Archive for July, 2012

Today the Montgomery County Animal Shelter received a call to pick up EIGHT beautiful purebred boxers. Not from a hoarder. Not from an abuse case. From the home of a woman who died.

These poor dogs had apparently been alone with their human’s body for at least a week. Each was locked in a crate, and thus had no access to food or water. And now, because they have nowhere else to go, they are in the shelter, where we are trying hard to get them placed with rescues.

I wish I could say that it’s unusual for the pets of the deceased to wind up in shelters. It isn’t.

In Montgomery County alone, this is the second case of dogs being found with the dead body of an owner who died unnoticed and alone to come to my attention in less than a month. We also get a truly depressing number of pets dumped at shelters by the heirs and families of people who die or go into nursing homes.

I cannot imagine what kind of heartless people can cavalierly dump the beloved pets of their deceased parents or grandparents at a shelter, knowing the likelihood that the animal will end up being euthanized. But it happens every day – not just in Montgomery County, but everywhere.

So to my animal loving readers: make plans for your pets just as you would for your children. If something happens to you, who gets the dogs? Are you sure the person you choose can and will take on the responsibility? Can they afford to keep your pets if they develop veterinary needs later in life?

One good friend of mine adopted a middle aged corgi after he was dumped at MCAS. The nasty woman who turned him in had agreed to keep him for the rest of his life when his original owner – a woman in her nineties – went into a nursing home. This woman – such a devoted friend – kept this poor dog barely six months and then dumped him at the shelter. The shelter explained to her that an eleven year old corgi with some minor medical issues was not highly adoptable and did not stand a good chance of getting out alive. She didn’t care. As she explained it, no one told her how much responsibility owning a dog entailed, or she would never have agreed to take him. And this is a low maintenance nice little dog! Mercifully, we were able to place him with a friend of mine who will give him a good home for the rest of his life.

This corgi’s original owner thought she had provided for her beloved pet. Unfortunately, she put her trust in the wrong person. The little guy was lucky enough to end up in a much better situation, but how many pets like him die in shelters because of poor planning by their original families? It is especially bad when the pets are older or have some veterinary issues, because they become much harder to place.

Every pet owner who reads this, please:

  • I don’t care how old you are. Designate in writing who should get your pets if something happens to you. Please be sure that you have discussed it with the people in question so that you are sure they are willing to accept that responsibility
  • Make sure there is more than one notarized copy of the document specifying who gets your pets, and under what conditions. Your attorney should have this on file with your will and other estate planning documents. If you don’t have an attorney, keep it with your other important personal papers where it can be readily found, and make sure someone else has a copy.
  • If at all possible, make financial provisions so that the person inheriting custody of your pets will be able to afford their care. You can set up a trust that pays the vet bills, or dispenses a set amount per year for the remainder of your pet’s natural life.
  • If your pet has any special needs or quirks, make sure that information is always written down somewhere, along with the name and phone number for your vet. I keep that information on my refrigerator. I use it for my petsitter, but it’s handy to have in case someone had to assume responsibility for my furkids.

They are completely dependent on us for everything. We commit to them for the rest of their lives – not the rest of ours. Please, make sure they are taken care of, no matter what.

Lennox was put down this morning. In case you don’t know, Lennox was taken away from his family in Ireland, declared dangerous, kept in jail for two years, and then killed. Why? Because he LOOKED like he might be a pit bull.

Animal behavior experts declared him a safe pet. Animal welfare experts offered to send him to the USA and place him in a safe home. The Belfast City Council killed him anyway. Animal welfare people all over the United States are outraged by this travesty. And they should be. But here’s the thing.

It could have happened here just as easily.

All over the United States, there is a quiet little war being waged. Insurance companies refuse to insure people who have certain breeds of dogs. Landlords refuse to rent to people who have certain dogs. Some shelters even automatically euthanize certain breeds, because their city councils or county commissioners or insurance companies won’t allow them to adopt out these animals.

The mainstream media doesn’t help. Every time a dog does anything remotely aggressive, the first question is always “what kind of dog was it?” If it was a pit or a Rottweiler, it’s suddenly headline news.

