Archive for November, 2011

At a recent meeting of the Montgomery County commissioners, the decision was made to accept Care Corp.’s bid to privatize the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.

First, I want to congratulate the Holifield family. I think highly of Tim Holifield, and I am very pleased that his tremendous gamble is paying off.

What gamble? Constable Holifield made a public choice not to run for re-election, in order to be part of the privatization bid. Had it been rejected, he would, in fact, have been out of a job. He could have played it safe and left things as they were. He chose to take a big personal chance in order to do what he thinks is best for the animals coming through MCAS.

The current shelter director, Minda Harris, and every current shelter volunteer with whom I’ve spoken are strong supporters of this move to privatize the shelter. We are thrilled that the county commissioners listened to what the director and the volunteers want. It means that we can now work toward making MCAS competitive with other really good facilities and programs.

One very controversial topic was addressed at this meeting – the shelter clinic. Many local vets spoke out against it; they are openly afraid that the shelter clinic is robbing them of income, and they apparently fear that privatization will allow the clinic to compete directly with them for market share.

Out of all the veterinarians who attended the commissioners’ meeting, I’m told that only one came forward to acknowledge that many of the fears expressed by the local veterinary community were obviously unfounded and based on misinformation. That one vet took the time to talk with Constable Holifield and MCAS director Minda Harris to find out more, and as a result of that conversation, he offered to donate a certain amount of free veterinary services each year. I consider that a huge step in the right direction.

That one vet did what I wish many more would. He recognized that he had been given incorrect information, he made the effort to get correct information, and then he stepped up and offered to help.

Right now, the shelter clinic offers very basic services – spay, neuter, vaccines, treatments of simple illnesses – to fosters, animals currently in the shelter, and recently adopted pets. Some services are also available to the public. (The people who come to the shelter clinic generally cannot afford traditional vet care, so the market overlap is negligible.) Their equipment is so limited that they cannot even ex-ray animals with suspected fractures. It is my personal hope that privatization will make it possible for them to do more.

So what does privatization mean to us? A couple of key points stand out to me.

First, the shelter will be able to hire part-time employees, which they cannot under county administration. There simply is no money to do so, and any attempt to hire anyone for anything has to go through the ponderous civil service quagmire. Those part-time employees will improve customer service and enable the shelter to extend their current hours. They will also be able to handle more of the basic service needs of the shelter and the animals, so that volunteers can focus on adoptions and other enhanced services.

Second, the shelter will have more access to grants. That’s huge. There is a lot of grant money available for animal welfare organizations, but right now MCAS can’t get any of it. Why? Because when MCAS applies for a grant, in the line that asks about annual budget, they have to put in the total budget for the ENTIRE COUNTY. Obviously, even though MCAS only has access to a fraction of that amount, the mere presence of that large number on the application disqualifies the shelter from receiving grants. Grant money can pay for a lot of projects and services that the shelter could otherwise not afford.

The combination of more money and more administrative flexibility means that the shelter can actually focus on meeting the needs of the animals. Employees won’t be governed by the county’s civil service rules. Employees who perform exceptionally well will be able to earn bonuses; employees who don’t meet expectations can be replaced. Those two facts alone should inspire excellent job performance, which translates into better conditions, better adoption rates, a better working environment, and more lives saved as a result.

Privatization will take effect within six months or less…I can’t wait to see what Constable Holifield and Minda Harris can do.

*Note: I ran this column at Thanksgiving last year…since many of us take our pets with us when we travel, here are a few reminders about keeping them safe in other people’s homes.

Taking your pet into someone else’s home on a holiday presents all sorts of extra potential challenges, especially if lots of people are coming.

First, check out the environment.  What other pets are there?  Are they friendly?  Is yours?  No one needs a dog fight in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner because the visiting dog decides to play with the host dog’s toys.  Is the environment safe?  Is the yard fenced appropriately?  Are the floors clean enough?  (I know, tacky.  But let’s be honest.  People drop all kinds of things, and we don’t want our pets to be the ones to find them.)

Second, check out the guest list.  Is your pet okay with adults but not with kids?  Then you definitely need to know whether Cousin Mary is bringing her 5 small children.  Does your pet do well with individuals, but get overwhelmed in a crowd?  Come prepared.  Bring a crate or play yard you can set up in a back room to keep your pet safely away from the commotion.  Is one of the guests definitely not a pet person?  Then don’t invite him, because there is something seriously wrong.  Or if that’s not avoidable, keep your pet as far from the weirdo as possible to avoid any potential incidents.

