Our staff just oozes with talent, not only as dog walkers, but also as professional artists. Minder AJ Bredensteiner shares with us some background info on his venture, The Animal Friends.
Give us a bit of information about your background as an artist…
I grew up in Nebraska taking art classes where we mostly drew, wait for it… wildlife animals! I stuck with it from then on and when my first attempt at college didn’t go so well I had art to fall back on. Some chance events led me to UArts in Philadelphia and in 2011 I received my MFA in painting.
So tell us where you got the idea for The Animal Friends…
In grad school they filled my head with a bunch of interesting nonsense When I graduated, I decided I just wanted to make art that I could have fun with. The idea slowly evolved into a bunch of animals making mischief in the city… It wasn’t three months later that I started walking dogs in the city almost by coincidence. All of my dudes (and dudettes) that I walk make me laugh and cry every day, there is so much drama going on inside their furry heads… Im constantly mopping their stories up and wringing them out into the Animal Friends
What does the future hold for The Animal Friends?
My big goal is to make art that people are engaged with throughout the creative process, not just the finished product. This would include using aspects of Facebook and Youtube to connect with people as I am working through all the stages of creation. I am also trying not to limit myself to just art that is hung on a wall, I have a children’s book in the works, and I would REALLY like to make a video game in the future. There are a bunch of Animal Friends stories to be told and the challenging/exciting part is figuring out which form to tell them in.
It appears that Princess is locked, how exactly do we go about investigating how to free her from the castle?
Ha! Princess might be there for awhile, her story is yet to come
Have any of your clients inspired new Animal Friends?
There are some big personalities that are just itching to become Animal Friends… Its just a matter of time before I find a way to weave them into the stories
Check out all of The Animal Friends on their website. (Hopefully Schultz will be there soon!)
The Animal Friends on YouTube: AJ has his own YouTube Channel with awesome How-To-Draw videos for The Animal Friends. You can check AJ out, actually drawing the Friends, while he gives the viewers tips and tricks AND gives some adventure updates at the same time. We’re totally addicted. Fox has a crush! Rex builds a sandcastle! Grab a sharpie or a pencil and follow the action.
A few years back we had this crazy idea that lead to the formation of The Monster Milers (our volunteer non-profit running group that visits area shelters.) Then naturally, the next logical step would be to host a race, right? And thus, we started to plan The Rescue Run 5k.
We were really excited to launch Philadelphia’s first race to benefit rescue, but as with anything “new” we had our normal jitters. Will people register? Will people show up? Will the weather hold out for us? Would sponsors be interested? Thankfully, the event went off without a hitch!
We sold out and hundreds of runners laced up their sneaks on Sept. 29th, 2013 to run for rescue. 50+ volunteers joined us to make the day extra special. Thanks to our amazing 2013 sponsors, volunteers and the NINE rescues that joined us on race day.
Since we sold out weeks before race day, we decided that we should give people a lot of heads up for 2014′s race. (Hint, Hint.) We’re going to increase the registration numbers, but we do predict we’ll sell out again! Join the 2014 Registration Waiting List.
Thanks going out to our race sponsors, volunteers, and registered runners! We couldn’t have pulled it off without you!
Learn more about The Monster Milers
Check out The Rescue Run 5K website
It all started with a tweet alert:
And I squealed! Loudly. Probably loud enough for our neighbors to hear. Winning BOP never looses it’s charm. When it was made official three weeks ago, that squeal was so loud that I was worried our neighbors would freak out. I actually posted on my personal Facebook page - “We just got good news. Sorry for the squeal neighbors.”
Being awarded “Best of Philly” (Best Dog Walkers) by Philadelphia magazine, brings us to our third BOP award. It’s always wonderful to get media attention and “best” titles, but Best of Philly is THE award in Philadelphia. We now have 2006, 2009 and 2013 under our belts (or collars?) The first time we won, Lindsay and I were absolutely floored with shock. We had only been in business for a year and it was just the two of us. Apparently word of our reputation “got around.” And by our third award, we’re still just as giddy as we were back in 2006. (On another note – where on earth did seven years go?)
