Archive for May, 2011

It has recently come to my attention that the city of Shenandoah, TX, has decided not to allow animal adoptions to take place out of doors.  This means that within Shenandoah, the usual venues for adoptions, such as in front of the Petsmart store, are not available any more.

Some local rescuers complained to the City of Shenandoah about this absurd restriction.  They have yet to get a good answer.  The few answers they have received are full of errors and misinformation.

One  adoption coordinator who used to do adoption events outside of the Portofino Petsmart in Shenandoah says that location habitually generated around 100 adoptions per month.  The loss of that location, then, puts a strain on local animal welfare groups trying their best to save more animals.  Montgomery County Animal Shelter alone takes in about 1800 animals per month; losing a venue that got at least 100 of them adopted is a hard blow to take.

When local adoption groups were told that they could no longer use the space in front of Portofino Petsmart, a “city ordinance” was cited.  Multiple rescuers and volunteers confirm that Petsmart has been as helpful as they can possibly be.  Adoptions are allowed inside the store.  Unfortunately, the store is so small that it severely limits the number of animals that can be placed in the public eye for adoption.  An outdoor event would generate more adoptions and be better for the store, too.

At a recent attempted outdoor adoption event, Shenandoah police sent FIVE police cars to shut them down.  (Really?  Five cars?  There are no real crimes in Shenandoah?)

As far as I can tell from reading Shenandoah’s animal ordinances as posted on the city website, there is actually NOT a city ordinance prohibiting outdoor pet adoptions.  Furthermore, Shenandoah officials claim that the Montgomery County Animal Shelter does not serve Shenandoah.  They claim that the Shenandoah PD does its own animal control (which is deeply troubling for other reasons) and that strays are taken to the “South Montgomery County Shelter”. 

THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE.  The ONLY county shelter in Montgomery County is the very one currently banned from doing outdoor adoptions in Shenandoah.

One concerned rescuer received a reply from an Officer Bryan Carlisle.  He again made reference to the non-existent South County Shelter, and suggested that all problems could be resolved by encouraging people to go to this non-existent shelter to adopt animals.  And wow, he will even look into placing a link to that imaginary shelter on the Shenandoah city website!

As it happens, Officer Carlisle, there is already a link on the Shenandoah city website.  To MCAS.  The ONLY county shelter we have.  The very shelter not being allowed to have outdoor adoption events within Shenandoah, in spite of offers from multiple retailers to host such events in their parking lots.

The City of Shenandoah needs to get their facts in order.  Here are few facts of which their officials need to be aware.

  • There is NO SUCH PLACE as the South Montgomery County shelter.  There is only MCAS, which someone obviously knows, since there is a link to MCAS on the official city website.
  • Facebook now has a page called Shame ON You Shenandoah, TX.  It was posted on Thursday May 26th.  Today is Sunday May 29th.  The page now has 166 likes.  And we are all busily crossposting the information.
  • Adoption events have the support of local retailers, who understand that hosting these events helps the animals, helps the community, and generates business.
  • Shenandoah city officials are jeopardizing 100 or more animals per month and putting additional strain on the overtaxed county animal welfare system by refusing to allow outdoor adoption events.  Animals at public adoption events have much better odds of adoption, simply because more people see them.
  • If Shenandoah continues to act against animal welfare, other venues in the area will hold those events, which in turn will attract business to those establishments.  People who might have spent money in Shenandoah will spend it elsewhere.  Tax paying Shenandoah residents should be outraged.

Want to help?  Become a fan of the Shame on You Shenandoah, TX Facebook page.  Also, visit to contact the city government with your concerns.

Shame on Shenandoah, TX, indeed.

Anyone who knows me understands that I am NOT a fan of big government.  I hate paying taxes, and I bitterly resent government intrusion into my life.  But I make an exception when it comes to the welfare of animals.  Sadly, too many people see animals as disposable or lacking value, and they treat them accordingly.  Legal penalties for mistreatment of animals are a necessity.

This particular bill (House Bill 1451) will mandate that breeders who “exchange” more than 20 animals in one year undergo inspections, have “adequate” space to move around in, adequate shelter, appropriate ventilation and lighting, annual veterinary care including vaccinations and documentation of care, and adequate sanitation.  It will also require these “large scale” breeders to apply for a state license.

