In Portland, Animals Aren’t Just Fodder For Likes and Memes—They’re Active Members of the Community

Welcome to WW's 2020 Pet Issue.

Don't judge a dog by her collar.

Sure, Bethanee Hamilton's is mighty fancy—a sparkling family heirloom belonging to her owner, Lindsay Van Bramer. And one look at her Instagram page tells you the 7-year-old French bulldog is living the lush life of an internet celebrity.

But all that glamour was hard-earned.

Discovered on the streets outside Portland as a puppy, Bethanee nearly died during a routine spaying operation. Then, after the discovery of cancer in her back left paw, she had to have the leg amputated.

Shortly after surgery, Van Bramer adopted the little "tripod." Naming her after surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm in a shark attack, the freelance web designer started an Instagram account (@pardonthyfrench) to document Bethanee's recovery—while also dressing her up in wigs and silly costumes.

Gradually, her follower count ticked upward. And though the account is full of Portland quirk—Hipster Santa and strippers from Devils Point have made cameos—she's earned fans from around the world.

No wonder, then, that Bethanee ran away with the votes in Willamette Week's third annual Pet Pageant, to become this year's Ultimate Supreme Pet.

But with great fame comes great responsibility, and Bethanee hasn't shrunk from hers. She makes frequent appearances at nursing homes and charitable events, and has partnered with DoveLewis Animal Hospital to support the Velvet Assistance Fund, a financial aid program for families experiencing sudden pet emergencies.

It goes to show that in Portland, animals aren't just fodder for likes and memes—they're active members of the community.

Not all of them are on social media, though. So for this year's Pet Issue, we wanted to highlight some of the "working animals" that, in one way or another, help keep the city running.

We watched hawks chase crows out of downtown. We went digging for truffles with a pair of Lagotto Romagnolos—Italian truffle-hunting dogs—in the Clark County backwoods, and drove out to rural Carlton, Ore., where pigs make sure Portland's leftover food doesn't go to waste, while also giving recovering addicts the means to rebuild their lives.

Then we went to a local boarding house for cats, where a flock of finches is employed to keep the four-legged guests entertained. And we crossed the river to meet Minnie, a facility dog at Vancouver's Children's Justice Center, who helps calm young victims of abuse during testimony.

Whether their collars are blue or studded with diamonds, in Portland, pets matter—not just to their owners but to the city at large. This is their close-up.

Matthew Singer, Arts & Culture Editor

DIRT DOGS: Truffle Hunting in Clackamas County 

From the moment Jeannine May pulls her 7-year-old Lagotto Romagnolo from the crate in the back of her SUV and lets her loose, it's nearly impossible to keep up with her nose. Isis is on the hunt for arguably Oregon's most valuable buried treasure: truffles.

Though the French Périgord and Italian Alba tend to be the star fungi of the culinary world, selling for hundreds if not thousands of dollars per pound, demand for our state's bounty of pungent tubers has grown in recent years. And increasingly, canines are invaluable foraging partners—perhaps more than pigs, which are commonly associated with the job.

Humans can't smell the knobby little nuggets beneath the forest floor. But Isis and her powerful snout can.

"That's the cool part about a dog," May explains. "They'll find the ripe ones—they emit an aroma when they're ripe."

The truffles Isis sniffs out on these 60 acres of private property in Clackamas County won't end up in any fine-dining kitchens or gourmet food stores. Instead, May uses them to train other dogs to do the same job. On this chilly gray afternoon, the student is Isis's grandson, Blitzen.

Bounding over the arched fronds of stretching ferns, a streak of gray and white fur pushes back into the forest of Western red cedars and Douglas firs. By the time we catch up, Isis' paws are already tearing back the emerald carpet of moss and clover.

When she's dug deep enough, Isis suddenly stops and shoves her nose into the hole. May crouches down with a pointed, narrow garden spade and carefully picks up what her dog has unearthed: a black truffle the size of an avocado pit.

"Good girl!" she says. "That's a nice one."

