Posts Tagged ‘dogs’
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.
“Any pits?” I asked our shelter director, Maureen, when she got back from the Baltimore shelter with the transfer animals and was parking our rescue truck in front of the shelter.
She smiled sheepishly at me.
“Oh, no. A bunch of lab mixes and a mixed shepherd or two. And the cutest puppies you ever saw.”
I knew what that meant. She had a truck full of pit bulls.
There are two reasons for this: One, we’re an urban shelter north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And two, Maureen, like me, loves pit bulls and knows they need our help more than any other animal in this country. Because of the public’s misperception of this often gentle, loyal, and intelligent breed. And due to the absolutely unconscionable breeding for criminally inhumane uses that this breed has endured by the most irresponsible humans among us. There are just so too many pit bulls for the system to absorb.
Here then, is the dilemma. We have an urban shelter in which we want to house highly adoptable animals whom the public wants to adopt. And it’s the pits who are most in need of adoption, yet the least likely to get adopted. So how do we get people into our nation’s shelters when the majority of dogs ready for adoption, at least in the north and in urban centers, are the least likely to be adopted? How do we compel people to go to their shelters first—long before looking for a dog on Craig’s List, or going to a breed-specific breeder, as good and responsible as many breeders can be?
Some shelters, such as limited admission ones like mine, are not saddled with the municipal obligation of taking in every dog or cat or “other” that is surrendered to them. We can say no. Or yes, to the extent we have room. But that’s not an option the majority of shelters have. They have to say yes; yes to every litter of puppies, every stray cat, and every pit bull that comes through their doors. And that leaves shelters full of animals less likely to be adopted—especially in a society that reveres purebred golden retrievers, labradoodles, bichons and Siamese.
We’ve nearly solved the problem of overpopulation in dogs in this country. That is, if the north had not won the civil war and we were just talking about Washington and above. Where spay/neuter has worked, it has really worked. And where it hasn’t—in the south—it really hasn’t. Other than pit bulls, there are now so few dogs being bred in the north, we have to go to rural communities in the south and in the “middle” to get puppies now, or anything besides a pit bull. I’ve even recently heard a shelter professional say we’ll need to start breeding adoptable dogs now—somewhat facetious, but not entirely.
I want people to come to the shelter—anyone’s shelter. That’s why we work to get animals from places where there aren’t adopters to places where there are. Whether those places are prosecuted puppy mills, hoarding cases, or just the overwhelmed countryside where dogs and cats so readily make more dogs and cats. That’s the solution. And, of course, keep those doors open to your own community’s animals, because you can’t be part of that solution without taking care of your own backyard, too. And I want every single person who adopts to see the number on that national euthanasia rate drop by one digit. Because that’s exactly what every single adoption represents.
So, has the battle against pet overpopulation been won? Absolutely not. And certainly not for cats. In this country, there are still between three and four million dogs and cats being euthanized every year. That’s a huge reduction from the dozens of millions euthanized just a decade ago. But still, looking into the faces of my own dogs, I’m constantly reminded how bonded we humans are to this incredibly dependent species, and therefore, any unnecessary death is an insult to our own humanity.
We’ll continue to try to save dogs and cats from needless euthanasia in this country. We’ll save the pits, and anything else we can. And we’ll try to convince the adopting public to go their local shelters first, if they’re in the market to adopt. And support their shelters with donations. Lots of them. Because if ever there were a noble cause, saving and honoring the human-animal bond between us and our canine and feline dependents is a cause that is worthy and very visible.
So back to Maureen and the truck parked in front of our building.
I just smiled and said, “Bring them in.”
Because she and I both know that they have nowhere else to go.
Hamlin was a dog nobody wanted. One of a litter of four unplanned and unexpected puppies, he was born in a backyard in West Virginia to a mother of no specific breed. We decided he’s a “mixed hound,” but that’s really anybody’s guess. His owner placed a free-to-good-home ad on Craigslist and, one by one, Hamlin’s siblings drove off to unknown fates. Maybe the homes really were good. But if you work at an animal shelter, as I do, you tend to be pretty cynical about Craigslist homes.
No one came for Hamlin. And that may have been the best thing that could have happened to the puppy. As a last ditch effort, the woman who placed the online ad called the local animal rescue group. They came and collected Hamlin, who was just 12 weeks old at that point.
The rescue group, Potomac Highlands Animal Rescue (PHAR) consists of a small, all-volunteer cadre of deeply committed animal advocates. They find abandoned dogs in the woods and take others off of chains when owners move away and leave their pets behind. They carry armloads of cats out of hoarders’ trailers. Living where they do, they can hardly go to the local grocery store without returning with a few “free” kittens or a lost dog.
The supply of homeless animals there, as in many rural communities, is endless. Sadly, the supply of adopters is not. In fact, that is almost non-existent. So for years now, PHAR—along with quite a few other groups—has been bringing animals to our shelter in DC. Hamlin arrived on October 7.
Hamlin represents what, in my opinion, is the biggest problem today in animal welfare: too many animals where no one wants them and too few where they do. Hamlin had the misfortune of becoming one of the hundreds of thousands of surplus dogs and cats in the United States. Shelters like ours, and groups like PHAR, work hard to change that equation and move the surplus to where the homes are. There is no other option besides euthanasia.
The next day, the puppy met the first veterinarian he had ever seen. Looking Hamlin over, that veterinarian met a lot of giardia and other parasites that he had seen all too often. But after a few days in our Medical Center, Hamlin was given a clean bill of health and moved to the adoption area, where he had a clean bed of his own, toys, regular nutritious meals, and even an education of sorts. Our behavior and training team makes sure that puppies in their formative months get off to a good start by introducing them to lots of different people, a variety of dogs, and things like umbrellas and wheelchairs so that they grow up to be confident and well-socialized pets.
