Monthly Archives: January 2011

Pet Adoption Tips: Animals are not shoes

Pet Adoption Tip #1:  Don’t ask the Customer Service Desk question

“What is your return policy?”

While this piece of information is important and in fact the answer can help you distinguish good rescues from bad rescues, asking a question like this needs to be handled far more delicately.  When you ask in this way, it gives rescue workers the impression that you are already in a temporary or disposable mindset, as though you are already concerned that the shoes you’re buying aren’t going to fit once you wear them for a little while.  When something starts to go wrong with a recently adopted pet, your first question should always be, “how can I make this work?”  There can be no expectations of perfection, all adoptions come with a learning and growth period that can be short-lived right up to a lengthy period of major stress and worry.  When someone is entrusting you with what is to be a new family member, they are expecting that you are already committed to trying to make it work, just as you would commit to any other long-term personal relationship in your life.  If you have done your work before choosing a pet to adopt (this will be a future blog topic,)  there should be a good chance that your new pet is not completely incompatible and that any problems that crop up are resolvable.  This brings up an interesting point, though, that is worth taking note of whether you are the adopter or rescuer:

Some adoptions are going to fail no matter what you do.

This statement is not permission or justification for giving up because your new cat has a bladder infection or your new dog is eating your sofa.  There are, however, legitimate situations in which you may be forced to part ways with your beloved new pet; I am talking about totally unforeseeable circumstances here, not “we decided to move and haven’t put the time into finding a place where Samson is allowed.”  In these situations, you’ll need to know what to do with your adopted pet.

Rescuers, it is your job to stress to adopters that they need to contact you if some horrible circumstance should necessitate the return of their pet.  Adopters, please be sure to use wording that does not lead to the panicky assumption by the rescuers that you’re setting the adoption up for failure before it’s even begun.  If you are truly committed to an adoption, the first question you ask should not be “how can I return this pet?”  If that’s weighing on your mind, take a step back and make sure you’re ready to give 110% (or 310% or whatever it takes!) to this new pet.  And if what you’re worried about is getting your money back from a likely non-profit organization that probably paid far more in vetting than your adoption fee could dare touch, then you really aren’t ready.  That money that you’re about to drop is a like a pledge; an investment in a shared future.

Questions you can ask instead might be: what sort of support do you give your adopters and what do you expect of them?  Can I contact you if I need help with anything?  Can you tell me more about the adoption contract?  (the rescue should have included a clause addressing returns.)

Pets are not shoes.  They are living creatures that experience stress and with that can come  illness, trauma  and confusion.  Never move an animal from a situation in which it is comfortable unless you are going to give it everything you have.  That means asking yourself where you intend to be in the next x years (where x = potential lifespan of the pet you wish to bring home), how you plan on making arrangements if you have to move, what will happen if behavior problems pop up (which may involve expensive behavior and training consultations), how you will budget for veterinary care and emergencies, etc.  You may be giving up a small part of a greater whole, but your animal is giving you its whole life.

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Jonas

Several years ago I worked at the local Humane Society as kennel manager.  One day, I was called to the isolation room to handle a situation with a feral cat that had been brought in via a humane trap and due to lack of space in the back room had been placed into a cage that was very high up and not intended to be used.  When one of our employees transferred the cat to the overhead cage, he was bitten or scratched on the ear resulting in a ten day state-mandated rabies quarantine.  I became the cat’s primary caretaker for the ten day period and quickly learned he was not like most feral cats we encountered.  He lacked any understanding “fight” mode and seemed stuck in “flight,” but he started to come around with daily desensitization and socialization.  I would stay for half an hour at the end of every shift and sit with Jonas until I was able to touch him- perfectly timed with the end of his ten day period.  He received a stay of euthanasia temporarily, and came around until even other staff could touch and handle him and his first day at the shelter was nearly forgotten!  Even the employee he had scratched (as best as we could determine, it was not a bite) liked him and in fact, chose Jonas as his name.

