Archive for March, 2012

Now and again, people ask me why shelters and rescues make such a big deal about spaying and neutering animals.

Sometimes I try statistics. Over FOUR MILLION animals every year die in shelters. Since a dog can give birth to up to a dozen puppies (give or take a couple), and can have a couple of litters a year, as can all her generational female offspring, spaying a single female can take potentially hundreds of dogs out of that deadly cycle. Neutering one male can prevent the impregnation of dozens of females.

Sometimes I try medical reasons. Spaying a female can prevent certain medical conditions. Unspayed females can fall victim to pyometritis, which is a potentially fatal infection of the uterus. They are also susceptible to a number of reproductive system cancers, including mammary tumors (yes, breast cancer), that spayed females either don’t get or are much less likely to get. Unneutered males are very susceptible to testicular cancer, which is frighteningly asymptomatic until it’s quite advanced.

This time I’m going to try show and tell.

This is Dulce. This heartbreaking photo on the left is what she looked like the day she was brought into the shelter. This dog is not very old, but has obviously been bred for as many litters as her poor body would accommodate. She was malnourished, exhausted, and so heavily pregnant that walking was a major effort.

A rescue group called Heart Love Heroes (https://www.facebook.com/HeartLoveHeroes) stepped up to take Dulce in. She’s now in a foster home. It appears to be the first time in her life she has been able to live indoors, with good food, affection, and basic shelter from the elements. The photo on the right is what a few days of real care did for her. I should mention here that Heart Love Heroes is an unusual group; they bill themselves as “An initiative of Compassion, Kid-powered, Mom-supervised.” That’s right, the driving force behind this group is a couple of little girls who decided that they needed to do something. They and their mom do an amazing job.

After a few days of safety, proper care, and good food, Dulce spent last night producing nine beautiful puppies. Given how underweight she was, it is nothing short of miraculous that all nine puppies survived. And truthfully, we are all grateful that she ONLY had nine. If you look at her before picture, her tremendous girth had people betting that she might have as many as thirteen.

Five of those nine are females. If each of those females were to have two litters a year of nine puppies apiece, and all their female offspring did likewise…see how fast the problem grows? And then there are all the inherent risks to irresponsible breeding. Infections, high puppy mortality, retained placentas, miscarriage, mastitis, and a host of other problems could have killed this nice dog. That doesn’t include the fact that the physical demands of repeated pregnancies would have certainly shortened her lifespan.

Dulce and her puppies are lucky. They’re in a safe place. They have good food, shelter, love, and proper care. None of them will ever have to live the life of neglect that used to be Dulce’s.

And because they will all be spayed and neutered, the hundreds of puppies they would have produced will not end up in the shelter system or abandoned on the streets as Dulce did. Because those hundreds of hypothetical puppies won’t end up in the shelter system, hundreds of other dogs will have a chance, because more spaces will be available.

Take a good look at Dulce’s before picture. She’s the best advertisement I know for spaying and neutering.

Once again, the universe has sent us a special needs animal to love. (I am convinced that there is some cosmic equivalent of a red flashing sign above my roof: “Vacancy: special needs animals apply here”.)

The new kid is a middle aged lab mix. His special circumstance: he has three legs. A middle-aged three-legged lab is not exactly the most adoptable dog in the world, plus he is a bit arthritic and is still recovering from surgery.

We were already contemplating adding him to the family when his foster mom got sick and needed a place for him to go right away. That settled it. This dog is clearly MEANT for us.

So we brought him home Tuesday. He marched through the front door, plunked himself into his new bed, and settled right in. He is generally quiet, well-behaved, and easy-going.

Unlike his new siblings.

Oliver and Elizabeth, my two crazy young Pekingeses, weren’t sure what to think about the new arrival. Oliver wanted desperately inspect him from stem to stern. Elizabeth was so outraged when a new dog came through the door that she stomped her feet and overturned her water dish.

The first evening, we let the young dogs play until they were tired, and then brought the new kid into the room to meet them. They had been talking through baby gates all afternoon, but the young ones went nuts at the chance to meet their new big brother in person. After a few minutes, Elizabeth sat down and began staring fixedly at his face. I thought she was being good – until I noticed that she was curling her lip repeatedly at him in a subtle sort of Elvis sneer.

Elizabeth IS the Queen of the Universe, and she wants the Big Guy to understand that his place in the hierarchy is subordinate to hers.

Meanwhile, Oliver was trying to climb on his new big brother. Oliver has no boundaries. The new guy was not terribly sure about that, since he is still in recovery and a little worried about anyone bumping his injuries. So their first introduction was closely supervised and fairly brief.

Last night, we put them together again. This time, everyone was more relaxed, although Elizabeth did sneer a few times just for general principles. We ended up with what I suspect will be the usual distribution: Elizabeth in the recliner, Oliver on the sofa, and the Big Guy on the floor by my feet. After  a few minutes, everyone settled right down, and I was able to leave them all together in the same room for several hours.

Elizabeth is still deeply suspicious, Oliver is still nosy, and the new kid is still a little worried, but all in all, the transition is going much more smoothly than I had expected.

Welcome home, Big Guy.

You may have noticed that I took a week off.

A week ago tonight, Bumble the Special Child crossed the bridge.

Bumble had been fading for several months. He grew steadily frailer, and required more and more medication to keep him comfortable. Finally, we reached the point where keeping him comfortable was no longer possible.

Bumble came to live with me in October of 2007. He came from a small town shelter, and they were determined to place him into a rescue. I pulled him from the shelter to transport him to a foster home, as I had done for so many dogs. By the time I was two hours into the drive, I was sunk.

