Archive for July, 2011

In today’s Conroe Courier, there is an article announcing the possible privatization of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter (MCAS).

Apparently the county has received two proposals for privatization, one from a local company (to be addressed in a future column), and one from the American Pet Association out of South Carolina. 

The website for the latter (www.myapaonline.com) says that the organization was founded in 1991 and exists “to provide education and services that result in more humane treatment of companion animals in the homes and back yards of the average American.”  The site also proudly proclaims the organization’s refusal to publish “internal data” and announces that “the APA is planning a major expansion of [their] Humane Services Department in 2011.”

I don’t like this.

This is a well-designed, rather fancy website.  However, links that should lead to real information tend to say “more to come”.  There are lots of vague references to how wonderful the APA is because they are different from, more ethical than, and not affiliated with any other organization.  The site contains very little actual information, other than the name of the director, Rich Werner, and that of his dog Pete. 

Here’s what I want to know.

  • Who are the humans behind the APA? (not just their names, either)
  • What does their “humane services” program really consist of?
  • Why and how did they select MCAS as a target for acquisition?
  • What are their plans for MCAS if awarded a contract?
  • Will the shelter director still have the authority to make all day to day decisions about rescue, adoption, veterinary care, and euthanasia?
  • Will they retain the existing director and staff, or replace them with their own hires?
  • Will they pay them at least what they are making now, so that the facility can retain good employees?
  • What is the average euthanasia rate at their other facilities?
  • Is the organization financially sound?
  • What kind of training in shelter management does the upper management of the APA have?
  • And above all, what guarantee do we have that their presence in Montgomery County would benefit the animals?

The APA does not reveal the location of its offices.  It does not accept “unsolicited mail.”  It does not have an employee directory.  And apparently you have to purchase a membership to get details of its various programs.  All it offers is a toll free number to a call center.

Did I mention that I don’t like this?

Frankly, their organizational emphasis on secrecy strikes me as creepy.  Unless the APA is willing to provide total organizational transparency on an ongoing basis, I don’t believe they have any business in Montgomery County.

Given that the first tropical storm of the season is forming in the Gulf and could be heading your way, I want to take this opportunity to remind all my readers about the importance of being prepared. 

There are many guides on tv and online telling PEOPLE how to prepare for storms.  There are just as many telling us how to prepare our property for incoming storms. 

My concern, however, is being prepared to protect your pets in the event of a storm.  You will see sections of this column in quotes – they are excerpts from a previous disaster preparation column.  But I’m adding a few pointers for storm season.

Here in Texas, many of my readers have livestock and pets, both indoor and outdoor.  I myself have three indoor dogs and a cat who does whatever she damn well pleases.  In the event of a major storm (I rode out the last two hurricanes in my house), you need to be prepared to care for your pets.

For your dogs, cats, and other “domestic” animals:

“Ideally, here’s what you should have:

  • Copies of shot records
  • At least a week’s worth of medication for any pets that needs them
  • At least a week’s worth of food
  • Bottled water
  • Dishes
  • Crates
  • Photographs of each pet with their name, age, and any pertinent information written on the back
  • Collars/harnesses and leashes

If you do have to leave in a hurry, you should be able to throw all these items (minus the crates, of course) in a bag, along with their beds and a couple of favorite toys, and get the animals, crates, and the afore-mentioned list into your vehicle and in motion in less than ten minutes.  Five minutes would be better.

Since one of my babies is extremely high maintenance, I keep several copies of his medical and behavioral history (which is extensive) on the refrigerator door, where I can grab them in a hurry on my way out the door.  I actually have this in case I need to make a late night run to the emergency clinic, because Bumble’s medical history does NOT fit in the two blanks on their little intake form.  But it’s handy to have in case of evacuation, too.

You should also consider where you’re going to take them.  Most shelters will not accept pets.  Make sure you have two or three options available to you – friends or relatives who are pet friendly AND HAVE ROOM for them, good boarding facilities in your evacuation destination, hotels that will accept pets.” 

If you’re going to do what I did and ride out the storm, then you need to be able to confine your pets to safe places.  During both hurricanes, I had a seriously pissed off primarily outdoor cat confined to my hall bathroom.  I didn’t like it any better than she did, but she was safe.