In other words, it will provide a safety net so that the animals and premises get inspected annually.  The whole objective is to prevent these breeders from turning into puppy mills.  Usually, by the time law enforcement can do anything about bad breeders, dozens or even hundreds of animals are desperately ill or dying after suffering unspeakable conditions for most of their lives.   This bill will hopefully make it easier to prevent puppy mill conditions from developing in the first place.

Have you ever been inside a puppy mill? 

I have.

You smell it first.  The stench of ammonia burns your nose and eyes.  Then you hear it.  Dozens of animals whimpering, barking, howling, desperate for some kind of relief.  Then you see it.  Filthy runs and cages, animals lying in their own waste, moldy food, slime filled water dishes (if any).

The worst are the “leftovers”.  The animals who are deformed, injured, sick, from years of neglect, mistreatment, and inbreeding.  Expect to see lameness, tumors, scars, damaged eyes and ears, deformed paws or ears, collapsed jaws from years of unchecked dental disease.

Disease runs rampant through animals kept in these conditions, which is why pet store puppies or roadside vendor puppies so often develop critical illnesses shortly after purchase.

The animals are unsocialized… terrified of human contact and yet desperate for help.  Some are aggressive, the result of neglect or abuse.  Others have given up and simply lie passively waiting for whatever awful thing happens to them next.  An astonishing number have held onto their real personalities through the torture of their lives and will recover to make good pets.

According to the Austin American Statesman‘s Mike Ward, Sen. Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay wanted to raise the limit to only include those breeders with 60 or more animals.  Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy wanted to eliminate the requirement for annual veterinary care, on the grounds that it might be too expensive.

To these two clueless individuals, I would suggest that they accompany their local law enforcement on a puppy mill bust some time.  They clearly do NOT get it.  60 animals, at a minimum, would be ten breeding bitches, each with a litter of five or more puppies.  And they think such a situation does not warrant regulation?  Or veterinary care? 

I am thrilled that this bill has passed.  We have a long way to go, but it is a major step in the right direction.

Next on my personal hit list: running the roadside puppy sellers out of Montgomery County.

It has been alleged that I do not always play well with others.  What can I say?  I like most animals better than most people.

I find that this is true of most animal welfare people.  We spend our time repairing the damage that “people” do to the animals we love, and mourning for the ones that can’t be helped.  Let’s just face facts.  It leaves us wary of people and generally cranky about the enormous level of ignorance and cruelty we see every day.  We expect that people should understand what we understand, and we are disgusted when they don’t.

Our job is to save as many animals as possible, and it’s very easy for us to dismiss “outsiders” so that we can focus on the day to day whirlwind of feeding, bathing, medicating, transporting, and rehabilitating.  It’s infinitely more comfortable for us to focus on the animals and avoid the people.  And we invariably take refuge in dark humor and cynicism to handle the daily tragedies we can’t avoid.

There’s just one problem.

Being involved in animal welfare means dealing with people. 

The animal welfare community must educate the public about the needs of animals and the realities of issues like spay and neuter, microchipping, fencing, veterinary care, and no, we cannot guarantee a good home for your 14 year old blind, incontinent poodle with bad teeth.

Educating the public means dealing with people.

The animal welfare community’s other mandate is to promote fostering and adoption.  We advertise, network, interview, do home visits.  We explain (ad infinitum) why adoption fees are necessary.  We have to find ways to say no to inappropriate adoption candidates, who are often outraged by our “arrogance” in choosing to do what’s best for our charges.

Dealing with fosters and adopters means dealing with people.

The downfall of so many animal welfare organizations is lack of people skills.  People who are very, very good with animals sometimes are not so great with other people.  There is a reason we prefer animals!  Many fosters, agency employees, and even rescuers seeking adopters procrastinate or avoid dealing with people.  They don’t reply to emails, they don’t return phone calls, they have poor phone skills that make adopters uncomfortable, they get defensive if a potential adopter has questions about why something is done a particular way.  One group I have dealt with has one person who insists on being the primary email contact for adopters, but refuses to speak on the phone, which is very off-putting.

