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Welcome to Shelter Life at the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

We began as the Oakland SPCA in 1874. Today, the East Bay SPCA includes two animal shelters and three clinics in our community.

This is our day.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Help Save 60 Kittens!

Although the summer is winding down, kitten season isn't. One of the area shelters we work with just let me know that they have over 60 underage kittens in need of foster homes. The EBSPCA works in close partnership with other local shelters and when we have available foster homes, we try to transfer underage animals from other shelters to ours and set them up with our volunteers. Many of the other shelters we work with are public shelters (local animal controls) who, due to the enormous volume of animals coming into their shelters, might have to euthanize kittens if they cannot find foster homes for them.


Right now, one of the shelters needs our help. Please think about whether or not you might be able to foster a kitten or two-- or five! If you are unable to foster, see if friends, relatives or coworkers might be interested. It's a rewarding experience and you would be saving lives and getting kitten cuddles at the same time!

Why do kittens need foster care?
They need foster care until they are two months old and weigh 2 lbs. That is the minimum weight at which it's safe for us to spay or neuter them, and we cannot place them up for adoption until they have been altered.

To foster kittens, follow this link to see what would be required of you.

I am holding impromptu foster orientations on Friday (9/2) at 4 PM and Saturday (9/3) at 1 PM at our Oakland location (8323 Baldwin St.) to help place as many of the 60 kittens as we can. Only one of these training sessions is required, and then you'd be ready for kittens. If you are ready to take kittens right away, I can have a litter in our shelter waiting for you and hopefully, together, we can save as many kittens as possible.

For more information about fostering kittens, check out the foster section of our web site or contact me with questions. If you would like to attend either orientation this week, please RSVP to Blythe Milbury-Steen, Foster Coordinator, at 510 563-4632 or bmilburysteen@eastbayspca.org and let me know if you could take kittens right after your orientation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Juggling priorities.

A not-for-profit entity is not that much different from a for-profit one: an overall mission drives strategic decisions and that determines every day activities.

Put into practical applications, it is easy to determine that we need to employ kennel attendants, because keeping a kennel or cage clean (a daily activity), allows us to shelter at-risk dogs and cats transferred in from public shelters (one of our strategies), which ensures that those dogs and cats are not euthanized (our mission).

Were it always that simple!

The missions of corporate entities nearly always include profitability, which is an excellent measurement of success. Non-profits do not. Where a non-profit gets complicated is determining which financial obligations fulfill the mission the most, with the most efficient use of dollars. Based on a merely estimated flow of funds.

It's a juggling act: balancing the right proportions of funds directed to Shelter Operations, which provide for the animals' immediate needs; to Marketing, which provides tomorrow's clients; to Development, which provides for next years' needs; and to Adminstration, which does the actual juggling while everything else is going on.

While Limpy (to the right) performs in the play yard, oblivious to the machinations that allow for his existence, we are moving into the center ring.

We are planning right now for 2006, like we do at the end of every summer, so this is on my mind.

She is all that.


The Tri Valley SPCA has the most amazing shelter cat. Her name is Sabra and I have only recently gotten to know her. She is petite, all black and apparently oblivious to the fact that dogs don't like cats. She goes up to them, rubs against them, plays with them, licks them. She does all this, if and only if, the dog is OK with it. (If you want a cat that not just likes dogs, but loves them, come check her out.)

She makes the perfect shelter cat since one of the main reasons for keeping a cat around in the shelter is for dog testing. We can use Sabra to get a sense of whether a dog will like cats or not. This really helps our adopters make good decisions about whether to adopt a particular dog or not. Some dogs are indifferent. Some think Sabra is a tasty treat. And some, like my sweet BADRAP foster dog Selkie, thinks she is all that.

Friday, August 19, 2005

So far so good.


Part of the temp test and intake process with the Pit Bull Hall dogs, is a couple weeks of fostering before they get to enter the hall. BADRAP decided to do this because they could really get to know the dog and thusly be able to find a good match with potential adopters.

I'm BADRAP's newest foster mom. After a training session at a local shelter, DR really liked this one female pit. But they had no fosters available. I said I would do it. For educational purposes. Really. I swear.

So now Selkie, as she was later named, is in my home. For a couple weeks. Before entering the hall.

How is it going, you ask? So far so good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Oompa Loompa Doopady Doo!!!

Fluffy package of puppy. Little bundle of "I know what I want!" One would think that at the young age of 3 months that there could be no reason to keep this puppy out of the adoption runs. Sadly though, Oompa Loompa had become so mouthy and out of control around people that we were bound to have a volunteer or client bit soon.