Third, make sure people understand the rules.  Don’t allow anyone to feed your pet but you or someone you trust to feed him correctly.  No table scraps, no plate licking.  Watch your pet closely when small children or non-pet-people are present; keep him on leash if necessary to maintain control of the situation.  Make sure your pet isn’t underfoot while people are cooking; hot grease and boiling water are dangerous to both people and pets.  And don’t allow anyone to just let him dash in and out of the house at will unless you are totally certain that the yard is escape-proof and the gates are closed.

If you’re going to bring your pet to someone else’s home, do everything you can to protect your pet from new people and unknown surroundings, while also making sure your pet does not get put into a stressful situation that could cause him to behave badly.  With a few precautions and some common sense, everyone including the dog can have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Since it’s Sunday afternoon, John and I were once again at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter walking dogs. Just as we were headed for the front door, after hours, I saw a small, emaciated puppy lying limply on a table with several volunteers and employees huddled around him. They had fluids going, in what looked like a last ditch effort to save the little guy.

Sad. But not unusual. And nothing for me to do, so I kept walking.

Then I saw a volunteer walking with a Hispanic couple, trying hard to extract a medical history. The couple was trying to communicate in their limited English, but let’s face it. Veterinary vocabulary in a second language is no picnic.

I waited a minute and watched them disappear into the side room where the sick puppy was. That was it. I had to go back.

Sure enough, the puppy was theirs. This was NOT a case of neglect. They had adopted him the week before, and he had started coughing, retching, and having diarrhea. They had done everything right. They had taken him to their vet, where he had been treated for the diarrhea and coughing. For a day and a half, he had perked right back up. They had been keeping him indoors, and trying hard to get him to eat and drink. But yesterday morning, he stopped eating. Wouldn’t drink. And looked like hell.

So here they were. They had rushed over as fast as they could when the husband got home from work. The lady didn’t drive, and so she had been sitting home with her sick puppy all day, doing her best to keep him hydrated and comfortable.

It wasn’t working. The little guy needed professional attention, and he needed it fast.

The volunteers were running subcutaneous fluids into him, and he was also about to receive injections of antibiotics to combat whatever infection he might have and vitamins to make him feel better. 

I was right. They needed a translator badly. We were able to get a much more complete history, and also explain in detail how to keep the little guy fed and hydrated until he recovered his strength. I stayed until I had communicated everything I could to both the staff and the anxious pet owners. When I left, they were still waiting for the vet. I don’t know yet what the diagnosis or prognosis was. 

Since Thanksgiving is this week, and many of my friends have been making lists of things to be grateful for, here’s my list.

I’m grateful that we were late getting to the shelter, which is why we were still there after hours.

I’m grateful that being bilingual put me in a position to help today.

I’m grateful that the adopters thought enough of the little guy to bring him to the vet, and when he got sick again, to the shelter vet.

And here’s a big one: I’m grateful that the shelter clinic is there. I’m grateful that we have a good vet at the shelter on a Sunday afternoon, who was still working long after regular clinic hours ended. I’m grateful, because without that clinic, these nice people, hard-working recent immigrants who were perfectly willing to spend time and money to save this little puppy they had just adopted from the shelter, would have had nowhere to turn on a Sunday afternoon.

And tomorrow, I hope to be grateful to have learned that the little guy pulled through. Fingers crossed.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the crazy dog rescuer in your family? Well, here it is!

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…)

We took Elizabeth and Oliver for a long drive with us today. I wanted to see how they would handle a lengthy car trip.

When Elizabeth first came to live with me, she was easily upset by any change in the routine. Road trips made her very nervous, probably because she was afraid of not getting to come home. She’s much, much more secure now and no longer worries about these things, it would seem.

Oliver, on the other hand, has no apparent insecurities about anything. He has, however, barfed in the truck once or twice. I was pretty sure I knew why, but again, I needed to confirm.

(In case you were wondering, Bumble stayed home. He does not enjoy road trips.)

So we set off down the road, with each little gremlin in a carseat.  Elizabeth had the window seat, because she likes to look out. She was quite pleased not to be sharing a carseat with Oliver, and settled down right away. Oliver had the middle seat, so that I could reach him. That turned out to be a wise choice, as I did have to disentangle his wiggly little self once or twice.

I finally realized that what he didn’t like was that he was sitting down into the carseat. He kept trying to sit up on the edge. I had brought a couple of extra cushions along, and one of those elevated him nicely. No more fussing, no more wiggling. Within minutes, he snuggled into his new pillow and went to sleep. (My theory is that the boxlike sides of the carseat were blocking the flow of air from the vents; when he had been carsick before, I think it was from getting too warm.)

