A Letter to the Rescue Community: Organize!

Dear rescue friends,

I am about to suggest something radical.  Now bear with me – I think you’ll like this.

Lately, I’ve noticed that more of us are becoming politically involved in protesting the puppy sellers, trying to shut down pet stores selling mill bred animals, trying to get laws passed that better protect the animals.  I’ve also noticed how many of us only know each other online.  We may speak every day on Facebook, and still have never met in person.

Last Sunday, I had a houseful of rescuers who all came together to help raise money to support Zoe the Dachshund’s veterinary care.  They came in groups, and the people in each group knew OF the people in the other groups, but in most cases had never met face to face.  It was fantastic to bring us all together in one room, and it’s something we should do more often. 

So here is my radical suggestion.


If we want Montgomery County to ban the roadside puppy sellers, then every single rescuer in the county needs to show up at the appropriate meetings to encourage county officials to pay attention to us.  Imagine the reaction of the county political machine if they showed up for a meeting and two hundred rescuers and animal welfare workers walked in to support our position.

If we want the puppy sellers to be so uncomfortable in our county that they leave, then we continue the protests Rosanna started. And to be at our most effective, we show up at multiple locations all at once.  If we were to send organized teams of ten to fifteen protesters to six or eight different locations all at exactly the same time, we could really disrupt their nasty little business.

Every animal welfare proponent on Facebook (and there are a lot of us) knows the value of networking.  We all have dozens of other animal welfare people friended into our pages, and we all laugh about how the “non-animal” people think it’s weird that we spend so much time on FB posting pictures of animals and talking about the intricacies of the animals’ lives.

The flip side is that far too many of us never leave the comfort of Facebook to network in person.  Many of us freely admit that we prefer the company of our dogs and cats to that of most people.  Some of us may not have great social skills, or we may think that other people can handle all that political junk while we do the urgent hands-on work of caring for animals.

As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for us?”

Networking with other animal welfare people online is great, and it can be incredibly useful.  It’s how we find rides for animals that need to get to safety, it’s how we warn each other about bad adopters, it’s how we recruit foster homes and donations.  We refer each other to the best vets for our needs, we make recommendations about training tips, and we celebrate the milestones our most fragile animals make as they recover.

But we tend to do our online networking around trips to the shelter, vet visits, dog walks, dog baths, house cleaning, laundry, and the 800 other urgent chores that come with caring for pets (especially the very young or special needs ones).   

And the longterm goal of truly changing the system falls through the cracks.

Rosanna’s protest got me thinking, and then having that group of women here on Sunday brought home to me with total clarity how powerful we can be if we all work together. 

Let’s REALLY give the puppy millers, roadside vendors, and lawmakers something to think about.  Let’s stand up TOGETHER and show Montgomery County how many of us are willing to fight for the animals.  We need the puppy millers, sellers, and lawmakers to view us as a cohesive force, not as a few puppy huggers.

If we all set aside our egos, personal differences, reluctance to speak in public, and all those other little things that get in the way, we really can change animal welfare forever.

And the animals deserve that.

Roadside Pet Vendors Unwelcome: Not Here, Not Anywhere

A large part of the animal welfare community’s mission is to educate the public about irresponsible, unethical sources of companion animals like puppy mills and roadside vendors (which are usually two branches of the same tree).

Harris County, Texas, banned roadside pet vendors not too long ago.  It was a great step in the right direction, but unfortunately most of the vendors just moved elsewhere.  Many of them moved up the road to Montgomery County, and we don’t want them.

Roadside vendors sell animals to make money.  They do nothing to ensure good homes for the animals.  They do nothing to verify that the person with cash in hand is a good pet owner.  To the roadside vendor, animals equal cash.  And that is WRONG.

From the purchaser’s point of view, buying an animal off the side of the road is a BAD IDEA.  First of all, many, many of them are not going to grow up to be the animal you thought you were buying.  Just today, a rescuer was telling us about a dog who was sold roadside as a “designer” Chihuahua/Rat Terrier cross.  When he started growing, and growing, and growing, he ended up unwanted by the purchasers.  He was lucky; he ended up with rescue, where he will be safe until the right home comes along.

Most are not so lucky.  Ask any shelter employee.

