A room with a view.
When I was younger, I wore suits to work and carried a briefcase. I brushed my hair, wore make up and wore high heels. When people asked me what I wanted to do, I said, I don't care as long as I have an office with a view. I always imagined it would be in a high rise in some financial district, sort of like Melanie Griffith was at the end of Working Girl.
Today, I sit in the Tri Valley facility, working on my laptop writing up annual employee reviews and I have a lovely view. It isn't quite the view I dreamt of, but in reality it is much, much better.
Britanny, Ben, Cassie, Pogo, Chevy and Ginger are all frolicking in the yard. It's a brown dog socialization group and boy, are they having fun. Ben and Chevy won't let up on eachother. Ginger is chasing Pogo. And Cassie thinks Brittany is all that.
The three employees supervising this group of crazy canines are all smiles and having as much fun as the dogs.
It's not a high rise and I can't hear Carly Simon singing in the background, but I've got the most excellent room with a view.
Searched and Rescued
Many people have heard of Search and Rescue dogs. Those noble canine souls who are trained to locate people that might otherwise not be detected after a disaster. Search and Rescue dogs have been used to find victims of hurricanes, floods, avalanches, earthquakes, building collapses, you name it. If people could be trapped and hard to find, a dog nose is still the best tool we humans have to detect them. Most of this is common knowledge.
What is less common is where these dogs come from and what makes them so good at this job. Search and Rescue dogs often come from shelters and they are, I promise you, the World's Biggest Buttheads.
Let me explain.
The secret behind Search and Rescue is that, from the dog's point of view, finding people is a sort of game. They are taught that every time they find someone, they're allowed to play a game of tug. Sometimes, such as in beginning practice, the "victim" actually has a tug toy tucked away and once discovered, leaps up and starts playing with the dog. Many Search and Rescue volunteers believe their dogs understand that what they're doing is more than an elaborate exercise, and it's entirely possible that they do. But, what these dogs were trained
to work towards is the tug at the end of the tunnel.
Imagine the amount of toy drive it takes to make a dog good at this training. They're going to be swimming through flood waters or walking precariously through earthquake sites or digging their way through an avalanche all to get a chance to engage with their favorite toy. These dogs have exceptional levels of energy, perseverence, and fortitude. It's necessary for the job. But, it also means in normal situations, these dogs are way more than the average owner can handle. They are, in fact, more than the experienced owner can handle. These are the dogs that shred entire rooms while you're gone, jump up on guests non-stop, and drag the kids around the house by their sweatshirts. Without a means to focus all of that energy and smarts, they're awful, awful dogs. Unsurprisingly, they tend to end up in shelters between the ages of six months and two years.
Once in the system, these dogs are extremely hard to place. Their energy and brains work against them. We have such a dog at the East Bay SPCA right now. Intelligent. Pushy. Loves toys. You can take a stuffed animal and toss it 30 feet away into a cluster of ivy, spin this dog in a circle five times, put him through a round of obedience and when you release him, he makes a b-line for the ivy and sniffs out his toy. He's also jumped and mouthed so many volunteers than no one will walk him any more. He's put several trainers at their wits' end trying to control him. We've tried him on every tool we know of and he's still horrifyingly rude. He's been in our shelter for eight months. Is he aggressive? No. Is he a dog anyone would want in their home? Absolutely not. So we're contacting a local Search and Rescue chapter and asking them to evaluate this dog to see if he qualifies for the program. Nobody else is going to want him. We've placed several dogs with the Search and Rescue program and they've all been this way.
I suppose what I find so fitting is that the dogs who devote their lives to finding and saving people have to be found and saved themselves.
Graying muzzle, bouncing puppy.
A family came in tonight to visit with a young seven-month-old black lab. As our adoption process requires, they brought their resident dog to be introduced, to see if it would be a good fit between the two dogs.
(Despite how badly the potential adopters want it, sometimes it is just not meant to be. The resident dog may just not be as interested in a new canine companion as are the human residents. Or the new dog might not be as deferential to the one as he should be.)
Their dog was a 15 year old black lab mix. In fact, he looked like an older version of the younger dog. He had a grizzled muzzle, peppered with white. He had patches of skin where fatty lumps had recently been removed by a veterinarian. And obviously had more fatty lumps that would need to be removed in the future.
He was clearly well-loved, and has lived a good life so far. No lab-type dog reaches the advanced age of 15 without a family looking out for him. Regular vet visits, lots of exercise, good food: it was apparent this dog was luckier than most.