That’s standard practice. But Hamlin got in some extra-curricular activities. The Washington Capitals hockey team called to say that they were producing a calendar to benefit the League, and Nicklas Backstrom needed a puppy to pose with. So here’s Hamlin with the Capitals’ beloved center and alternate captain.
And Hamlin’s education included an additional unit on Cultural Traditions of Post-Modern America. Here he is learning about Halloween.
It was this second photo, appearing on Facebook and Flickr the day after the photo op with the Capitals, that won Hamlin his current—and permanent—home. In a coincidence almost too good to be true, he now lives on Hamlin Street in the District with a young family who is glad to have him. He’s no longer the dog no one wanted; he’s got a devoted family of his own now. After his whirlwind journey through the pages of Craigslist and as poster dog for the Capital’s 2012 calendar, he can get down to the serious business of being a really great dog. One anybody would want.
One More Chance, a self-proclaimed animal “rescue,” was operated out of a former hog farm in Ohio. Most of their dogs were kept in crates and plastic airline kennels stacked on top of each other in dark hog stalls. They almost never got let out of their crates. Some lived in makeshift wooden pens outside. These dogs fought for what little food there was, and the injured lived with their untreated wounds or died alone in the corner of their pens.
Encore, a male mixed husky, lived in this canine Gulag for years. He was one of 329 survivors rescued by the ASPCA and the Clark County, Ohio Humane Society in March of this year. Another 76 dogs did not live to see the arrival of the rescue crew.
The Washington Animal Rescue League agreed to take 30 of these dogs. Specifically, we asked for the ones whose mental and medical conditions were most dire. Our facility has both a full-service veterinary hospital and a team of professionally certified behavioral rehabilitation experts; we feel that gives us the responsibility to look after animals who need more than what most other shelters can provide.
The arrival of the Ohio dogs at the League was not a story-book rescue moment. None of the sick and terrified animals showed any recognition that they had just been rescued. Most wouldn’t leave their travelling crates willingly, even with gentle coaxing and treats as incentives. Some either couldn’t or wouldn’t walk into their new, temporary home. They had to be carried.
Our veterinarians estimated that Encore was six years old. We don’t know how many of those years he spent at One Last Chance, but he was there long enough to develop the skin, ear, and eye infections that inflicted all the arriving dogs. Unlike the rest of them, Encore wasn’t overly thin. Being one of the tougher dogs, he may have eaten better than the rest.
But Encore’s spirit was in worse shape than his body. Our behavior director recalls that “Encore was very unsure of people, having had little to no human interaction for several years. He wouldn’t look at anyone but would stare at the ground when approached. He never wanted to leave his den, he’d just lie there facing the wall. He wouldn’t eat food out of a dish at all and wouldn’t touch food if anyone was watching him. And it was months before we saw his tail wag, even a little.”
Clearing up the dog’s various infections took time. Teaching him to trust people and enjoy their company took even longer. But finding him an appropriate home—the last stage in our “rescue, rehab, rehome” mission—seemed to take forever. All the other 29 Ohio dogs left long before he did. Encore was still here when we did our big 33-hour, non-stop Adopt-A-Thon this past August. And he was one of only four dogs still at the shelter when the record event was over.
His big break finally came in September. A woman came in asking for the dog who had been in the shelter the longest. She was looking for a real rescue case. (We get these big-hearted adopters from time to time; typically they leave with a three-legged dog or a one-eyed cat.) And it didn’t hurt that she was partial to husky-types.
Today, Encore is Hachi. He no longer sleeps in a filthy crate in a dark hog stall, but in a bed with the boy who is his constant companion. He doesn’t have to fight for food. And his walks in the crisp autumn sunshine fill him with joy, not fear of all the unfamiliar smells and sounds.
Encore has had a second chance—a reprise, if you will. He is really home at last and can be a true dog in the best sense of the word. He will love his people no matter what. He will never tire of being with them nor want any other life but the one he has. The story of his life now has a wonderful ending.
Not to brag, but we knew this would happen. That’s why we stood by him through the long months of his recovery. So that he could have the privilege of standing by his people. That’s really all a dog wants. And for Encore, it was worth the wait.
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.
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.
Our Medical Center often gets calls from other shelters to help them with veterinary care for sick and injured animals they have. On Monday, we heard the story of an injured dog in West Virginia and we immediately offered to help.
Coltan, a two-and-a-half–year-old golden retriever mix, showed up on a woman’s porch with a fresh bullet wound in his chest. In West Virginia, it’s perfectly legal to shoot dogs if they are bothering livestock. Lots of people take advantage of this law.
Coltan often stayed under the woman’s front porch, but that wasn’t really his home. The woman thought he belonged to her neighbor down the road, who had a number of dogs that he let run loose. So she called the man.
“Whatever,” was the man’s reaction. “Just turn him loose. He can fend for himself.”
The woman decided she couldn’t do that, so she brought Coltan to the town veterinarian, who took an initial look at the dog and proposed a treatment plan. When the woman heard how much the plan would cost, she decided she couldn’t do that either.
At that point, Coltan was turned over to Potomac Highlands Animal Rescue, and they called us to have the dog admitted to our Medical Center. We did emergency surgery soon after he arrived. The bullet had shattered into fragments, which we could see on an X-ray but couldn’t remove. So we treated the wound, put Coltan on IV antibiotics, and started him on pain meds to make sure he was comfortable.
Initially, we had some concern that Coltran might lose his right front leg, but he seems to be recovering nicely, and now we doubt that will be necessary. It will still be several weeks before he can be made available for adoption. But someday soon, somebody will be lucky to adopt this brave boy, who is so friendly and personable. And then his real healing will begin.
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.
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.
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.
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.