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Giant Ball of String, Bauhaus Meow House, Trash Can Chic, High Rise Haven—these are just a few of the fascinating architectural styles that have emerged from Architects for Animals’ annual Giving Shelter competitions in New York City. Since 2010, the organization has challenged top Manhattan architecture firms to come up with whimsical yet practical winter shelters for homeless cats living on the city’s streets; the awards ceremonies doubled as fundraisers for Manhattan-area trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs. In December, the organization spread the fun (and the wealth), heading to Washington, D.C., for the first time and holding a one-evening display of a new collection of nine out-of-the-box community cat shelters, designed by D.C.-area architectural firms. The sold-out event at the D.C. chapter of the American Institute of Architects was designed to raise public awareness of community cats, and was packed with people snapping photos of the shelters, inspecting them inside and out, discussing their functionality and aesthetics, and voting for favorites. Proceeds benefited the Washington Humane Society’s Cat Neighborhood Partnership Program (CatNiPP). A California Modern ranch beat out eight others for top honors, including one with a strong resemblance to the International Space Station and a dog head made from a sump pump with a pink-tongue welcome mat. The winning shelter, designed by Brian Forehand and Victoria Kulbick of Bonstra Haresign Architects, features minimalist lines, a sloping roof, sliding glass door, platform bed, and metal flashing detail that funnels rainwater into a drinking basin. All the shelters were donated to colony caretakers—so when Old Man Winter came knocking, some local kitties were able to stay warm and dry.
Peek-a-boo, I see you
Aclass in entrepreneurship got eighth-grader Brooke Martin of Spokane, Wash., thinking about a problem faced by millions of dog owners—separation anxiety. Her own rescued golden retriever Kayla got upset every time the family left the house, whining, pacing, and chewing on shoes and carrying them around the house. Wondering if some sort of remote visual interaction with her dog might ease Kayla’s stress, Brooke came up with iCPooch. The device has technology that enables an owner to video chat with their dog via smartphone or tablet, and actually deliver a treat IRL (in real life). The 13-year-old inventor tinkered with prototypes in the garage, entering her best effort in the 2013 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Selected as one of 10 finalists, Brooke spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to improve her invention, which included testing tablet screen protectors with dogs at the Spokane Humane Society. She taped the protectors to the floor and let the dogs walk on, scratch, and lick (and occasionally pee on) them to see how they held up. “It was fun,” says Brooke, “and all the dogs I worked with ended up getting adopted.” Brooke won second place in the competition and now is looking for funding to put her invention into production. She’s happy to report that Kayla is much calmer; she loves the regular check-ins and the treats that come with them. (She also loves the doggy pal the family adopted to keep her company.) Brooke hopes to have a career that combines science and business. No surprise there!
Ferreting out shelters
Vanessa Gruden founded the Ferret Association of Connecticut, a shelter dedicated to ferrets, in Hartford 22 years ago. At the time, it was the only such facility in New England. Today, more than a dozen rescues in the region struggle to care for animals surrendered by owners who got a ferret without really knowing what they were getting into. “Pet stores are in the business of selling, not truly educating people,” says Gruden. Last fall she began building a comprehensive online directory of ferret rescues both large and small, from humane societies to vet clinics to private fosterers. The directory will serve as a resource for those interested in adopting a ferret, as well as those who can no longer care for their pets and want to find a reputable rescue group. Gruden also wants it to be a resource for the animal welfare community. “A lot of animal controls, for example, can’t really deal with ferrets, but where are they going to find a local place to transfer them to? That’s what’s missing,” she says. Gruden currently describes the site as a “rough draft,” listing just a few ferret groups in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia, but she hopes to get 100 signed up by April 1 and push on from there. Ultimately, she plans to pack the pages with forums, blogs, and educational information that would make it a fountain of ferret information. To learn how to get involved, go to ferretshelters.org.
Sometimes the stars align just right. That was the case for one tiny pup who was rescued from a burning house in Jacksonville, Ill., in September 2009. The 2-month-old black Labrador mix wasn’t breathing when firefighters carried her out. Fortunately, they were equipped with pet oxygen masks, which had been donated recently to the town’s fire stations by Invisible Fence of Springfield. The rescuers had been trained in their use only the week before. The puppy pulled through, but the owner couldn’t care for her during her intensive follow-up treatment. The firefighters adopted the pup, dubbed Smokey, as their mascot and trained her to give “stop, drop, and roll” demonstrations to children. Fast forward four years. The firemen entered their beloved pooch in a national NBC-sponsored search for the perfect firehouse dog to star in an episode of the TV network’s show Chicago Fire. Smokey and two other dogs were chosen as finalists from more than 100 entrants, and the three appeared on the Today show in September 2013. Viewers were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite. Smokey won top dog honors with 68,000 votes, 51 percent of the participating viewers. After her victory, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared Oct. 11, 2013, as “Smokey the Firehouse Dog Day.” At press time, her appearance on Chicago Firehadn’t been scheduled yet, but it’s sure to be hot!