Watching through the courtyard windows as our two staff members made the introduction, I saw two dogs sniff at each other cautiously, then decide they'd each found a new friend.
The puppy was respectful and energetic. The grizzled dog was engaged and showed short bursts of energy. Often puppies annoy older dogs. They sometimes look at their owners as if saying, "You are not bringing THIS THING home with us, are you??"
But this old guy was having fun chasing the puppy around, even though "chase" lasted only about four or five paces.
It was a good match and it made me happy to watch.
Here's hoping BB finds her forever home soon.
In July 2005, we started working with BADRAP on a project called Pit Bull Hall
. BADRAP would be selecting pit bulls that were at risk in local city and county shelters, fostering them, training them and then putting them up for adoption in our shelter. Its a joint effort that has proven very successful with approximately two adoptions a month. Because we are saving five kennels for these BADRAP dogs, we stopped taking in pit bulls for our other kennels.
Until last week...
I was at a local shelter and saw one that caught my eye. I've been working with BADRAP for months on assessing pit bulls and this one seemed just perfect. Wiggly, flirty, sweet. Just perfect. So after we had selected 5 non pit bull dogs to take, I said to the Canine Associate who was with me, "Let's test the pit!" She was shocked, but was also game. We took her outside to the yard and went through the paces. Everything was going well, but as this was my first "pull" without BADRAP, I was hesitant. So I called one of the directors at BADRAP and asked if he had tested her. Sure enough, he had and she tested well. Their only concern was with other dogs. Pit Bulls can be dog aggressive and they weren't sure if she was or not. So we brought another dog out and let them meet and hang out. She was just lovely. So, I crossed my fingers, held by breath and said, "Yeah, we'll take her."
She was already spayed (she came in as a stray pregnant dog to the shelter and when the owner finally came in to look for her, she had already been spayed and therefore he didn't want her), so we gave her a bathe and let her settle in. Staff named her Big Beulah (since she is big and blue) and I call her BB.
Because BADRAP has all their Pit Bull Hall dogs in a foster home for a few weeks, I wanted to do this for BB too. So we put out a request to our volunteers and two people stepped up to the plate. MM took her home a week later (after she went through some more temperament testing and training) and now reports back to us daily. The emails we receive are great. Lots of good information so we can learn more about this pittie.
I went to visit her yesterday, just to see first hand how it was going. BADRAP came with me and we were so pleased to see how well BB was doing. She will stay with her for one more week and if all goes well, she will come back and go up for adoption. We are going to try to do the whole BADRAP adoption process with application, homecheck and foster to adopt period. We'll see how it goes. So far, we are quite pleased with this little experiment of ours. Here's hoping BB finds her forever home soon.
Where there is a Will, there is a way.
A few weeks ago, at 5pm on a Thursday, HG came in to tell me that someone dumped a cat in a laundry basket out front and drove off. Unfortunately, this is fairly typical. The atypical part was that the cat has a wound and could I come see it. When I got to the cat, the wound was in fact a large (inch and a half) hole in his stomach area that was now completely covered in puss. It was one of the most disgusting things I had seen in a while. And the smell was pretty bad too. Legally, we can euthanize a stray cat if the pain and suffering are so great there is no way to stablize him or her, but that wasn't the case with this one. I knew we could help. So I picked up the cat, walked over to our clinic and said, "I need help!" Unfortunately, our vet had just left for the night. Our Veterinary Services Manager, who also happens to be a Registered Veterinary Techinician got her on the phone and was walked through what to do. She cleaned the wound, with JY and my help, gave him a little pain killer and bandaged him up. He would be safe until morning.
First thing the next morning, our doctor checked him out, cleaned it again, did surgery to fix him right up and let him recovery in the clinic. Two days later, with the exception of the huge sutures that criss-crossed his abdomen, you couldn't tell what he had been through. We kept in him the shelter and notified animal control that we had him in case someone was looking for him (which we doubted.) When he was fully recovered and his stray hold was over, we got him neutered and put him up for adoption.
I had almost forgotten about him when yesterday I was walking by the cat cages and heard a volunteer talking baby talk to one of the cats. She was sweetly whispering to a small black cat, "Did you have a little Owchie? Poor sweet baby. You'll be ok." I turned to see who she was talking to and there was Will. Happy as a clam, shaved tummy and all, purring up a storm in the volunteer's arm. This cat didn't know how lucky he was. VT named him Will because where there is a Will there is a way.
