This morning, I pulled onto our street and saw an odd site. A woman was riding her bicycle very slowly around and around. Although bikes are odd in this part of town this early in the morning, it was the large rectangular towel covered object tied the back of the bike that was very strange.
I watched her for a while and then drove up to her. I rolled down my window and said, Excuse me...are you by any chance looking for our spay neuter clinic? She said YES! I told her where to go, she thanked me and headed off.
You see, on the back of her bike was a feral cat trap. She was taking advantage of our free feral cat program and this was her only way of transporting the cat to us.
Talk about dedication.
A Person's A Person...
These words from Dr. Suess' Horton character often run through my head as I go about the day's business in the shelter. Our focus is so obviously the care of each cat, kitten, dog and puppy we have in the shelter. But it is with people, each and every person that interacts with the shelter, where the reality of our business is most keenly felt.
One person is all it takes to bring those of us working at the shelter great joy! The delightful older woman who came bringing much needed blankets for the kennels and much desired rawhide chewies for the dogs in adoptions.
One person to come into the shelter and adopt an older cat who has been in the shelter for such a long time. That one person felt they were meant for each other!
One person from another great rescue group to take a very frightened cat, not always a good fit for a shelter, into their program to have a better chance at finding a home.
One person who says, "Sure, I will foster those kittens with the very damaged eyes!"
Each of those people mean the world to our work.
One person is also all it takes to bring us great sadness and cynicism.
The one person who packed up a mom cat and kittens into a crate and lobbed them over our wall last night. We found them cold, wet and scared. Thankfully, no one was harmed.
One person to leave a dog tied to the gate in front with a collar so tight it caused wounds to the dog's neck.
One person to bring us a litter of puppies to place because their dog came into heat early. Fortunately, the mom dog is now spayed, but not the male dog. She prefers him natural.
Each of these people guarantee that we will still be in business for some time to come.
People are the problem, people are the answer.
Tanya Part II
Tanya spent another night with me.
I love it when dogs that have been amped up or stressed out finally settle in for the night. They rotate around and around in the crate to find a cozy place and then hunker down. You hear a little bit of panting and then a long, deep sigh. Like they know they are safe and secure for at least the forseeable future.
We went to Starbucks this morning to see how she did with some strangers. She did well, although she was a bit jumpy when a loud person approached.
She still yelps and whips around with her head when touched firmly on her back, legs, head or sides. X-rays didn't show anything to help us understand this. Is she in pain or just a sensitive gal? Perhaps she might have been abused at some point in her past...
Now she is tossing me the ball, so I must go throw it. Good dog. Good human.
Here are the things you will inevitably do at least once when joining the shelter staff. Like smashing a champagne bottle against a boat, these are the things we've all done to christen ourselves:
- Lose balance of the giant rolling tub of dishwashing soap, spilling it down a hallway.
- Repeat with giant rolling tub of kitty litter.
- Become confused about which end of the hose nozzle squirts water and spray yourself in the face.
- Drop a hose so it perfectly lands on the handle to create indoor rain.
- Get lost in the back corridors.
- Lock yourself out of the building.
- Sacrifice at least one article of clothing to the gods of bleach.
- Adopt or foster a shelter animal.
I really hoped Rita
would get adopted this weekend. But she is still with us. Rita, a 14-pound Jack Russel Terrier, was found on the Oakland property one morning a few months ago with one of her eyes hanging out of its socket.
It's not uncommon for a dog or a cat to be abandoned on our property. In the minds of some pet owners, if they dump them on our
property, it's not like they are really abandoned their loyal pet at all.
We take strays to the public animal shelter, since the law requires they be held for a period of time before being made available for adoption. But because of Rita's precarious medical condition, we arranged for her to complete her stray hold with us, and whisked her into surgery that morning to remove the injured eye.
She's a totally typical terrier. She loves people. She zooms. She tumbles. Her drawback? Aside from being short in the eye department, she just. can't. stand. other dogs. Who ever adopts Rita will need to understand that she will always need to be managed when on leash, or whenever it's possible she'll encounter other dogs. That can be a hassle as folks with dog-aggressive dogs know.
But they will get a loveable, energetic and devoted One Eyed Girl in return.
I'm fostering a shelter dog this week. Tanya was returned to us about a month ago. The owners said they didn't have time for her anymore. You never know what that really means, but usually, it means that the family got bored with her and didn't want to deal with her anymore.
Anyway, she didn't pass the 'stranger' part of her temperament test and did some "icky" yelping sounds when we handled her legs and paws. We weren't sure she was safe for adopters, so she was put on probation. This allows us to work with specific behaviors to help us better determine if she can be safely placed in a home.
Over a month later, her reaction to strangers is better and we determined that she has some hip dysplasia which is why it probably hurts her a little to have her legs moved around too much.
But just to be extra sure before we make any final decision about her one way or the other, I took her home. To try her out. To see what she would do in a home. To let her be normal again.
And as I type this, she is snoozing on the rug at my feet. Calm. At peace. Far, far away from the noise and stress of the shelter.
I hope she makes it. I really do.
It's A Cat, It's A Plane, It's...Talia!
Talia, one of my favorite shelter cats, found a home this week after about a year. TeeTee wasn't just a
shelter cat, she was the
shelter cat. She was actually employed in the role of Shelter Cat, a position that required her to meet strange dogs so that we could gauge their reactions to cats. She wasn't stressed by dog introductions, and a dog's reaction to cats is important information to pass on to potential dog adopters.
In return for providing this valuable service, she had the run of the back of the shelter and caught the occasional mouse. She also had the staff who work in the back area (like me) to lavish her with attention. In her online description, we posted the photo shown here and it captured her reputation, a real superhero to her shelter family. My coworker jokingly wrote that she had implemented important shelter programs like the "Share Your Lunch With A Cat"
Project (she once tried to snatch part of a burrito out of my hands) and the "Pet A Kitty Now
" Stress Relief Program, both very innovative and ahead of their time.
She was well beloved by the staff and became my weekday "daytime cat" (while my cat at home was my "evening cat.") She spent most days curled up on my lap as I worked or she'd sit behind me on my chair leaving me to perch delicately on the edge. She was a very large kitty-- nearly 15 lbs, so she took up a fair portion of the chair, but I always let her have it.
