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My beagle, rescued from an animal testing lab a year ago, isn’t the only one who has undergone a transformation. By Melanie D.G. Kaplan
The DC7 beagles—and an eighth dog belonging to one of the families—during their reunion this summer. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Last summer, a beagle with a blue tattoo in his left ear dropped into my home as if from another planet. He was underweight, and when I lowered him onto a dog bed, it was clear he’d never, in his four years of life, encountered anything so squishy and soft. He clung to that bed as if it were a life raft.

Among the few things I knew about this creature: His vocal cords had been cut, and he had probably never seen stairs, so I didn’t bother blocking off the second level of my Capitol Hill rowhouse. When he dared to leave, he did so guardedly. Catching his reflection in the side of a car was enough to send him pulling me home, frantically. His anxiety drove him to several escape attempts, once maneuvering through my balcony railing onto a neighbor’s roof.

In a way, this dog did arrive from another world—one in which breeders send their puppies to laboratories to become testing animals, each identified by a tattooed tracking number. My beagle was rescued with six others from a Virginia lab by a nonprofit organization called the Beagle Freedom Project. On the day these hounds left the only life they’d known, it was clear that even the most basic canine experiences—walking on grass and touching humans—were alien.

Each of the DC7, as they became known, was named after a Founding Father. Six weeks after I began fostering Alexander Hamilton, his personality was still clouded by fear and I didn’t know how much he would change. After all, labs claim that these dogs—with their lack of exposure to the real world—don’t make suitable pets. Freeing them only draws public attention to the 70,000 dogs still in testing facilities (many of which are beagles, because they’re so docile). According to the Beagle Freedom Project, this is how labs justify killing them as standard practice, discarding Hamiltons as if they were test tubes.

I told Hammy that if I adopted him, every day would be an adventure. “You’ll have to be very brave,” I said. He looked at me with his quiet brown eyes. We struck a deal.

As summer turned to fall, Hammy relaxed enough to walk around the block. I remember the first time I saw his tail wag in his sleep, and I imagined his dreams about running free. His veterinarian told me that his vocal cords—which had been cut so lab techs wouldn’t be disturbed by howling—could grow back. Before long, he was barking at the mailman. My neighbor quipped, “He’s like Pinocchio! He’s turning into a real dog.”

Hammy wasn’t the only one who’d been transformed. Sitting with him for hours upon hours, trying to fill his early silences with comforting words, had changed me, too. I started to boycott products tested on animals, buying laundry detergent and mascara from “cruelty-free” companies such as Method and Lush. Uncharacteristically, I took on a cause, telling my beagle’s story to all who would listen and showing them the tattoo in his ear.

This past spring, Minnesota became the first state to require that dogs and cats in taxpayer-funded laboratories be made available for adoption after testing rather than put to death. Around the same time, Hammy went for a 50-mile ride in his bike trailer, camped, joined me on a standup paddleboard, and visited his 16th state.

This summer, the DC7 returned to Washington to celebrate a year of freedom. As the families and dogs walked around the Capitol grounds, tourists asked if a beagle convention was under way. I looked at all the wagging tails and marveled at the difference a year of love and patience can make.

These days, Hammy’s need for human touch is profound. When he’s sleeping, I watch little pffts of breath leak out of his cheeks. I run my hand over his soft face and floppy ears and wonder what they did to him on the other planet. He wakes, stretches, and looks at me with sleepy eyes. Then he paws me insistently, wanting affection. And I oblige.

The Dogs After Their Rescue in 2013

Washington writer Melanie D.G. Kaplan’s website is This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 09:00 AM/ET, 08/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The four-day event benefits the Lab Rescue volunteer group. By Paulina Kosturos
See 1,200 nationally ranked dogs compete at the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac Specialty Show. Image via Shutterstock.

Attention, Labrador lovers: The largest Lab show in the world—the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac Specialty Show—starts Tuesday in Frederick. The event runs through April 11 at the Francis Key Holiday Inn (5400 Holiday Dr., Frederick). Around 1,200 nationally ranked dogs will compete in the four-day sporting event, which is sanctioned by the American Kennel Club. In addition to competitions in obedience and appearance, the show also features seminars on Lab behavior, health exams for dogs conducted by canine cardiologists, and a silent auction. All proceeds will go to Lab Rescue of the LRCP, a volunteer group that has rescued and placed more than 1,000 dogs in new homes. Says Vicky Creamer, president of the LRCP: “In the Lab world, this annual show is our Super Bowl.” All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Labrador Retriever Club’s website.

Posted at 02:51 PM/ET, 04/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
An animal behaviorist is concerned by a new DC apartment building's unique amenity. By Benjamin Freed
This place has everything: gym, rooftop pool, shared dog. No, it's not a "Stefon" sketch. Rendering courtesy W.C. Smith.

With so many new, high-end apartment buildings dotting Washington, prospective tenants have plenty of options to choose from. And building owners are responding by upping their amenities. Twenty-four-hour gyms, heated bike rooms, and rooftop pools are so standard that new developments need too get creative.

