Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"No-Kill" Animal Shelters: Heaven or Hell?

Recently, the commissioners in Brevard County, FL (population: 500,000+) "dictated" to the new, incoming county manager to hire an animal services director who "understands the no-kill shelter management philosophy." And I was amazed...

I still can’t believe how many ignore Brevard’s statistics when it comes to promoting such a policy. Whether the program is phased in or not, this county simply does not have enough space in its "open intake" facilities for such an undertaking, not to mention the fact that the two shelters we do have - 50 miles apart, mind you - are beyond decrepit.

Neither do we have a proactive county government regarding animal issues as it is not willing to fork over the necessary dollars to fund such an endeavor. Nor do we have a proactive Animal Services department in that homeless pets are never "promoted" (as in adoption events); both shelters are closed on Sundays; volunteers & rescue groups have been basically shunned and/or stymied in their efforts; foster homes are few & far between; and, to date, county employees can barely handle the duties they have now, let alone if we become "no kill."

As a former shelter employee, it would be a pipe dream to see this policy implemented. However, under the present circumstances - and learning from past history after living here 45 years - it would be more than "cruel & unusual" to see our homeless animals languishing in filthy cages, suffering anxiety & terror daily, and crammed together like so many pieces of discarded furniture just so we can tout that we're "no kill."

I agree with Commissioner Anderson on this one. Privatize the shelters, thereby allowing those knowledgeable in such operations to take over. And merging animal/code enforcement would likewise increase the amount of officers in the field to do what has been lacking for too long: Enforce the law. Maybe then we’d see some real progress on this most emotional - and very sad - issue.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summertime Blues

Driving home during a terrible downpour, there he was zigzagging down the middle of the highway. Cars were veering sideways, horns blasting and brakes screeching like banshees. Scaring him more than he already was, the terrified dog made it to the side of the road, then ran like hell home. (Yes, we stopped to help; no, he wouldn’t come near us; yes, I’ve seen him since and he’s okay).

However, with the glut of information disseminated about the effect fireworks has on pets, you’d think most people would realize that - especially for dogs and cats - a Florida summer day can be just as stressful because crackling afternoon noisemakers occur more often than not.

So, why oh why, do some insist on leaving their pets alone outside when a major storm is approaching? Cats, at least, can usually find a semi-enclosed space to hide though I‘m sure they‘re still scared stiff. For fenced-in dogs with no cover, their fear overtakes all. As a result, they’ll dig/jump/climb…..anything to escape.

Admittedly, not all pets are afraid of thunder and lightning, yet who among us would want to be totally exposed to the treacherous elements of a bad storm? I mean - besides being worried - I was mad as a wet hen as we were running around with lightning popping every few seconds and getting drenched to boot trying to save this poor creature from getting smashed to smithereens.

I understand that Florida’s summer storms can come on quickly, with scant warning to us humans. However, with their superior sense of hearing and smell, animals know long before we do that a weather disturbance is approaching and try to seek shelter accordingly. Again, if that means busting out of the yard to find safe haven, they’ll do so in a heartbeat.

My bottom line is that I don’t believe pets should ever be left outside for extended periods without easy access to the inside of the house or screened porch at all times, whatever the weather.

I repeat: Dogs and cats are dependent on us for every little thing; they are meant to be members of the family. Ergo, would you leave your kids unattended in a sweltering car or out in the yard during a mini-tropical storm, even for a few minutes?

I hope to God no one answers "yes" to that question…

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 4th of July: Fireworks.....and Fear

Although I have no clue when or why thunderous fireworks became an integral part of celebrating Independence Day, you probably don’t want to know where I’d like to stick those Roman candles. And I imagine your pets feel the same way….tenfold.

As animals possess extraordinary senses, just envision what the continuous flash-boom-bang of explosive firecrackers does to your dogs, cats, horses and other creatures. In most cases, I can guarantee you that the hellacious noise elicits a “fight or flight” response. Neither of which is pretty if it means your dog busts out a window, your cat climbs the drapes, or your horse bolts through the barn, all of them in the throes of panic.

So to pre-empt some of these instinctual reactions, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the very real stress - and pain - this holiday can create.

