The Rescuer’s Handbook is HERE!

Finally! My pet project is complete!

The Rescuer’s Handbook: A Guide to Rescuing Dogs Without Losing Your Money or Your Marbles is available for purchase as a Kindle edition through!  You do NOT have to have a Kindle to purchase and read this book. You can download directly to your PC or to any number of other electronic devices.

Who should read this book?

EVERYONE! (Okay, so I may be slightly biased.)

But seriously, if you are in dog rescue, I have done my best to put together a really comprehensive resource that addresses every rescuer question I’ve encountered during my years in the animal welfare world. It will also tell you about how the larger animal welfare system works, and how rescue can best function within it.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“So you want to rescue dogs, but you don’t know where to start. Or you’ve been in rescue for a while, and you’re starting to realize how many unanswered questions you have. Written by a lifelong rescuer, The Rescuer’s Handbook will explain exactly how rescue can function best within the complexities of the larger animal welfare system. You’ll learn how to work effectively with first response agencies, and what constraints those agencies operate under that the general public just doesn’t know about. The Rescuer’s Handbook will tell you how to evaluate an animal’s suitability for your program, and what to expect once you’ve got him into rescue. It includes a comprehensive guide to commonly seen veterinary conditions among rescue dogs, as well as suggested criteria for qualifying an adopter and setting an adoption fee. This informative guide also delves into the areas where most rescuers struggle: volunteer recruiting and management, fundraising, and publicizing your rescue group to attract donors, volunteers, and adopters. Its honest approach to the rewards and challenges of the rescue world makes The Rescuer’s Handbook the go-to book for rescuers who want solid information and answers from an insider’s perspective.”

This link should take you directly to the page on Amazon from which you can purchase and download the book.

Enjoy! (And please, if you enjoy it, recommend the book to your friends…)

Amazing MCAS Volunteers and Trashy Political Tactics

Yesterday I went to the Montgomery County Animal Shelter to walk dogs and take pictures. Now we all know I do that pretty regularly, but this was a special occasion of sorts for several reasons.   

First, the shelter is FULL. In order to save as many animals as possible, the shelter was offering animals for adoption for just a $10 adoption fee. That meant that there would (we hoped) be an onslaught of adopters. High adoptions equals more kennel space equals more lives saved.

Second, a full shelter means they need lots of hands to walk, wash, and photograph animals. Some of the volunteers also are expert adoption counselors, which is a very necessary job. So many people that come into the shelter get overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of animals that they have trouble choosing the right animal to adopt. Volunteers who know what animals are in what rooms and something about their histories or personalities facilitate that process.

But third and most urgently:

You may recall that there has been a call for proposals with the possible goal of privatizing the shelter. A particular group of disaffected former shelter volunteers has indicated that they oppose Care Corporation’s bid, apparently because Constable Tim Holifield is part of the package. I can’t prove it, but I believe that the following is a result of that opposition.

It seems that SOMEONE got the bright idea to jack with Constable Holifield and the shelter management by putting in an open records request. That would have been fine, but as I understand it, this individual has requested EVERY single piece of documentation of every action taken by the shelter since 2005.  Given that there are at least 800 animals in the shelter every day, you can imagine how much paperwork that amounts to.

The open records laws for public entities like animal shelters are a good and necessary thing, in that it makes such entities accountable to the taxpayers. I have no problem with a genuine request for such information for a legitimate purpose.

However, this was clearly no legitimate request. A request for every single piece of paper generated by the shelter since 2005 is an overt and disgusting abuse of the open records laws. It will take the shelter employees dozens of precious hours of time to photocopy those records. Whoever made that request KNEW what they were doing. It is an obvious attempt to sabotage the shelter’s ability to do its real job – caring for those hundreds of animals.

Hours of time wasted on a frivolous and abusive open records request equals lives lost. Period. How pathetic and vicious is it that someone would resort to such tactics, knowing that animals will die, in order to make a political move?

This is not acceptable.

So the shelter put out a call for all hands on deck. The more volunteers on site, the more lives are saved.

It made me so proud when I walked into the shelter on Saturday and saw dozens of volunteers, at least double the number that are usually there. Some volunteers brought friends or spouses. I saw several new volunteers as well. We heard the call, and we came.