Other problems with roadside vendors include:

  • sickly animals
  • poor socialization of the animals due to puppy mill conditions
  • puppies for sale that are far too young to be weaned
  • genetic problems from inbreeding
  • invalid registration papers
  • disappearing vendors
  • false vaccination records

This weekend, a group of rescue workers spearheaded by protest coordinator Rosanna Russell held a protest on 2978 across from the puppy seller corridor.  Two vendors promptly packed up and left.  We know they probably just moved a few miles down the road.  Dealing with roadside puppy sellers is much like dealing with drug dealers or prostitutes.  You run them out of your neighborhood, knowing that they move to the next one.  The hope is that eventually enough neighborhoods will chase them away and they will give up.

One of the roadside vendors (the unhappy woman in green holding the tiny puppy) marched over to confront the protesters.  She accused them of being un-Christian for trying to run the sellers out of business (as if the mistreatment of animals were the hallmark of a good Christian).  She complained that the protesters were keeping her from making money off the animals.  (Well, yes, that was the plan.)  She also informed the protesters that no purebred animal ever goes to a shelter.


If this woman really believes this, she is painfully ignorant or totally deluded.  But given how many thousands of breed rescues exist, I don’t know how she can truly be that ignorant. 

My own two babies are purebreds from kill shelters.  Hundreds of beautiful purebreds end up in kill shelters every single day.  The lucky ones get adopted or go into rescue.  Not all of them are lucky.  Any vendor who claims that it would be impossible for their “products” to end up in a shelter needs to be forced to spend a few days in a county or municipal shelter to face the facts.

But I’m really not worried about rehabilitating roadside vendors, because I think most of them can’t be fixed.  My goal is to see roadside sales of animals banned – first in Montgomery County, then statewide.

There have been several attempts to ban roadside sales in Montgomery County; so far they’ve been unsuccessful.  That doesn’t mean we give up.  It means we still have work to do.  The Woodlands Dog Park Club (www.thewoodlandsdogparkclub.org) has been one of the organizations leading the push for the ban.  If they offer you a petition to sign, please do!

The Texas Humane Legislation Network (www.thln.org) is promoting a bill in the state legislature which would ban roadside animal sales statewide.  I would LOVE to see that happen, and I think public awareness of this issue is beginning to be broad enough to make it possible.  If you would like to read more about this bill, please visit their website.  They also have links through which you can contact your state representatives to express your support for the bill.

Meanwhile, the protests will continue on the corner of Woodlands Parkway and 2978 until the puppy sellers goes away and don’t come back.  I’ll be there.  Will you?

A Second Chance for Zoe

This little dachshund was dumped at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in bad shape.  She’s a very young dog, but upon arrival, it was determined that she is paralyzed from the mid-back down.  She had also obviously had a recent litter of puppies that did not come in with her.

Most shelters would have immediately slated this little dog for euthanasia.  It’s hard enough to find homes for the healthy animals; the severely disabled ones are almost impossible.  Rescue groups usually can’t afford to take a paralyzed dog, because they too know that it would be incredibly difficult to find a permanent home for them.  It’s a numbers game; if a group dedicates all of its resources to one impossible-to-place little dog, then six or seven others may die in shelters because there is not an opening in the rescue group.  No one likes it, but we all know the facts.

But there was something special about this little dog.  Even paralyzed, she managed to travel quite well, using her strong front legs to haul her useless hindquarters around.  She was so overjoyed to see people, and so sweet and friendly to anyone who handled her.  The shelter put out an appeal begging for a foster home or rescue group for her.

They got one. 

Heather volunteered to foster her, and almost immediately decided to keep her.  But her little friend needed help.  Zoe is so full of young dachshund energy that she was rubbing her underside raw scooting across the carpet.  And she is a very determined little girl, so sitting still was not an option!  Heather is also fostering a litter of very young kittens, and the paralyzed little mama dachshund managed to crawl across the living room to get to them.  She apparently is trying to claim them.

I’ve seen paralyzed animals make amazing recoveries with alternative therapy, so I referred Heather and Zoe to my vet’s office.  Animal Hospital of Montgomery has in-house capability for acupuncture, cold laser, Alpha-Stim, and chiropractic.  They treat my crippled senior Peke, Bumble the Special Child, and the alternative treatments keep him going, so I was hopeful that they could help.

