I'm in love with a Pit Bull
Ok, so it is far from the first time I've been in love with a pit bull, but this is the first of our Pit Bull Hall dogs I've really fallen for. His name is Porkchop, he's the silliest looking pit in the current bunch, and he's a dream on leash. He's been in the Hall for a couple of weeks already, but yesterday was the first time I took him out. He sat and looked at me when we got to every door, and responded immediately if I stopped walking when he started to pull. We went out to the field so he could run around, and Porkchop played soccer with his head and feet. Then, D, one of BAD RAP's co-founders came out and told me Porkchop's dirty little secret: he's a mouthy, rude, pain in the butt teenager. That was when I knew I'd met the latest love of my life.
There are no dogs I enjoy training more than pushy adolescent boys. I love outstubborning them, outsmarting them, and most of all bonding with them. D and I agreed Porkchop would be my new project.
This morning the big P and I went out to work. I was warned that his recall is a little on the "yeah right" side, so I armed myself with a long line (a skinny, cheap leash that comes in lengths from 10-50 feet) and took him out to run. Porkchop wowed me with his soccer skills again, and when it was time to go, I stood on the long line and called him. PC gave me one look and ran the other way, but didn't get far thanks to that trusty line. Ha! Foiled! I called him again and he bounded over to me. He once again showed off how nicely he can walk on leash as we headed into the building to do some training.
Porkchop wasn't responding real quickly to his name as we walked, so we worked on getting a quicker response with a handful of treats. He was so well behaved - could this perfect boy really have bad manners when given the chance? I let up on his lead a bit and sat down. Porkchop sat by my feet, wiggled, mouthed my hand and headbutted me, fat pitbull forehead to wimpy human chin. Ah, there's the dog I heard about.
Cue the Nothing Exercise. One of the greatest training methods ever invented, and all I have to do is, well, Nothing. I sit, hold PC's leash so that he's only got about 4 inches of freedom, and ignore him. If he sits or lies down, I pet him. If he stands up or starts mouthing me I stop and ignore him. He'd jump on me, I'd pretend he wasn't there, he'd whine, I'd pretend he wasn't there, he'd paw at me, I'd pretend he wasn't there. His attempts to annoy me failed, and he sat down, enjoying a few good minutes of petting and down time. It was nice. We got up, and took and easy walk back to his kennel. I closed the door as he gave me his big old bully grin. I can't wait for our next session.
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Good and Broken
In shelter work the saying goes "the good ones are always broken".
That's probably not really the case, but those animals with shining personalities and damaged bodies do linger in our thoughts. The ones whose medical conditions make them less desirable to the public or unadoptable.
Most recently we had a little Australian shepherd whose appearance was striking because she was almost entirely white. She was sweet, affectionate, but had an awkward gait when she walked. In Tri-Valley it was discovered that she was also an avid car chaser, and we thought, reasonably, that perhaps this unhealthy habit had led to her being hit by a car at some point. Our vets performed x-rays and exams, coming to the conclusion that nothing was wrong, so far as they could see.
Months went by and the little aussie was adopted. Her new owners decided to take her to their own vet who did another series of x-rays and exams. Their conclusion was that the aussie suffered from a spinal disease that would eventually take away her ability to walk or control her bodily functions. At this point her new owners had had her for perhaps a day. It was too much. They didn't want a dog who would ultimately (and perhaps very quickly) become unable to use her back legs, so the aussie was returned to Tri-Valley. We checked in with our own vets and, based on the new x-rays, their diagnosis was the same.
My shelter manager and I have occasionally discussed the idea of offering hospice animals to the public for adoption, with the clear understanding that these animals were failing medically. Anyone who adopted a hospice animal would be made aware that their new companion may only have reasonable quality of life for a year or less. At first, it seemed like a good idea. We could give a chance to these wonderful personalities within broken bodies. But, the truth is that few people would be interested in hospicing an animal they hardly knew. Our senior dogs and cats linger because most people don't like the idea of having a new pet who already has less time to live. Hospice animals often have an even shorter timeline, and every day they waited in the shelter would be a day less they had to spend in a new home. Would it be any sort of kindness to have hospice animals spend their last months in a kennel waiting for a home that would likely never come?