Bumble was deeply traumatized by whatever had happened to him. He attached himself to me like velcro, and made it quite clear that he had no intention of being nice to anyone but me. He bit my cousin. He bit the vet. He bit my dogsitter. He bit anyone he got a chance to bite. The only thing that saved him was that he had very few teeth, and most of them were so sideways that he literally could not do any damage.

So he relied on moral intimidation, which he was very good at. He loved to tiptoe up behind his unsuspecting victims, give one sharp squawk, and watch them flinch. If they flinched, he felt like he won. If they didn’t, he tried harder. First the bark, then headbutting, then grabbing at pants legs. On one memorable occasion, my friend Shelley ignored him so thoroughly that he went through his usual tricks with no result. So he untied her shoe.

He never learned how to play with toys, although he often carried a dish towel around with him. His favorite game was to play chase, and he loved to torment visitors by sneaking up on them to make them flinch. He had a wicked sense of humor, and you could just see him inflate with pride and all but laugh out loud when he made someone jump.

My mother called him the Tiny Tasmanian Terrorist. My (former) housesitter called him the Exorcist – because he could swivel his head so far around to bite her. I called him Bumble, after the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. They made the same sounds and really, they kind of walked alike.

Bumble walked funny because he had a number of major physical problems. He had no hip sockets to speak of. Where the sockets should have been, the bone was so thin that the ball of the joint sort of wallowed around loosely. Only the ligaments and muscles held the joints together.

He put all of his weight on his front end to compensate for his weak hips, so he also had elbow dysplasia from overusing those joints. An ex-ray revealed that he had one vertebra less than he should have. He was blind in his right eye from an old injury. He was epileptic, possibly as a result of whatever had happened to that eye. And he didn’t hear very well, either, although I used to wonder how much of that was selective.

But his physical problems didn’t hold a candle to his behavioral oddities. Bumble and I went through three petsitters to find one he would let in the house AND who was willing to manage him. If anyone – cousins, friends, houseguests – came in while I wasn’t home, he was prone to treeing them on the kitchen counter. He WOULD NOT be confined, so crating him or even just putting him in another room was never an option, as he would hurt himself to get out.

He was terrified of packing boxes. Best we can figure by piecing together what little we know of his history before me, his previous human probably died or went into a home or got foreclosed on. Whoever packed out the house probably threw him away, and he never forgot. He got better, but he always had a thing about cardboard packing boxes.

We never knew how old he was. Different vets guesstimated his age as anywhere from 5 to 12 years old in 2007; looking back, he was probably at the upper end of that range, but again, his physical problems made it impossible to use the normal age markers.

In his last two years, he mellowed enough to stop harassing most houseguests, and he made friends with some of my more frequent visitors – although not all of them. As his body gave out, he got chiropractic, laser therapy, acupuncture, medications and supplements, and anything else we could think of to keep him comfortable. As his mind started to slide into the fog of age-related cognitive dysfunction, we added medication for that too.

Eventually nothing could hold back the night, and after four and a half years with me, my little gremlin boy crossed the bridge.

The vet says he lived considerably longer than anticipated. But it wasn’t long enough. It never is.

Bumble taught me so much – about patience, and kindness, and devotion. He taught me about living gracefully with physical limitations, and about the limitless canine capacity to love in spite of a lifetime of reasons not to.

And I miss him.

March 1st marks the long-awaited transition from the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, county-run facility, to Montgomery County Animal Shelter run by Care Corporation.

Hurray!

We’ve been waiting and working for this for a long time. And it is going to be good. Let me tell you why…

Under county governance, the shelter operated under certain restrictions that just didn’t fit well with what an animal shelter needs. We couldn’t have part time employees. Hiring and firing have been bureaucratically time-consuming and difficult. Payments made to the shelter on credit cards were bogging down in the county financial system that had the money shifting from holding account to holding account before it eventually got back to the shelter.

It was inefficient, and in a shelter environment, the institutionalized inefficiency of a large bureaucracy literally means lives lost.

Care Corporation, as a private business, can hire who they want. They can have part time employees. They can manage their funds much more effectively, with direct control of funds going straight into their hands without wandering through holding accounts for weeks and months. They can make changes to policy, procedure, or even staffing without wading through the morass of county government.

In the new era of privatization, Care Corporation can focus intently on what’s best for the animals.

  • Improved customer service, which will lead to more adoptions.
  • Immediate receipt of funds paid by adopters, which makes the budget work like it should.
  • Better working conditions for the employees, which will lead to a more productive working environment.
  • A steady program of maintenance and improvement to the facilities and thus the lives of the animals; a cleaner, brighter, more comfortable environment will be more attractive to volunteers and adopters, and healthier for the animals.
  • Plans to improve kennel ventilation over time, as the current units wear out, which will reduce the kennel smell and help prevent spread of germs.
  • Openness to suggestions and feedback, and the freedom to act upon same.

I have tremendous confidence in Tim and Amy Holifield, the principals of Care Corporation, and in Minda Harris, the shelter director. Every single day, they put their time, money, and energy where their hearts are: with the animals. I have seen tremendous improvement over the course of their tenure on the county payroll, even within the tight constraints of the county bureaucracy.

I can’t wait to see what they can do through a private entity with more freedom and flexibility to focus on the needs of the animals instead of trying to fit the animals into the artificial structure of the county bureaucracy.

Want to see for yourself? Please, go visit the new and improved Montgomery County Animal Shelter. And then help us to help the animals by adopting, fostering, volunteering, or donating to the Montgomery County Animal Society (a nonprofit dedicated solely to the enhancement of the lives and adoptability of the animals in this shelter.).

Care Corporation has the opportunity to do something great here. Come be a part of it.