Archive for October, 2011

If you’ve ever seen Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, then you will remember the Island of Misfit Toys, where unlovable toys are left to fend for themselves. The lesson in the movie, of course, is that all toys, however broken, damaged, misused, or unloved, are worthy of a loving home.

I could say the same for the animals in the Montgomery County Animal Shelter. John and I spent the afternoon there, walking dogs.

So many dogs. And as you walk the kennels, desperate faces and wagging tails beg you to take them out of there. Some of them are so eager to escape that they burst past you out of their kennels and try to make a break for it. They can’t get out, of course, because there are many doors between them and freedom, but still they try.

Others stand still for the leash and then pull so hard on their way to the door that you feel like you’re waterskiing behind them. One very large dog actually ropeburned my hand today, because he pulled so hard on the leash that the nylon cut into my palm.

In a way, that desperate behavior and lack of social skills is what qualifies some of them for residence on the Island of Misfit Pets. They want to be loved. They’ll be happy to love you back. But they need someone patient and kind enough to teach them how to act.

Others qualify for residency on the Island because of a physical problem. Blind, deaf, injured legs, scars…it could be anything. And much like those broken toys on the movie island, people reject them because they want a “perfect” pet. They don’t stop to look past the surface damage to the beautiful soul inside. (Never be afraid to adopt a special needs pet – they cope far better than humans do!)

Today’s special “misfit toy” is a little Shih Tzu.

She has no name as of yet. She (okay, to be honest, under the acre of hair, I’m not sure if it’s a him or a her, but I THINK it was a her…) was found in Harper’s Landing. She’s probably about 7 years old, which for a Tzu isn’t that old. Tail wags constantly, and she is overjoyed when anyone stops by her kennel to say hello. She is at least partially blind. The first day in the shelter, kennel workers noticed her running into things. By the second day, she knew where everything in her run was located and was navigating splendidly.  This means she will adapt easily to a new environment, even with a visual impairment. She seems to look at people, so I think she can at least see shadows. And how could anyone resist that happy little face?

Please contact MCAS through www.mcaspets.org, or just go by the shelter. This little girl is still in stray hold in the lavender room. Let’s get her off the island and into a home.

Meet Smooches.

Smooches is a special needs dog, although she doesn’t know it. She is so classified because she is missing a foot. She arrived at the shelter that way, so we don’t know how she lost it. But it is very unusual for a vet to amputate a foot and leave the leg, as most dogs do better with a full amputation, so we suspect that she may have lost the foot to a hunter’s trap.

The important part is that it doesn’t slow her down at all.

In the adoption world, Smooches has a triple handicap going. She doesn’t quite look her best right now because she apparently had puppies shortly before being dumped at the shelter. She’s a pit bull mix, which many people are foolishly afraid to adopt. And then there’s the foot. Some people are afraid to adopt a pet with a “handicap”, and some people are just repulsed by it. In either case, it would be very shortsighted to dismiss this happy girl just because of her breed or her injury.

Given all the crap she has been through in her young life, we might easily expect Smooches to be cranky or at least fearful. She isn’t. She got her name because she gives out…well, smooches…to all and sundry. Her tail wags constantly, and she LOVES people and other dogs. She has been successfully tested on a variety of other dogs at the shelter, and she has been seen playing happily with a volunteer’s five year old child. She likes to play in the water, and she runs like the wind, even on three legs.

Several volunteers at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter have fallen hard for this sweet little girl. There is a chip-in with her name on it, to raise funds for her care. When you think of the hundreds of animals the staff and volunteers work with, it tells you how special this girl must be. A number of people offered to adopt or foster, but they ALL have cats. Smooches has one tiny character flaw – she does not love cats.

We’re still waiting for the perfect home for Smooches to step forward.

If you have room in your life for this gorgeous girl, she really deserves a happy ending. She has had such a rough life until now, and yet she exemplifies the ultimate canine personality traits – joy, hope, and forgiveness. Now all she needs is a home!

So as you know, I spent the weekend at Petfest in Old Town Spring. One of the products I had prominently displayed was a teeshirt calling for a ban to roadside puppy sales.