We ended up retiring Talia after she had her first ever stressful encounter with a dog when our blind Sharpei tried to nibble at her. We decided it was time for her to go up for adoption and find a real home with no dog meetings required.
We now have a new shelter cat named Tigger
who is way more active, meows incessently and rather than curling up with me, mainly tries to eat my papers, step on my keyboard while I'm typing and contribute to my phone conversations. He is inquisitive to the point of ridiculousness sometimes-- he often sports a pink streak on his forehead from getting too close to an uncapped red marker.
He's wonderful, too, of course, in a very different way but still I miss having Talia curled up quietly behind me purring melifluously, looking calm and relaxed even during the most stressful of days. Although nothing can ever take her place, a coworker presented me with an overweight black and white stuffed cat when Talia first left my chair in the back of the shelter for the adoption center up front. Stuffed Talia sits on my desk as a fond momento of the real thing. Good luck in your new home, TeeTee, and you'll always have a spot on my desk!
C. is one of two staff members who went to an animal welfare conference a few months ago. Since these meetings are expensive, we can't send as many people as we would like to. To ensure that everyone benefits, those who attended write up their notes and distribute to co-workers.
C. did a nice write up about "best practices" in terms of creating a comfortable place for cats in shelters. Back in the old days, when cats would live in a shelter for only 4-5 days before being either adopted, or ..... you know.... Their comfort
wasn't really all that much considered. Back then, the focus was on getting them out alive. Fortunately those days are winding down, and cats in our facility, barring an extreme medical or behavioral issue, stay with us 'til it's time to go home. But that makes their comfort pretty darn important, or you'd have a bunch of depressed cats on your hands!
We asked C. to organize the Cat Comfort Committee to review the current cat conditions and recommend improvements based on what some of the best shelters in the country are doing. Volunteers and staff met and the ideas flowed.
The second meeting of this new committee is coming up next week and they are doing great! The Cat Comfort pilot is in full swing. Cardboard for the cats to scratch, donated toys for them to place with, toys made from toilet paper rolls, and even TV for them to watch!
Hey, if you get a chance: bring us all your empty toilet paper rolls. Seriously.
We give our dogs voices.
During socialization sessions, when two or more shelter dogs are brought out to play in the yard, we Canine Associates often narrate the interactions by speaking for the dogs.
Sometimes they speak sweetly. Sometimes they curse. Sometimes they're downright inappropriate.
The little ones end up with falsetto voices and often do a lot of screaming. Occasionally you meet a little dog that sounds like Gollum.
The pits and labradors have deep goofy voices to match their awkward bodies and galumphing personalities. Even the girls.
Pointers sing. Hounds try to sing.
Herding dogs speak softly (and carry a big stick).
The end result is that if you're ever observing a Socialization session at the Oakland branch of the East Bay SPCA, the dogs seem perfectly sane but the trainers? They're all nuts.
I Found a Lap Buddy.
I left the Oakland SPCA at about 8:30 PM tonight. Any later, and it's really not a great neighborhood in which to be driving around.
It was that time of night where it's still light out but dim enough that all colors are becoming light gray, gray, and dark gray. At Hegenberger and Bancroft, I see the littlest dog crossing the street in the tail end of rush hour traffic. Pretty busy night for a 12-pound light- and dark gray dog to be crossing the street on its own.
We don't take in strays. All strays are directed to the public animal control
nearest the neighborhood in which the stray was found. This is an important process, but folks bringing us strays don't always understand why. A public animal shelter might not be in the position to care for a homeless animal the way a private shelter, not restricted by city funding, can so they think the animal is better off with us.
But for the family missing their lost pet? The system works
, and has to be honored. Instead of having to guess where their lost pet might be, their best chance is at their local animal control. We send strays there, but we also direct their distraught owners there, too. If unclaimed after the owner has been given a reasonable amount of time to reclaim their pet, then it might very well end back up with us, awaiting a new home.
But back to my Lap Buddy. At first, my goal is to get him to safety, which quickly converts to my second goal, which is to not get bit. I don't care if it's an 80 pound large breed dog, or a 12 pound dust bunny, canines have teeth, and scared canines use them. But not my Lap Buddy. He was eagerly licking some dried food off the asphalt--hungry much?--while drivers at all corners of the intersection paused politely as I scooped him up.
Only after picking him up did I consider what I was going to do with an unknown dog in my car. I didn't have to decide: Lap Buddy just snuggled into my lap and looked out the driver's window as I turned around.
As I said, when we find a stray at the shelter--tied to the gate in the morning, stuffed in a box in the drive way, tossed over the fences--we bring it to Animal Control. In our neighborhood, that is Oakland Animal Services . But at 8:30 at night, I can't bear to put him in their night boxes and let him wait til morning til he was fed, watered and processed. Although the night drop box is a lifesaver for a Good Samaritan who absolutely can't take in a stray, I am fortunate to have options tonight.
So, against policy, I bring him back to the shelter to settle him in for the night. I will have N. send him to OAS in the morning.
Only now do I really
see my Lap Buddy. Fellow blogger L. kindly gives him shots and flea meds (all overnight guests are vaccinated and defleaed). Surprise, surprise: he has a collar. Although it's nearly choking him. And he has two tags, one from the city and one from a vet clinic, but no name or address. He's got the broken remnants of a tie-out attached to the collar. He's been tied up somewhere.
He has the most shiny, black leather nose and shiny, bright, brown eyes you've ever seen. But those were the only things "shiny" about my Lap Buddy. His poodle-y coat is impossibly matted, each mat with its own collection of foxtails and other debris.
Who would take this super-cute pup and tie him up outside? Never notice he needs a bigger collar? Refuse to even drag a brush through his long, curly coat?
But he has tags, which means his owner will be called, and asked to reclaim him. After all, he's their dog.
I got back to work today after missing 2 days and I had 92 emails. Well, actually, not even two days. I checked email at 10:30am on Tuesday and then again at noon today (Thursday). You wouldn't think a small animal shelter had so much going on. But, 92 emails later, you'd think again. Here is a sample of those emails:
- Message from the Oakland Animal Welfare Group saying the shelter budget for the city shelter has been approved.
- Message from ND about the status of the vandalized van.
- Message from KP about spay neuter chaos on Wednesday.
