The Thinking Vegan | Adopt Don’t Shop

This next segment of the Adopt Don’t Shop Series is an interview with Gary and Kezia, the minds behind the ever informative website The Thinking Vegan!

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What are your and your rescues names?

The two-legged people are Gary Smith and Kezia Jauron. The four-legged people are Chloë, Frederick and Douglass.

How old are they, and how long have they been a part of your family?

Frederick and Douglass will be nine years old in November. They have been living with us four years this Thanksgiving. Chloë recently turned nineteen, and has lived with us since she was small enough to fit in a teacup.

Could you tell us a bit about your rescues and their history, before coming home with you?

Frederick and Douglass are beagle boys who were part of a group rescued legally from an animal testing lab. They lived the first five years of their lives in cages, with no access to the outdoors, no soft bed or couch to lay on, no toys, no stimulation of any kind. We were told that they lived one dog to a cage, ten dogs per room. We believe that they were used for “medical” purposes but have no real knowledge of what sort of testing they underwent.

Chloë, on the other hand, came to us in a more typical way. Her pregnant feral mother was picked up from the mean streets of Orange County, California. A friend worked with that rescue group and asked if we were interested in adopting a kitten. She very quickly became the boss of everything.

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A couple of weeks after Frederick and Douglass arrived from Spain

Were they traumatised when you first met? How was the adjustment period?

For the first few days after their rescue, we fostered eight beagles. We had some experience with former laboratory beagles, but dogs from previous rescues were very, very submissive, quiet, and frightened. However, the beagles in this group that included Frederick and Douglass were barky, active, some were humpy, and most were food-aggressive. For this rescue, we turned our kitchen into a temporary beagle sanctuary, covered the entire kitchen floor with plastic sheeting, including up the walls. We slept in four-hour shifts on the kitchen floor each night so someone was always there to keep order. Within this group of dogs there were personality differences, and as we got to know them, we could see who was traumatised, who was nervous, who was friendly, who was potentially aggressive.

Of the eight beagles, Frederick and Douglass stayed permanently. Frederick was very sweet with both of us, but he was shy around some of the other beagles and was being humped by a few of them. Douglass was extremely distant and hard to ‘read.’ He would not allow me anywhere near him for the first six days that he was with us. He was extremely frightened of me and of other men. We could tell he needed more time and more attention.

The adjustment period took a really long time. I’m not really sure we ever left it, to be honest. On walks, Douglass is frightened of children. If he even hears their voices, he’ll pull hard on the leash trying to run away, run backwards, run wherever he can. Frederick is deathly afraid of workers, and pees in the house. When we have small parties he gets stressed, humps our friends, and sometimes is quite a barker. But they’re also very good in other situations that might seem potentially problematic. We have been invited to several middle schools and high schools to do presentations about animal testing, and they do really well every time.

How did you find the adoption process?

We worked closely with the rescue group to get the dogs from Spain, so it was simple.

What do they typically eat? Do they have any favourite snacks?

They mostly eat home-cooked food: lentils, veggies, and rice. This gets mixed with a little bit of dog food made by a natural pet food store close by. They both struggled with tummy trouble for a long time, and all the commercial foods we’ve tried have been too rich. The “lab chow” they ate for the first five years is nutritionally awful. Freddie was also very sick with giardia when he arrived. Today, he loves all food. His favourite snacks are apples, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beans, cabbage, kale stems, watermelon, crackers, corn chips, avocados, and peanut butter. Douglass is the only beagle in the world who is not food-driven. He is still a nervous eater at times, and rarely shows interest in his breakfast. He does enjoy crackers, corn chips, and popcorn in moderation, avocado, cashews, and occasionally he’ll eat pieces of apples or veggies. They each get a cookie before bed every night, a ritual we all enjoy, and we bribe them with a treat when they have to stay home alone for a while.

Do they have any favourite activities or toys?

They both like chewing on Nylabones and sticks, and laying in the sun in the yard, even when it’s ludicrously hot out. Frederick enjoys tearing out the squeaky parts of his toys and then ripping out the stuffing. Douglass isn’t that interested in toys, but when he plays he uses his imagination a lot, which is very cute: he gets these unpredictable bursts of energy, pounces on his bed, prances around growling or yipping at imaginary things. They’ve never grasped the purpose of “fetch” or tug-of-war, really, and they don’t play together, which is a shame. Some typical dog behaviours still elude them, like kissing. They’ve never learned that dogs kiss humans by licking.

