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Positive Thinking and the Big, Black Dog

I am saddened when I hear people who operate animal rescues say they expect to have a dog for a long time because he’s a black dog… or she’s a Pit mix…or he’s a fence jumper who doesn’t like cats. Those things can all be true, but if a rescue approaches an animal’s potential adoption with an outlook based on perceived limitations, they close that animal off to so many adoption opportunities.

Eve the "Pit mix:" Adopted!

Eve the “Pit mix:” Adopted!

I used to believe that black dogs were especially hard to place. My own black dog, Toby, was at a no-kill shelter for a year before I adopted him. That same shelter had black dogs that were there for two, three, even five years. After learning this, I was so convinced of   the big, black dog syndrome that I even published an article in a magazine about it. Now, I’m not so convinced.

I’m not saying there is no basis for the belief that it’s hard to find a home for a black dog. There is an overload of black dogs in shelters, and they don’t show well when they’re peering from dimly lit kennels in the bottom row of city pounds. Once out of that environment, though, their chances improve greatly. I’ve found homes for three black dogs in the last year. Once I started heavily marketing them with flyers and on facebook and networking them with my rescue friends, it took three weeks to find a home for one, two months for another and five months for the last one. With that dog, I posted 80 flyers, received calls from 25 people, and kept at it, obsessively, until she met the right person.

Compare that with the matted Shih Tzu I got out of the shelter a year ago. Length of time it took to get that little dog adopted to a new home: One day.

Of course, it is generally harder to find a home for a big dog than it is for a Shih Tzu. Small dogs are more acceptable to landlords, eat less and cost less in general (unless you buy them a lot of fancy coats and sweaters, that is). All I’m saying is that when it comes to finding homes for animals, if you expect success, and work hard at it, you will find it. You’ll be friendlier, which makes you more approachable, and you’ll meet the right person at the right time, who will love that dog. On the other hand, if you expect obstacles and failure, those are exactly the results that you will produce.

When I post a flyer for an adoptable dog on a bulletin board in a coffee shop, bookstore, or grocery store, I always say to myself, “The right person is going to see this. This dog is going to a home with a person who needs her just as much as she needs them.”

I’m usually only working on one dog at a time, not dozens, like most rescue groups. Still, there is no reason rescue groups can’t approach finding homes for alleged “hard-to-adopt” dogs with a different mindset, one that doesn’t cling to the idea that a dog is destined to spend a year or two in rescue, often boarded in a kennel, because rescuers can’t open their minds to the possibility that there are all kinds of people out there, looking for all kinds of dogs.

When it comes to black dogs, there are plenty of people out there who prefer black dogs. That’s what they’ve always had, and that’s what they’ll always want. Why do so many rescue people refuse to believe that, at the expense of the dog for which they are trying to find a home?

"Leash-aggressive" Kiki:" Adopted!

“Leash-aggressive” Kiki:” Adopted!

Sure, you can approach finding a dog a home with the attitude “Big, black dogs are harder.” But what if you embraced the outlook, “Single women in the city love big, black dogs. They feel safe with them” and then posted flyers in an area of the city where a lot of single women live? What if you told yourself, “There is an active person out there who would love to run or walk with this (fence-jumping) dog every morning” and then showed up at running group  events trying to find that person who could be the perfect match for your dog?

Instead, some rescues reinforce the hard-to-adopt-black-dogs theory by failing to market black dogs and boarding them out of sight from the adopting public for months – even years– while those dogs develop behavior problems from being kenneled 24/7, day in and day out with no physical or mental stimulation.

And, yes, those particular big, black dogs are certainly harder to get adopted – thanks to rescues that put those dogs in circumstances that actually led to them becoming “unadoptable.”

Our attitude makes all the difference for the dogs for which we try to find homes. Give these dogs the gift of your own positive thinking. Don’t delay finding their future home because in your heart, you don’t actually believe that home exists for a black dog, or a Pit mix or any dog you’ve labeled “hard to adopt.” It’s up to you, their rescuer, to set aside negative beliefs and put forth an extra effort to make sure every dog in your care finds the home he or she deserves.


Happy New Year A Reality For One Rescue Dog

There is no better teacher of how unexpectedly your life can turn around than a rescue dog.

A year ago on New Year’s day, I volunteered at KC Pet Project’s grand opening as new operators of the Kansas City Missouri animal shelter. Volunteers were everywhere, walking dogs, feeding treats, helping customers. I went to the back row of the shelter, looking for a dog eager to stretch its legs. A skinny, black dog named Vivian sniffed at the kennel door. I knelt down and noticed that I could see every bone in her rib cage. Her hip bones jutted sharply. Her neck was raw from having had an embedded collar.

Vivian's 2012 would hold many surprises.

Vivian’s 2012 would hold many surprises.

I glanced at Vivian’s cage card and saw that she had been seized by animal control for cruelty. Most likely, she was tied up in a yard and forgotten for months, even years. Yet when I took Vivian outside on a leash, she was as sweet as could be. I have seen much worse cases of emaciation while volunteering at the shelter, but my heart went out to this chow/terrier mix of about 25 pounds. The longer I walked her, the worse I felt. I couldn’t bear the thought of her suffering any more, ever again. I had to get her out.