Which brings us back to the little white aussie.
I was the one who originally pulled her from a municipal shelter. And I was the one who held her as she was euthanized. It wasn't fair, but it was the kindest thing we had to give.
How Lewis Got His Groove Back.
I have been holding my breath for over a month and I didn't even realize it. Last month, we waited at the San Francisco Airport with a dozen or so other shelters to receive the latest batch of victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Most of the dogs were barky and hyper. Who wouldn't be? Crammed on a tarmac, with a couple hundred animals, after a long flight and experiencing a dramatic change in temperature, air pressure and of course, all those smells so important to canine noses.
But one dog was was not. In fact, Lewis (as we named him) was terrified. He huddled in the back of his crate, cowering in his own pee, hoping no one noticed him. He was placed with us, and I picked the farthest back crate to give him the most seclusion at we crated the rest of the dogs and cats.
It wasn't much better when we got back to the shelter. His was the last crate that we unloaded. And he was no more anxious to visit than he had been at the airport, in fact, he was even more terrified if that was possible.
Nature teaches us "fight" or "flight" but this poor dog was doing neither. He was frozen. (Which can be dangerous; plenty of folks have been bitten gambling on a dog who chose "fight" at the last minute.)
We lured him into a kennel for the night, with wet food, lots of encouragement, a big bowl of water, and finally a good shove.
I have never seen a more pitiful dog. The next morning during his vet exam, it was even worse: his lower extremities were covered with sores. Probably bacteria from contamination, possibly from floodwaters, according to Dr. H. And he didn't trust us any better, either.
I held my breath because if this little, scared guy didn't have a family, who already loved him, he might not make it. His behavior in these two days was not consistent with an adoptable dog: scared of people, asocial, no connection whatsoever.
So he went into foster care to wait out the search.
Today was his day to come back. The front desk called to tell me that Lewis' foster parent was here, so I exited the office on my way down the hall and immediately bumped into a woman with the friendliest, happiest puppy I have ever seen. He had one of those big doggy smiles born from excitment, and a bouncy playful manner that is designed so well to grab the heart of the nearest human. It was Lewis, and I couldn't believe my eyes which were quickly filling with tears.
I leaned down to touch him, and instead of stale, pee-filled fur, I felt the softest brown fur I have ever touched, that smelled like he'd been bathing in fresh cut grass. He gave my face a tongue bath, and as I lowered myself on the floor to get closer, he tumbled backwards in my lap to make sure I had no choice but to rub his belly. All his sores were healed up.
His foster mom said he still startles with sudden noises, but otherwise, Lewis is normal, happy, 10 month old puppy. I've never
seen such a transformation. Lewis was going to make it afterall. I mean, I knew he still had to be evaluated to ensure he was stable enough for adoption, and could be trusted in a home, but I could tell that Lewis had gotten his groove back.
And I could exhale.
Okay, very quickly...
In our back kennels is a dog, perhaps weighing twenty pounds, who was diagnosed with bladder stones. When our vets operated on her, this is what they removed.
I am amazed.
Pictures speak better than words
We get emails all the time through our website. People asking about adopting animals, surrendering animals, helping animals, needing help, needing advice, giving advice and everything in between. We answer those emails the same day and feel good that we are able to provide this resource.
With some regularly, we get people who email who saw a dog on line or in the paper and "want to adopt" sight unseen. They ask if we can hold the animal until they can get here. And with even more regularly, these people never show up. Or if they do show up, they just like the color of the dog, but not the dog's personality. Or they like the size of the cat, but not the cat's teeth. Or something.
So when I got this email, I rolled my eyes and thought, here we go again:My friend who lives in Oakland checked today to see if this Pointer, Alex, is still there and he is. Can the dog be held until I can get there on Saturday from Redding, CA, to pick him up? I work with Pointer rescue in the North state. "Alex" will live at my home on 54 acres with another German Shorthair Pointer that we rescued 2 years ago, along with a black Lab and a yellow Lab, not to mention 5 goats and 2 horses that all have great lives! I want to help free up space at your shelter since you have worked so hard to help take in Hurricane pets.
