Looking Back on 2015: Service, Play, and Innovation

Looking Back on 2015: Service, Play, and Innovation

From movie stars and public service announcements to service dogs and play yards, Animal Farm Foundation has enjoyed a productive year working to secure equal opportunity and treatment for “pit bull” dogs and their families. As 2015 comes to a close, we wanted to take a look back at the highlights from this year.

We’re very pleased to report that the positive trends we’ve shared with you at the end of 2012, 2013, and 2014 are still in full effect! Towns across the country are continuing to veto and repeal Breed Specific Legislation, states are passing preemptions, shelters are dropping blanket restrictions from their adoption policies, and community advocates are busy connecting under-resourced communities and families with much needed pet services.

This continual positive shift for “pit bull” dogs and their families has allowed us to commit even more resources in 2015 to working with a variety of shelters, individuals, and communities on projects such as:

Assistance Dog Program

In 2015 we trained and placed two new assistance dogs, which brings our program’s total to nine rescued “pit bull” dogs who are now working as service dogs around the country. This year we oversaw the placement of two fabulous new teams: Josh and Koda in New York and Fionna and Tonka in California.

Koda is trained to assist Josh, a veteran, with a number of tasks including retrieving objects, helping Josh transfer into and move his wheelchair, seeking help if Josh falls, and interrupting and helping Josh when he’s experiencing anxiety. They just took their first airplane trip together to visit a friend in the Rocky Mountains and also recorded a song with Mary Gauthier!

Joe and Zen

Joe and Zen

Tonka was recently placed with Fionna, a medical fitness trainer who has Multiple Sclerosis. Tonka is trained to help counter balance Fionna when she’s walking, doing stairs, and standing, and applies pressure to help her when she’s experiencing tremors.

We also saw increased coverage of our program, such as People’s interview with Matthew and his assistance dog Jericho and this terrific piece from NBC News about Joe and his assistance dog Zen.  Zen attends school with Joe, a former Marine, helping him to feel calm and comfortable in social settings. Joe says that Zen “always watches his 6” when in public. They, like the rest of the teams, are perfect partners!

AFF has five dogs who are currently in training and we look forward to seeing the good work they do in 2016!

Detection Dog Program

This year Animal Farm Foundation formed a collaboration with Austin Pets Alive! and Universal K9 so that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can be considered for Detection Dog work. Potential detection dog candidates are selected from the Austin Pets Alive! shelter system to participate in training led by Universal K9, located in San Antonio, Texas.

Once there, Brad Croft founder of Universal K9, trains and places the dogs in police departments around the country at no charge. Animal Farm Foundation provides a sponsorship to Universal K9 to help cover the costs of the officer training.

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

In 2015 a total of eight “pit bull” dogs were trained and placed in police departments around the country, from Georgia and Texas to right here in our own backyard of Poughkeepsie, New York.

There has been a ton of positive buzz about the dogs and many of the K9s have their own Facebook pages with growing fan clubs! Along with the others, K9 Kiah has received wonderful media coverage, helping to further dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding “pit bull” dogs.

The Majority Project

In 2015 we relaunched The Majority Project (TMP) with a new website, Facebook page, and a series of Public Service Announcements starring actor Jon Bernthal. The PSAs were aired around the country on radio and television and by mid-November our message had been broadcasted almost 7,000 times with nearly 500,000,000 impressions!

Along with the great news coverage about Jon’s involvement with TMP, this adds up to a very big spotlight on our project. Millions of people got the message in 2015 that the families who live with “pit bull” dogs are everyday people living with everyday dogs.

The thousands of new photos we received in 2015 illustrate the many ways that “pit bull” dog families from around the world are making valuable contributions to their communities and families.

photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

“I am a NICU Nurse and mom.” photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

The PSA is empowering dog owners to stand up against discrimination and breaks down the myth that only criminals and reckless people want “pit bull” dogs (a harmful stereotype that leads to restricted adoption policies, breed specific legislation, and other discriminatory policies). With millions of people meeting The Majority through our PSA we know that this misconception is finally on its way out.