I called my friend Sam Gooch, who made a space for Vivian at Winding River Kennel, where we sometimes kept dogs while we searched for rescue. The next day, I picked Vivian up and took her to Winding River. Vivian settled right in, acting like she’d been given a posh room at the Ritz Carlton, even though her new digs consisted of only a concrete floor, an old blanket and a ready supply of food and water.

I found Vivian a foster home, where she stayed for a few months while undergoing heartworm treatment, which was paid for by KC Pet Project. Her new foster mom, Susan, renamed her Frida and fattened her up by hand-feeding her salmon and chicken. The little dog who only a month earlier lay chained in a back yard, hopeless, starving and lonely, finally had someone to take care of her, perhaps for the first time in her life.

Frida’s rescue journey was only beginning, though. In May, a rescue group, TARA, transferred her into their program, got her spayed, and I found her another foster home with a family that taught Frida better manners. All summer, I took Frida, whom the new foster family renamed Kiki, to adoption events. I bought a pink child’s tank top at a thrift store and ironed on “Adopt Me” in black letters so she could wear the shirt while I took her out for walks.

KC Pet Project’s volunteer photographer, Kimberly Beer, took some great pictures of Kiki, and I plastered “Adopt Me” flyers, 80 of them, all over town and fielded 20 calls about Kiki, but none was the right fit. Eventually, a nice couple with a one-year-old Labrador Retriever adopted Kiki. Their dog loved her, the two played great together, and I thought that was the end of Kiki’s search. However, the couple returned her two weeks later.

“She barks when people walk past the house,” they told me. “And she sticks her head really far out the window in the car.” I picked Kiki up and let her hop into my car. Her adopter leaned toward the window. “Bye, Kiki,” she told her. But Kiki just turned away.

My new problem was that Kiki had now lost her foster home, which had already taken another dog. When her first fosters boarded her for a week once, Kiki was so anxious that the kennel had to separate her from the other dogs, so boarding was out of the question. I had no choice but to keep her in my basement, apart from my four dogs, seemingly the only dogs in the world that Kiki despised.

It was rough at first. Kiki went ballistic every time she heard my dogs’ toenails clicking on the floor above us. I worked with her to calm her down, though, and eventually, my dog-juggling act became routine. I put Kiki in the crate when my dogs went out the back door. I let her out in the basement when they came back in.

I bought Kiki a dog bed (her former adopters didn’t get one for her) and hung out with her late at night while I tapped away at my laptop, nervously smoking the occasional cigarette. Would I have this dog forever? Was I becoming an animal hoarder? What would I do with five dogs?

Great pictures made all the difference for Kiki.

Great pictures made all the difference for Kiki.

Melody Kelso, an excellent animal behaviorist at The Pet Connection in Olathe, Kansas, let me bring Kiki to adoption events and a free dog training session at their facility. Kiki had a bad habit of rearing up and acting aggressive when she saw other dogs when she was on-leash, even though she was great at the dog park and loved to play with other dogs. At the training session, Kiki romped and played with the other dog with no problems. I continued to worry. Who would adopt a “leash-aggressive” dog? Was Kiki  stigmatized, now that she had been returned?

“Maybe you should just let go of worrying for a few days,” my friend Allie advised me when I told her that no one had called for a few weeks. “Sometimes, that helps to get things going again.” I took her advice and went about my life, walking my five dogs a day and losing two pants sizes from all the exercise. Then it happened. Kiki’s life changed.

On a rainy Tuesday in September, a man named Larry called. He had recently seen a flyer I posted at the old House of Hezekiah, an herb and tea place in Westport, back in May. We met him at a park, and Kiki loved him. Even better, he loved her. His last dog, which he rescued long ago from a drunken man who was beating her regularly, had died a year ago at 17 years old. I liked Larry right away. A week later, I took Kiki to Junction City, Kansas, to her new home.

Larry called me two weeks ago to tell me how great Kiki (who he renamed Kako) is doing at her new home. He says she acts like she’s lived there forever, rides great in the car and is very protective of her house. In fact, Larry likes it that she wakes him sometimes in the middle of the night, barking, when she suspects something is amiss in the back yard. Larry even amended his will to ensure that Kako is taken care of in case of his untimely demise.

So, little Kako’s life sure has changed a lot in a year. She went from no one loving her on last New Year’s Day to now being treated like the precious, barking individual that she is. She went from being totally alone to having so many people she didn’t even know existed step up to help her have a better life.

I know I will think about Vivian/Frida/Kiki/Kako whenever my life may take me to a place of despair and loneliness. Whenever it seems that there is no hope that things will get better. Because this dog taught me that we don’t ever know who is out there for us, to offer a hand when we least expect. We don’t know what the year will hold or the unlikely friends we will make. She taught me to hope and to keep trying, no matter how bad things seem. She taught me that sometimes good things can take a long time to happen but the really good ones are worth the wait.