But...because every client that contact us, deserves a reponse, I asked the shelter manager to give her a call. I thought, after hearing our process, they would never show up.
Boy, was I surprised, when they not only showed up, but actually adopted Alex! Clients like these help me remember not to be cynical.
They sent us an update today. They say Alex is loving life, loving his home and they are loving him. But since pictures can speak better than words...here you go (that's Alex on the left):
Sometimes, volunteering is not a breeze...
Typically when people think of getting involved with our Volunteer Program
they think of touching moments cuddling a homeless kitten or frolicking in the yard with a frisky pup.
Actually, volunteering for an urban humane organization is a little more....gritty.
I received this from a volunteer who devotes a lot of free time to our efforts: "With a busy work schedule & active lifestyle, it is rare I find time to volunteer as much as I would like to. So when I got the email asking for volunteers to distribute flyers for the upcoming free vaccination clinic & spay/neuter appointments, I was pleased it was something I could do! Easy enough job--walk the neighborhoods of Oakland dropping off flyers advertising the clinic. It was suggested I bring along a companion for safety. I found a friend willing to help out and we set out with the goal of getting as many flyers distributed before the sun set.
As we headed down the street, I took in the surroundings. These were low income neighborhoods. Not necessarily dangerous neighborhoods, just neighborhoods filled with people trying to get by any way they could. Some houses were in need of a repainting, others had plywood where windows once were and one was missing a front porch so the occupants had to leap over a gaping hole to enter their home. A few tried to add cheer by having a few impatients or marigolds planted in pots outside their doors.
I'm a shy person by nature but I'm passionate about finding a way to reduce the number of homeless pets that end up in our shelters each year. People were walking the street carrying their groceries, satchels or just smoking their evening cigarettes. I gathered the courage to ask them if they had any pets. The first guy, a young man in his late twenties who looked filled with anger, passed by and only offered a hard glare. The girl he was with, however, stopped to mention she had pets and held out her hand to take a flyer. After a quick glance she mentioned her mother had a dog as well and could she have another for her. I continued on finding places to hang the flyers on the many gates that surrounded the houses that gave them a 'don't bother me' appearance. I hung the flyers on top of the Domino Pizza, quick cash and carpet cleaning flyers. My flyers hung like orange fluorescent lights on the cyclone gates, broken door knobs and mail boxes of the neighborhood.
Dogs charged the fences and barked hysterically as we passed. I tried to be diligent and get flyers to all the houses where it was obvious a dog (or dogs) resided. I tripped over my own dog as I tried to dodge the barking dog protecting his territory while I slipped a flyer between the bars of the gate. The man who had two adult Rottweilers and a yard full of puppies got two flyers just in case he lost one. The owners of the shop with several shop dogs, the home with 5 dogs, the guy who just grumbled and took one, they all got flyers last night. I wanted to mark my flyers so that I could know if even just one of the many houses we left a flyer with last night came to the clinic. I'll never know but I like to believe that on that night I made a small dent in what seems an insurmountable problem. Just in case I missed the house that will take its dog to the clinic, I'll be back out again tomorrow night. Another neighborhood filled with more dogs and more people just trying to get by any way they can.
Thank you, MR and HM, for a great job. I hope you inspire more Good Samaritans to step outside their comfort zone and help where it helps the most.
Chips: Not Just for Potatoes
Last Saturday, a brindle pit bull was abandoned on our property. Sadly, I'm at the point where when a pit bull is abandoned on the property, I pretty much think "ah. here we go again". It's a dissapointingly common occurance. The Oakland SPCA and Oakland Animal Services seem to get confused the the public's mind. So, although we do not accept strays, abandoned animals end up at our doorstep fairly often. When they do, we take them to Oakland Animal Services.
If you are an adult brindle pit bull, your chances of being adopted are painfully slim. The brindle coloration is beautiful. It's shades of brown, red, and black pressed in wild, streaks along the entire body of an animal. It kind of reminds me of the stone "tiger's eye". But, for whatever reason, people seem to think that brindle dogs are more likely to be aggressive than other colors, and they get passed over. We had a pomeranian sit in our kennels for three weeks...an unheard-of period of time for a small, fluffy, friendly dog...and I cannot help but wonder if party of the reason was that his adorably poofy fur happened to be brindle.