Communities, towns, counties, even entire states are passing or attempting to pass Breed Specific Legislation. Such laws make it illegal to own certain types of dog within the designated area. This is the worst kind of blind prejudice. It can – overnight – become illegal to own a pit bull, or a Rottweiler, or a Doberman. If you have one, you have to move or get rid of your dog. Or they will take your dog away and kill him.

I know. Not everyone loves these big strong dogs with a reputation (however undeserved it might be) for being potentially aggressive. I don’t suggest that everyone has to love them. I will say, however, that statistics show that pit bulls pass behavior testing at a much higher rate than quite a few breeds commonly thought of as excellent pets. I will also point out that statistics on aggressive dogs are very, very skewed by the fact that the general public tends to assume that any square headed, muscular, short haired dog is a pit bull, and the officers taking a report of dog aggression have to write down what the witnesses or victims report.

Some of you are probably saying right now, “Well, I have a poodle. It’s not my problem.”

Oh yes it is.

Aside from the inherent WRONGNESS of making it illegal to have a particular type of dog because it MIGHT some day bite someone, because another dog of the same breed once bit someone…this is a  very slippery slope. If we allow pit bulls to be legislated out of existence, then what’s next? Chows, Dogo Argentinos, Rottweilers, Dobermans? How about mastiffs? After all, they’re big, so they must be dangerous. How about Chihuahuas? They pass the temperament test at a much lower rate than pits do. Once the door is opened, it will be much harder to close.

Breed Specific Legislation is currently illegal in Texas. Even so, many shelters still won’t adopt out certain breeds; breed specific POLICIES are not illegal. BSL (and such associated policies) should be illegal everywhere. Every dog deserves a chance to live a happy life without the fear of being seized and killed because it resembles a dog that once did something bad. Pits, for example, also make great service or therapy dogs. Yet the media never focuses on all the good things associated with the breed; they egg on the hysteria of people who fear the breed without understanding it.

Make no mistake. BSL is WRONG. No government has the right to declare that an animal does not have the right to live simply because of its appearance. Dogs are individuals, and should be evaluated as such. Period.

And if we allow any government to condemn one breed, your dog’s breed may be the next one they target.

In honor of Lennox and all the other dogs who died because of human ignorance and fear, stand up against Breed Specific Legislation. Don’t let it happen to anyone’s else dog. Not anywhere, not ever.

In recent weeks, I have encountered several cases of bad behavior within the animal welfare community. Political strife between rescue groups, disputes over veterinary decisions, nasty Facebook attacks over intake policies, personality conflicts between volunteers…we’ve got enough material for our own little reality show going here.

Let me say this as gently as possible.

STOP IT.

Working in animal welfare is consistently heart-breaking, stressful, and endlessly rewarding, regardless of  whether we do so in a paid capacity or, like most of us, as a volunteer. The worst part for all of us is that we know we’re trying to bail out the ocean with a dixie cup. We KNOW we can’t save them all.

Animal welfare people see the results of human neglect, indifference, and cruelty every single day. We try to repair the damage done to starved, abused, injured, neglected, sick animals that other pseudo-humans threw away. We win some, and that keeps us going. We lose some, and it wears us down.

We literally deal in life and death on a daily basis. And when you deal with such irrevocable consequences, disagreements and differences of opinion are inevitable. It is not unusual for two good rescuers or volunteers to reach radically different conclusions about what to do with a particular animal. That doesn’t necessarily mean one is wrong and one is right. It means that they have differing opinions about whether that animal can be safely rehabilitated and adopted into a forever home. Or maybe they don’t agree on how to handle a veterinary or behavioral problem.

I’m not going to pretend that bad rescuers and fosters don’t exist. They do. The ones who take on more than they can handle. The ones who take a dog home to foster, but don’t follow through with any effort to get the dog adopted and then return it to the shelter a year later, when the now adult dog will be harder to find a home for. The ones who don’t follow basic safety protocol and end up spreading contagious illnesses through their entire animal population. The ones whose animals are out of control and drive the neighbors crazy. The ones who show up for adoption events with filthy unkempt animals. We all know they exist.