Kako reminded me that even though I know I can’t save them all, I can at least save one, even if only animal one at a time. And to that one dog, that’s all that matters. To Kako, I and the other people who helped her were everything. Now, Kako’s life is finally good. And to me, that’s all that matters.

Crucial Council Vote to Determine Future of Independence Animal Shelter

For just a little while yesterday, I almost felt like I lived in a progressive city when it comes to animal sheltering. That’s because I spent the afternoon touring Great Plains SPCA‘s great new facility in Merriam, Kansas during their grand opening.

Chillin' Feline Style at Great Plains SPCA

Chillin’ Feline Style at Great Plains SPCA

Great Plains’ new shelter is the antithesis of sad and depressing animal housing. There are cheerful yellow dog runs with beds above the floor and Plexiglas kennel doors to prevent spread of disease. Natural light pours through a wall-size window in the “sun room” as kitties lounge on assorted cat trees. Everything is colorful, new and clean. Smiling volunteers are everywhere, eager to help throngs of people petting puppies and tossing toys to tail-wagging dogs. Cats intently gaze at television screens of chirping birds. This is how animal sheltering should be done.

Unfortunately, the idea of a comfortable — even comforting – place for homeless animals to bide their time until adoption hasn’t yet made its way into most city-run shelters in the Kansas City area. In fact, the attitude of city officials around here has long been to provide bare-minimum space to house homeless cats and dogs until those animals are euthanized, adopted or claimed by owners.

Last year, the Kansas City Missouri City Council rejected Great Plains’ (then known as Heartland SPCA) bid to operate its city shelter and instead chose Kansas City Pet Project, mainly due to that organization’s much lower bid. Kansas City, Missouri’s animal shelter has long been an embarrassment, with cramped, rusty cages and an ancient HVAC system that croaks out a steady stream of disease into the kennel area. Kansas City Missouri didn’t want to spend money to house animals in a humane and modern fashion or pay for an experienced, proven organization like Great Plains (Heartland) to turn its shelter around.

So Kansas City council members selected KC Pet Project, the low-bid organization, which has since had more than its share of problems in its first year. The group operated for half a year without an executive director after its initial director resigned after only five months. Though KCPP claims it has achieved no-kill status, its reputation is still tainted by rescue community concerns over irresponsible adoption policies, high staff turnover and a president and vice president who work full-time jobs somewhere else.

Let’s hope that Independence, Missouri council members make a better choice for homeless pets.

Independence now has the opportunity to partner with Great Plains SPCA to operate Jackson County Missouri’s new 28,000 square-foot Regional Animal Shelter built earlier this year. Jackson County recently contracted with Great Plains SPCA to operate the facility as a no-kill shelter beginning on January 1, 2013.

On Monday, December 17, the Independence city council will vote on whether to house homeless animals in Independence’s existing city shelter (a 7,100-square-foot facility built in 1978) or contract with Jackson County to use Great Plains as a third-party vendor and move Independence’s animal shelter to the new, state-of-the-art, no-kill facility. The new building has remained empty since completion this summer while Jackson County searched for a non-profit group to operate the shelter.

Not everyone on the Independence council is excited about enlisting Great Plains to run the Independence shelter. Some council members insist that the city already does a great job of running the old facility and  that Independence should form its own non-profit to run the shelter.

The Independence city council needs to see that citizens are watching their decision with great interest and will hold them accountable. That’s why it’s important that there be a large public presence at Monday’s meeting. Nothing convinces city officials more than a huge crowd that cares enough about an issue to drag themselves to a city meeting on a Monday night.

Great Plains CEO Courtney Thomas has done an outstanding job of bringing compassionate and responsible animal sheltering to the Kansas City area. If the Independence council votes yes on Monday to contract with Great Plains, this proven organization will bring no-kill practices to a once high-kill shelter and offer the public an inviting place to visit and adopt animals. (Note: Independence currently claims to be a no-kill shelter).

Dog Waiting for a New Home at Great Plains New Facility

Dog Waiting for a New Home at Great Plains New Facility

The opportunity to partner with Great Plains offers Independence the opportunity to bring animal sheltering in the Kansas City area into the 21st century. Let’s hope that the Independence city council is forward-thinking enough to realize that contracting with Great Plains to run its city shelter is a move that will gain citizens’ respect and better the entire community.

*** The final vote on this issue is this Monday, December 17 at 6 p.m. at Independence
City Hall, 111 Maple Ave, Independence, Missouri 64050. (816-325-7000)

Enter through the doors marked “Municipal Court.”

Photo Credit: Great Plains SPCA

Shelter Shock: No Kill Turns Into a Life Sentence for a Couple of Old Coonhounds

I can’t stop thinking about Penny and Frosty, a couple of 14-year-old, Coonhound/Labrador Retriever mixes who have lived their entire lives at the Humane Society of Branch County, a no-kill shelter in Quincy, Michigan.

Penny’s Puppy Days are Over

These old old-timers started popping up on my facebook news feed last week. At their age, Penny and Frosty should be curled on a plush bed by the fireside on cold Michigan nights, not spending their final days at the shelter where they arrived in of a litter of puppies fourteen years ago.