W.C. Smith’s 2M, a 314-unit building opening this summer in the NoMa neighborhood, features all that, and is possibly inventing a brand-new amenity in Emmy, a six-month-old English bulldog that will be shared by tenants. Yes, really. A communal dog for residents to borrow in chunks of time like a Zipcar.

“I was sitting at a cafe one day, and we saw a puppy come in and everyone just stopped in their tracks and came alive,” W.C. Smith vice president Holli Beckman tells the Washington Post. “And it just dawned on me that everyone loves doggies and babies, right?”

But as much as a cute, playful creature like Emmy—who has a dedicated Instagram account (obviously)—can melt hearts, experts on dog care are concerned for the pup.

“It’s a cute idea, but oh, no,” says Mary Huntsberry, an animal behavior specialist in Montgomery County. “Not a good idea at all.”

Huntsberry says that offering up a dog like a time-share could have severe effects on its mental and physical health as Emmy is moved from apartment to apartment and cared for by so many different people.

“Certain people think you need to be harsh, that’s not true with another person,” she says. “Dogs can be easily traumatized.”

W.C. Smith’s advertising for 2M says the building is pet-friendly for people who actually own their own dogs, but Huntsberry worries that Emmy is being dumped into a uncertain situation.

“They’re animals, they’re not purses you just lend out to people,” she says. “That’s just nutty.”

Editor’s Note (added 4/4/2014): In response to this article, Anne Marie Bairstow, vice president of marketing and communications at W.C. Smith, writes: “We appreciate Washingtonian’s interest in our 2M Street pet ambassador, Emmy. However, the story had several inaccuracies. The article says that Emmy will be rented out like ‘Zipcar for dogs or like a ‘purse,’ which is, of course, not the case. Emmy will live with the 2M property manager and come to work with him in the leasing office. Residents will be allowed to walk Emmy in the building’s private dog park, but all visits will be closely monitored." Washingtonian thanks WC Smith for this clarification.

Posted at 03:42 PM/ET, 03/31/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
DC hosts its annual Doggie Day Swim at three area pools. By Michelle Thomas
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Because your furry friend deserves a last-ditch chance at summer fun, too: For the fifth year, Washington’s Parks and Recreation department teams up with the health department and the Washington Humane Society for its Doggie Day Swim, scheduled for next Saturday. Pet parents can bring their dogs to one of the three designated pools for the one-day shot at summer splashing. Health Department officials will be on hand to check for the safety of the animals and humans involved and offer info on vaccinations and licenses.

Here’s what you need to know:
• All dogs must have a valid DC dog license, which can be issued on site by the DOH officials, but dog owners must have the necessary documents and a checkbook for the required fee.
• Dog handlers must be at least 16 years old, and they can’t swim or enter the pool with their pets.
• Dogs must be up to date on vaccinations.
• Dogs must be sociable, and need to remain leashed while on the pool deck.
• There’s a cap on the number of dogs allowed at each pool: 75 at both Upshur and Randall, and 150 at Francis.

Doggie Day Swim. September 7 noon to 4. Upshur pool, 4300 Arkansas Ave., NW; Francis Pool, 25th and N sts., NW; and Randall Pool, S. Capitol and I sts., SW.

Posted at 11:26 AM/ET, 08/29/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A local vet shares tips to keep your furry friend safe and cool in the warm weather this summer. By Marisa M. Kashino
Excessive panting is a sign your dog may be too hot. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Summer doesn’t officially start until Friday, but Washington is already getting plenty of humid, swampy weather. Though many pet owners understandably want to play outside with their pups as temperatures warm, the summer heat can be extremely dangerous—even lethal—for dogs. We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Stafford, a veterinarian at VCA Veterinary Referral Associates in Gaithersburg, about signs of heat stroke in dogs and precautions owners should take this summer.

Are you already seeing patients with heat stroke?

Yes. We actually had a dog that died [last] week. The most common time we see it is early in the summer when dogs haven’t had time to adjust to the extreme heat.

What are the symptoms owners should watch for?

Look for dogs that are excessively panting. Dogs can’t sweat like people. The way they get rid of heat is by panting. On days that are very hot and humid, the panting has no effect because they’re exhaling warm, humid air into warm, humid air. They can’t cool down on those days. Dogs that are acting lethargic is another early sign. Late signs are dogs that are vomiting, that have a very weak gait, that are kind of stumbling. These are signs you don’t want to see. They’re very affected at that point.

What precautions should owners take on hot days?

For dogs that have long hair coats, shaving them during the summer can help with the heat. If you want to walk your dog, do it early in the morning or late in the evening after the sun is down. For owners with pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, the kinds of dogs with smushed faces—those dogs’ ability to get rid of heat is even worse. I don’t recommend too much exercise at all for them in the summer. Even in cooler environments, those dogs are more susceptible. Overweight dogs are also more susceptible to heat stroke.

I would not take any dog out on a hike in the middle of the summer—any dog. Some of the cases that we’ve had in the past involved dogs who went hiking with their owners, and they were doing great, having a blast, then all of a sudden they were weak and wanting to stop. With heat stroke, the cells in the body get overheated and stop functioning. Everything, including the ability to clot blood, goes to the wayside.

