Sunday, July 28, 2013

UnChained, Inc. provides second chances for dogs and kids

Maybe you've heard of the nonprofit organization UnChained and maybe you haven't. We want to make sure you have because it is inspiring and transforming, and it's right here in our community. You can even get involved: the next General Volunteer Orientation is Saturday, August 3, in Santa Cruz.

"UnChained is dedicated to helping save the lives of shelter dogs and change the lives of at-risk youth," says Melissa Wolf, founder of the innovative program. The young people learn how to teach shelter dogs basic skills, good manners and socialization using positive reinforcement."

"Using the method of Clicker Training," Wolf explains, "the youth learn patience, responsibility and respect for themselves and others, while helping to increase the chances of adoption for the dogs. When the kids see the effects of change they have on the dogs by giving them a second chance at life, they begin to take the risk in believing they can do the same for themselves."

Meet Petey and his youth trainer. Together, they learn the value of respect and companionship as they provide hope for one another at a better shot at life the second time around:

Wolf founded UnChained, Inc. in 2011. The program, active in both Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, partners with interested schools and organizations. Rancho Cielo and New School have taken advantage, as have animal shelters in both counties.

Wolf says that "when working with the kids and the dogs you become humbled with what transpires between these two amazing souls."

"Many of the kids bond with their dogs because of the parallels they share with them such as; rejection, abandonment, abuse and neglect. They learn to understand that when they're kind and patient to their dog, they're kind and patient to themselves. The kids recognize their worth in the community, when they give these shelter dogs another chance at life."

If you are interested in learning more about how to create compassionate communities for kids and dogs, through animal assisted therapy, you are invited to join:

General Volunteer Orientation
Saturday, August 3, 2013
10:30 am to 11:30 am
Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter
2200 7th Avenue, Santa Cruz

You must RSVP: Melissa Wolf at
Petey was adopted!
Introducing Bobby, a handsome bully breed with special needs and in need of immediate foster. Be careful, you could fall in love:
Striking a pose

Making time for a kiss
Receiving some royal treatment
Enjoy this video of Bobby, available for foster and/or adoption now:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The missing

I miss Thunder like crazy. That’s the truth. I try to act like I am over it, to pretend that I’m not brokenhearted anymore, and life is back to normal. But I am so empty on the inside sometimes. Sometimes, like tonight.

Every evening as it begins to set, the porch light flickers and reminds me of her. Most of the time I feel delighted to think of her, to imagine she is thinking of me and of us, of our lives together. Sometimes I even say aloud “Hi Thunder!” But on occasion the light flickers and I am grief-stricken. It’s odd. The light is off just now. It doesn’t usually go off and stay off. It’s almost like she is comprehending my sadness and sharing it with me at this very moment.

This morning my sister and I chatted about our lives here on earth, and pondered on the possibilities of heaven. Thunder was the absolute best dog ever. She was easy going, you could walk her anywhere and never have a problem, and I wish I’d walked her more. She gave Rafa more attention than I do! She was the invisible heartbeat of our house. If heaven doesn’t contain Thunder, I want no part of it.

Tonight I am thinking of my sweet little girl, and I miss her like crazy. Please light, flicker back on – remind me that everything is alright.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Be Kind to Animals Week, 2013

I just received a letter from the American Humane Association (AHA), one of the oldest animal protection organizations in the United States (and one that I am particularly fond of because it recognizes the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence).

The letter tells the story of an 11-year-old girl named Hannah’s visit to her local animal shelter and her immediate awareness that the cats there seemed to be miserable housed right next to barking dogs. Hannah took it upon herself to speak up and ask for something to be done, and the next thing you know the shelter was receiving a much-needed makeover. The cats and other animals are now much happier, more people come to the shelter and the adoption rates are up.

Hannah’s story reminded me of the power one person can make in our big wide world. One girl, one woman, one boy, one man – anyone! The purpose of the letter was to remind me of “Be Kind to Animals Week,” which is coming up May 5 through May 12 this year, and has been observed since 1915.

What comes to mind for you when you think of being kind to animals? It might be easy to blow it off – to say to yourself, “I’m always kind to animals – this reminder is for someone else.” I beg to challenge that today: ask yourself and honestly answer these three questions:

Do I report animal neglect or cruelty when I see it?
Do I think about the animals raised for the food I eat?
Do I think I have a responsibility to the animals in our society? Why/why not?

