Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Positive" Enough for Ya?

Rocco. Former fighter, forever lover.
A lucky dog whose owners trained him based on his needs, not their politics

A few months before Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah got hold of a fundraising goldmine number of Michael Vick's victims, they were contacting dog trainers around the country.

They cold-call emailed me and offered me a bunch of money to do something I normally do for free.

Seems that their hundreds of paid staff were not able to handle or train the herds of pit bulls they had brought back from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. They said that they couldn't house the pit bulls, that these dogs didn't do well in a "sanctuary" environment. (Swamp pits must be totally different from the high-news-value and lucrative Virginia pits that they very quickly snapped up.)

They wanted to pay professional trainers to take these dogs off their hands, train them, and place them in homes. The email was full of praise for my well-established prowess as a trainer at the top of the profession.

M'Kay. And the catch is?

I had to promise to use only "positive" training techniques.

Never mind correctly defining what "positive" means. I knew what they meant. They knew what they meant. And it had nothing to do with the training needs of any real live dog.

They were sending dogs to be out of sight, out of mind. (Katrina dogs were no longer a good direct-mail pitch.) Since this charity spends money like a sailor in port -- private plane, anyone? -- the money was the easy way to make the pit bulls go away. Part of the pretty story for the donors about Spike going to live on the Farm was that only "positive" dog trainers were going to fix these animals that their expert in-house staff could not handle.

I wrote back, telling them to look me up when they got their heads out of their colons. Or something to that effect. I also told them that they were guaranteeing that they were going to be sending money and dogs to liars. Because anyone can lie and claim to be using nothing but cookies 'n' love, while the reality is quite different. Seen it. I told them that they were going to be selecting out all the truthful, ethical trainers -- the ones who would refuse to lie about using balanced training methods, or would refuse to promise something that they could not guarantee would be the right thing to do.

They did not respond.

But others took them up on their offer.

One of them was Don the Dog Guy. They sent him 28 pit bulls.

"He was paid $1,000 for each dog he took for training and placement. He claimed to have placed the dogs and sent convincing photos and wrote stories about the dogs for our Web site," [BF spokesman] Polis said. " Don actually was quite popular with the trainers here and had somewhat of a following on our Web site."

Where are the 28 dowried dogs that Best Friends gave to Don Chambers now?

Mostly dead:

"...just three were placed in homes. Ten were euthanized at the Lorain County Kennel. One died in a dog fight. One died of untreated heartworms. Three died and were tossed into a trash bin. Six are unaccounted for. Best Friends took back three of them."

"Euthanized at the Lorain County Kennel" means, Chambers took the dogs to the pound to be killed.

Read the whole story here

But, you know, no one could have predicted such an outcome from offering money to people in exchange for them telling you what you want to hear.

Who could have foreseen that the levees could fail?

No one. Of course.


Posted edited after more time with the Googles:

Video of Don Chambers and one of the Katrina dogs

Used the Wayback Machine to get to his last known website

Second edit, another article in a more local paper:

The Morning Journal


  1. Amazing. Subsidize liars and you get more liars. Subsidize killers and you get more killers. Limit your training options and you just *may* get limited results.

    Who could have predicted any of this?

    No one!

    A terrific post!!!


  2. Lorain County, as in Lorain County OHIO...location of Toledo, home to noted pit bull stalker/killer ACO Tom Skeldon???

    No, surely no one could have predicted that pit bulls sent to a municipal shelter there would end up dead... oy

    I sure hope BF has turned over a new leaf post- Vickdogs, because they screwed over more than one legitimate pit bull rescuer dealing with Katrina dogs. One would sure like to believe their current love for pit bulls is not just about Vick's money..

    Actually, though Heather: from what one of these folks told me, many of the Katrina pit bulls ("swamp pits" lol) WERE far more like "game" dogs than Vick's dogs (most of which were certainly NOT fighting dogs) and a far bigger challenge. More than one big name pit bull rescue, including another of the headline grabbing rescuers of the Vick dogs, ran screaming away from these "real deal" ABPTs.

