Category Archives: Animal Advocacy

Shelter, Rescue and Adoption

The path to re-homing a pet.

As an animal rights advocate, pet owner, rescue volunteer and humane educator, I am painfully familiar with the pet over population issues and the euthanasia rates in our country.  That’s why it was so heart breaking for me when I had to make the very difficult decision to re-home one of my cats.  I thought it might be helpful to show the steps I took, trying everything possible to avoid the re-homing, and knowing I was not going to rely on the already stressed and over populated shelters and rescues.

Squeeky and Mia were my 2 cats, I got them both young, approximately the same age. I had Mia first, and after about 2 weeks of getting to know each other, they became fast friends. I would find them snuggled together in the sun, licking each other.  They would play chase and race through the house, wrestling, hugging, kicking, bopping each other on the head with their paws…it was a delight to see.

Every now and again Squeeky would see another cat out a window and she would panic, hiss and re-direct her anxiety towards Mia.  They would end up in a giant brawl, with fur balls flying, screeches and howling, and the inevitable scratches on my hands and arms from separating them.  It would take a day or two for Squeeky to be convinced that Mia was in fact Mia and not the cat she saw in the window.  And they would settle back into a normal routine of love and sunbathing together.

However, something happened, I still don’t know what, that permanently changed the situation.  A fight ensued and Squeeky was so afraid, cautious and sure that Mia was to be feared that I could no longer have them in the same room.  I tried to plug-in the atomizer that emit feline calming pheromones, I put the liquid pheromones in their water bowls, catnip everywhere…I introduced them slowly again and again giving treats and brushing while they were together in a calm setting, and within minutes Squeeky was hissing and on guard and Mia was fed up with being attacked.  It was becoming unsafe for them both, and for the small dogs in the house.

Not willing to give up, I put food, water and litter in 2 separate bedrooms and would do the “cat shuffle” locking one in a room and letting the other one roam the house…and vice versa. I would switch rooms so they could smell each other without seeing each other.   I consulted my local cat shelter and discussed options at length for resolution towards a happy home again. I read on-line endlessly for ideas.  Both cats had visits to the vet to be sure there were no health issues.  Both were healthy, although now seniors, they were active and showing no signs of slowing down. This separation and re-introduction effort went on for 2 years.

It finally got to the point where it was no longer possible for them to see each other, and even though Squeeky hadn’t come face to face with Mia for months, she walked around the house on edge, expecting to see a strange mystery cat.  It was sad and a constant worry about them getting out of their rooms accidentally.  And not allowing them to just roam free all day didn’t feel right for either of them.

When both my parents were sick with cancer,  I was focused on their care.  With the gut wrenching, heart breaking loss of them both within one year of the other, I planned on making a big change. I sold my house in Boston and decided to move to Florida to start a new life so I could heal from the pain and grief of so much loss in such a short period of time. However, I had to resolve the cat issue before I could make the move.

Mia is a very shy cat, she really only likes me and will hide when company is around.  Squeeky on the other hand, for all her anxiety about other cats, loves people and would instantly be part of the action when visitors were over or there was a party going on.  Knowing I could not move both cats into a new home where they would again be divided, separated, and always shuffled into rooms to avoid the other, I made the painful decision to find Squeeky a good home.  This sounds a lot easier than it is.  In a world where shelters are filled with cats and so  many are euthanized, trying to find a reasonable home for my cat was not going to be easy.

But somehow, the universe was on my side and it was meant to be.  I wrote an email to my animal loving friends explaining the situation.  I just wanted Squeeky to be safe and loved and live in a home with no other cats.  I let everyone know that she was a wonderful senior cat that just needed a chance. Through some very kind people sharing the email, an amazing couple with a wonderful home and no other pets said they would adopt Squeeky.  We emailed a bit, spoke on the phone and they said they would do it.  We planned a day, and I packed up all of Squeeky’s belongings, her favorite treats, blankies, beds, furminator brush, etc. and put on a brave face.

