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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"I couldn't do what you do."... Then do something more!

"I couldn't do what you do."

I hate hearing that statement.  I think we all do.

It is usually stated by an animal lover, when they learn about or discuss our animal rescue work. It is usually followed by "I would take them all home." 

The statement is said with good intentions and likely meant to be complimentary and caring. But it is a burr in my side when I hear it.  That statement is not a "get out of jail free" card.  It does not justify a person's inaction. 

I usually remain quiet about it.  I listen as they tell me that their spouse would divorce them if they took in one more animal, or that they would get kicked out of their house, or that they would need an acreage to maintain all the animals they would have, if they could have...

Again, it is said with good intentions but taking a homeless animal into your home temporarily or permanently is not the ONLY thing you can do to help us "do what we do".  As a matter of fact, there are things that almost any shelter or rescue is in need of your help in doing, and it does not mandate you taking another animal into your home OR you writing a big check! (Although we would be most grateful if you did either!)

Every shelter has a wish list.  A wish list is a compilation of things that a specific shelter needs in order to continue to thrive.  Sometimes the item is something they do not have and would like to have in order to benefit the shelter.  But most wish lists include items that shelter uses frequently and could use your help in stocking up on those items.  These items often include cleansers, bleach, pet food, paper towels, litter, printer paper.  If you have a shelter in mind, check with them as some items might have a specific preference.  For example, maybe they prefer a specific brand of food that the animals are used to eating, or a type of litter that works best in their environment.  These items may mean you spend only $5 extra on your weekly shopping trip, but that $5 means so much more when you walk in the door of the shelter carrying goodies for our furry friends.

In a previous blog, I gave many unique suggestions of ideas, some of which include fundraising parties, hitting yard sales, crafting ideas, photographing a shelter's pet, sharing links to the shelter's pets on social media websites such as facebook and twitter, and many more ways you can help your shelter without spending a lot of money.  Please read "Help your local animal shelter while on a budget" for some amazing low-cost and cost-free ideas.  Some of the ideas listed are very creative, fun, and shockingly easy!   http://vetrescue.blogspot.com/2011/02/help-your-local-animal-shelter-while-on.html

The point is, you do not have to "do what I do" in order to be an important part of animal rescue.  But if you care about animals, remaining inactive is hurting those animals you claim you "wish" you could help. 

Step up! Do what YOU can!  I know you can do something.  I know you can inspire friends to do something, too.  But you cannot sit idle any more, because you become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. 

Next time I see you, I want you to say, "I couldn't do what you do, but you have inspired me to do something more!"  And what you are doing, is likely something that "I couldn't do".

I think I, too, will do something more.  My response when I hear, "I couldn't do what you do", will now be "then what can you do?".  Perhaps that small statement will lead to an enlightening conversation resulting in the christening of a new animal rescue volunteer.  And that small statement won't cost me a dime, but the change could be priceless.




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Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Toast to Foster Homes...

Foster homes.  They are a crucial part of animal rescue.  They take in a homeless animal and house it until a forever home and family is found for that animal. Fostering an animal opens a cage at a shelter and helps to save a life.  Foster families are extremely difficult to come by as few people believe they can handle housing an animal for an undetermined length of time, then watch it leave their home to go to another.  When we don't have enough fosters, sometimes our staff and volunteers that usually function in a different capacity, step up to foster.

A few years back, I fostered a dog, Emmie.  She was a Border Collie mix that came from a hoarder in another county.

Emmie

Emmie


I was hoping she would fit into my family on a permanent basis, but my son was young and she did not blend with an aggressive two year old very well.  She continued as our foster but I knew that a new home was still the best thing for her.  I fell deeply in love with her as she had the appearance AND the personality of my first dog, Immy, the Special One. 




Immy Yawning



Immy was that one dogin your life who gives you that feeling deep in your heart that you know you will likely never find again, that one dog that loves you in a way that seems human and nurturing.  I think to her dying day, she believed she was my caregiver rather than vice versa.  But the timing was wrong, so a new home was in the cards for her and the hand off would be difficult for me once this new home, the right home, reared its head.

