Archive for December, 2011

This New Year’s Eve, do yourself and your pets a favor. Make sure that every pet is indoors and safe. Most pets hate fireworks, and if your neighborhood is like mine, it will sound like Beirut in the 80′s for several hours on New Year’s Eve.

Something most pet people don’t seem to know is that January 1st and July 5th are the two biggest days of the year for the reporting of lost pets. Think a minute – what do those two days have in common? You guessed it. Both follow a night of crazy people lighting things on fire to watch them go boom.

Pets don’t like it when things go boom. Calm, normally well-behaved pets can go completely berzerk. They may dig out of the yard or climb over the fence. They may hurt themselves trying to get out of a crate. They may become sick from stress, with results that are bad for both your pet and your carpet. I’ve even heard of panicked pets tearing up furniture or other household items.

With some forethought and planning, these disasters can be avoided.

A few years ago, I was on my way to town one rainy morning in early January when I was forced to stop traffic to get to a terrified poodle shivering in the middle of the road. I ended up boarding the poor little guy at my vet’s office for a week while we searched for his owners. I had just about given up the search and resigned myself to bringing home another senior dog when one of my students happened to mention that a family in her neighborhood was missing a poodle.

Thank God. It was the right family. This little old guy has been in the yard, with their other dog, when the fireworks started. The dogs were often left overnight in the yard when their people travelled, with access to shelter, beds, and food in the garage. It had always been fine before. But they had never been gone on a fireworks night. Apparently he freaked and clawed his way through the fence. When I found him, he had been out for two days, was 8 to 10 miles from home, and would have had to come through some very dangerous territory to get there.

He was lucky. He got to go home.

So how do you protect your pet?

  • Don’t leave your pet alone if you don’t have to, especially if it’s his first exposure to fireworks.
  • Don’t leave your pet outside.
  • Don’t crate your pet unless you know how he will react or can be there to supervise – some dogs will try to claw or chew out of the crate and can do themselves serious damage in the process.
  • Do put your pet in the quietest part of the house – even if it’s a walk-in closet. Use the walls and doors to muffle the sounds of explosions.
  • Do talk to your vet about sedation, if you know your pet panics when the noise starts. Benadryl (diphenhydramine hydrochloride) is a common option. Check with your vet before you use it to confirm a dose, but the standard dose is 1 mg per pound of bodyweight.
  • Do use the television or the radio to provide cover noise for the fireworks.
  • Do offer treats to help keep your pet calm and focused on food instead of sound.

The bottom line is that your pet depends on you to keep him safe. Please, don’t let him down. Especially not on New Year’s Eve, when it’s cold outside and there are fireworks all around.

This evening was a very important one in the world of animal welfare in Montgomery County, Texas. It marked the first board meeting of the newly formed Montgomery County Animal Society.

You may recall the recent debates over privatizing the shelter. The county commissioners made the decision to privatize, and granted the contract to Care Corporation. As a corporation, the new management company will also need to have a nonprofit (a 501c3) affiliated with the shelter.

That’s us.

It is my privilege to have been elected President of the brand new board of directors. Other members currently include Diane Mayne (Secretary), Danice Berger (Treasurer), Minda Harris, and Laura McConnell.

One of our first tasks was to define our function, which will be to raise money for ways to improve the chances and comfort of the animals passing through the shelter. Care Corporation will be responsible for meeting the regular needs of the animals – food, water, shelter, and ordinary medical needs. Montgomery County Animal Society will focus on a few major areas:

  • Providing funds for major veterinary needs like emergency surgery for injured animals.
  • Working on ways to increase adoption rates, through special events, publicity, and providing funds/treatments that will make the animals more adoptable.
  • Working on making the shelter more comfortable for the animals, which will help keep them happier and healthier, and thus more adoptable.

This represents a major change in the institutional structure of the animal welfare system for Montgomery County. I absolutely believe that Care Corporation will implement significant improvements in the shelter itself. They’ll improve the working conditions for the employees, make the shelter hours more accessible to the community, and be able to hold the staff more directly accountable for maintaining the facility and the animals in the best shape possible.

We (the Montgomery County Animal Society) will come in when there are extraordinary needs. When that animal who was hit by a car comes in, we will be able to provide funds for the necessary surgery. When an animal with acute mange arrives, we can authorize the funds for treatment. When the shelter needs equipment or beds or toys that are not in the regular budget, the Montgomery County Animal Society will hopefully be able to provide those items.

