How Can I help?

Recently I posted a comment on Facebook about a couple of rescue groups and shelters being in need of donations.  A friend immediately replied that she would be happy to help, but didn’t know what kind of help they needed.

Well, let me help you with that!

What shelters and rescues need:

Adopters and fosters

Every animal adopted from a shelter or rescue makes room for one more incoming animal to have a chance at life.  It’s that basic. 

Animals have to come out of the shelters and rescues in order to make room for the new ones (who arrive every single day).  This is why county and municipal shelters often have no choice but to have maximum times for animals in residence; animals that have been there for “too long” have to be euthanized to make room for the incoming ones.  If one goes home with you, that’s one less that dies.

Not in a position to adopt?  Shelters and rescues also desperately need foster homes.  Foster homes provide a safe place for homeless pets to live, often while they recover from injury, illness, abuse, or neglect.  Foster families will tell you that it can be a lot of work, but the reward of returning an animal to physical and emotional health so that he can find a forever home is just immense.  

Puppy and kitten season will be upon us directly, and shelters will be begging for people to take extra young babies home to foster; in the shelters, their young immune systems are too vulnerable to disease, which even further reduces their chances of survival. 


Shelters and rescues have tremendous expenses.  Animals have to be fed, veterinarians have to be paid, shelter employees have to be paid.  Shelter facilities, in particular, have very high overhead; think of what they must spend in electricity alone!  Rescues spend most of their money in the vet’s office, because rescues usually take the animals with illness or injury that wouldn’t survive the shelter system.

One rescue of my acquaintance just posted that their current vet bill has topped $7000, just to give you an idea of how expensive rescue can be.  Adoption fees almost never even cover the cost of basic neutering, vaccination, and maintenance care, let alone any extra care for illness or injury.

As a matter of practicality, cash donations to shelters and rescues are generally tax deductible.  Just ask for a receipt.  And the majority of groups I am acquainted with have handy Paypal donation buttons on their websites.


Shelters and rescues also love donations of stuff.  What kind of stuff, you ask?  Beds (washable), towels, blankets, collars, harnesses, leashes, crates, baby gates, playpens, pet safe cleaning supplies, toys, food – these are the most common requests.   

A note about the food: while shelters will take what they can get, please, donate decent quality food, not the stuff soaked in red dye to make it look pretty.  These animals often come in malnourished and their fragile digestive systems need decent food; the red dye can cause nasty gastric upsets, which in a shelter environment might be the deciding factor between which dog lives or dies at the end of the day.  A sick dog, out of necessity, will be put down before a healthy one, to avoid spreading disease in the kennels.


Don’t have money to donate?  Donate time.  Please.  As an example, Montgomery County Animal Shelter (Conroe, Texas) is currently in desperate need of dog walkers.  A couple of their best ones are out of town, and that means they are even more short-handed than usual.  Dogs who get walked and have regular play time tolerate the shelter environment much better than dogs who spend too much time in cages.

Other services needed: people to wash dogs, answer phones, transport dogs, arrange donations of vet services, do fundraisers, wash the endless loads of towels, feed animals, clean kennels, work at adoption events.

The list of needs is endless.  All of these needs have one thing in common.  It takes people – lots of people – to help meet these needs, which in turn makes it possible for shelters and rescues to save lives.

How will you help?

Just for your information, these are a few reputable Montgomery County, Texas, groups in need of help:

Senior Dogs: Meet Lucille and Gramps Elliott

As January comes to a close, I decided to wrap up the Month of Special Needs Dogs with two older dogs.  I have a real soft spot for older special needs dogs, perhaps because I live with Bumble, the poster child for special needs.

First comes Lucille. 

Lucille is an older Beagle girl who came into the shelter as a stray with badly infected ears, for which she is currently being treated.  Lucille is a low maintenance old lady – she carries her chew bone around with her, wags a lot, and naps.  I suspect the napping is her body recovering from the neglect of her previous life and the pain of the infected ears.  This girl is so sweet and loving that her foster mom named her for her own grandmother.