On the flip side, I know of many groups with phenomenal adoption placement rates.  Without exception, these groups have a public face with excellent people skills.  They return phone calls and emails promptly with complete information, they are willing to chat about the animal’s personality and quirks, they take the time to explain their rules and policies, and they generally present an attitude of accessibility and empathy.

Less successful groups may do fantastic work with the animals, but they have terrible placement rates because they are perceived as difficult to deal with. 

Bottom line: Groups with good people skills are able to save more animals because their animals get adopted faster.  To me, that means that learning to handle people, however distasteful and frustrating, is worth the effort.

The Bumble Saga continues.  Last weekend, as you know, we spent a fun filled evening in the emergency clinic.  It turned out that he had luxated a patella (ouch) and it tipped his pain threshold past what he could manage.

The nice vet at the EC didn’t waste time.  He gave Bumble an opiate called Torbugesic, which met my stated request to knock my little guy out for the night to relieve both his pain and his anxiety.  Since Bumble is epileptic, if he gets too anxious, he can work himself into a seizure.

When Monday rolled around, Bumble got to go visit Dr. Buchanan for laser treatment and Alpha-Stim therapy, which helped reduce the inflammation ofthe affected body parts.  But he is still not very happy, so Uncle Joey (the amazing Dr. Romero) prescribed Gabapentin.

The first time I ever heard of Gabapentin was when it was prescribed to Zoe the paralyzed dachshund for nerve pain.  It is a GABA analogue drug; apparently it is often used in humans for severe neuropathic pain associated with spinal injuries, surgery, and cancer.  In dogs, it is used for the treatment of chronic pain resulting from spinal cord conditions or other nerve-induced pain. 

For Bumble, it seems to be a good choice because his discomfort results from deformed joints which have deteriorated with age to the point that his little joints are somehow both too loosely connected and extremely stiff.  As Dr. Romero explains it to me, Gabapentin is designed to slow down the rate of neural transmission.  As I understand it, this basically means that the pain response does not transmit effectively between the brain and the body, which allows the animal to be more comfortable and to function more normally.

I’m a realist.  I know that what’s wrong with Bumble cannot be fixed.  I understand that my little boy has very limited time left.  He has many, many problems, and is often confused.  These signs of cognitive dysfunction tell me that his brain is deteriorating right along with his skeletal structure.

When Bumble came to live with me almost four years ago, he was already a senior citizen.  I knew that his structural abnormalities and epileptic seizures put him at grave risk of a shortened lifespan. And he had been so badly traumatized.  For the first six months, no one but me could even touch him without him coming untracked.  I made the choice to give him the very best rest of his life I could.  That has often meant protecting him from himself, especially from the abuse-induced behavioral issues that make him less than friendly to people he doesn’t know or accept.

My little gremlin boy took his first dose of Gabapentin tonight and is sleeping peacefully right now.  His breathing is slow and steady, his body is relaxed, and for the moment, he is comfortable.

For as long as it lasts, that’s all that matters.

As many of you know, Bumble is the poster child for special needs pets.  He’s epileptic, mostly blind, mostly deaf, his teeth don’t exactly meet, and he has age related cognitive dysfunction.  He also has serious skeletal issues in the form of hip and elbow dysplasia brought on by overusing his front end to compensate for the lack of bone in his hip sockets. 

We don’t know how old he is, but he is definitely quite elderly, probably at least twelve.

For the last several months, Bumble has been receiving cold laser and alpha-stim treatments to help keep his discomfort under control.  I knew they were helping, but I didn’t realize how much until his specialist went on maternity leave.  He was due for a session this week.  Within 48 hours of missing the session, he began to show more difficulty walking.  Last night, something went wrong.

Bumble tends to talk to himself, especially late at night.  So when he started mumbling under his breath last night, I didn’t really think anything of it.  But the volume went up, and he started pacing.  And then he fell down and couldn’t get up.

I never could figure out how he did it, but somehow he twisted or strained that weak left back leg.  And since his skeletal system is fairly weak anyway, he can’t compensate for an injury to a leg.  He panicked.  He kept trying harder to get up, and he kept crying and shaking.

I was scared to death that he had dislocated a hip.  When I picked him up, he carried that left back leg up and forward just the way that a dislocation would present.  Given Bumble’s age, frailty, and medical history, that would be catastrophic.