Once 2012 arrives, I ask that you would donate money to help the Montgomery County Animal Society get off the ground. That’s the thing about a nonprofit organization – we rely on the generosity of the public to help us meet our goals. The more donations we receive, the more animals we can send to the vet for life-saving procedures, and the better we can help make life for the thousands of animals who will come through the shelter doors in 2012.

I know this is a huge change. I believe it’s going to be a great one, and I’m thrilled to part of it. But we can’t do it without you.

The Montgomery County Animal Society can legally begin to accept contributions after January 1, 2012. Want to donate? Email me at me@shannonlhill.com for information.

As a veteran of the animal welfare world, I often find myself trying to explain AW to people on the “civilian” side of the equation.

Communication is one of the biggest issues “civilians” complain about. And from their perspective, I can’t blame them. So I’ll attempt to shed a little light on the subject, and maybe make a couple of suggestions.

The scenario usually goes like this (and I have been on both sides of this one)…

“There’s this stray dog…I could catch him, and bring him to the rescue group. I’ll even donate the cost of his care. But the rescue won’t call me back!”

I admit it. It’s frustrating. It’s bad business not to return phone calls from potential adopters or longtime donors. From the consumer viewpoint, trying unsuccessfully to reach someone at a particular group makes the organization looks unprofessional, negligent, hard to deal with…you get the idea. And frankly, not responding in a timely fashion or at all to communication from potential adopters or donors will cost the organization money, because eventually potential adopters and donors will get frustrated and take their money to more responsive groups.

But let me try to explain it from the insider perspective.

Most rescues are all volunteer organizations. Most volunteers have full time jobs, personal pets, and kids, in addition to their rescue responsibilities. The spaces between those obligations are filled with rushing to and from shelters and vets, washing dogs, walking dogs, medicating dogs, cleaning up after dogs, doing the laundry generated by the dogs, buying dog food, checking out potential adopters’ references, arranging off-site adoption events, and too many other things to list.

Even those organizations with paid staff are understaffed. Their people run full speed from dawn till dark and then some. Animal care always, always comes before people. And if we’re going to be completely honest about it, some of the people who are the best with the animals are …not so good with people.

Suggestions…

For the civilians: Don’t call. Email. Rescue people often can’t get to the phone easily during normal human operating hours. We tend to answer emails in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. You don’t WANT us to call then. If it’s an emergency, be persistent. Mark the email urgent. Keep trying. And try to understand that there are always more dogs than spaces in rescue groups. If they can’t take in the stray you found, it’s not a personal rejection. It simply means that your stray either does not fit their intake parameters, or that they have no room at the inn.

For the rescuers: I know how easy it is to bog down in the details of caring for the animals. But those people whose calls and emails you didn’t return might have been the perfect adopter or the biggest donor you ever had. You HAVE to communicate to keep your adoptions up and the donations coming in. If the main players in the organization don’t like dealing with two-legged animals, designate one of your more social volunteers to field calls and emails. Like any charitable endeavor, running a successful rescue program requires a certain amount of interaction with the public. And a large part of that interaction will be educating people about things we assume they should already know.

Rescues need to remember that good communication from their organization benefits the animals, and the general public simply must understand that rescue is not a 9 to 5 office job with long lunches and paid holidays.

And those of us in rescue need to step up to bridge that communication gap…for the good of the animals.

On December 10th, a truck was stolen in Houston, near I-10 and Bunker Hill.

That’s not particularly unusual. And they found the truck shortly thereafter near 225 and Allen Genoa, although I don’t know in what condition. What they did not find was the Golden Retriever who was in the truck when it was stolen.

Her name is Maggie. She is an eight year old girl, adopted from Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston. She is, of course, spayed and microchipped, and she was wearing identification when she was taken with the truck.

If you see her or hear anything about her, please contact GRRH at grrhrescue@hotmail.com.

Everywhere I have gone lately, I have seen dogs left in vehicles. And far too many of those dogs are in vehicles with open windows (and therefore functionally unlocked). Since most of them are friendly, tail-wagging, and barking hopefully at anyone walking by, they are pretty much an animated welcome mat for car thieves.

We all know that you can’t leave pets (or, for that matter, small children) in cars during hot weather. Vehicles heat up an alarming 19 degress in just ten minutes, and 34 degrees in 30 minutes. And that’s in ambient temperatures of about 80 degrees. Think what must happen in a hot Texas summer. And the studies show that cracking the window does little except make the vehicle more accessible to thieves.

However, in cooler weather, people stop worrying about weather and don’t think twice about leaving pets in cars. Please don’t do that.

