Archive for September, 2011

When I began writing this blog, I somehow did not envision it as a political instrument. I anticipated writing informative pieces about shelter and rescue animals. I thought I would write about veterinary issues, with “canine interest” pieces about my own animals interspersed.

I should have known better.

The more I learn about the realities of the animal welfare world, the more I realize how important the politics are. To me, animal welfare should NOT be a political issue, but instead a question of human decency. Unfortunately, my definition of human decency does not seem to be the norm.

I have learned that it is necessary to legislate humane treatment of animals, because many people will otherwise misuse them. I have learned that the law must carefully specify what constitutes minimum humane treatment, in order to have a basis upon which to prosecute those who abuse their animals. Common sense and morality are not a functional basis for legal action.

That, sadly, did not surprise me.

What does surprise me is how much conflict and bad behavior exists among those who supposedly have the best interests of the animals and of the community at heart.

Take the latest controversy in Harris County, for example. Dawn Blackmar, the director of HCPHES, is supposed to be the person who is ultimately responsible for ensuring humane treatment for the animals in her care. Yet Randy Wallace of Fox Houston has repeatedly exposed appalling violations of basic legislated standards of care. And still she is the director of the nonprofit associated with the shelter.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Another outrage to cross my personal radar is the case of Molly Reed. Some years ago, there was a cruelty seizure in Montgomery County. It was alleged that this woman was importing dogs from the hurricane-affected shelters in Louisiana, under the guise of running a rescue, and then dumping the same “rescued” animals at shelters in her area as strays. Shelters had anecdotal evidence that she delivered dozens and dozen of animals to be euthanized at local shelters. When the HSPCA was finally able to seize the animals in her custody, they were not in good condition – to put it mildly.

After lying low for several years, rumor has it that this woman is now trying to “rescue” animals from other out-of-state shelters that haven’t heard about her. If she is “back in business”, then it is only a matter of time before she falls back into her old patterns. Local shelters are already warning their staff to be on the lookout for her.

And legally, no one can prevent her from re-establishing herself as a rescuer until she breaks the law again.

SO many things wrong with this picture.

My latest pet peeve is the series of conflicts in the animal welfare community. Volunteers yelling at each other in real life and online, veterinarians trying to stop the operation of the low-cost clinic because they won’t listen to the facts, bad adopters returning animals in worse condition than they left in. Not to mention local and state government whose laws are inadequate and whose skimpy animal welfare budgets are an embarrassment.

I never intended to get involved in politics. Mostly, I don’t like the giant bureaucracy associated with politics, and I don’t like the way political maneuvering often forces people to compromise their beliefs and goals to keep their offices, in the name of serving the greater good. So often, a practical solution is right at hand…if the political machine will get out of the way and let us apply it.

Which is precisely what’s wrong with the political picture. 

  • What do you know about animal welfare laws and politics in your community and state?
  • Do you know what constitutes animal cruelty in your area? Or what the law can do about it?
  • Do you know what your rights and responsibilities as a pet owner are under the law?
  • What laws does your municipality have, need, and enforce? Are they well-written and appropriately enforced?
  • Do you know who the important political figures in animal welfare in your area are? Do you know what they stand for?
  • Are municipal and county shelters in your area keeping transparent records? Can any citizen access their statistics?

These are just a few basic questions that any animal welfare supporter should be able to answer…

I ended up taking an interest in AW politics because I live by the idea that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Thus, if I don’t like what’s happening, I have an obligation to do something about it. And so, readers, do you.

I find myself once again addressing the need for low cost veterinary services in Montgomery County. The Montgomery County Animal Shelter has been offering low cost vaccinations and spay and neuter services to the community. I consider this a good thing!

Apparently many members of the local veterinary community disagree. Several local veterinarians are pressuring the Montgomery County Commissioners to limit what services MCAS can offer. Their rational is that the services offered by the county are cutting into their practices.

Bluntly, I doubt it.