Billy Ray Gets His Shot
Billy Ray got his second DHPP vaccine today. Before today, he was not adequately protected against distemper and parvovirus and other deadly diseases, and could not touch the ground. In order to keep him safe, we had to carry him everywhere, and could only put him down in areas of the shelter that had been disinfected with bleach.
Billy Ray is only twelve weeks old, but he already weighs twenty-four pounds.
Like all puppies, Billy Ray is utterly adorable, and everyone wants to pet him. A dozen times a day someone asks to see Billy Ray, so we bring him out and hold him while visitors fuss and coo over him. We strain. "Would you like to hold him?" we ask. For most puppies, the answer is an enthusiastic yes, but very few people want to hold Billy Ray.
Don't get me wrong; we are thrilled to bring him out to meet everyone who wants to meet him. We don't know which of these visitors will be the ones to take Billy Ray home, and all the attention is great for his socialization. In order to grow up into a friendly, outgoing, well-adjusted dog, Billy Ray needs to meet as many people as possible during this formative time in his life. We welcome all the attention he gets. It's just that he's heavy
I know what you must be thinking: Why don't they have a clean, disinfected space where people can visit with puppies? We do. It's called the puppy room, it's disinfected with bleach after each use, and it's on the opposite side of the shelter from the kennels where this puppy is housed. Carrying Billy Ray to the puppy room is a serious workout. We do it, but for the people who only want to pet him for a minute, it's easer to just brace ouselves against a wall and hold him.
But that's all over. Billy Ray got his shot, so now he can walk on the ground.
We all breathed a big sigh of relief today.
And it's all true!
I was taking a walk with my son yesterday. Walking with a toddler is slow going, so when we came up to a older woman and her older poodle, she and I started to chat. My son was very interested in the poodle, but didn't want to pet her. The woman kept saying, "She is nice, go ahead and pet her." But Pman stood firm, staring without touching. This went on for a while and I finally said, "He sees dogs all the time...I work at an animal shelter."
She says, "Oh, do you get the Tribune? You must have seen the wonderful article about the two cats."
I tell, "Why yes, I did see it. In fact, we wrote it and it is all true!"
Don't get the tribune? Read it here!
It's good to be busy,
but it sure can be tiring.
Often people ask what our busiest day of the week is. That's a difficult question. Most often, it's the weekend. But there are some weekdays that can really throw you off!
This Thursday, for example. It's ironic -- we rescheduled the staff so that there are more Canine Associates in on Friday, rather than Thursday. Fridays, it was just getting too busy for only two CAs, so now, there are three on Friday, and two on Thursday. Of course, this Thursday afternoon was busy! So here I was, a Customer Care Associate, helping show dogs, and answering questions about them. Letting people spend time with the dogs, or getting them a leash to take them for a walk. And why does the shelter software have to crash on these days?
My job description is supposed to involve me staying at the front desk, guiding customers and answering the phone. Where does it say, take dogs out for customers and explain why they may not be good with kids? Fortunately, I make it a point to try and know every animal, and their personalities. I never thought I would catch my breath, running back and forth! If you ever call and hear me panting, now you know why.
When it comes time to set the timeclock to "OUT" at the end of the day, I often can't help feel a sigh of relief -- I'm ready to go home! But then, I have to think, being busy is great! That means, more adoptions, more time spent with our dogs and cats looking for homes. So, really, shouldn't I be eager for those busy days? Those chaotic hours of running back and forth, juggling three different things at once?
Today, Saturday, was another one of those busy days -- never thought we'd get a rest.
9 animals adopted at our Tri-Valley facility.
8 at our Oakland facility.
Yeah, it's worth it!
This sure isn't in my job description.
AM interrupted a meeting today in a panic. A cat was stuck in the wall and could she cut the wall open to get her out?
Ummm....excuse me? I realize shelter chaos is a reality in our crazy world, but this sounded really out there.
I followed her to the place and although I won't bore you with the details (or things we didn't do right that landed us in this situation), yes, in fact, there was a cat stuck in the wall. But we couldn't tell exactly where she was. Which is kind of important if you want to get her out. She got there from a crawl space under a sink.