May slips it into her left vest pocket and reaches for some kibble from the right—Isis' reward every time she unearths one and doesn't scarf it down.

She continues to send dirt flying for nearly two hours as Blitzen watches, sometimes helping—it takes at least two to three seasons before they're good at it, and not every dog is up for the challenge. A successful truffle hunter has both stamina and the desire to work. That seems to define Isis perfectly as she keeps her muzzle to the ground and repeatedly stops to paw at the damp soil, tail bobbing back and forth.

"She doesn't quit! She's like the little Energizer Bunny," May says, pulling out Isis' tether. "The only way we're going to get her out of here is by putting her on a leash." ANDI PREWITT.

GRUB HUB: The pigs of Blanchet Farm in Carlton, Ore.

"The slop truck is here!"

As the Blanchet House of Hospitality truck ambles up a long gravel road toward the 62-acre property, residents gather to help unload its cargo: 3,000 pounds of uneaten food, collected from restaurants, markets and soup kitchens around Portland, that will soon be processed and served to the farm's four pigs.

It's a mutually beneficial exchange—the pigs get fed and, in turn, gobble up pounds of food waste that would otherwise go to local landfills. And for the 21 people who live on the farm, it gives them something to care about again.

Since 1962, Blanchet Farm has been running a residential recovery program for men struggling with addiction and unemployment. The program—run by the Portland nonprofit Blanchet House, headquartered in Southwest Portland—helps them get sober by providing eight months of free room and board in a rural environment.

"It lets a guy kind of catch his breath," says farm manager Ross Sears.

Along with gardening and woodworking, residents at Blanchet Farm are responsible for raising pigs, goats and other animals. For those who've been unemployed for years, the program offers a renewed sense of purpose.

Ron Lovegreen first arrived at the farm two years ago, seeking to get sober. He has since stayed to help oversee the farm and its crew. Having grown up on a farm himself, caring for animals has always come naturally to Lovegreen.

"Besides teaching accountability, the animals give the men here a reason to get up in the morning because they know they've got to get out there and make sure the pigs are fed and taken care of," he says. "Having a routine like this makes it easier for them when they do transition out of here."

Slop deliveries happen every Tuesday, around 8 am. The pigs seem to know—as he reaches into a stall to greet Tulip, one of the farm's therapy pigs, another, Oscar, grunts and sniffs out Lovegreen's pocket, where he's known to keep treats.

"If you're having a problem, it's a lot easier to be with the animals and calm down," he says. "They're 100 percent love, basically. They need you. And you end up needing them." MICHELLE T. HARRIS.

CROW PESTS: Hawks clear the skies of downtown Portland

Matteo Brunozzi has the crows just where he wants them—out of the way.

For the past three months, the 33-year-old falconer has spent many weeknights monitoring the skies of downtown Portland. As far as the businesses down here are concerned, the growing number of crows roosting in the trees and rooftops are an invasive species that treat the sidewalks like newspaper at the bottom of a birdcage.

Three years ago, Portland Clean and Safe signed a contract with Brunozzi's employer, Integrated Avian Services, which uses birds of prey to scare off avian nuisances. During the day, much of their time is spent keeping gulls out of landfills. At night, they're here.

At this point in the season, though, the crows mostly know the deal: Stay in Waterfront Park and get an undisturbed night's rest. Yet some still can't resist crossing the line. "They're thinking about it," Brunozzi mutters, glancing upward.

Brunozzi's co-worker tonight is a juvenile Harris' hawk he hasn't yet named—one of eight raptors he keeps at his home near Gresham. The bird perches calmly on Brunozzi's gloved arm, wearing a small leather hood that gives him the look of a tiny World War I fighter pilot.

Brunozzi has seen enough. With his teeth, he undoes the bird's hood—the hawk version of a horse blinder—and off he goes, disappearing into the dark. A small blinking transmitter affixed to his back tracks his movements. The hawk doesn't have to actively chase the birds, Brunozzi says. His presence alone is enough to send them scattering.