That open records request is still there to be dealt with, but every volunteer that came through the door on Saturday came with a message.

We want no part of underhanded political crap that hurts the animals and the people that work so hard to help them. We support MCAS. We support its employees and administrators, and we support its unceasing efforts to save as many animals as humanly possible. And we will continue to do so.

Animal Welfare: Work WITHIN the System

As I research the animal welfare industry for my upcoming book, I have learned that one of the biggest disconnects occurs between the rescue community and the first response agencies charged with handling animal control and investigating animal cruelty.

I recently heard a group of rescuers bragging about tricking a first response agency to prevent their “death wagon” from picking up an injured animal.  First, they lied to the agency, which damages the fragile relationship between rescuers and first responders.  Second, they wasted agency time and resources that could have been used to help another animal.  Third, had the first response agency been allowed to pick up the animal, the first response agency MIGHT have been able to track down and prosecute the people who injured the animal.

Rescuers often develop hostility toward the first response agencies, because the first response agencies do, out of necessity, euthanize animals.  Rescuers mistakenly view first response agencies as cruel, unfeeling, or unconcerned with saving the animals.  It’s just not true.  I can’t say that every first response agency does a good job, but I can honestly say that most of them really do the best they can within the constraints imposed upon them by local ordinances, city or county governments, and budget limitations.

Please realize that like law enforcement officers, first response agencies do have to operate with a certain level of detachment, because it’s the only way the employees can survive the cruelty they see every day.  But the simple truth is that they do a difficult and necessary job in challenging circumstances, and those of us in the rescue community would be far better served to work with them, instead of against them. 

Those of us in rescue work to save the animals, and it is easy for us to only see the small picture – this animal, in this shelter, at this moment.  Sometimes we don’t understand the constraints within which first response agencies operate; sometimes we just assume that we know better, because we specialize in a particular breed.  But if we really want to serve the animals, we need to make friends with local shelter workers, cruelty investigators, and animal control officers, because we will be able to help a lot more animals in the long run if we work within them instead of against them.

Rescuers, when we step up to help an animal, we need to think about all the factors.  Consider the bigger picture, and work within the system.

(This column originally ran on July 19th of last year, but it was worth saying again…)

Kids Can Help, Too.

Yesterday a fourteen year old girl told me that she loves animals and wants to help them, but there was nothing a kid her age could do to help, was there?

Yes, of course there is.

At the shelter:

If your mom or dad will go with you, you can walk dogs, play with the cats, wash and groom dogs, do laundry, and help clean. If you’re good with a camera, you can take pictures of the adoptable animals for their website, which makes it more likely that the animals will get adopted. Some shelters might be able to allow a fourteen year old to volunteer alone (with a permission slip), but many insist that an adult come with anyone under sixteen.

There are hundreds of animals in shelters, and the employees have all they can do to handle paperwork and necessities. The employees have to do intake paperwork, adoption paperwork, clean and sanitize the cages, runs, and floors, deal with the public, decide which animals are adoptable, order supplies, train volunteers and employees, and countless other mandatory tasks.

Volunteers are essential. They provide the rudimentary comfort that the overtasked employees literally cannot. The dogs NEED access to fresh air and sunlight. They NEED affection and time with humans. It keeps them healthier and happier, and thus they are more adoptable.

Outside the shelter:

You can collect donations. Shelters need towels, decent quality food (for dogs, cats, kittens, puppies), crates, toys, collars and leashes, Dawn shampoo, grooming supplies, cardboard trays, cat litter, litter boxes, food dishes, and above all else, MONEY.

How do you collect them?

If your school allows it, you can do a drive for supplies. I have a group of students that do a food drive for our local shelter every year. Last year, they collected over 1700 pounds of food, which sounds like a huge amount until you realize that the shelter uses that much food EVERY SINGLE WEEK. You can also organize an animal welfare service club to volunteer at the shelter or at shelter events, and that club can help gather supplies. Club bakesales are an easy and effective way to accumulate money you can donate.

You can also ask the companies where your adult family members work if they will match donations.  So if your school community raises $1,000 for a shelter, you might be able to get a company to donate a matching amount. 

