Thursday, December 31, 2009

Burning and Rebuilding Bridges

If email is a good way of burning bridges, direct, honest, two-way communication is the way to rebuild them.

Yesterday, Jill finally called and though a little difficult at first (since we were probably both a little uncomfortable over things said in email) we were able to talk through the problems and come to not just peaceful resolution, but an actual happy one!

Jill informed me that she and her fiance were able to work things out with their new landlord, allowing them not just to bring their own two cats to the new home, but Treasure as well!

This was, of course, amazingly good news as I was fully prepared (though reluctantly) to take Treasure back.

Suddenly the anxiety over having to take back a cat when we are having such difficulties placing adult, "regular" cats was gone. I felt tremendous relief!

Follwing mutual apologies, Jill and I went on to have a very pleasant and friendly conversation catching up on some of the events of the past year. The poor economy had hit Jill and her fiance very hard and was the major reason for the move out of the (expensive) city. Hopefully, the young couple could now catch up to financial challenges and even save a little money.

Unfortunately, its a familiar story over the past couple of years and one of the prime and tragic reasons for animals ending up in shelters or, in some cases being returned to a rescue group.

I assured Jill that if she were to run into any medical or other difficult expenses with Treasure, she had only to call and I would try to help her. But, she seemed pretty confident and optimistic about the future.

After we wished each other well and said good-bye, I considered going back online and deleting the blog entry from yesterday. What if Jill reads this? I wondered.

But, after careful consideration, I decided to leave it.

The purpose of yesterday's journal entry was not just to vent hurt feelings or bad-mouth in judgmental fashion, an individual who had been so reliable and instrumental in saving not just cats, but a number of dogs over the years, but, more importantly, to warn about the dangers of email -- especially when delivering any kind of bad news to another.

There was, of course, the duel purpose of stating the view that rescue groups and shelters should be entitled to the same considerations and respect as other agencies or companies when one has to give up a responsibility or end an association (i.e. "two week notice."). That of course puts aside those emergencies or rare instances of sudden illness or an animal biting someone.

We live in a complex and technological world today. And while there are tremendous advantages and convenience in the instant one-way communications of email or text messages, they should never be used as means of avoiding confrontation or ending a commitment -- That is, unless one wants to burn bridges and bring down in a torrent of bitter feelings on both sides, something that once was good.

In saying this, I refer to both the sender of bad news emails and the recipient who reacts and responds in kind (as I wrongly did).

In some ways, endings are even more important than beginnings in all relationships and associations whether in work or the personal life, as its the endings that create ultimate memory, perception and even attitude towards the future.

As we travel through life we will know many friends, bosses, colleagues, subordinates, partners and/or even romantic lovers.

Things constantly change in a fast paced world and associations end for a myriad of legitimate reasons.

But, its important that when leaving any association to allot proper time to do so in a respectful, honest and fully communicative manner.

Emails and text messages, unfortunately don't allow for that.

They burn, rather than build or leave intact, the bridges so necessary for a complete and happy life.

I am glad Jill finally called yesterday. She showed class and guts in an otherwise difficult situation. We can both leave this association now with memories of all that was good over a span of about seven years.

The bridges remain strong and intact. -- PCA


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Email Protocols and Two Week Notices

(Picture Left: "Treasure" -- Like his name implies, Treasure is a loving and gentle gem of a kitty. So much so, I wrongly presumed his foster person might want to keep him. Lesson to learn [among others]: Never ASSume anything!)

I am not a fan of email.

While email has it attributes in terms of speed, economy and convenience, there is something cold, impersonal, indirect and transitory about it.

I much prefer direct and personal communications with others -- if not, face to face, then over a phone.

This is why, in all of our adoption postings we require interested parties to CALL us and not email.

I want to be able to hear the nuances and emotions in people's voices. I want spontaneous, two-way conversation.

If people cannot find the time to make a phone call and engage in two-way, uncontrived conversation, then, in my view, they don't have the time to have a dog or cat.

That may sound judgmental, "old fashioned" and discriminating, but at least for me, it's just the way it is.

Reality is, we cannot adopt or send out animals as email attachments. At some point, there has to be direct communication. That is better and more time efficient to be sooner than later.

In addition to the aforementioned drawbacks of email, there is also something called, "email protocol."