- Message from SS about some probation dogs. (Probation dogs are those that show some kind of aggression either while they are in adoption or during their STE- Secondary Temperament Evaluation. We set them up on behavioral modication plan and reevaluate in one or two weeks. If we see improvement, we modify plan and continue working. If we see complete improvement or no issues, we can proceed getting them into adoption. If we see no progress or worsening, we start the unadoptable animal process.)
- Message from new agility instructor.
- Message about NDs time off.
- Many messages with FYIs.
- And one message about Kahlua going on Paws to Consider. Kahula is our longest term dog right now. He has been here almost a year. Paws to Consider is a program that allows potential adopters to take a dog or cat home for a week to "try them out" before officially adopting, thus reducing the fears and overwhelming feelings that come with a new dog perhaps not working out. The program has been very successful and many long term animals have been adopted this way.
This week has been the pits.
It's been a bad week for pit bulls. As the media contact for the organization, I feel like everyone wants to talk about pit bulls. Not the bazillion kittens we have in the back. Not the cool "Dog Days of Summer
" event we are having on Sunday. Not the fact we are doing 35-45 spay and neuter surgeries A DAY at our two Surgery Centers.
Is it nature? Nurture? A combination?
Regardless of the answer, we have a crisis on our hands, and as leaders in the community, we are obligated to take a position.
We are very confident in our process for determining the adoptability of dogs. No one's perfect but we try to be. While we have an excellent record of adopting safe, stable dogs, we can't rely on our record alone.
I would be lying if I were to say we had all the answers, at this time. But one thing we know to be incontrovertibly true: this breed (and breed mix) is over-represented in shelters and in the public, and by irresponsible breeders, and at least one part of the solution is ensuring that no dog, pit bull or not, be unaltered. Spay and neuter is one of the solutions that we KNOW works.
....Did I mention that we spay and neuter pit bulls and pit bull mixes for Alameda and Contra Costa county residents for FREE
Will Work for Food
Enrichment programs have been around in zoos for years. I remember first hearing about this concept on a television special which involved Alan Alda helping a zookeeper smear salad dressing on palm fronds for a pair of polar bears. There was video of the bears being released into their habitat and sniffing and playing with the fronds -- one even carried one into the water with her and floated on her back with the palm between her paws. Who knew a condiment could produce so much fun?
As I was beginning to study primates at the time, I was fascinated and in love with this concept. It was great to see that people were finding such simple ways to improve the lives of zoo animals. Later, during my studies of chimps at a local zoo, I watched in awe as they flipped through magazines, tearing out every third or fourth page, made toys out of tires, and ran around their enclosure finding chunks of apples and bananas hidden in the grass.
It didn't take long for the shelter world to pick this up, and for the dog toy industry to follow. Many shelters feed some or all of their dogs from red rubber toys with a hole in the middle called "Kongs
." We do this for our high energy, kennel stressed, and long term dogs at the EBSPCA. It is loads of fun to watch our dogs push their Kongs along the kennels and habitats trying to get the last piece of kibble out. Some learn to pick up the toy and drop it from a few inches above the ground, others make exceptional use of their paws.
I am constantly hearing new stories about enrichment techniques being applied by various shelters around the country. Some dogs are getting extra stimulation from scent enrichment
: vanilla, citrus or other solutions sprayed on kennel walls or on toys -- quite similar to the salad dressing the Polar Bears were given. I recently learned of a shelter that gives their dogs coconuts. The smell is strong enough that most dogs will play with them, but few succeed in opening them. Those that do get a tasty reward. Many shelters now take donations of toilet paper rolls, which can be filled with cat treats, folded on both ends, and shredded by the cats.
I'm pleased to see that these techniques are becoming common place in zoos and animal shelters. Both house animals for varying time periods, both work under budgets that are fairly tight more often than not, and both have staff that love their charges and constantly strive to improve their lives while under their care. Kennel enrichment empowers staff and volunteers to help improve their animals' well-being without putting a large strain on the organization's budget. This trend benefits captive wildlife from injured wildcats on their way to re-release, to zoo-born elephants who can never safely leave captivity. It benefits shelter animals whether days away from adoption, or in protective custody for months awaiting trial. It even benefits the household pet, lucky to have a home, but perhaps a bit antsy due to the ease with which her daily meals arrive.
Everyone can share in the joy involved in watching animals work and play as well -- buy your dog one of the many work-to-eat toys available in pet stores, hide some kibble in a crevice of your cat's bed, or ask your local shelter or zoo if they accept enrichment donations. You will most likely witness animals doing things you never thought they were capable of, and you'll know you're helping that animal sleep a little better thanks to some good old fashioned brain exercise.
About six weeks ago, I heard some mewing in my house. I thought it was my cats or my son, but it was neither. It was coming from the crawl space under my stairs, so out came my flash light to help me find the source. Sure enough, there was a grey tabby GIVING BIRTH right then and there. I left her alone, but checked back often. I'm not sure how many actually came out, but three lived. I went down every day with food and water, which mama cat gobbled right up. She hissed at me, but let me visit every day. A few times she got close enough to me so that I could pet her, but I didn't dare. I knew what I had to do and I didn't want to scare her off.
I borrowed a trap from the shelter (we have some on hand even though we don't rent them out officially) and planned to trap her when her kittens were about 4-5 weeks old (when they could be eating on their own). But one morning I went down to see them and they were GONE. Mama had packed up the whole crew and headed out. I felt like a failure. Like I contributed to the over population problem exponentionally (one female unspayed cat can produce create millions of cats over 11 years).
Then yesterday, my neighbor, who heard I worked at the East Bay SPCA, came over to tell me about a mama cat and some kittens living under her porch. I said, "the grey tabby?" "Yes," she said. I was so excited that I could regain my stature as an animal welfare person by trapping them, that I didn't really listen to my neighbor. Show me the way I said, I'll get them.
She then asked me what I was going to do with them. I explained that the EBSPCA could take in the kittens since they were 8 weeks and under (the law requires cats 9 weeks and older to be held for potential reclaims). The little ones would be fostered and then fixed and then adopted out.
"But what about Mama," she said? I told her, well, if she is feral, we'll get her fixed in our free feral spay neuter program (we work with Fix Our Ferals
to spay and neuter feral cats for free) and then we could re-release her.