I believe we all have a responsibility to participate in a more humane nation, and that every single day we can thoughtfully consider the choices we make and ask ourselves if we’re doing our part. Animals are unique in that they have no voice; they rely solely on us to be their saviors.

The AHA reminds us to adopt our pets from shelters or rescues, to take care of our pets, to make sure to spay and neuter, to speak up and report animal abuse, and to appreciate wildlife. Be Kind to Animals Week is a perfect time to teach children about animals.

Are you doing anything special to commemorate Be Kind to Animals Week?

A note about animals raised for food in the United States: a tough battle rages on between the corporations that operate meat and dairy production in our nation - a huge conglomerate of stockholders concerned with their bottom lines and not about the welfare of their live commodity - and the animal activists of our nation. These factory farming institutions have been persuading our generation to consume products from overfed, unnatural, antibiotic-laced and hormone-injected animals, which is terribly unhealthy for humans and horrific for the animals. Please learn more about our nation’s food production – what better time then during "Be Kind to Animals Week?”

This writing was also posted by the author at

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The cost of an open heart

What does that mean? To state it simply, it’s the willingness to love and care for someone or some being, knowing that there is cost involved – a cost that is often great - and doing it anyhow.

An open heart loves fiercely, but in turn invites pain. An open heart fights for survival, but yet surrenders with or without a fight, when death wins. There’s a pure unconditional element to open-heartedness, even as we struggle to control the outcomes in our lives - we don’t, and we can’t. So the cost of an open heart is inevitably a broken heart.

Why is this Easter Sunday topic on the cost of an open heart? It’s quite practical really. You see, tomorrow we bid farewell to one of our beloved children, a precious little girl named Thunder. My husband brought Thunder home on Valentine’s Day in 1995, and she’s been a loyal family member for over 17 years. We love her immensely and openly, and with this same intensity we will grieve.

But Thunder is ready to move on to the next world, wherever the rainbow bridge or the blue skies take her. She’s done here, and we can’t change that. So our calling – as stewards of God’s unconditional love – is to love again, just as fiercely as before and then some. Someone or some being needs that love and the price is irrelevant.
If you’ve put it all on the line for love, you’ve no-doubt suffered the aches and pains of a broken heart. Don’t be afraid to love that away again. It’s more than just an honor – it makes life grand. For a pet (or anyone) in need, an open heart means a chance at a new life – a rebirth. Sometimes a rescuer becomes the one who is rescued.

Tell us about your great love(s), a pet you rescued, or a loss you experienced.

This writing was posted at Examiner.Com on Easter Sunday. It's been less than 24 hours since we said goodbye to our sweet girl, Thunder, pictured above in a photo taken yesterday. We miss her terribly even as we know she is always in our heart.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sweet Apple

It’s the dead of winter in serendipitous Santa Cruz, and things are about to heat up. With a simple turn of the calendar comes the buzz of lovers, from the romance-obsessed to the cold and lonely. For me, I’ve been pre-warmed by a hot new sensation, at least in my Facebook feed, and her name is Apple a Pit Bull like no other.

Just in time for the V. holiday comes an A. love story - one that’s been playing out largely behind the scenes - until now. So, listen up crusty Cruzers, because even you can be swooning in love by February 14 if you play your cards right.

After nursing a semi-secret crush for about a month, I finally asked the Apple of my eye’s people how they found their true love. “I first heard about Apple in the Sentinel newspaper, where I work. There was a story about her being dumped along Highway 152 without food and water,” says adopter Kalin Kipling, “and who wouldn't feel for her/be touched by her story?” A few months later Kalin was volunteering with Animal Friends Rescue Project at the Santa Cruz PetSmart when “she walked in with her shelter ‘Adopt Me’ vest. I recognized her right away with that adorable face and those expressive eyes.”

Kalin discovered that Apple was being rehabilitated at Irie Times in Soquel, a 45-acre facility where, among other things, shelter dogs in foster care receive training and interact with a variety of other animals. “When I got home that evening, I gushed about her to Omar [Mojaddedi, Kalin’s fiancĂ©] and he excitedly agreed to meet her.” Kalin relayed that Apple was being introduced to cats, which was especially important because they had a resident feline in their home. They arranged to meet Apple the following week and “Omar fell head-over-heels for her right away, and I was already sold.” After a standard application process and a “thumbs up” from the shelter director [Melanie Sobel], their tale of love, which first caught my attention in updates and photos on the shelter’s Facebook page, was beginning to unfold.