Look around your house.  The usual advice for humans is to retreat to a secure windowless room, preferably away from the outside walls.  The same goes for your pets.  In my house, that means the giant master bedroom closet.  If you have to remove belongings from that space to make room for pets and humans, do it. If at all possible, make sure there are crates for your animals stashed in whatever secure space you choose.  Some animals don’t cope well with storms of that magnitude and can injure themselves or others in their panicked state. 

Make sure that you have a box of emergency supplies for them within reach, too, in case the storm goes on for several hours.  You may need to feed them, or they may have to relieve themselves.  A package of puppy pads is not a bad idea, in addition to food, water, and any medications that don’t require refrigeration.  You’ll also want a large garbage bag into which you can put any used puppy pads or paper towels.

Our pets are totally dependent on us in the event of any emergency.  Don’t let them down.  Be prepared.

Today’s column features several adoptable dogs at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.  These dogs are long term shelter residents.  They are also great dogs with wonderful personalities who deserve to be adopted into loving forever homes. 

Imagine spending months on end in the confines of an animal shelter.  MCAS is one of the good ones, and their employees and volunteers work their butts off to care for the animals.  But at the end of the day, it’s still a shelter.  These dogs spend almost all their time locked in small indoor runs.  Outside play time depends on volunteers, so they may not get outside every day, and when they do, it’s usually only for fifteen minutes or so.  Their diet is somewhat irregular, because most of the food is donated, and thus what they eat can change from day to day.

It is mentally and physically hard on these dogs to spend long periods of time in a shelter environment.  So let’s get them OUT.

First there is Hershey. His ID number is A163773.

It is incomprehensible to me that Hershey didn’t get snapped up right away.  He is a beautiful chocolate Labrador Retriever, with the kind eyes and happy expression that characterizes the best of his breed.  I think many people see the gray on his muzzle and write him off as old.

He isn’t.  This is a dog in the prime of his life, with years of love and play ahead of him.  At about four years old, he is old enough to be past that demented lab puppy phase (if you’ve had a young lab, you know what I mean) and young enough to still have that boundless Labrador energy.  He is very social, and loves toys.  (It should be noted that he does not love cats.)

Now meet May. A158339.

My best guess is that May has some Doberman or greyhound in her background; she has that streamlined body shape.  May is, in adoption terminology, “middle aged”. What that means in the real world is that she’s around five or six years old.  Like Hershey, she is graying on the muzzle, but don’t let that fool you.  Darker coated dogs often gray early, and she also has some brindle markings that contribute to the graying look.  May is a lively girl who loves to play.  One of her more charming characteristics is that while she’s playing, periodically she runs over to check in with the humans.  She is a dog who wants human interaction and approval.

And then there’s Shelby Grace. A164890.

Shelby Grace is about five years old.  She’s a sweet dispositioned shepherd mix who loves people and gets along well with other dogs.  She is housebroken, and prefers to be an indoor dog.  She has had puppies in the not too distant past, and she deserves so much better than the life she’s had until now.  She has one of the kindest faces you’ll ever see.  Shelby Grace might be a little shy at first, but she warms up quickly.  She has the kind of personality that will bond to her person and be deeply loyal.  All she wants in return is love.

And finally, Joy. A156372.

I snuck Joy in just because she’s Hershey’s kennel buddy.  She’s only about a year old, and basically she’s a happy girl with plenty of playful energy.  She seems able to get along with other dogs easily.  Look at her pose for the camera!

MCAS is on highway 242, just east of Interstate 45, on the north side of the road.  (You’ll have to go past them and do a u-turn.)  You can also call them at 936-442-7738, but it’s a better idea to go see the animals in person.

Readers, I’m asking you to do me a favor.

Crosspost this column far and wide so that these dogs will be seen by lots of people.  Somewhere out there, each of them has a home waiting.  Let’s help them find their people!

Last week, Bumble had a really good week.  No late night crazies, ate well, seemed content and comfortable.

This week, not so much.

The last couple of days, as this round of storms has come through the area, Bumble has been fussy, uncomfortable, and whiny.