She asked, "Can't we get her adopted?" I said that there were hundreds and thousands of happy, social, healthy cats waiting to be adopted in shelters and that adopting out ferals or even semi-ferals was not something we were able to do since most clients want cats for pets. A feral cat is often very unhappy being in a home.
She said, "Well, maybe you shouldn't take them. Maybe I can find a home for all of them on my own." I told her that we had to get them fixed before any home was found for any of them. "But where are you going to release the mama cat..? I don't want her here."
It was at that point that I realized I wasn't talking to someone who understood the cat overpopulation problem or the feral cat problem or really anything about stray cats. She was a caring person who just saw some cute kittens. I said that they only other place to "take" her was the city shelter, where most likely after a stray hold, she would have to be euthanized due to behavior reasons.
She asked if we could wait to take the kittens in since she enjoyed them in her backyard. I told her, no, that we'd have to take them while they are still young so that they can get socialized. Feral kittens have a small window to get socialized with people and if you wait too long, you can't easily turn them around.
My neighbor wasn't happy with any of this. But she was able to get them all in carriers and I took them down to the shelter where they would start the next stage of their life...kittens to be fostered and socialized; the mama to be fixed and released.
Having a free feral cat program and a foster program are great things that I am very proud we do. But it really felt good to do a small part with these four felines.
That's Not How Mom Does It
So, I'm fostering a dog for another rescue organization. I could give a lot of "high and mighty" reasons why I chose to do this despite owning 3 dogs of my own, but the down and dirty truth is this dog happens to be a member of my very favorite breed. I saw her online and despite all common sense, went to visit her at the rescue organization's bi-monthly mobile adoption. "I'm just going to look," I told myself. "I certainly cannot adopt dog number four." And there she was in all her underweight glory, wagging her tail for strangers and flirting with the other available dogs.
Really, I should have turned around right then.
Instead I sat down next to her handler and we opened a discussion about small dogs, adoption policies, and the desperate need for fosters; my little foster-to-be occasionally interjecting by trying to get her tongue not only in my mouth but down my throat.
"So, um, what are your adoption procedures?" I asked nonchalantly. Our own adoption procedures ask that every member of the household and all other dogs meet a potential canine before an adoption can occur. This is to make sure no one's surprised and all canines can peaceably co-exist in the same home.
The handler grinned wide, clearly seeing a golden opportunity that he wasn't about to let go to waste. "Well, you just fill out that form over there, and you can take her home right now."
"Well, okay, I see. But I have other people who live with me and other dogs too. Shouldn't they meet?"
"Oh, she's been in a home with other dogs before and did great. And, she's been trying to meet every other dog here. I think she'd do just fine living with other dogs. Or you can foster."
"Foster? Like foster-to-adopt?" Maybe this was something similar to the East Bay SPCA's own Paws to Consider
"No. Just foster. We really need fosters right now, and she needs a foster home." He reached out to pet his charge who had briefly settled in his lap.
"Well, what are your procedures for becoming a foster?" I asked. Would there be any orientation involved? Many rescues did home checks and wanted detailed histories of past and current pets owned. Our own foster volunteers
were asked to attend an orientation, fill out an application, have an interview with our Foster Co-Ordinator and read through our Foster Manual which details our foster policies as well as providing general animal care information.
"Well, you just fill out that form over there, and you can take her home right now."
I sat and watched for a few minutes, observing other handler/dog pairs as well as the people stopping by to pet the dogs. Owned dogs were encouraged to mingle with the ones up for adoption. Interested parties crowded around potential pets. A bus driver off her shift, who was clearly familiar with the organization, was chatting up the gentleman next to me and trying to convince him that adding an 8th dog to his home would be an excellent idea. This style of rescue was far more chaotic than I was used to.
I stood up and walked over to a small table where a woman in a t-shirt sporting the rescue's logo was answering questions. I mentioned that I was interested in possibly fostering the dog I'd been visiting. I noted that I did own other dogs, but also worked in animal welfare. She seemed impressed by this, but I'm pretty sure I had her at the word "foster". I did indeed fill out a form that asked for contact information, a list of my current pets and if any were aggressive. I was given a sheet with the expectations of a foster (to bring the dog to mobile adoptions twice a month, to get the dog fixed and vaccinated if necessary at the rescue's expense, to place a photo and brief description on their website if one wasn't up, to acknowledge that final adoption decisions were made by the rescue and not the individual foster, to keep the dog leashed outdoors, to keep the rescue's ID tag on the dog at all times, and to notify the rescue contact immediately should the animal become injured or lost), and then given dog, leash, and crate.
"I'll call you in the middle of the week to see how it's going and you can call me sooner if you want," said the woman in the t-shirt. She pointed out her phone number on the contact sheet.
And then off I went, puzzled little ward in tow. I'd become a foster parent in about ten minutes.
The East Bay SPCA is a comparatively large organization. It has two adoption centers, three clinics, and paid staff. This rescue was a small collection of volunteers pulling dogs from shelters even before they had anywhere to put them. Many adoptions for them were literally people walking down the street who then walked away with a dog. I knew styles and policies varied widely from organization to organization, but this was the first time I'd really been in the thick of it.
What would I have felt like, I wondered, if I'd not been a dog trainer? I felt a little overwhelmed as it was, walking down a city street and suddenly responsible for a dog I'd met only minutes ago. And was it really the way this organization handled it, or just the sudden jump from no-dog to dog? What did our adopters feel like when they brought their new pets home? At our shelter, many adoptions happen after a client has spent perhaps a half hour with a dog or cat. Although our procedures are slower and come with oodles of information, in a matter of an hour a person becomes a pet owner.
I found myself more impressed by potential adopters than I had been in a long time.
Paging the Geek Patrol...
It never ceases to amaze me how dependent we have become, in everything, including animal welfare, on our computer network. Remote email, shared documents, Internet-based dog training registrations, online donations, and since the first of the year, our web-based shelter software, "Shelter Buddy."
For the first time in our history, our five entities (two shelters and three clinics) have the capacity to work from one database.
Strange how for a system that didn't even exist 6 months ago, we are unable to function without it today.
Today, all adoptions were done the old-fashioned way, on paper, which means everything will have to be backdated and entered later. Anyone sending online registrations for classes will have to wait until tomorrow for acknowledgement.
We'll make do. It's not like any cat will go unfed or the dogs won't get potty breaks.