We have all heard stories of those who, in a moment of passion or anger say things in email that later comes back to bite them in the ass.

Then there are those who use email as cowardly means for breaking off a relationship with someone or quitting a job (a serious "no no" in terms of propriety and consideration of the feelings of others).

One is reminded of a particularly funny (because of its connection to truth) "Sex and the City" episode in which a boyfriend of Carrie's breaks up with her on a Post-a-Note.

But, whether one chooses Post-A-Notes, emails or text messages to end an association or deliver bad news, they all represent poor form in one-to-one communications and personal relationships as they either take the other person out of the communication or end up in angry emails (due to hurt feelings) or messages going back in forth.

No matter how you look at it, personal emails should be kept to bare minimum and used only when absolutely necessary -- i.e. when the more direct and two-way means of communication are not available. In my view, emails should only be used to share with others non-personal information, such as news articles, jokes or animals available for rescue or adoption (such as shelters sending out Alerts or Euth list to rescues, although this quickly becomes overwhelming over time.)

I am writing about and am particularly touchy about email today because over the past two days, I am having a very negative experience with it.

Yesterday morning, a long time foster volunteer sent me an email suddenly announcing that she was "moving" in a week and I would have to take her foster cat, Treasure back within that time.

Not only was I surprised and disappointed about not getting any warnings or "heads up" that this circumstance might suddenly occur, but I was also dismayed that the bad news was delivered by email instead of personal phone call.

As said, choosing email to end any kind of association or deliver bad news is (to me) cowardly and disrespectful to the affected party. That goes too, for suddenly returning animals to shelters or rescue groups with little or no proper notice.

Since yesterday, several not-so-pleasant emails have been exchanged between "Jill" (not her real name) and myself.

Jill now feels "insulted" because I intimated that her actions lacked consideration and suitable "notice" in time to find proper foster replacement.

I feel insulted for all the reasons cited.

Although I assured Jill that I would indeed take Treasure back as stipulated in our adoption and foster contracts, I also let her know this was not the best thing for either the cat or myself. I am already at capacity with the animals in my home. One of the reasons I requested Jill to foster Treasure many months ago is I felt it necessary to try and cut down on the number of animals in my home. -- Especially now that I am getting older, living alone and experiencing some health issues.

It is unfortunate that a working relationship that over the years, had been very fruitful, respectful, responsible, friendly and beneficial to both parties now seems to dissolve in a bevy of hurt feelings and insult on both sides.

It is sad, but true that often in life, how things end is generally how they are ultimately perceived -- regardless of all that went before them.

There are a couple of lessons to be taken out of the sharing of this story:

The first is that one should NEVER use email, text messages or Post-a-Notes to deliver bad news to another or end and association.

The second is that when agreeing to foster or adopt an animal from an organization, it is very similar to taking on a "job:"

When quitting any job or responsibility, it is only proper (and often required) to give at least two weeks notice in order that the affected party can find suitable replacement.

No matter the excuses or reasons, the foster person in this case was just plain wrong.

And despite all the wonderful achievements and sacrifices of the past, the way this particular association ends, forever effects its overall and ultimate perception on both sides.

For one who generally hates communication via email, how ironic to find myself in this place.

I will never understand why the general public does not think that shelters and rescue groups don't warrant the same respect and protocol that other companies and agencies do.

That needs to change. -- PCA


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sweet Nothings

(Picture left: "Cassy" when rescued from the pound. But, what does luck have in store for her? Can Cassy find her sweet nothings?)

Some people are amazingly thoughtful.

Yesterday, I went to our organization's PO Box to pick up the monthly mail.

Normally, this is not a high priority as there are usually only a couple of envelopes, unless we have recently sent out a newsletter.

Since we are only mailing out a yearly newsletter now, I had little expectation when sauntering over to the post office yesterday.

But, surprisingly, there were more than a dozen envelopes, most of them, obvious Christmas cards!

I placed them in my bag without opening and then went to walk one of the dogs we have boarding in Manhattan.

It was a cold, crisp day in New York City. The snow from more than a week ago is now completely melted after some heavy rains and warmer weekend temperatures. But, one could feel the colder, winter "wind chills" starting to return and settle in.