It was amazing to me how many people wanted to talk about that shirt.

Some people wanted to know why I was selling that shirt when roadside puppy sales were illegal in Texas. (Huh? Did you not SEE the puppies for sale along the road on your way into Petfest? And newsflash – it is NOT currently illegal in Texas.)

Some people wanted to tell me about all the people who sell puppies where it IS illegal – in Harris County. (If it’s illegal, call the cops. They will come and run the idiots off.)

And some people really didn’t understand.

So let me explain it again.

Backyard breeders are sleazy people who breed their “pet” dogs and sell the puppies for a profit. By definition, they view dogs as inventory, not pets with needs and feelings. Those nice old people selling “purebred” puppies out of the back of a van…they’re not so nice.

In most cases, the dogs are bred over and over. The puppies are often weaned too early, so that they can be sold sooner. Because the mama dog is often depleted from many litters and is also not getting the veterinary care she needs, many time the puppies are weak and sickly. Because all they care about is as many puppies as possible, inbreeding is quite likely. It is equally likely that a supposedly purebred pup…isn’t.

Because backyard breeders need to move their “product” to make money, they sell them indiscriminately to anyone who has the price. In other words, they do nothing to ensure that the pet has a good home. The uninformed will argue that no one who spends several hundred on a pet will neglect, mistreat, or abandon that pet.

WRONG.

People who believe this are the same people who believe you can’t find a purebred dog in a shelter (ask my three purebred rescue dogs how true THAT is!)

Every time someone buys a puppy off the side of the road, that someone is contributing toward the mama dog’s life as a breeding machine. He or she is also contributing to an “industry” that takes advantage of unsuspecting buyers, jeopardizes the lives of the puppies and moms, and adds to the overload of animals that will end up in shelters.

The bill banning roadside puppy sellers made it through the state legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Perry. As I understand it, he did so because of the overly inclusive language, which could have been used by counties to ban ALL roadside sales, even innocuous things like birdhouses or produce.

Okay. So we lost a year. But we got closer than we have ever been to banning roadside sales of animals in Texas. So we’ll try again next year, and hopefully whoever is crafting the language of the bill will make the changes necessary to focus it on animals.

Meanwhile, if you want to show your support for the cause by wearing a great teeshirt, let me know!

Shannon’s Products for Pet People (in other words, my store) will have a booth at Petfest this weekend in Old Town Spring. Come see me! I’ll have lots of cool products for pets and pet people, including several animal welfare themed teeshirts, bumper stickers, and posters of my own design. (And all the photos on shirts and posters come from MCAS pets…)

So someone asked me today what Petfest is.

Really? You don’t know?

Petfest is one of my favorite events. According to their website ( http://www.petfestoldtownspring.com/ ), last year they featured over 70 rescue groups and 50 vendors. They also gave away about $13,000 in financial assistance to rescue groups.

You see why I like them.

Their records indicate that over the years Petfest has been around, they have made it possible for over 800 animals to find their forever homes. The individual groups also recruit fosters and do their own fundraising. And this year, they’re planning to give away TEN THOUSAND POUNDS of dog food to a rescue group. (The prize will be awarded by none other than the infamous Ricco Suave, former death row dog, canine goodwill ambassador, and connoisseur of well-endowed females of all species.)

They’ve got some fun events planned during the festival, including pet parades, a pet wedding, a blessing of the animals, pet happy hour, and a celebrity booth manned by famous people with two and four legs. Randy Wallace, the Fox reporter responsible for exposing the problems at HCPHES, will be there; I hope the whole rescue community turns out thank him for his help in making conditions a little more humane for the animals of Houston.

One of the cooler things to see and do will be the dock diving exhibitions and practices. Never seen it? Now’s your chance.

I’ll be set up just across from the funnelcake stand. If you don’t know where that is, as you come into Old Town, branch to the right when the road splits. I’m about halfway along, on the left. Look for the green tent and the banner with my beautiful black Peke Elizabeth sitting in bluebonnets. I have some fun new products that have arrived just in time for the festival and aren’t even on the website yet.