A company is only as good as the employees that represent them. We are so proud of our crew right now and excited to share this with them. In a few weeks we’ll be either taking the Minders to the ballpark to see the Phillies play OR doing a craft night in which we’ll be making monster masks while drinking champagne in celebration of the award. (The Minders are split between baseball and glue-gun crafty madness.)
Thanks to all of you out there who have believed in us and trusted us with your monsters and your home. Looking forward to living up to the honor, “Best of Philly.”
This past weekend we picked up a foster dog from ACCT. Our criteria for a foster pup was that she had to be cat friendly and gentle with nervous dogs. (We have two nervous pups at home.) Immediately, Queenie stole my heart. She was a nervous wreck at the shelter and was not “showing well.” When we did our cat test she wouldn’t even make eye contact with me – she was so frantic and nervous about her surroundings. After our dog meeting (ACCT requires foster families to bring household dogs) we knew she’d do fine with our two mutts. We filled out the necessary paperwork to become a foster family and took her (and our pups) directly to the Wissahickon to go for a hike/swim (and shake off some of those shelter-nerves.) She loved every minute of it. She actually jumped right in the creek and started swimming immediately. (On-leash of course, which meant I went in the creek too!)
When we got her home, we gave her a quick bath, she sniffed the entire home, and then almost immediately fell into a deep sleep. She’s one of those dogs that looks up at us with insanely grateful eyes. It’s as if she KNOWS she has it good now and she’s not taking it for granted. This shy and shut-down dog (at the shelter) has blossomed into a wonderful family dog in less than 48 hours. She’s taking cues from our other dogs about how to act and she’s very well mannered in everyday situations. She knows not to beg, she knows when it’s time to be calm, and she’s starting to understand normal dog language like, “Wanna go for a walk” and, “Food?” We’ve had staff, friends and neighbors over to visit and she’s getting more and more confidence as the hours tick by.
More about Miss Queenie:
Dogs: She is dog friendly. She LOVES to play but is really good about reading cues from other dogs about what is appropriate and inappropriate. When she wants to play with our dog, Lola, she’ll do a polite play bow or roll onto her back to see if Lola is game, and if she’s not, she’ll move on. She still seems to be very excited to see dogs on-leash, but we do not believe she was walked much at her previous homes. We’ve just been keeping interactions positive. Again, she’s good at reading cues from other dogs so walking with our own dogs has been very helpful.
Cats: She is cat friendly, but is very interested in our cat. She’s not one of those dogs that will ignore a household cat. If there is a cat in her future forever home, he/she would have to be comfortable with clumsy dogs who might pounce occasionally. Thankfully, our cat grew up with big, slobbery dogs so knows how to handle the canines.
Her Personality: She is a pure sweetie. She aims to please and like I said before, she looks at us with the most grateful eyes constantly. While you never know what exactly a rescue dog went through prior to being saved, you can tell that she is honestly thrilled with her new life. She “sits pretty” often – without prompting, she’ll just sit and look up at you with these eyes that say, “You think I’m cute, right?” As if she knows how gorgeous she is and she just wants to be by your side. While in the house, she’ll have little bursts of energy then is keen to spend most of the day napping. We’ve been crating her at night (her crate is in our bedroom) and she sleeps like a champ until we start stirring in the morning. (Dogs like to know that their crates are near their humans, so we thought this would be the best place for her.) We’ve been practicing short “alone” crate sessions (with stuffed Kongs) to get her used to the crate when no one is home. She’s doing well. Queenie likes to be in the same room as us, but doesn’t constantly need to be on top of us. (She definitely follows us from room to room so we don’t forget about her!) In my humble opinion – she has the perfect amount of energy for a dog. She’s spunky enough to be a fun dog for an active family, but isn’t tearing through our house constantly. A run, a few good walks, or a long play session each day should give this girl the energy outlet she needs and then she just naps. In that regard – she’s your typical dog.