Oompa Loompa became a weeks long project. J. was up for the task, however, and all her attention and hard work paid off. Although, still a handful, Oompa made it into adoptions last week. She is a little older and looks a bit more like a lanky teenager than a puppy, but now she is ready to try to find a good home.

Today, J. met with a young man who had been thinking about Oompa since Sunday. He came in today with his whole family. Everyone met Oompa, and J. spent a portion of the afternoon in conversation with the adopter. He listened attentively to J. and seemed to really want to do all the right things.

Off they went late this afternoon. Oompa Loompa and her new person on their way to Pet Food Express to shop. J. looked on for awhile before turning her attention to the dogs in back waiting for her to work with them. Each trainer gives each dog their all, and when a "troubled" youngster like Oompa walks out of here to a new forever home it all feels so right.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

An Unnecessary And Preventable Euthanasia.

SS asked me to look at a dog the other day. Simon, who came from a local animal shelter because he was way too much for their volunteers and potential adopters to handle and therefore was going to be euthanized, is your typical big, dumb dog. Perhaps I should rephrase that...he is your typical, big, dumb dog that hasn't been trained or taught any decent manners. He is hyper, mouthy, and obnoxious. Yuck. Who would want a dog like this?

The dog had failed our temperament test because it was constantly jumping up on us (not in a good way) and putting his mouth on us. SS wanted to get my opinion. Did I think we should work with him to see if this totally unpleasant behavior could be modified or was it too little too late? I didn't see anything terribly dangerous in the dog, but I did see what the trainers had seen and again thought yuck.

But then SS said, let me put a prong collar on him, work him and see what happens. A PRONG COLLAR!! A collar with prongs? How can a humane society that is dedicated to preventing the cruelty to animals suggest such a thing????? Very easily. Here at the East Bay SPCA, we do what is right for each dog, not what is 'politically correct' for all dogs. Every dog is different and we work with each one in a way to address his or her individual issues. "Never" is in not in our vocabulary. Although positive reinforcement has been proven to be most successful at changing behavior long term, from time to time, it isn't enough.

She brought Simon to me two days later and he was a different dog. Obedient, mannered and on the right track. Only time will tell if he'll make it into our adoption program, but I could not be more proud of SS because she looked past the stereotypes and training peer pressure and did what was right for that dog. I think the ultimate cruelty is not a prong collar, but an unnecessary and preventable euthanasia.

CHOMP

When I imagined getting bitten on the job, I always assumed it would be from a large, scary dog in a large, scary situation. Last Saturday was the first time in my three years working at the Oakland SPCA that I got bitten.

My assailant? A fluffy white poodle. His massive weight? Eight pounds.

Rollo had come into the shelter as a collection of knots and burrs. He was clearly frightened, and he tried to bite several people during our routine intake procedures. When L., another canine associate, decided to take on his grooming needs, she had to muzzle him to keep herself safe. Still, he was a tiny, adorable little dog. Aesthetically, he was highly adoptable. Maybe his snapping was really about the pain his mats and tangles were causing. If we cleaned him up and gave him a safe place to stay, would Rollo come around?

Again L stepped up to the plate, offering to foster the poodle in her home for a week. The shelter manager approved, and Rollo went home with L that night. He is the dog featured in a previous post entitled "So Good".

Over the week, Rollo seemed to blossom. Not only did his new haircut make him look healthy and happy, but he was doing well in L's home. He was co-existing with her resident dog and cat. While he barked whenever anyone came into the house, he would then approach, sniff, and go his own way. All signed pointed to Rollo deserving a second chance.

Because his stress levels went up in the kennels, he still couldn't be safely walked by volunteers. Management and L began coming up with ways to find an appropriate home and get him adopted without kenneling him. Obviously, Rollo would need a disclaimer and we would make very sure whoever wanted him understood that when frightened, Rollo could (and would) snap. But, in the right home, we thought he would make a loving companion.

During all of this time, I had become one of the people who could walk and pet Rollo. I was "in". Or so I thought. L's foster week ended Friday night, and on Saturday he was in our back kennels with some treats on his door for people to toss in. He seemed to be more at ease. Instead of huddling in the back of the kennel like he used to do before, he was standing at the front, body relaxed, tail up.

Passing through the back kennels with a few extra minutes, I offered Rollo several treats. He took them tentatively, and I made a mistake. I took two more treats and got into Rollo's kennel with him.

