A Good Petsitter: Priceless

A couple of years ago, my boss wanted to send me on a last minute trip to New Orleans. Never mind that I hate New Orleans (I have my reasons…), what was I supposed to do with my animals on such short notice?

Not being a pet person, my boss innocently offered to pay for boarding. (Which, admittedly, was nice of him). However…

So I had to explain to him that boarding special needs pets is not a good plan, and in the case of my emotionally fragile, epileptic, one-eyed, behaviorally challenged little biter, boarding is flat impossible, due to his habit of going completely berserk in a cage.

At the time, I was between sitters, because I had two medically high maintenance dogs, one of whom also had major behavioral issues due to trauma in his previous life. It was hard enough to find a sitter who was willing to handle the responsibility of their assorted medical issues; finding one who could handle Bumble’s behavioral issues was a much bigger challenge. He was profoundly territorial, terrified of leaving the house without me, protective of his medically fragile sister, and generally hell on four short little furry legs when dealing with anyone but me. And if he got too upset, odds were good that he would have an epileptic seizure.

I went through several people before I found Stacy. Stacy took his peculiarities in stride, was amused by his tantrums, and completely unfazed by his cranky attitude. She put in the time to learn how to manage him, worked at earning his trust, and now can even pick him up and carry him – a privilege few can claim. Stacy didn’t flinch from their assorted medical problems, learned to compound their medications, and was more help than I can explain when Bunny was terminally ill. And I also have the comfort of knowing my animals are safely at home, in their own environment.

Need a petsitter? First, ask your friends who they use. Ask your vet for suggestions – most vets know the best petsitters in their neighborhoods. Then check online – Petsitter International is where I found Stacy. Ask for references, and then check them. Have your petsitter come over a couple of times while you’re home to see how your animals respond, and how she responds to them.

Remember that whomever you hire to take care of your pets will have keys to your home, the codes to your alarm system, and most importantly, the responsibility for keeping your furry family safe and happy. A good petsitter is truly priceless.

How to Help…

As we discussed last time, most animal people think No Kill is the way to go, and consequently are more likely to donate money and time to those shelters claiming no kill status. I hope that I’ve shed a little light on the weaknesses of the no kill ideology. So now, let’s talk about what the average animal lover can do to help any program.

DONATE MONEY. Choose an animal shelter or rescue group whose mission meets with your approval, and support it regularly. Many groups have monthly subscription programs that will automatically charge the amount of your choice to your credit card or bank account. This type of donation is vitally important, because steady repeat contributions make it easier for organizations to plan their budgets.

DONATE TIME. Shelters and rescues depend heavily on volunteers. To do what? Clean cages, wash and groom dogs, walk and play with dogs, help potential adopters fill out paperwork, transport animals, attend adoption events, raise funds, take pictures for the paper and internet, collect donations of food and supplies, deal with the media…the list is endless, and every volunteer can find something that is a good fit for your talents.

EDUCATE. Talk to people about animal welfare. Encourage people to adopt their pets instead of buying from pet stores or off the side of the road. Promote spay and neuter programs. Know where to tell people to take that puppy they found on their way to work. And know the facts to back up the information you share.

RAISE AWARENESS…and funds…and stuff. Does your workplace have a charity program? Does your child’s school support the local shelter? Can you do something as simple as putting a donation jar in the break room at work? Many companies have matching donation programs, so that if the employees raise $1000, the company will donate another $1000. Other options include food drives, collecting supplies like bedding and leashes, sponsoring vet care for a special needs dog in rescue, asking local pet supply stores to donate food nearing its expiration to shelters…the options are endless.

So if you’re ready to help, find what works for you, and get creative.

Is No Kill Really…No Kill?

“No Kill” is the supposed Holy Grail of the shelter world. Certain people in the animal welfare world claim that if shelter employees work harder, publicize more, and make a real commitment to the concept, it is truly possible to find homes for every adoptable animal that comes through the shelter doors.

I wish.

First, No Kill advocates promise homes to every “adoptable” animal. But how do they define adoptable? I’d like to know that too. Many ostensibly No Kill shelters skew their numbers drastically by reducing the population of “adoptable” animals through unreasonable “tests” based on behavioral evaluation, appearance, and health of the animal. If an animal can be deemed unadoptable, then it can be euthanized without jeopardizing the shelter’s claim to No Kill status.

And that is just one of the ways in which the No Kill premise fails.

Let’s look at what else can go wrong. Many shelters genuinely believe that it is possible to achieve true No Kill status, but eventually the inevitable happens. They run out of room. At this point, a No Kill shelter can do one of three things.

1. Admit the experiment failed, and euthanize for space.
2. Refuse to accept new animals until cage space opens through adoption of existing animals.
3. Accept new animals and consequently create a serious overcrowding problem.

