescued Animals And The Lives They Transform.” And Dr. Katy Allen has been with us for most of this hour. She is the owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services. Thanks so much for everything, Katy.

DR. ALLEN: Oh, I’ve really enjoyed it, Maureen. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And if you would like to post a comment, please go online, KPBS.org/TheseDays. And thank you for listening. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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