After about two and a half more weeks, Jonas was moved to the adoption floor and I was so pleased!  I said goodbye as I had the next two days off but when I came back, I found him sitting weakly in his cage with mucous draining from his nose.   This poor kitty was very ill.  We moved him back to isolation and started him on vaporizer therapy and medication, but he did not improve.  I took him to the vet myself and was prescribed more potent medication.  His life was in danger a second time just weeks after escaping euthanasia.  I took him home so that he could receive round-the-clock foster care, but I had to bring him to work with me and keep him in a cage in the adoption room so I could administer medication and hand feed him every hour.  This continued for two weeks.  When he saw the vet again, the doctor was shocked that he was alive at all and after two more weeks of aggressive treatment he was back to normal.  I decided that since he was used to coming to work with me, I’d bring him to the shelter on days that I worked and put him on the adoption floor and take him home at night.  This was more than Jonas could take and he started losing fur quickly.  After just a couple days, half his body was nearly bald.  The stress was too much for him to handle.

And so, Jonas had chosen US.

Fast forward four years and Jonas was very comfortable in our home.  This bizarre little cat had kept or acquired many quirky behaviors that made him all the more unique.  Still jumpy when we’d reach to pet him and uncertain of certain environmental stimuli, his feral roots showed but he had proven dozens of times over that he hasn’t got an aggressive bone in his body.  He’s never growled or hissed at an animal, person or thing.  He warms up to new animals right away and even plays with strange new dogs.  One of my in-laws’ dogs, that we pet-sit regularly, had come to expect Jonas and looked forward to playing with him.

But in that year, late 2008, things would change.  Two friends, roommates, were visiting our house and we started talking about the cats.  Jonas just loved our friend “D”, and every time he visited Jonas could be found in his lap.  They hit it off so well that the topic started as a joke but ended up in serious discussion about D adopting Jonas when his roommate, “E” adopted two cats from us.  The three cats went off to their new lives where they were spoiled and enjoyed having the house to themselves, animal-wise.  They spent most of their time hanging out with E and all three bonded with her.

To make a long story short, E ended up adopting Jonas herself.  She gladly took on the responsibility of Jonas’s care when it was too difficult for D and she never looked back.  From before the day the three of us made it official, I believe he was already hers.

Two years passed by.  Just before Christmas, 2010, we received word that E was moving across the state to special housing for the disabled to live with her fiance.  The housing authority absolutely refused to allow more than two cats, but since most places would not allow her to have pets at all it seemed the best that could be done.  Unlike so many, she worked very hard to find a suitable place- not easy with she and her fiance’s special requirements- that would allow her to take her furry family members.  We decided that Jonas should be the cat to return, and we drove to Pittsburgh just after the New Year to pick him up.

Jonas settled into our home again in record speed.  He rubs his face on the cats and dogs; seeks petting and lap-time; hangs out all over the furniture; has stepped back into the feeding schedule and routine as though he never left and most of all, he is happy!  I am glad that E got to spend so much time with him and really grow to love him, and I’m glad that he was not traumatized by the shuffling around to a new home and back, but I think that given the amazing circumstances that brought him here the first time he is where he is meant to be.  Welcome home, Jonas!  Welcome home… to stay.

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Resolved

Resolutions I Always Make- and the ways I sabotage them.

  1. “I will make more time for myself.”  There are so many things on my list of chores that must be done that I tend to feel guilty if I purposefully set time aside for “leisure” activities.  Of course, I don’t want to do the chores either, so I procrastinate.  But I can’t spit in the face of my tower of to-dos by procrastinating with a book!  If I try to read a book when I feel I have something “better” to be doing, I can’t concentrate.  I feel guilty and end up wasting time on the computer in a self-deprecating spiral of self-worth devaluation.
  2. “I will lose weight!” Oh, please.  Aren’t we all naive for making this a “resolution” as if that will make us any more likely to stick to it?  I know now that the resolution isn’t to lose weight, it’s to make solid, positive changes to my routines that will empower me to do what is best, rather than what is easiest or more immediately appealing.  I really enjoy going for walks, and enjoyed exercising with my EA Sports Active for the Wii until a crippling ankle sprain benched me in early 2010, but I demotivate myself too easily.
  3. “I will learn to budget and save money.”  Unfortunately, we live without the things we want so often that when I do get money to spend, I tend to let my impulsive nature take over and buy whatever it is that I want.  The instant gratification helps me get through living a life that is far from glamorous with at least a little sense that we don’t have it so bad.
  4. “I will <complete some huge home improvement undertaking.>”  This goes back to finances.  I can never save enough money to replace my kitchen cabinets, the collapsing porch, or the privacy fence.
  5. “I will learn how to…” Play guitar, paint with oils, (effectively) use oil pastels, shoot a bow, the list goes on and on.  Some of these dreams have been long standing and some have actually cost money (e.g. I actually bought a used guitar.)  It could be that I just want to try these things, like that tempting dish on a buffet, but I’m not ready to commit to ordering the meal.   In some cases, I tell myself I lack the aptitude instead of accepting that it’s really just the discipline to practice.  In others, like guitar, I feel I need someone to teach me or I will never be able to learn.