I watch him so closely for signs of musculo-skeletal pain, but his body is relaxed.  And he does have a lengthy history of migraines and epileptic seizures, both brought on by stress or weather.  When the barometric pressure changes drastically, it sets him off, just as it can give people migraines. 

Just now, he marched himself into the darkened bedroom, so obviously light and sound are bothering him, which is interesting, given that he has limited hearing and sight.  This makes a seizure some time tonight all too probable.  Truthfully, I expected one last night, after the previous round of storms.

People often ask if there isn’t anything more I can do for Bumble’s assorted conditions. 

Well, there’s the:

  • weekly cold laser and Alpha-Stim treatments for joint pain.
  • Selegiline for the age-related cognitive dysfunction (basically canine Alzheimer’s).
  • weekly chiropractic adjustments, which both alleviate joint discomfort and reduce the frequency of his seizures.
  • Gabapentin for pain (and it’s also an anti-convulsant).
  • high dose L-Carnitine supplement, which helps to control his seizures.
  • variety of dietary supplements to help his body stay as healthy as possible.
  • Benadryl to help ward off sinus pressure and migraines.
  • body heat-diffusing bed, because his body temp spikes sometimes. Moderating the spike can prevent the seizure.
  • Valium to break a cluster of seizures or prevent an incipient seizure.

And still sometimes the only thing that settles him on a bad night is walking the house with him on my shoulder.  The combination of body contact and motion seems to soothe him, just as it would a colicky infant.

I know his time is short.  He is old and frail and often confused.  And it sucks.  But he still eats well, and he hasn’t forgotten his house training, so he hasn’t given up yet.  He still responds to me, and is cranky with other people, so he does know me.

And even if it means walking around the living room with him at 2 in the morning several nights a week, I will do whatever it takes for however long he has left, because I love the little gremlin.

But I have to admit I’d be grateful if he and I both could get a good night’s sleep tonight.

Oliver arrived 10 days ago.

I already had Bumble the Special Child, and Minerva Louise the cat, and then we adopted Elizabeth Anne (Lizzie) in February. 

Bumble the Special Child is quite elderly, and has many issues.  So he does not play with Lizzie.  He likes her, but he really has no idea how to interact with her.  And Lizzie, being 18 months old, REALLY needed a playmate.

I had just begun to seriously consider the possibility of adding dog number 3 to the household when I got an email from the rescue group Lizzie came from.  Genny from Tiny Paws Rescue wanted to tell me about a young Peke she was fostering who would be just right for me.

Uh oh.

So I asked her to bring him for a visit.  I knew perfectly well that if he was as cute as his picture and could get along with Lizzie and Bumble, I would adopt him. 

When she took him out of his travel crate, I fell in love with him on the spot.  Oliver is 9.5 pounds of tiny, fluffy black and white Pekingese.  He is a happy little boy with big, round button eyes and a bouncy gait that reminds me of the little cartoon dog in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. 

Lizzie didn’t know whether to be thrilled or outraged.  She wanted desperately to play with him, but…those were HER toys.  And HER bed.  And HER yard.  And HER cat. And HER MOMMY!

Bumble didn’t particularly care, but seemed mildly entertained by Oliver’s antics.

Within 15 minutes, I told Genny to give me the adoption papers.

We had three days of extreme sibling rivalry.  By the third day, Lizzie would play with him, but periodically would remember she didn’t want him there and get a little snotty with him.  To protect them both, they were sleeping and eating in separate playpens, and interacting under supervision – just in case.

By the fourth day, they were best buddies.  Although she would periodically hold him down and sit on his head.  Fortunately, Oliver didn’t care.  He would just happily chew on her foot or tail until she let him up.

By day five, my house was the home of the Black Pekingese Snorting Circus.  Oliver and Lizzie run laps through the house, barking and snorting and rolling like very young puppies.  They play till they collapse from exhaustion, they sleep, they wake up and do it again.

Oliver is still very much a puppy – at ten months old, he is exploring the world busily, which seems to mean putting everything he can into his mouth.  A few days ago, he picked up a full water dish in his teeth and carried it to the living room, sloshing water everywhere.  The rag rug in the kitchen has been replaced, because it tended to shed pieces of fabric, and he kept picking them up to chew.  I have teeth marks in the polish on my toenails, because Oliver likes to pounce on them.  And today, he discovered that he can reach the fringe on the curtain in the living room.