Lucille is friendly to all, but loves people much more than animals.  She doesn’t seem to pay much attention to other dogs, because she’d much rather be petted and brushed.  Her age is estimated at around 12 years old, but with older rescue dogs, it can be very hard to tell.  She has cataracts, but they don’t seem to slow her down any.  Like most older dogs, she takes arthritis medication.

Lucille is looking for a loving home to supply her companionship, regular brushing, and chew bones – her three favorite things.

Now we come to Gramps Elliott.

Gramps (his kennel name) has just been re-named Elliott by his doting foster mom.  She said he deserved a real name in his old age!  Elliott came into the shelter as a stray in bad shape.  The tips of his long ears have cauliflowered from untreated injuries, and like Lucille, he has a nasty ear infection that is now being treated.  His overlong nails had grown into the pads of his feet.  They left holes in his pads when they were cut back. 

Gramps Elliott is painfully underweight, and just underwent massive dental surgery.  His teeth were so awful that they ended up removing 23 teeth!  The teeth had fused into the bones from years of untreated infections.  He is estimated to be around 10 years old, and was also covered up with a flea infestation, which was immediately dealt with.  Don’t let his white face fool you – he still has plenty of love to give, and deserves a wonderful home to make up for the criminal neglect that brought him here.

His foster mom says he was delighted to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast, even as sore as his mouth must be.  His tail wags continuously, even when the vet was doing uncomfortable things.  Even when the techs were bathing him!  Once his mouth and ears heal, he should not be medically high maintenance.

It never ceases to amaze me how forgiving these neglected senior dogs are.  And every rescuer knows that the older ones are incredibly grateful for kindness and loyal to a fault to their new people.  Don’t be afraid of their age – the reward for adopting older pets is tremendous.

Might you have room in your heart for one of these sweet older dogs? If you are not able to adopt them, you could also donate toward their ongoing care.

For Lucille, contact, and I will put you in touch with her foster mom.

For Gramps Elliott, go to  He may not be on the website yet, but you can email to inquire about him, or use the paypal button and indicate in the message that donations go to him.

Updates and Upcoming

I started today with two pieces of really good news.  Gabby, the blind Shih Tzu, and Kiah, the blind and hearing impaired Aussie, have BOTH been adopted!  And even better, both went to people accustomed to handling animals with their particular special needs.

Just goes to show what can happen when people work together to help animals.  Both of these dogs came from shelters; one arrived with a terrible eye injury, and the other was dumped at a shelter with a litter of unwanted puppies.  In many shelters, an elderly blind dog or a congenitally blind and deaf dog would have been deemed unadoptable and euthanized.

These two girls had the good fortune to land in shelters with directors willing to go the extra mile to help the animals in their care.  Both girls went to excellent foster homes, where their needs were addressed and evaluated, and where their foster families put in the effort to find them the right adopters.  The shelter directors, the rescue groups, and the individual volunteers all worked together to get to the happy ending we’re celebrating for these girls today.

And working together is what it takes.

I have worked in rescue for years, as have many of my closest friends and family.  And in that time, I’ve seen rescuers insult the hell out of shelter employees because they assume – or have been taught to assume – that shelter workers either don’t know or don’t care.  I’ve seen shelter workers refuse to release dogs to good rescues because at some point they had a disagreement with a volunteer from that rescue.  Ego has no place in rescue – it just gets in the way.

I’ve also seen rescuers and shelter workers work their butts off for the good of the animals, going far above what could reasonably be asked of them.  I’ve seen shelter employees use personal time and funds to transport animals to rescue, and rescue volunteers open their homes to an endless parade of homeless animals, many in need of veterinary treatment or behavioral remediation.  I’ve seen rescuers risk their personal safety to save an animal, and I’ve seen the toughest of animal control officers heartbroken over losing one.  We are at our best and most authentic when working to care for the animals we love.