My Adoption Coordinator at the time, Jill, had warned me that she was processing an adoption application for Emmie and this one seemed to be a great fit.  She had discussed previous applications with me, and oddly, I was able to find reason to hesitate on adopting Emmie to other applicants, as I just felt they were never quite the right fit for her.  Because I was her foster mom, I knew what her specific needs were, and was being quite picky about satisfying them.  But Jill said this application glowed.   The woman was perfect on paper, and her personal and veterinary references were outstanding.  I had to come to grips with the fact that this woman might be "The One" for Emmie.  But I was still hesitant to let her go.  I dreaded the thought of watching her walk out the door for the last time. The thought of letting Emmie go, made me feel as though I was losing Immy all over again...and it was heartbreaking.

Sometimes in rescue, it is the strangest thing that makes you realize that things are right.  Sometimes it is not a question on an application, or the kind words of a personal reference, or even a qualitative review of  previous veterinary records that let us know that a person is the one for our adoptable pet.  This was one of those times. 

Jill walked into the surgery room one day while I was spaying a cat.  She announced that she had a question for me and she wore an emotional yet knowing look on her face. 

"Oh boy.  What is it?" I responded, hesitant to hear the question.

Jill replied, "I was doing the phone interview with the woman who is interested in Emmie".  My heart sank a little with these words. "Everything went well as far as our questions for her.  When we were finished, she said she had a question for us."

Generally speaking, most of the applicant's questions are answered during the adoption process. These questions usually include, "Does she bark alot?  Is she housebroken? What does he eat?  Does he like dogs, cats or kids?"  So why Jill was standing before me with a tear in her eye, and a smirk on her face befuddled me.  What question needed to be addressed to me, and why this odd reaction?

Jill looked at me a moment longer.  When she did speak, the words were,

"Does she like toast?"

I stared at her and numbly said, "What?"

"She wants to know if Emmie likes toast.  She has toast every morning and is hoping that Emmie will sit with her and share it with her."

We both laughed and almost cried.  This question sold me on this woman as being "The One" for Emmie.  I looked down at the dog that was laying by my feet as I did surgery, knowing that my days with her were now numbered.

This question told me several things about Emmie's potential adopter.  It told me that she was looking for a pet with whom she could share her life.  It told me that she was not just looking for a pet, but was looking for a furry companion to share even the smallest of moments.  It also told me that she did not want just any dog, but was looking for the right one, The One that would appreciate those small moments.  This question told me that Emmie would have all the mental stimulation, physical stimulation, and emotional connection that I knew, as her foster mom, that she needed.  This question eased my sorrow about watching Emmie go to a new home because now I knew this was going to be a great match.

Every once in a while, I will smile as the words run through my brain, "Does she like toast".

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Tail of Two Kitties... Part 3

(Part 3 in a 3 part series: Read Part 1 HERE, and Part 2 HERE.)

The phone rang at the animal clinic.  The voice on the other end of the line was immediately recognized as one of our favorite clients.  His voice had an element of concern, that told us something was troubling him.

"I found this kitten.  Someone left it on my porch in a box. Obviously the person who left it is someone who knows me well enough to know I love cats."

He continued, "I was hoping you could take a look at it.  There is something really wrong with it. It's head looks like it was hurt, and I think he is blind."  The concern in his voice changed to worry. 

"Bring him over, we will take a look."  He thanked me with a sincerity that few people have when they speak these words, and I suspect he was half way in his car before the phone disconnected the call.

I told the staff another kitten was coming in to see us, and would likely stay with us. I was unsure whether this kitten would become an adoptable pet through us, or go home with the client.  While this client and his wife have hearts of gold for their cats, they also have what many would consider a full house. As their veterinarian, I was confident that if they did add another feline to their furry family, that it would be well cared for.  I also knew from conversations held previously, that they had no intentions of adding any more cats to their kitty crew.

Again, in preparation for what I was about to be confronted with, my mind started projecting possibilities of what might be going on with this kitten.  I did this with emergencies too, in an effort to prepare myself for what I was going to see, and plan my action and reaction. Perhaps this kitty was suffering from a severe Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI).  When kittens get these bad colds, their eyes often glue up and seal closed temporarily.  It is possible the kitten suffered a trauma of some sort.  I did not wish to think too long and hard about what I might see if that was the case, but the fact that the client wasn't overly distressed told me it was likely nothing too gory.