Here are a few facts. In Montgomery County, Texas, the per capita income is $30,909. The average household has 2.94 people. And most importantly, 11.2% of the local population is living below the poverty line. The census data available does not tell us how many people are living just above the poverty line.

Many, many people in the lower income brackets own pets. Poverty does not prevent you from loving animals. And while I agree emphatically that people should not have children or animals they cannot afford to care for, the fact is that they DO.

The demographics convince me that the vast majority of the people served by the veterinary clinic at MCAS would NOT be able to afford services from a traditional veterinarian. MCAS offers spay/neuter services for $40 to $60, in most cases. Traditional veterinary clinics offer spay/neuter services for $140 to $400, depending on the vet, their location and corresponding overhead, and what pre-operative services (such as bloodwork) the client opts to do.

There is a lot of difference between $60 and $400.

Realistically, most people can come up with $40 to $60 for a pet’s care. But I can tell you from personal experience that coming up with several hundred dollars for the same services can be very challenging, even for a middle class professional. Expecting people who earn near the poverty line to do so is just impossible. For some of them, it might literally be half their budget for the month.

My understanding after talking to a couple of local veterinarians is that many local practices are suffering under the burden of the current economy – which, as we all know, is not so hot. So I realize that these vets are scared of losing more income to a low cost clinic.

Unfortunately, many of the local veterinarians have been swayed by a couple of disgruntled vets who have a grudge against MCAS. The rumor mill is running rampant and wrong. Let me clarify a few things.

Yes, MCAS does have some veterinary equipment not necessarily needed for spay and neuter surgeries. That equipment is used in house for foster dogs and dogs still in the shelter. It is not available to the public.

Yes, a few people who could afford “regular” vet clinics may sneak in, but the vast majority of those using county services do so because it’s all they can afford. Otherwise they wouldn’t wait in long lines and schedule months in advance for services; using county services does come with certain inconvenience. And a high percentage of those services goes to MCAS fosters or recently adopted animals.

No, your practice will not go under because of MCAS. The county does not intend to “compete” with local clinicians. They want to provide services that would otherwise not be accessible to their clientele, so that the animals can be properly cared for, which will in turn reduce the number of animals that get taken into MCAS as strays and surrenders. Each clinic might lose a couple of appointments per month, but a huge percentage of those using MCAS services would never set foot in your clinics because they cannot afford your fees. Look at it this way: the availability of the MCAS clinic gives us the opportunity to educate those people about other vet services they might need in the future.

I understand that veterinarians are running a business and have to keep an eye on the bottom line. A few suggestions:

If each vet would offer just 5 low cost spays or neuters each month, it would be an excellent opportunity to attract new clients who have recently adopted a pet. If each vet would offer one day per month for low cost vaccinations, that too would drastically reduce the demand for such services from the county. I’m not suggesting bankrupting yourselves. I’m suggesting that offering such services would build good will and attract clients who would be more likely to return for other services in the future.

But please don’t try to sabotage MCAS’ clinic. The animals of Montgomery County need it – and FYI, the services it provides are NOT taxpayer funded.

Meet Moose.

Moose is a young rescued Pekingese who now belongs to Carl Grossman. Until a week or so ago, this is what Moose looked like, and it is in fact what Moose SHOULD look like.

However, Carl came home one day last week and found Moose filthy and agitated. He didn’t know what to think. A visit to the vet the next morning revealed that Moose had the worst hot spot I’ve ever seen. He was apparently filthy because the hot spot (hidden under his long hair) was driving him to roll in the dirt and bite at himself.

So right now, Moose looks like this.

The good news is that it’s temporary. In a few weeks, Moose’s skin will heal and his hair will grow back. But it made me realize that I knew very little about hot spots. So I took the opportunity to educate myself and my readers.

The proper name for a hot spot is pyotraumatic dermatitis. It’s a bacterial infection of the skin that can spread very rapidly, which is how Moose went from looking like photo A to looking like photo B in less than 36 hours.