Here are just a few things that can go terribly wrong…

  • Most people’s vehicles have all kinds of detritus under the seats. An unrestrained pet may go exploring and ingest who knows what. And you may never know they did until they get sick.
  • There have been cases of unrestrained pets knocking a parked car into gear. Try explaining that one to your insurance company. Or to your spouse!
  • If you leave the window cracked, your pet might inadvertently hang himself by snagging a collar or wedging his head into too small a space and getting stuck. Or if you leave a slightly larger gap, you might have an escape on your hands.
  • And then of course, there is the possibility that your vehicle might be broken into. They may just steal the pet (especially if the animal is an obvious purebred like Maggie) or they may take the vehicle with the pet in it. And if your pet attempts to defend the vehicle, they may hurt him.

Please, keep your pets safe. Leaving them alone in a vehicle, even for just a few minutes, puts them in danger.

And do me a favor. Keep a sharp eye out for Maggie, especially if you live in that part of Houston. She’s already been rescued once. Let’s bring her home one more time.

Those of us who live and breathe animal welfare spend a lot of time deeply appalled and confused by the things humans do to animals.

People regularly throw pets away at the shelter because they get “too expensive.” I regularly hear comments about how no one else would take the time, energy, and money I do to care for Bumble the Special Child. Someone very close to me was recently told by a man that he didn’t want to date her any more because she has dogs and will always want to spend time, money, and energy on them.

And these are the milder examples.

Those of us in the animal welfare world fight a constant battle against ignorance, neglect, stupidity, and outright cruelty. We get frustrated and worn down, but we never quit, because we can’t.

Below is an open letter written by fellow Pekingese aficionado and rescuer Carl Grossman. With his permission, I’m going to share it here. He very eloquently says what most of us have wanted to tell all those people who just don’t get it.

“Dear Idiot at the vet’s office yesterday,

You were aghast that we have 12 dogs. That we have taken in strays and worked with a rescue organization. You said you could not imagine having enough time and love and,oh, all that work. That having one old dog was nearly too much for you and that if the bill was too much this time you would put that dog to sleep. I corrected you at that point. It is not “to sleep”. It is putting the dog down. Euthanasia. Dead. No longer alive.

At that point I might have been a bit animated. The office lady was looking at us. I then told you about Roadie. The boxer we found in the street. Scared, starving and sick. Our first rescue. How we did not have enough money to have his heart evaluated and the mange he was covered in treated. How we turned to friends who donated to help. How he now lives on a farm in Texas.

I told you about Elvis Pupsley. My dog. My best friend. Who died despite the $2500 we spent to find out what was wrong with him only to find out that we could not have done anything to stop the embolism. How I miss him. Every day. I know you really thought I lost it when I teared up. I tried to explain to you how when people have a pet they have an obligation to care properly for that animal. To love that animal.

They brought Mugsy out to me. You saw this old dog, older than yours, who has a skin issue. You asked me how old he was. I said he was about 13 or so. We really did not know because he was a rescue. You were surprised that we did not “buy”him because he is obviously a purebred. He was, at one time, a perfect Pekingese looks wise. Now he is old. We just keep him comfortable and fed. He likes that.

I moved to the counter to pay my bill. I heard your “Oh my goodness” when the office lady said “That will be $214, Mr. Grossman”. You asked me “How can you afford that with 12 dogs?”I answered you…

“How could I not?”

You went into the exam room and I started to leave. Thinking it over, I turned and came to your exam room and knocked. I told you that if the expense of your dog exceeded what you could honestly afford, that the vet had my name and number at the front desk and I would see what I could do to help. I also offered to adopt your dog on the spot if you wished to avoid the expense (yes, I love weiner dogs and Chub is the twin of our Limo) and trouble any further. I was polite and you thanked me. As I left the room your wife spoke. For the first time. She told you to shut up, the dog was hers too and that he would be getting whatever he needed. You were not putting him down. She loved him even if you didn’t. The last words I heard her say were “I can’t believe I married a selfish idiot.”

Me either, lady. Me either.

Sincerely,

Carl”

One of the most important factors in the success of shelters and rescue groups is the foster program. Fosters get the dogs out of shelters and into homes where they can develop social skills, get better food and living conditions, be treated for any veterinary issues, and generally learn how dogs should live in a home where people love them.

Fosters are awesome. They spend their own time, money, and emotional energy to care for and rehabilitate animals that they then have to give up. The reward is huge, but it often comes at great emotional cost.

When you decide to become a pet foster parent, you take on certain very specific responsibilities.

