Going to the dogs—nonprofit offers tips on responsible animal care

A dog’s life can be a hardscrabble existence of trying to remain safe while scrounging for such necessities as food, clean water and shelter or it can be spent in a relationship of mutual love and happiness with a human. Atlanta Rescue Dog Café, a nonprofit dedicated to making life better for dogs and those who care for and interact with them, educates the public through programs at schools, offices, community centers, libraries and other places. One such program was held June 28 at Stone Mountain-Sue Kellogg Library.

Accompanied by companion canine Mocha Java, Aaron Fisher, founder and CEO of Atlanta Rescue Dog Café, addressed an audience of six children and two adults. Fisher, a former elementary school teacher, directed his presentation primarily to the youngsters.

Fisher said there’s much responsibility involved in owning a dog. “We need to think carefully about that responsibility before we bring a dog home. Let’s think about some of the things a dog needs,” he said. “Like other members of the household, the dog needs food, water and protection from the weather. Some people keep their dogs outside, but outside dogs don’t live as long because they are more likely to be exposed to diseases and other animals that might hurt them.”

He listed other dog needs, including veterinary care. “Dogs get sick like we so, but they can’t tell us they don’t feel well so we need to take them to animal doctors, called veterinarians, so they can be sure everything is all right with them and give them what they need to keep from getting sick,” Fisher said, adding that a veterinarian also can provide information on types of food and care that are best for the dog.

“Dogs need love and attention. They have lots of energy just like you do and they need to be petted and played with and walked regularly.

How often do we need to walk a dog?” he asked.

One child suggested, “Every other day.”

“Let’s flip that,” Fisher said. “It’s more like twice a day.

Aaron Fisher, left, with assistance from another Atlanta Rescue Dog Café staffer and canine friend Mocha Java explains how people should approach dogs who don’t know them.

“If you don’t want to be around a dog, that’s OK,” he said. “But if you are around dogs, it should be a good experience for you and the dog. Mocha Java loves children, but not all dogs are used to having children around.”

Fisher instructed the youngsters on the right way to approach a dog who doesn’t know them. “First, always ask the owner before you pet a dog. A rescue dog may have been abused by a former owner and may not be comfortable with strangers. Or it might be a service dog such as those used by police and fire departments or by people with disabilities. A dog who’s working needs to focus and should never be distracted.

Also, never disturb a dog that’s eating, sleeping or caring for her puppies. The dog may think you’re trying to take her food or harm her puppies,” he continued.

“If the owner says it’s OK, approach the dog slowly. Let the dog sniff you. That’s one way a dog gets to know you. Approach the dog from the side, never over its head. You might even want to ask the owner if the dog has a favorite place to be petted,” he suggested. Fisher offered to let the children pet Mocha Java and each followed the instructions they had been given, starting with asking, “May I pet your dog, please?”

“Also, get the owner’s permission before offering a dog a treat. If you do give a dog a treat, don’t do it with fingers. The dog may not be able to tell the difference between the treat and your fingers and accidentally bite you. Place the treat in the center of your palm before extending it to the dog.”

Atlanta Rescue Dog Café’s mission, according to its website, is “to improve human-animal interactions, reduce the incidence of animal cruelty, and relieve the strain on overrun local animal shelters.”

Despite the name, Atlanta Rescue Dog Café is concerned with the welfare of all animals—not just dogs—and there is no eatery. The word café is in the organization’s name because, Fisher explained, “a café is a place for conversation. That’s our goal in these classes to start a conversation about responsible dog ownership. We want people to think about what having a dog means before they get a dog and while the dog is in their household.”

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