Running / Leash Exercise: Queenie was getting over a mild case of kennel cough when we snagged her (no meds needed) so we didn’t run her for the first two days. I’ve taken her for a short run, and like most dogs who are new to running, she runs REALLY fast (or tries to) for the first few blocks and then settles into a nice, quick pace by my side. I think after a few weeks of regular runs, she’ll realize there is no reason to start out so fast. We all have to learn about pace, right? We’ve been using a martingale on her for runs and a Gentle Leader for walking. The GL has been SO helpful with teaching her proper leash-manners. I get the firm feeling that she didn’t get out much in her past households, so our first few walks seemed like they might be most exciting thing she’s ever done. (A bit of mental overload.) Now that she’s getting into a routine, walks are still exciting for her, but she’s much calmer on-leash. She’ll still need manners reinforcement on leash, but we’ll be happy to work with adopters to teach what we’ve done with her. (She’s infinitely better than she was 48 hours ago and we can actually walk with a slack leash for a good portion of our walks now! In a few weeks, I think she’ll be a champ. She’s really in-tune to positive reinforcement so a simple, “Good Girl Queenie!” when she’s walking calmly by our side goes a VERY long way with her.)
Human Socialization: Her intake papers say she is good with children, though ACCT would require all family members to come visit her prior to adoption. We don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t be great with kids. We’ve made a point to have LOTS of visitors in the house since we brought her home and she’s calm, but happy to meet new friends. (She’s a bit shy on-leash, but that’s not uncommon.) With us, she’s a doll. She has not shown any resource guarding and we’re able to pet her and pick up her food bowls while she’s eating.
Health: She’s a bit underweight, but that’s easy to fix! She weighs in at 40lbs, but she should probably be around 50lbs. Fattening up dogs is oh so fun! Right now her skin is dry/flaky which could be due to crappy dog food and/or stress. She was only with her previous family for three months so we think she was bumped around a bit. We’ve seen an improvement in 48 hours of rest, comfort and good food so we’re hopeful it will clear on it’s own. She’s 1-2 years old, has BRIGHT white teeth and has been given a clear bill of health. She’s up-to-date on shots and will be spayed and microchipped before adoption.
Training: She knows basic commands: Sit, down and we’re working on “Stay” and recall (indoors). She’s VERY easy to train and constantly wants to please humans so she’ll look at you as if to say, “Is this OK?” and “Did I do the right thing?’ As we noted before, we’re working on leash-skills with her and she’s picking up on it very quickly!
All up – I think Queenie would make a wonderful running companion and best friend. If you’d like to meet her, please contact us. All adopters will need to complete the adoption process and application at ACCT. (We’ll go with you!)
About ACCT (From their website): The Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia (ACCT Philly) is the region’s largest animal care and control service provider. ACCT Philly is an independent, 501c3 nonprofit organization, contracted by the City of Philadelphia to provide animal control services. Our animal control officers provide service over 142.6 square miles to the city’s more than 1.5 million residents and ACCT Philly’s facility in North Philadelphia handles more than 32,000 of the city’s animals, from dogs and cats, to small animals, reptiles, birds and wildlife, annually.
In addition to animal control and sheltering, ACCT Philly is open 365 days a year for pet adoptions. ACCT Philly also supports a foster care program where community members provide temporary homes for sheltered animals and one of the (if not THE) most extensive rescue partnership program in the country where approved rescue partners accept ACCT Philly animals into their adoption programs. Under contract ACCT Philly’s Animal Control Officers provide animal control services and code enforcement. Other exciting ACCT Philly programs include a food pantry for low-income pet owners, a vibrant volunteer program, trap-neuter-return for community cats, a unique Pen Pal program to assist dogs at risk … and so much more!