Heather took her new baby right over, and Zoe got her first acupuncture and Alpha-Stim treatments the same day.  And she is responding!  They don’t know if she will ever walk again, but she did show some improvement in reflex and in her awareness of her bodily functions.  (They have no way to know for sure, but they theorize that her paralysis may be the result of slipping a disc or injuring her spine somehow while giving birth to the litter of puppies that did not arrive at the shelter with her.)

Zoe has also been fitted with a new set of wheels so that she can run with the other dogs without rubbing her skin raw on the floor.  She seems to be catching on very quickly!

Here’s the really cool part. 

Everyone knew from the start that this little dog was special.  The vet clinic immediately suggested that Heather sign her up to become a therapy dog.  Heather is already looking into what it will take for Zoe to get her certification, so that she can be an example to disabled children who are learning to manage their own disabilities. 

Zoe is a lucky little girl to have found an adopter who is willing and able to handle her special needs, and we think she will LOVE her upcoming role as a therapy dog.  But she has many treatments ahead of her – weekly acupuncture to heal her nerves and muscles, Alpha-Stim to help her brain respond properly to any discomfort and to encourage her cells to heal.  Other treatments may become necessary as she improves. 

So I’m calling on my readers to help Heather with Zoe’s expenses.  We want Zoe to live as full and healthy a life as possible, and we all know that veterinary care gets expensive in a hurry.  Heather is looking at spending $75 to $100 minimum every week for some time to come, in addition to regular dog expenses. 

If you would like to donate toward her care, please contact Animal Hospital Montgomery (www.mymontgomeryvet.com – 936-582-1555).  They will gladly accept credit card donations of any amount.  Just tell them to apply it to Zoe Morris the Paralyzed Dachshund.  If you prefer to send a check, click on their website for the mailing address and put Zoe’s information in the memo blank.

Let’s help Zoe make the most of her second chance!

When Rescue Goes Wrong

I know so many good rescuers – people who devote their lives to helping animals recover from abuse and abandonment to find loving forever homes.

But you can’t be involved in the rescue world without knowing that there are also “bad rescuers”.  And every time a bad rescuer is exposed, it does terrible damage to the entire animal welfare community, as it undermines what we work so hard to accomplish.

Bad rescuers often start with good intentions, and at some point cross an invisible line into hoarding conditions or other problematic behavior.

Residents of Montgomery County will remember the 2008 case of a rescue situation gone bad.  Furr Kids got shut down after investigators found dozens of malnourished, sick, or cruelly confined animals, as well as several dead animals, on the property associated with the rescue.  It was also discovered that the rescuer running this group played a sort of shell game in which she would take animals from one source into rescue and then haul them to a shelter for euthanasia.  MCAS alone said that she had brought in over 150 animals for euthanasia JUST to their facility.  The woman running Furr Kids ended up being hospitalized for emotional problems.

In 2007, an elderly woman in East Montgomery County had 116 animals, mostly dogs, seized from her property due to extremely unsanitary conditions.  Her neighbors said she began by “rescuing” animals abandoned on the roads in their area, which is a sadly common phenomenon in that area.  And then it snowballed into a disastrous situation in which the animals didn’t have adequate food, shelter, water, or veterinary care – and frankly, neither did the elderly “rescuer”.  I drove past this address shortly thereafter to see how bad it looked.  I couldn’t imagine a feral cat living in that disaster area, let alone a human and 116 animals.

This topic comes up right now because California rescuer Alice Via was accused and recently convicted of animal cruelty.  Basically, they called her a hoarder.  Animal control seized 60 dogs from her, and it became a media nightmare both for her and for them.  My understanding is that she had to agree to give up all rescue work as a condition of her plea agreement.

I don’t have an opinion on her guilt or innocence in this case, but it shines a light on something rescuers don’t like to admit.

There are bad rescuers. 

