Category Archives: Rescue

A Life Shattering Experience

On this day last year, I was at a vet’s office while my elderly cat underwent surgery when I got a text message.  “Check Facebook.  Bunny and Brock are missing.” Bunny is the single most special animal I’ve ever fostered.  I almost didn’t let her go, and every day for the last year, I have wished that I hadn’t.  She was worth giving up the rescue for, to me.  She was worth it all. When Bunny arrived  in our care, she was one of the most fearful dogs I’d ever seen.  She was nearly feral.  She was born in a shelter as evidence in a hoarder’s animal cruelty trial, and spent the first eight months of her life without leaving her kennel or seeing daylight, or grass.  She and her siblings were said to be so afraid of grass that they collapsed on it and crawled, dragging their handlers to the sidewalk where they could at least feel the familiarity of concrete.  Volunteers for a border collie rescue had helped to socialize them, driving for hours  each week to arrive at the shelter and work with the 20 dogs that were left out of the original 30 or so (some died in the kennels, including some of the pups that were born there, and Bunny’s mother.)

When we took Bunny in, it was a lot of work, effort and a heck of a learning experience for me.  We went through so much together.  It was just a completely fulfilling experience for me, though, as I really learned about the kind of dogs that I love to help.  I would take in a million Bunnys just to see them blossom the way she did.  She was here for over a year, and she was a huge part of my life.  I was close to keeping her with that “perfect” home came along, and I was able to let her go so I could continue my rescue work.

A year later, that text message came, and my world was shaken, rocked, off its foundation.  We launched into action.  A Facebook page just for the two dogs and their search effort quickly grew to over a hundred people.   Volunteers donated an incredible amount of money to help cover advertising costs, and my husband, best friend and myself spent well over 30 hours the first week searching on foot, searching with dogs, and hanging flyers and posters to try and find the dogs.  I spent every day making a trip out to hang more posters or to search, even if I was alone.  In addition to ads, we contacted media, had the dogs’ story make the front page of the paper locally here and featured in a large spread in a weekly paper that comes out in a large area locally.  We had http://www.findtoto.org send calls out to thousands of neighbors in the area to report the dogs missing.  I took and made phone calls daily as nearly every stray dog sighting in a huge radius was called in to me- with not a single one showing any hope of being the dogs.  While I didn’t know Brock that well, we never narrowed our search for just Bunny.  It’s our hope that if she is alive, so is he.

We never had a confirmed sighting of the dogs.  After a month, our efforts on foot dwindled.  We kept our flyers updated, kept checking Craigslist and other sites, but nothing really seemed to stand out.  It’s like they disappeared.  In fact, some theories came out that perhaps their adopters gave them away (I hope not, and am not accusing them of such,) or perhaps they were stolen, or picked up and moved far away.  I will probably never know.

It’s been a year, and I’ve never stopped thinking about Bunny.  I’ve never stopped missing her.  My heart has not been whole.  I have never regretted one of my mistakes in rescue as much as I regret not keeping her here, with me, where she never would have ended up in this situation.  Some days, the misery I feel over losing her is unbearable.  In terms of closure and the ability to move on, it would have been better to find her lifeless body than never to have found her at all.   I fear I’ll have this pain with me for the rest of my life.

In the past year, it has been more difficult to allow rescued animals to go.  I have a harder time parting with fosters, a harder time trusting adopters, and an emotion of protectiveness that overcomes reason too often.  I can only hope that this will fade, or I  may have to give up my rescue for Bunny after all.

http://www.facebook.com/v/1361715043668

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Filed under Lost, Personal, Pets, Rescue

Pet Adoption Tips: Good photography places pets.

With exceptional resources like www.petfinder.com,  www.adoptapet.com, and www.rescuegroups.org, it is easier than ever for people to see and choose adoptable pets.  For potential adopters who get overwhelmed with emotion when walking through shelters, or who are sensitive to the sounds or smells of crowded facilities, these resources prevent the need to step foot in a shelter until a potential match is found.  Websites such as these have made it possible for people to “visit” many shelters at once, scanning hundreds of animals in just a few clicks, without having to drive from place to place.  With the help of the internet, foster-based rescue groups have emerged as an incredible force in  animal adoptions, all made possible because of their ability to present their animals on the web for people to see. This media outlet- what I like to call “virtual shelters”- comes with a couple limitations.  The sheer number of animals available to choose from when searching online can be such that it is easy for pets to get overlooked and so first impressions are a must, and in that vein, a picture really does say a thousand words.  When scanning pages on Petfinder, for example, you see a pretty simple list without a lot of personal detail, and you must click to read more detailed biographies.  What makes the difference?  Tiny thumbnails.