And we’re always accepting submissions on our website, so print out a sign and join us!

Dogs Playing For Life

Dogs Playing for Life! manual

Dogs Playing for Life manual

DPFL kicked off the year with the release of their play group manual which was created with the support of a grant from AFF. The unique manual, which provides shelters with detailed instructions for running play groups, can be downloaded for free from the DPFL website.

To support this life-saving program, AFF awarded more than $30,000 for play yard construction in 2015. Allegany County Animal Shelter in Cumberland, MD, Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, NV, Humane Society of Adams County in West Union, OH, and Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control in West Palm Beach, FL were the main recipients of this year’s play yard grants.

Since 2012, AFF has invested nearly $200,000 for the construction of play yards at 18 shelters across the nation. We believe that play groups change perceptions, save lives, and are a critical component of progressive and humane animal sheltering. We’re proud to fund the construction of spaces that allow these programs to flourish and to support the DPFL team as they travel coast to coast to train shelters in implementing this game-changing program.

Grants and Awards

In 2015 AFF awarded approximately $425,000 in grants to shelters, rescues, and organizations who are committed to providing equal treatment and opportunities for all dogs. We’re thrilled to support innovative work, like the Pets for Life program, as well as the work of many others, such as:

Dogs Out Loud: based in Austin, TX, DOL works to provide training and behavior support services to address the needs of medium and large breed dogs in their local shelters. With help from our grant program, DOL created an innovative new enrichment and training program at Austin Animal Center called The Thinking Walk. Designed to make training and enrichment easy and accessible to all dogs, volunteers, and staff, the walking stations are set up along the front courtyard loop at AAC, a frequently traveled path for canine bathroom breaks and walks.

HeARTs Speak: a global network of photographers, artists, writers, designers, and advocates who work to save homeless animals, HeARTS Speak was awarded a grant from AFF to print one-of-a-kind field guides designed to help shelters boost adoptions. The Shelter Photography Field Guide is now available for purchase with 100% of the proceeds going towards funding HeARTS Speak’s Perfect Exposure Project which provides hands-on photography and marketing training for shelters. Full of inspiration, tips, and tricks for positively promoting pets in shelters, it’s the new must-have shelter resource.


Pit Sisters: based in Jacksonville, FL, Pit Sisters got creative with their pet owner support services and created a Mobile Training Program. By offering free dog training in targeted areas, the program helps to keep pets in their homes and out of shelters. We awarded multiple grants to Pit Sisters for their collaborative, compassionate, and effective work for pets and people in their community, which was extended at the end of the year when they took over the TAILS Program (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills). Now Pit Sisters helps shelter dogs and inmates learn the skills they need to succeed!

Our grant application process begins January 1st, so now is a good time to take a look at our website and familiarize yourself with our grant programs. We look forward to supporting more of you in 2016!

Dutchess County SPCA

Our yearlong collaboration with our local shelter, the Dutchess County SPCA, has focused on helping them move into their new facilities and revamp their adoption program. To support these efforts our shelter staff transferred over to working directly at the DCSPCA on a daily basis as adoption counselors (for both dogs and cats) and provided support with marketing and outreach. Today, our community collaboration continues, but the time has come for our staff to return home to the Farm!

Are you ready to meet your BFF at AFF? Check out just a few of the amazing new dogs here on the Farm!

Are you ready to meet your BFF at AFF? Check out just a few of the amazing new dogs here on the Farm!

We are once again accepting dogs into our own adoption program and currently have a group of wonderful pups – “pit bull” dogs, small dogs and many others – that have recently arrived. We’re looking forward to seeing them and the DCSPCA dogs go home with adopters for the holidays!

We hope that, despite any challenges and setbacks we may all still be facing, the successes and progress made in 2015 will provide inspiration as we continue to move forward in our combined work to create a better world for “pit bull” dogs and the people that love them. We’re excited about the coming year because we know that, with your help, things are going to continue to improve for all pets and their families.