Most No Kill shelters will not go with the first choice, either because they are true believers in No Kill, or because euthanizing for space would be career suicide for the shelter’s director. The second route is more ethically congruent with what No Kill advocates purport to believe, but then what happens to the animals turned away? They may end up at the nearest kill shelter, or dumped on the side of the road, or worse. It’s passing the buck. The third option can have catastrophic consequences; one such case in Las Vegas in 2007 resulted in the mass euthanasia of roughly 1000 animals. They were all ill from contagious diseases proliferated by the hoarder-quality overcrowding in the shelter, and a judge ordered the mass kill.

No Kill, sadly, is just not a viable option for most high intake municipal or county shelters. It will only work consistently in limited populations where it is possible to control intake and support high levels of adoption.

I don’t like it any more than you do. I would love for No Kill to truly work. And certainly the No Kill theories on increasing adoptions and educating communities are solid. But the hard truth remains: until we reduce the population of unwanted pets through adoptions, spay/neuter initiatives, and community education, there will continue to be more pets than homes.

Are you doing your part to help?

(We’ll talk about ways to help next time…)

Another Lost Dog

Yesterday evening, I was sitting in my living room when I heard someone calling a dog. Honestly, it sounded like he was standing under my window, so I went outside to see what was going on. A guy from a couple of blocks over was walking up and down calling his dog while his wife put up flyers.

The story went like this: their purebred shar-pei, a housedog who rarely goes outside, had disappeared sometime yesterday morning. They had put her outside in a fenced yard with a locked gate while they were getting ready for work. When they went to bring her in, she was gone. The kids waiting for the schoolbus had seen her, but being kids, they didn’t know where she went after that. So her people had both called in to work and had spent the day visiting the local shelters and driving around trying to find her.

Now they were taping flyers to every stop sign in the subdivision with the dog’s name, picture, and their phone number.

Me: “Is she microchipped?”
Them: “No, but she will be as soon as we find her.”
Me: “Is she wearing a collar or tags?”
Them: “No, she never goes outside.”
Me: (SIGH.)

So I gave them directions to the four closest vet’s offices, as people often bring found dogs in, and I also suggested a couple of nearby neighborhoods to check. One lost dog I found was actually ten miles from home when I picked him up, so they needed to expand their search area.

Accidents do happen, and they are not always avoidable. But most lost dogs happen due to owner error.

A few reminders about how to keep this from happening to your pet:

1. Microchip all pets. If your vet charges high fees, most local shelters will do it very inexpensively.
2. Keep identification on your pet at all times. I don’t like jingle tags, so Bumble wears a Boomerang tag, which clips flat to a harness or collar. Bumble’s information includes his name, my number, the vet’s name and number, and the fact that he has seizures.
3. Make sure fences are secure and gates are locked. This is a deterrent to keep meter readers, children, and other trespassers from “accidentally” letting pets escape.
4. Never let pets wander unconfined and unsupervised, even for a few minutes.

When I left the house early this morning, all the flyers were gone. I’m really hoping that means that they found Sasha, not that the neighborhood curmudgeon had taken them down as he made his morning rounds in his golfcart.

The Dog Park: Good Idea?

Dog parks seem to be growing in popularity all over the place lately. People take their pets for play dates at the park the way people used to take their children. And just like children, not all dogs know how to behave in the park.

Before anyone who knows me points it out, yes, Bumble is one of those animals that does not know how to behave in the park. It would be too stressful for him, and honestly, he would probably have an epileptic seizure right there in the middle of the park. So he stays home.

However, if you are going to the park with your dog, I have a few suggestions.

The dogs are off leash. This sounds wonderful – all that freedom and fun – but it can be a bit overwhelming for some dogs, especially small or timid dogs. Big dogs may find themselves bullied by tiny yapping poodles, or your little dog may be harassed by someone’s ill-mannered Great Dane. It’s your job to protect your dog from the other dogs and people, and it is also your job to make sure your pet doesn’t hurt or provoke anyone else.

Don’t be THAT owner – the one whose dog doesn’t mind, who doesn’t clean up after the dog, who laughs when your dog picks on someone else’s pet.

Don’t feed your dog at the park. Training treats are fine, but don’t whip out a bowl of food or a rawhide chew. Most parks prohibit feeding, and it can so easily provoke the other animals.

Make sure that your dog comes when called in a variety of situations before you take him to join the party at the park. You have to have good voice control of your pet.

Don’t bring young puppies, unvaccinated dogs, injured dogs, or dogs in heat to the park. (Your dog should generally be spayed or neutered anyway, but that’s an issue for another day.)

Keep a leash in hand, in case you need to remove your dog quickly, either because of his behavior or that of another dog.

Above all, trust your instincts, as well as those of your pet. If your pet dislikes another animal, separate them. If you see that an owner is not in good control of his pet, keep yours away. If there is something in the park – fencing, water hazard, litter – that you view as a potential danger, avoid it.

It’s just like taking a kid to the park. Be vigilant, make your “kid” follow the rules, watch for hazards, and sit back and laugh while your pet has fun with his buddies.