"This guy's a little cupcake," Brunozzi says after enticing the hawk back to his arm, feeding him a chunk of quail as a reward.

Some crow advocates have questioned the effectiveness of the abatement method—indeed, minutes after Brunozzi leaves the corner, another flock takes up residence in a tree across from Nordstrom Rack. But the neighbors appreciate the effort.

"I'm glad. I don't really like the crows," says a passing woman who works near Keller Auditorium. "I'm rooting for you guys." MATTHEW SINGER.

CREATURE COMFORTS: Clark County's courthouse dog

Minnie arrives at work today like she does every day—in a pint-sized detachable trailer strapped to the back of Chief Deputy Scott Jackson's bicycle.

The 4-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix is a "facility dog," provided by California-based nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence. She has been with the prosecutor's office for two years. Jackson, her trained handler, commutes in from Portland.

Minnie is 5 pounds overweight, if you're counting, with brown doe eyes and a unique ability to draw tension out of a room. This is the job she was bred to do—golden retrievers are chosen to work in courthouses for their relaxed demeanor and ability to handle high-stress environments.

"She's very calm," says Jackson. "She seems to know—without command, really—her job is to comfort another person."

No two days for Minnie look exactly alike. But by the time Jackson straps on her official vest, Minnie is on the clock. If her services are requested at the Children's Justice Center, just down the block, she can be with a victim through the forensic interview, defense interview and court hearing.

Although she is available to work with adults, most cases calling for Minnie's help deal with allegations of child abuse. If the child wants her in the room, she will waggle in, find the victim, and lay her head in the child's lap. Then she'll stay.

Minnie is a critical part of victim advocacy, says Derin Gibson, who handles her throughout the working day. Nearly all children ask for her and find themselves soothed by her presence.

"I've even had a few parents and adult victims—four or five times now—tell me that if it wasn't for her, they wouldn't be able to complete the interview," Gibson says.

Sometimes Minnie will sit in on multiple interviews throughout the day. On slower days, Minnie's responsibilities have lower stakes—a series of naps, broken up by twice-a-day walks and an hourlong lunch break.

At 4:45 pm, her day is finished and she is taken back to Jackson.

"She seems to know she's working until you take off the vest and say the magic word: 'release,'" Jackson says. "And then she'll probably take off." SCOUT BROBST.

SUCH A TEASE: The finches of Meowhaus Feline Boarding & Day Spa

When you walk through the door at a place called the Meowhaus, the last thing you expect to hear is the soft sound of chirping and occasional fluttering.

But the flock of finches at the Northeast Portland cat hotel have an important job—they are professional prey.

Long, narrow atriums, painted to look like cloudy skies and full of scavenged branches, birdhouses and dozens of small birds, line the walls of the building. Through the windows at the back of each cat room, feline guests can peek into the enclosure and, when they get bored, bat harmlessly at the finches.

"Some cats don't care, some can't stop staring," says David Crosby, a Meowhaus employee. "The young cats love [the birds]. They'll stare and make little chirping noises."

Meowhaus' owner, Anya Stites, a former veterinarian, decided to add birds to the layout to provide "cat entertainment," Crosby says. Today, however, the guests are mostly uninterested. Only one, a black-and-white tuxedoed cat named Bella, tilts her head back toward the window impartially as two finches groom each other on a branch.

Meowhaus keeps around 30 finches at any given time, all of them male to preclude mating. The birds come from a farm in Washington—the hotel must buy entirely new flocks as older birds die off, because if the hotel tries to add new birds to existing flocks, the newbies "get ganged up on," Crosby says.

Employees keep the atriums stocked with food, water and tree branches and occasionally scatter cat hair on the floor for the birds to make nests with. And how do they feel about being eyed by their natural enemies that would probably try to tear them apart if not for being behind glass?

According to Crosby, they really don't seem to mind.

"We were worried about the birds getting stressed at first," he says, "but they don't care at all." ELISE HERRON.

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