Here you have one dog straining on the leash, disengaged, one dog that has no photo at all, two photos that don't stand out really well in thumbnails and have typical shelter backgrounds (leash, half-bodied volunteers, Helen looks a little nervous...) but Tasha's photo stands out AND she looks happy.

Here are some tips that will help with your pet photography in general but especially when concerning adoptable pets.  You do not have to be a great photographer to take great pet adoption photos!  These tips are for anyone at any skill level or with any camera.

  1. Get up close and personal.  Especially when petfinder thumbnails are concerned, you need to fill up the space with a nice shot that will draw someone in.  Engaging the viewers with a soulful glance can make a huge difference.
  2. Get down on their level. Typical top-down photography is a staple among shelter volunteers, but this can really create a disconnect.  Top-down angles are generally unflattering, and without a zoom (or an edited crop) they create distance between the viewer and the animal.
  3. Watch your lighting. Natural lighting is always best.  Try outside on an overcast day for best results, or in a well-lit area.  Good light will eliminate blurry photos and give you a great opportunity for action shots. Sunshine is not always your friend, although sunny days can bring out the shine and features of black animals, especially.  Be sure, though, to use an indirect angle.  Do not put the sun behind the animal you’re photographing, as you may end up with a pet silhouette in front of a glaring bright spot.  Be careful when using a flash so that you do not end up with unflattering “laser eye” effects, which creates another disconnect.  A direct flash can also wash out features or create distracting shadows.  That’s not to say that there aren’t great opportunities for wonderful flash photography, especially when you are going for action shots or the dog is backlit.
  4. Catch the side of the pet that you want to promote.  Candid shots of animals having fun are sometimes the best, most engaging photos.  Don’t show dogs straining on a leash, barking, jumping up, or cats hunkered down in a litterbox or hiding in the corner.  Playing with toys, showing off tricks, running and having fun, all these things are great ways to show off what this pet has to offer.  It may take some time to get an animal to warm up and come out of its shell, but it’s good for them to have that interaction and it’s worth the time in order to help them present better in their photos.  Happy expressions will make people happy but sad, depressing photos of animals that look like they want to shrink into nonexistence will not win anyone but the saddest saps (yours truly!) over.
  5. Editing can be your friend, just don’t overdo it.  A photo doesn’t have to be perfect right off the camera in order to make a great web shot.  A few minutes spent adjusting color and exposure, cropping, editing out intrusive background distractions, etc, can make a huge difference.  If you have Photoshop or a similar program and some extra time, try removing leashes, clutter, even people if possible so that your photo looks more natural.   However, not every problem can be easily fixed and some things are just best left the way they are.  I have seen an increasing trend lately where enterprising photographers use something like Microsoft Paint or other basic editors to basically paint black irises over the “laser eyes.”  This doesn’t look so bad at thumbnail level, but it becomes pretty obvious when the photos are enlarged and can give a creepy look to the photo.

    Borrowed this pic from a shelter on Facebook

  6. Look behind/around the pet.  Staging photos doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it does pay to practice and learn and to really examine what’s going on in the viewfinder before you snap a picture.  Leashes and cages and concrete floors make for dull scenery- just adding a colorful backdrop can make a big difference.  Taking photos in kennels or cages with urine or feces present is a huge turn-off for people- if you get home and find out that there is some waste in your photos, use a photo editor or toss those pics and try again.
  7. If you have multiple photo slots, use them wisely!  Don’t take multiple similar photos and load them up.  On Petfinder, for example, you have the option to upload three photos.  I suggest you try to have a head shot (as we covered!), a good profile or other body shot that helps people see what the animal looks like, and then a just plain for-fun shot.

Good luck and happy shooting!

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Filed under Make a Difference, Pet Adoption Tips, Pets, Rescue

Defining success: I didn’t go to college

Some classrooms don't have a blackboard.

Recently I was asked if I would consider going to college, and told I should look into it.  This is something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years.  I knew when I was in high school that I didn’t want to go to college.  I don’t deal well with social situations anyway, typically, but I especially didn’t want to spend so much of my time with people I didn’t know, in a culture I didn’t care for, to get a degree in something I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue.  I had been accepted to an art school when I was sixteen, but due to family finances and my parents telling me that I would have trouble making money as an artist, I had to turn that down.