The bacterial infection can be contracted any number of ways, but it is most commonly associated with licking and chewing. So a dog may have a small irritation of some sort, and his own need to chew and aggravate that spot can cause the bacterial infection to develop. The initial irritation might be an allergic reaction, a scratch or small wound, even a bruise. Some dogs can even develop this and other skin conditions from stress.

So what do we do about it?

Primary treatment for hot spots means going straight to the vet to make sure that the affected area is actually a hot spot, as other conditions can present a similar set of symptoms. Once you know that’s what you’ve got, the next step is to shave the area so that it can stay cleaner, dryer, and more comfortable to the animal. Be advised that your pet, no matter how docile, may STRENUOUSLY object. Hot spots hurt. He may not want you to touch it, and he may get pretty nasty about it. Some vets recommend sedation to clean up a bad hot spot.

The basic “nursing” care of a hot spot involves gentle daily cleansing and cool compresses. Your vet will probably also provide oral antibiotics to kill the bacteria, as well as topical medications to keep the area dry and to reduce the pain and inflammation. Be careful with treating this yourself – home remedies like hydrocortisone creams may provide temporary relief, but may not actually promote healing. They keep the skin too moist and serve to hold bacteria and moisture in, even as they reduce the itch.

A very important thing to know is that hot spots can run in cycles. You do not want this to happen to your pet, so you need to work with your vet to determine what might have caused the episode. It won’t always be possible to determine a cause, but definitely review possible inciting incidents and environmental causes with your veterinarian.

Of equal importance: If you suspect that your pet is developing a hot spot, don’t mess around. Go to the vet quickly. They can spread at appalling speed and they are very painful to your pet, so quick treatment is a necessity.

Moose got to the vet within less than 36 hours of his first bout of discomfort, and his hot spot still spread this fast.

The good news is that poor Moose is on the mend, and hopefully it will be a single occurence. So before long, he’ll look like he’s supposed to again.

So I went out of town for the weekend, and left my three Pekes in the very capable hands of my housesitter. As you know, my oldest furry child, Bumble, is very special needs, so it takes a REALLY good petsitter to manage his needs.

My younger ones, Elizabeth and Oliver, are the “easy ones.”

Right.

They’re easier than Bumble in the sense that they don’t have any special medical or behavioral needs. They’re friendly, happy, healthy, and playful.

HOWEVER.

They are way too smart for their own good, and when Mama leaves, they get busy. This is not separation anxiety. This is not being naughty, at least not in their little minds. It’s called taking advantage of the situation, sort of like when you send your kids to visit Grandma and they run hog wild while they’re there.

First, Bumble takes full advantage of Stacy’s good nature. She was outside walking him at 3:00 a.m. I asked her why. Well, he wanted to go out.

Then my young ones got in on the act. I got a text from Stacy, which said the following. “Can’t find check. Can you cancel and write another?” I immediately called and asked for details. My first question.  Did Oliver eat it? (Baby boy is going through a paper eating phase.)

Stacy admitted that such was totally possible, since she found him happily shredding a different check. Since both had been in her pocket, well…odds were that he’d already eaten the other one. This morning, I get another call. She found the check! Or to be precise, Oliver came prancing up to the sofa with the check in his teeth and dropped it on her shoes. He was very pleased with himself.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, my good girl, caught Stacy distracted by Oliver and took the opportunity to steal half of Bumble’s breakfast. (Bumble really didn’t mind.)  She also indulged in her favorite pastime – putting Oliver’s toys up on the sofa where he can see them but not reach them.

When I got home this evening, they had to tell me all about it. I picked Bumble up to hug him, and my little old man rubbed his face all over my shoulder (an effusive greeting from him) and muttered and fussed. Oliver and Elizabeth immediately went into their evening performance of the Pekingese Circus. Only problem – they insisted on rolling, snorting, kicking, wiggling, and biting each other IN MY LAP. That went on for an hour before they felt their point had been sufficiently made.

I think they missed me.

People often send me questions about what certain common animal welfare terminology means. Since those of us who have been in animal welfare for a while speak our own odd dialect, I thought it might be useful to provide a glossary. I’m going to address those terms about which I have been asked recently – I know there are many I won’t think of, but there’s always another column! 