The coup de grace…Friday evening, I noticed that everyone was VERY quiet.  Then I realized that Oliver was nowhere to be seen.  When I called him, here he came, as fast as his short little legs could go, carrying his newest prize – one of my bras.  He just happened to grab the one that matched the color of his harness, too.  He was trying to run with it, but since his legs were tangled in it, he kept tripping and tumbling.  When I confiscated it, he pranced off to find Lizzie, totally unfazed by the loss of his new plaything.

When you’re Oliver, life is one continuous party.  When you’re Oliver’s mommy, you spend a lot of time taking things out of his mouth!

Bern Williams had it right; “there is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.”  I haven’t laughed so much in years.  Oliver and Lizzie are SO much fun – they are really good for each other – and Bumble seems to like the show.

Welcome to the family, Oliver!

Once again, the local media is demonizing the pit bull.  And it ticks me off.

First, let me state the following. I do not own a pit bull, because my breed of choice is a small breed.  However, I have many friends and relatives who DO own pit bulls, and I have plenty of experience handling the breed.

Second, I am well aware that not everyone agrees with me.  That’s okay. You don’t have to.  But I do ask that you read this column with an open mind and consider the FACTS about pit bulls, not just the media hype.

Historically, reported statistics assign blame for 30% of fatal dog attacks in the United States to pit bulls.  In 2010, 22 dog attack deaths were caused by pit bulls.  (It’s worth noting that several of those dogs were documented as being chained or in other inappropriate situations that could turn any breed aggressive.)  But there is a lot of skew to those stats.  Here’s why.

Many of those dogs are only anecdotally pit bulls; the reporting authorities have to write down what they’re told the dog is.  The witnesses (even cops and animal control professionals) see a big, scary, aggressive dog with a big square head and certain physical traits, and thanks to the media, they tend to immediately assume it must be a pit bull.  Evidence of this phenomenon can be found by playing the pit bull game; players look at a series of pictures, only one of which is a pit bull.  Most people, even most professional dog people, can’t pick out the one and only pit bull in the photo array.  So the statistics are often skewed by misreporting of the attacking dog’s breed.  (You can try it for yourself:  http://www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html)

The American Temperament Testing Society (http://www.atts.org/) has tested 804 pit bull dogs, per the 2011 report.  This report says that 86.4% of those dogs passed.  Passing means that they have been exposed to some pretty challenging situations and kept their cool.  It confirms that these dogs are suitable family pets and safe to handle in a wide variety of stressful situations. 

To put this percentage in context, here are some comparative pass rates:

  • Akitas                               76% passed
  • Australian Shepherd          81.6% passed
  • Shar-Pei                           70.6% passed
  • Cocker Spaniel                  81.9% passed
  • Doberman                        77.7% passed
  • German Shepherd             84.4% passed
  • Rottweilers                        83.7% passed
  • Weimareiner                      80.5% passed

All too often, when people hear me quote these statistics, they accuse me of being a pit bull apologist, of lying about the numbers, of not caring about public safety, and in one memorable case, of “feeding my dogs on buckets of baby blood.” 

Here’s the reality.  Pit bulls are just dogs.  Big, strong dogs that a group of criminals have perverted for their own purposes.  The vast majority of pits want nothing more than to be someone’s much loved pet.  And a very, very high percentage of these dogs die in shelters because of the public perception that they are dangerous.

Of course some pits are aggressive.  So are some of any breed.  What makes the difference is that the general public associates pits with dogfighting, which in turn leads the media to characterize them as killer dogs.  Which, in the face of the facts, is just nonsense. 

Take for example, the Michael Vick dogs, tortured physically and psychologically beyond what most people can imagine.  Yet several of these “killer” dogs have been rehabilitated so thoroughly that they are now certified therapy dogs, considered safe to take into hospitals and nursing homes.  Others are now beloved family pets, and still others are still so fearful that they will never be “normal”. 