Now those puppies have grown into a couple of old ladies. Penny was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and is hanging in there. Frosty is on thyroid meds.

News of the pair online sparked plenty of questions. People were haunted by Penny’s gray muzzle and Frosty’s sad, cloudy eyes. These old girls have never known a home for long. They were adopted twice but returned, according to Humane Society of Branch County’s facebook page.

A couple of young volunteers recently put the word out on these two, states a facebook post by Humane Society of Branch County in response to questions about Penny and Frosty. The dogs don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“[Penny and Frosty] really are not able to travel a long distance,” states the rescue’s post about potential homes. “Anyone that would have the heart to adopt these sisters probably has other dogs, and these dogs need to be the only dogs in the family. They are not housebroken, either.”

My first reaction to hearing about Penny and Frosty was that this rescue let these girls down a long time ago. When did someone — or several people — at this organization decide that keeping dogs in a shelter/boarding environment interminably was acceptable?

Frosty Grew Old With No One Person to Call Her Own.

Maybe those “young volunteers” who recently spread the word on these dogs are still innocent enough to believe that when they notice something wrong, it is their duty to make it right. I wonder how many other people who witnessed these dogs living in a kennel all this time felt the same way but just kept quiet and let the rescuers do their jobs. Meanwhile, Penny and Frosty’s lives passed them by.

In the Humane Society of Branch County’s defense, Quincy is just a teeny town in Southern Michigan with a population of only 1,700 people. Quincy is surrounded by mostly small towns, and the nearest big city is Detroit, 100 miles away. So, it’s not like this group has a wealth of resources available when it comes to animal rescue.

The shelter is small and run by volunteers who devote their lives to saving animals. These people do the heartbreaking and difficult work of helping homeless animals, which is something most people don’t do, because it makes them “too sad.”

The shelter may be small, but plenty of people want to know about the old dogs. The hundred or so facebook comments about Penny and Frosty on Humane Society of Branch County’s page covered a wide range of opinions:

“Many shelters provide a more fulfilling and enriching life than a kennel in a [run] for hours on end or a chain in a backyard.” wrote one woman. “This shelter took these dogs back when adoptions failed and didn’t rush them to the needle when they presented with costly medical conditions. If you don’t know anything about the dogs or the shelter, then quit making assumptions and running off at the mouth.”

“The shelter staff are these dogs’ family,” wrote another. “It might be more stressful and upsetting to move them somewhere else at this stage. They could feel the same abandonment that most dogs would feel when dumped at a shelter by their family….It sounds like they are loved and well cared for right where they are. Kudos to you for being their family all these years!”

Others weren’t so forgiving: “Maybe this is why you kept Penny and Frosty for 14 years -to use as fundraisers. To not be able to find loving homes in 14 long years is shameful. Not finding loving homes, and not socializing these dogs and not housebreaking them is NOT compassion and good care. They could have had such a better life than lifelong at a shelter with no special person to call their own. You failed these dogs.”

It’s true that Penny and Frosty have had better lives than the thousands of dogs out there starving on chains or wandering the streets. Then again, if they’ve been well-loved and cared for, why didn’t anyone take time to housetrain them? Wouldn’t that have made them more adoptable? Apparently, the two are dog aggressive, but was there really no home where they could be the only dogs?  Why did no one call in a dog trainer? I have to wonder how hard anyone really tried, in 14 years, to find these girls a home, or at least a foster home.

Before anyone bashes the Humane Society of Branch County’s current group of volunteers, though, keep in mind that most of these people probably weren’t the ones who initially failed these dogs. That group likely burned out long ago. If you want to know what this little rescue is up against, a facebook post from one of its workers, who has been there for only a year, sums up how most people in animal rescue spend their time and how much they care:

“We are a small shelter in the middle of nowhere and receive no funding….. I work at this shelter for basically nothing. Every cent of my money is used in making vet runs with my own car and gas…..I have donated money upon money to the shelter…I am working at that shelter six days a week and sometimes even on Sunday. Many times I work into the night…..I have shed tears when they come in and when they get adopted, when they are sick and when they don’t get chosen.

“I often bring them home to give them a break from the shelter or to nurse them when they are sick. I would never, never exploit any of these dogs. Perhaps I have failed…..I often think the same thing….All I can say is we are doing the very best we can do for Penny and Frosty and for every dog that comes to this shelter.”

I left a message this afternoon on Humane Society of Branch County’s voice mail, inquiring about Penny and Frosty’s future. I haven’t heard back yet but I don’t hold that against anyone. If this small shelter is like most, it has a croaking answering machine on a table in some drafty corner that gets checked only when someone is there to check it. Hopefully, I will hear back and have an update soon.

For now, it looks like Penny and Frosty will live out the rest of their days at the only home they’ve known, a shelter where those entrusted with their care do actually seem to love them. And the dogs do get to go outside daily, when weather permits.

I guess only the people running Humane Society of Branch County know for sure how hard anybody tried over 14 years to place these girls in a home. Honestly, there is no one person to blame, and what good would blame do at this point? It’s just sad that as staff and volunteers came and went, over all those years, somehow, one year turned into two, and two into four, and four into eight for Penny and Frosty.

