2010-07-28 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

No dog illustrates “Pit po­tential” better than Conrad. Dressed in goggles and a mo­torcycle

harness, this white Pit mix rides to his nursing home pet therapy sessions in a custom compartment on the back of his owner’s Kawasaki Nomad. Theseni­ors

and staff at a Westchester Veterans Administration fa­cility rejoice at the duo’s ar­rival. Life wasn’t always so good. Before Conrad stepped out of the set of Easy Rider, the neglected Pit spent his puppy hood confined to a Wyandanch garage, while suffering from a common eye condition that rendered him basi­cally blind. He owes his sight plus his change of fortune to Almost Home Animal Rescue (www.almosthomeli.org), a unique LI pet welfare organization. Founded in 2007 by rescue veteran Linda Klampfl, RN, and dedicated volunteers with many years’ in-the-trenches experience, Almost Home ventures beyond re­homing unwanted dogs and cats. Thegroup also provides Training Wheels®, a non-judgmental community out­reach program bringing ser­vices (pet food, shelter, meds, veterinary care, education) to economically strapped areas in an attempt to improve the quality of life for these pets, mostly Pit Bulls living out­doors;

Conrad and Jim Burns arrive at the VA nursing home. Conrad and Jim Burns arrive at the VA nursing home. and to prevent them from being surrendered to already crowded town shel­ters. Specifically, that shelter would be Babylon where every effortof Almost Home is appreciated. Presently about 90% of Babylon’s limited cages contains a poor Pit Bull. It seems a vacuum ex­ists. When one Pit leaves the shelter, within moments a clone takes the dog’s place. The situation would be much worse without Almost Home.

Almost Home also arranges FREE spay/neuter with free transport for the pets of Training Wheels® clients. It takes persistent persuasion to convince some owners that neutering dogs, many of them chained to trees or doghouses, is in the best interest of everyone. As the pro­gram

grows, Almost Home is getting stricter with new entrants, who must agree to free pet spay/neuter within the first three months of signing up. Presently there are 130 Wyandanch clients receiving monthly deliveries. To insulate doghouses, hay is added to the supply list each winter. During the latest visit Linda took home the only surviving newborn pup from a litter to bottle feed. He is at a wedding with her as I write this. Conrad belonged to a Training Wheels® client who tied him to a tree. The Almost Home crew noticed the nine month old’s great temperament despite his entro­pion in both eyes. Entropion is an inherited condition in many breeds that usually shows up in older puppies when the eyelid folds inward and the lashes constantly rub against the cornea. It is extremely uncomfortable but usually correctable by surgery performed by a regu­lar vet, not a specialist.

Almost Home convinced Conrad’s owner that sur­gery was necessary but they couldn’t get him to relin­quish the dog. After his operation at their vet, Conrad was reluctantly returned to the man who locked him in a garage to recover. His eyes got infected after another dog attacked him. Luckily before the second lid surge­ry, the owner legally surrendered Conrad, now simply known as “RAD.” He recuperated at Linda’s house seve­ral months, becoming the all time favorite of her oldest daughter. That claim speaks volumes. Many fosters have passed through Linda’s home on their way to “forever.”

Last October Jim Burns a retired attorney from Blue Point adopted Conrad. The new pup meshed with Jim’s Staffie, Mocha. Mocha was used to motorcycling so Conrad followed his sister’s lead. Jim had a special seat made at a Copiague sheet metal shop. Thedogs take turns putting on eye gear called “Doggles” and buckling into a three point harness. Recently, Jim relocated to Briarcliff Manor. Conrad is now doing pet therapy via the “Golden Outreach” pro­gram of the SPCA of Westchester scheduling certified owned dogs and trained shelter dogs to visit residents in more than 40 health facilities. Mellow Conrad aced the SPCA temperament test which anticipates scena­rios including having a crutch thrown at him and being run over by a walker. He and Jim have been assigned to the nursing home at the VA in Montrose right on the Hudson where Conrad makes a grand entrance in the circular driveway upon his Kawasaki chariot.

Conrad has found his calling. Residents who rarely verbalize speak to him. Those immobile smile with a glimmer of awareness or lean over to pet him. He is a big hit everywhere he goes- bedrooms, arts & crafts and even at karaoke. In the physical therapy ward, Conrad subtly coaxed a patient to exercise. Jim said: “An elderly man refused to leave his wheelchair until his therapist asked if he wanted to walk Conrad. In a jiffythe man transferred to his walker, grabbed the leash from me and was down the hallway.” Conrad, merely two years old, has graduated from a grungy garage to become a biker boy, pet therapy dog and the ultimate breed ambassador. Thanks to Almost Home, Conrad was discovered in the nick of time. Thanks to Jim, Conrad will experience “happily ever after” while bringing joy to others. Maybe he will also inspire adopters. Perhaps Conrad’s success story can liberate more of the untap­ped Pit Bull talent just wait­ing to be discovered in mu­nicipal shelters. Wouldn’t that just be RAD?

Paw Note: Almost Home (631-627-3665) relies on donations of supplies like dog food, more volunteers and, of course, funds to con­tinue their Training Whe­els ® outreach. Thegroup has recently opened a small adoption space at 1521 Ocean Ave. (south of Vet’s Highway) in Bohemia, and will be holding a garage sale there on Sunday August 8 from 11 to 4.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Pretty “Heather” # 92855 is a Pit long timer. She is around the same age as Con­rad but has spent about half her life so far at the shelter. Other veteran Pits include: mellow “Rocky” Cage 13; “Star” Cage 29; “Jinni” Cage 45; “Brownie” Cage 31. Our other poster pooch is much tinier. “Smidgen” #93442 a frightened but very gentle female Chihuahua was found as a stray in Lindenhurst. Male: Cocker Spaniel Cage 17; “Bradley” Beagle Cage 2; “Garfield” declawed tabby in the Lobby. Female Cats: “Sweetie” #20297 calico in Cat Colony; “Truffles” #20301 tortie in the Food Prep Room.

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