Sufficed to say, when I heard a brindle pit bull had been "dumped" I was just about to shake my head, roll my eyes, and mutter something cynical. Then I heard the rest. "We scanned him. He's got a microchip." A tiny bit of technology, the size of a grain of rice, had been inserted under the dog's skin, between the shoulderblades. When our microchip scanner was run along the dog's back, his identification number appeared in the scanner's read out. We called the national database, gave them the number, and they gave us the phone number of his owners. Instead of having to send yet another pit bull to OAS, we got to reunite a family with the beloved pet they had lost the day before.
Microchips. All of my dogs have microchips, and I hope they will never need them. But, I would much rather they have them and not need them, than need them and not have them. After all, we never plan for our pets to run away.
But we do need a plan for how to get them back home.
Get well, Gumbo.
Gumbo is one of our Hurricane Katrina refugees. RL showed a picture of Gumbo earlier in the blog
. His picture, to me, captures the animals who arrived: scared, but becoming less wary, thinking this, just maybe, might not be a bad stay.
Gumbo is a very sweet dog; he is one of the nicest, more cheerful dogs we received from New Orleans. He is a pit bull mix. Some people might say that the last thing the Bay Area needs is more pit bulls, but a pit bull like Gumbo is a joy to be around. We could sure use a lot more dogs like him. He is a social friendly dog, just like a good pit bull should be.
What we didn't know when we admitted this happy, healthy-looking dog, was that we would be facing one of the greatest medical challenges of all our refugees.
Gumbo has tested positive for an unusual infection called babesiosis
. This is
an infection that is caused by ticks infested with Babesia, and not common at all in the Bay Area. It corrupts the red blood cells.
It is very serious in that without treatment it can be fatal, and even with treatment, the dog could remain ill. Babesiosis can be transmitted from dog to dog by insect bite and cannot be cured, only mitigated with treatment. Therefore, even if he survives, care will need to be taken for him to not infect other dogs.
He is doing much better, and receiving regular injections to treat his condition. In fact, his foster parent, Tom, brought him in for treatment today. But Gumbo's prognosis is not good. He may not survive, and even if he does, if he is not reclaimed by his original owners, he may not make a good candidate for adoption. The disease is expensive to treat and it is a lot to ask of an adopter:
"Good luck with your new dog, I know those monthly medications are costly, and by the way, he might not live long."
We will know more soon, but unlike some of the other animals, who are in a good shape, and if not claimed, will be easily adopted, Gumbo may be our one very sad story of all the Katrina pets. I don't normally like to share sad information about dogs not yet available for adoption, but with the Hurricane animals, it feels like we are all in this together, and those who support us should know these things.
Treating sick animals, who haven't done anything wrong, but who may die or need to be euthanized, is easily the most difficult part of our job at the East Bay SPCA. The staff that takes on this difficult role, RL & ND, get my utmost respect for the care and compassion they exhibit in this difficult process, as do all the staff members who attend during those procedures. We all feel the pain of an animal that doesn't make it, but they feel it a little more deeply...
We hope that Gumbo continues to do well, and even better, that he has a family already in love with him, who is hoping to get him back.
Even if he is a little broken.
A tricky balancing act.
All of our animals that are up for adoption get spayed or neutered before they are made available. We do the surgeries in house at either the Oakland or Tri Valley SPCA Surgery Centers. These centers are high volume, high quality spay neuter clinics. They are set up to handle between 30-40 animals per day in a safe, calm and thorough manner. We have outstanding vets and techs who treat each animal like it is their own.
The clinics "hold" a certain number of spots for the shelter animals each day, with the rest of the appointments going to rescue groups, low income clients, feral cats and pit bulls (we spay and neuter those for free) and public clients.
When the adoption centers have a successful adoption weekend, we need to get more animals to fill up the kennels for the next week. If we fill them up, we need to get those same animals spayed or neutered quickly to make them available for adoption. So to ensure there are enough spots for the shelters each week, it would seem that the easy answer would be to always block off a good number of appointments so we don't fall short.
