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Friday, April 3, 2015

Existential Crisis? Compassion Fatigue? Complicated Grief?

Existential crisis.  Compassion fatigue. Complicated grief.

When my Mother passed away, I was devastated.  Who was I going to call when I did something exciting?  Who was I going to call when I was upset?  Who was going to say they were proud of me?  Who would worry about me when I was sick?  Who would tell me to be careful when I went to do something adventurous like rock climbing or scuba diving?  Who was I going to make proud?

I would see a two year old giggling with her mom in a store and think, "Someday that little girl is going to feel the pain I feel now after losing my Mom."  I could not see the happy years between the girl of two years old and the girl who lost her mother.

I agreed to move to Iowa...from Rhode Island.  There were too many things back home that would remind me of my Mom anyway, so perhaps I was meant to move on. perhaps this was where I was meant to go?

I opened a small animal clinic in a small town.  My intention was to build a small animal hospital that would eventually make a profit.  What I found was that our entire county lacked any humane animal facility for homeless strays or owner relinquished pets.  AHA!  A new life purpose?  Something that was meant to be? Fate?  Destiny?  Is this where I was meant to go, my life's challenge?  Was my Mother looking down and smiling?

I ran my for profit clinic as an animal shelter and low cost spay neuter clinic for twelve years, without collecting a paycheck for myself.  Twelve years.  I payed my staff, sadly I had to pay them poorly, but they seemed to be as dedicated as I was to making a change to benefit the animals that needed our help.  I assisted rescues and shelters with animals in need.  Let's just say that I have an inability to say no, even when I should.

I participated in a hoarding "rescue" after my assistance was requested.  I was denied the ability to save the number of animals for which I had rescue commitment.  Most were euthanized as "unsaveable".  I was horrified that as a group, our rescues could have helped more cats and kittens than we were allowed.  I was horrified that euthanasia was preferred to entrusting them to a  colleague with the same degree who was willing to at least try to save them, and pass them on to licensed shelters and rescues that were already holding spots for them. I was horrified.

I participated in another hoarding rescue.  I enlisted the help of another and together we had a state approved temporary shelter in place, I enlisted the help of Animal Protection and Education to get fifty cats spayed and neutered, vaccinated, tested for leukemia and FIV, microchipped, and treated for fleas and worms within one week of their removal from the house. My partner in this rescue managed to get the funds to have this effort completely paid in full. We received donations of food and litter, cleaning supplies, The cats were ready for adoption! Success!

We asked rescues and shelters for help taking in some of the cats, and several of them did and for those rescues we are eternally grateful.  But several others did nothing but criticize our efforts, and refused to take in any cats.  They called me at my home and told me I did it all wrong.  We had fifty cats breathing clean air, eating healthy food, in a safe place, COMPLETELY vetted, and ready for adoption or rescue transfer... but we did it ALL wrong.  These were the same people who sympathized with me over the previous hoarding situation.  The same people who said those cats should not have been euthanized were now refusing to help us relocate these cats because we did it wrong in their opinion.  I thought they would help these cats and we could prove as a dispersed team made up of individual rescues and rescuers that these situations don't require the death sentence. What a statement that would have made!

I have watched for years as people bring me stray cats or kittens found in their yard or relinquish their own pets, for me to rescue, vet, and rehome.  Those same people continued to go to another local vet with their pets, but when they needed help, their vet was not willing.  I have dedicated years to helping a community, to helping animals, to helping people, to helping rescues, believing I was doing the right thing.  I was led by my heart.

The bad thing about being led by your heart is that it leaves your heart extremely vulnerable.

Years of financial struggling and lack of support from the layperson was hard enough.  Being taunted by other rescuers, rejected by former employees and friends, makes the surmountable become insurmountable.

Allowing my heart to lead my way was my legacy for my children.  Do what your heart loves, not what lines your pockets. Now I fear that I believe that being led by your heart is naive and doomed to fail.  

I want nothing more than to talk to my Mother, who would probably say "Why do you care what other people think?".  But when those who think against you, or worse, those who neglect to think about you are stacked so HIGH, it becomes overwhelmingly hurtful.

I have lived my life trying to make a difference, and while I didn't do it for recognition or gratitude, my brain is telling my heart to STOP!

I posted this image on my facebook page...

Read this blogs:
http://vetrescue.blogspot.com/2010/08/pooch-park-takes-another-step-forward.html
and
http://vetrescue.blogspot.com/2010/08/pooch-park-one-giant-step-for-dog-kind.html


It is a Google Earth satellite image of my clinic and the small park we built and dubbed "Pooch Park" with the landscaped paw print made of brick and stones.