But we also don't have a full-time network administrator on call. We contract this out and our network consultant, Track Computers, doesn't respond on weekends. (I think we could arrange this, but have chosen not to.)
Track will be getting a call at 7:59 in the morning.
Since June 1, we have adopted out 14 adult dogs from the Oakland facility and six from the Dublin facility.
20 dogs in less than 3 weeks.
Some fat, some small, some ugly, some tall.
Black, white, brown and tan.
A battery, a lawnmower and some gas.
My cell phone rang this morning at 6am. This is never a good sign. I didn't answer it in time, but I saw who it was and called back. ND was at the shelter. There was a break-in. I said I would be right there. Brushed my teeth and headed out the door with KTD in tow.
I've had to handle Bay Alarm calls for years. Just part of the job. ND has been a tremendous help recently since she lives close by. There have been several actual break-ins during that time and many more false alarms. It is always scary and I always pray that no animals are missing.
Got there at the same time as the police. Yes, there was a break-in. They took a lawnmower, a car battery and even gas from the van. It also appeared they did some damage to the van, which is unfortunate, since we use that van for everything from mobile adoptions to driving animals to our Spay and Neuter Surgery Center across the highway. Hopefully, we'll get it repaired this week.
They vandalized our new disinfectant pump station which will make cleaning the kennels very hard. Zep (the manufacturer) will come Monday to fix, thank god.
And they ruined the double slatted door.
I did a walk through of the facility to make sure everyone was accounted for. With the exception of a cat that had escaped and was hiding behind the VPA kiosk, everyone was in their proper place. Phew!
We gave the police some info, turned off the lights, reset the alarm and went home.
All for a battery, a lawnmower and some gas.
Dog Days of Summer
We are currently preparing for "Dog Days of Summer," which is next Sunday at both of our Adoption Centers.
I smile to myself when I think about Dog Days. We invented it about 4 years ago. I was walking through the back kennels and saw dog after dog after dog available for adoption, but unseen by the public (since our adoption kennels were full.) I said to the ED at the time, "wouldn't it be great if we could take ALL the dogs out of the lawn for one day to be seen by clients, outside of kennels, lounging in the sun?" And so we did, with the enormous help of volunteers, and 9 dogs got adopted that day.
We do it every year now, even though the original reason is long gone.
I saw this morning that Dex went home last night. How great is that? Dex came from the Milo Foundation about a year ago. He was with them for 2 years and he was with us for many months. Then he was adopted.
But as it goes sometimes, he was returned. The family was moving. And so Dex was back.
We were all prepared for yet another long stay, but then he got a home in about two months!
Let's hope this one sticks for the rest of his life...
Willie went home!
Alright Willie! It's good to be wanted, huh?
Willie has been with us for over a year. First, he was in Oakland. Then he was in Tri-Valley. He was even the Tri-Valley "Shelter Cat," meaning he had free run in the back of the shelter, and that he also got to be our official dog-tester.
If an adopter wanted to adopt a dog who is compatible with cats, we'd need to test that dog against a cat who wouldn't freak out.
Willie was that cat. And boy, was he good at his job!
A dog would walk up to him, and Willie would give him the biggest look of disgust, in that superior way that cats have, then walk away. The dog might try to chase, or eat, him, but Willie was not having any of it. No overly interested dog walked away from Willie without of the Fear of Cat
instilled in his very soul.
Anyhow, Willie was very useful in testing dogs. He hated 'em all. But the dogs' reaction to him
was helpful in determining whether that dog would be appropriate in a home that had cats. We've learned the hard way that adopting animals to homes where the animals can't coexist is a disappointment. Not just for us, but for our clients, and of course, for all the pets involved.
Eventually, Willie lost that job, but then commandeered a coveted cat habitat all to his own.
I think we just decided Willie would be the one who would be with us til the end. He was a cranky old man! Who would want him? Look past that sparkling white coat, and what did you see?
Well. thank you, Denise, from all of us. I am so glad you see in Willie what we have seen for years. A confident, beautiful, cuddly, gorgeous white feline. Who has lived a long (in cat years), sometimes difficult, life, and so deserves a lovely home in his later years.
I like rules. I like structure. I like processes. And because of all that, I'm not well liked. But...I also like exceptions to rules.
Our adoption process includes ensuring the whole household and any resident dogs meet any new dog that is going to get adopted before the adoption can take place. This is challenging for some people as they live far away, have dogs that don't like car rides, have roommates that work odd hours, or have husbands that can't come in with the mom and kids. But despite these obstacles, we still have this requirement. Are we losing some clients because of it? Perhaps? But we feel confident that everyone (clients and dogs alike) will be off to a better and more successful start if everyone meets everyone.
Today, I made an exception to a golden rule at the shelter. Some clients came from San Mateo to adopt a puppy. They had been looking for a while in shelters for a puppy and couldn't find any. (This isn't surprising these days thanks to aggressive spay and neuter campaigns.) They called ahead and asked if we had some and then came from San Mateo. They arrived 15 minutes before we opened and walked into the clinic where I was sitting. I chatted with them and when it became obvious that they had two dogs, I told them of the rule. The husband was pissed off and the wife was disappointed. I kept chatting to try to learn more about them and their dogs. They just lost a dog of 14 years to cancer and their other two still at home were 11. Good dog owners? I think so.
So, I let them in and told them that although I had to insist that they brought the dogs in to meet the puppy they wanted, I would hold the puppy for them until they could made it back. If they didn't come back on time, I would let someone else adopt the puppy. They were happy with this compromise.
Holds are also a 'no-no' and only me and other managers can approve them. Too much confusion, frustration and bad feelings comes with holding animals for clients. The timing never quite works and too many good adopters leave without dog that are on hold for people who never show up. But I did it today and it felt right.
And sure enough, they came back on time, with their dogs, and went home with a cute, cuddly, little puppy.
And that sure felt good.
Only Skin Deep
Part of my job is to assist clients in finding the right dog for their lifestyle. I often find myself asking the question, "what is it you're looking for in a dog?" I learn a lot from the answer.
Most commonly, what I get is a physical description. "Well, I really love those dogs with spots," or "Do you have any fluffy dogs?" or "Something little." or "Don't you have any puppies?" People who answer like this often haven't thought beyond the look of the dog they want. They assume the right aesthetic will be connected to a suitable canine personality.