I bent down, feeding Rollo first one treat, then the other. He stood in front of me, his body still, his tail motionless. These are all bad signs and I should have noticed them. But, still feeling convinced I was one of Rollo's pals, I extended my left hand and touched him lightly on the cheek beneath his right ear.

He turned his head and bit my left finger. Then he bit my right thigh. Then he bit my left lower pantleg. It was a zig-zag pattern of bites that felt as if it had come out of nowhere. It was at this point that I realized, too late, how very far I'd pushed my luck.

I stood up, turned, and left the kennel. I knew he'd broken skin on my finger, and my thigh was throbbing. I was furious at myself and kind of embarassed. If I had been watching the events as a third person, I would have clearly seen Rollo's warning signs. I'm a dog trainer. That's part of my job. However, an average dog owner would have done just what I did: tried to make friends and gotten bit.

After filling out the incident report and the several other forms that get filled when dealing with a bite, I was still feeling awful. Rollo would have to be euthanized. His bites were not a fearful dog getting away from a frightening situation. This was an attack. Multiple bites, strategically placed. My finger was bleeding and a bruise the size of a plum was forming on my right leg. Rollo was dangerous.

In my line of work, I expect that bites will occasionally happen. When a client adopts a dog they do not, and should not, expect to get bitten by their new pet. We will never know what Rollo would have been like in a permanent home. We know his behavior in the kennels was worse than his behavior in L.'s house, but a dog who bites multiple times, for whatever reason, cannot be deemed adoptable.

On Monday, Rollo was euthanized. I believe it was the right decision, but I can't help feeling guilty. Indirectly, Rollo's death was my fault. If he had never bitten me, would Rollo have gone out into the public and hurt somebody? Or would we never have known or seen the pontential he had within him? Were the bites ultimately good luck or bad luck? I don't know. I don't think I ever will.

Reflections

How can you look at Bugs here and not think that cats are incredibly complex, contemplative creatures?

Maybe not about the same things we think about, but that is probably a good thing.

Bugs is 5 years old, and currently lives at our Tri-Valley facility. Just maybe he is thinking about his new home....

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pit Bull Hall

It always feels good when they get it right.

We held a press conference yesterday to announce the launch of Pit Bull Hall. It's a difficult topic, and an emotional one for some in the community: what to do about pit bulls?

There are bad pit bulls out there. The amount of breeding going on in the community is insane. But we are not ready to condemn a whole breed of dog to death, without taking into account the ones that are good. The dogs with stable temperaments, sweet disposition and no human aggression -- like Mikey, Eva and Santi -- should have a chance at a home, we believe. It should be a home that understands the breed traits and strength, and is prepared to handle the negative aspects of having a pit bull, such as discrimination in housing, or even in just the looks you might get in the neighborhood.

Will Pit Bull Hall work? We hope so. It seems like it will. It is a way to educate on the needs of the breed while showcasing great dogs. Maybe the East Bay SPCA will become the place to get a really great pit. Maybe it will cause a few people who were thinking of getting back yard bred pit bull puppies to instead adopt a tested, thoroughly evaluated adult pit bull. Maybe the person who already adopted one will find the help they need to see if its a good dog.

Or not. It's worth a try. And if it doesn't work, we'll try something else.

There are a lot of dogs out there without homes. Unless as a community we agree they don't deserve to live because of their breed, we have to reduce the number of homeless ones, and we can only do that by preventing their birth and by increasing adoptions.

And the media got it right: they came and reported the story and what we are trying to do. I hope they check back with us.

Monday, August 08, 2005

So good.

A couple weeks ago, we took in a dog from a city shelter who was at risk for euthanasia. Due to the distance to the shelter and other logistical issues, we did not test the dog before we took him in. He was dropped off by a volunteer and we took him knowing there was a chance he would not pass out tests, but also knowing he was going to be euthanized if we did not take him. So we took the 8 pound poodle mix that we named Rollo.

Rollo was not happy. He had mats all over his body and he was filthy. We cleaned him up, but during that process, we found out just how unhappy he was. He tried to bite anyone that tried to reach for him. He growled, he snapped, he curled his lips. It was scary. Did I mention he was an 8 pound poodle mix?

It didn't look good for Rollo. Not good at all. But then, out of the blue, he started to 'like' a few people. VT, LL, and me. He would wag his tail, come over to us and even let VT and LL pick him up. He was still angry at others that tried to approach, but his changed demeanor made us think twice. Perhaps he was just terrified in the kennel. Perhaps he was just so uncomfortable from him mats and past situation, that he didn't know how to be nice. Perhaps he was just a weird little dog.