First and foremost, please keep your pets indoors. And that includes horses and other farm animals; they should be securely sheltered. In addition, your dogs and cats should wear their ID tags during this time even if they’ll be hiding under the bed or cowering in the kitchen as - again - their first instinct is to flee.

Secondly, if you’re planning on attending the local light show, don’t even think about taking your dogs with you. Leave them at home with the cats; turn the TV on or play soft music to mitigate any outside sounds; and, if possible, put them in a place where their avenue of escape is very limited (I.e., away from windows, glass doors, etc.).

If you’re like me - someone who will definitely not be out reveling - and will be home with your pets, simply talk reassuringly to them if they become anxious or agitated. For as much as you’d like to cuddle or hold them, this can actually reinforce their fear as they are being inadvertently “rewarded” for their behavior. Believe me, been there, done that, and this “training by accident” is very hard to undo.

Last but not least: Picnics and backyard barbeques are a huge part of July 4th celebrations, especially when the holiday occurs on a weekend. And these venues usually mean spare ribs, burgers and onions, hot dogs and mustard, spicy baked beans and potato salad, beer…..absolutely none of which should find its way down an animal’s throat.

Pork rib bones are easily splintered and can shred stomachs to ribbons. Onions are extremely toxic to dogs and cats. And a mustard-mayo-Miller Lite combo can cause diarrhea. In other words, don’t you - or the kids - share with your pets in order for them to “feel the love“ because, at the very least, they‘ll most likely vomit.

Bottom line: With a few precautions and a lot of common sense, you can save yourself a ton of grief by being proactive and protecting your pets from the potential hazards of this holiday. Trust me, they won’t care one whit if they never see a sparkler again…

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Chains of Fools...

Lately, I have received a few messages asking for help regarding an issue that concerns and disturbs me greatly: that of chaining dogs.

For the life of me, I will never understand why people get a dog and then promptly tie it up outside to pace and whine and cry, day in and day out, in a man-made hell.

Allowing dogs much-needed time in a fenced yard for awhile to get fresh air and sunshine is fine and dandy. However, chaining them outside 24/7 is beyond criminal.

And I do not - repeat, do not - want to hear the flimsy excuses for such banishment that range from new carpet, the smell, the hair, animals don’t belong in the house, yada, yada, because all it makes me want to do is slap someone.

As you already know, I believe pets are meant to be members of the family, period. Dogs especially are definitely not meant to be relegated to a long and lonely existence tied to a stake in the backyard as they are pack animals by nature.

I do not care if some proclaim that as long as there is a doghouse, a food dish and a water bowl near by (which, unfortunately, are all the requirements needed to pass muster with most animal control departments) that everything is copasetic. For, make no mistake, tethering a dog for most of its lifetime is undeniable and blatant animal cruelty.

Furthermore, it is a proven fact that chained dogs are far more apt to be biters. How many cases have you heard about involving “tied” dogs who attacked anyone who came near? Ever wonder why?

Well, as they say, perception is everything. As a rule, trapped animals will try to defend themselves from any perceived danger. Ergo, in a chained-dog’s perception - be it a pit bull or a poodle - he is most certainly “trapped” and you could very well be looking at a serious bite waiting to happen.

As I write, there are many communities throughout the country that have passed laws banning inhumane tethering; others are in the process of doing so or are, at least, considering such legislation.

I am in total agreement. Instead of banning certain breeds, I believe with all my heart that we should be concentrating on the people who perpetuate aggressive, anti-social behavior in man’s most loyal and loving best friend by fining them to the hilt, removing the dog, and never allowing them to own another. Ever.

For as someone who views life as one giant opportunity to assist all creatures great and small, not to mention one who can’t stand the thought of any animal in fear or distress, I can do no less than to “attack” those who cause their suffering…..and you know who you are.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Homeless Wild Babies

They're at it again. Big crane, lots of chainsaws, falling branches. A neighbor's taking down a huge and glorious tree, no doubt with a nest or two along with it.

Before I go any further, one thing I will never understand is, if some are so compelled to "kill" their trees, why then don't they do the dirty deed in the dead of winter when the trees are basically leafless and not providing much shelter or food for the animals who call them home?