When I first got into rescue work, I was appalled by how little formal training material is available for people who want to learn about animal rescue.  No one teaches rescuers how to work with first response agencies, what their legal obligations and liabilities are, or even about the proper handling of animals.  And that lack of training produces bad practices, friction between first response agencies and rescue groups, and a corresponding negative impact on the very animals both groups want to help.

And people kept telling me that I needed to write a book about it. 

Rescuers, this one is for you!  The Rescuer’s Handbook© will be available as an e-book through this website in just a few weeks.

The Rescuer’s Handbook: An Insider’s Analysis of the Animal Welfare System will offer detailed information on how the first response agencies work, so that rescue groups will understand better how to work with them effectively, as well as detailed information on good management practices for rescue groups.  This comprehensive guide covers working with other agencies, managing the health and safety of the animals, recruiting and training volunteers, vetting adopters, and a wealth of other urgently needed information, compiled all in one place.

Interested in reviewing an advance copy?  Email me at

Kiah: From a Beautifully Different Place

As part of my January campaign to encourage people to consider adopting special needs pets, I’ve been sending out weekly invitations to my friends in the rescue world to send me pictures and information of the special needs adoptable dogs they would like me to write about.

Meet Kiah.  Kiah is a young Australian shepherd, perhaps two years old, who is almost completely blind and has limited hearing.  She can see shadows, and she has enough hearing that clicker training would be a good option for her.  She was almost certainly born this way; note the one blue eye, which indicates recessive genetics at work.  Her name, I’m told, is an Australian word meaning “from the beautiful place”.  What a great name for a rescue dog!

Kiah doesn’t know she has a problem; for her, this is how it’s always been.  Her world is just different from ours.  She experiences the world through touch, smell, vibration, and some sound, with a few vague visual images thrown in.

Because of Kiah’s visual and auditory impairments, she will need to be an inside dog for her own safety.  She is housetrained, and does very well in a crate.  Kiah has to learn her environment through touch, smell, and practice; it is important for her to be in a stable environment where she doesn’t have to worry about the furniture being rearranged weekly.  Whenever her environment changes, she has to re-learn where everything is.

Kiah came into the shelter with puppies who have since been adopted.  Kiah is now in a foster home, where it took her about a week to learn her new environment and figure out the new routine.  She walks well on a leash, which means that she trusts people to keep her safe in unknown spaces.  Given her throw-away past, that speaks volumes for her forgiving nature.

This pretty girl would be fine in a home with older kids who understand how to treat a blind and hearing impaired dog.  She is definitely dog friendly, but would need to be with a calmer dog.  A really bouncy Jack Russell, for example, might be overwhelming for her in terms of environmental uproar.  Likewise, a home with energetic young children is not the best place for her; small children run, and play, and squeal, and wouldn’t understand why they couldn’t throw themselves upon their new playmate without warning.  It’s unfair to put a blind or deaf dog in a situation in which she might be accidentally startled into bad behavior.

She recently got to meet her foster dad’s cat, and while she didn’t show any aggression, she got really excited.  She was so astonished by the kitty that it may even have been the first one she’s had contact with.  If she were to go to a home with cats, her new people would have to teach her appropriate “don’t break the kitty” boundaries so that she doesn’t play too rough.

Dealing with Kiah is a little different than dealing with a dog that lost sight due to trauma.  She is well-adjusted and has good coping skills; she already knows how to live as a blind and hearing impaired dog.  Her person’s job will be to provide her with a safe and loving environment. 

In the house, everything at her level or below needs to be “child-proofed” so that there are no dangerous projections or obstacles on which she might injure herself.  Her bed, food, and water must always be in the exact same place.  Her yard needs to be securely fenced and free of hazards.  A swimming pool, for example, might be terribly dangerous to a dog like Kiah; she could easily fall in and not be able to get out.

How, then, do you bond with an animal with Kiah’s special needs?  By voice and touch.  She does hear some things, so use your voice to help her learn the boundaries of her new world.  Spend plenty of time sitting in the floor with her.  Pet her, brush her, play with her.  Dogs – especially blind and deaf ones – are incredibly sensitive to atmosphere and body language; if you are relaxed and affectionate with her, she will respond in kind.