To be honest, we really don't know what his deal is. We do know that we can't put him in a kennel for volunteers and clients to try to take out. That would be bad. But we know that he can be a sweet little dog; quite cute and lovely. So, SS decided to let LL do a behavioral foster with Rollo. LL would take him home, work with him and report back how he was in a real home situation. We still aren't sure what will be the final outcome, but tonight when I left work, LL was playing in the yard with him, her own dog and two other employees and their dogs. I doubt little Rollo ever had it so good.

Forever, Peaches

On Monday I was at T.V. out back cleaning some dog crates when a gold Mercedes pulled into the parking lot. A nicely dressed woman was behind the wheel, and a cute foxhound-looking dog was sitting in the passenger seat looking very happy and satisfied. I approached the car as the woman was getting out and asked if I could be of help.

"Is this where I can turn in a dog?" she asked.

I directed her to ECAS (the public shelter) across the street as I reached into the passenger window and gently pet this cute and seemingly sweet dog.

"Why do you need to drop off this cutie?" I asked. "Well, she followed my son home about eight or nine weeks ago, skinny and dirty and looking for love, she loves my other dogs, is really sweet, as you can see, but she has eaten holes in two of my couches. I just can't control her."

Ah, an opportunity I thought. I started asking questions like where does the dog sleep, where is the dog when no one is home, and when is she eating the couches.

"When we're not home, which isn't often, she's in the back yard with my other two dogs and they do really well, no problems. When we're home, she's in the house with us as all the dogs are, and she sleeps on the bedroom floor with the others. But when we're not looking she goes into the living room and eats holes in the furniture. She's housebroken, we had her spayed and all her shots and the family really loves her but we just can't have a dog that destroys furniture. She's a good dog, except for the occasional shoe thing, but is just too destructive."

So, I went into my speech on crating, tethering, being on leash in the house, etc. We took the dog inside so I could see if she would go into a crate. Not only did she walk in, but laid down very contentedly as I closed the crate door while the woman and I talked.

As I explained how simple it could be to control the situation and teach the dog proper house behaviors, the woman began wiping tears from her eyes, saying how much they loved the dog and that the family could keep her and love her now that she knew what to do. I offered her classes and support, and told her to call anytime for help or advice. As she gave me a little hug--still crying and saying how happy her kids and husband would be knowing they could manage the situation--she said it was just fate that she should meet me, and fate that the sweet dog named Peaches had found them and could spend the rest of her life safe and loved.

Enjoy your forever home, Peaches. You are safe and loved.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Squeaky Clean

When I first started working at the Oakland SPCA, a large chunk of my day was spent cleaning kennels and feeding the dogs.

When we hired kennel attendants, the other CAs and I were excited at the prospect of doing little to no daily cleaning. We'd have more time to spend training, socializing, and evaluating dogs.

Today, I found myself cleaning our Real Life Room. This is a room where we teach our dogs their compulsories as well as a place they can hang out with a person in a "real life" environment. The Real Life room sports a desk with a computer, a futon, a bookshelf and a crate. It unfortunately tends to collect dirt, dog hair, and partially chewed rawhides at a distressing rate. Every so often, we finally go in and give the room a thorough cleaning. Today, I did the job.

Shelter work has fantastic highs and devastating lows and it can often be hard to see the results of your work. Dogs get adopted, but what seems at first like a happy ending can result in an animal's return weeks, months or even years later. Too often, dogs with behavioral issues cannot be deemed adoptable and we watch our weeks of hard work end with a stuttering breath and a still body. It can be hard to feel as if you're actually making a difference to anyone.

Perhaps that was why I found this little task of cleaning a room strangely satisfying. It was the first time in days I was able to step back and see from beginning to end, an immdiately improved and finished product.

It felt really good.

You Say Potato...

Good judgment. Often times selecting what dogs will enter our shelter comes down to just that. Of course we have a temperament test that we use to assess any potential dog, and of course we have guidelines for what will allow a dog to pass and what deems a fail. Much to our chagrin, however, the dogs refuse to read our guidelines and many insist on doing things that fall squarely into grey areas.

Part of the temperament test is "approach by a neutral stranger". The tester walks slowly towards the dog, hands at their side, eyes resting squarely on the dog's face. Really, this 'neutral' approach can feel mildly threatening to a dog, and we're watching to see how the dog handles stress in an uncertain situation. A pass would be a dog that remains calm and relaxed, wiggly and glad to meet the tester. A fail would be a dog that freezes, growls, barks, or lunges.