Owner Surrender or Owner Turn-In

Commonly referred to as an OTI, the owner turn-in is a dog (or other pet) surrendered to the shelter by the actual owner. On the plus side, we can often get more information about the animal’s history. On the negative side, many shelters only give OTI animals 24 hours prior to euthanasia, because they know that there is no one looking for this dog. Good shelters work hard to get OTI animals to rescue FAST.

Backyard Breeder (BYB)

These are the jerks who have a couple of dogs that they breed ad infinitum as a money making enterprise. BYB’s are notorious for not taking proper care of the dogs, and the puppies are often sickly, inbred, and poorly socialized. They often sell the puppies on Craig’s List or on the side of road, which tells you that they do not give a damn where the puppies wind up. 

Roadside Puppy Sellers

Those of us in animal welfare HATE these people. These are the vermin you see sitting on the side of the road, rain or shine, Saharan heat or Arctic cold, selling puppies. They do not care if the puppies go to good homes, as long as the purchaser has cash in hand. It is entirely possible that the puppies are sick, sometimes fatally so. It is almost probable that the puppies do not have the bloodlines the seller claims for them; you may buy a “purebred Maltese” for hundreds of dollars and end up with a mixed breed pet engendered by poor supervision of the parent dogs. (Note the probability of overlap between BYB and Roadside Puppy Seller.)

Puppy Mill 

This is worse than a BYB scenario. Puppy mills are large scale breeding operations, in which the animals spend their lives in deplorable conditions, often neglected and deprived of clean surroundings, fresh air, good food, and veterinary care. Inbreeding is common. Mortality is high among both puppies and mother dogs, due to overbreeding and neglect. I cannot express in a single paragraph exactly how utterly disgusting a puppy mill is. I’ve been in one, and I will never, ever get those images out of my head. It is an understatement to say that they should be outlawed nationwide, with severe penalties for those caught running one.

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

BSL is legislation that prohibits or at least places restrictions on the ownership of certain breeds. It is mostly commonly proposed or enacted in relation to pit bulls, but other breeds are definitively at risk. The Rottweiler, Cane Corso, Doberman, Dogo Argentino, and Chow are other breeds often targeted by BSL advocates. BSL proponents claim that these breeds are dangerous to the public, and want them eradicated. Eradicated is a nice way of saying that these laws can force people to euthanize well behaved family pets. Why? Because they LOOK like they might have one of these breeds in their lineage. I know it sounds impossible, but it has happened, many times, all over the United States and Canada, among other places. 

Cryptorchidism

This condition is extremely common among some breeds, but can happen to any breed.  It basically means one of the animal’s testicles is not where it belongs. In and of itself, this is not a big deal, but it’s even more important to neuter these animals, as cryptorchid animals can develop testicular cancers, possibly from the unnatural compression of the misplaced organ.

Mange

Mange is one of the most common conditions seen among dogs coming into shelters and rescues. There are two primary types: sarcoptic (contagious) and demodectic (hereditary and not contagious).  Both are readily treatable and definitively NOT a reason to refuse to take in a particular dog. Just be aware that dogs with sarcoptic mange can transmit the condition to other pets in your household and thus should be isolated until they are no longer contagious.

Microchip

A microchip (or chip) is inserted via hypodermic injection between the animal’s shoulder blades, just under the skin. This chip is then registered with a monitoring agency that records the animal’s name, age, description, and contact information for the owner. It is a vital tool in returning lost animals to their owners, which is why most shelters and rescue groups microchip their animals prior to adoption.

I’ll start paying closer attention to the vocabulary we use that makes other people look at us funny, so I can add to this list in future columns. Suggestions? Words that stumped you as newcomers to AW?

The fires continue.

The firemen are working round the clock, risking their lives to save people and property. Cops are working overtime to keep residents and looters out of the fire zone.