Along the way, we stopped at Bucee’s to pick up lunch. John went in to get the food while I waited with the kids in the car. I sat watching the dozens of people taking their dogs out for potty breaks in the open field next to Bucee’s. I did wonder if my two would like to get out, but since they were both sleeping, I decided against it. Besides, I was slightly appalled at the idea of walking my dogs where soooo many dogs had done their business.

Our little adventure today set me to thinking about my rules for road trips with dogs.

  1. Car restraints are a must. Insurance studies have shown that unrestrained dogs go flying when a wreck happens. This puts both the pet and the humans at risk. For smaller dogs, I like elevated car seats so that they can see out, which reduces the likelihood of motion sickness. For larger pets, they make car harnesses that clip to a seatbelt.
  2. Pay attention to your pet’s comfort. Is he getting enough air? Can he see out? Is he showing signs of stress or discomfort? It may be as simple as adding a pillow and re-directing the flow of the air vents. Or you may need motion sickness meds from the vet. Regardless, start with shorter road trips and work up to long ones, so that you can gauge what your pet’s tolerance is.
  3. On long trips, bring bottled water, a water dish, and food. Remember to plan for any medications, especially those in need of refrigeration. (I would suggest one of those neat little fridges that plugs into your cigarette lighter.)
  4. Never, ever, ever leave your pets alone in the car. First, cars heat up quickly, even on days when the outside temperature is not that high. Granted, most readers of this blog probably know that. But here’s the other reason: there have been quite a few documented cases lately of vehicles being stolen WITH PETS INSIDE.
  5. In hotels, make sure you have a secure crate or playpen for your babies. You just don’t know how good the housekeeping at the establishment really is. All it takes is for a dog to find a pill someone dropped and housekeeping missed to achieve instant tragedy. Likewise, you want your pets confined so that an unanticipated visit from housekeeping doesn’t result in an escaped pet or a housekeeper claiming your dog was aggressive.

I have quite a few other rules, but these five are by far the most important. The safety and comfort of the animal come first. And I’m pleased to report that Oliver and Elizabeth show every sign of being excellent little travelers.

Readers, I have ordered Bumble a body harness.

This is not a fashion statement. It’s a mobility aid from (And side note – it was remarkably inexpensive.)

I first encountered this company when Bunny, my first Peke, started having trouble with traction. She had so much trouble with tile floors that I ordered shoes to help her. She did not love wearing the shoes, but they did keep her from slipping on the tile and getting stuck. I love dealing with this company, because the people who answer the phone actually know about the products and can advise the customer knowledgeably about which one would be best for the particular situation.

How did I arrive at the idea to order him a body harness mobility system?

Lately Bumble and I have been spending far too much time at the chiropractor’s office. Bumble needs adjustments because he has deformed hips, one vertebra too few, elbow dysplasia, and a habit of carryng his head sideways in an effort to see what little his vestigial eyesight will allow.

I, on the other hand, need adjusting because I wear Bumble. My chiropractor has informed me that the stress to my lower back is much the same injury that he sees in mothers of young babies – the result of carrying twelve pounds or so on your hip or shoulder all the time.

Compound that with the fact that Bumble needs a little help to maintain a straight line when walking. Helping him often requires walking next to him, leaning down to steady him. It’s easy to understand why I spend so much quality time with my chiropractor.

So this body harness is supposed to help us both. It will help him to balance, and me to steer. Little guy can get going forward, but he has no balance to speak of, and his power steering is long gone. I’m hoping that this mobility tool will help him to use his legs more so that his muscles stay functional longer. And I’m hoping that it will make it easier for me to help him without doing myself bodily injury.

It’s hard to watch our babies get old and frail. But I’m grateful for good vets, chiropractors, and companies that specialize in ways to help us help them, so that I can keep my cranky little gremlin comfortable as long as possible.

So we spent yesterday afternoon at MCAS again, walking dogs and photographing them for adoption publicity. As usual, the place was an absolute beehive of activity.

Here’s a little of what we saw.

Out front, volunteers were working to get their foster dogs adopted. There were pens and crates full of adult dogs and puppies, strategically arranged where anyone coming in or out had to walk through them.

In the lobby, volunteers and employees were helping with paperwork, both for intakes and adoptions. Other volunteers were signing out new fosters to take home and care for. Dogs were being microchipped, pictures were being taken, paperwork was being filled out. More cages and pens full of adoptable puppies and kittens filled every available space. I was especially happy to see one really important volunteer – she knows who she is – who had taken a little time out when the stress of trying to save animals seven days a week had gotten to her the week before.