Being in the middle of a giant move, still recovering from the loss of my parents and now handing over my pet of 14 years, this was not an easy day.  It was pouring rain and miserable outside.  While carrying Squeeky to her carrier in the front seat of the car she got so upset and panicked that she peed all over me.  Leaving her in the carrier I ran back inside to quickly change my clothes.  Arriving at the adopters home I was relieved to see such a big, beautiful home with a cozy lived in feel. The neighborhood was nice and there were big giant windows in the house, and a big sliding glass door where the sun came in.  They had a small guest room just off the dining room area with a bed and bathroom that was all set for Squeeky’s “home base.”

Alan and Elinor were all smiles and hugs when I arrived and they were endlessly patient with me as I set up Squeeky’s stuff in her new room.  Elinor had the table set with a wonderfully thoughtful lunch so we could sit and chat and get to know each other.  They knew this was a hard day for me and they wanted to make me feel at ease.  Their friend Kelly was also joining us for lunch -she had shared my email from a mutual friend with Alan and Elinor.  So without Kelly’s involvement, I believe the adoption would never have happened.  It takes a village sometimes, a village of kindness and people who take time out of their lives to care.  I needed this support so desperately at this time in my life, and Squeeky needed a chance to be in a perfect home as the queen bee with no other pets.  It is still miraculous to me that it all worked out so well.

After a nice lunch and a last, awful, difficult, goodbye to my Squeeky, I hugged them, thanked them, and went on my way.  I cried my eyes out the whole way home, through the rain, saying I was sorry to Squeeky over and over.

The very, very happy ending to this tale is that Squeeky is spoiled, healthy, thriving and loved in her new home.  Alan sent me an email in the days after I left their home saying “Don’t worry Karen, Elinor has a way of making sure everyone is alright.  I promise Squeeky will be fine.”  Hearing him speak so sweetly about his wife, his words set my mind at ease.

We continue to keep in touch with pictures, Facebook posts and emails all the time.  I am very happy to report Squeeky Diva Cat is doing fantastic, and although I miss her every day, I truly believe this was the right thing for her.  I learned to put my own love of her aside to make sure she had a better quality of life.  But what I’m most proud of is the collaborative effort of love and kindness that went into her re-homing.  We avoided the shelter system, didn’t ask a rescue to take her, and through the grace of the universe and higher power, Squeeky no longer has to worry about a mystery cat behind every door or around every corner.   I gained some very wonderful new friends through the ordeal, and learned that entrusting my pet to new owners can be a positive and rewarding experience when all the stars align just perfectly.

Many thanks to Kelly, Alan and Elinor for loving The Squeek as much as I do.  Bless you!! 10415609_10201556423747228_2093107790168533766_n

Bird, Interrupted.

It never ceases to amaze me how destructive we, as humans, are to this planet.  My efforts are typically focused on dog rescue, but I have recently become interested in bird rescue and found out the following startling, upsetting and very sad statistics about the sale of birds as pets:

  • Prior to 1992 it was a legal and common practice for humans to take many species of parrots from the wild in other countries to be brought here to be kept as pets.  Parrots are native to Africa, Australia, Continental Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Philippines, and Southwest Pacific.  There is no species native to the US. The US native Carolina Parakeet was hunted to extinction by 1939.
  • Post 1992, parrots sold as pets in the US are from breeding mills and private breeders.
  • Parrots can live from 15 to nearly 100 years depending on the the species.  In the wild, parrots are monogamous and become inseparable from their mate for their life.  In the wild they live in flocks, are very social, communicative and territorial.  They fly many miles a day in the wild.
  • Parrots are not domesticated pets like dogs and cats.  They are wild animals.  
  • Parrots DO NOT make good pets!  Simply stated, they belong in the wild, NOT in cages in our homes.
  • The pet industry has threatened the parrot population, and birds kept as pets cannot be returned to the wild. 

As part of my humane education program, visiting both elementary schools and middle schools, I teach students about responsible pet care and respect for nature, among many other topics.  At a recent adoption event, my table was next to a bird rescue organization.  I was drawn to Jen from No Feather Left Behind Rescue because of her friendly demeanor and the colorful love bird she had at her table.  The bird, named Cody had a condition called splay legs which left him unable to stand up and walk. However, he looked quite happy and content in his cozy bed, or cuddled against Jen’s neck. 