Warning Signs of Rescue Gone Wrong:

  • Foster homes are so overcrowded that the animals don’t get adequate attention.
  • Rescuers don’t keep good records of the location, veterinary care, adoption status, and behavioral needs of the animals, nor do they keep up with their financial records.  They may not be paying their vet bills.
  • Unsanitary conditions consistently exist in the kennels or foster homes.
  • The animals are dirty and unkempt.
  • The rescuers themselves are dirty and unkempt.  (Smell is a big indicator on this one.  There’s a difference between smelling like dog because you’ve been working with them all day, and smelling like dog because you haven’t bathed in a couple of weeks.  You’ll know.)
  • The rescue accepts so many animals that other rescuers wonder how they’re handling that volume.
  • The rescue sets such stringent adoption criteria that no one can adopt their animals, yet they keep accepting new animals.
  • The rescuers cut off all contact with other people in the rescue community.
  • The rescuers consistently refuse to allow anyone to visit their home or facility.

These are signs that people in the rescue community will see.  The general public may complain about the barking, the smell, the number of animals, or the poor condition of the property.

Animal welfare people are often very reluctant to speak up about situations in which their fellow rescuers may have gone over the edge.  We don’t want to believe it, first of all.  We don’t want to be the one to report it, because we don’t want to close down an outlet for animals to get out of kill shelters, especially when it’s a rescue that USED TO DO good work.  We hope it’s a temporary aberration, and that things will get better.

Things will not get better without intervention.  Hoarding is an illness, and it requires professional help.

If you have reason to believe that a rescue situation has become unhealthy for the animals, please remember that as rescuers, our responsibility is to the animals.  Speak up before it gets out of hand, so that catastrophes like the two Montgomery County cases mentioned above don’t happen.

I Am a Dogochondriac

I have been through five years of extremely special needs dogs, and it’s made me neurotic.

First, Pookie Bear, my Yorkie Poo, was diagnosed with terminal kidney disease.  I spent the next year managing her disease, and she was almost 16 years old when the disease won.

Then there was Bunny, my first Peke. Again, terminal kidney disease, although from an entirely different cause, and finally, horribly, compounded by a probable brain tumor that brought her to the end of her time with me.

Losing my girls just broke my heart.

Now I have Bumble, who, as we all know, is the living definition of special needs.  Epileptic, joint deformities, incipient age-related canine cognitive dysfunction, mostly blind, and mostly deaf, and somewhat behaviorally impaired.  The vet refers to him as the canine version of autistic, which is really a pretty good comparison. 

The plus side to this is that I am really, really experienced at caring for special needs animals.  I know what they can eat, how to rehydrate them, how to manage a variety of chronic health conditions, how to compound medications and monitor reactions, and even how to diagnose and treat a variety of ailments.  I have fairly broad knowledge of how to do physical therapy and how to keep a crippled, blind, or deaf dog safe and comfortable.

Most recently, I adopted Lizzie, the baby.  She did have to go through heartworm treatment while she was in foster care, but she came through it with flying colors and is now considered a healthy one year old female (who gets along remarkably well with Bumble).

Here’s the catch.  It’s been so long since I’ve had a medically normal animal that I jokingly told my vet I’d be like a Munchausen mom, looking for something to be wrong with my healthy pet.

Of course, unlike Munchausen moms, who have a serious mental illness in which they look for or even create illness in their children as an attention getting ploy, the cause of my particular paranoia is several years of dogs with serious health problems.

And then Lizzie starting having petit mal seizures.  Or at least that’s what they looked like.  Sudden uncontrollable facial spasms, jerking her face sharply to one side while she made involuntary chewing motions.

The vet and I were both very worried.  Could it have been some weird reaction to the heartworm treatment?  Incipient idiopathic epilepsy?  An indication that she might have survived a mild case of distemper before I got her?

So we were on the phone talking over the symptoms, when suddenly the vet asked if her spasms were always the same.  I told him yes, they were always to the left, a few minutes after she ate.  He told me to bring her right over.

The vet took a look in her mouth, and lo and behold, she has an abscessed tooth.  The damaged tooth was the cause of the facial spasms, which is why they were always in the same direction.  So she’ll spend a few days on antibiotics and mild painkillers, then on Friday, once the infection is cleared up, Lizzie will get a dental cleaning and the damaged tooth will be extracted. 

No more spasms, no neurological problems, no weird health issues that the vet classes as “It could only happen to Shannon’s dogs.”  Just a healthy little girl with an easily solved problem from a bad tooth.

I’ve never been so happy about spending money on dental work in my life!