With today being the ten year anniversary of 9/11, it does seem appropriate to acknowledge the firefighters and cops for their undeniable heroism. What a shame that we have to be in the middle of another (albeit smaller) disaster to do so.

I am proud to report that many agencies and drop off locations are saying that no more donations of food and clothing are needed, because the local residents stepped up in such a major way. Texas takes care of our own.

However, I’m not happy with how the various Offices of Emergency Management have handled the animal issues.

Local shelters in the affected counties are overflowing. Small animals are coming in droves, straining shelters that were already far too close to capacity. The more animals come in, the more overburdened the shelter, the more animals have to be euthanized. This is NOT the fault of the shelters; it’s a numbers game, plain and simple. When there are more animals than spaces, and animals still coming in, shelters don’t really have a choice.

The large animal situation is pretty dire, too. I am very, very angry that the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management has not asked for help from the Houston SPCA. Waller County finally did so as of yesterday. Both agencies should have asked for help days ago. I know for a fact that Constable Tim Holifield spoke to the OEM in Montgomery County about the benefits of activating the HSPCA. The OEM didn’t seem to find it necessary. I myself called the Montgomery County OEM to ask why they had not activated to the HSPCA. Unbelievably, I had to spell H-S-P-C-A several times and then tell them what it stood for. I did not find this reassuring.

The fire is burning in primarily rural, heavily agricultural area. In addition to the hundreds of dogs and cats and other small household pets, many households own horses, cattle, and fowl, in addition to a variety of exotics. Families cannot evacuate a couple dozen farm animals on short notice. Most people who have horses or cattle own a trailer, sure. But most privately owned horse or stock trailers can carry between two and four animals. If you can only make one trip out, obviously it is not possible to evacuate more animals than your trailer will hold.

Result: Dozens of animals left in harm’s way. Instructions were given to turn the animals loose so that they were not trapped in burning fields or barns.

Consequence: All these animals running loose are now a hazard to the vehicles in the area, a danger to each other, and in constant danger from vehicles, people, fire, downed fences, and water or feed contaminated from fire retardant air drops or other fire related chemicals.

Not acceptable.

God bless the volunteers who have been working round the clock to evacuate these stranded animals. Ananda Tiller, for one, has spent countless hours ferrying animals from the fire zone to safety. She is one of many – I just happen to know her name.  Constable Tim Holifield, after working long hours in his own jurisdiction, which includes overseeing the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, offered to use his own personal vehicle and trailer to help evacuate livestock.

So why am I angry? Simple. If the OEM’s had gotten a clue and activated the animal emergency teams sooner (or at all), then more animals would be safe, fewer animals would have fire related injuries, and fewer volunteers would have put themselves into harm’s way. While I am so glad for the animals that the volunteers were there, volunteers untrained in disaster management can unknowingly put themselves into danger, which can in turn endanger the firefighters who have to go get them out.

I don’t understand why the various Offices of Emergency Management would not call for trained help with the animals, when trained help was available and ready to step up.

What a tragic waste.

Things do seem to be calming down on the fire lines, thank God. But the danger is not over, and the need for help is not gone. Shelters and barns housing refugee livestock are in desperate need of food, volunteers, foster homes, and other supplies (see previous column.)

I’m always proud that Texas takes care of our own – let’s make sure we do right by the animals too.

This week has been a terrible one for Texas. It seems like the whole damn state is on fire. For the people, this is awful. With very little notice, people have had to evacuate, often leaving behind almost everything they own. Then they have to go sit and wait to see if the fires are going to claim their property or if the wind will aim its capricious whims another direction. 

As bad as it is for the people, it’s worse for the animals.

Normally, I focus exclusively on dogs, but today I’m going to widen my focus a bit, in light of the crisis in progress.

These fast-moving fires affect the dogs, cats, livestock, and wildlife in their paths. The dogs seem to be faring the best; many of the evacuees are telling reporters they only had time to grab their dogs and drive away. But quite a few people have left dogs and other animals behind.