While planning my 3rd and final visit of the school year to a wonderful 2nd grade class, I asked Jen if she would like to come along.  She brought Cody, and another bird or hers named Piko and the kids loved learning about birds.  Teaching our younger generations to support bird rescue by adopting a bird and NEVER buying one is an important part of resolving this terrible issue we have created for these majestic, highly intelligent creatures that belong in the wild.  The goal is to stop the sale of birds as pets across the US, shut down breeding programs, and provide rescue, adoption and the best loving environment possible for the many birds that have become discarded, unwanted pets by previous owners.  Once we have properly cared for the remaining birds in rescue, turned off the breeding faucet and finally all agree that having a parrot as a companion is an awful failed experiment by humans, hopefully the parrot population can continue to thrive and left alone to live their beautiful lives freely.  

I sincerely hope this has stirred an interest in you to learn more about this very important animal advocacy topic.  The main take away is to PLEASE ADOPT a bird if you want one as a pet, find a reputable rescue group, and NEVER purchase a parrot!!  To learn more, I highly recommend watching the documentary Parrot Confidential, available just through a google search.  And there is a tremendous amount of information available at http://www.avianwelfare.org

For folks in S. Florida that want to help support bird rescue, contact http://www.nofeatherleftbehind.org

Thanks for caring.

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Hoarder to the Rescue

In the wake of 3 animal hoarding/animal cruelty cases right here in S. Florida in the past 4 weeks, totaling approximately 120 dogs, some cats, a pig, a goat and over 140 birds, I feel compelled to express concern.

How is animal hoarding defined?
The pathological accumuation of animals was first described in [1981] and animal hoarding was formally defined in the public health literature in [1999] using the following criteria:

  • Having more than the typical number of companion animals
  • Failing to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in illness and death from starvation, spread of infectious disease, and untreated injury or medical condition
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling.
  • Persistence, despite this failure, in accumulating and controlling animals

Oddly enough, the thing I find most disturbing about the recent hoarding cases are the humans defending the hoarding behavior, stating that the dogs would have been euthanized were it not for the hoarder.

If you go to a shelter and rescue a dog in urgent need of medical attention because no one else will take the dog…or you rescue a dog with a severe eye infection and limited vision, or a missing eye, or missing limb because they will most likely be put down…and then you do nothing to provide appropriate medical care for that dog and allow it to suffer, are you helping?  Clearly not.  Is this considered animal cruelty under the law?  Yes it is.

Multiply that by 50 or 100 dogs, none of them receiving proper care because of lack of space, resources, time, ability to keep up with the sheer workload of caring for that many animals.  That is hoarding.  Do we then pat the hoarder on the back and say, “but he or she loved those dogs.  No one else wanted them, thankfully this hoarder has a big enough heart to want them all.”  Sadly there are people out there who would rather defend the behavior, even hold them in high regard, than put the dog’s needs first.

We know from the definition above that denial is a big factor in the person doing the hoarding.  But as a community, as humans removed from the situation, shouldn’t we first be the voice for the dogs suffering?  Think about a child having an injury to their eye, severe ear infections, or a horrible skin rash and the parents doing nothing to provide proper medical care.  Would you say, “yes, but those parents love that child.”  Of course not. You, hopefully, would want the child to be helped, first and foremost.

Do you love your dog if you’re allowing it to suffer, day after day?  This is an illness.  And once again, its the animals who suffer.  In the state of Florida where our municipal shelters average a 50% kill rate, and we are in the top 4 worst states for puppy sales, hoarders are in fact contributing to the problem in a huge way.  (Florida, Illinois, New York and Ohio are the top 4 states for highest puppy sales, a new statistic recently published by the HSUS.)