I took him straight to the all night emergency clinic.

Mercifully, nothing was dislocated. It seems most likely that he pushed off that weak joint wrong trying to get up and strained it, which set off the pain response.  Since it was late at night when he is more confused due to age-related cognitive dysfunction, he couldn’t cope.

The clinic was able to give him stronger pain medication, which allowed him to sleep and made him stop hurting.  Today, his leg is still sore and weak, but he can walk and he is functional.

If the emergency clinic had not been there, I would not have been able to get my little boy the help he needed late on a Saturday night.  I don’t know what would have happened to him if I hadn’t been able to stop his pain.  My guess is that he would have continued to panic and struggle until he drove himself into an epileptic seizure.

Too many people assume that a pet’s illness can “wait till Monday” when their regular vet is open, because the EC is expensive or inconvenient.  That assumption often has tragic results, and truthfully, many conditions end up costing as much or more to treat because they were left untreated over the weekend.  It’s far better to spend a little extra on a quick trip to the emergency clinic than to allow your pet to suffer and deteriorate unnecessarily.

Do you know where your local veterinary emergency clinic is?  If you don’t, look it up now.  Before the late night emergency.

If you watched Randy Wallace’s piece on the Harris County animal shelter, or HCPHES, then you know what the rescue community has known for years.  From the animal welfare perspective, this shelter is NOT doing a good job, to put it mildly. Their director is a vet. Yet injured animals get minimal care at best, and often no care at all.

Every other shelter I work with, whether county, municipal, or private, releases sick or injured animals to rescue groups.  The rescue groups take these animals with the knowledge that they will have to return them if the erstwhile owner shows up within the legally designated period of time. 

Rescue groups are helping the shelters and the animals by taking these animals still on stray hold, and they do so at their own financial risk, because their mission is to help the animals.

Somehow Dr. Blackmar – I feel like the word “Dr.” ought to be in quotes – views rescue groups as an inconvenience.  Rescue groups, by her own stated policy, are NOT notified when pets matching the group’s profile come in. 

I also know from personal experience working with a rescue group that it is difficult for rescue groups to get dogs out of this facility.  One of my own dogs was rescued from this facility before I adopted her.  She is very lucky to be alive.

Every other shelter I have worked with keeps lists of rescue groups to call and spends a lot of time on the phone and online trying to get animals out to the safety of rescue groups.  Dr. Blackmar, on the other hand, is quoted as saying “It sounds like I would have to build a system to make sure that that works so that’s more bureaucracy that would have to be created to make sure that system works…What we have now is working.”

Is she completely insane? The only one this system works for is “Dr.” Blackmar.  It’s efficient, in that it guarantees the death of any animal still in her custody when the stray hold is up.  This is NOT acceptable.

What kind of veterinarian can be satisfied with a system engineered by her to kill as many animals as possible?  Especially when there are rescue groups begging to take these animals, get them medical attention at their own expense, and find them forever homes at ZERO expense to the taxpayers.

And then there’s the basset hound, WITH a rescue hold, that was euthanized shortly after Blackmar was interviewed by Randy Wallace.  No one in the rescue community doubts that the dog was put down as a warning/punishment to the rescue group who instigated Wallace’s report.  Blackmar was strangely unavailable when Wallace went back to ask about that dog.

It’s time for that facility to change its culture entirely, and for that to happen, Blackmar obviously has to go.  Because she thinks things are fine the way they are.
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Once again the missing pet signs are up everywhere I go.

Some people are lucky. A young lady of my acquaintance came home to find that the people who cut their lawn had left the gate open and her dogs had escaped.  One came home.  One didn’t. 

Meanwhile, a local realtor tried to pick up two dogs running amok on a busy street.  She caught one, but not the other. 

It just so happened that I had seen a picture of the dog picked up by the realtor, and then I happened to overhear this young girl talking about her dog not coming home.  Bingo!  The match was made, and the dog got to go home.

She was very lucky.  Her dog escaped without ID tags, and was not micro-chipped.  If I hadn’t, by purest coincidence, been aware of both the found dog and the missing dog, the odds of her getting the dog back would have been very, very slim indeed.