The bells chimed on the clinic door as it opened, and in walked the client with this tiny kitten. The kitten was all black, just like Tres, although his fur coat was shorter. He was also a male.  He was quite comfortable being held and carried into the office.  He did not struggle like a feral cat might if not used to human hands.  As I picked up the kitten, I noticed several things right away.

The kitten's eyes were non-existent.  The sockets were small, and shrunken in.  This kitten was completely blind.  The kitten's skull was horribly misshapen, like a partially deflated basketball.  The jawline was off center. His lower teeth stuck out like an upside down vampire and when you held his jaw shut, the teeth did not line up properly.  None of these injuries/malformations seemed fresh.  The kitten had survived whatever the nature of the trauma, and despite the obvious changes in his physical appearance and function, he was thriving.






Tres, the kitten that was dealing with the recent leg injury, was less social than this tiny blind kitten whose personality leaped from his precious body.  This new kitten was affectionate, friendly, playful, and full of mischeif. 



All we needed to do for this boy was name him and vet him like he was a normal healthy kitten, because despite his handicaps (if you can call them that) he was a normal healthy kitten. Despite his vision impairment, and his malaligned jaw, he required no special treatment. 

I suspect the changes occurred to his small body after a trauma that occured when he was a tiny kitten.  His mother's nurturing helped him survive.  While it is also possible that he was born this way, it is an odd collection of physical changes to exist together since birth. 

We named our new resident "Smooshie", and quickly decided it would be good for Smooshie and Tres to become roomates.  They were young and any socialization at this age is beneficial for their development.  Fortunately, both kittens tested negative for viral testing of Feline Leukemia and FIV Virus.  

Tres got a bigger apartment, and Smooshie moved in.  There was a significant amount of hissing and spitting initially, but the two babies soon learned to like each other.  Smooshie helped Tres realize that this was not a bad place to be.  Tres came out of his shell and learned to trust us by following Smooshie's social graces.  Before we new it, Tres was playing with toys, and running on three legs to greet us when we placed fresh canned food in their kennel.



Tres was adopted just a few weeks after his surgery.  Smooshie is in a foster home, still awaiting a permanent family to love him.  He uses the litter box like a champion, and finds his food and water bowls just fine, despite his vision impairment.



Our only regret is that we did not try to place the two kittens in the same home.  This idea occured to us after Tres was adopted.  But Smooshie, in his Smooshie-way, adjusted just fine to life without Tres, and is living with caring humans and canines in his foster home until his forever family steps forward.

I am certain that Smooshie was cared for by humans who raised him and realized that they could not keep him. He is extremely comfortable around humans, and a cat not used to human interaction would not behave in this hearwarming manner. Wanting him to be safely placed in a home, and realizing that he had special needs, these people decided it would be best to abandon him in a box someplace they believed would provide him with safety. I am grateful this plan happened to work out for Smooshie, but abandoning an animal, even with the best of intentions is an inhumane action. Bringing him safely to a shelter or rescue group who agreed to care for him, and donating towards his care would have been a wise decision. With shelters and rescue groups overwhelmed with the number of animals in their care, this may not have been an easy option, but perseverence, dedication, and responsibility would have paid off for Smooshie.  Thanks to our client's sense of responsibility, Smooshie is alive, happy and healthy.

One of the things I love about animals is that they do not know the word handicapped, they just adapt. And they don't tease each other about their "adaptation". Honorable really.

Visit Smooshie and our other adoptable pets at www.jewellanimalhospital.petfinder.com



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Friday, August 3, 2012

A Tail of Two Kitties...Part 2

(Part 2 in a series, read part 1 Here)

We sedated the little kitten, and upon cleansing the wound removed hundreds of fly larvae and pupae that were eating away at his flesh.  The arm had been snagged by something, perhaps a larger animal or the teeth of an animal trap, and severed it at the level of mid humerus.  This kitten's luck is tremendously good.  He could have been consumed by the creature that caused this injury or hemorrhaged to death as a result of it.  Yet here he sat, with an horrific injury, but one that was being treated. 

Surgical removal would have to take place at the shoulder joint, removing the remainder of the humerus and with it remove much of the infected bone and flesh.  A line of stitches remained, holding together paper thin skin that looked healthy and pink.