We classify Kiah as a special needs dog due to her blindness and diminished hearing.  But really she needs what every dog needs: love, patience, kindness, stability, human contact, and physical safety.

If you think your home might be the right one for Kiah, please email and put “Kiah blog” in the subject line.

Mange: Hope’s Story and An Excerpt From The Rescuer’s Handbook

This is Hope.  She arrived at the shelter last week, taken into county custody as a victim of extreme neglect.  She’s at least twenty pounds underweight, has obviously had many litters of puppies, had a tremendous untreated abscess under her jaw, and at the moment is basically naked, due to a very advanced case of sarcoptic mange.

It’s painful to think about this sick, malnourished, naked dog outside in the coldest weather Montgomery County has seen all year.  One might expect a dog this mistreated to be unfriendly to humans, but as is so often the case with rescued dogs, this big girl is very grateful and very loving. 

In a few weeks, her hair will grow in, and the lanced and treated abscess is healing quickly.  With a little basic veterinary attention, a warm bed, good food, and some affection, she will soon be a healthy, happy pet looking for her permanent home.

As I monitored the conversation online about her care, I realized how much even dog people don’t know about mange.  So I’m taking the opportunity to share an excerpt from the veterinary chapter of my upcoming book, The Rescuer’s Handbook©.

“Many people are unaware that there are actually two types of mange: demodectic and sarcoptic.  Both are caused by invasive little mites that cause the dog to itch miserably and cause the dog’s hair to fall out. 

Demodectic mange is congenital; it is not contagious.  All dogs are born with demodex mites on their skin, but some animals, due to a weakened immune system , or stress, or simply a higher than normal number of mites, will actually become ill.  The pattern of hair loss is fairly consistent.  Most demodex dogs begin to lose their hair on the face first, particularly along the bridge of the muzzle and around the eyes and ears.

The good news is that it is not contagious and cannot affect the other animals in your home or facility.  The bad news is that it is more challenging to treat and may well flair up again during the course of the animal’s life.  This does NOT mean that you should give up on the animal, nor does it render the animal unadoptable.  It does, however, mean that potential adopters should be well-informed of the animal’s medical history so that they can present their veterinarian with a complete medical history of their new pet.

Because demodectic mange seems to be associated with a weaker immune system, many demodex dogs also react poorly to vaccinations, cannot take steroids, and have allergies to be dealt with.  Others, once they get healthy, go through the rest of their lives without any additional complications; with these dogs, the flare up was probably induced by stress or malnutrition, and keeping the dog well-fed and secure is enough to avoid stressing the dog’s system into a recurrence.

Sarcoptic mange, on the other hand, is easily and quickly treatable but highly contagious to other animals.  (NOTE: This is what Hope is being treated for.) Because the sarcops mite spreads readily to other dogs, if a contagious animal has contact with the other pets in your home or facility, be prepared to treat them all as a precaution.  You will also need to wash all bedding, collars, and harnesses.    

Once a sarcops dog has undergone treatment, the condition is cured.  It will not flare up again.  Then you just have to wait for his hair to grow in.  (Please note that if he are exposed to sarcops again later in life, he is as likely to get it as any other animal.  But it would count as a separate episode, not a flare up, much as a child who gets the flu once at age 8 and again at age 10 has had two separate illnesses.)…

The two most common treatments for demodex and sarcops are a drug called Ivermectin, which is administered orally, and a dip called Mitaban.  Both must be prescribed by a veterinarian.  There are also several drugs which are considered Ivermectin derivatives that may be safer for some animals; your vet will make a recommendation according the severity of the infestation and the health of the animal.  Be aware that very young puppies cannot be treated until they are old enough to handle the medications, and that some animals may react to either treatment, in which case your veterinarian will suggest alternative therapies.”

 Hope got her name because her foster mom hoped she would recover.  She will – she is already much better after just a few days. But how many dogs like Hope will not have a chance because some ignorant moron like Hope’s former owner wouldn’t spend a few minutes and a few dollars to take care of an animal in need?