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Posted at 02:10 PM/ET, 06/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Plus: Get 50 percent off adoption fees March 16 and 17. By Marisa M. Kashino

In advance of National Puppy Day on March 23, we’re showing off 25 of Washington’s adorable adoptable dogs. These pups are from the Washington Humane Society, the Washington Animal Rescue League, Friends of Homeless Animals, and the Montgomery County Humane Society. Bonus: The Washington Humane Society is offering a St. Cat-Trick’s Day deal on March 16 and 17, which gets you 50 percent off the adoption fee for all animals.

Washington Humane Society
Georgia Avenue Adoption Center
7319 Georgia Ave., NW; 202-723-5730

New York Avenue Adoption Center 
1201 New York Ave., NE; 202-576-6664

Washington Animal Rescue League
71 Oglethorpe St., NW; 202-726-2556

Friends of Homeless Animals
Send an e-mail to or call 703-385-0224 to set up a time to visit the dogs.

Montgomery County Humane Society
14645 Rothgeb Dr., Rockville; 240-773-5960.

Posted at 09:30 AM/ET, 03/15/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Nominate your favorite veterinarians, groomers, trainers, and more for “Washingtonian’s” pet-care guide. By Marisa M. Kashino
Share your favorite pet-care providers with us! Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

UPDATE 04/08/2013: Our pets survey is now closed. Thanks for your help!

The Washingtonian will publish its guide to pet care in the July issue, and we need your help! The guide will include listings of the area’s best veterinarians, emergency clinics, groomers, petsitters, kennels, trainers, and more.

Please take a few minutes to tell us which area pet-care providers you trust. You can fill out our quick, easy survey here.

Posted at 02:35 PM/ET, 02/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
This 13-year-old border collie, one of Washington’s “wonder pets,” has been saving lives since she was just a puppy. By Marisa M. Kashino

Photograph captured from YouTube video by the American Humane Association.

In the February issue of The Washingtonian, on stands now, you’ll find a special pets section that includes profiles of Washington’s “wonder pets.” These are animals that have survived against all odds or performed acts of bravery, or that make a difference in their communities. But we wanted to highlight one of them here. Sage, a 13-year-old border collie, is a real hero.

Sage lives in New Mexico, but she’ll forever be connected to Washington. She has been a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) search-and-rescue dog since she was 18 months old. Her first real mission was to search through the Pentagon after 9/11. Amid the rubble she sniffed out the body of the terrorist who had flown American Flight 77 into the building.

Since then, Sage has traveled to seven countries and participated in many high-profile missions. She searched for survivors following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and went to Aruba to look for the body of Natalee Holloway, who disappeared there in 2005.

Sage served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, where she recovered human remains. Her owner and handler, Diane Whetsel, who accompanied her, says she fell into another role while living in the war zone: “Sage turned out to be the warm fur for soldiers to cry into, or just a playmate.”

The American Humane Association named Sage a 2011 Hero Dog. She mingled with members of Congress at a Veterans Day event honoring all the Hero Dogs. But her job has taken a toll. Sage is battling two rare forms of respiratory cancer, likely the result of sniffing through toxic sites. She’s getting the best care, but to help provide medical treatment to other service dogs, Whetsel started the Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve. The nonprofit’s mission is to “promote the welfare of dogs who have faithfully served (often in harm’s way) in wars, police work, crime prevention, and rescue efforts.”

Illness hasn’t dampened Sage’s spirit. While the dog was recovering from a recent surgery, Whetsel hid toys around the room for her to find: “It was like a healing thing for her—she was able to do her job.”

Look for our February 2012 issue feature on pets on Feb. 21.

Posted at 05:57 PM/ET, 01/26/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Submit your pictures to our Out and About photo contest, and they could be featured in our February 2012 issue.

We want to see photos of your pets out and about around Washington—and beyond! Did you snap the perfect shot of your pet strolling on the National Mall, or exploring Great Falls Park? Send it to by January 4, 2012. Prizes will be awarded to the pets photographed in the coolest places. will post a slideshow of the finalists when our February 2012 issue—which includes our special pets section—hits stands.

Posted at 11:19 AM/ET, 12/16/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
British charity Nowzad Dogs has rescued more than 200 animals that soldiers or contractors want to take home By Kris Coronado

Spike, with Melissa Morgan, traveled from Afghanistan to Arlington. Photograph by Paul Morse

While working as a USAID contractor in Afghanistan last September, Katherine Martin noticed something unusual outside her office: a ten-pound ball of fur covered in dust. Speaking through a translator, she asked the Afghan guards what the puppy—which was too weak to stand—was doing there. “That’s just a dog,” a guard said. “We kick it on our way in.”

Martin lured the dog inside and gave her a bath. Within weeks, Spike—whose name is derived from the Pashto word for a female dog—was a familiar face at the heavily fortified compound where Martin stayed. The pair made a game of chasing each other around a fountain. “She really saved my sanity while I was there,” says Martin, who often heard explosions outside her windows.

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Posted at 02:19 PM/ET, 09/13/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()