Meanwhile, my neighbors (of Dog From Hell fame) have posted a single “missing” sign.  Dog From Hell has gone AWOL.  Mind you, he has escape artist tendencies and has a history of bolting at every opportunity.  His humans didn’t do much to keep him – or the people around him – safe.  He weighs well over 100 pounds, and he is not people friendly. 

And this time he didn’t come home.

I don’t know how many days DFH has been gone, but I know that his family has done very little to find him.  One dinky sign.  And today I noticed that his crate is gone from their back porch.  So obviously they do not expect him to come home.  Poor dog never had much of a chance.

There is a lesson here for pet parents everywhere.  Even someone who loves her dog very much can be the victim of circumstances beyond her control.  It’s more likely to happen to careless, negligent owners, but it CAN happen to anyone.

So how do you keep your pet safe?

First, and most important, MICRO-CHIP your pet.  Collars can come off.  Chips can’t.  Pets with microchips are roughly ten times more likely to get to go home again. 

Second, pets should wear visible identification at all times.  I like Boomerang tags, because they fit flat to the collar or harness and cannot come loose.  However, please make sure that the collar fits properly.  Those tags only work if the collar and the dog stay together.

Finally, the most important thing you can do is to make sure that your dog lives in a safe environment.  My dogs never go outside without me.  Far too many people come home to find that the meter reader, yard guy, phone line repairman, or whatever other person may have wandered through has opened their gate and let their pets escape.  And if it happens while you’re at work, they may have been on the loose for hours before you even know they’re gone.

If your dogs must be outside when you’re not home, padlock your gate.  Utility companies can read meters over the fence.  Yard people and repairmen can be scheduled to come when you’re home.

Even when boarding your pets, don’t assume that every facility will keep them safe.  I know of more than one case in which boarding facilities have allowed pets to escape.  If you must board your pets, look for a place with a fully enclosed area and multiple doors between the boarding area and the front door to the outside world.  When your pet goes out for play time, they should never, ever, be outside the fence.  The door to the outside should open directly into a fully fenced area, and that fence should be at least 6 feet high and very secure.

How safe is your pet?

NOTE: The column below originally ran on February 9th, 2011.  Harris County has unnecessarily killed more animals since then, including a healthy basset hound with a rescue spot waiting for him.  Tonight at 9:00 p.m., Randy Wallace of Fox News will offer with an in-depth look at the appalling “management” practices of this facility.  For Hope and all the others like her, I hope it makes a difference.  It’s time.

“It’s Not Right”

I thought really hard before deciding to write this column.  I am generally a strong supporter of county and municipal shelters, which usually operate under tight budgets with inadequate staffing.  I count a number of animal control officers, cruelty investigators, and shelter directors among my personal friends.  I have seen many shelter directors and shelter employees go far above and beyond in their efforts to save as many animals as possible. 

I cannot say the same about the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services Veterinary Public Health Division.

Many people in the Houston area rescue community have long had a very poor opinion of the Harris County animal control facility, or properly, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services Veterinary Public Health Division.  Most rescuers won’t speak up, because rocking the boat can cause your group to lose rescue privileges at that facility, which would mean that that group would no longer be able to help any animal that come into that facility.

In the State of Texas, animals must have access to food, water, adequate shelter, and adequate veterinary care.  Failure to provide any of these items is a violation of state law, and depending on the severity of the situation, constitutes animal neglect or animal cruelty.

The two paragraphs below are copied directly from HCPHES VPH, and are part of the ordinances under which the facility is supposed to operate.

“Impounding facility: Any premises approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services and designated by Harris County for the purpose of impounding or caring for all animals found in violation of these Regulations including, but not limited to, the animal shelter operated by HCPHES VPH.” (emphasis mine)

M. HCPHES VPH shall keep all healthy unclaimed dogs and cats for a period of three (3) working days. At the expiration of that time if a dog or cat has not been claimed or redeemed by the owner, it may be put up for adoption, sold, transferred to other animal welfare agencies for adoption or humanely euthanized. All actions take under this section shall be conducted as required under the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. Section 2131 et. seq.). (emphasis mine)

In other words, the way I read these ordinances, the shelter is there to CARE FOR the animals.  They are to keep HEALTHY animals for three days prior to disposition.