__________________

Battle of wills!

I’m making UN-resolutions this year.  Or not.  But I’m at least willing to recognize that the tradition of declaring my intentions to make huge life alterations is a futile endeavor.

A prime example: the dreaded diet.  This isn’t a New Year’s resolution.  It’s not much of a resolution at all.  All year long, I tell myself “I’ll start eating better tomorrow,” or “I don’t have health food in the house, I’ll have to wait until I can get to the store.”   You’re only granting yourself permission to procrastinate with this mentality.  It’s taken me this long in my life before I realized that a “resolution” is not a wishy-washy daydream of some future perfect life, it is a decision you make in the moment.  I don’t choose to lose weight, I choose to have salad instead of “uber-mega-heart-attack nachos” for dinner (and I recognize that if said nachos are on a bed of lettuce, a salad it does not make.)  I don’t choose to “exercise more,” I am bored and have nothing pressing to do so I choose to take the dogs for a walk instead of lounging in the recliner playing Rummikub on Facebook.  Don’t say, “someday, I want to make a difference in the world.”  Say “please” and “thank you,” drop some change in a donation jar, hold a door open for someone, smile at someone that looks upset.

Start now.  Make the choice to make the change every day.  Don’t make a list of resolutions, make a list of things that are important to you.  Put it somewhere and read it every day, and ask yourself what you’ve done to improve the presence of those important things in your life.

When the confetti is swept up in Times Square and the leftovers of a solidly packed crowd one million strong have faded away, it’s not down to empty promises you make to yourself- or yell from a rooftop.  Change doesn’t start with a proclamation, change starts with a tiny step followed by a thousand more.

Happy New Year.

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Looking Back at 2010- Part 2

For the first half of the year, click here.

While the first half of the year had come and gone rather quickly, the events that took place in July made me wish I could transport right out of 2010 altogether.  This may have been the worst month I’ve ever had.  We came right into the month with Callie’s health going downhill fast.  She refused to eat, it was difficult to find anything she’d take from us.  She was a little more wobbly on her feet because her lack of nutrition kept her weak.  We took her to the vet after giving it our best to encourage her to eat, but we found out when we arrived that she’d lost more weight than we’d realized and her kidney values were very elevated.  This little dog that had been the center of our world- home-preparing foods for her, giving her fluids/meds/supplements, providing hospice care towards the end- died in my arms at the vet.  I don’t pray, but I did for her, hoping that she would be able to see her beloved dad again- we were never her “owners”, her “mom and dad,” I feel like we were simply her caretakers until she could be back where she belonged, and so I prayed that Heaven was real and that she’d get there safely.  I didn’t want the essence of “Callie” to be snuffed out that quickly, with her last days, months, years having been full of illness and the loss of the life she had known.

“Today, I emptied the refrigerator and washed the dishes used to prepare and store your last meals.  I put your supplements and meds in the mail to help others like you in need.  I picked your bed up off the floor.  Slowly, I’m removing the last traces of evidence that you were here, because your ashes are proof that you aren’t anymore. <3

The next week brought more pain and suffering when I got a phone call that a young friend had shot himself.  Towards the end, he had become a shell of the person I’d known and it was difficult being around him because his behavior was something I couldn’t condone.  Instead of realizing there was something seriously wrong and being a good friend to him, I’d let him slip away and had not showed him that I was there for him.  While I don’t know for sure if that would have made a difference in the final outcome, it couldn’t have hurt for him to know that there was someone else there that cared and wanted what was best for him.  He flew back to live with his family, apparently to try and get help for his depression and drug issues, but I think it was mostly to say goodbye.  I never spoke about this on Facebook because it was private, and painful.  But despite my grievances with his behavior, he was a good person and a friend and we didn’t get to celebrate his 22nd birthday this year (which comes three days after mine.)