Happy New Year everyone and welcome 2016!

From Shelter to Working K9: “Pit Bull” Dogs Keeping Communities Safe

From Shelter to Working K9: “Pit Bull” Dogs Keeping Communities Safe

It is the mission of Animal Farm Foundation to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs and in an effort to meet that mission, Animal Farm Foundation has formed a collaboration with Austin Pets Alive! and Universal K9 so that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can be considered for Detection Dog work, which is traditionally reserved for pure bred, purpose bred dogs.

Potential detection dog candidates are selected from the Austin Pets Alive! shelter system to participate in training led by Universal K9, located in San Antonio, Texas. Once there, Brad Croft founder of Universal K9, trains and places the dogs in police departments around the country at no charge. Animal Farm Foundation provides a sponsorship to Universal K9 to help cover the costs of the officer training. We recently had the chance to ask Brad a few questions about the program.

AFF: What are some of the things you train the dogs to do?

Brad: Universal K9 trains dogs for narcotics, explosives, cadaver, and arson detection. We also train dogs to track for criminal apprehension and have trained dogs for vapor detection as well.

K9 Loll and the Chief  of Barlette Texas PD

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

Can you tell our readers about the partnership between Universal K9 and Austin Pets Alive? When did you first get the idea to assess shelter dogs at APA! for your program?

I reached out to APA! and other local shelters about three years ago letting them know that I was seeking high drive dogs. Mike Kaviani, the Dog Behavior Program Manager at APA!, responded and I went out to test a few of their dogs. The ones I choose were all “pit bull” dogs. It can be challenging to place dogs that are labeled as “pit bulls” or “pit bull mixes,” because of misconceptions and prejudices, but I was able to find a couple of police departments early on that were open minded and I was able to place the dogs.

Has the response from police departments to “pit bull” detection dogs changed over the past 3 years? Are they more willing to accept them?

Many are still reluctant. But the sponsorship through AFF is helping to open some minds to the possibility of accepting a “pit bull” dog into their department.

What qualities are you looking for in a detection dog? If you transfer a dog from APA! for training, but it turns out they’re not a good fit, what happens to the dogs?

I look for dogs who are high drive, confident, and curious. If they’re strongly motivated by toys, that’s a plus. The dogs that don’t make it into the program are adopted out through us or APA!

K9 Libby

K9 Libby

It seems there is a common misconception by both the public and the working dog industry that dogs can’t be working K9s unless they are a specific breed or bred for the purpose of law enforcement work. In your experience, have you found that shelter dogs are just as capable of doing the work?

Any dog that has the drive, confidence, and desire to work can do it! Breed does not dictate a dog’s ability to work. I personally have a mutt – I have no idea what breed mix she is – but she is the best working dog I have ever come across! She can find narcotics and track people better than any “typical” police dog I’ve ever seen.

How many “pit bull” dogs have you placed with law enforcement? Can you tell us about one or two of these placements and the work they’re currently doing in their communities?

At this point we’ve trained and placed about 10 “pit bull” dogs with law enforcement agencies around the country. There are two dogs that really stand out right now.

K9 Ruby

K9 Ruby

K9 Libby with the Montgomery County, TX Constables was recently featured in People Magazine and has been dubbed “The World’s Raddest Police Dog” across social media for her work.  K9 Ruby with the Chattahoochee Hills Police Department in GA made her first bust this month. Both dogs have their own Facebook pages and have lots of fans cheering them on!

Both are performing very well and making a huge difference in the communities in which they serve. It’s really awesome and I’m very happy to be a small part of it.

Thank you Brad for being much more than a small part in this important work!

To learn more about the detection dog program, please visit our website.


Building Community: Announcing A Collaboration with the DCSPCA!

Building Community: Announcing A Collaboration with the DCSPCA!

Drum roll please…Animal Farm Foundation is thrilled to (formally) announce our new collaboration with the Dutchess County SPCA in Hyde Park, New York!