Anyway, because it is the season for many wild babies to enter this world, accidents can and do happen. So, if need be, we can help by returning the tiny, naked bird to its nest or leave the screaming infant squirrel alone till mommy races down the tree to retrieve it.

But what if there is no tree? No nest anymore, no home? What if this precious, innocent life is literally grounded for good?

Although I'll expound on this subject at a later date, right now I'm talking primarily about newborns that have literally lost their "tree house" due to man-made or natural causes. No matter the situation, it is imperative that you have the name and number of a qualified wildlife rehabilitator and/or sanctuary close at hand.

For don't even think about keeping a wild baby. Or feeding it, or watering it. Simply keep it warm and quiet. Then deliver it, as soon as possible, to someone who knows exactly what to do so that baby can survive, thrive and be returned to its natural world where it belongs.

In the meantime, if you hear the lonesome dove mourning, apologize to her for the traumatic havoc the human race seems hell-bent to wreak on the animal kingdom.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Recently, three people in one day asked me about the criteria I use in choosing a vet. One was seeking a second opinion about their dog who’d been diagnosed with bone cancer; another was worried about a new vet taking over her long-time doctor’s practice; one was asking about a vet who would show the utmost compassion when performing euthanasia.

Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of veterinarians. Some I’ve loved dearly; others, I wouldn’t step through their door again if they paid me. But, for the most part, my decision to see a certain vet depended on the animal that I had at the time. And that decision was admittedly made through trial and error.

For example: My dog is a handful. She is highly intelligent yet also extremely high-strung. Although 12-years-old, she’s still skittish as hell when it comes to going to the vet‘s office. Consequently, I had to visit three different vets before I found the one I consider to be the best animal doctor on God’s green earth.

However - be it time, finances, or not too many to choose from - I realize that not everyone has the option of being so "picky." Yet, if you do, here are some things I’ve learned:

Number One: When contacting a new vet for any reason, pay very close attention to that initial phone call. Are you put on hold for "ever"? Does the staff member respond to your questions with knowledge? With patience? Is their attitude one of sincere concern? Or one of "hurry up and hang up"?Understandably, vet’s offices can be very busy places. However, that should not preclude the fact that you are a pet owner who needs help. In other words, if you are shuffled off to Muzak-land or barked at like you’re the dog, let your fingers do the walking and call someone else.

Number Two: Okay. So you’ve made it past the front door and are waiting to see the doctor. Are you twiddling your thumbs in the examining room for another "forever" while your pet becomes increasingly agitated? Is the vet tech who comes in to do the preliminary vitals in a speed race to get to the next patient, leaving you to anxiously twiddle some more?

Number Three: The vet. Is he/she loving, patient, compassionate no matter if your stressed-out dog is a clawing maniac or your scared cat is a hissing witch? Or are they a "wham, bam, thank-you, ma’am" who keeps watching their watch?

Bottom line: The vet I see now is a wonder, most definitely to the profession born. So is her staff. If you can’t say the same, I hope you have the wherewithal to keep searching. For my Maggie’s sake - and my sanity - I’m so glad I did.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Don't Breed; Don't Buy.....ADOPT!!

Received the following email that is circulating the "animal" world.....Have no clue who wrote it but I'm posting it in its entirety as the message needs to be taken to heart by ALL breeders (yeah, right) in addition to those who are considering acquiring a pet through ANY breeder (pet store/puppy mills, show dog breeders, backyard breeders, etc.):

A Letter from a Shelter Manager -

I think our society needs a huge "wake-up" call. As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all...a view from the inside if you will. First off, all of you breeders/sellers should be made to work in the "back" of an animal shelter for just one day. Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would change your mind about breeding and selling to people you don't even know.

That puppy you just sold will most likely end up in my shelter when it's not a cute little puppy anymore. So how would you feel if you knew that there's about a 90% chance that dog will never walk out of the shelter where it's been dumped? Purebred or not! About 50% of all of the dogs that are "owner surrenders" or "strays" that come into my shelter are purebred dogs.

The most common excuses I hear are: "We are moving and we can't take our dog (or cat)." Really? Where are you moving that doesn't allow pets? Or they say, "The dog got bigger than we thought it would." How big did you think a German Shepherd would get? "We don't have time for her." Really? I work a 10-12 hour day and still have time for my 6 dogs! "She's tearing up our yard." How about making her a part of your family? They always tell me, "We just don't want to have to stress about finding a place for her. We know she'll get adopted, she's a good dog." Odds are your pet won't get adopted & how stressful do you think being in a shelter is?