    This story really isn't about what method of training is appropriate for tough dogs that are close to their breed's heritage, though. Of course no one believes that, as some stupid blogger recently posted, "positive" trainers think they can point a clicker at 2 dogs to break up a fight. Most smart positive trainers ARE "balanced" trainers. There's no reason a smart trainer can't train a tough dog to behave using "positive" methods... everything else is management and understanding a breed's tendencies. There's nothing limited about "positive" as an option, if you really understand what "positive" means.

    "Don the dog guy" isn't about training, positive or otherwise. You have it right: He's about lies.

    The sad end of this story isn't because BF was/is stupid about training. It's because they were stupid about the choice of where to send the dogs. And it's because they, like most people including some highly touted (cough CesarMillan cough) trainers, get stupid when confronted with the challenges some pit bulls present.

    This is no different from Pasado sending all those dogs to "EDNAH".. same ending too. Remember that story?

  3. Good post. Keep 'em honest, Heather! I haven't made up my mind about BF yet - it's only been two years, give me time...

    btw Emily, Skeldon works in Lucas County. Lorain County is further east.

  4. Sorry EmilyS, this IS about being stupid about training.

    It's about letting an obsession with labels overrule the simple principle that the best training "method" is the one that works for that dog.

    Which, by the way, has nothing to do, as you seem to believe, with the breed or type of dog, or its confabulated individual life history. It has to do with the dog in front of me: What does this dog need from me, right now, to learn what he needs to learn?

    So now "positive trainers" are also "balanced trainers?" Making those of us who have been practicing balance all our lives what? Go on, say it.

    Balance means we don't limit our options based on what makes us feel good, or some ideological framework that has nothing to do with the dogs. It is our word, and you can't have it. You also cannot have eclectic or whateverworks.

    Man has a heart attack. His arteries are occluded. He checks around and finds the physician with the absolute best record of good outcomes for his condition. Goes to the doc and says "You're the best, I put my life in your hands, fix me." Doc says "You are going to need a triple bypass, blood thinners, weight loss, supervised exercise, dietary fat restriction ..."

    "Oh no doc, I want you to cure me with herbs, Atkins, and homeopathics!"

    Somewhere out there is a charlatan ready to offer that exact cure.

  5. Heather, of course it's as easy to caricature "positive" training as is is to caricature alternative/homeopathic medicine.

    Hey, look at me caricature "balanced" training: use whatever it takes, even if that means using a potentially lethal weapon like a Tazr..

    Dogs are smart and forgiving. Almost any training method can work.

    There are charlatans and inepts in EVERY field, not just in positive/alternative systems.

    What I don't get is why "anti positive" trainers seem to feel so threatened by others that use methods they don't prefer. Why do you care if they don't like your methods and call you names, whatever those names might be?

    Are you saying that ALL "positive" trainers charlatans, but no "balanced" trainers are? Are you saying "positive" NEVER works, but "balanced" always does?

    You can't claim to be for all training methods, whatever works, and then call people who successfully use other methods than yours "charlatans"

  6. EmilyS, until your reading comprehension catches up with your typing fingers, your part in this discussion is over.

    Anyone who chooses to view Best Friends as totally innocent in this fiasco, in face of their clear lack of due diligence, is free to continue doing so.

    "He tricked me" is not a defense when you have been warned about precisely what you are doing that will guarantee that you will fall for this exact trick.

  7. You refer to Best Friends having a "private plane" as if it were some yacht they were partying on. they use the plane to transport animals. They have probably saved a lot of money over transporting the animals with commercial carriers.

  8. Oh "Tina," you didn't have to invent a new blogger persona today to start trolling. Why not just be "anonymous?"

    IP address is forever, dearie.

  9. Do people not realize that their IP addresses are sent to the blog owner with comments, or do they think we're too lazy or stoopid to bother looking?

    I regularly get multiple comments (and these are, BTW always either from those who want to comdemn me or promote some whiney, self-righteous victim viewpoint) from the same person using different names. One right after the other. All from the same IP or even email address.

    I guess when you're entitled...

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Thanks for this Heather.

    OF COURSE it's about training. When 'Dog Town' premiered, I attempted to interview the head 'trainer' at BF for my radio show. It didn't go so well. She couldn't answer any actual training questions.