I believe we have to turn off the breeding faucet, and we have to do so on a broad scale quickly.  There are law makers and policy makers trying to outlaw puppy mills.  There are rescues doing what they can to handle the overflow.  Municipal shelters are trying to rally the community to get great pictures of the adoptable pets, post them to social media and have adoption events.  But the simple, easy way to stop the breeding is for people to STOP buying from pet stores and breeders.  Every puppy sold in a pet store, every breeder, whether its a show breeder, backyard breeder, hobby breeder, etc is contributing to the problem.  We have to stop supporting the market.  We have to STOP the demand.  The only way is to stop buying dogs. Buying dogs is killing dogs.  Buying dogs is keeping greedy puppy millers, puppy store owners, and breeders in business. Buying dogs is creating a need for kill shelters.  Buying dogs is providing an endless supply of needy dogs for sick hoarders.  Buying dogs is killing dogs. We can stop this madness.  Each and every one of us can make a choice.  Do not support any business that sells or breeds puppies.  

Think this is extreme? Take a walk through our county funded shelters and meet the sea of pure bred, owner surrenders and strays, already trained, loving, wonderful dogs looking for a home.  Sadly I have met and spoken to countless humans who have done this, who know the truth, know the facts and STILL think its okay to breed.  They STILL think its okay to hoard.  They STILL think its okay to buy a dog.  Our situation is dire.  We created the problem, its up to us to fix it.  As collective consumers we have the power to send a message to pet stores and breeders of all kinds.

There are endless reasons to continue to rescue, adopt, spay, neuter and educate.  Please make your choice count.

http://vet.tufts.edu/hoarding/abthoard.htm

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/crime-law/loxahatchee-woman-whose-56-dogs-pig-goat-were-conf/nfZsB/

http://www.examiner.com/article/hialeah-pet-rescue-owner-charged-with-animal-cruelty-over-horrid-conditions

http://www.cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_14477.shtml

Foster, Failed. (and fell in love)

Liberated from Broward AC just one day before his PTS date.

Liberated from Broward AC just one day before his PTS date.

I would like to be so kind to myself as to say I was a recent foster failure.  But I’m not sure I can even call myself a foster in the traditional sense.  Meaning, I intended to let a dog crash on my couch temporarily, providing for all his needs, while earnestly looking for a perfect forever home for him. And let me begin by saying I have mad, mad respect for all you real fosters out there who are able to welcome into your home a wonderful dog in need, send them off to adoption events and joyfully announce (through tears) their happy new beginning in their new home, then begin the process again with another dog in need. Without you, without these compassionate fosters, so many dogs would not have a chance.  Letting them live in a loving home environment so you can provide a full A&E biography of the dogs quirks and behaviors for potential adopters is saving lives. Period.

That, clearly, is not in my wheelhouse.  I am not capable.  I am ill-equiped for foster-hood.  I seem to fall in love with every dog I meet.  Like a school girl penning  my name + my most recent crush in a heart with an arrow in the back of my three-ringed binder, I envision my life as the caregiver of so many dogs I meet.  As a kid I never owned a doll. I had zero interest in cradling a pretend baby in my arms, feeding it a plastic bottle.  I never owned or would have been caught dead playing with Barbies.  There was nothing less interesting to me than dressing up that skinny, lanky girl with the lifeless eyes and perfect pouty lips.  But my bed was covered in stuffed animals, each one named, with a back story, a personality and treated as a member of my family.  My Dad used to call them my menagerie as he tucked me in at night, each perfect, fluffy animal lined up around my pillow and down the side of my bed along the wall. Heaven.  But I digress.

As an adult with 5 dogs, (the 5th being my first foster failure) I am thrilled to be part of my local rescue community, as well as connected with so many fellow animal lovers and rescue groups nationwide. I’m not quite sure what happened to my senses, or any semblance of good judgement, but when I visited the Broward Animal Care and Adoption center in December to drop off an SUV-load of donations – FILLED to the BRIM – I must have become void of my own self awareness. I actually agreed to the kind offer of the shelter manager when she asked me if I’d like a tour of the facility.  (insert sigh and gasp here)