But they are NOT the majority. The majority of animal welfare people are self-sacrificing, sincerely devoted to the animals in their care, and constantly looking for ways to help more.

As a community, let’s acknowledge that none of us can do this alone. We need each other. Shelter volunteers, fosters, rescuers, fundraisers, transporters…we are all necessary parts of a symbiotic system. Some of us may not have the best people skills in the world, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t good at what we do. It just means that we might like dogs better than people…no surprise to anyone in animal welfare.

Take time to appreciate the other volunteers and paid animal welfare workers you deal with. Support each other. Offer help instead of criticism. Ask for help if you need it. If someone does something you disagree with, address it privately and tactfully.

Like the dogs we work to save, some of us have behavioral issues and personality quirks. That doesn’t make us bad; it makes us…unique. Treat the other animal welfare people around you the way you treat your dogs…with kindness, patience, and attention to their well being. Treats are good too. One suggestion – save the belly rubs for your closest friends.

In the last year and a half, I have adopted three new dogs, which brings the current population to three dogs and one kitty. Why is this relevant? Because, in the last couple of days, I have learned that the new kids HATE fireworks.

For several years, I had hard of hearing senior dogs. Fireworks and other loud noises meant nothing to them. Elizabeth, the first to arrive of the new crew, doesn’t like loud noises, but is willing to ignore them. She curls up in her chair and pretends not to notice.

Oliver and Buddy are not so tolerant.

Some moron just set off firecrackers nearby, and it isn’t even dark outside yet. Oliver has been barking about it for five minutes now. A couple of nights ago, someone was setting off what sounded like BIG fireworks shortly after dark. Buddy went ballistic (you should pardon the expression). And when he has a fit, so do the twins. He barks, Oliver and Elizabeth bark. If he keeps barking, his voice is so big that the twins resort to howling to be heard over him.

The noise – both from the dogs and from the fireworks – is bad enough. And I can secure the twins in their playpen, where they feel safe. Buddy, however, has the run of the house, and when fireworks start booming, RUN is the operative word. He does laps through the house, bellowing all the while. He clearly thinks we are under attack.

Fireworks are a problem around here every Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. It generally sounds like a full scale ground invasion with artillery. And pets HATE all that racket. July 5th and January 1st are the two biggest intake days for animal shelters all over the country.

So how do you keep your pet safe?

Well, ideally, you live someplace without fireworks. If that’s not an option, then you must take steps to protect your pet. Frightened pets will claw their way out of fences, slip out of collars, even break windows in the blind panic caused by the constant barrage of loud noises. Many a pet owner has come home late on the Fourth to either find their pet missing or their house demolished by a frightened pet.

A little planning can keep your pet and your home safe.

First, I strongly recommend not leaving pets home alone on a fireworks night if it can be avoided. Especially if you have a new pet, you need to be home to see how your pet will react to the commotion. Don’t just leave them loose and assume they’ll be fine – a normally well-behaved pet may run completely amok. Don’t stick them in a crate and think that settles it, either. I have known panicked dogs to hurt themselves breaking out of a crate.

The best thing to do is to turn on the tv or some music and settle in with your pets so that they realize you are calm and unworried. Do not reinforce the behavior by making a fuss or handing out treats when they get agitated. Give them something to do before they have a chance to get worked up – maybe a toy filled with treats to keep them busy.

If you must leave them alone, confine them in the part of the house where the noise will be the most muffled, and leave a tv on or music playing to help cancel out the noise. Again, leave them with something to keep them occupied.

If you have a pet that gets extremely upset about loud noises, I would also recommend talking to your vet about sedatives – for the pet, not for you. If you don’t know how your pet feels about fireworks, plan ahead. It is far better to have the sedative on hand and not need it, than to be desperate for something to calm a hysterical dog in the middle of a fireworks onslaught.

Our pets rely on us to keep them safe. Always make planning for their comfort and safety a part of planning any holiday.

Time to go put the twins in their playpen…