Less commonly, I get answers like, "I'm looking for a dog who can jog with me," or "I need a dog who can come to work," or "I'm looking for a pet who can be left at home alone for six hours each day." These are the clients that make me want to clap my hands and shout "yay!". Potential adopters with these kinds of answers are looking for the right temperament for their living situation.
Not every fluffy dog is a jogger, and not every jogging partner is going to be fluffy. Many times I have heard on follow up calls, "You know, I never would have imagined getting a dog that looked like X, but her personality's so wonderful. I just love her." On the other hand, I have never heard an adopter say, "You know, I never would have imagined getting a dog with such an extremely high energy level, but she's so spotted! I adore her."
The East Bay Pit Fix
We spay and neuter pit bulls and pit bull mixes. For free, and for anyone, as long as they live in either Alameda or Contra Costa County.
We began this program over a year ago, to help address what we saw was a growing problem in the community: the public shelters with whom we work on a daily basis were killing virtually no dogs for lack of space, except for pit bulls. They were, and are, over-represented in the community and in the shelter euthanasia logs.
We learned back when we launched Goal 2007
that wringing our hands about the state of animal welfare was not enough: we had to keep the animals from reproducing in order to keep them from dying.
We could never
adopt out enough to make a difference, not compared to the impact of preventing their birth in the first place.
65,000 spay and neuter surgeries later, we are getting somewhere.*
This past Spring, the East Bay SPCA organized the March 26th "Pit Fix Day
" across the Bay Area, in part to encourage other humane organizations to step up and pitch in. I watched the news tonight; another Bay Area shelter has begun to offer free spay and neuter surgery for pit bulls.
It's very rewarding to see this come to pass!*That's the number of surgeries we've done at the Oakland SPCA Spay and Neuter Surgery Center since we opened that facility in 1998.
Night Clubs, Concerts and... Animal Control?
I was talking with a friend at work about an upcoming concert at a venue in San Francisco. "Have you ever been to The Pound before?" I asked. "I think it's in Potrero Hill."
"No, Blythe," my co-worker mock-lectured me in that tone of voice that you'd reserve for people who are wrong about everything. "You of all people should know that it's called "San Francisco Animal Care and Control"
and it's right next to the SFSPCA between the Mission and Potrero."
I explained with equally exaggerated patience that I did
know where animal control was, but I'd meant the concert venue called The Pound where my friend's band was playing in two weeks, not the animal welfare organization seen on Animal Cop
Humorous misunderstandings occur more frequently than we'd like them to, of course, but this one was so unique to the world of animal welfare and well-meaning shelter co-workers that it charmed me completely and left me chuckling all day!
I should be at work today, but instead I've spent most of the morning either unconscious or throwing up. I don't like being sick. There is a special sort of guilt that comes with missing work when you're part of shelter staff. On the best days, when everyone's there, we still have just enough people for the job. Whenever anyone goes on vacation, the rest of us stretch ourselves a bit thinner to cover. Sick days are the worst though, because there's no time to plan. Everything has to get rearranged that same morning.
Today is Tuesday. We're closed so on the one hand that means no clients which means no one has to cover customer service. On the other hand, there are only two Canine Associates at work today, and I was one of them. So now there's one Canine Associate to get all the dogs out. There will be some volunteers today to help walk dogs, but they can only spend time with dogs in adoptions.
I feel bad because I'm making the rest of the staff work harder. I feel bad because I don't know if my assigned dogs will get out. I have a sick, pushy puppy in the back who needs daily exercise and training sessions. I have a shy girl with aching legs who, despite it all, would much rather play fetch than anything else in the world. I'm less worried about my four dogs in adoptions since there are a few dedicated volunteers that show up every Tuesday.
There's no way to reduce the workload either, as it all has to do with the demands of living things. Shelter Operations staff work holidays (though staff members can request them off in advance). There's no such thing as a long weekend. We close the shelter on the big holidays, but the animals still need their kennels cleaned, their food provided, their legs stretched. This can be eminently rewarding or utterly exhausting.
Sick days and vacations. Get me every time.
The alarm went off again.
It was Kahlua
. He is so sweet: I walk by his habitat at night, and he is in the deepest doggy sleep, dreaming of fields and endless frisbeee. So I tip-toe past him, out the back entrance and set the alarm before leaving.
But when I get outside, he rattles his door.
It works. The building alarm goes off and the alarm company calls me before I even reach the highway. I turn around and go back, and say "good night, K."
Benefit of the doubt
A staff member told me a client was waiting to talk about returning a dog and getting a refund. I tried to look up information on the client before I took the call, but couldn't find any.
So I took the call. The actual client was not on the phone; it was her friend. She again asked if the client could have a refund for the dog. I asked to speak directly with the client. After some back and forth, the client got on the phone. She told me that her landlord would not let her keep her nice, sweet, indoor dog. I asked if she had gotten anything in writing from the landlord allowing her to have dogs. She said no. (We don't ask for documentation of this, but we do ask that renters have prior approval.)
I told her we couldn't give her a refund and explained how we lost money on every adoption and even if we took her back and got her adopted again, we would again spend money on her food, housing, training etc. The client said she would sell the dog to a friend if she couldn't get her money back.
I explained that this wasn't the best option since we could try, again, to find a forever home and help the new owner understand the dog's needs (crate, tether, etc). She seemed to understand that part. I asked her when she could bring the dog in, and told her that since we were closed, I would need to meet her out front. She then told me for the first time that she didn't really have the dog. I asked where the dog was. She said that "the pound" had come and taken her dog. I asked, "why do you think that?" She said that her landlord had called the pound to come and get her. I asked how the pound could come inside her house and take her dog? She swore up and down that is what happened.
I asked again how they could have gotten inside
to get the dog, and then she finally said that the dog was actually outside
when it happened. "Outside?" I said, "I thought he was an inside dog." She said she had just let him out to go potty when it happened. "What time was this?" I asked. "Around 6pm Sunday night," she said. I informed her that the pound did not work Sunday evenings. She said that it had to have been them, because the dog was gone.
I again said that it could not be animal control, so I asked her to walk me through exactly what happened that night:
She said she let the dog outside to go potty and went back in the house. Then when she went to check on the dog, it was gone. I asked if she talked to neighbors or posted dog lost signs, which is what I recommend to everyone who has lost a dog, and she said "no," because she was sure
that he had been taken. See, she thought the dog would never run away from her. I told her I would do my best to contact the various local animal control agencies to see if I could find her dog. (The dog is microchipped, thank god!) She again asked if she could get a refund. I said no, and thanked her and we hung up.
