Posts Tagged ‘cats’

‘Tis the Season for Collaboration, Not Combat

Our Winter Open House on December 4

It’s happened again. And just a little more than a few weeks before Christmas. A new non-profit organization called the Humane Society for Shelter Pets (HSSP) was formed by  the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). The latter is run by Rick Berman, who has battled such “tyrannical” organizations as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and who seems to have a personal vendetta against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This may be based on the fact that the CCF gets significant funding from meat producers and processors. He is using HSSP to create a veritable public coliseum over his claim that HSUS does not support shelters or shelter animals. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

No legitimate movement can afford to discourage “discourse.” That’s how causes thrive, educate and grow. For the past few years, though, the animal welfare profession has suffered from some of the most hostile attacks I’ve ever seen. All in the name of saving animals. Something we all want to do. So whether it’s from the “no kill movement,” or puppy mill business interests, or egg manufactures, we’ve been hurt badly by the “dis-cohesiveness” of our support base. What CCF and the new Humane Society for Shelter Pets are doing now is just the latest toxic attack in this game of thrones. 

They claim that HSUS is misleading the public about where their funds go. Nonsense. Anyone at any time can pull up the HSUS’s IRS Form 990 and see that millions of dollars go to helping local shelters each year. And millions more go to the fantastic education programs such as the National Animal Care Expo that we all benefit from. Many more millions go to shutting down puppy mills, saving animals from hoarders, and rescuing wildlife. The simple truth is that HSUS supports shelters and companion animals.  Period. They are not—and they never say are—the single umbrella entity under which we all work. What they are is the largest and most effective voice for animals and against suffering in a world with far too much of it. 

Thanks to HSUS, there is cohesion in our struggle to protect animals and move the nation forward on humane issues: shutting down puppy mills, promoting spay/neuter, encouraging shelter pet adoption, and other issues that are crucial to our joint success. And they are always ready to mobilize their rescue teams to work with local shelters responding to natural disasters, hoarding cases, dog fighting rings, puppy mill raids, and other large-scale, often overwhelming, problems. 

There is just too much work to do; we can’t be successful if we’re divided.  Let’s drop the factional language that separates us. We need to increase cohesion between animal groups who share the honor and the grave responsibility to care for the most helpless among us. Using strategies to harm good organizations like HSUS hurts the cause for all involved.  My shelter, The Washington Animal Rescue League, is proud to partner with HSUS. For all they do for animals and all they contribute to shelters across the country, they deserve the undivided support of everyone in the animal welfare field and, indeed, the public as a whole.

Fact is, we’re all trying to take care of animals, and we need to do this job together. Creating organizations such as this new shelter pets group that uses hate and vitriol to manipulate the public harms the backbone of our movement and, worse yet, pits all of us against each other. We could move closer to our common goal of helping more animals by working together, collaborating to conquer the immense problem of animal homelessness. Groups such as the CCF and HSSP hurt not only us, but the animals we are all trying to help.

I’m all for accountability.  But let’s not make up facts to serve our own self-aggrandizing goals. We should all be doing everything we can to ensure that homeless animals get into the homes they need and deserve. But we will be much more effective in pursuit of that goal if we work together and stop creating divisions. 

We can help animals, and each other, best by working together. Not by being divided and conquering each other to further  self-interested agendas. In this season of peace and joy, let’s not hurt animals more by dividing those  dedicated to saving them. CCF and its new group HSSP, may, in fact, have done the best thing in the world for animals by shedding light on the animosity that got animals into their homeless predicament in the first place:  self-interest, dishonesty, and ignorance. So let’s drop the factional language which separates us.  Let’s celebrate collaboration—not combat— in this season of giving and work together to save those who need us the most. I, for one, am thankful to have the support of the Humane Society of the United States whenever we need it. And I personally know a few thousand animals who are home for the holidays today precisely because of that support.

Does Everyone Have a Right to Keep Pets?