Now these dogs’ lives are nearly done. I can’t help thinking that someone, somewhere along the way, could have tried a just little bit harder.

Helping Animals is Helping People

It's a Dog's Life (Poem: To My Human Who Is No...

It’s a Dog’s Life (Poem: To My Human Who Is Now Taking My Picture) (Photo credit: faith goble)

“Why aren’t you out there helping people instead of animals?”

I see this sentiment expressed sometimes, usually in some online comment section, where the person writing it revels in snarkiness, almost always under the cloak of anonymity.

While I usually dismiss these sourpusses as your basic animal and people haters, their question always makes me think about how easy it is to view these two groups – animals and people — as being separate when it comes to animal rescue. Of course, we know that the animals we find homes for are going to live with people. However, because our objective is saving animals, it’s mainly the animals on which we focus.

A lot of that focus is simple practicality. This is how rescuing a dog often goes: “I have to fatten up this starved dog I got out of the pound. Then I’ve got to get her treated for heartworms, and then I’ve got to get her spayed and housetrained and socialized with other dogs. Meanwhile, I have to find a rescue group, a foster home, a boarding facility or let her live in my own home until I find her a great home. Oh, wait…I have no idea how she is with cats.”

It’s natural to get so zoned in on making sure that the animal finds a home where it is loved and safe and appreciated that we lose sight of the bigger picture, the effect the pet has on the people who give it a forever home. Sure, we follow up and make sure things are going well, that the dog gets along with the family’s kids or that the cat is thriving in its new environment. But what we don’t know or see is what goes on in the years that follow.

The dog you place in a home with an eight-year-old boy who tosses him a ball in the back yard today may feel like his only friend six years later, when that boy is a teenager nursing his first broken heart, sitting on the back porch with his best buddy licking the tears off his cheek. That once-stray cat now purring in a woman’s lap may be the only comfort that woman finds, the little bit of love that keeps her going when she is grieving the loss of her mother, years down the road.

For someone who is depressed, just knowing they have to get out of bed and walk the dog may be the only thing that gets that person out of the house, gets their body moving and makes their mind just a little bit clearer to get them through whatever hard thing is weighing them down. Having that dog’s unconditional love may even be the one thing that keeps that person from taking their own life.

Dog nurse VI

What a lot of people don’t understand is that helping animals is helping people. When you place a dog in a home with a family, you’re giving those kids the memory of their childhood pet, a picture framed in their mind for their entire lives. And who knows how many people have found love, whether with a new friend or an intimate partner, from striking up a conversation with another animal lover while walking their dog?

Animals remind us that life isn’t just about work and obligation. Sometimes, it’s about being silly enough to crawl around on the floor “barking” at your dog or letting your cat chase you from room to room while you dangle a feather behind. Animals remind us to play, and sometimes, playing and laughing – at your pets and at yourself – are the only things that can keep you going until your life’s road turns to better times.

People who rescue animals can get bogged down in the despair of it all, the images of neglected cats and dogs they can’t forget, the heartlessness of people who dump their pet at a shelter and then walk away laughing with their friend about where they should go for  lunch. But be sure to make room in your mind for those other images, the ones of a dog you saved or comforted at the shelter, currently snoozing in front of a cozy fireplace or that matted cat now happily stretched out in a patch of sunlight in her new home.

Most of all, leave a space for the unknown. You may never know the ripple effects of your small – or large – acts of kindness. Whether you helped a stranger at the shelter select a dog that is going to comfort him when his life is lonely or you fostered a cat that went on to sleep curled beside the head of a woman struggling through divorce, your actions have meaning. You did something kind. You made a difference in a world where most people don’t.

You helped an animal and a person.


What’s Your Rescue Style?

Whether you’re a jaded veteran or an idealistic newbie in the field of animal rescue, take this revealing quiz to discover your unique rescue style!

I spent last Saturday:

A. Searching a cemetery in a bad part of town for a lost Doberman, last seen trotting through headstones at sundown.

B. Readying a blind Pit mix, an emaciated German Shepherd and an obese Min Pin for an all-day adoption event.

C. Petting puppies at Wayside Waifs.

D. Ironing my KC Pet Project sweatshirt before I go to the shelter to put in 20 minutes of dog walking.

E. Enjoying a spa day with an old friend while we laughed and laughed.

If I saw a dog trying to cross four lanes of traffic on a busy highway to get to a McDonald’s bag, I would:

A. Veer off the road, slam on the brakes and hang out the driver’s window to lasso the dog with a leash – all while calling friends to meet me for a drink later to celebrate saving that dog’s life.

B. Pull over right away and call two friends: One to direct traffic while I try to catch the dog and another to videotape the entire episode for submission to Godvine.

C. Get on Facebook as soon as I got home, pleading with everyone on the rescue pages for someone to please go help that poor dog!

D. Feel bad about it for the rest of the day.

E. Crave a Big Mac and a vanilla shake.

If I had a tail, it would be:

A High and tightly arched over my back, with just the tip jerking quickly back and forth.