Her Animal ID at ACCT is: A20355836
Last week tragedy unfolded at a Philadelphia dog park. Two dogs were playing and one of the dog’s jaws was caught in the collar of another dog. As the two dogs struggled to part, people in the dog park rushed to separate the dogs. However, one dog asphyxiated and died before anyone could cut the collar to free him. (His collar did not have a buckle. It was a slip-over-the-head martingale.) Someone in the park even tried to hack through the collar with a pocket knife, but couldn’t cut through it in time.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how easy this was to prevent, but how many of us were on the lookout for it? In fact, does your dog park advocate collar safety in the parks? What type of collar do you use? Has it ever crossed your mind that a dog’s jaw could get caught in your dog’s collar during 100% friendly play?
When we heard about this, we immediately reached out to an off-leash play professional and colleague of ours, Portia Palko (owner and operator of Philly’s premiere daycare – Central Bark.) We asked her specifically about the dangers of asphyxiation during off-leash play. Was this just a once in a million freak accident, or is the danger more common? The answer: It’s more common than you think. She counts numerous times that dogs’ jaws have gotten caught in other dogs’ collars while at CB and daycare staff were able to act quickly to release the collars via buckle. For this reason, it is MANDATORY that all dogs in their daycare wear “quick release collars.” (Any collar with a plastic “snap” buckle.)
Here at The Monster Minders, our goal is safety. One of our biggest dangers is that dogs will actually slip out of their collar and get off-leash while we’re walking. For this reason, we actually recommend martingale collars for walking dogs that physiologically are built in such a way that collars and harnesses can easily slip. (Some dogs are Houdinis when it comes to staying on-leash.) We also use martingales while volunteering at the shelters to minimize risk of dogs getting off-leash due to a collar slip. For on-leash walking, we still think the martingale is one of the safest collars for keeping dogs safe in an urban environment.
However, martingales should always come off with the leash. If you chose to use a martingale collar, think of it as an extension of your leash. Leash comes off; martingale comes off. Some daycare professionals actually recommend that dogs should ONLY wear collars when outside and on-leash to minimize any asphyxiation risks and go so far to recommend “naked” play (with no collars on) while in the home or daycare. However, we believe that ID tags should be worn 24/7 and that the risk of a dog getting out the front door (or out of the dog park gate) unexpectedly is far more common than a dog asphyxiating. Let’s face it – the safest collar when it comes to asphyxiation is no collar, however far more dogs will end up on the streets unexpectedly (and ID tags are their direct ticket home) than die from a collar-related strangulation accident. It’s a toss up of which danger is more prevalent.
Life is inherently risky. And that is true for our canine friends too. We can’t remove all dangers from our environment and sometimes we have to make choices about which equipment will keep our dogs safe, around the clock. But we can minimize risk by taking simple preventative measures. Here are our tips:
Double it up: If your dog needs a martingale for walking purposes, remove it whenever you remove your leash. Buy a second collar with a quick release buckle for ID/Rabies tags for wearing 24/7. With so many fashionable collars out there – have fun mixing and matching styles. (Like we need another excuse to buy dog accessories?)
Quick Release or Daycare/Breakaway Collars for Playtime: As Portia recommended, use Quick Release (buckle) collars, “Breakaway,” or “Daycare Collars” for off-leash play. Some of the “Breakaway” collars have velcro releases. While these would not be safe for leash walking, it’s a great idea for off-leash play. Any type of collar that slips over the head, should be removed during play.
Utilize a harness (with ID tags) instead: Some folks recommend harness use to prevent asphyxiation risks. As dog walkers, we have found harnesses to be a double-edged sword. A good fitting harness can be a miracle for leash-walking; a poorly fitted harness can be downright dangerous because dogs can easily slip out a harness that isn’t made for their body type. Which leads us to our next tip.
Ask a pro: If you’re having issues with on-leash walking, enlist the help of a professional. Head on over to your neighborhood pet boutique and talk to the staff about the best harness and/or collar for your dog and your needs. A good store will even help you fit and adjust the equipment. Ditto for a professional trainer or dog walker. Don’t just buy the prettiest gear – buy the safest gear. Choose wisely, ask for advice, and read any literature that comes with your gear. (The parents of the dog who passed away are trying to get the makers of the martingale to add safety information to the tags.)