Nevertheless, the brisk weather felt good to me and more befitting to what one should expect as we approach the deep days of winter.

I went to the Dog Spa to walk Cassy -- a very sweet little 7-year-old, Beagle mix rescued more than a month ago, but yet to be adopted.

Cassy originally went to a foster home in Manhattan. Although she is housebroken, completely social and gentle with people, kids and other pets, she does possess the rather loud bark associated with her breed. She occasionally barked at the cats in the foster home and for brief periods when the foster people would initially leave the apartment.

That was enough to cause neighbor complaints.

The foster in this case was very intimidated and when she received a threatening letter from "housing" she informed me that Cassy had to immediately go.

Unfortunately in this case (unlike the one with Lady a few weeks back where the neighbors and landlord allotted some time to us to work out the problem) there was no time to try and work with Cassy to alleviate and solve the barking and/or separation anxiety.

The loving little Beagle mix has now been in boarding since before Christmas.

I walked Cassy around Carl Shurtz Park yesterday and took her briefly to the dog run. Although a little timid around the bigger and younger dogs there, Cassy held her own and surprised me with her ability to quickly run and engage in play!

It was a beautiful crisp day in the park which is adjacent to the East River. A flock of seagulls flew lazily over the water as the wintry sun twinkled brightly through the now bare trees.

I really love our city parks in winter. There is a certain peace about them as the bustling jogging and sunbathing crowds of summer are long gone. Most of the "life" one sees in the winter parks these days are wildlife.

I felt amazingly good. No stress. No phone calls or "crisis." No desperate email alerts or "Euth Lists" -- at least for the moment.

No spells of vertigo.

Just a peaceful dog at my side and the pleasure of watching seagulls circle in the crisp blue sky.

Indeed, the only thing I regretted is that I did not have my camera with me. It would have been the perfect day for pictures -- particularly, better photos of Cassy.

But, perhaps that can occur over the next few days.

I felt sad and somewhat guilty when returning Cassy to her small, barren "room" in the boarding facility. Yes, she is safe and cared for. But, it is no life for a loving and gentle dog like this.

Despite almost constant advertising and promotion, Cassy has yet to find someone with a heart for her. Some dogs are just "luckier" than others.

Over the past couple of weeks we have adopted out 4 dogs. But, all were fairly recent rescues over the past couple of months. But, for other dogs like Daisy, Coco and Nia who have now all been in boarding for almost a full year, "luck" just doesn't seem to be on their side.

I hope Cassy doesn't turn into one of our unlucky, "long time boarders."

It would be a travesty for such a socialized, people-loving dog like her.

Last night, after all other errands were run and phone messages answered, I finally went through the mail that had been picked up earlier in the day.

Almost all were from former adopters. Generous donations, lovely cards, warm notes and "thank you's" for the animals adopted from us.

In one case, a cat adopted 16 years ago and "still doing fine!"

They all truly warmed my heart.

It is the rare person who possesses the thoughtfulness and class to contact the shelter or rescue group they adopted a pet from months or years before to update and thank (especially without solicitation). Indeed, I would not have the sensitivity or thoughtfulness for that!

It is a "little thing" for sure, but a little thing that means so much.

Aside from the money which is always appreciated and needed, it was the warm notes and sentiments that most touched me.

It reminds one of an old Brenda Lee song: "Sweet Nothings."

Sweet nothings, indeed.

A walk in the park with a needy and grateful dog. Sea gulls flying lazily over the river. Warm notes, generosity and gratitude from past adopters.

They may be "nothings" in this material, technical and fast paced world, but they are in fact everything in terms of what's really important in life.

They, in fact, validate everything we do and who we are in nature and in life.. -- PCA


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Losing My Religion

(Picture Left: "Brownie" who arrived at the pound as an already spayed "stray" just prior to Christmas. We picked Brownie out of one of many shelter Alerts begging for rescue help with the hundreds of animals suddenly arriving just before Christmas. What does that say about our culture's real "religious values?")

If I was depressed over Christmas it was not just due to the separation between myself and immediate family, but the situation in the animal shelters, as well.

It seems just prior to any major holiday, large numbers of animals are either dumped directly in the pounds or abandoned to streets. That this also occurs around Christmas is particularly daunting and almost shocking considering the religious significance of the holiday.

