Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to save a friend

Unfortunately, this isn't an instruction blog.  That song gets me everytime when it comes to the dogs I love.  And it's doing it to me now.

Jigger is on Day 3 of his 10 day mandatory bite quarantine.  I was in the play yard with another dog and he was in one of the "off limits to volunteers" pens down a hill facing the yard.  I heard his bark and looked down and saw that he was barking to me.  When I talked to him he sat down with his ears up, tail wagging, listening.  And when I stopped he barked to me again.

It is highly likely the end of this quarantine will mark the end of his life.  I'm trying to influence those that make the decision -- 4 out of 6 must sign off...and unfortunately I think I can only get one on his side, 2 if I'm very lucky.  The rest don't know him at all.  They just know that they heard he bit someone and no one seems to know the details of this bite if it even occured at all.

I'm not saying his new (and now former) owner lied.  The thing is, Jig has to get to know someone before he gets lovey dovey with them.  People have to earn his trust; he doesn't give it blindly.  But when they have it, he's devoted.  If his new owner was trying to move too fast, if he was looking for an immediate cuddler....well, if Jigger was scared, that could have made him defensive.  He was only there a week.

He is such a good dog.  One of the best behaved at the shelter.  In the months and months he's been at the shelter, he's never so much as growled at anyone, let alone bit anyone.  His leash manners are outstanding.    I just want him to have a chance.  A chance that a dog savvy person might adopt him and give him the time he needs to trust.  I want him to have a chance to live.

How do you save a friend?  If I only knew...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Yes, I'm a newbie animal advocate/shelter volunteer.  And I knew this day was coming.  I cried when a dog was put down who many of my fellow volunteers (who have been there much longer than I) had worked closely with and felt was unjustly judged.  But I hadn't worked with him, I only knew him in passing.  Evenso, it still hurt and I hurt for my fellow volunteers with whom I have come to love and trust and respect immensely.

I just thought my turn would be a lot further down the road.  I was wrong.

One of the long termers that I was on such a high about him finding a home is back.  For 10 days anyway.  For the 10 day bite quarantine.  And then he's likely to be put down.  I'm not even sure what happened.  The story changes depending on who tells it.  I was doing an offsite so I wasn't there when the owner brought him back in.  The owner was saying the bite was no big deal and that he still loves the dog and was hugging him when he was leaving him.  From what I can piece together at the shelter, he never really said where or when he was bitten but he had what looked to one volunteer like brush burns on his face but a board member assumed that he was bit in the face.

I so wish I was there to talk to him so I could hear what happened.  I don't think this guy has any inkling that the dog is now likely to be put to sleep.  To some, no kill means no kill.  They don't catch the "any adoptable animals" part.  Or they picture the "too viscious to be rehabilitated" part to be a totally different dog.  Not the one they've been sleeping with for the past week.

I do get it.  I've got 3 shelter dogs myself and they don't act anything like they did at the shelter or even the way they did within the first month of joining our family.  So while I didn't see any of the behaviors they talked about with him, it doesn't mean they couldn't happen.  Not to mention that we're all individuals...dogs and people.  The way he was with me might not be the way he'd be with someone else, someplace else.  Especially because he trusted me.  He trusted me and now he's on death row.

I thought I'd never see him again because he'd be in his furever home living happily ever after.  Now I may never seem him again because "ever after" arrived sooner than it should have.

I am just heartsick.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Just an animal?!?

I've always been pretty much a 'live and let live' person.  I don't care what race or religion someone one is, republican, democrat, even where they sit on different sides of controversial issues (except for the kill vs. no kill issue of course).  I'm happy to agree to disagree and can understand different points of view even when I don't agree with them.

But who are these, "it's just an animal" people?  I just can't get my head around the idea that animals are nothing more than just a piece of property, to be discarded if they will cost to much to repair.

I've heard people criticize animal lovers who equate their companion pets to being just like a child to them.  Being someone who ascribes to that same feeling, this is an area where I just can't understand the opposing point of view.