As a high school freshman, I began working in a retail store locally. I was pretty good at my job, but it was an easy job to be good at.  I was placed at the service desk  often where I really enjoyed helping people. I was lucky to have that job, even if it was only a tiny bit above minimum wage, but eventually I started feeling  disconnected from it.  I knew that this job was just filler, not a career. A year and a half or so after high school graduation, I saw a listing for a part time kennel worker at the Humane Society, and thought that I would really like to try it.  When I was told that I had been chosen for the job, my heart sang.  I really wanted to try this.  It seemed like a dream job.  I worked morning shifts and some weekends at the shelter and continued working at the retail store part time.

I discovered pretty quickly that working at a shelter really isn’t a dream job.  Some days it’s a nightmare.  What it is, though, is fulfilling.  Even on the sad days, you know you’ve made a positive impact on the lives of animals- and often people- that need you.  This isn’t enough for some folks, and shelters have a high turnover rate because of that.  I couldn’t imagine not working with the animals, though.  I loved my job, even though I was underpaid, stressed out and had to say goodbye to animals that I loved and cherished.   I realized something then: for better or worse, this is what I want to do with my life.  I’m good at it.  Maybe it’s my calling, if you believe in things like that.    From the moment I cleaned the first cat cage at that shelter in 2003 until present day, I have been completely immersed in my work, helping homeless animals.  I was only 22 when I founded my animal rescue.  In different paid shelter positions as well as my position in STAR, I have spent a lot of time educating pet owners and even other rescuers because of the knowledge and experience I’ve obtained over the years- much of which couldn’t have been learned from a professor.  If I had gone to college, would I have taken the path that I am on?  Would it be better if I wasn’t?  I sort of get the feeling sometimes that it’s what people think- that I could be something different, better, had I chosen another route.

I realize that business classes might make me more efficient at what I do, or that having any career would help me earn money to take care of myself and the pets here so my husband wouldn’t have to support us- but our financial situation is our business, no one else’s.  At the end of the day, does my level of education or the wages I earn (or rather, don’t earn) really make me less of a person?

So have I “thought about going to college?” Sure, and I’ve decided it’s not something I want to do.  I know that questions like this are meant to be thoughtful and caring, and that people that ask them are doing so because to them, there is significant value attached to going to college and that it could help me to “do more,” somehow.  My husband has a college degree in a field that he didn’t pursue.  Five years of schooling, thousands of dollars that we’re still paying off and probably will be for years, and he found a job he enjoys that his degree has no bearing on.  No, I didn’t go to college, and I don’t plan on it.  You don’t have to believe that I took the right path.  I will continue to grow and hope that if I become successful, it is in doing something that I love and that makes a difference.

And though I may not know the answers,
I can finally say I’m free.
And if the questions lead me here, then
I am who I was born to be.
Susan Boyle, Who I was Born to Be

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Filed under Make a Difference, Personal, Pets, Philosophy, Rescue

Life for a rescue foster

Recently, we have had to deny some applications.  These people are nice, caring folks who, for one reason or another, didn’t meet the criteria for the pet in particular they were interested in adopting.  Two of these applicants were sure to tell me that they were disappointed by my selfish behavior, denying my fosters a “chance at a loving home.”  One suggested that I didn’t actually want to find homes for the animals in my care, and another asked “isn’t any home better than staying where she is?”  One applicant wasn’t denied, but she withdrew her application because I asked questions that weren’t on the application.

The misconception that animals in rescue are in need of rescue is one that I hear all the time.  When you adopt a pet from my organization, you’re not rescuing it from me.  You’re contributing to the rescue process, an admirable and fantastic choice, but please stop to think about what you’re implying when you suggest that foster care is a bad thing.

Noble and Sully were cats that lived outside on a hoarder’s property, eating cat food that was dumped on a piece of vinyl siding every several days. They’d never seen a vet, had to find their own shelter under broken-down cars or in the neighboring woods, and went without food for sometimes days.

We arranged for transport and the cats were removed in the nick of time.  The hoarder that owned the animals was so distraught when the first group left that she refused to let rescuers back to remove the rest of them.  I drove almost two hours to meet Noble and Sully’s transport, picking them up at around midnight.  They had had accidents in the carrier they were brought up in, and so in the back of my car I moved them to clean bedding in new carriers, and settled in for the drive home.  Once I got back, I was tired but had to clean them up before I could go to bed.  I bathed both cats with Dawn to kill the fleas and ticks that were on them, then again in a soothing oatmeal shampoo.  I cut their nails and gave them exams.  The Siamese was underweight by a few pounds and missing some teeth.  He had an upper respiratory infection but all things considered, he was strong and “healthy.”  The orange cat was another story.  He is a tall, large cat but he stood in front of me as a skeleton.  Emaciated, he weighed less than five pounds.  He was so thin that I could close my thumb and middle finger around his waist.  I found that he was missing almost all of his teeth, his eye socket was infected, and a film covered his remaining eye.  He appeared to be blind, though over the weeks we realized that he does have vision in that eye.  I set the cats up with high quality canned food and kibble, started them on antibiotics, dewormer and ear mite medication, and I fell into bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning.  They remained quarantined in our large bathroom for the next month or so.