I have often wondered: How does one abandon one's cat or dog in the street or pound and then go off to Church and sing religious hymns?

Something about that image strikes me as incredibly hypocritical and phony.

What, after all, is the point of Christmas if not to inspire greater kindness, responsibility and compassion towards those especially less powerful than us and in the case of pets, dependent upon us?

The number of cats and dogs suddenly abandoned on Christmas Eve due to "moving," and "cost" is particularly noteworthy. How many people "move" on Christmas Eve? How much money did the people dropping pets off for "cost" spend on presents, travel or other holiday celebrations compared to the cost of a can of dog or cat food? Did we see these same people rushing around stores on Christmas Eve seeking last minute bargains?

Perhaps I am being overly cynical again.

But, it was hard to be anything but disillusioned when, on Christmas Day I opened one of the many shelter "Alerts" arriving in email to find one containing the Intake cards of 27 dogs, almost all of whom had been abandoned to streets just prior to Christmas, tied up to poles or dumped directly due to "cost" or "moving."

Add to those, a number of other dogs adopted and then returned a couple of days later for things like "peeing on the floor." Many, if not most dogs are insecure , nervous and a little disoriented when suddenly being uprooted to a new home, new people and environment. Peeing on the floor should be expected, under those circumstances, when first bringing home a new dog or puppy.

It is amazing how many people who, though well intentioned, don't seem to understand the first thing about animals (i.e. "Cats or Dogs 101") before adopting.

With all the books, Internet information and even TV shows about dog and cat behavior these days, that is particularly hard to understand. Bringing home a pet is not like bringing home a toaster or toy. One should do their homework, especially in terms of understanding dog or cat behavior before impulsively acquiring a pet.

In some ways its cruel to adopt a cat or dog and then return the animal a few days later because one doesn't want to take the time to understand and work out a problem. As said many times, most initial problems are solvable with just a little commitment, patience, understanding and most of all, time itself.

But, many people don't want to give something time to work itself out. If it is not "instant bliss," the animal is returned to the shelter or adoption agency within days of the acquisition. This tends to undermine the animal's already sensitive sense of security and self-esteem, as well as it puts extra burdens on the shelter or rescue group. Sometimes it renders the adoption agency more apprehensive and even cynical about doing adoptions. -- One reason why some agencies "put potential adopters through the mill" before releasing a cat or dog. We can't read what is in people's minds and hearts. We have no way of gaging levels of patience and commitment to a new pet. And so yes, we need to be careful. But, even with all the care or "checks" in the world, animals are still returned.

And so yes, it was particularly heart wrenching and tear producing, reading and seeing the anxious faces of animals confined in the pound on Christmas day. The desperate emails sent out from the shelters on this day were especially disturbing and desparing.

Though raised a Catholic, I haven't attended church or mass in a number of years -- even those on Christmas Day.

It is not a matter of not believing anymore or losing faith in God or Christ or Christmas.

It is, however, a matter of losing faith in organized religion itself.

It simply doesn't speak to me anymore. -- PCA


Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Gifts

(Pictures left: People mulling about the frozen lake near Bethesda Fountain, Tina looking for ducks or raccoons, Chance just being one happy dog in the snow! All of it like an old song, by Spanky and Our Gang: "Lazy Day!" -- and all it, the best gift one can give one's self.)

Of all the holidays, Christmas is the one that is most difficult to spend alone.

Memories of family Christmases past tend to flood one's consciousness, as well as the societal messages of family and togetherness, particularly on Christmas Day..

My family is actually quite small now.

I never had any bothers or sisters.

Mother, Grandmother, Aunts and Uncles have all passed on.

I have a couple of cousins who live in the west and we exchange Christmas cards every year. One of them I actually talked with last week over the phone. That was very pleasant.

I have one daughter, Tara who is now married and lives in Utah. Due to the distance and the fact Tara has a demanding job, we are rarely able to see each other any more.

Tara did make it to New York this past week on Monday. But, she had to be on the first plane out of Kennedy Airport the next morning.

The less than 24 hours we were together seemed to go by in a flash. We managed to get in a quick walk in the park and a trip to midtown to see the Rockerfeller tree as well as the finely decorated stores along Fifth Avenue. All of it was wonderful fun and fulfilling -- especially just being with my daughter once again.