“I love to discover new trails, hikes and climbs with her,” Kalin says about Apple. “She and I both have a strong love of climbing, from trees to boulders. I love to cuddle with her and act goofy with her. I'd never owned a Pit Bull before and didn't realize that they are cuddling pros! Absolutely the most affectionate pup I've ever had, and after meeting other owners of the breed, I've found that to be true in most cases with Pit Bulls.”

Omar is just as fond of Apple. “I love to take Apple out for long walks along the ocean and down to the beach (when it's allowed),” he says. “She really loves other animals, and through her, I've met some really amazing people and dogs. I'm the head trainer of the family and love to see her learn, grow, and overcome her anxiety that she was left with after her ordeal/upbringing. At night Apple always finds a space between Kalin and I to snuggle and I refer to her as my personal heater.”

Apple has become the official-unofficial heart of Santa Cruz, with quite a following – I guess I wasn’t the only one with a crush. And best of all, an exciting love story just like this can be your reality too! There are four-legged beloveds available at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, as well as other local rescue organizations. The shelter currently has 47 dogs, 41 cats, more than 30 rabbits and a hodgepodge of other furry characters patiently awaiting loving homes.

Shelter director Melanie Sobel, who admits to being smitten with Apple herself, states “approximately 17% of the dogs that enter Santa Cruz Animal Shelter are Pit Bull or Pit Bull mixes” and “it is definitely harder to adopt out Pit Bulls due to the negative stigma that surrounds them,” a stigma that Kalin, Omar and Apple are helping to break.

“Whenever we see a person who looks nervous or apprehensive,” Kalin says, “we make sure to put on big smiles and let them know before approaching that Apple is super friendly. The same goes for when we see other dog owners with their dogs off leash. We also take her for walks and playdates with other, ‘less intimidating’ dogs, which immediately erases the stigma.” Apple also wears a pink collar to help those meeting her for the first time immediately see her sweetness.

So, are you ready to date yet? If you’ve been looking at Apple’s pictures and have read this with an open heart, the shelter currently has Warren, an 8-month-old male Australian Cattle Dog/Pit Bull Terrier, Fancy, a 10-month-old female Pit Bull Terrier/Mastiff, and Macintosh, a 3-month-old male Pit Bull Terrier available to meet during shelter hours, and others in foster sites.

Kalin can’t say enough about the breed. While she and Omar weren’t specifically looking for a Pit Bull, Apple stole their heart and has been showing them her enormous capacity to love ever since. Kalin and Omar are impressed with the “tight-knit community” of friendly and responsible Pit Bull owners here in Santa Cruz who are presently changing the public’s perception of the breed.

“In the end, Kalin goes on, “every breed of dog needs patience and guidance and will flourish and develop with love and direction. We know each dog is an individual and all of them just want a family to please and love and fit into. With a Pit Bull, you might have more pressure to combat the stigma that comes with them, but they are worth every second and give you so much love in return.

“The breed generally aims to please and even reportedly used to be called the "nanny dog" because it was often the trusted caretaker pup used to watch over kids. Helen Keller owned one, and Petey the dog from "The Little Rascals" was one.

“Pit Bulls are just dogs, plain and simple. They just happen to be one of the chosen breeds for people who mistreat them and train them to be fighters for people’s twisted idea of amusement. The most important thing when visiting a shelter to find a new family member is to go in with an open mind: Dogs, no matter the breed or how they look, have a way of capturing your heart by just being themselves, and they'll often pick you.”

To find your true love:

The Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter is located at 2200 7th Avenue.

The Santa Cruz SPCA is at 2685 Chanticleer Avenue.

Animal Friends Rescue Project has cats available daily while Animal Shelter Relief Rescue hold adoption events on weekends at PetSmart in downtown Santa Cruz at 490 River Street.

Project Purr has a variety of domestic and barn cats available to adopt.

The Rabbit Haven holds adoption events at Pet Pals on the second and fourth Saturday of every month, located at 3660 Soquel Drive.

Please consider adoption.
This article was also published in under the title Apple, heart of Santa Cruz.