Minutes later, she called me back. She had talked with her neighbor. The dog had, in fact, chewed a hole in the fence and gotten into her neighbor's yard and her neighbor
had let the dog out. Therefore, it was the neighbor's
fault that the dog was lost.
I asked again about the hole and asked how long the dog was outside. She said her yard was safe and secure and that the dog could not have gotten out. I said, "but, he did."
She said it was not her fault and that she did the right thing by calling me to tell me about it. I reminded her that she actually did not call to tell me the dog was missing; she had only called to tell me she wanted a refund for a dog she did not want, and did not even have, any longer.
She didn't like that and told me that I had no business saying these things to her, and that she was doing the right thing, and that she wasn't at fault for losing the dog. She loves(-ed) the dog. I told her that she had the dog, and she let the dog out and now the dog was missing. I said that sure sounded like her fault to me. (She didn't like that either.) She yelled at me for a while, and I kept my mouth shut and just listened. She stopped yelling when I didn't respond, and I said "thank you for calling," and "goodbye."
Afterwards, I emailed the nearby animal control agencies to give them a heads up if the dog is ever found.
The truly sad thing is that this client was questionable at the time of the adoption (the client had had previous dogs get "lost") but we gave her the benefit of the doubt and completed the adoption anyhow. We get it right most of the time, but not always.
Sunday morning...THIS is shelter life?
It's 11:30 AM on Sunday.
- There are Girl Scouts, and their parents, in the Community Room receiving service awards for a busy year working at the shelter and bringing donations.
- There are clients in the hallways considering adoptions.
- There is a mother crouched down, instructing her young child in how to gently pet an 8 week old just-spayed gray fluffy kitten.
- A Canine Associate (a staff member who works with dogs) is taking a dog through their "comps." Comps, or compulsories, are mandatory behaviors that a dog must exhibit before being placed up for adoption, and huge reason why our dogs are so great.
This is life in a shelter, or at least our shelter. A gathering place for pet-lovers. A haven for animals looking for homes. A community resource. A place for parent and child to experience the bond of a pet.
I know not all shelters have this kind of activity today. Some aren't even open on Sundays. But I look forward to the day that this is the norm.
Love Hate Shelter Buddy
I love SB since it allows me to see adoptions from home.
I hate SB since the reports don't work well.
I love SB since it allows me to see all the animals in the shelter.
I hate SB since it relies on people to enter things correctly.
I love SB since it helps me research client complaints.
I hate SB since it encourages me to check up on the shelter on days when I should be enjoying life.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
I picked up some ashes today.
Yes, again, on my day off. I guess I should say that "day off" is a relative term in animal shelter life. P-man came with me as he always enjoys a ride in the car. The ashes belonged to the dog a friend. I euthanized the dog about 2 weeks ago. The dog was about 16, deaf, almost blind and unable to control bowels or walk much at all.
My friend was really struggling about what to do and we had many conversations about whether dogs feel pain and what 'quality of life' means. It was a tough call, but I think he did the right thing. And I hope I did the right thing by doing it for him and letting him be there. Normally, even though I am certified, I don't do this with clients present (since the vet clinic does it with a vet handling the procedure), but since it was my friend, I felt OK with it. He decided to get his sweet, old pooch cremated and was called to come pick up the ashes last week.
But since he is coming over today, a gorgeous Sunday, I picked up the ashes for him.
I held for a euthanasia yesterday. The dog's name was Zuchov and he was a shepherd/husky mix (or maybe possibly aussie/Akita). He was eight years old and we euthanized him because he would savagely bite if you approached while he was eating his food or chewing on a rawhide. We call this "possession aggression" or sometimes just "possession". Actually, it can feel like a dog with this issue is possessed. Zuchov was, save for this flaw, a pretty nice dog. Not too keen on other dogs, he enjoyed the company of people and appreciated a good butt scritch. He was genial, handsome, easy going. A dog you could imagine sprawled out on someone's rug or sitting in the kitchen with a slowly wagging tail as his owner mixed his food together.
Then the food gets put down, and Zuchov transforms. Reach a hand towards him as he eats and his entire body becomes stiff. That slowly wagging tail stops moving as his eyes lift and his gaze meets yours. This is not a soft adoring stare. These are hard eyes and they're saying one thing: "Don't." This is all the warning Zuchov will give, because the next time you reach towards the bowl he snarls, lifts his head, and sinks his teeth into your hand. Then he calmly lowers his head and goes back to eating. Reach again, he bites again. Maybe twice. Zuchov likes people, loves their attention, but on this issue he will not negotiate. If he has it, you may not. He is happy to teach this lesson with his teeth. Once he's finished eating, Zuchov will trot up to you and paw for pets.
I walk Zuchov into the EU room yesterday and N., our shelter manager, slides a muzzle around his face. The last minutes should be peaceful, and for most dogs the safest thing for both animal and people is to remove their ability to bite. N. shaves a patch of fur from his front right leg, and this is where the needle will go. Shaving can be the most frightening part for the dog because of the razor's buzzing sound and the vibrations it sends along the leg and paw, but Zuchov takes it like a champ. I settle into a corner and pull him into my lap, wrapping my arms around his shoulders and back to keep him from moving. "You just keep him still," N. says, "and I'll worry about the arm." This is the point where my mouth goes a little dry and my hands, if they were not buried in Zuchov's fur, would start shaking. N. wraps a piece of rubber tubing around Zuchov's arm to find the vein and she slides the needle with sodium pentobarbital beneath his skin.
Sodium pentobarbital is bright blue
. Anti-freeze blue. The color is ridiculous; something you shouldn't see outside of bad sci-fi flicks. The brand we use is called "Fatal-plus"
and I never understood the name...how do you get more "plus" than fatal?