But...if we don't have a good adoption weekend, we can't get new animals in, the appointments go unfilled and the spay neuter surgery centers are under-utilized and lose money. Money lost means less free and low cost appointments for those animals needing it.
So this week, when we adopted 6 dogs and 10 cats, we will go searching for already spayed and neutered animals so we can fill up the kennels without overcrowding the spay neuter centers. We can usually find already 'fixed' animals in local shelters, rescue groups or from owner surrenders.
We always manage to make it all happen, but it certainly is a tricky balancing act.
Katie went on Paws to Consider the day before yesterday.
Katie is a short, squat, pleasantly round, red dog. People always ask two things about Katie: "What's her mix" and "Did she just have puppies". I honestly have no idea what Katie's breed mix is. I suspect it's a genetic soup of all types of dogs rather than two single breeds. And while she did have puppies, it's been nearly a year now since they were born. Katie arrived at our shelter that long ago, nursing a litter of nine newborn pups. The puppies became old enough to go up for adoption and, being small and adorable, were quickly snatched up into new homes. Katie, on the other hand, is a bit of a "plain Jane" dog. And to that her then-pedulous mammary glands and her aloof response to strangers and you have the recipe for a dog that will sit for a long time in the shelter. Katie has been adopted twice, but neither home stuck. She is one of the few dogs who we've had to revaccinate because her yearly vaccines became due again.
The folks who took note of our red diamond in the rough (er...ruby in the ruff)? An elderly couple. Retired and with an entire acre for their dogs to play on. Their dog history was fantastic, all their previous canines passing away at impressively ripe old ages. Their current dog was a young male. He and Katie took to each other immediately. But, here was the catch: the dogs they owned were not allowed in the house. At all. Period. Both the potential owners suffered from allergies severe enough that indoor dogs were simply impossible. Their resident dog was happy, healthy, with a well-groomed and gleaming coat. They went on camping trips with their pets in tow. The husband had built a two-story barn specifically for the dogs as well as a large enclosure closer to the house. They took their dogs on walks every morning and spent much of the day outside with them. This was not your typical outdoor dog life.
Still, one of the big things we want for our shelter dogs and one of the first things we expect from adopters is that the dog lives inside the house and becomes a part of the family. This couple seemed to have "part of the family" down pat. It's just that in the house bit that they couldn't do.
I spoke with my supervisors. I chewed on the idea. These were the first people to even notice Katie in months. She was snuggling up to them which is rare for her. She was playing benevolently with their dog which was even rarer. But...she'd live outdoors. Still, in the end, it seemed like a good, if unconventional, home.
So, Katie's off on Paws to Consider. If the adoption is finalized, I guess I won't be able to imagine her curled up on someone's couch anymore. I'll have to picture her napping in a sunny spot on the grass instead.
I can live with that.
A Very Good Dog
I first met Walter at one of the municipal shelters we work with. I had stopped by on my way to work because I had heard there was a great dog for me to evaluate. He was seven, somewhat lacking in the front teeth department, 90 pounds of German Shepherd Dog and couldn't possibly have done better on his temperament evaluation. I loaded Walter into my car and brought him to our Tri-Valley shelter in Dublin where he began his new life.
Walter was a staff and volunteer favorite - always smiling his big, shepherd smile, always ready for his next training session. Most new trainers in our shelter start with dogs who have already worked with experienced trainers, but Walter was the first new, straight-from-the-shelter-dog that I assigned to our new trainer, C. Walter and C immediately bonded, making a fabulous team. I remember there was a time when she took a few days off, and every time I walked by Walter's kennel he was gazing out the window as if he were waiting for his temporary "mom" to come back.
She taught him the basics - sit, down, stay, and how to shake. But he
to lure well, improve her timing, and problem solve training solutions. Their training sessions together stick in my mind most when I think of my first month teaching our trainers in my new position as Canine Manager.
When Walter found a home, it was bittersweet - for C. especially, but we were all happy for him. We didn't hear much from his adopter, but didn't think much of it. Many of our adopters stay in close contact with us for months or even years, but others choose to be a bit more private.