They love car rides. They don’t do the old put-their-face-out-the-window thing that other dogs do, but love a good car ride nonetheless. We take them to the park or along a nearby manmade “river” for walks on the weekends for a treat. We walk around our neighbourhood a lot, and they’ve traveled with us twice on weekends at the beach, but their favourite thing is whatever we happen to be doing. They just want to hang out with us as much as possible.

Is there anything else you would like to share about them or your experience with rescues?

Frederick and Douglass are amazing beings. They have experienced so much trauma in their lives, but are so strong and have overcome so much. Yes, they still have many issues connected to their past, they do suffer from PTSD, but they also are such loving, kind, and special beings. They both in their own ways enjoy life even though they came from such painful beginnings.

Many times people said to us that adopting a beagle from a laboratory, who has no experience being a dog or living in a home, must be like having a new puppy. It isn’t. A puppy usually doesn’t believe that humans are only there to hurt them. A puppy doesn’t have to overcome an intense history of fear, pain, loneliness, distrust, panic, confinement, and servitude. I’m sure people who have adopted dogs who were formerly used for breeding in puppy mills can relate. I often think of the story of Pinocchio, where all he wanted was to become a “real boy” instead of a wooden puppet. That’s all we wanted for our guys, too: to be real dogs. Not puppets for vivisection.

That said, we’ve fostered several laboratory beagles now, for short and long periods, and know so many others personally, I can honestly say that every single boy and girl is different. It only took a few hours and one cat-swat on the nose for one of our fosters to learn that Chloë is the boss and should be avoided. For seven months, however, Freddie and Douggie wanted to chase our poor senior kitty, until the three of them mysteriously reached some sort of détente. Now they all hang out on the same couch and drink out of the same water bowls.

Do you have any advice for others considering pet adoption or rescue?

There are millions and millions of companion animals in need. It is a great thing to give someone a home, but to care for another being also changes you as a person. It allows you to open your heart and your home and to become a better person.

Along with considering what sort of companion is best for you, it’s good to consider the process that’s best for you. Whether it’s springing a homeless animal from a shelter, adopting through a rescue organization, inviting in a stray kitten who shows up on your doorstep some rainy night, or personally saving a dog from abuse, there are many ways to add an animal to your life. (The only way not to do it is to buy from a breeder or store.) Reputable rescue groups should put in a lot of time and effort to evaluate your living situation, your other family members, your lifestyle, and find a good match. The last thing a rescue wants is for you to call them up and ask them to take a dog back because it’s not working out. Choose a rescue carefully, because they are not all alike. They should take their job seriously enough to the point where they’re annoying you with questions about where your new animal friend will sleep and potty.

Adopting from a local animal shelter saves the life of not only the one you take home, but the next one too, because now there’s a safe, dry space open for another animal. So if you feel you can be your own matchmaker, and you have experience with animals, that’s a great option. Not knowing who you’ll fall in love with is part of the charm.

However, from this vantage point, I think the absolute best way people, especially animal activists, can help companion animals is to be a foster parent. We simply cannot do the hands-on work of saving animals without fosters. Shelters need foster homes for vulnerable animals including moms with newborns or orphans, rescues always want new foster homes in order to help more animals, and more importantly, the animals need caring people who can help them adjust to their future lives. Of course there’s always a risk of foster fail – a boy or girl who moves in temporarily, and ends up stealing your heart forever. But being a foster parent, helping that individual heal, watching them bloom, seeing them find a forever home with a human who already loves them more than you, then crying, and welcoming the next one – that is the best thing we can do.

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Thank you Gary and Kezia! 

Read more great content from The Thinking Vegan, and keep up with them on social media through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram (where you’ll see some cute four-leggers and great vegan food)!

Read more from the Adopt Don’t Shop Series including Q&As with:
Anne-Marie (of Meat Free Athlete) & Mr. Shenanigans
Vanessa (of Plant Based Muscle) and Chihuahua Fur Family
Banana TV
Lisa and Krishna
Q&A with KD Traegner of Your Daily Vegan
Q&A with Daria Zeoli of Your Daily Vegan

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