B. Wagging constantly.

C. Chased in circles.

D. All puffed up.

E. Docked.

My worst shelter-related injury would have to be:

A. Being dragged down a hill while clutching the leash of a German Shepherd in heat.

B. Frostbite from walking dogs in a sleet storm.

C. A fractured rib from getting into a fist fight with the shelter director.

D. Breaking my fingernail at the gas pump on my way to a gala fundraiser.

E.  Slipping on dog poop while texting.

If I am upset with another person in the rescue community, I work through my issues by:

A. Working even later into the night saving animals.

B. Seeing a skilled therapist.

C. Telling my cat what a bitch that person is while we’re watching Pitbulls and Parolees.

D. Announcing that I am leaving rescue forever.

E. Buying a brand new car and shoes to match.

Now total up your points and find your rescue personality below!

A=10 points; B=8 points; C=6 points; D=5 points; E=1 point

Angry Webcomics

40-50 Points: Bold and Bawdy! You are fearless, fearsome and all-around awesome —  but seriously misunderstood. Rescue Recommendation: Add a feral cat to your pack and seek a deeper understanding of the inner you with a yoga mindfulness meditation class.

30-40 Points: Cocktail Couture! You have credit card debt from too many foster dogs and mysterious stains all over your car seats. Yet you remain hopeful that better days lie ahead. Rescue Recommendation: Get only short-term foster dogs, crack open a bottle of wine and take a hot bath with soothing lavender pillows placed over your eyes.

20-30 Points: Fabulously Forgetful! You have a huge heart but a short memory. Pulling dogs off the urgent list, you get them into rescue or boarding and then forget about paying the veterinary bills or finding them homes. Rescue Recommendation: Forgive yourself, gulp down some Gingko Biloba and start training for a 5K walk or run to sharpen your focus.

10-20 Points: Shelter Chic! Naturally photogenic, you are often glimpsed in the background on television news stories about adoption events. You enjoy expressing controversial opinions on social network pages. Rescue Recommendation: Get on the news to find homes for Fabulously Forgetful’s boarding dogs. Reward yourself with a massage and a pampering pedicure.

Dog fashion show

0-10 Points: Pet Store Petite! Just because you’re not cut out to work in the trenches doesn’t mean you can’t still help animals. Rescue Recommendation: Take a karate class to boost your confidence and organize a group of your spa friends to put on a doggie fashion show to benefit your local animal shelter.

Now that you’ve discovered your true rescue style, get out there into the glamorous world of animal rescue and save some animals while there are still a few left!

A Contract to Control: Do Pet Adoption Contracts Go Too Far?

The other day, a pickup truck with a beautiful blue Pit Bull in the back rolled by while I was walking. “What a beautiful dog,” I thought. Then, “Oh…wait, that’s bad. That dog could get hurt.”

The driver pulled into his driveway and walked to the back of the truck, showering the Pittie with head rubs and ear scratches before he untethered the dog. The fact is, this man who obviously loves his dog and prefers a hard-to-adopt breed would never be approved by most animal rescue groups if he disclosed that he lets his dogs ride in an open pickup truck.

Dogs In Truck

Dogs In Truck (Photo credit: Mark Faviell Photos)

Last week, I blogged about a rescue group that took back a cat after four years based on a mistaken assumption that the adopters breached their adoption contract by allowing the cat outside. That got me thinking about adoption contract rules, which exist not only for legal reasons but also because someone, somewhere in that particular rescue group decided what is “best” for an animal, based on their view of the world.

Here are a few rules from various rescue contracts found online:

  • Adopter must notify us if you ever move to a new address.
  • The dog will not be kept outdoors during the adopter’s working hours, or at any other time left alone outdoors while the adopter is not at home.
  • The dog will not ride in the back of a pickup truck under any circumstances.
  • The adopter must keep the rescuer informed with the name of the dog’s veterinarian and rescue may check at any time to make sure that the dog is kept on heartworm preventative year-round.
  • If the dog gets loose/stolen and is not back in the adopter’s care/control within two hours, you must immediately notify the rescue. Failure to do so will be an immediate breach of contract.
  • Adopter agrees that [rescue group] shall have the right to enter Adopter’s premises at any time, with or without notice, to inspect the dog’s condition and environment at any point in the lifetime of the dog.

Hopefully, these restrictions are there to give a rescue leeway when it needs to get a dog or cat out of an actual abusive situation. Or, maybe these are guidelines, placed in the contract for the adopter to consider for their pet’s well-being. I know pet owners who don’t keep their dog on heartworm preventative every month during harsh winters, and I don’t think they are bad dog owners. I also think it’s a little nervy of a rescue to expect an adopter to welcome a surprise inspector to their home “at any time, with or without notice.

Besides, there needs to be a bit of a learning curve allowance for new pet owners. I am embarrassed to admit that when I took my first dog, Emma, to a nearby lake on autumn days to run off-leash, 20 years ago, I sometimes let her ride tethered in the back of my truck down I-35 for 30 minutes on the way back. Why? Because she was muddy, and she liked it, and, like nearly everyone reading this, I did more stupid things 20 years ago than I do today.