But, it seemed no sooner than Tara arrived, she had to rush to leave. -- So much left undone and unsaid.

And so, I was actually quite depressed on Christmas Eve. Once the stores closed and images of families attending Midnight Mass services began to appear, I found myself falling into some kind of downward, emotional, self-pitying spiral: "How did I end up like this?"

I turned on the TV and tried to watch a re-run of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire" or anything that was non-Christmas.

I ended up watching the movie, "Capote." A really interesting film about the famous "In Cold Blood" author. But, thinking about murder, Capital Punishment and heavy human choice on Christmas morning when one is already depressed is probably not the wisest use of time on the most treasured and holiest day of the year.

Thank God for my dogs, Tina and Chance.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, I went with my dogs to Central Park.

Initially feeling a little shaky and unsteady on the icy and slightly slippery bridal path, I figured the walk would be a fairly short one. -- Perhaps a quick trip around the Great Lawn, throw some bread out for the birds, maybe take a picture or two.

But, as we moved on, I began to feel stronger in the brisk, wintry air and took special joy in the delight of my two dogs enjoying the snow.

We ended up spending two hours in the park......walking along the wooded paths of the Rumbles, to the frozen rowboat lake, to Bethesda Fountain and back.

I snapped some pictures along the way, but the best ones were of Chance's happy face in the snow and Tina's back side while she eagerly looked for ducks or raccoons near the frozen Turtle pond.

The day was nice for "people watching" too. Everyone looking happy and serene. A few teenagers pushing their luck walking on the thin ice of the lake; one family even having a picnic in 38 degree temperatures!

It all reminded one of the old Spanky and Our Gang song, "Lazy Day."

Finally arriving home about an hour before sunset, I marvelled at how physically good and strong I felt, as well as how the day had actually turned out to be quite wonderful and fun!

I laughed at how blackened and grungry both dogs looked from romping around in all the wet snow, ice and dirt.

But, it was all so worth it.....

I thought to myself, sometimes the best gifts are those one gives to one's self.

Especially, when being lucky to have two great dogs to share those gifts with. -- PCA


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Those First (Dreaded) Six Weeks! (Reply)

(Picture Left: [Sweet, but timid] "Lady" -- Almost a "boomerang" dog.)

SKDean Writes: I'm so sorry Diamond's adoption didn't work out. It's too bad the woman couldn't have transformed her grief into an act of loving kindness toward another living being. I hope Diamond finds a wonderful home soon.

Reply: Well, the adopter donated food and other supplies so it wasn't a matter that Ellen was a bad person. She just should have been more upfront in terms of her real motivation for adoption. I would have told the young woman that an animal cannot immediately fill the holes caused by grief and loss of a loved one. There are no magic bullet cure-alls for the misfortunes of life -- other than perhaps time itself.

Time (and patience) is, in fact, the remedy for most of life's challenges, including those that often come with the acquisition of a new cat or dog.

It is stressful bringing home a new pet. The animal has to adjust to new people, a new home, neighborhood and routine. The people have to adjust to new responsibilities and demands upon their time. Both, the animal and the person have to try to figure each other out.

"Bonding" isn't something that occurs either with animals or people in a day or a week.

Relationships take time.

I don't know and don't proclaim that the adoption of Diamond by the young woman was doomed to failure simply because her motivation for the adoption was misguided. It could have worked out if Ellen was willing to give herself and Diamond more time and if she could have kept her expectations more in line with reality.

But, so often when people make emotional and arbitrary judgments based on only having an animal a few days or a week, those decisions are not in the ultimate best interest of either the person or the pet.

I always stress to people at the time of adoptions to call us if they have ANY questions or problems.

I don't consider adoptions a "done deal" by any stretch of the imagination as I am too aware of the many challenges facing both the pet and the adopter in those early days of bringing home a new animal.

With dogs especially, there can be initial problems with housebreaking, separation anxiety, barking, getting along with other pets in the home and even in some cases, trust.

In virtually every case where an adopter (or foster) calls us to discuss concerns or problems and listens to the tips and advice they are given, the placement eventually works out successfully.

One recent case in point:

About a month ago, a young man named Nick adopted an older little hound mix from us named "Lady."