    Nobody saw that coming either.

  12. Heather-I've not commented on your blog before, but you've probably seen me around on Pet Connection. I saw your quote in the VIN news article today about Millan, which mentioned that you're from PA (me too). Have you seen PA House Bill 39? I just got copy from Kathy Watson's office. Lots of weasel language, if you ask me.

  13. Don has been in prison before-obviously no one cared to check that he was a con

    He has been breeding and selling dogs for years and "adopting" them out.

    He took a dog from a local dobe rescue and sold it.

    A boarder almost lost his rott when an employee took it to fight it.

    He lately has been breeding designer mutts with a barking boutique. They even had dogs they bred up on petfinder-the store still has them up just took dons name down.

    It would not have been hard at all to find this all out. Many of the local dog people here know all about him.

  14. Anonymous, could you, or someone else who has the details, contact Petfinder with this information?

    I know that they are pretty serious about weeding out sellers, as opposed to legitimate rescues. NESR had to provide our 501(c)3 documentation to get a listing.

    And if the seller got a 501(c)3 fraudulently, or is using it fraudulently, then a little outfit that goes by the letters I-R-S will be very interested to hear of it.

    Once again, just underlines the importance of due diligence in these cases.

    I don't know of any rescue that isn't more careful about where dogs go when they are being paid for the dogs by the people taking them.

    Especially when the dogs are "pit bulls."

  15. Heather, I was trying to search your blog for some past post on Best Friends, but not having a lot of luck. Have you got a link about the private plane and things like that? I'll do some more googling, but I've just recently found your blog and enjoy reading your take on things.


  16. Actually - anonymous, I'd love it if you'd post links to Don's past here. There are some folks other than PetFinder I'd like to send it to as a heads up as well.

  17. I can't even figure out how to copy and paste on the laptop I am on-sorry! I am going to try-

    I actually got on the best friends site and their forum in an older post had someone questioning him selling dogs with a barking boutique. I think I brought that up by searching don chambers on their site search. http://www.abarkingboutique.net/index.html
    Make sure you go to the click here for available dogs/rescues. Basically the answer to the person questioning them giving don dogs was that they were trying to teach and it was ok.

    I just saw there dogs on petfinder yesterday but did email them again about it. Maybe it is finally down because I can not find the adds(they are down-I found the links in the email I sent and they are gone now). They advertise in the paper and side of the road for their mix breeds all the time. He was training out of the place to and he even offered classes in dog training- I wonder were all these great trainers are now?

    BTW- toledo is about two hours from here-not in lorain county.

    If this shows up this was a post I made about him a couple days ago-I think my long winded rant went unanswered because it was a bit hard to follow:)

    He was not someone I ever would have classified as a positive enforcement trainer.

    My cousin sent me the link to this-I think she had liked the rescue that had sent him the dogs but seeing they did this so blindly I really question how they choose where dogs go. Anyplace that has a horse with a fake leg has some issues.

  18. Heather wrote on PetConnection:

    "My snarky written critique of the “science” and the logical fallacies (esp. the false dichotomies and straw men) in the AVSAB’s advertising flyer did not make the article. Perhaps I’ll re-craft it for my own blog. I’d paid little mind to this brochure before the reporter sent it to me and asked."

    Perhaps? Heather, you know that blogs are all about the snark -- now that you've hinted, of course you have to spill it all! :-D

    The "a good chap" quote really threw me on the linked article. Having read your blog here, it just didn't compute.

    On a more serious note, I'd definately like to see what you had to say.


  19. Lazycrafts, the private plane was depicted in an episode of "Dogtown" on National Geographic channel. They flew to the midwest to pick up a lot of dogs from a shelter, then tried to stuff them into this small plane in soft carriers -- which, of course, work *brilliantly* with half-feral puppymill dogs that have never been crated and a scared shitless. I thought perhaps it was one of those volunteer private pilots who help with transports, but no -- it's their own private plane.

    Normally frugal and practical humans -- as opposed to, say, auto industry execs -- would have perhaps chosen a van or truck, with plastic kennels, for mass transport of many animals.

    I haven't blogged about BF before.


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