This new addition to our programs here at AFF has been underway for a number of months, but we can finally spill the beans. Working with the DCSPCA is an exciting investment in our local animal shelter and our community here in New York State.

For years, we’ve collaborated with the DCSPCA informally, but in 2014, the two organizations saw an opportunity to come together to meet both of our missions for the benefit of pets and people in our area.

Layout 1

As many of you know, AFF travels around the country speaking at conferences and doing on-site shelter consultations and presentations. These are excellent springboards for change, but we have to admit – we’re excited about the opportunity for the long term work that we can do by investing some of our resources in our local shelter.

By working side by side with the DCSPCA, we’re able to dig in deep, problem solve as challenges arise, and empower this fantastic organization to move forward into a brighter future for our community.

DCSPCA and AFF staff in the new building

DCSPCA and AFF staff in the new building

The DCSPCA is a limited admissions shelter just 40 minutes away from Animal Farm Foundation. As they geared up for some major changes in 2014, including moving into a new Adoption and Education Center facility, we were happy for the chance to collaborate with the new leadership, Executive Director Jackie Rose, and their hardworking staff, in order to support them in meeting their mission and vision for companion animals in our community.

The Mission and Vision of Dutchess County SPCA: We rescue, shelter, and secure permanent homes for adoptable companion animals; advocate for the highest standards of animal care; and enforce animal cruelty laws throughout Dutchess County. We envision a community in which there are caring, compassionate, respectful relationships between humans and animals, and all adoptable animals have loving homes.

We recognized that by collaborating with the DCSPCA, we would be able to not only help to meet their mission and ours – to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs – but that we would also be able to move closer to AFF’s long term vision in which ALL animals are recognized as individuals and equally valued. With missions that complement each other, the collaboration was a perfect fit!

Layout 1

Today, AFF staff members are on site daily, assisting DCSPCA staff as they implement an array of new approaches to saving lives and caring for shelter pets. For example, under the direction of Bernice Clifford, our Director of Behavior and Training, members of our canine enrichment team are on site at the DCSPCA 7 days a week to help facilitate dog play groups during cleaning hours.

The dogs at the DCSPCA have always been treated as individuals (no breed-based blanket policies here!), but with the addition of more enrichment and regular play groups, the dogs are now more comfortable, mentally and physically, during their time at the shelter. Staff at the DCSPCA are also enjoying learning the ropes of play groups and are doing a fantastic job of implementing this new life saving tool!

Layout 1

And we’re not just lending a hand with the dogs. AFF and the DCSPCA have put their heads together to increase cat adoptions and implement enrichment programs for the felines as well. AFF staff members are on site helping with adoption counseling for both cats and dogs these days, and the organization has recently moved to a conversation-driven, open adoption process.

Caitlin Quinn, our Director of Operations, has been working closely with the staff at the DCSPCA on marketing, communications, and policy updates. Recently both organizations teamed up with local photographers from HeARTs Speak for a photo shoot to help show off the fabulous pets available for adoption. We’ve also helped facilitate a total rebranding, complete with a new logo and focus on the joy and excitement that adopting a new pet brings to each family.


What does this mean for the dogs at our shelter here at AFF? We’re still taking in “pit bull” dogs from all over the country including cruelty situations, such as dog fighting busts. The difference now is that some of our kennels are temporary home to dogs (of all kinds) from the DCSPCA who need behavioral or medical support not available to them in the other facility. In exchange, the DCPSCA has been kind enough to host some of AFF’s shelter dogs on their adoption floor, which is much busier than our own small, rural shelter. The dogs are benefiting from having two locations and new potential adopters coming their way.

If you’re interested in adopting a dog from either group, we encourage you to fill out online adoption survey and we’d be happy to match you with your next family member. Additionally, our granting and education programs are still going strong.

Nothing is ending at AFF, we’re just diversifying!

With the animals and staff recently relocated to the brand new building – the official grand opening was 11/14 – we’ll continue to work together to empower the DCSPCA staff to be the best shelter they can be for our community!


Follow the DCSPCA on Facebook!