Here’s the situation:

Over 1,000 homes in the State of Texas have burned, and more are at risk. Livestock are running loose in the affected areas, and may be injured. One area’s Office of Emergency Management issued a request that people who couldn’t get their livestock and pets out do the following:

  • Take off nylon halters or collars, which can melt into the animal’s flesh.
  • Spray paint or use a permanent marker to write contact information on the animal in a clearly visible location.
  • Turn them loose, so that they are not trapped in burning barns or pastures.

This horrifies me. Large animals like horses or cattle may panic and run into the flames. They can scorch their hooves beyond repair on hot ground in areas that appear safe to our eyes. They can drink water contaminated with run-off from burned-out structures or from firefighting chemicals. They can damage their legs in the rubble. They can be hit by vehicles and preyed on by the unscrupulous.

Wildlife is terribly vulnerable to the fires. Where can they go? Many species hide their young in the tall grass during the day; expect to see many orphans from the fires. The fires will also drive wildlife into populated areas, where they are at risk from other dangers like cars, people, and domestic animals. They may also pose hazards to people and domestic animals as they are driven from their own habitat. 

Dogs and cats left behind will also be in grave danger. IF they survive the smoke and flames, the contaminated water, the lack of food, the vehicles and predators, then what? If their people are able to find them, that’s the happy ending. But many people will not find their pets, whether because they can’t or because they do not choose to look.

This situation is going to put a huge strain on the animal welfare resources all over the state. And let’s face it. Shelters in most places are already bursting at the seams. We already ask shelters to do more than they can with less than they need. The hundreds, maybe even thousands, of displaced, homeless, and injured animals will tax an overburdened system terribly.

So what do we do? 

We step up.

Donate. Volunteer. Foster. Adopt.

We will need more volunteers than we ever have, along with lots of donations to feed and house and treat these animals. The closer to a fire zone you live, the more your local shelters will need help.

What they will need:

  • Volunteers
  • Money
  • Food (for dogs, cats, livestock)
  • Crates
  • Towels
  • Playpens or exercise pens
  • Leashes
  • Formula and bottles for baby animals
  • Bottled water for the volunteers (especially those working in the fire zones)
  • Veterinary supplies

Shelter volunteers can’t do it without you. Now is the time. Please, go down to your local shelter and offer to help. They’ll tell you what they need.

The following is a brief excerpt from The Rescuer’s Handbook. I chose this excerpt to post after spending yesterday morning working at the shelter. Every time I’m at MCAS, I see so many people give so much of themselves to fight the uphill battle of saving animals…and I know how discouraged we sometimes get in the face of all the bad things we see in the process.  So I thought this little excerpt might be a timely reminder…and if you want to read more, please scroll down to the previous post, in which there is a link to Amazon from which you can purchase the book.

For my animal welfare friends:

“Rule 1 of Animal Welfare: You can’t save them all.

The hardest lesson for any animal lover to learn when they become involved in animal welfare is that we can’t save them all. Some rescuers never learn it, and the result is that they become overburdened, overextended, and eventually tip so far into the chaos that they become part of the problem. It is a well-documented fact that most animal hoarders are deeply convinced that their mission in life is to SAVE animals.

The first time you have to walk out of a shelter knowing that some of the animals will not make it safely to good homes, it will be terribly difficult. That’s a sign that animal welfare is important to you, and it’s a perfectly normal response to a painful situation. The survival skill most critical for any good rescuer to develop is the realization that because of rescue, more animals will survive. Without rescue, fewer would make it. 

The first time I went to a shelter to pull animals for a breed rescue, the shelter employees spotted me as green. They tried hard to talk me into taking an “extra” dog. I can’t blame them, as they were just trying to get one more dog out to rescue. But I had to say no, because the little guy didn’t come close to fitting the breed rescue’s parameters. And it sucked.

Focus on the ones you can help, not the ones you can’t.

Never, ever allow yourself to bog down in guilt over the fact that you cannot take them all home. Each volunteer does what he or she can, and that’s different for each person. Remind yourself regularly that you ARE helping. You ARE making a difference.”