Kitty is on the mend

The animal rescue shelter I run includes a veterinary hospital for shelter animals and pets of people who can’t afford private veterinarians.  Almost all the low-income people who use the hospital take excellent care of their pets, though money is often tight. But every once in a while, like any vet office anywhere, we see clients who make us ask, “Why does he even have an animal?”

One walked in last week. A man with a kindly demeanor, he brought in a cat, who at age 18 months had already mothered at least one litter of kittens.  Her name was “Kitty” (and all four of her kittens were named the same thing).  The man said that he planned on giving the kittens to his girlfriend, though I wonder who would want to get four cats all at once.  But that was his plan.

As for Kitty the mother, she was in our hospital because she had fallen off a balcony three days before and was limping.  The likely reason that Kitty fell from the balcony was that she was having trouble walking straight because one of her front legs had gotten stuck in her flea collar.  Although anyone with eyesight could see that the leg was stuck in the collar, it had been there long enough to become embedded in the skin under her leg. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight.

So here’s a case of a man with a cat who had never before seen a vet, had never been vaccinated—nor had any of her kittens—had limped around with her leg stuck in her flea collar for at least a month, had fallen from a balcony, and even then had to wait three days before getting any help.

The man, as I said, seemed like a generally kind person; he was certainly no monster. Although he didn’t have a lot of money, he worked as a barber, and I imagine that his clients liked him and so did his family and neighbors.  And oddly, he seemed very concerned about his cat.

Occasionally our legal system will mandate that someone has lost the right to keep animals.  Michael Vick is the most famous example, and courts often apply the same rule to animal hoarders.  But other than that, anyone is free to get a dog or a cat, or even several.  It doesn’t always work out well, as Kitty’s story illustrates.  That’s why we in the animal protection field often ask ourselves if keeping pets is a right to be enjoyed by all.

I think, in the end, it should be, at least for those who have not been legally convicted of animal abuse or neglect.  We don’t, as a society, want a law restricting the keeping of pets any more than we want to restrict people’s right to have children.  But sometimes, we all agree, children have to be removed from some parents to protect them.  Same with animals.  But by then, the damage is done. The animal has suffered, and some die of abuse and neglect.

So clearly there is still a pressing need for education on the most basic needs that animals have.  And the responsibility for doing that education falls first and foremost on animal protection groups, like the Washington Animal Rescue League, where I work.  That’s why we have a humane education program that teaches school children kindness and responsibility.  And it’s why all our staff know that they’re to drop whatever they’re doing to talk to anyone who will listen about proper animal care whenever the chance arises.  It’s what I spend a lot of my own time doing.

We often hear that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  I believe that.  And I think you could say that it takes a village to raise a dog or cat, or any animal, too.  We all have to be on the lookout for animals who are not being treated well and intervene when possible.  Often, a little education, proffered gently and with kindness, is all that’s needed.  But sometimes, you have to call the police or local humane society.  In the end, that also has educational value, not only for the abuser, but for family, neighbors, and the rest of us. 

We contacted the local humane society to follow up with Kitty’s owner on the fate of her kittens.  Meanwhile, he surrendered Kitty to us.  She’s had surgery to fix her wound, has been spayed, vaccinated and cared for, and soon she will be looking for new home.  At this point, her story has a guaranteed happy ending.

And maybe her ordeal has taught some people something about caring for animals.  We can only hope.

A Weekend to Celebrate: Our August Adopt-A-Thon

photo: Chris Motz

At the beginning of this month, we had our most successful adoption event in the history of the Washington Animal Rescue League. In 33 hours—actually even before the first of our two-day event ended—we had nearly emptied our shelter, uniting more than 100 rescued animals, who had previously been neglected, abandoned, abused, or some combination of the above, with happy families.

That was more than we could have hoped for and a raging success.  113 animals found the new homes and new lives they deserved. Scores of excited families were enriched by the addition of a new best friend. And our League family grew accordingly.

We always send animals home with more than a leash or a cat carrier—our “alumnae” come with a virtual life-long membership card that makes them a permanent part of our family. We guarantee our support in any way we can give it: medical, behavioral, emergency housing, even food and supplies in hard times. Everyone who adopted an animal that weekend also adopted all of us.