All the money raised by the festival organization will end up being donated to animal welfare groups. Bring your pets, your kids, and your wallets…come support Petfest!

Today was my day to walk dogs at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter. 

On the one hand, I come out of the shelter covered in dirt, dog hair, and slobber. I go home and throw my clothes directly into the washer, and then head straight for the shower. As I walked out to the truck today, I was counting the muddy pawprints on my shorts – more than usual. I also found myself taking stock of a few new bruises from wrestling dogs in and out of cages – and one from an over-excited Catahoula/ cattle dog cross that managed to wrap a leash around my leg tight enough to leave a mark.

I was tired, filthy, and a little sunburnt. I was also happy as a puppy with a new chew toy.

So what on earth do I get out of playing with dozens of shelter inmates?

Funny you should ask.

I get the satisfaction of knowing that a dozen or so dogs get to spend some time outside playing, instead of being locked in cages. I get to see stressed, anxious, frightened animals turn into joyful puppies rolling in mud puddles. (I just wish that they weren’t so eager to share their mud puddles with me!)

But more importantly, here’s what the dogs get out of it.

First, getting outside into the sun helps keep them healthy. Indoors, the shelter has no natural light, which can contribute to vitamin deficiency. The runs are cleaned regularly, but it’s necessary to clean them with bleach water, which can be hard on the dog’s skin and coat. The air in a shelter isn’t that great either. No matter how clean, it will still smell like what it is: a place that houses hundreds of animals in small spaces. Getting outside where they can play in the wading pools and mud puddles helps them by exposing their skin and lungs to the cleaner open air.

Those are the immediate physical benefits. What about the less tangible psychological benefits?

Dogs are not meant to spend their lives cooped up in sunless, bleach- and pee-scented cages. The more time they spend in them, the more it affects them. It can make them depressed, anxious, or hostile. It can make them hyperactive from lack of exercise or lethargic from lack of attention and sun. Being so confined is also a real hardship for housebroken dogs that are forced to relieve themselves in their cages, which is why most of them spend the first five minutes outside taking care of astonishing amounts of “business”. And all that stress can also upset a dog’s digestive system, which is potentially fatal in a shelter environment; a sick dog is more likely to be euthanized.

Getting them outside to play and interact with people and other dogs helps them tremendously. Just like with people, the exercise and play time burns off the stress of confinement. The interaction helps the humans to evaluate them for adoption, so that we can see how they act with different animals and humans. The reduction in stress makes their behavior more “normal” for them, so that potential adopters can see their true personalities better. And the more often they get outside, the less likely they are to develop stress-related behavioral issues.

While I’m out there, I also taken pictures of the dogs at play. Those candid shots, posted to the internet, help to make the dogs more adoptable; the general public likes attractive pictures much more than tragic cage shots.

I love every minute I spend out there with these dogs “no one wants.” It’s not much, but in those two hours a week I spend at the shelter, I can give a dozen or so dogs some time outside, get some good pictures of them, and go home knowing I did something to help. Plus I get the sheer joy of seeing animals at play – as therapeutic for me as it is for them.

Don’t think of it as community service or volunteer “work.” Think of it as saving lives and having fun in the process. The only hard part is not bringing them all home with me.

I just got through talking with a fellow volunteer from the Montgomery County Animal Shelter. We have a problem. (Yes, another one!)

As I have mentioned, there are over 800 dogs and cats in the shelter every day. Each of those animals has to be photographed and loaded to the internet. First, if an owner is looking for them, those photos make it that much more likely that the owner can find their missing pets. Second, since no one is looking for most of them, those pictures are literally the difference between life and death. An attractive picture makes a potential adopter that much more likely to actually come in to the shelter, and thus that much more likely to adopt a pet.

So here’s the deal.

The shelter needs photographers. We have a small group of people who take pictures every week, but the constant influx of new animals (60 to 100 per day) means that we can’t keep up. We need help.