When I got my second truck, I let my dogs ride in the covered bed, and when I got rid of that camper shell, they rode in the cab with me. One day a couple of years ago, a car spun out of control on I-35, slammed into me, and my truck overturned, rolled twice and slid upside down across three lanes of traffic. Miraculously, thanks to my seat belt, I wasn’t injured, and neither was anyone else on the road. Fortunately, no dogs were with me.

No dog would have survived in the open bed of my pickup truck.

I hate to imagine what might have become of a dog in my pickup bed in that situation. Random things happen, in all of our lives, no matter how much we try to control everything, no matter how many rules we have in place. People who work in animal rescue want to take every possible precaution to protect their adopted pets because, in their line of work, they see horrific situations of animal abuse. After awhile, nearly every adopter is suspect. However, we all have different ideas of how to best care for our pets. Every animal, person and situation is different. Not everything fits neatly into an adoption contract.

If an adopter loves their dog or cat, takes care of them, and the animal isn’t being abused or neglected, maybe the rescue should just back off, trust that they made the right selection through interviewing and screening and let people take care of their pet as they see fit. I am all for adoption follow-up, and I think it’s essential, but doesn’t the dog or cat eventually belong to the person who adopts it?

Controlling adopters with dictates about the only “right” way a cat or dog should be cared for isn’t going to guarantee that all adopted animals will live long lives. It just means that a lot of people won’t get their pets from a rescue group, which means that a lot of homeless dogs and cats will wait a long, long time for that “perfect” home.

The Claws Come Out When a No-Kill Rescue Reclaims a Contract-Breaking Kitty

When someone adopts a dog or cat from a shelter, they’re trying to do the right thing. They’re happy to pay the fee, sign an adoption contract and hurry home to toss a Frisbee to their new rescue dog or watch their kitten bat a ball across the rug.

Nancy Whipple had to file a lawsuit to get her cat Newman back from Save-A-Pet.

But how much control of that family member remains in the hands of the rescue where they adopted the pet? And what happens if the adopters break one of those rules from that list in the contract?

Just ask Gene and Nancy Whipple of Lake County, Illinois. The couple filed a lawsuit last month against Save-A-Pet Inc., a no-kill animal rescue near Chicago, where they adopted their slinky black cat, Newman, in 2008. The Whipples claimed in the suit that Save-A-Pet “repossessed” Newman — four and a half years later — after “stalking” the Whipples’ home, waiting for the amber-eyed feline to step outside.

The Whipples had no idea that Newman would one day be the catalyst for a lawsuit alleging that one of the largest no-kill rescues in Lake County staked out the home of one of its adoptees. That is, not until they decided to adopt another homeless cat from Save-A-Pet. Like all potential adopters, the Whipples sat down with an adoption counselor for an interview.

“It was more like an interrogation,” says Nancy of the interview. Everything looked promising for adding another cat to the family. Then Nancy says the counselor asked the Whipples what she calls a “trick” question: “This cat will be outside, right?”

“If our cat gets out, we make sure he gets safely back inside,” the Whipples told the counselor, speaking of another cat they owned that sometimes prowled their six-acre property. At that point, the interview skidded to a halt, according to Nancy: “They heard the word ‘outside’ and told us, ‘No, you can’t adopt a cat.’”

The Whipples say they called Save-A-Pet the next day, hoping a supervisor might okay the adoption anyway. After all, they were excellent cat owners. Instead, she says, the rescue pounced on the Whipples with alarming news: Save-A-Pet wanted Newman back. Letting him outside had violated the rescue’s adoption contract.

Newman wanted to see the world. But he only made it as far as a cage at Save-A-Pet.

“They’re just kidding, right?” Nancy asked her husband after he hung up the phone.

“No,” Gene told her. “They’re serious. They’re going to come and get Newman!”

Nine months passed, but no one came to retrieve the contract-breaking cat. The Whipples had no plans to return Newman to Save-A-Pet. It seemed the whole tussle had blown over like a fur ball in the wind – that is, until September 16 — when Newman mysteriously vanished after he inadvertently slipped outside while the Whipples were out of town.

The Whipples immediately suspected that Save-A-Pet might be behind Newman’s disappearance. They contacted the local Sheriff’s Department, which confirmed that Newman was indeed being held in “quarantine” at Save-A-Pet’s facility. Although Newman was microchipped as the Whipple’s cat, the rescue refused to return him.

Newman may have gotten snagged when he slipped outside, but he wasn’t neglected or abused. He was a cherished part of the family. In fact, the Whipples’ veterinarian gave the couple and their cat a glowing review: “I consider Nancy Whipple to be one of the best pet guardians I have as a client,” wrote the veterinarian in a letter supplied to the Whipples’ attorney.  “Newman…is in excellent health. He is kept up-to-date on vaccinations….and is always impeccably clean and well-groomed.”