But here’s what is so interesting. We waived adoption fees that weekend; people could “pay what they chose” as an adoption fee.  And people did.  Some paid vastly more than the regular fee.  No one paid nothing. This wasn’t a give-away; this was an adoption event to help us get animals who would otherwise sit in a shelter for weeks or months into new homes. And it generated a compelling interest in coming to a shelter—an exceptional shelter, I might add—not among people who just that weekend thought “Wow, I think I’ll go get a free dog today!”  These were families who have been thinking about a pet, and who may have otherwise bought a dog or a cat off of Craig’s List or from a puppy mill sourced internet ad.

So it surprised all of us to get a few calls and emails actually condemning us for holding the event, for “giving animals away.”  Someone even wrote that we “might as well be giving them away on the sidewalk,” a comment I thought was interesting since it is exactly what we hope to do every time our adoption truck goes out to local neighborhoods.  With more than 3 million dogs and cats being euthanized every year in this country, isn’t adoption exactly what we should be striving for?  And isn’t introducing the public to a source of wonderful animals whose very lives are in jeopardy entirely the point? 

What these concerned people were so horrified about wasn’t simply adopting animals out in volume, it was doing so without home visits. We, like most other progressive animal shelters all over the country, dropped home visits as a routine requirement years ago. We find that we learn more about people and their intentions by sitting down with them to discuss their needs and make a match that works, than by doing invasive home visits which only delay the process, jeopardize the placement, and frustrate and discourage the very people we should be rewarding for coming to a shelter in the first place.

It’s astonishing to me that a few people could complain about an event that cleared out our shelter to make room for more needy animals. They might feel differently if they had ever looked in to the faces of the hundreds of dogs and cats in the overcrowded shelters we visit to pick up animals for transport. On these visits, we know that we never have room for all of them. At any given moment, hundreds of animals are overwhelming our nation’s shelters, waiting for an adopter to give them the future they deserve. And that is precisely what we gave them.

Our critics were concerned that our animals, to whom we have made a 100 percent commitment, will go to the “wrong people,” as though we’re just boxing up puppies and kittens to give away as door prizes. With every adoption we always ask ourselves, Will our decision lead to a better life for this animal?  And the adopt-a-thon weekend was no different than any other in terms of the scrutiny and education we undertake with our adopters. And as usual, we will follow-up with every single adopter in two weeks, then two months, then one year.

The adopt-a-thon was a triumph.  For our animals, for the families who may not have otherwise considered adopting their new best friend from a shelter, and for our many supporters and return adopters.  And…for our staff and volunteers who saw the shelter packed with people working together stridently to bring about a day when shelters may not even have to exist. That weekend we welcomed the right people into our shelter, our home—we saw that even without going to theirs.

The Future of Animal Rescue

Eight years ago, when I joined the Washington Animal Rescue League as medical director, I never thought I would end up in the commercial real estate business. Now, eight years and a new decade later, that’s exactly where a great deal of my time has been spent. Last week, the League embarked on the largest project we’ve ever taken on—we became the proud owners of the 42,000-square-foot property adjacent to our shelter, in which we plan to build the future of animal rescue.

We won’t get there next month, or next year, or in the immediate few years after that, but we’re on the way.

As the League nears its centennial in 2014, we will begin a capital campaign to build the rehabilitation facility that homeless animals so desperately need. It will become the National Rehabilitation Center for Animals.  And even more than that.  As we’ve done so many times in the past, we’ll be building a new future both for animals in our own community, and for animals suffering from the abuses of hoarders, dog fighters, and puppy mill operators all over the country. 

And, given the lessons this turbulent spring taught us, the Center will also become a safe haven for the tragic animal victims of the more and more frequent natural disasters around the country.

But our primary focus will always be on our own community. We know we have work to do right here in our own backyard.  We must ensure that we will still—and forever—be able to support the local community: animal guardians in our own neighborhoods, as well as partner shelters in the area who may need our assistance.  We want them to know that we will always be here to help them with overcrowding and medical assistance.