Yes, I did it.  I not only went back to the adoption area of a municipal shelter with a 60% kill rate, during the holiday season, but I saw where the proverbial sausage was made.  I saw the intake area, the stray holding area, the “tiny kittens in need of foster” area, the feral cat area, and I saw the dogs and cats recently spayed and neutered, recovering through glassy eyes on a balled up blanket of the cement floor or wire cage of their enclosure.  I learned that I was not allowed to touch or pet any of the animals in the stray holding area because they had not yet been temperament tested.  I learned that none of the dogs are allowed to have toys because they fight over them. I saw row after row of pit bulls, small chihuahuas, some with health issues. In the adoption area, rows of the some of the nicest, friendliest, most wonderful dogs you could ever dream of.  Three to a cage. All waiting for a chance to be adopted.  Needless to say, I was sufficiently traumatized by this experience and I’m not sure I will ever fully recover.

Again, mad, mad respect for the volunteers who work at the shelter.  I simply could not do it. Have you ever seen those images of the before and after meth addicts?  I feel like that would be me after a month of working at a municipal shelter. I would be this unrecognizable, haggered, unkempt, shadow of my former self from the torment of emotion.

While enduring the tour, through a sea of wet noses and hopeful eyes, a little face of a little dog reached out and grabbed my attention like a lightening bolt from the sky.  A small, lanky, underweight, brown, white and tan tri-color Rat Terrier with a nubby tail and such optimism in his eyes it broke my heart into a million pieces.  He was listed as urgent.  Ugh. He had come in as a stray on November 9th. (I had just come from the awful stray holding area.  To think of him in there for 10 days waiting to be claimed was like a kick in the stomach.) It was now December 18th.  “Out of time.” “Such a nice dog.” “Keeps getting passed over”  “Great with other dogs.”  These were the phrases floating in the air around me from the shelter volunteer and manager giving me the tour.  I was now holding “Ritz” the name given to him at the shelter.  To say he was sweet was an understatement. His lanky long back legs hung down as I held him up to my face, kissing him and petting him close to me.  One arm held his body, the other hand I placed under his adorable feet.  I will never forget the look of his silly long legs and the feel of his yummy cheek against mine.  I actually looked him in the eyes and said “I am not going to let you die here.”

I was his only hope. I was now invested in this little 13 lb. dog listed as urgent.

I have five dogs already, I have to be fair to them.  I can’t just add more dogs to my pack every time I see a dog in need.  There are too many.  But that face.  What can I do?  I have to find him a foster. I have to get a rescue to pull him.

Leaving him behind in the shelter, tears in my eyes, my heart broken…I got home and started emailing, posting, texting, calling, networking for anyone and everyone who could help.  Please can someone foster this guy?  All day the following day, please can someone foster?

I called the shelter and found out that he was scheduled to be killed Sunday at 4pm.  It was Thursday. My heart sank.  The lump in my throat was choking me.

Finally, a foster home.  Not ideal, she already had 2 other fosters, plus her own dog.  She works during the day and the dogs are crated.  A wonderfully kind and amazing woman opening up her home to help Ritz.  Ok. Whew.  Scrambling, please email the shelter to put the rescue hold…confirming the hold, please take him off the euth list.  Please don’t let anything happen to him.  An emotional roller coaster ride for 2 days.

Saturday morning I was back at the shelter five minutes before they opened.  Still licking my wounds from the tour, this time I stayed in the lobby.  This was no walk in the park…while standing there I saw 3 stray dogs being dropped off.  Scared, confused, adorable dogs just beginning their journey into this place.  I can’t take anymore. I squat down to pet them and say its gonna be okay.  But is it?  I have to focus on Ritz.

Finally…the big gray door opens and out he comes.  Lanky, skinny, optimistic and adorable, he walks by me in the confusion of all the people.  I scoop him up and hug him, his ears go back, a little smile, maybe he remembers me.  Now I’m crying. scrunched up face, smiling, happy, relieved, teary eyed, I hold him tight. I hug the shelter volunteer who brought him out to me. I put on his new harness and collar.  My friend who drove with me to the shelter meets Ritz, takes pics and videos to capture the moment.  I walk him through the lobby like a king that he is.  He sits on my lap licking my face, snuggling against me, watching out the window as we drive. His freedom ride. I’m getting attached with every minute that passes.  Okay, he’s safe. He out.  He’s alive.  He has a chance.  Whew.  We did it.  Keep your head on straight, let’s get him to the foster home.  That was the plan.