He recovered from the anesthesia slowly due to his size and his malnourished state.  Once awake, he came home with me and began eating right away. He would lay down next to his dish, and nibble the hard kibble which he seemed to enjoy more than the canned food, although adding kitten milk to the canned food made it just fine for him.  My 8 year old daughter chose one of her ragdolls, and placed it in the cage so he would not be lonely throughout the night.  We called his kennel his new apartment, and the staff named him Tres (pronounced Trace), Spanish for Three.



He slowly adjusted to getting around with three legs.  His personality was timid at first, but soon a kitten emerged, playful and friendly. 




Little did he know he was about to get a new roommate...

Then the phone rang at the clinic...


TO BE CONTINUED....




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Friday, July 27, 2012

A Tail of Two Kitties...

It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks. 

A phone call came into our office about a kitten with a missing leg, would we take a look at it.  It came from a family that helps us with our TNR (Trap Neuter Release) program in town, so I knew this kitten was a "stray" and that if an issue was present, it would be at our expense since the program barely covers spay/neuter costs at $25 per cat.  Through the door comes a person with a carrier.  A foul odor is emanating from the pet carrier in which the cutest 5-6 week old, long haired black kitten resides.  The carrier seems inappropriately large for such a tiny resident, and the kitten is obviously scared by the jostling of the kennel and the noises to which it is unaccustomed.

We open the cage door and the kitten, tiny enough to be held in one hand, is so skinny.  One leg is missing.  When the phone call came in, I was unsure whether the arm was a congenital defect that was present at birth, a wound that occurred after birth and was old but healed, or whether it was a fresh wound. 

As I handled this kitten, I could feel the heat and moisture in my hand that was coming from the wound hidden beneath the incredibly long fur with which this kitten was blessed.

The kitten in his new "apartment" with the doll my daughter gave him for company.

Being so young, and so skinny, sedation was going to be risky, but had to be done.  Beneath the fur was a wound.  The front left leg of this tiny kitten, had been ripped off from half way down the humerus.  All that remained of this kitten's arm was a rotting stump of the remainder of the humerus bone and its overlying skin.  The arm's muscles had all been stripped away.  This baby was lucky it did not bleed to death at the time of injury.

The wound was old.  There was no fresh blood, no fresh bleeding.  The flesh was black, putrid, and the maggots were in their larval stage indicating the wound was at least 5 days old, or older.




TO BE CONTINUED....




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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Cannot Do It All...

In animal rescue, we discover a lot about ourselves.  But we also discover a lot about the world, much of which, we dislike and learn to resent. 

We realize that the rights of animals are low on the list of priorities for those people who possess the ability to protect them, such as police, lawyers and prosecutors, politicians, owners.  Many laws that are meant to protect animals, are shoved onto the back burner and other "more important" ones are pushed ahead.  In some ways, I understand this, as we all make decisions and prioritize things in our lives.  But animal care requirements are still in the dark ages.  For instance, the laws of Texas, and I believe they are the first to make such a change, no longer consider dogs personal property with no intrinsic value. "Dogs have finally moved up in legal standing from just “personal property” with no additional value, to personal property with recognized intrinsic or sentimental value. It took 120 years, but the law finally figured out that people value their dogs more than your average inanimate household item. Dogs now are in the same category as irreplaceable family pictures, heirlooms, and other personal property with sentimental value."  Dogs are still considered objects, with no credit given to their ability to have feelings or feel pain, but this legal precedent at least recognizes the fact that we have feelings for them, at least as much as that photograph of Grandma holding the new baby of the family...  Our question, "why is it taking so long to progress?"

We realize that some people just don't care about animals, as impossible as that may sound to us.  How they can look into the eyes of an animal and not see their soul, not see that they can love, and feel pain...  It is unfathomable to me and many, but it is the truth. These people can go about their day, and not bother themselves with reading my blog or visiting my office.  I like to think they are dedicated to correcting other injustices in the world, as there are many out there.

We also realize that there are millions of people who do care about animals, treat them as family, yet do nothing about the injustice that is served upon them.  "I could never do what you do" is my LEAST favorite quotation from fellow animal lovers, yet I hear it so often.  This is a big source of frustration, and I have addressed it many times in my blog.  Here is one of them: "Help Your Local Animal Shelter While On a Budget"

But the biggest thing we face is burnout.  We submit ourselves every day to seeing things that hurt us.  Animals abandoned, animals hurt, animals being treated like trash.  We hear owners say the most repulsive things about why they need to "get rid of" this pet.  We get yelled at when we have no room to take in an unwanted pet, or stray.  They yell even louder when we request financial help with the intake of that unwanted pet.  We are always expected to do it all for free and with a smile on our face.  We watch as those we try to protect, get no protection from those who have the ability to make the necessary changes.  We cry happy tears at adoptions and sad tears at our losses.  We get tired, hurt, exhausted. 