If you belong to a church or synagogue, they might be willing to help you accumulate donations of food, cash, or supplies.  My church does an annual blessing of the animals; if yours has a similar event, it’s always a great idea to tie a fundraising effort to an event like this one.

There are dozens of ways a fourteen year old – or even younger kids – can help animals. For some of them, you may need an adult to work with you. If your parents are not able to help, you might ask a teacher, a neighbor, or even a friend’s mom if they would be the adult presence you need.

How do you know what shelter or group to help? Check online to see if your community has a local shelter. The nearer the facility is to your home or school, the easier it will be to get an adult to help you. If there isn’t, check online ( is a good resource). You can probably find a rescue group in your area. If you volunteer to wash dogs for a rescue group, believe me, they will be very grateful!

One last thing – if you can’t find an adult to help, don’t be discouraged. There are so many things a kid can do. What are your interests? If you like to cook, do bakesales. If you like to talk to people, you can ask people and businesses for donations. You are limited only by your creativity. If you love animals and want to help, there is always something you can do. It might just take you a little while to figure out what the best way is for you.

Puppy Seizures

Recently a rescuer friend gave my phone number to a lady who found a young puppy. The puppy had begun to have seizures – at least 12 seizures in 24 hours.

The lady was more than willing to deal with the seizures, but just didn’t know what to do, and of course it was after hours on a weekend.

Since my friend knows that I have done a lot of research into canine epilepsy in the course of learning to manage Bumble the Special Child’s condition, she thought maybe I could help.

At first, I wasn’t overly alarmed by what I was hearing. The dog was having grand mal seizures lasting roughly two minutes apiece. Okay, Bumble has those.  The symptoms were consistent. They tended to hit while the dog was sleeping. He went rigid, then vocalized (meaning screamed like a banshee), paddled his legs, lost control of his bladder and bowels. During this interval, he obviously had mentally left the building – total lack of awareness. Again, this fits Bumble’s symptoms.

First difference: after the active seizure stops, Bumble wants to sleep it off. This poor little guy would do a panic run through the house, and was a danger to himself because he was running blindly into things.

Second difference: Bumble has one or two seizures a month. This poor little guy had just had his twelfth seizure of the day.

That’s alarming enough.

The big one: Bumble is an adult dog whose epilepsy is quite possibly caused by the old injury that blinded his right eye long before he came to me. We don’t know that to be so, but under the circumstances it would be a reasonable hypothesis. This puppy was only about eight weeks old.

Not good.

Most dogs with idiopathic epilepsy (meaning we don’t know why they have it) have their first seizure between one and five years of age. It is quite unusual for a dog this young to manifest idiopathic epilepsy.

So what else can cause seizures?

A few possibilities:

  • Liver toxicity
  • Low blood sugar
  • Thyroid problems
  • Brain tumor
  • Infection or virus
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Vaccination reactions

Since this puppy was a foundling, they have no way to know what he might have been exposed to. So what should they do?



Here’s the deal. I live with an epileptic dog. I’ve learned what his “normal” looks like, and how to handle it when he strays from that normal. But this lady and her just-found puppy were in crisis. They don’t know what caused his seizures, and several of those causes can be extremely time-critical.

An epileptic seizure has been explained to me as the body running a marathon in two minutes. That level of physical exhaustion releases all sorts of metabolic products into the body, which is why many animals take several hours or even a couple of days to completely recover from a grand mal seizure.

Twelve seizures in so short a time would totally deplete the body. It was imperative that she take him directly to the vet, where they could sedate him to stop the seizures, give him fluids to help his body recover more efficiently if needed, and then look for a possible cause. If he kept having repeated seizures, he could end up with brain damage. It’s rare, but animals can die of extreme seizure activity.

The lady hung up the phone to rush him to the emergency clinic. I haven’t heard back, but I sincerely hope the vets were able to help him, and even better, to find a readily treatable and controllable cause they could address.

One final note: if you find yourself with a dog having seizures, please don’t panic. Seizures are controllable. It may take a little while to identify triggers and learn what approach works best for your dog, but most epileptic dogs live very normal, happy lives.