Well, let me tell you, your pet has 72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off. Sometimes a little longer if the shelter isn't full and your dog manages to stay completely healthy. If it sniffles, it dies. Your pet will be confined to a small run/kennel in a room with about 25 other barking or crying animals. It will have to relieve itself where it eats and sleeps. It will be depressed and it will cry constantly for the family that abandoned it. If your pet is lucky, I will have enough volunteers in that day to take him/her for a walk. If I don't, your pet won't get any attention besides having a bowl of food slid under the kennel door and the waste sprayed out of its pen with a high-powered hose.

If your dog is big, black or any of the "bully" breeds (pit bull, rottie, mastiff, etc.), it was pretty much dead when you walked it through the front door. Those dogs just don't get adopted. It doesn't matter how 'sweet' or 'well behaved' they are. If your dog doesn't get adopted within its 72 hours and the shelter is full, it will be destroyed. If the shelter isn't full and your dog is good enough, and of a desirable enough breed it may get a stay of execution, but not for long. Most dogs get very kennel protective after about a week and are destroyed for showing aggression. Even the sweetest dogs will turn in this environment.

If your pet makes it over all of those hurdles chances are it will get kennel cough or an upper respiratory infection and will be destroyed because shelters just don't have the funds to pay for even a $100 treatment.

Here's a little Euthanasia 101 for those of you that have never witnessed a perfectly healthy, scared animal being "put-down." First, your pet will be taken from its kennel on a leash. They always look like they think they are going for a walk. Happy, wagging their tails. Until they get to "The Room" where every one of them freaks out and puts on the brakes when we get to the door. It must smell like death or they can feel the sad souls that are left in there. It's strange, but it happens with every one of them.

Your dog or cat will be restrained, held down by 1 or 2 vet techs depending on the size and how freaked out they are. Then a euthanasia tech or a vet will start the process. They will find a vein in the front leg and inject a lethal dose of the "pink stuff." Hopefully your pet doesn't panic from being restrained and jerk. I've seen the needles tear out of a leg and been covered with the resulting blood and been deafened by the yelps and screams. They all don't just "go to sleep," as sometimes they spasm for a while, gasp for air and defecate on themselves.

When it all ends, your pet's corpse will be stacked like firewood in a large freezer in the back with all of the other animals that were killed, waiting to be picked up like garbage. What happens next? Cremated? Taken to the dump? Rendered into pet food? You'll never know and it probably won't even cross your mind. It was just an animal and you can always buy another one, right?

I hope that those of you that have read this are bawling your eyes out and can't get the pictures out of your head, those I deal with every day on the way home from work. I hate my job, I hate that it exists & I hate that it will always be there unless you people make some changes and realize that the lives you are affecting go much farther than the pets you dump at a shelter. Between 9 and 11 MILLION animals die every year in shelters and only you can stop it. I do my best to save every life I can but rescues are always full, and there are more animals coming in every day than there are homes.

My point to all of this is DON'T BREED OR BUY WHILE SHELTER PETS DIE! Hate me if you want to. The truth hurts and reality is what it is. I just hope I may have changed one person's mind about breeding their dog, buying a dog, or taking their loving pet to a shelter because they never should've taken on a dog/cat in the first place.

I hope that someone will walk into my shelter and say "I saw this and it made me want to adopt." That would make what I do worth it.....

Note from The Animal Advocate: This letter makes me really think a mandatory - and enforceable - spay/neuter ordinance in every county, in every state, should be enacted.....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pit Bulls: Another Side to the Story

Not long ago, a friend of mine met a woman walking her young pit bull and stopped to talk. Dog was wearing a prong collar. Friend asked if that wasn’t cruel. Woman replied it was “normal” for pits.....

That, in a nutshell, says volumes about why most pit bulls get a bad rap for being mean, vicious animals. A pronged collar normal?? I suppose she feeds him jalapeno peppers for dinner and a crushed kitten for dessert.