However, I'm always saddened, often shocked when I hear that a dog we adopted out landed in a city or county shelter (partially because our adoption contract states that the dog must
be returned to us if the adopter can not keep the dog).
expected to see what I saw with Walter.
He showed up last Sunday at a nearby shelter. A microchip led him back to us. Walter was emaciated, drooling, lethargic, covered in his own mess. Every time a staff member from our shelter came in to visit him, he raised his head and wagged his tail. His eyes would light up and he'd offer us kisses.
Due to stray-hold laws, we couldn't take him back to our shelter until the hold was up or the owner surrendered him to the county. We called the owner, who said she lost him two months ago, and no, she didn't want him back. But without her telling the county so, Walter had to be held the required length of days, first. Staff visited him every day. He seemed to be doing better by Wednesday, but yesterday morning his breathing became labored. The staff at the other shelter did their best to care for Walter while he was there, and knowing how much we cared for this dog, called us the moment he could legally be returned to us.
L. and I rushed to the shelter to pick him up. As I was walking with him from our lot to our clinic, he stopped and lay down. I carried him up the hill and in, but even emaciated a dog as large as Walter was still 50-60 pounds. I made it through the front door, just past the exam room to the back of our clinic, and had to put him down. Walter lay there, unmoving, fighting to breathe, and with his spine poking up a full inch, he was so skinny.
I've been in the shelter world long enough to have seen dogs who have been badly neglected before, and it is always heartbreaking. But I've never seen a dog I knew well, a dog who had been ours, and so fat and happy in our shelter just five months earlier, look so terrible.
Dr. Heidi, our amazing vet on duty, took over right away. She got him on an IV, took blood and fecal samples so we could find out what we needed to do for him as soon as possible. Everyone worked so hard last night for Walter, and although it might not be appropriate to anthropomorphize, I know he felt the love everyone in the room had for him.
C., his trainer moved on to a different career some time ago. She remains in touch with some of our staff, and heard as soon as Walter was back. She sat with him for hours last night before we shut down for the evening. He had gotten a good amount of fluid by then and the prognosis was looking pretty good.
This morning I got up early and put off my usual coffee run to check on Walter. L arrived at the same time as I did and we went directly to his kennel. Walter had passed away. It's nine a.m. now, and our staff will be arriving soon and will hear the news.
It's going to be a very sad day here, but I hope everyone will be comforted by the fact that thanks to his microchip, the fabulous relationship we have with the shelter he ended up in, and the care of eveyone here, Walter's life ended in a warm, comfortable place indoors. I'm torn up inside, but I'm so glad that his last days were with a group of people who really loved him.
Have a good life, sweet thing.
I just took Madame aka Scruff to the airport for her long flight back to her family. They lost her during the hurricane and have since relocated to Ohio. The family was simply estatic to know she was safe and well. The mom, three kids and various grandparents are all meeting her at the airport tomorrow morning when she lands.
It was a bittersweet reunion because the foster family had fallen in love with her. Having recently lost both of their animals to illnesses after long, happy lives, Madame was just the ticket for their little family. They wrote a letter to the owners and sent pictures too. They just adored her.
As I left the Delta cargo area, I looked back at Madame and wished her well. "Have a good life, sweet thing."
Silver Muzzle Club
I went home in the middle of the day today because my son was sick. I stopped at the store to buy some pedialyte before relieving my husband of sick baby duties and the guy in front of me at line had a Silver Muzzle Club t-shirt on. It was hilarious to see some random guy at Longs drugs wearing this shirt. Had I not had to hurry home, I would have chatted with him about the Silver Muzzle Club.
Check out our senior guests at:
Hug my cats.
After a couple days of phone calls, planning, health checks, and confirmations, Peaches is now on a plane heading home.
Well...not quite home. The home she had in New Orleans is gone. Destroyed. But her owners, Pat and Junior, both in their seventies, now live in Alabama with family. Pat and Junior lost everything, so the tears of joy that Pat shed today as I confirmed Peaches was on the flight, were truly real. She can't wait to see her sweet dog again and I'm sure Peaches will be delighted, after the ordeal she has been through, to see her mom and dad again.
I'm so pleased to have been a part of that.
Now I have to go hug my cats.