Every single animal in the shelter should, ideally, have an attractive picture that showcases his personality and makes him look appealing to people looking online for new pets. If you’ve ever done animal photography, then you know that it can be a challenge to get a good picture of an excited dog…or a sad one…or a scared one.  And in the shelter, we have all three. So sometimes it takes a little persistence to get good pictures.

It’s a bit of a catch 22. The longer it takes for each animal, the fewer animals we can photograph in a session. But the better the photo, the more likely the individual animal attracts an adopter.

I already know you love dogs, because you read my blog. If you also own a decent digital camera, please, consider spending a couple of hours a week photographing animals. Honestly, it’s fun and deeply satisfactory to take cooped up shelter dogs outside to play and then take pictures of them playing. It provides them with the immediate relief of outdoor play time, and it may just save a life. Or several.

Don’t live in Montgomery County? Check with your local shelter. Our needs are not unique, except perhaps in sheer numbers, given the size and growth rate of the county. Every shelter needs volunteers.

As the volunteer I was talking to earlier put it, she can’t do it alone. She’s overwhelmed by the numbers. Me too.

But if I do a little, and she does a little, and you do a little…a little becomes a lot.

Got a camera? You can make an immediate difference.

One of the nastier forms of abuse disguised as neglect is the embedded collar. Someone puts a collar on a young dog, but as the dog grows, the collar doesn’t.

Have you ever seen a tree that has grown over and around a fence board or strand of fencing wire? The principle is the same, only much more painful. Eventually, the dog’s growth is such that the collar literally cuts into the flesh of the neck, and in extreme cases, the flesh can even close over the collar.

First, there is categorically no excuse for such an injury to ever occur. It takes months for a collar to cut deeply into the flesh and become embedded. Imagine how painful it must be to the dog, too. A collar is buckled around the animal’s throat, so as it becomes tighter, it can constrict the airway. As an asthmatic, I find that the idea of slow strangulation like this is particularly horrifying.

In the most advanced and dangerous form of the embedded collar, it can cut so deeply into the dog’s neck that the jugular vein actually becomes compromised.

A deeply embedded collar has to be surgically removed. First, the flesh into which it’s embedded has to be surgically cut free of the collar. The collar will have adhered to the flesh and cannot simply be peeled away. The veterinary surgeon will, if necessary, cut away necrotic or overly damaged tissue, and in some cases may even have to suture the top and bottom edges of the wound so that the scar can heal cleanly, instead of with the lumpy pink keloid scars produced by flesh granulating in an open wound. Second, if the collar has impinged on underlying structures such as the jugular, it will require a surgeon’s skill to safely remove the collar without the dog bleeding out.

MCAS has such a dog in custody right now. This poor girl arrived with a partially embedded collar. But that was not the worst of it. In her case, the S-hook of the chain to which she was attached had somehow gotten embedded deeply into her flesh as well. (See the before and after pics below. Warning – they might be a little shocking. But she is recovering.)

Had she not been brought to the shelter when she was, she could easily have developed a life-threatening infection. The blood oozing from her injuries could have attracted predators that she might have been too weak (or too restricted by her chains and injuries) to defend against.

MCAS immediately had their vet sedate the dog and remove the embedded material. You can clearly see in the pictures that there are marks on her neck where the weight of the collar or chain was cutting into her. Sadly, those are “minor” injuries – painful, ugly, but not life-threatening. For her, the critical part of the injury was the large piece of metal protruding from her flesh.

Last I heard, this sweet girl needs a foster or forever home. (The shelter director says that even in so much pain, she was sweet and affectionate.) If you have room in your home for her and want to give her a safe place to recuperate, please contact MCAS through http://www.mcaspets.org/ .

Bumble the Special Child had his laser treatment today. When we arrived at the clinic, we were led to our usual room and warned that we would have to wait a little while, as an emergency case had arrived moments before us.

Of course I asked what type of emergency it had been, but the young lady who showed us to our room only knew that the animal had presented as unconscious. Certainly that’s never good.

Shortly thereafter, Bumble’s laser vet came in and got him set up with his little box of red lights. She told me that there was a dog with a diabetic emergency – a very serious one – and apologized for the inconvenience of making us wait.