N. draws the needle's plunger back and a small rush of red mixes with the cartoon blue. She does this to make sure she's inserted the needle correctly. Now she loosens the rubber tubing and I hold Zuchov as she injects the liquid that will make him sleep, and then stop his heart. I feel his weight heavier on my arms. His head lolls to the side. The injection takes maybe three seconds and Zuchov is gone before she's finished. I slide carefully out from under Zuchov and remove the muzzle as well as his collar as N. disposes of the needle. These first moments are awkward for me because I know Zuchov is dead, but he's still warm and soft. He hasn't stopped being Zuchov yet. I apologize as my removing the collar makes his head bump against the floor ("sorry, sweetie"), and I can't help but wince as we awkwardly maneuver his body into a large plastic bag. I'm playing it cool and N. is making brisk comments so it all seems more every day. We each have our own ways of coping. We carry Zuchov over to the freezer and lay him down among the others to wait for final disposal. I can feel my whole body shivering, but when I tuck my hands into my pockets you can't tell.
As we walk out of the EU room, I say almost apologetically, "I guess I haven't done this enough. It still makes me kind of jittery." N. replies, "Every time I do this, I can feel my pulse in my thumbs. It should make you jittery. The day it doesn't...that's the day it's time to quit."
Fix Our Ferals
In December of 2003 I volunteered at a Fix Our Ferals clinic held at our Spay/Neuter Center on Hegenberger. There are hundreds of unspayed and unneutered cats that are too wild to become safe pets, but that are busily creating baby cats who will then also grow up to be wild, unadoptable adults. Fix Our Ferals' solution? Let them continue their untamed lives, but spayed or neutered.
Fix Our Ferals is a volunteer organization that asks people to humanely trap feral felines that frequent their area and bring them in to get spayed or neutered, vaccinated, given flea treatment and medication for any ailments they might have, and re-released from whence they came. The clinics happen roughly once a month. People call in, make appointments, borrow traps and catch their kitties a day or so before. The lobby was filled with cat carriers and traps of varying sizes, all with mewling cats inside.
Once the fixing starts, it's an assembly line, different volunteers working at different stations. The cats get anesthetized, labeled (gender, color, etc), and numbered with a toe tag at Station One. Volunteers doing Transport take them over to Station Two where their bladders are expressed and they're laid out in a row of unconscious kitties. Goo is squeezed into their eyes to keep them from drying out, and their tongues are pulled to stick out their mouth so they can't accidentally be swallowed. Then the cats go to Prep where they're shaved around the spay or neuter site, laid out spread-eagle on a plexiglass tray (legs tied to the corners) and slid into a rolling cart that looked similar to the cafeteria carts they used to have at my high school.
Then they're wheeled to surgery where cat by cat, they're spayed or neutered. Then to Vaccines/Ears where their ears are notched so if they're caught for a clinic again, people will know they're already snipped and re-release them (this doesn't always work. We came across two already neutered males). They're also given vaccines and then passed on to Recovery (this was where I worked) by another Transport only volunteer. We gave them all a dose of Advantage (a topical pesticide that kills fleas and lasts about a month), and any cats that were very small or dehydrated were given subcutanious fluids by a veterinary technician. We also gave kittens (four months or younger, I think) Karo syrup. You take a syringe of gooey syrup and squeeze some into the space between cheek and teeth. Then you rub their throat until they swallow. It's odd to watch, because while most of the cat is still not moving, and staring glassy-eyed at the world, there goes that little mouth and throat *gulp gulp gulp*. Then they're put back into the carriers they came in (which have been cleaned during all this time by another group of volunteers) and put back out into the lobby to wait for their people to pick them up by a final team of Transport volunteers.
The scariest part is that anesthetic is dangerous on any animal in any situation, and there's always a chance using it will kill one of the cats. So, at every station you make sure they're breathing and check gums and tongue for pinkness. If they don't breath after 30 seconds, you tap the corners of their eyes, their nose, rub their chest. If they still don't breathe, you yell "Crash!" and take the cat into the surgery room where it's put on Oxygen and hopefully revived. If anything dubious happens at any point, a piece of blue tape is put on the ear of the cat in question so the volunteers at all the other areas know to keep a special eye on it.
We had one crash. A little orange tabby kitten. They got it breathing all right, and so far as I know it's doing a-okay. There were two other kittens who were hit pretty hard by the anesthetic and needed a "reversal". This is a drug you give to pull them out of their sleepiness faster. After about 40 minutes, their breathing got better and they started to twitch; all good signs. The Clinic went from 10 am until about 3 pm, and all totaled 169 cats were fixed.
It was quite cool. Also, they gave us pizza.
Spring Summer Cleaning.
Christmas decorations. Collars. Magnetic picture frames from an old Yahoo®
promotion. Agility equipment. Didn't we just do this last year?
The shelter storeroom is like this black hole that sucks in stuff from all over the shelter. We clean it out, but its gravitational pull is simply stronger than our most bully of dogs. In just a year, the storeroom is full again, hidden by large Laurel Burch slipcovers. Last time I went in there, I think the TV cart got hung up on a walker that is used in PALS, our pet therapy classes. (We desensitize dogs to walkers and wheelchairs in that class.) I had to climb over a Christmas tree to get to a bucket of tennis balls. This is the shelter world's kitchen junk drawer. Everything has its place. Just not things that end up here.
So again, the emails get sent, warning departments to get their stuff out of there. Warnings are sent to the trainers if they don't claim it, it's gone. The volunteers are warned that if they don't find another place for it, it might get tossed.
I could SWEAR we just did this last year.
I talked with a volunteer today who thought we are "no kill." We're not. Surprised?
Oh, it might just be semantics but we don't use the phrase, "no kill." We go so far as to call its use irresponsible.
But like other humane organizations in our area, we don't euthanize for space or for time. No animal will be killed because its been here too long, or because we have run out of room. But don't call us "no kill."
"No kill" implies that an animal -- healthy, unhealthy, sane, not sane -- is kept alive, perhaps kenneled , forever. Even at the expense of other, healthy, behaviorally sound pets. The phrase is also used as a battering ram sometimes in donor communications. We'd be a much more wealthy organization if we catered to no-kill language.
This volunteer had witnessed many, many dogs who arrived untrained and homeless. Some showed up nervous, some were fabulous from the first day. Some needed extra work before they could be made available for adoption. Some were just such easy, fun dogs, they were made available after our basic evaluation.
But he saw all of these go home, to great homes. The one that doesn't, however, is the one that sticks with you.
We're winning the battle with mice. That's all I am saying.
Mice love dog and cat food. We have lots of both. But now we are winning.