AFF’s Free Adoption and Marketing Resources For Shelters + Rescues

High School Students Donate Thousands to Court Case Dogs

High School Students Donate Thousands to Court Case Dogs

Meet six amazing young women, all high school students, who are the latest recipients of Animal Farm Foundation’s Your Programs, Your Ideas grant! These inspiring students from Glen Ellyn, Illinois formed the volunteer group Protect the Paws in 2012.

protect the paws
They connected with Court Case Dogs which is a Safe Humane Chicago program that supports dogs who have been relinquished by defendant owners charged with animal abuse or neglect and are housed at Chicago Animal Care and Control (sometimes for very long periods). The group dedicated their efforts to helping CCD through personal visits to the shelter and raising money through bake sales, car washes, and parties for the dogs.

protect the paws
These dedicated young women raised $3000 to support the Court Case Dogs and Safe Humane Chicago’s programs! AFF has matched their donation, awarding an additional $3000 to Safe Humane Chicago in recognition and support of the work done by Protect the Paws.

Protect the Paws
On July 29, 2013, the students visited CACC to see the dogs and present the money they’ve raised over the past year. The photos in this blog are from that day.

Protect the PawsCynthia Bathurst, the Executive Director of SHC, wrote to us about her experience working with Protect the Paws,

“These girls have been tremendous ambassadors for Court Case Dogs, most of whom are “pit bull” dogs. Their fundraising efforts and advocacy have spread the word about Court Case Dogs to the Chicago suburbs, breaking stereotypes and garnering new supporters for our programs.”

Protect the Paws

The matching grant and funds donated by Protect the Paws will be used to provide training and socialization for the Court Case Dogs, reducing their length of stay at the shelter and preparing them for placement in homes.

Protect the paws

Bravo ladies! Thank you for being a compassionate force for change in your community. The dogs (and all of us) are lucky to know you. We appreciate all the good work you’ve done and will continue to do in the world!

Protect the Paws
Keep up with Protect the Paws on Facebook!

And check out the Court Case Dogs playing in their yards!

From Shelters to Service: “Pit Bull” Dogs Change Lives as Assistance Dogs

From Shelters to Service: “Pit Bull” Dogs Change Lives as Assistance Dogs

Animal Farm Foundation’s mission is to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs. In an effort to meet that mission, we established a Service Dog Training program  so that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can be considered for the same work traditionally reserved for pure bred, purpose bred dogs.

Our first three teams have been placed: Margierose and Captain America in New York, Matthew and Jericho in Maryland, and Vicki and Parker in North Carolina. They are all “pit bull” dogs who were in regular shelters before they were evaluated for and entered our program. None were bred for this purpose, but all three are excelling in their new lives as assistance dogs.

The dogs were tasked trained by Apryl Lea, an Assistance Dogs International (ADI) trainer on our staff. Lea enjoys working with shelter “pit bull” dogs in this capacity. She believes there is a common misperception by both the public and the service dog industry that dogs can’t be service dogs unless they are a specific breed or bred for the purpose of assistance dog work. As Lea points out, no matter what breed of dog, the training process to become a service dog is the same, “A dog is a dog! The training is the same.”

Captain America pit bull service dog

Captain America and Margierose

Trained by Lea to retrieve dropped items, help with balance, brace on stairs, and get the phone in an emergency, Service Dog Captain America has been assisting Margierose since December 2012. She reports that his training has paid off, “He is not just my service dog, but my best friend where ever I go. As soon as I put his vest on he is very much like the super hero with his cape, but instead of leaping tall buildings he makes me feel safe and confident out in public. Captain picks up items I drop and braces me when my balance is off and I am feeling dizzy. He will even go get the phone for me when I am having a bad day.”

Service Dog Jericho, was also trained for tasks such as opening doors, retrieving items, and bracing his owner Matthew as he transfers from his wheel chair. Matthew, who lost the use of his legs in a car accident, is provided increased independence with the help of Jericho by his side.