First, the obvious responsibilities include taking excellent care of the animal, keeping him safe, teaching him acceptable behavior (and hopefully house training), monitoring interaction between foster pets and permanent pets, and helping to find the right adoptive home for him.

Depending on the structure of your foster program, you may be called on to help promote adoptions, screen adopters, administer medication, do physical therapy, deal with behavioral issues…the possibilities are endless. But regardless of the nature of the program, you will eventually have to let your baby go to a forever home. That’s what it’s all about.

Let’s talk about some of the less understood rules of fostering. These are the ones that are often not thoroughly addressed in orientation materials, and fosters may not be clear on their legal obligations under the foster contract.

For the program to work, everyone has to follow the rules.

  • Rule 1: The foster does NOT own the animal. The shelter or rescue group is the legal custodian of the animal. The foster is authorized to care for and house the animal by the custodial organization.
  • Rule 2: The custodial organization has the right to make decisions about the placement and veterinary care of the animal. If the organization decides to move the animal to a different foster, they can do that. If they ask that the animal be returned to their facility, they can do that. Failure to surrender an animal to his legal custodian constitutes theft.
  • Rule 3: Paperwork matters. Rescues and shelters can be audited. If they can’t account for where every animal is and for the money spent on that animal, there can be penalties. They can lose funding, they can jeopardize their nonprofit tax status, they can lose pull privileges. Always keep up with your paperwork.
  • Rule 4: Every organization gives its fosters authorization to make certain decisions about the animals in his or her care. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you, as the foster parent, can and cannot do. This is one case in which it is NOT better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Being a foster parent is something you do because you are called to help animals. The more carefully you follow the rules of your organization, the more animals you can help. Flouting the rules can hurt the organization, and it can even result in the organization removing animals from your care and taking you off their list of approved fosters.

And that helps no one.

I don’t mean to make fostering sound rigid and rule-bound. It really isn’t. But I have recently observed problems in several organizations I’m acquainted with because fosters refused to follow the rules. Please understsand that the rules are there to protect the animals and the organization. Follow them, so that you can continue to help more animals.

Isn’t that why we volunteer in the first place?

I got home a couple of hours ago after taking Bumble the Special Child for his weekly laser therapy session, fed the animals, and then went outside with Oliver and Elizabeth for their evening walk. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement under the neighbor’s truck. Since skunks, possums, and other not-dog-friendly animals are not uncommon around here, I paused to take a look.

And here she came. A tiny, rumpled dustbunny of a kitten.  She made a beeline for me, meowing pitifully in her very small voice.

Oliver and Elizabeth were beside themselves. A kitty! And a little one at that! As far as they were concerned, she was an animated squeaky toy.

She was not impressed with them. So she kept her distance, but followed us down the street, talking up a storm. So I took the dogs in the house (they were not pleased) and went back outside. Itty bitty little girl ran straight to me. When I picked her up, she was shivering from cold, and under her Raggedy Ann fur, she was painfully thin. She crawled inside my jacket and settled herself on my shoulder where she could purr in my ear.

You may not know that I have “rescue radar.” That is the invisible force that draws stray animals in need of rescue directly to my door. It’s brought me a half-starved Golden Retriever and a mange-ridden Anatolian Shepherd puppy (both of whom now live in luxury with my parents), a feral cat who appears at my door whenever he’s injured and needs help, and countless homeless animals over the years. 

This time it brought me a tiny but very assertive and very affectionate kitten.

The thing is, I already have three dogs, one of whom is supremely special needs. I also have Minerva Louise ( a former feral cat who is now a pudgy middle-aged floozy) and the Hitchhiker, a people-friendly, animal-hostile tomcat who is trying to decide whether to live here or just vacation with us. (If he hangs around much longer, his attitude will be surgically adjusted in short order.)

The last thing I can afford to do is adopt another animal. But there was categorically no way that I could leave a shivering, hungry, lonely kitten outside all alone in the night, especially not after realizing that she would be easy prey for an owl or hawk. My Rescue Radar drew her to pick me instead of one of the other people out walking their dogs. (I have to admit that sometimes I wish the Rescue Radar was a little less accurate…)

The vet clinic will keep her until I can either find her a home or get her into a rescue.

I called my cousin, another victim of Rescue Radar Syndrome, and asked her to keep the kitty overnight and take her to the vet clinic in the morning. She is now tucked in for the night in my cousin’s house, after a good dinner and lots of attention.

Much purring. And one tiny little smack to the nose of my cousin’s inquisitive dachshund.