I am so very sick and tired of hearing that pit bulls should be banned, exterminated, wiped off the planet. I have been around dogs all my life; have worked with dogs for years at an animal shelter and I can count on one hand the ‘bad’ pits I came across.

On the other hand, the nastiest canine I ever met was a tiny Yorkie who bit every ankle he came in contact with. I despised that dog and that‘s a sad commentary coming from someone like me.

Yet, two of the sweetest I’ve ever known was a pit bull pup named Sam and an old lady named Dolly. Two extremely gentle dogs with different owners. That ought to tell you something right there.

Meaning, it is irresponsible people who take an innocent puppy and turn it into a ferocious and fearful animal. And though it is true that some dogs have aggressive tendencies, these traits are not breed specific.

I find it truly amazing that with millions of dog bites reported every year, it is the pit bull that usually makes the headlines. Their reputation is so tarnished by bad owners creating bad dogs that it should be a no-brainer where the fault lies.

The true culprit in this sorry mess is, was, and always will be, people who - through either ignorance or cruelty - have created a monster out of this much-maligned breed. Witness Michael Vick.

And let’s just go one step further and look at Michael Vick’s rehabilitated “fighters” that are now in the process of becoming loving pets. Because the fact of the matter is that any dog will bite under certain circumstances so it is narrow-minded prejudice that focuses solely on pit bulls and other large breeds.

Something I’ll never see, but wish with all my heart, is for the day to come when it will be the owners that require a license instead of the dog. Rather than breed-specific legislation, I’d love to see a law banning rotten owners.

A law that will never allow any dog to be given or sold to anyone who fails to live up to the lifetime responsibility and commitment of providing love, care, shelter and sustenance, training and socialization for one of the most fabulous creatures on this earth…and that includes pit bulls.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff...

After reading one of my columns regarding shelter adoptions, I received a message from a lady arguing about how “expensive and time-consuming” it has become to acquire a dog or cat from a humane organization vs. the hassle-free purchase of a pet through a commercial establishment.

Naturally, being the mouth that I am, I responded at great length and I’m going to share.

Where, oh where, does this person think shelters/rescue groups get much of their “inventory?” And why?

The majority of companion animals relinquished to humane societies once belonged to possibly well-intentioned, yet ultimately irresponsible, people - many of whom bought from pet stores.

They are those who couldn’t have cared less if their pets were spayed/neutered (thereby producing litter upon potentially-homeless litter); those who chained or penned the dog in the back yard or who let their cats roam free (instead of keeping them in the house where they belonged); those who moved and dumped the dog or canned the cat just like any other disposable item.

These are the heartbreaking conditions that shelter personnel face day after day and do not want to see reoccur. Heartbreaking because those animals that cannot be “re-placed” into responsible homes will most likely be euthanized.

Although some may think that it’s a royal pain in the butt to be “screened” before adopting a shelter/rescue animal, these rules are enforced to hopefully prevent the revolving door syndrome; to ensure to the best of the organization’s ability the adoption will be a lifetime success in that the pet will be forever loved and cared for.

Obviously, you can bypass the personal questions, sidle up to a pet store counter, and plunk that platinum down. And, to be honest, you may be offering that puppy or kitten the best home money can buy.

Yet the reality is that when no one is terribly concerned where that animal is going and when the almighty dollar is the bottom line, odds are that some of those dependent creatures are headed for misery.

Shelter employees are not in the business to make things difficult for potential adopters. In fact, they’re not in so-called business, period.

Money taken in through donations and adoption fees is funneled right back through the system, one designed to provide temporary safe haven for discarded pets while they patiently wait for that special someone to show up.

All my dogs have come from humane societies and I was more than willing to pass inspection, if you will, as it proved to me that shelter personnel were not simply trying to clear their shelves for new stock.

Frankly, adopting an animal should not be an easy process. Dogs and cats are living, breathing entities that require - and deserve - a lifetime commitment.

So if any of you really think that shelters should ease up on personal questions that range from asking if you have a fenced yard to inquiring if you can afford all pet-related expenses, or that there shouldn‘t be a waiting period or follow-up visit, then I suggest you visit the euthanasia room just one time.

Believe me, if that doesn’t change your tune, the only pet you should have is a rock.