The same goes for our low-income veterinary clients. The new Center will allow us to offer more much-needed low-cost services for the local community. Something that is so desperately needed, especially with an economy that seems to refuse to improve.

Part one of our plan will be to move and expand some administrative and training programs into the south side of the building. At the same time, we will be leasing out the remainder of the building to cover the mortgage. This will give us time to raise the funds to create the National Rehabilitation Center for Animals. And to continue our work right here at the shelter we’re already so proud of.

If someone asked me, “Is this the best time to plan an expansion?” I would answer with an emphatic “yes,” in spite of the economy.  Because we so urgently need it. Is it the easiest time? Of course not. But that has never been a good reason not to move forward.

A year ago we had a choice: remain the same and offer as much as we can to as many as we can, all the time knowing there are thousands more out there who also need our help. Or grow and build a facility that can actually help solve the most pressing problems in animal welfare and veterinary medicine, offering medical and behavioral help and homes to the most disenfranchised in the nation. We chose the latter.

Last week we got the keys to our future. I hope you’ll be interested in hearing how the project is going.  Call or email me for details or for a tour of the future of animal rescue. It’s now right next door.

Rescue Without Borders

League rescue truck in Alabama

What a year it’s been already. With the many disasters we’ve all become witnesses to, we’re all hyper-aware of the tragedy and suffering our fellow citizens, and their animals, have endured. We’ve had our rescue truck for only a little over 3 months, and already we’ve used it to stage multiple rescue areas and load up transports of animals from more than 1000 miles away. It’s been a busy spring.

And at the end of this week, we’re sending another disaster team to Joplin, Missouri, to help with what’s left of that city’s animal control facility. No rest for the weary.

But we don’t want to rest. Because the rescues are only part of the story. The rest is the successful rehabilitation of disaster survivors and their eventual introduction into new homes. That’s the holy grail of rescue.

And as soon as we can keep our truck local for a few weeks, we’ll be heading out to our own metro neighborhoods with adoption events and attendance at summer festivals and street fairs. Because rescue and rehab are only 2/3 of the story. Getting these puppies and kittens into new homes is the final piece of the puzzle.


So let me introduce you to a few of the animals we’ve brought back from the Midwest, Alabama and Mississippi. They’ve, at so young an age, learned more than we would ever have wanted to teach them about the worst that nature, and sometimes humans, have to offer. Now we want them to know what humans are really capable of—inexhaustible love. And based on the outpouring of that we’ve received  over the past few weeks, I know there’s a lot of love out there. Now we want our animals to know it.

Coccuzi is about the sweetest Weimaraner mix you could ever meet.  She actually got out of her cage on the truck and came up to check on my driving somewhere near Knoxville. Then she curled up next to us and went to sleep. Whoever gets this dog is one lucky person, because she’s one in a million. Or how about Polliwog, a gorgeous black lab we rescued from a horrible hoarding situation in Ohio? Or how about Gardenia, a local pup who had a broken leg when she came to us, then had to survive parvo once she got here? Or one of the five kittens who survived the Alabama tornados by hiding in a storm drain?

Truth is, all of these animals need homes badly. Whether they’re from Alabama or Missouri or right here on Bladensburg Road, the more animals we get into homes, the more room we have to help our local partner shelters here in Washington, Prince George’s County, and Baltimore. Because taking the load off of them is our prime directive. And, as long as we have room (often even when we don’t) and our rescue truck has gas, we’ll be ready for the next disaster, whether it’s natural or our own collective man-made fault.  Please help.  Please adopt.  There’s never been a better time.

Missouri Floods: Day Two

Here’s yesterday’s report from the League’s team in Missouri, where they are caring for animals displaced by the floods.  Again, it is by Jamie Scotto, adoption director at the League.


Stacey treats puppies for fleas

We got an early start this morning, arriving at the soon-to-be relocated temporary shelter at 7:00 a.m.  The morning was spent with basic animal care duties: feeding, cleaning, and moving supplies around.  There was plenty of work to be done. We’re caring for 135 dogs, 30 cats, 1 sheep, and a few chickens and geese.  About 95 percent of the animals have owners, some of whom came by to visit their pets. That made for happy moments for all of us: pets, owners, and shelter care-takers.