Quick Release Collar Safety: For off-leash play, Quick Release collars are the way to go. However, far too many times we have seen plastic buckles cracked and/or compromised. Make sure to check your gear on a regular basis for signs of wear and tear. (We’ve actually had a leash/collar buckle crack in half while we were walking a dog… more than once.) It wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy new gear on an annual basis. A $20-30 investment could make your outdoor adventures infinitely safer.
Crates n’ collars: Collars and crates do not mix. We recommend removing any collars before dogs are put in crates. Quick Release collars are great for supervised interactions. When dogs are in crates, 99% of the time, they are alone. If a collar gets stuck in the crate mechanism or bars, tragedy could occur when no one is around to stop it.
The power of recall training: If your dog is one of those Houdini dogs, one of the most important areas of training you should be working on NOW should be recall training. Having a dog “come” when called is a lot more than a cute trick – it’s a serious safety issue and can literally be a lifesaver if your dog gets off-leash. Having trouble? Check a post we wrote back in 2009 about simple recall training tips that can be used on a daily basis to make your dog a recall champ.
We hope that this tragedy will shed light on a topic that many dog owners probably didn’t really think about. Dr. Majeska from Companion Pet Hospital also wrote an article about this very topic earlier this week on her Petiquette Blog.
It’s funny how much other people’s perceptions of my dogs matter to me. In April, Lindsay’s (my husband’s) family was visiting Philadelphia for the first time. (I lived overseas with them on and off over the years, so I know them very, very well.) But I had the normal jitters that would be expected when the in-laws are flying in from overseas for the first time. Will they like Philadelphia? What will they think of our house? (And the endless fur/dust bunnies that accumulate mere hours after vacuuming…) How hard will it be to juggle working full-time and hosting/entertaining for two weeks? Will they understand our obsession with Philly restaurants? Will they fall in love with the Phillies if we take them to the ballpark?
But the one question that really perplexed me was, “Will they like our dogs?” Lindsay grew up in a pet-free household. Both of his parents grew up in rural parts of New Zealand and Australia and in their minds, dogs were “working” animals. No farm? No reason to have a dog. My family was the polar opposite. Our family lives for critters. There is an urban legend about my grandfather going out in a snow storm to get vanilla ice cream for one of his Yorkies. (If it’s not factual, it’s probably because something got lost in translation. He was actually going out for STRAWBERRY ice cream in a HURRICANE, not vanilla in a snow storm. Either way, that’s how it was growing up in the Ruddell/Terry family.)
Our dogs are very much, dog-dogs. (And our cat, Ned, who thinks he’s a dog.) They lick, they bark at knocks on the door, they fart, they snarf their food while making weird noises, they greet us at the door with a ridiculous amount of exuberance (even if we’ve only been gone for an hour), etc. I was worried! Are my dogs “too much dog” for my in-laws? It’s funny how personal I took the entire scenario of my Kiwi-family interacting with our pets. If they didn’t like Jax, Lola and Ned, what does that say about how we raised them? Ok, maybe we shouldn’t always let them jump on the couch uninvited, and perhaps we should train them not to bum-rush everyone who walks in the door, but overall, they’re OK grand-monsters, right?
Rest assured, everything was fine. The critters were on their best behavior. (Except for when Jax decided to pee on the floor twice in one night for no apparent reason. Maybe he had to let us all know it was still his house, even if it was invaded by Kiwis. Oh and the fact that Ned would constantly sit on “Mum’s” jackets/jumpers whenever given the chance. She happens to be mildly allergic to cats so she kept her distance, and it became a running joke that she was the only one NOT paying attention to Ned. And he knew it.)