Jericho pit bull service dog

Jericho and Matthew

Our most recent placement, Service Dog Parker, was trained to retrieve items, open doors, retrieve water from the fridge, brace on stairs, and go get help for his owner Vicki. Living with a lung disorder that impairs her ability walk and causes dizziness, Vicki gets help from Parker who provides her with the independence (and motivation) to visit some of her favorite public places, such as the beach!

Parker pit bull service dog

Parker and Vicki

Unfortunately discrimination against “pit bull” dogs has had an impact on service dog teams around the country. In 2011 the town of Aurelia, Iowa, which has a ban on “pit bull” dogs, forced Jim Sak, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago Police Officer who had recently moved to Aurelia, to remove his service dog (a “pit bull” dog named Snickers) from town limits. Animal Farm was able to assist Officer Sak in regaining custody of his dog. Read more about Office Sak here. More recently, a (former) ban on “pit bull” dogs in one Rhode Island town led to a service dog being confiscated from his disabled owner.

These cases are sad examples of what happens when local governments discriminate against dogs based on breed or appearance. Breed discriminatory legislation does nothing to enhance public safety, but it’s expensive to enforce, tears apart families (including service dog teams), and divides communities. On a federal level, banning “pit bull” service dogs violates 2010 guidance from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on breed limitations for service dogs and violates Title II of the American with Disabilities Act. Animal Farm is committed to securing the rights of service dog teams who are adversely affected by discriminatory policies.

In an effort to educate the public about Service Dogs (otherwise known as Assistance Dogs), the people who live with them, and our program here at AFF, here are a few things to know:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service Animals are legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered ‘pets’. Examples of the work or tasks they are trained to perform include: guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Captain America pit bull service dog

Service Dog Captain America

Dogs of all breeds and mixes can become service dogs. It’s the individual dog, not the breed that matters most when selecting dogs. After further assessments, some dogs who enter our program at AFF wind up not making the final cut. We are careful to only choose and train dogs who exhibit a desire to perform the tasks we are training them to do. If a dog isn’t the right fit for our program, they are placed up for adoption through our shelter.

Therapy Dogs are not the same as Service Dogs (Assistance Dogs). Service dogs are protected by federal law. Therapy and Emotional-Support dogs are not. Therapy dogs are those that provide comfort to people in a variety of settings, such as hospitals and retirement homes. Emotional Support dogs can provide comfort to their owners, but are not the same as Psychiatric Service Dogs. They are not required to perform certain tasks related to a person’s disability and can be refused access to places where service dogs are allowed.

There is no national certification process for service dogs, nor are they required to be trained by a certified assistance dog trainer. Owners are allowed to personally train their service dog for their own specific needs. What qualifies a dog as a service dog is the help the dog provides for an individuals with a disability.

AFF has an Assistance Dogs International (ADI) trainer on staff, even though it’s not required. We believe in the objectives of the ADI. Having an ADI certified trainer on staff is a demonstration of our commitment to the program. It’s also a way for us to help “pit bull” dogs secure inclusion in ADI’s respected program.

Parker the Pit Bull Service Dog

Service Dog Parker

It is illegal to ask someone what their disability is or require training certification. When it is not obvious what service a dog provides, only limited inquiries are allowed by law. Businesses cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. Businesses may ask two questions:

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

It is illegal to impersonate a service dog team in order to gain access to public space or transportation with your pet dog (even if they are a therapy dog). Fake service dogs are a growing problem and cause serious problems for legitimate service dog teams. Faking a “service” dog has real consequences for disabled people who rely on their specially trained dogs. Imposters create a hostile, distrustful environment for dogs and their handlers.

If you encounter a service dog, do not distract them from doing their job. In other words, do not pet them, do not call out to them, and do not allow your dogs or children to approach them. Distracting a service dog could result in an accident for the handler. For more on service dog etiquette please visit this site.

Jericho pit bull service dog

Service Dog Jericho and Matthew

For more information about assistance dogs, please see ADI.

To nominate a “pit bull” dog for our program or to learn more about our work, please visit our site