As we walked down the hallway, we come to the cat play rooms, full of dozens of cats playing, lounging, sleeping, or looking hopefully through the windows. Then to the washroom, where more volunteers were doing laundry and washing dogs.

Next come the adoption rooms, followed by the quarantine room and the stray hold rooms. The quarantine room is sequestered behind a locked red door for the safety of the animals and the public. The other rooms have different colored doors, which the staff and volunteers use as designators.

When we walk into one of those color-coded rooms, the smell of dozens of dogs kept in an enclosed space fills the air. The employees work hard to keep the shelter clean, but a kennel, no matter how clean, smells like a kennel. And a kennel full of grungy dogs, most of whom are less than housebroken…well, you know.

So we join the other volunteers ferrying dogs out to the fenced fields behind the shelter, where they can run and play in the fresh air. The dogs are overjoyed to be outside, especially since it’s a nice cool day. Each trip in and out is a lesson in how to walk on a leash, since many of them have never been taught. We get jumped on by large muddy feet, slurped by enthusiastic tongues, and all but dragged by excited animals desperate for room to run. Some of them had been determinedly “holding it” until they got outside, and skidded to an abrupt and desperate halt the moment their feet touched grass.

And as we walk in and out, I notice how many projects are in progress, and how many the shelter needs volunteer help to complete. In several places, more wire is need to connect the bottom of the fence to the drought parched ground that has drawn away from it. I saw new plants and mulch going in, courtesy of the Woodlands Dog Park volunteers. I saw stacks of recently re-painted wire crates, ready for the next adoption event.

And behind the fenced play yards, we saw a lone dog, looking cautiously through the fence. But when we took a few steps his way, he fled into the underbrush at the edge of an open field. From what we could see, he looked healthy, but more or less feral. After checking with the shelter director, I learned that the poor dog had been seen by many. They’d even tried live traps, to no avail. So he just stays there, hovering at the edge, a silent reminder that there will always be more animals to help…and some we can’t help at all.

But we’ll keep helping those we can. And we always need more fosters, walkers, dog washers, fence fixers, fundraisers, adoption coordinators, photographers….whatever you’re good at, there will be a way for you to help.

Don’t wait.

I have recently come into possession of some interesting information. And since the disgruntled minority mob is apparently still trying to sabotage the Care Corp. privatization bid currently under consideration, I think I’m going to share.

Let’s look at some stats.

First, there is BARC (Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control). BARC was once a public relations nightmare; my friends who are animal welfare professionals told me that taking a management level job at BARC was tantamount to career suicide.  Houston spent over $100,000 to rehabilitate BARC’s image.

Now let’s examine what that expensive rehab got us. In a one month period (September 2011), BARC took in a total of 1726 animals. BARC is claiming a live release rate of 45.9% for that period. However, by their own admission, these stats do not include 32 euthanasias requested by the owners of the animals, nor does it include 125 animals that “died or were lost in shelter care.” This means, as best as I can decipher their records, that they released (to adoption, rescue, or owners) 792 animals. If we include the “lost” 125, however, their live release stats drop to 42.8%.

BARC has 72 employees to do its work, and still, even after its expensive image makeover, this is all we get? Best I can tell, BARC euthanized or “lost” 1069 animals.

Now let’s look at MCAS’ stats for the same time period. MCAS took in 1751 animals in the month of September. Since MCAS gives more detailed stats, it appears to me that MCAS had a save rate for that time frame of 61.96%. That means MCAS euthanized 691 animals, with an additional 2 sent to the lab for testing.

Here’s the part that makes me proud of MCAS. They only have 41 employees, and their budget is much, much less than the amount BARC has to work with. And yet they are doing a much, much better job than an agency with a publicity campaign and a big budget.

I admit it. No one, including the employees of MCAS, is happy about euthanizing 691 animals in 30 days. But they have pitifully limited resources, limited space, and a rapidly growing population. Given their circumstances, they are doing a damn good job under the leadership of Constable Tim Holifield and Director Minda Harris.

If MCAS can do this well when they have so little to work with, imagine what they can do if privatized under Care Corporation. The current administration would be retained, but would have much more flexibility in terms of innovation, funding, personnel, and shelter management practices.

I’d like to see local government officials take notice of these numbers, so that they realize clearly that Tim Holifield and Minda Harris are good for MCAS. They’ve brought us this far; let’s give them the opportunity to do more.