Marvel & Us

It’s not that num­bers lie, it’s that they don’t tell the whole truth. The Humane Soci­ety of the US esti­mates that ani­mal shel­ters care for 6–8 mil­lion dogs and cats a year and euth­a­nize (care for?) 3–4 mil­lion of them.

With over 300 mil­lion peo­ple in the US, you would think that if only 1 out of every 37.5 peo­ple could take care of one cat or dog we’d solve the prob­lem. As you can see on almost any out­ing in any city in the US, there’s not 1 in 37.5 peo­ple out there who cares.

The real hell of it is that some dogs and cats in the shel­ter don’t get the 1 in 37.5 chance, or even the 1 in a 100 chance. For Red Zone Dogs (more on them in a minute), they don’t have any chance.

Unless, of course, they meet some­one like Car­la Naden at Ani­mal Syn­er­gy.  She spe­cial­izes in Red Zone Dogs, and if you’ve ever want­ed to meet a real life hon­est-to-God shit-kick­ing lion-heart­ed Saint, look her up.

Before we get into Red Zone Dogs and shel­ters and the time & mon­ey & effort involved, let me start at the begin­ning, and tell you about one dog who did meet Car­la. Let me tell you about Marvel.

Mar­vel is a 15-ish lb bor­der ter­ri­er mix who has all the qual­i­ties you might want in a pet; small, lov­ing, un-pushy, well behaved, house trained, play­ful, and not over-the-top active. He’s so sweet it’s almost unbear­able, and he has the endear­ing qual­i­ty of plop­ping down for a nap with his hind legs splayed out just behind your chair any time you sit down.

Marvel Marvel & Lee.

If you lay down on the floor and get on his lev­el he becomes play­ful, and he so rev­els in human touch that it’s dif­fi­cult to not con­tin­u­al­ly deliv­er that behav­ior too often in short sup­ply; the back & bel­ly rub.

Mar­vel came pot­ty trained, he’s qui­et (our ACD Birdie is work­ing on teach­ing him to devel­op that extra­or­di­nar­i­ly pierc­ing bark so eas­i­ly achiev­able by cat­tle dogs), and he seems so over­whelmed by the pos­i­tive change in his sit­u­a­tion that he is will­ing to put up with any­thing that comes along.

He sits or lays down in the back of the truck cab, does­n’t push him­self onto your lap, does­n’t beg for table scraps, sleeps qui­et­ly in his crate with­out whin­ing, and is still fig­ur­ing out how to eat the raw food we so zeal­ous­ly feed all dogs who end up in our care.

Raw meat does not melt with a gen­tle lick, it requires the use of those tools that evo­lu­tion has care­ful­ly designed over mil­len­nia and bestowed upon all dogs; sharp teeth, strong jaws, and an enthu­si­as­tic desire to scythe, crunch, and swal­low your way through a car­cass.  Mar­vel is begin­ning to learn to use those tools.

Mar­vel is between 1 and 2 years old and was appar­ent­ly aban­doned by his last own­ers. When the shel­ter got him he would cow­er and growl at any­one who came near him, mak­ing him a Red Zone Dog.

The fact that he was a “Red Zone Dog” is one of those pieces of infor­ma­tion that becomes more shock­ing the more you think about it.

First, what is a “Red Zone Dog” (RZD)?

Red Zone Dogs are those dogs who have been deemed by a shel­ter as non-adopt­able. Usu­al­ly behav­ior relat­ed but some­times due to age or med­ical con­di­tions, RZDs will growl at strangers, not allow any­one to touch them, dis­play “whale eye” and gen­er­al­ly behave like the fright­ened ani­mals they are.

Red Zone Dogs can also be dogs too old (imag­ine aban­don­ing a dog you’ve had for 15 years!) or who cost too much to keep alive (sor­ry Buster, instead of tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty and get­ting you to a vet who can at least put you to sleep in my arms, we’re drop­ping you off at the pound.)

Red Zone Dogs are housed in the back of a shel­ter; you can’t see them unless you are a part of the shel­ter sys­tem (employ­ee or vol­un­teer.) RZDs usu­al­ly don’t last more than a week or two at shel­ters. With so many dogs up at the front who don’t get adopt­ed due to the sheer num­bers, there is no hope for an RZD in the back.

Think about that.      No.     Fuck­ing. Hope.

It’s a pow­er­ful indi­ca­tor of the deprav­i­ty in our soci­ety; we allow crea­tures in our midst to live with no hope.

So Mar­vel, a small and love­able dog, was so fright­ened that he signed his own death war­rant with­out any­one explain­ing it to him, and it was only through dumb luck and the efforts of a few spe­cial and car­ing peo­ple that he made it out of the shel­ter sys­tem alive.

Car­la Naden from Ani­mal Syn­er­gy (a non-prof­it devot­ed to find­ing and re-hom­ing spe­cial needs & geri­atric dogs who have been aban­doned by their own­ers) heard about Mar­vel through her work with the shel­ter sys­tem in San Diego.

She spent 40 min­utes sit­ting with him in his cage, (he was “Tee the Ter­ri­er” at the time) let­ting him know through body lan­guage, our best form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with dogs, that she was not a threat and that he was safe when she was around.

Using the twin gifts of love and time, with­in less than an hour Car­la moved Mar­vel from cow­er­ing & growl­ing in fear to let­ting Car­la pet him.

Less than an hour.  Not a month.  Not a week.  Not even a day.  Only the same time, in fact, than the aver­age Amer­i­can spends dai­ly on Face­book: 40 minutes.

If, like me, you expe­ri­ence sor­row that a dog like Mar­vel only need­ed 40 min­utes to be saved from a cer­tain and nee­dled death, if, like me, you are indig­nant about this wicked­ness in our midst, if you feel, like I do, that it is not soci­ety’s fault that these ani­mals are killed but our own, then do some­thing.

What can you do?  Devote 4 days of Face­book time (that’s 160 min­utes or 2 hours and 40 min­utes) a month to help­ing these animals.

Work with ken­nel enrich­ment pro­grams, walk a shel­ter dog, fos­ter a shel­ter dog, donate not just your mon­ey or your “stuff”, but that far more pre­cious com­mod­i­ty, your time.

What will you get for this time?  Why, you’ll have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in a mon­u­men­tal life change.  You’ll live the expe­ri­ence of res­cu­ing from the very jaws of death an ani­mal that had no hope left.  You don’t have to be a sol­dier or a cop or a fire­man to be a hero, you just have to be will­ing to give a lit­tle time and a lot of love.

Per­haps, with your forty min­utes you will not wor­ry so much about the “get” but will rel­ish in the “give”.

As it will for you, this mon­u­men­tal life change for Mar­vel car­ried over to us, bring­ing into our lives a dog who went in one day from no hope to the almost cer­tain­ty of a long and hap­py life full of love, car­ing, and happiness.

If you’re look­ing for a dog who is small, sweet, incred­i­bly lov­ing, and who will fun­da­men­tal­ly change you (as all dogs can), please think about bring­ing a Mar­vel into your life.


What hap­pened to Mar­vel in the end?  We start­ed out as his fos­ter fam­i­ly and, as so often hap­pens, became his for­ev­er home.  He still lives with us and will to the end of his days.  He’s learned to bark like mad at the post­man, defend our home­stead from the gar­den­er, and he’s slow­ly learn­ing that humans aren’t as bad as his first batch.


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