Why, then, does this shelter routinely refuse to treat sick or injured animals?  Why will they not release sick or injured animals to rescues which would provide treatment?

I am personally aware of cases in which injured animals were kept at HCPHES VPH throughout the three day stray hold.  These animals were left untreated, without pain medication, without even basic veterinary care, with the full comprehension of the shelter staff that failure to treat would mean that the animals in question would be permanently disfigured or disabled, or even die from their injuries.

HCPHES VPH insists that they cannot release injured animals for treatment.  Why not?  Every other shelter I’ve ever worked with does.  And by their own rules, they are to keep HEALTHY animals.  This leaves them with a clear legal loophole they could use to get help for injured animals.

HCPHES VPH rules also state that their mission is to CARE FOR the animals.  Really?  How, then, can they justify leaving an injured dog to suffer in agonizing pain for three days?  There was a rescue waiting to take her and rush her to a vet. 

HCPHES VPH made them and the poor dog wait for the full three days.  The dog did not survive. 

Had she been vetted on the first day of her stray hold, she would have recovered.  Instead, she was given a token pain pill on the first day and then left to lie helpless and suffering until the full three days passed.

I choose not to name the dog or the rescue group here, because I don’t want them to lose their rescue privileges.  But I have seen the documentary evidence.  She is not the first dog this has happened to, and unless HCPHES VPH makes major changes, she won’t be the last.

As it stands, HCPHES VPH is perpetuating the very cruelty and animal neglect that the general public expects them to help prevent.  Their own rules state that they may enter premises without a warrant if “exigent circumstances exist such that there is necessity to act immediately to protect or preserve life or to prevent serious injury to a person or an animal.”(emphasis mine)  This would seem to indicate that they have a mandate to protect animals.

So why aren’t they protecting and preserving the lives of the animals on their own premises, in their own custody?

It’s not right.

Recently, one of my cousins went on a cruise with her husband, leaving their son to babysit their pets.  And wouldn’t you know it.  The cruise ship had barely cleared port when one of the dogs began to urinate blood.

Their son called me to find out what he should do.  He needed to know which vet to take the dog to, and how to pay for it.

Well, I knew which vet, but I didn’t know what arrangements, if any, had been made at the vet’s office.  Luckily, my cousin had indeed let the vet know that she would pay for any services needed upon her return.  Where things almost got sticky was that she had not left written authorization for treatment to be given.  The clinic decided that the verbal commitment to pay for services upon return constituted permission to proceed, so the dog got the ex-rays and medication she needed.

This series of events got me to thinking.

When we go out of town and leave our pets in someone else’s care, what bases do we need to cover?

Whether your pets are in a kennel or with a house sitter, make sure you’ve done these two very important things:

Leave detailed instructions with the person caring for your pets. 

Do they need medication?  How much? How often?  What do you use to measure it out?  Does it need to be refrigerated? Should it be given with food?

And speaking of food, leave detailed lists of what each pet eats, as well as what the feeding arrangements are.  Do they need to be separated while they eat?  Do they need to eat at a specific time?  If their food needs to be warmed, how many seconds does it go in the microwave?

Be sure your caretaker knows what constitutes normal for your pets, and exactly what to do if normal isn’t what he or she is seeing.

Contact your veterinarian’s office.

Let the vet know what dates you will be travelling, who will be caring for your pets, and what payment arrangements you would like to make for any services that might be needed while you’re gone.  Leave written authorization for the vet to treat your pet, and make sure they know who will be in charge of the pets’ welfare while you’re away. 

I also strongly recommend that you designate someone to make major decisions, in writing, in the event that your pet becomes seriously ill or injured and needs surgery while you’re gone.  Then discuss parameters with that person.  This is especially important if you will be unreachable.

Do what’s best for them.

The hardest thing about travelling, for me, is not taking my pets with me.  But Bumble the Special Child does not travel well, and since he is medically fragile, he does best in his own environment.  Lizzie, being a recent rescue, isn’t big on change either, so she stays home, although I think as she becomes more confident and better socialized, she will be a happy little traveler.  She has already gotten much more comfortable with riding in my truck.  I’m working up to taking her more places, a little at a time.

Whatever you do with your pets when you travel, the most important thing is that they are safe, happy, and well-cared for.