I said the only thing I could reasonably say in the face of someone else’s emergency. “Do whatever you need to do and don’t worry about how long it takes.”

Here’s the thing.

I’ve been the emergency client in the next room. Many times. I’ve been the one who threw off the clinic’s schedule for the day when a medically fragile pet presented with an emergency condition. I’ve been the one who called the vet at home at night, in the hopes that we wouldn’t have to go to the emergency clinic, where the vet wouldn’t know my pet’s complex medical history. I’ve even been the one who the vet invited to come to her home so that my dog could continue to get laser treatment while the vet was on maternity leave. So I, of all people, have no right to complain about having to wait a little while.

Bumble did get his laser treatment (not that he particularly appreciated it!). The emergency in the next room meant that the vet was running between two rooms, while I took my turn at holding the laser box in place. Not a problem! The diabetic dog got treated and my little guy got his maintenance therapy.

I mention this incident because I have often seen clients get snippy and impatient when they have to wait at a vet’s office. Funny how we’re accustomed to having to wait ridiculous lengths of time at the offices of many human doctors, but we get MAD when a veterinarian makes us wait.

Honestly, the veterinarian usually has a better reason. In a doctor’s office, it’s much less likely that an actual medical emergency will stagger through the door. Those go to the hospital. In a vet’s office, you literally don’t know what kind of crisis may come your way. And when a life or death situation presents, obviously it has to take precedence over maintenance treatment, no matter how important.

So my request to my readers is this: recognize that a veterinary practice, by its nature, can be inherently unpredictable. Be understanding about emergencies and schedule disruptions. Because some day you may be the client with the emergency, and you would certainly want your pet to receive immediate treatment, even if someone else has to wait.

So today I read an article on this year’s veterinary competition for which pet ate the strangest thing that had to be surgically removed.

My favorite was the number of dogs who ate spoons – while their owners used the spoons to feed them peanut butter.  One gulp, no more spoon, on strange exray, one expensive surgery to retrieve the spoon.

There was another who ate nine – count them, nine! – handballs.

I find this fascinating, because there are omnivore dogs in my household. Once upon a time, there was Bunny, my first Pekingese. My pretty white fluffball of a dog was a real character. She thought she was a Great Dane, and had no sense of the limitations imposed by her size. She was also apparently double-jointed, which allowed her to wiggle out of collar and carseats, especially in pursuit of food.

The result of her agility and omnivorous tendencies was a series of late night trips to get her stomach emptied. There were the donuts (stolen off the dash of my parents’ truck). There were the 25 Hershey kisses (neatly unwrapped). There were sundry small foreign objects. And let’s not forget the lovely evening she ate the contents of the bathroom trash.

Because of Bunny, I learned how to make a dog vomit. Useful knowledge, it would seem. In her case, the most effective method was two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide squirted down her throat with an oral syringe. The peroxide would bubble, and up would come what she had grabbed and gulped.

My Bunny crossed the bridge in November of 2009, and for a couple of years I didn’t have to worry about kleptomaniac dogs, as Bumble never had that issue. Then came Elizabeth and Oliver. Elizabeth is a busy girl who likes to rummage, but she’s not bad about eating what she shouldn’t.

Oliver is. His theory: if it fits in his mouth, he should eat it. I spend an inordinate amount of time sticking my hands in his mouth to retrieve things – tags off new clothing, twigs, hair, bugs, pieces he worked loose from the rug, my underwear, whatever he can find.

My house is as puppy-proofed as a house can be, but still he manages. Every time I think I have it all fixed, he finds something new to get into. Most recently, he took up chewing pieces off of the wooden baby gate.

I have plastic now.

Eating non-edible items on a regular basis is actually a behavioral illness called pica, and in extreme cases can be treated with anti-anxiety medication. Those dogs in the exrays could not have been saved without skilled veterinary surgeons, as you can only make a dog vomit the foreign matter if it won’t hurt the body on the way up. But given the number of small, odd objects dogs like to filch and eat, I still recommend keeping a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and an oral syringe handy.

Meanwhile, I watch Oliver closely, in the hopes that I won’t have to try it on him.