I’m tired of people leaping to conclusions without knowing the facts.  You don’t have to love the breed, but make your decisions based on real knowledge, not on the ignorant myths and fabrications of publicity hungry media outlets.

I spent the last two days at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.  Well, “Shannon’s Products for Pet People” was there to debut some of the new rescue-themed stuff.  The occasion was a two day “adoption party”, complete with food, music, a bounce house and face painting for the kids, and animals everywhere.

In two days, the shelter staff and the volunteers moved heaven and earth to get the animals adopted.  Results? 120+ animals adopted, and an intake of around 40. 

Most weekends, those numbers are reversed.

The volunteers arranged for the musician and bounce house, solicited donations of prizes for the raffle, set up crates, washed dogs, walked dogs, cleaned up after dogs.  They talked to people, guiding them to the dogs that suited their needs.  They filled out paperwork, negotiated adoption fees, and helped proud new owners load their new pets.  They sold raffle tickets, educated shelter visitors, and helped each other every step of the way.

And while all of this was going on, the shelter was also conducting its regular business.  Hundreds of animals had to be fed and walked, hundreds of runs and cages had to be cleaned, incoming animals had to be entered into the system, outgoing animals had to be processed for adoption.  On any given day, the shelter fields dozens of crises; this weekend, they were also handling the 120 or so adoptions and the larger than usual crowd of two-legged visitors.

The preparation just for the animals on display was detail-intensive. Cages had to be cleaned, dogs had to be washed, and each cage, crate, or playpen had to be equipped with a water dish and bedding.  Each dog’s paperwork had to be on hand in case an adopter needed the records.  Each dog had to be walked repeatedly throughout the day, and some had to be rotated in and out of the air conditioning because they were uncomfortable in the intense heat.  They all had to be supervised constantly, due to the proximity of unfamiliar animals and people who didn’t seem to understand why they should not go around taking dogs out of cages.

One volunteer had blocks of ice for her foster dogs; others came with bottle of water and bags of treats and snacks for their charges. Some had taken the time put bandanas or bows on their dogs; others had color coordinated sets of equipment.  Some were there alone; others brought spouses and kids to help watch and walk the animals. 

I watched overheated volunteers put dogs in front of fans instead of themselves.  Others cuddled nervous dogs in their laps in spite of the sweat pouring off of them.  One employee’s husband was at the shelter early on both days, and spent hours offering to help anyone he could.    

I saw volunteers tear up when a favorite dog got adopted, and joyful applause when the really special ones went to their forever homes.  The Bassador twins  – the cutest pair Labrador/Basset crosses you’ve ever seen – just about got a standing ovation when they came out the door together, adopted to the same home.  The enthusiasm level among the fosters and volunteers never waned. 

All too often the animal shelter’s job is to clean up the damage caused by the worst of humanity.  On any given day, you can see the results of depravity, cruelty, neglect.  Incoming animals are often starved or injured, sick or traumatized. People show their lack of character by dumping pets on the flimsiest of excuses, even after being told directly that the animals will probably have to be euthanized due to lack of space. 

Normally, all those foster parents, volunteers, and staff members are sort of invisible against the constant flood of animals in need.  This weekend, though, dozens of amazing people came together to do something wonderful, and it was a privilege to watch it happen.  If I started naming names of all the people who sweated blood to make it work, it would take pages and I would inevitably leave someone out.  So let’s just say this.

It was awesome.

Of all the things in this world that I do not understand, Michael Vick’s return to a lucrative career in the spotlight baffles me.

The man is a convicted felon. Since when is a convicted felon a role model?

Yet this criminal has been offered the key to a city, a multi-million dollar contract, an “sportmanship award” (of all ridiculous things) sponsored by Subway, and an endorsement contract with Nike.

Are there really so few talented professional athletes in the United States that we need to heap all this money and acclaim on a convicted felon?

Let’s review.

Michael Vick tortured, maimed, and killed dogs.  For fun and profit.  For me, that immediately puts him into the category of irredeemably subhuman.  In addition to the hideous animal cruelty, let’s consider everything that goes with dogfighting.

Drugs. Prostitution. Illegal gambling. Money laundering.  And all the violence that accompanies each of these. 