Noble before and after

Sully quickly recovered from his respiratory infection, gained back his weight, and kicked his parasites.  He was neutered and had a dental cleaning.  With two more feedings per day than the rest of the cats in the house, Noble has DOUBLED his weight and is still lean but a healthy and sleek body shape, and his infections and parasites are gone.  His right eye wasn’t missing but instead, underdeveloped, and so it was removed when he was neutered.  He continues to do well but seems to have irritable bowels.  We were hoping this was a result of his starvation and that good diet and some steroid therapy would help him on the right track, but we are still managing it and attempting to get it under control. Both cats tested negative for feline lekemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. They are now up to date on vaccines and have been microchipped.

Sully recently, looking the picture of health!

The boys now live with our cats, freely roaming our home, getting attention when they seek it, playing with toys, getting into trouble (I’m-looking-at-you-Sully,) and enjoying a life they might never have had otherwise.  Sully spends every night plastered to us like static cling, and Noble takes the morning shift.  They have pet beds scattered throughout the house, play and receive enrichment daily, and they are cared for as we care for our own pets.

Rescuers are, with few exceptions, just doing the best they can to find permanent homes for the pets in their care.  When we take in these animals, care for them as though they were our own,  spend money from our pockets and time from our days to be sure their needs are met, we aren’t fulfilling our own agenda.  We don’t know you personally, you are strangers to us.  If we don’t approve your application for Sully because we don’t believe cats should live outdoors and you prefer yours to live that way, I’m not making a judgment of your character, it simply means that we are not a good fit for each other.  If you are denied for one of our pets because you don’t believe in going to a vet, I’m not snubbing you.  I’ve seen the good that comes from routine exams and medical care and that is what I want for my rescue’s pets.  When I ask questions, please don’t take it personally, I just want to get to know you.  They’re not numbers whizzing through a facility, in danger of euthanasia any day.  Foster homes are not your standard dog, cat, guinea pig, rat, etc. lovers.  We have created a lifestyle around caring for animals that needed advocates, giving them our time, money, and our hearts.  I care about you, and what you are looking for, but that can’t be my first priority.  Maybe my decision has caused us to miss out on a fabulous home- yours- but please understand why I’d rather pass up a good thing than make a decision that could result in stress or tragedy for our fosters.

One more thing- now that you know this, please don’t think that these animals don’t need adopted and that you are better off going elsewhere.  Foster homes often help animals that aren’t ready for adoption, and so adopting from us means opening up space and giving another animal a chance that they wouldn’t have.  Those fearful dogs that have never stepped outside puppy mills, animals like Noble who have health issues that need sorted out, they need foster care.  Adopting from a foster home benefits you in that you have a first-hand account of your new pet’s behavior that you probably couldn’t get from a shelter, and it opens up space for animals that need the specialized care a foster home can provide.

Thank you to everyone that fosters, adopts, or applies to adopt.  You are part of the rescue community and you are making a difference.  I’m sorry if it didn’t work out between us, but I still wish you the best.

Noble supervises from the arm of my recliner while I write this blog post!

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Filed under Make a Difference, Pets, Philosophy, Rescue

Second chances: Milo

It’s not a call you want to get as a rescuer.  I knew what was coming when I heard the vague message on the machine.  “I adopted a dog from you several years ago.  Could you call me as soon as possible?”  I knew from her name which dog she’d adopted and he’d been a wonderful, well-behaved boy but I knew something bad had happened.  Milo was, as best as we could figure, a german shepherd or collie mix that came from a cat shelter that only had outdoor kennels that he escaped from regularly.  In a strange coincidence, the day we returned the family’s phone call happened to be the fifth anniversary of his adoption.

The news was what I had expected.  Milo had bitten his adopted “dad”, an injury that required sutures, when he came toward the dog and demanded that he leave the room. It was not unprovoked, and it was the first time he’d aggressed with them and so they really felt they should give him another chance.  However, they had recently had a baby- unquestionably a stressor that led to the situation- and were unsure what would happen if they kept him.  After the bite, Milo was sent to the boarding kennel he stayed at sometimes, and they called us.  They used wording like “he goes insane” when someone would come to the door, mentioned that he was “extremely protective” of the home and of the woman adopter, and we were worried that the aggression was an issue that had been building up for a while.