We’ve been looking forward to this reunion for quite sometime. Due to the fact that Lindsay and I find ourselves back in New Zealand just about every year for weddings (we’re at that age), the Kiwi parents just hadn’t made it over to our side of the world. Knowing that they have experienced our city, eaten dinner at our table, and gotten to know our pets makes the gulf between us feel just a little bit smaller. I found myself feeling a sense of pride in my monster family. Sure, they’re not perfect, but they’re ours. And that’s all that matters.
(And for the record, Philly treated our family VERY well. Perfect weather, helpful strangers, awesome food, etc. Way to go hometown!)
Guest Blog Post by Assistant Manager and Minder, Nikki Rockwell
Artist: AJ Bredensteiner (see more information below)
Ever go through the day thinking “If I could have one superpower what would it be?” Well, I think about this question constantly, partly because I’m a secret nerd (it’s a secret?!) and partly because I actually spent an entire year of my graduate school existence writing about superheroes (jealous!) But as I walk through the neighborhoods, fuzzies by my side, I can’t help but notice that I’ve already developed superpowers. No, not the mutant kind where I can shape shift or teleport from place to place with a BAMPH (how cool would that be!?), but the kind of superpowers that come with experience and careful honing of my craft. You know, Batman style! That’s right, I have developed dog-walking superpowers, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! Here are some of the powers that I have developed since hanging with my daily pups!
The ability to answer any questions posed to your pup, as your pup!: That’s right, good ole anthropomorphizing. Has this ever happen to you? A person comes up to your pup and they say “Oh hey sweetie, how are you today?” and you answer, with doggie voice (you all know what I’m talking about here), “I’m good, just sniffin’ around today, making new friends. Can I get pets?” If it has, you are well on your way to having this super loquacious skill! One time I spent nearly 20 minutes having a conversation with a person, speaking as my pup…you can’t make this stuff up!
The ability to carefully craft a usable poop bag out of what I can only refer to as plastic swiss cheese! MacGyver’s got nothing on dog-walkers. Sure, he was able to fashion a transmitter out of some duct tape and match sticks, but is he able to pick up poop with a bag which is 97% negative space without getting any on him? Didn’t think so, only those who spend day in and day out handling poop really understand the usefulness of this power.
Supplemental power: The compliance factor. Being able ask anyone on the street for a bag to scoop the poop. Sometimes my pup has a double doody day and I am ill equipped to clean up the waste. We have all been there. You gotta clean it up, but how? Ask someone! Armed with a smile and a wet-nosed pup I have been able to convince people to actually go into their homes, a block away, and come back out with a bag. No one has ever told me “No”…talk about a much needed superpower!
The ability to know a dog is approaching with only the faint sound of a collar jingle: This power has saved me many backaches and nervous reactions. So I am walking a nervous dog and we are approaching a corner with a 10 ft high wall and no way to see what’s around the block. Then all of a sudden my DW senses go crazy (Dog-walking senses, not all that different from spidey senses). I hear the “ching, ching” coming closer…and BAM, me and the dog are outta there! If your ears perk up at the same time your dog’s do, you have learned everything there is to know about this power, you superstar you.
The ability to take any song and adapt it to fit the doggie’s name and personality. When I first started leashing pups I used simple nursery rhymes and kid songs to sing out the dog’s names. You know, spelling out the dog’s name to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club song etc, but you can only spell a dog’s name so much before you start to reevaluate your place on the planet. I have since created songs using The Beatles and Carly Simon and the like as inspiration; I’m entertained and the pups love to hear their name sung! There are far less challenging things in the word; matching up the meter, the rhythm, the rhyme…what an accomplishment! Your high school English teacher would be proud!
After developing and perfecting all of these superhero/dog-walking capabilities, the only thing left to do is do come up with super rad name…mine is Captain Easywalk!
What’s yours? Leave us a comment!
More Info About the Artist: AJ Bredensteiner has created an entire world of animal friends. In fact, his website, The Animal Friends, showcases some of his first creations. Stay tuned as you get to know more of them. Interested in more information? Contact him.