Our pets are living creatures, with feelings, personalities, quirks, needs, hopes, emotions.  How can you treat a life as if it's an appliance that if it's too expensive to fix, you just toss it out and get another one?  Especially a life that has given you unconditional love, one that is happiest itself when it has pleased you.

I try to understand by thinking of some analogies.  I wouldn't spend thousands of dollars to save a goldfish.  It is a life too.  Do some people just have a wider continum of that belief?  Are there those on the opposite spectrum who would criticize me for not being willing to do what it takes to save a goldfish?  Would I criticize someone who did spend a fortune to save a goldfish?  I would not, but if it were mine, I think I would say "it's just a goldfish".

At what point do they become our "babies" and why for some people, no animal ever would?

As I discussed this with a fellow mom of furry folks, I hypothesized that maybe it was because we grew up with animals and maybe if you didn't that's where it comes from.  She pointed out that her husband grew up without any pets at all, but before they were married he loaned her the money she needed to try to save her dog who had cancer.  And how he was the one who became neurotic when one of their furry family members recently got a cut on his paw.

Whatever the reason, I just can't comprehend it.  I would never move somewhere that I couldn't take my pets, just like I'd never move to an adult community where I couldn't take my child.  I would never leave my dog in a hot car, just like I'd never leave my child in one.  I would never choose not to provide my pet with the vet care he needed, just like I'd never not provide my child with the medical care he needed.

And I'd never believe that an option for solving the problem of homeless people would be to reduce the population by "humanely" killing older or ailing people, just like I don't believe it should even be an option for homeless animals.

I'm resigned to being intolerant of this particular belief.

One by one, until there are none

With so many wonderful dogs at the no kill shelter I volunteer for, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to make a difference.  What I've found to be energizing, rewarding and successful at present is to focus the majority of my efforts on one or two dogs at a time.

I'm an offsite doggie meet and greet maniac.  I believe that taking dogs out of the shelter environment into the "real world" can really make them shine.  At offsite events, the pups meet people who may not have even been thinking about adopting a dog, but they fall in love.  Or it gets them thinking about adopting.  Or there are the people that find going to a shelter heartbreaking or chaotic.

At the shelter, prospective adopters enter a room full of barking dogs (pick me, pick me!) where they may wish they could rescue all of them -- or may feel they all seem like out of control, wild animals who wouldn't fit into their family life.  They may try to ask questions, but can't hear the answers over the barks.  Some dogs may be jumping to the heights of their kennels, some may be spinning in circles, others may seem withdrawn.  But take them out into real world situations and their personalities shine.

I'm on giant high now having been directly involved with getting 3 long time resident dogs adopted in the past couple weeks and having all the dogs that I've taken to offsites now in their furever homes.  Six dogs in the six months I've been doing offsites and I've just recently ramped up the number of offsites I do.  Should I be thinking, "big deal, a dog a month when there are a constant 100 dogs at the shelter"?

I don't think so.  Because every single one makes a difference.  And when I'm successful, it inspires other volunteers to follow my lead.  Then one becomes two, two becomes ten, ten becomes fifty...

By focusing on one dog at a time, I really get to know every cute little quirk about that pup and can communicate them to everyone we meet and really give the potential adopter the full story of what they'll get from adopting the dog.  Like the one who loves classic rock music.  The one who gets such incredible joy from a squeaky toy.  The one who thinks he's a pony and runs wide circles around you in the playyard.  The one who will love you forever if you scratch his butt for him.  Or the one who looks deep into your eyes when you talk to her as if she understands and sympathizes with your every word.

Don't get me wrong, I don't spend all my time with only one dog -- I have to have a pipeline of offsite buddies so I can jump right to the next one when my current focus finds his/her home.  When I'm at the shelter, I typically walk 6 dogs each visit, getting to know them there first.  Some may need a little work before they can successfully mix and mingle with the general public.  Some are long past ready to schmooze it up.  What I learn I can share with other volunteers who are also doing offsites and promoting the dogs.

There are plenty of times that I struggle with wanting to help every one of them RIGHT NOW!  But it really seems like the path I've chosen with focusing on one until he or she gets adopted seems to be working much faster than when I try to focus on many.  And one by one, I will find them their furever home.