I set up his crate. (heart sinking) I drop off the treats and toys and bed I got him.  I ask for updates.  He’s in a nice home with other small dogs who are being nice to him.  He’s out of the shelter.

I leave. By that evening I cannot stop crying.  Sobbing.  My friend laughs, what on Earth is wrong?  “I just abandoned him.  I let him bond to me for an hour in the car, then I dropped him off and left him.  Like I didn’t even care.”  I say through my sobs and nose blowing.

“You saved his life!” My friend says, smiling and patting me on the back.

“But then I abandoned him.”

Sigh. “Under no circumstances are you to go back into that shelter or any shelter ever again.  Look at you.”

“I know.  I know.  I can’t take it.  I am so traumatized…”  Words are being stretched out dramatically through my sobbing.

I endure 5 days of updates, including an entire day of him being at an adoption event at a local Petco.  OMG.  What if some random person comes in and adopts him?  What if he goes to a house where they don’t love him. Okay, let’s be reasonable, he’s safe. He survived the kill shelter.  But, how can I be sure he’s going to a nice home?

I can’t take another day. The following Friday, one week later I call the foster and announce that I am going to foster him.  Back in the car, pack up the crate, pack up his toys, back on my lap, kisses and hugs…

It’s okay, I’m going to foster him myself.  I can find him a home.  He’s so highly adoptable. He so great, it will be easy.  This way I can see where he’s going. I can meet the family, I can stay in touch with them and prove to myself and the world that I can, in fact, successfully foster a dog.  I can do it.  Posting pictures, updates, tagging people, help share this great dog, he’s looking for his forever home.

Yes, I kept up the facade for 2 months.  Friends who know me and many who only know me through Facebook all played along.  Okay Karen, sure. You are “fostering” Tucker.  (His new name given to him by his first foster mom.)  We’ll play along.  How’s the “fostering” going, they would ask.  Fine, fine! I’m taking him to the equestrian center to walk around.  My friend pointed out that I wasn’t trying very hard – where was his “Adopt me” vest or bandana?

Well the simple fact is, Tucker was mine the second I saw him at the shelter that day. Without the support of my rescue community, and rescue organizations with a network of foster homes I might not have felt empowered to save him.  In hindsight, yes, I should have just adopted him the day I saw him. But I wanted to be responsible.  What if I brought him home and he couldn’t get along with my pack?  So many “what ifs.”  But this little dog stole my heart, and to me he is the face of so many shelter dogs.

Tucker is house trained, great on the leash, great in the car, wonderful with ALL dogs, neutral and polite to cats, amazing with kids, gentle personality, very playful, independent but loving, well mannered.  These were the things I wrote on his posts when I was pretending to “foster” him, all the while convincing myself that he should just stay right here with me.  How did THIS dog end up lost from his family?  How did THIS dog end up one day from being killed in our county shelter?  These questions are so difficult to face as an animal advocate.  A pure bred dog, small, well trained and well mannered, scheduled to be killed.  It makes no sense. He wasn’t a sob story of abuse or neglect, he hadn’t been injured, saved from a puppy mill or found nearly dead in the woods.  He was an instantly perfect family pet.  A pure bred rat terrier with removed dew claws, a docked tail and impeccable obedience. And he barely made it out of our tax funded “shelter”

Since meeting Tucker and welcoming him into my heart and home, I can now speak from personal experience about our county shelters.  Something very valuable to my humane education program.  Because of Tucker I have researched and educated myself about tail docking and ear cropping and now teach about this topic to middle and high school kids, and adults who will listen.  Because of Tucker I have another rescue dog to bring to elementary school classrooms to show kids how special it is to adopt a dog.

Because of Tucker my heart is fuller, my days have more joy and my life has more meaning.  Please open your heart and home to a shelter dog.  You may be their only hope.