But during the day, two more dogs—a black Labrador and a mixed terrier—were surrendered by people who had nowhere to keep them.

Many of the dogs we’re caring for are “farm dogs,” as our colleagues from the Humane Society of Missouri call them, meaning that they live outside.  They’re not used to being confined. We learned that at least some of them are also not familiar with leashes and are not at all pleased to have one put around their necks!  So their stay at our emergency shelter is not easy for them.

A couple of the dogs were really shut down and depressed. We ran out to buy some dog treats and toys to try to make the time go by more pleasantly for them.  One dog, Oreo, a black and white beagle mix, was having a particularly hard time; he seemed terrified and wouldn’t leave his crate, which no one had managed to clean all day. But I discovered, pretty much by simple luck, that Oreo has a weakness for peanut butter.  He and I are now great friends, and things are going better for him.

The first shelter

Most of the cats are from the same home, and many of them are developing upper respiratory infections. Evidently, they’d never been vaccinated until they arrived at our shelter, and the stress of the move and the sudden changes to their lives has led to lots of sneezing and wheezing.  A veterinarian is expected this evening to see what she can do for them.

But the big task this evening is to re-locate all the animals to a larger facility a couple of miles down the road. The majority of the Humane Society of Missouri crew spent the day setting it up, and now we are waiting for 4H volunteers with animal transport trailers to come move our group of refugees to their new quarters.

Rescue and the Ford E450

I have the best job in the world.  That’s what I told our COO as I pushed hard down on the gas pedal to force our brand new animal rescue truck up a winding, mountain highway road in West Virginia during what was, hopefully, the last real snowstorm of the season last month.  So what if this was the first time I’ve ever driven a truck which is pretty much wider than my house?  Or that I was petrified that the CEO would be the first one to scratch or dent (or worse) the new, beautiful, graphic-laden sides of our brand new truck?  Or that it doesn’t have a rear view mirror because I’m supposed to use the side mirrors, now coated with ice and sand from the snow plows that are driving faster than this new truck does?  Like that’s so easy.

It’s still the best job in the world. 

I’m not much of a car freak.  I’m the one who smiles and nods and acts interested when someone shows me his or her new car.  I can’t differentiate a Lexus from a Lamborghini.   But this was different.  After seven years of driving our worn-to-the-hubcaps vans all over the country, bundled in sweatshirts in the summer as we billow the A/C back to the animals in the cargo area, this was our first real, state-of-the-art, rescue and adoption vehicle.   One that will make it possible for us to get to Missouri to help with the latest puppy mill rescue, and actually get out to where the animals are.  Or travel to Texas to help with a pit bull fighting ring rescue or, heaven forbid, another natural disaster forcing people from their homes and animals from their people. 

And we’ll be able, with this very same truck, to get to such exotic locales as Georgetown or Dupont Circle, or up Rockville Pike (although finishing the 500 mile, 10 hour drive on the beltway at 10 pm that night was the scariest part of the whole day).  Because we’ll be able to bring animals (many from the previously mentioned rescues) for the final part of their odyssey, directly into homes and the loving arms of their new families.

Rescue, Rehab, Rehome.  That’s our call sign.  And now we can do the first part better than we’ve ever been able to before. 

That’s the whole point.  And why for me and for our staff, this is the best job in the world.   Even without a rear view mirror.

Not the Hospital I was Taught About in Vet School

Some days I just want to be a vet.  Yet more and more, the knowledge and skill, the sharpness and the urgency of day-to-day vet care, are becoming something foreign to me.  I’m still proud of knowing how to take care of animals. And I hope I can still do a fairly reasonable job of it.  But working on individual animals, for one problem at a time, is so alien to my now daily fare of looking at the health and welfare of groups and large populations of animals.  So this weekend’s duty as the “on call” vet for our Medical Center was an eye-opener.