Michael Vick broke many, many laws and killed or irreparably damaged many, many animals.  And those are just the crimes we know of.  I do not believe for one minute that the full extent of his criminal activities will ever be revealed or paid for.

Yes, he did his time (although he should have had a much harsher sentence).  Yes, he has the right to work at his chosen profession.  Yes, he has the right to rebuild his life and try to become a better person.

Here are my problems with this mess.

Truthfully, I do not believe that Michael Vick has really changed.  You have to be truly lacking in empathy and indeed have a huge void where your soul should be to get off on hurting animals for sport.  I don’t believe that defect is fixable.  And incidentally, I remain appalled that the Humane Society of the United States considers him rehabilitated and a good prospect for future pet ownership.  Giving this man access to a dog would be tantamount to giving a child abuser custody of a child: inappropriate, potentially dangerous, and just plain irresponsible.

Even if he has changed for the better, Michael Vick should NOT be held up as a role model for our society.  Really, no matter how forgiving you are, is this man someone you want your kids to emulate?  Yesterday, I saw people on Facebook complain that “the brutha” went to jail for killing a dog while an accused child killer was acquitted.  I don’t know what bothered me most – that they were implying that the dog’s suffering and death were irrelevant, or that they were claiming a certain sociological kinship with him by calling him “brutha.”  

If Subway, Nike, and the Eagles had not gone out of their way to glorify this convicted felon, would the general public be so quick to dismiss his crimes?  I don’t think so, and I will refuse to support any business that tries to make a hero or a martyr out of Michael Vick. 

I have not forgotten.  I will not forget.  And neither will the millions of responsible humans offended by the glorification of a dog torturing convicted felon.

It has come to my attention that the sheriff David Walker of Wise County has made the incredibly stupid, insensitive, short-sighted decision to prohibit local rescue groups from taking and posting pictures of the animals in the custody of Animal Control.

Why, you ask, would he do this?

His “explanation” is that people have posted “unflattering” pictures of the animals.  Said pictures have apparently led to criticism of the way the animal control facility under his authority treats the animals.

Instead of addressing the problems with animal control management, he banned pictures. Instead of making this facility improve its image, he dropped a curtain over its operating procedures.  The only pictures that may be taken and used are those taken by actual employees of Animal Control.  The problem is that they do not have enough employees to make sure that all the pictures get taken and updated regularly, which means that hundreds of animals cannot get their pictures out there in a timely fashion.  By timely, I mean prior to their euthanasia date.

I have a number of problems with this decision.

First, what is he hiding?  Are the animals treated properly?  Do they receive proper food, water, medication?  Do they have adequate shelter?  Are their kennels cleaned regularly?  Does their staff treat the animals humanely?  Are his employees properly trained and certified?

Second, without pictures, the probability of lost animals being reunited with owners drops substantially.  Like it or not, the internet is the number one method for networking in the animal welfare community.  Just a couple of weeks ago, a family friend lost her dog.  The information was forwarded to me, and within a couple of hours, the director of my local shelter was able to reunite this dog with her people BECAUSE the dog’s information and picture were posted online.

Third, and critically important, pictures are the most productive tool we have for bringing potential adopters into the shelters.  Those pictures get the attention of potential adopters, and allow them to make preliminary choices about which animals they may be interested in BEFORE coming to a particular facility.  If they get online to look, and this facility has no pictures, then they will never even come in to this shelter.  The only traffic this shelter will get is walk in visitors willing to come in blind to see what’s there.

By his own admission, he estimates that only 25% of the animals get adopted.  By the way, he also claims that there is NOT a running tally of how many animals pass through animal control, nor do they keep track of adoptions and euthanasias.  Given that animal control is funded by the taxpayers, either he is lying or he is grossly mismanaging this department.  In most places, the number of animals to go through animal control is public record.  Either way, something needs to change RIGHT NOW.

What a hideously unfair situation for the vulnerable animals in the custody of Wise County.

And how ironic that the sheriff of Wise County should be the one to make such a profoundly UNwise choice.

Want to support allowing rescues and volunteers to take pictures of these animals?  Visit this website – http://www.co.wise.tx.us/ ­ – and click on the directory link (far left side of the page) for a list of elected county officials, including the sheriff.