A couple days later, I noticed that Lilly, my favorite (shh, don’t tell) guinea pig and the steadfast matriarch of my herd, fell ill.  An appt was made to take her to the vet and I thought I discovered it soon enough that she would make it with me helping her eat and keeping her warm, but she died overnight.  While some won’t understand the loss that can come from losing a small animal like a guinea pig, those that have the privilege to love them understand that their physical size is not a representation of the place they hold in your heart.

I couldn’t wait for July to be over, with all its spiteful death and illness.  If I never have to deal with a month like July again, I will be blessed.  August came and with it came volunteer work for the dog training club, classes with both Toby and George, and lots of caching in the wee hours of the morning when it wasn’t so hot outside.  I tried to stay busy and it helped until I was sufficiently beyond July to start functioning normally.  A new face tugged at my heartstrings and without much convincing needed, I pulled Buster Brown the pit bull who desperately needed saving.  When he arrived, he initially chased, pounced, grabbed, picked up and tried to shake the cats.  I was concerned that even tethered to me in the house, he would not be safe.  It was clear that he was playing, not prey-driven, but he did not know his own size.  Of Mice and Men, anyone?  I worked so hard to get him to a point where he could be in the house safely with them and by some miracle, it worked!  he started to thrive with our training sessions and we started obedience classes with an understanding of all the basic cues already!  Our pigeons were adopted and a pair of guinea pigs that had been with us for 2 years found a forever home.  Wow!

September brought laminate floor project that has given me a lot of peace.  I am now okay with people stopping by the house.  The house looks cleaner by sheer comparison to the 30 yr old carpet, and I keep it cleaner because it’s easier to do and looks so nice.  September ALSO brought the adoption of our remaining two pairs of long term guinea pigs fosters, marking the end of an era here!

October was mostly quiet aside from a week with a boarder, thankfully, but Buster Brown was adopted.  His adoring fans on Facebook shared in our joy!  With his departure, we were able to bring in a shelter dog, Daisy.  On her transport, one of the drivers found a stray beagle and sent her along as well.  We’d arranged for one of our friends to be the second to last leg so we could say hello and see each other.  It may have been fate, as Debbie fell in love with the little “extra” beagle. Within a week, we were making plans to get her back to them, for her forever home with folks that already feel like family- now they’re part of our adoptive STAR family, too. :)

In November, I voted!  The month brought not another STAR dog, but Beauty, an Ohio English Setter Rescue foster.  My birthday came and went and generous friends donated to the rescue for me.  Daisy was adopted.  Tragedy struck when one of my STAR dogs that had gone through a prison program was set to be returned to the rescue with a bite history.  We surrendered him to the prison program because of a conflict in the way that we felt the situation should be handled.  It was horrifying for me, and I am grateful that we’ll likely never have to deal with that situation again as we don’t intend to use the prison program in the future.  I found my 320th cache before the end of the month, and that is where I sat exactly one year after I’d begun caching- not bad, eh?

December arrived and we now had only one foster- Beauty- and all was well and quiet.  We prepared for Christmas, which came quickly and involved spending more on charity and helping people than we ever have before.  In the weeks before the holiday, I personally adopted two guinea pigs from a Pittsburgh shelter.  Afterwards, I needed supplies to expand my pigs’ cage, and went to get them from a guinea pig rescue friend.  While there, she told me of a local pig that she’d received word about and I agreed to take him in.  He is set to leave tomorrow (January 2nd) and has been an absolute joy to have around.  L’orange needed surgery the week before Christmas and stressed me out, but it looks like she’s recovered very nicely now.  We rolled out of  December leaving 2010 behind happily.

Loss counterweighted by new family members and friends were the theme this year, and rescue took somewhat of a back seat so I could tend to Callie, personal issues, dog training classes and my new hobby: geocaching.   I have made wonderful friends, mostly through Facebook and some in person, and have had a wonderful time taking a step back to appreciate the things I have and the things around me, especially the environment and nature’s wonders (thank you, caching, for putting me back in touch with that.)  I am feeling renewed and ready for 2011.  It’s all about making a difference, and that’s what I intend to do!   On 1-1-11, I promise that I won’t lose sight of my goals.

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