So I said, "hand me the flash light, I'm going in." AM and RE thought I was slightly nuts, which I suppose I was, but I put on a gown and shimmied under the sink. It was a tight fit, to say the least, and I was trying not to think of the bugs, spiders and other critters that might be annoyed at my presence. I looked up the 6-inch opening that led into the wall and there she was. Wedged tightly in. Just out of my reach. I explain to the others where she is and start my retreat.
get stuck. Getting out wasn't as easy as getting in.
There I am, under a sink, in the dark, just as stuck as the poor cat. I could have easily panicked, but that would have made matters worse, so I do my best contortionist impression and try to turn around. Let me remind you, this crawl space ain't big. And my derriere is. My shoulder gets stuck. As does my foot.
A few minutes later, AM was pulling me out, rolling her eyes and laughing the whole way.
RE starts to pull the plywood wall back, the cat got nervous, ran down into the crawl space and I nabbed her. A happy ending to a strange story. Although the news of the Shelter Director crawling under the sink spread throughout the shelter, no one got pictures so I can deny the whole thing.
And the whole time I was stuck under the sink, I was thinking, man, this sure isn't in my job description.
The first time I saw Tulip, she had a worried look on her face and her tail was tucked. It's not unusual for dogs to show some stress or fear when they first arrive at the shelter, which is why we give them a few days to settle in before we evaluate them for adoption.
On her second day at the shelter, Tulip was spayed. She had a slow and difficult recovery -- for several days she lay in her kennel, not eating and hardly moving. We were worried. Her trainer, RT, sat with her in her kennel, gently hand-feeding her, until Tulip finally ate. Slowly, she began to come out of her shell.
She went out for walks, and her tail came out from between her legs.
Everyone commented on how nicely she walked on leash, never pulling, always attentive to her handler. Tulip was friendly and easy-going and a joy to be around.
But there was something about the way Tulip moved that wasn't quite right. We had the vet look at her, and the news wasn't good. Tulip had two luxating patellas: her knee caps moved out of position, which made it hard for her to walk and caused her significant pain. Surgery was possible, but the recovery would be long and difficult, and even then the outcome uncertain due to her size. The chances of Tulip living a pain-free life were slim. Even if we were able to do the surgery, she was living in significant pain and would continue to until surgery was performed. After further consultation with the vet, the decision was made to euthanize her.
The last time I saw Tulip, she looked happy. She was trotting down the hall at LG's side, her head up, her eyes bright, her tail held high. I stopped to say goodbye to her, and she gave me a smile and a kiss.
This is a sad story, but I don't think it's a story of failure. Part of our mission is to improve the lives of animals, and I think we did that for Tulip, even if it was only for a few days. We gave her something to wag about, and took away her pain before it could become unbearble. I think it's important that Tulip was able to leave this world with her tail up.
Goodbye, sweet Tulip.
If you want to be sure you don't miss a single Shelter Life post, be sure to add our new Site Feed to your browser or news reader. (It's in the title line above, and also in the links list to the right.)
I wish I could tell you how to do it. I know with Mozilla Firefox, you just add the .xml feed to a new folder in your Bookmarks list and the most recent blog posts begin to appear magically.
I think there is a more technical explanation for most other browsers, but your 12 year old will be able to show you how to do it.
That means you will never miss one of these happy faces:
or one of these overly proper faces:
(If there are no tech saavy 12-year-olds available, try this link for more information on how syndicated feeds work.)
The Return of Hector Bean
"The Return of Hector Bean." It sounds like a Western, doesn't it?
But no. It's just Hector Bean, 10 pounds of personality, and all of it willful. Such a little Chihuahua shouldn't cause so many problems.
But Hector Bean has been adopted and returned three times. He is approaching a record of sorts! He is tagged with the label of destructive behavior, marked by inappropriately chewing of....well, things: Curtains. Chair legs. $300 sunglasses.
All his adopters agree that he is appropriately snuggly, so that just goes to show that love will NOT always keep us together.
With each adopter we've encouraged they follow our recommendations for crating Hector Bean when they can't supervise, but each time we hear a variation of the same sad story. "That dog is a kick in the pants."
That is what fellow blogger KC just wrote to me about him in an email today.
But we can't just re-adopt him "as-is." That is not fair to a prospective home and it's not fair to Hector Bean.
So, Hector is going on a sleepover in a staff member's home (our new Canine Associate, CM!) for a week or so. We are going to see if his behaviors are manageable when he is in a home committed
to managing them.
We think he will be fine, but since we don't want to see even one dog homeless, we are going to do everything we can to make sure of it. Even if it means bringing him home with us.
But like KC said, he's a kick in the pants.