As long as this paw print is there, I will think of it as my reminder of the mark I wanted to make on this world.  It is my symbol of hope and love for those who need to feel hopeful or to feel loved, both animal and human.  It is my symbol of hope, hope that I will not give up and a symbol to remind me that there are those who love me, and perhaps it is time to focus on them.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dear Former Adopter...

Dear Former Adopter,

I wanted to share a brief update sent to our rescue group by Fluffy's adopted family after you returned her with only a few short days in your home:

"Fluffy is doing great! The whole family loves her. This is a picture of her giving my granddaughter kisses. She gets along with our other dog just fine and the cat tolerates her, Fluffy wants to play and she doesn't. I am so happy I found her."

While I am grateful that you wanted to incorporate a rescue dog into your home, and grateful that when it did not work out with this particular dog you returned her to us rather than take her to a local shelter or rescue, I feel your reference to her as being "vicious" is unwarranted.

I apologize for the delay in sending your "refund" check.  On the adoption contract you signed at the time of adoption, you agreed that your adoption fee is considered a donation to assist in the rescue of other animals in need and aid with the expenses of the homeless animals currently in our care. You did not "buy" a dog that day.  You made a donation to a non-profit organization that saves animals lives in a county where there is NO OTHER animal welfare organization. Your donation saves animals lives.  It provides them with their necessary medical care, and provides them with food and shelter until their forever family is fortunate enough to find them and provide for them a loving home for the rest of their lives.

I will bet it is safe to say that you have never argued so vehemently with any other non profit organization to get your donation back.  I cannot imagine anyone arguing so aggressively with the Red Cross or American Heart Association or even the HSUS or ASPCA.  Unlike these groups, we get no governmental funds, no large scale donors, no large grants.  We rely on a small group of dedicated employees, and a small number of volunteers and donors that I can probably count on one hand.  We exist in a town of only 1200 residents.  We are a small town group trying to make a difference and lend a hand to animals and people with no other humane options. 

I am not na├»ve enough to expect every adoption to go perfectly, and I know that not every animal will fit into every home.  But when you commit to a rescue pet, and sign a contract, you are committing to a rescue pet and signing a contract.  You should be proud to have made a donation as it is a thank you for our efforts. Some days any form of thank you is few or far between.  Your commitment to rescuing a pet means that even if one is not quite right for your family, that you will consider another rescued pet and save the life of the animal that is meant to be with your family despite your struggle to find him/her. There is always trial and error in life.  You likely did not marry the first person you dated. Imagine a world where if a first date did not go well you could get a refund from the restaurant and movie theater for the epic fail.  There is no guarantee of success when you go in for a medical procedure, but everyone hopes for the best possible result.  If the procedure fails or needs to be repeated, the hospital does not issue a refund for the first attempt, and certainly does not perform the second procedure for free.

We no longer take in dogs for adoption.  We will assist animals into other rescues, but Fluffy was one of the last.  Paying clinic staff to care for homeless rescue dogs over weekends and holidays has become too much.  Operating in such a small town has many benefits, but funds are tight, volunteers are cherished but few, and donors are dedicated but limited.

Enjoy your "refund"  I understand you needed  it to place a deposit on a new puppy.  I sincerely hope things go well with your family and that puppy.  If by any chance it does not, I worry.

I worry that if that puppy came from another rescue/shelter that you are going to place the same demands on them regarding your adoption fee should that dog not be the right one for your family. 

I worry that if you went to a pet store or breeder for this puppy, that you may be dealing with a commercial breeder or puppy mill. Iowa is second only to Missouri in the number of large commercial dog breeders, also referred to as puppy mills. I hope you researched any breeder from whom you considered purchasing any puppy.  These facilities routinely do not offer "refund" checks.  They usually require returning your "faulty" puppy for a replacement puppy.  Should this happen, I hope you won't spend too much time wondering where your first puppy went after it was returned.  Google Iowa Puppy Mills and read all about them. You can help Iowa Puppy Mill dogs by joining in the fight against them with the Iowa Friends of Companion Animals.  Read more about puppy mills at Bailing Out Benji.  Visit either website for more information.

If you have researched your breeder well, and they are a small scale, reputable breeder who raises their puppies as part of their family, you will sign a contract with them as well.  They will often take their puppies back to rehome, but again, "refund" checks would be rare as this is a for profit business endeavor. 

I wish you luck with your new family member.  I hope she/he is everything you expect and more... for her/his sake.




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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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