What do you do with the dog whose entire body stiffens, and then suddenly relaxes into a loose and waggy greeting?

Even more frustrating are the dogs who I intake with the expectation that they will be adopted within days, only to see them still waiting for their home months later.

Tater is a dog that is in this last group. She's 27lbs of smooshy, five-year-old Shar-Pei goodness. Her wide muzzle reminds me of a stress-relief ball and the noises she makes while eating are reminiscent of a little old lady without many teeth. Tater is low energy, although she does enjoy running the occasional lap around the Soc yard. She arches her back if you scritch the base of her tail, and her back feet kick if you massage her chest.

When I brought her into the SPCA, I thought she would grace our kennels for a week or two, but she's now been available for several months.

She has a couple strikes against her: shar-pei skin and personality. Her skin is, well, a little gross and shar-pei fur can cause some people to break out in a rash after long petting sessions. Also, Tater reserves judgment. She is not a dog to bound up and fawn over you, but to observe with a cool head and decide in a few weeks if she likes you. For us Canine Associates, the coveted "Tater kiss" of a light lick on your nose is something we brag about when we get one, and we don't get them often.

She's a dog looking for the right niche, but that niche has yet to come along.

Did I let Tater down when I picked her from her other shelter? Would she have been adopted faster from there? Or did I save her life by taking her from a municipal shelter that is forced to place set time limits on any dog's stay? I don't know, but given the chance, I'd pick her all over again.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Puppy Clone

I read in the Chronicle today that researchers cloned a dog. Considerable time and resources went into creating the puppy clone: the article said that scientists transferred 1,095 embryos into 123 surrogate dogs and got 1 pup. There's also a local company (that probably has a good sense of humor) called Genetic Savings & Clone that will clone pets for owners at the modest fee of $32,000. They, unsurprisingly, herald this advance as a validation of their whole business.

I'm impressed with the puppy clone from a scientific "how did they do that?" perspective and hopefully, this advance might help us learn more about diseases that affect dogs (and people), which was the stated purpose of the cloning project.

From an animal welfare worker perspective, though, I am less impressed. Genetic Savings & Clone has clients already lining up for dog clones, despite the large populations of homeless animals that already exist. They funded the first successful kitten cloning project in 2002 and currently clone cats and kittens. Right now, we're at the height of kitten season when shelters are overrun with hundreds and hundreds of kittens and don't have foster homes for all of them.

I predictably urge you to adopt from your local shelter! Our dogs and cats are nobody's clone, but unique and quirky individuals. Our adoption fees are considerably less than cloning costs and you'd be creating a new home for a dog, instead of creating a new dog for a research facility!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Nameless dog and cat.

This is an email I got today from the shelter supervisor. I've worked here for 5 years and I will never, ever, get used to how awful some people can be.

"Today a carboard box was left at our gate before opening. It had the body of a dead dog. I took the box to the freezer and placed the dog inside(already in a bag). When I looked into the box, there was a cat laying inside, blinking. I took him in, checked him out, and took him to the clinic (thinking a humane pts [put to sleep] might be necessary). He was not able to get up or even move very much, emaciated, pale, and in pain. He could not be stabilized. The vet recommended pts. I agreed."

Rest in peace, nameless dog and cat.

A perfect home soon.


Of the 96 adoptions all the groups did on Saturday at the Adoptathon, 19 of them were from the Oakland SPCA. 19. That is pretty darn good. It would have been 20 if the story below went a different way.

A family came in to look at dogs. They saw little Kobe. A four year old rat terrier mix. They hung out with him, talked at great length with one of our canine associates about adopting Kobe and decided to do it. Our staff approved the adoption and they went up to the front desk. We did all the paperwork and even went as far as having the client pick out a collar. But then, the credit card was declined. And the client had no cash. She asked if she could pay half now. We said, no. We asked if she could run to the bank. She said, no. She got very upset. To avoid any situations in the lobby, we said we could hold the dog until opening the next day for her. The dog would still be ours and if she didn't show up, we would put the dog back up for adoption. She said, Of course we will be back. We said, Great, but we just wanted it to be very clear that the dog would not be held for her past the time she indicated. She said again WE WILL BE BACK. NO QUESTION. GUARANTEED.

Well, this morning, when I came to work, the little pooch was still in the kennel waiting patiently for someone to come take him out. The clients had not showed. Had not even called us. I tried not to think of the time our staff spent with them, or the tons of other clients who wanted that dog, or the extra special effort we put out to ensure these clients went home with the perfect pet. I just tried to remember that Kobe will get a perfect home soon.

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