It’s not like Gene and Nancy were eager to slap a lawsuit on the animal rescue group. Nancy says she tried to resolve the situation like a reasonable person when she went to Save-A-Pet, toting a cat carrier and armed with a microchip scanner loaned by her veterinarian (in case a staffer tried to pull a black cat switcheroo).

“I asked if I could pick him up. They told me no,” says Nancy. “I asked if I could at least see him. They said no. At that point, I knew they were going to play hardball.”

Fearing that Save-A-Pet might adopt Newman to another family, the Whipples contacted attorney Jim Kaiser, who got an emergency injunction to keep the rescue from placing Newman into another adoptive home. A few days later, Nancy and her attorney headed to court.

Kaiser and Save-A-Pet’s attorney resolved the situation that day after the two determined  that Newman’s repossession was based on a “misunderstanding,” says Kaiser. The adoption interviewer had wrongly assumed that the Whipples were talking about Newman (an indoor cat) when they were actually referring to their other (indoor/outdoor) cat. The parties agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, as long as the Whipples signed an affidavit promising that Newman would be an exclusively indoor cat – barring accidental door bolts — and allowing Save-A-Pet to come and do a wellness check on Newman at any time over the next year.

Newman, who now spends his afternoons stretched out on a comforter in a patch of sun – inside the house – doesn’t seem too damaged by his stay in quarantine.

“Poor little Newman was trapped in a cage for nine days,” says Nancy. “But he’s like a kitten again.” Maybe Newman just figures if he can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Several people have asked Nancy why she and Gene went to so much trouble “for a cat.”

Filing the lawsuit wasn’t just about Newman, says Nancy, who spent more than $2,000 in legal fees and postponed a vacation to Germany to get her kitty back.

“We need to make these shelters accountable. They need to be using their donations doing what is best for animals who are actually homeless,” she says. “Not taking animals out of loving homes.”

Save-A-Pet staff declined to comment for this article.

Survivor of Nightmarish Ordeal Fights to Save the Life of Her Service Dog

A Pit Bull in Turlock, California, that was scheduled to be euthanized October 16  for leash violations will now be returned to its owner, a rape survivor who was placed in a witness protection program after she testified in a criminal case against a gang that abducted her.

The dog acts as an unofficial service animal to the traumatized woman, identified only as “Jane Doe” in a civil lawsuit filed last week seeking an emergency restraining order to stop the City of Turlock from killing the woman’s white-and-black Pit Bull “Freyja.”

“Doe” and her sister were abducted from a movie theater ten years ago by gang members who imprisoned them, along with several other women, in “what can only be described as a pit,” for several days, even weeks, according to the lawsuit. There, the women endured “dungeon treatment” and their abductors used them “as slaves for the purpose of their own amusement.”

The sexual assault victim, who has been separated from her family for a decade under a witness protection program, was unable to leave her house until only recently without succumbing to crippling fear. She has not been able to withstand even sitting in a car with another human being since the attack. California Witness Protection officials suggested that the woman get a dog for protection, since she was marked for death by the gang targeted in her testimony. That’s when she adopted her Pit Bull Freyja.

For the past four years, Doe’s sole love and companionship came from her dog, which the lawsuit refers to as a “gorgeous white and black Pit Bull.” According to the suit, Freyja quickly became the woman’s “only remaining friend, her only ally, and her only protection… the only consistent, shining light in an otherwise grim existence.”

Freyja’s owner trained her dog to be non-aggressive. In fact, the dog never bit, attacked or threatened anyone. “Other than being a Pit Bull that is the target of ire by the City and other defendants, [Freyja] has done nothing wrong,” states the lawsuit. Still, Freyja’s two prior leash violations, which were dismissed, and a recent third infraction,  prompted the City to confiscate the dog and gave it authority to euthanize.

Initially, it looked like Freyja — who has been detained by the city for three weeks — could be returned to her owner if the woman paid a $1,000 fine and proved that her fence was secure. However, when she went to pay the fine last week, city officials refused to accept payment or return Freyja. Last Thursday, attorney Justin Allen’s office got a frantic call from Freyja’s owner. It took an emergency restraining order and a court hearing to finally convince the City to return the de facto service dog to her home.

“The City was actually very cooperative,” says Allen’s law clerk Lizzy Edwards of the October 16 hearing, where the suit was dismissed after both parties’ attorneys agreed on a solution: Freyja’s owner will get the dog back as soon she pays a reduced  fine of $500 and proves she has proper fencing. Their client has the funds available to pay the fine and has put up a new fence to ensure there are no more dog escapes, says Edwards. It looks like Freyja is headed home — alive.

The sad fact is, Freyja’s near-euthanasia experience wasn’t based only on harsh  city ordinances. Flawed governmental and public perceptions of Pit Bulls were equal contributors to the service animal’s plight.

Although the lawsuit states that Freyja was “scheduled to be executed” on October 16, 2012, no definite euthanasia date was actually set, says Edwards. City officials told Edwards that because Freyja is a Pit Bull, it’s likely that no one would have adopted the dog. Therefore, Freyja almost certainly would  have been destroyed.

Says Edwards: “Taking this dog away from her owner was essentially a death sentence.”