Taking this into consideration, I made an appointment at the vet’s office to euthanize Milo, and called the family to make arrangements to pick him up.  I told them that I could not make promises and that it is not usually an option to rehome a dog that has bitten someone and sent them for stitches due to dangerous dog laws and liability issues.  They said they did not want to know what would happen, they would rather keep the idea in mind that Milo would have a happy ending; they did not want to be informed if we were to make a final decision about him.  It was their way also, I believe, of giving me a way to do what they understood I might need to do with less guilt and turmoil.

I drove to their home that Monday, depressed and miserable, setting out for what would have been one of the worst days I’ve had in rescue.  I held my composure as Milo’s “dad” met me at the door with Milo on leash, pulling and struggling to get to me, his body language showing an excited but happy dog, not an aggressive or fearful dog.  After an initial greeting, I knelt so he wouldn’t feel the need to jump on me, and he gave me kisses.  After Milo’s dad signed the return form, he started to show some emotion but soldiered through it.  We loaded Milo and some of his belongings- what had gone with him to the boarding kennel, anyway- into the back of my Forester, and as I drove away, I began to cry.  After what happened with Murphy earlier in the year, I knew I needed to do more for Milo than give up on him for a mistake that was probably human error entirely.  The dog in my vehicle was not giving signals that he was a crazy, dangerous beast.  I took him home in order to give him a chance to mingle with the dogs and cats.

Milo met the dogs with little issue, and showed some interest in the cats but not enough to be a concern.  I called the vet immediately and cancelled the euthanasia appointment and instead made one for a checkup and thyroid test (thyroid disorders can cause temperament imbalances, including aggression in many cases.)  His checkup went well, no thyroid issues, and he was very well behaved for the exam and blood draw and in the crowded waiting room.Milo has been here for five weeks, and we have seen no signs of aggression.  He is a high strung shepherd mix that can be reactive to lots of stimuli, but I believe he had to feel seriously threatened before he decided to bite.  My goals for 2012 is to work with Milo on confidence building, continuing to reduce his reactivity, and earn his Canine Good Citizenship award to prove that dogs can show less than desirable behavior without condemning them for good.

I know it was the right decision to make, though it comes with sacrifices- Milo is now a permanent part of our lives, at least for the duration of HIS life.  I’ve struggled with the very human response of feeling that it is unfair to us AND Milo  to have this dog join our family because of a situation that shouldn’t have happened, or because his adopters were unwilling to work with a behavior consultant or give Milo a chance to adjust to his new life with the newborn baby in the home.  It is inconvenient, and it is stressful having eight dogs under our roof to take care of.  Milo’s reactivity has gotten better already but as a sound-sensitive chronic migraine sufferer it has been incredibly difficult listening to him bark his head off at random things like neighbors in their own driveway and anything larger than a leaf moving down the road in front of the house.  I’ll admit that I selfishly allowed myself to resent this dog for no reason other than we have become stuck together.  In the last two weeks, I have really made an effort to spend one-on-one time with him, working on training with the reactivity (HUGE difference already) and basic manners and obedience to help develop a bond.  It has been easier to accept that he’s a part of our lives and look forward to seeing what kind of potential he has.  I feel guilty for allowing my own emotions to make me upset about having Milo in the house when really, I am relieved that he is doing so well.  He has the opportunity that I couldn’t give Murphy because of his dog aggression.  Though he is treated with the love and compassion that all dogs under our roof deserve and receive, I can’t bring myself to call him “my” dog yet, I simply refer to him as a sanctuary dog for the rescue for now.  It will take some time for that to change, but we’ll get through this together.

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Filed under Dog Training, Personal, Pets, Rescue

Merry Christmas!

Just some photos for this post as everyone is really busy with the holiday, I know. Enjoy!

The three STAR dogs got pressies and they just loved them:

 

And the sanctuary rats got their cage gussied up and had a lot of fun ripping down their popcorn garland!

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Lost Pets- Feedback needed, please assist!

Coming full circle to a post I made months ago about lost pets, I will be starting to publish some posts on what to do if you lose a pet and how to prevent the loss of one in the first place.  A presentation/seminar is in the works on this topic and so I am wondering what it is that you would like to know about the search for missing pets.  If you were to go to see a speaker, what questions would you have and what would be your biggest concerns.

Have you ever lost a pet?  How did your pet get away from you?

Stay tuned as my lost pet guide is broken down into blog-friendly parts and posted here.  Please share this blog post with your friends with dogs and cats.

My mission to help guardians who have, may, but hopefully will never have to lose a companion animal is dedicated to Bunny.  Hoping you’re out there somewhere…

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