Until one day we struggle.  We struggle to the point of needing a break, yet rarely do we take one, because if we do, who will fill in where we are needed?

I struggled as the death of my cousin was treated as insignificant.  In the same state where a young man is facing felony charges for beating a squirrel with a hockey stick, my cousin's death is left unpunished, with no answers, and no punishment for inadequate investigation.  I wondered why I fight for animals when there are so many injustices for people as well.

I struggled when a friend felt comfortable enough with me to reveal her past abuse, the likes of which have made me again question why I am helping animals when people also suffer.  I am so grateful for her honesty and trust, and would not want her to take those words back.  The point is that it opened my eyes to yet another injustice I have heard about, but I have never been a witness to until now, and it rocked me at the core.  I recognize now that while I cannot change the past, I can be there for her when she needs me.  I hope I am a strong enough person to do so.

So, why am I helping animals when at times the injustice of people creates so much pain in me that I could run in circles for days trying to outrun the tears?

I think I now know why.  It is where my confidence lies.  It is where my background is concentrated.  I cannot fix everything.  I cannot change the world.  But if I can inspire one person, then I have made a difference.  Perhaps I have made that difference and inspired one person, but now I need to inspire person number two!

I have to leave the other missions to those who can prioritize them into their lives, and hope they step up to make the necessary changes.  I cannot bring my cousin back.  I cannot change the past of those I love.  But I can and will be there for those I love when they need me, or at least I will try my best to do so.  I am human, after all.

I realize I have to focus on the fact that my training makes animal care my specialty.  If my life had led me down a different path, I do believe the intensity of my passion would be focused on whatever endeavor I took on.  But in this lifetime, this is where I can make the biggest difference.  Even when the difference I am making seems futile, and too small in the grand scheme of things.

When someone asks, "Why do you help animals when children/environment/elderly/poor suffer?", I have to say because this is who I am.  This is what I know.  This is what I have chosen.  Or perhaps this is what has chosen me.  If I could do it all, I would... (perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket so I can do it all? :)  But I can't do it all.  And if you are asking that question of me, you better be doing your share in whatever mission inspires you.

I guess I am saying something to all of you that have followed my blog, and noticed my absence.  I am saying...

I am back... so brace yourselves!   :)


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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Legal vs. Ethical Obligation?

I was at an animal welfare meeting which was attended by veterinarians, shelter employees, rescue volunteers, as well as law enforcement personnel.  The meeting was very educational, and also allowed people to ask questions regarding laws about which they needed more clarification.

Of course the topic turned to puppy mills.  One of the topics discussed was the fact that licensed commercial breeders are required to have a veterinarian to "sign on" as the veterinarian for that breeder.

One veterinarian asked a question.  " If we sign on as the veterinarian for a facility, does that make us legally responsible for what happens in that facility."  The answer from our speaker was a simple no. 

It was not just the answer that disturbed me.  It was the fact that the question was asked.  If you sign on to a facility, you are not just signing a paper.  You, as an animal care professional, are attesting to the fact that the care in that facility meets your own animal care standards, which hopefully are not limited to the legal requirements. Veterinarians deal on a daily basis with the progeny of the dogs bred within these facilities, and small animal veterinarians make the majority of their income caring for the dogs who are now part of a human family, but once were the offspring of those puppy mill dogs that reside in cages for their lifetime.   If veterinarians agree to sign on the dotted line, should they not be obligated to attest to the care of the animals residing within these facilities?  Are the legal standards ALL they should consider when (and if) they do tour these facilities and decide to sign on th dotted line? 

 My answer to the original question is a bit more complicated.

"No, sir, you are not legally responsible if their standards are not kept within legal requirements.  However, you are ethically responsible to sign on ONLY IF you know for a fact that their facilities meet legal requirements and your own ethical and medical expectations of how the dogs (parents of the patients for which you care and from whom you make a living) should be kept for their lifetime."


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