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November 4, 2010

A Holiday for Forgotten Pooches (Thanks to Washington Humane)

Washington Humane Society's holiday program brings toys and friendhip to chained dogs.

All Animals magazine, November/December 2010

Chained Dog from AA ND 2010

Dino Ablakovic/iStockphoto

 by Carrie Allan

In Washington, D.C., the winter holidays are a mixed bag. Politicians have flown back home, so Capitol grounds are quieter. The days hover just around freezing but are typically snowless. Lights and glowing plastic Santas decorate some neighbor- hoods, while other parts of the city remain dark, the only decorations the graffiti on the walls of abandoned businesses.

Among the more forlorn sights around the nation’s capital are dozens of guard dogs who do not know it’s Christmastime at all. For them, it’s just another day tethered in a rocky lot or patrolling a chain-link fence for intruders—or so it was until, more than 10 years ago, a humane officer from the Washington Humane Society decided to play Santa.

While making his rounds, Adam Parascandola was touched by the plight of the city’s guard dogs. Now the director of animal cruelty issues for The HSUS, Parascandola saw them as the loneliest of animals. “Most of them are really sweet, and they just want attention,” he says.

He began to take toys and treats to them, eventually making the practice an official shelter program during the holidays. With no kids of his own, he tried to work on Christmas Day so officers with families could stay home. The timing of the deliveries was both symbolic and practical: Few people were around, allowing him to check on the dogs’ health and well-being without getting into an argument with their sometimes less-than-friendly owners.

When Parascandola took a new job in California, others stepped in to play elf. “We start making notes a couple months before Christmas. We make a list and we check it twice,” jokes humane officer Ann Russell.

On Christmas Day, a few staff members—sometimes accompanied by partners or spouses to make the ritual more fun—divide the city into quadrants and head out to the lots on their list. Instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they bring treasures dogs will actually enjoy, usually donated Kongs stuffed with frozen peanut butter and treats. They drop the gifts off with animals who, on Christmas Day, may not see a single soul, much less enjoy a scratch behind the ears.

A citywide crackdown on black market car sales has had an unintended but welcome effect, Russell is happy to report: reduction in the number of guard dogs, and in the number of cruelty and neglect cases involving these animals.

During one checkup of a property that hadn’t been visited in a while, Russell and a fellow officer found a vacant lot. Her colleague remembered seeing poorly treated animals there but now saw only remnants of the pens, including the elevated wood pallet where a makeshift doghouse had once stood.

But the most poignant sign of the previous tenants was a single, chewed-up Kong toy, delivered by Washington Humane Society officers on a previous Christmas. It was, Russell says, probably the only toy those dogs ever got.

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