Our hospital treats shelter animals, our own and those of our partner shelters in the region, as well as the pets of more than 6,000 low-income clients in the Capital area.  And this weekend we were slammed.   I got a call to review cases by one of our staff vets the day before and I have to say, my heart sank at the number and complication of the cases our hospital was treating.  The cases I needed to look at the next day!  These were no simple shelter animal cases.  But ours is no simple shelter hospital.

There were two animals with back fractures, both sadly paralyzed. There were a cat from a crime scene in Baltimore with extensive burns on his back, a dog with a rare form of infectious anemia, and another in kidney failure.  Then there were two puppies in insolation who were acting like they didn’t know they had parvo (thankfully).  And finally, a terrible broken femur in one of the sweetest dogs you could ever meet. This is not the traditional shelter hospital I was taught about in vet school.

But it is the whole reason the Washington Animal Rescue League exists: to care for the broken and homeless, the disadvantaged, the ones with have nowhere else to go.   And, in spite of my trepidation at walking into all of that, I was proud of what our hospital does.  And of the staff who do the job of caring for these poor animals every single day.  This is what we’re here for.  And what is going to, finally, change the way shelters are run.  And more importantly, up the game for what we as civilized human beings will tolerate in our standards of care for the most disadvantaged and forgotten of our animal companions.  This is true rehab, giving a second chance to animals, and many of the people who love them.  They truly would not have been given this chance anywhere else.

Catapalooza 2011!

A special Valentine’s Day celebration of all things feline!

Sunday, February 13, 12 – 3 p.m.

“Just the two of us” adoption discounts: Take home a new, perfect feline companion of any age for just $2.  All cats are spayed or neutered, current on vaccinations, blood tested, and comprehensively examined by veterinarians and behavior specialists.  Free cake and mimosas, give-away’s, and prizes for all attendees!  Admission is free.  For more information, call 202-726-2556 or write

The Numbers and Beyond: A Look Back at 2010

As we close out one year and push on into the next, it’s a great time to spend some energy on the spreadsheets and data tables on my desk to get a view of the major and minor trends that influence the work we do at the Washington Animal Rescue League.  Mostly, I want to know what animals and their people need from us and how we can make sure they get it.

Here are some of the numbers for 2010:

  • 68% of the animals placed in homes by the League in 2010 required medical or behavioral rehabilitation before they could be made available for adoption.
  • Forty percent of the adopted animals were cats. This is about ten percent more than it was two years ago, before we began our campaign to promote cat adoptions.
  • About a third of the animals that the League helped in 2010 came from outside the area, mostly from large-scale rescues.
  • Another third were transferred from local shelters when their space was tight or they had animals with medical or behavioral problems.
  • The last third were surrendered to the League directly from the public. Many of these were animals with needs that their former guardians could not meet.
  • Our Medical Center treated more than 3,800 dogs and cats belonging to low-income people, who can’t afford a private veterinarian.  Another 2,210 animals came to our weekly low-cost vaccination clinics.  That’s more than 6,000 animals.
  • The League spayed and neutered 2,566 dogs and cats.  Among these were 224 pit bulls and 386 feral cats treated without charge. (Pit bulls and feral cats are the two types of animals whose populations are most in need of control in this area).

I’m well aware that statistics by themselves can’t possibly tell the whole story of what we do.  Every animal we help is so much more than a number in a column!  Each one is a living being who is tied to many other lives by bonds of love and companionship.  Each one comes to us with a unique set of needs and a unique set of gifts.  None of this is reflected in the statistics.

But there are lessons we can draw from the numbers—more, in fact, than can be enumerated here.  One conclusion stands out starkly: there is great need—both locally and across the country—for a shelter that emphasizes and specializes in animal rehabilitation. Not just housing animals until they can be adopted; lots of groups do that.  But putting in the hard work binding wounds, treating illnesses, and modifying behaviors, so that every animal—no matter how physically or emotionally scarred—has a chance to become the cherished companion they were always meant to be.

Then let this be our resolution for the new year: to help more animals than ever before and to push onward towards the day when all animals’ lives will be free of needless pain, neglect, and abandonment.