Posts Tagged ‘rescue’
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.
I took a walk through the shelter a few months ago with our COO, Mary Jarvis. We passed a few empty dens on the left, a few empty puppy enclosures in the puppy room. And some open cat condos in the cat room. We weren’t full. Not because we didn’t want to be. But because new adopters had just picked up their new family members, and we were trying to manage floor space for an incoming transport of animals from a partner shelter in Ohio, or West Virginia, which are overflowing with dogs and cats.
I remember Mary looking me in the eye and saying “I’ll go to New York Ave and see what they need.” She knew what I was going to say. And hers is a common response now. To go to our neighboring shelters at DC Animal Control, or Prince George’s County, or Baltimore, and bring back as many animals as we can hold. Sometimes more than we can hold.
Just last night, we got a call from one of these shelters asking for relief because they had too many dogs. The miracle is that this bleakest of pronouncements doesn’t necessarily have to mean euthanasia anymore. It can mean calling us to make room for incoming animals. And that’s what we did. Of course I’m proud of the fact that our doors are open when other shelters need us. For, as we like to say, animals who have nowhere else to go. But I’m equally proud of what our partner shelters are doing to decrease euthanasia and work together to lower the rate of needless death of otherwise healthy dogs and cats.
There was a time when this didn’t happen. When shelters didn’t talk to each other and ask for help for the most helpless among us. When we’d have to go drive 100’s of miles to bring in animals from Georgia, or Mississippi because we didn’t work with each other. I’m happy to say this is no longer the case.
In Washington DC, we are working closely with our municipal partner to eliminate the euthanasia of any dog in the District. And to lower the euthanasia rates for cats in our capital. This is no easy feat. But instead of poorly communicating, of not working together to do the best for our community’s animals (and people), we’re collaborating to lower euthanasia and work together to solve the problem. It’s a wonderful thing.
Just this past week, we’ve brought in 37 animals from our local partner shelters. And, even completely full, Maureen, our shelter director drove her own car on Saturday to pick up 12 puppies from the overflowing Baltimore city shelter. The sleeping mound of puppies I saw here on Sunday afternoon is an image I wish I could share with anyone who has ever questioned why partnerships are so important.
Walking through the shelter this afternoon—where every den is full, every cat condo is filled and we have overflow in runs and cages in our Medical Center—I’m proud of our staff, and of our partners, for recognizing that none of us can solve the problem of homeless animals alone. That mound of puppies is all the proof I need.
“The staff was amazed at how far the dogs had come in just one week. The new charges had shaken off some of their kennel stress and already seemed much happier….Limited as it may have been, this was the first time these dogs were allowed to simply be dogs.”
That’s a quote from The Lost Dogs, Jim Gorant’s new book about the rehabilitation of Michael Vick’s pit bulls. He’s describing the turnabout that eleven of Vick’s dogs made after they arrived at the League, which he describes as being “on the cutting edge of animal housing.”
The League took care of these dogs for three months in 2007. Though it may seem odd, our basic assignment was to teach dogs to be dogs, as Gorant rightly notes. In the process, we learned a lot about rehabilitating fighting dogs, and the dogs thrived.
We’ve been putting that knowledge to good use ever since.
On Saturday, the Humane Society of the United States brought us 10 of 200 pit bulls they got from a suspected fighting ring in Ohio. Like Vick’s Bad Newz Kennel dogs, these dogs came in scarred, both externally and internally.
But as with Vick’s dogs, a few days at our facility, with its supportive environment and patient, compassionate staff, have had an almost magical effect.
Coolridge, a large yellow male with an odd nervous grin, is scared of everyone. In the past, any contact with people was a precursor to a terrible experience—hence, the nervous grin when anyone approaches. But now he is learning that he doesn’t have to be afraid. For instance, the first time you touch his paw, he cringes and freezes in fear. But the second time you do it, he’s ok with it. That’s the beginning of trust.
Even Lincoln, a petite all-black female who has been totally shutdown (unresponsive, won’t eat, hides: essentially, a dog who has given up) crawled out of her crate on her belly to say hello to a trainer this morning. As small as the step was, it was cause for rejoicing.
Slowly and quietly these dogs are beginning to show us all the qualities that make dogs such wonderful beings. And in the process, I like to think that the chance to help them is bringing out the best in us.
It’s not often that life gives you the opportunity to be a part of such a complete rescue and recovery. I find that the work goes both ways: we help the dogs become happy and loving companions, and they help us become better people.
However you stumbled upon my new blog, it’s a pretty safe bet you have some connection to the animal welfare field: you’ve adopted a dog or cat, you work or volunteer at a shelter, you’re part of a rescue group or you’ve bookmarked an animal adoption page on your computer.
Whatever your connection, you know that the animals’ stories bring up very big issues. They tell us volumes about who we are as people, what terrible and wonderful things we are capable of, and what is really worthwhile about life. It often involves them.
At an animal shelter, something like this can happen at any moment…
A puppy comes in nearly dead of heat stroke after being left in a hot car. His guardian doesn’t seem too concerned. She just wants us to take the puppy so she can be on her way. What makes her so nonchalant? And why do we care so deeply about this puppy whom we’ve never seen before, that we spare nothing to save his life?
The process of rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals is full of decisions, often difficult ones. The animals are totally reliant on us for their care but can only express their wishes in the most rudimentary forms (through their eyes, wagging tails, whimpers, purrs, and cries). We, not they, have to decide what’s best for them.
Here’s a dilemma we faced recently…
The cat transferred from another shelter tests positive for FIV, an immune deficiency that he can live with for years. He’s certainly adoptable but he’ll need a special home, and it will most likely take months to find him one. Meanwhile, how many other cats will be euthanized in area shelters because they have no more room for homeless cats?
These stories and the issues they raise make our field unique. Filled with the drama of animals’ suffering, recovery and fresh starts, our days bring a constant stream of shock, sadness, joy, and often enough, surprising triumphs.
Some moments are truly uplifting, as when…
A pit bull who was turned in because he was too much to handle and was threatening the neighbors becomes a training star at the shelter and finds a grateful family. They report, “We can’t imagine life without Seamus. He’s the perfect addition to our household!”
In this blog, I plan on sharing the stories and reflections that come out of our experience working with animals at the Washington Animal Rescue League. Either on their way or safely sheltered and “out of harm’s reach,” all of these animals have stories. That’s the point of this blog, and of our very unique shelter. I invite you to offer your own reflections, convictions, and stories. And by all means, let me know how we’re doing.