Lady is a lovely, gentle and devoted dog. But, even when we rescued her from Animal Care and Control, it was pretty clear that Lady was a timid, somewhat insecure dog who lacked confidence -- especially after being abandoned by her family who had her for nine years.

When first going into her new adoptive home, Lady lacked the confidence to pee outside (where other dogs have marked the territory) and thus presented with housebreaking issues. Additionally, she had separation anxiety problems and barked when Nick went to work.

This of course resulted in neighbor complaints about the barking and even a letter from the landlord.

Nick was understandably very stressed and faced with the possibility that either the dog would have to go -- or he could potentially lose his apartment.

It seemed that Lady was going to be returned to us -- unless we could somehow solve the problems within a very short time space.

I spoke with Nick several times over the next couple of weeks, getting information from him as well as offering tips and advice. I stressed the importance to Nick of trying to keep his own stress and anxiety issues to a minimum (as dogs pick up on human emotions) even though that is very tough under the circumstances. I offered Nick a "game plan" so to speak, on helping Lady to realize her place in the home and to feel more secure. The game plan consisted of (among other things) not allowing Lady to follow him to the door when Nick leaves the home, not making a fuss when he leaves or comes home, walking the dog during those times when the streets are more quiet and less crowded and walking Lady in a consistent area. A little "Rescue Remedy" might also serve to calm Lady's nerves.

I would be lying were I to say we solved all the problems within a few days.

Rather, it has taken almost a full month for Lady to finally "settle in."

But, the good news is that in a conversation from the other day, Nick tells me that Lady is now consistently doing her duties outside and the barking when left alone has all but ceased.

We are very lucky that the adopter in this case was very willing to listen, heed the advice and "hang in there" through the challenging period of the first month following an adoption.

I always say that if we can get through the first 6 weeks or so, following an adoption placement, it is virtually assured of working out.

The problem of course is getting through those first (dreaded) 6 weeks! -- PCA


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Of Hearts and Minds

(Picture Left: Diamond. Loving, loyal dog, adopted out to a good person. And yet, returned......)

Adoptions are complicated.

Far more so, than either the media or many of the large, established organizations would have one believe.

About a week ago, we adopted out a wonderful, fully trained and loving hound mix named, "Diamond" to a young woman who had grown up with dogs and currently has a cat.

"Ellen" told me she greatly missed having a dog, but it would be important that any dog she adopt, be good with cats.

When rescued from the pound, Diamond came with information from her past owners. Part of that information indicated that Diamond loved cats.

I recommended Diamond to Ellen and within a few days, Ellen went to see the devoted, mature dog in her foster/boarding home. Ellen called me that evening enthusiastic about adopting Diamond.

Everything seemed perfect. Good dog to a good person. Ellen had excellent vet references, a good job and seemed to be very committed and responsible.

But, after only having Diamond less than a week, I received a call from Ellen the other day.

She seemed upset.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

I anticipated hearing that perhaps Diamond was chasing the cat or having housebreaking or separation anxiety issues -- typical challenges that people can run into with newly acquired dogs.

But, it was none of those things.

Rather, Ellen had taken Diamond to her vet the day after adopting for a general check-up and it seems the vet overwhelmed her with too much information.

During the visit, the vet pointed out that although healthy, Diamond had a small scrape on her tail that she appeared to be biting at. The vet prescribed antibiotics and placed an Elizabethan collar around the dog's head (to prevent licking or biting). The vet also warned that if the wound did not heal properly, Diamond's tail might have to be amputated!

Additionally, the vet discussed other things with the young woman, such as Heartworm prevention -- an odd thing right now considering the temperatures in NYC are in the 20's and we are just about to embark on winter. Heartworm is derived from mosquitos and mostly occurs to those dogs who live in rural areas or spend most of their time outdoors. Ellen lives in a New York apartment.

All of this had the effect of somewhat alarming Ellen and apparently convincing her that she had gotten over her head with the adoption of the dog.

I tried to tell Ellen that it was extremely unlikely that Diamond would need her tail amputated, though it was understandable that a vet might feel need to communicate "worst case scenario." I also informed Ellen that if "worst case scenario" actually occurred, we would pay for any necessary follow-up vet care or surgery. Why the vet felt it necessary to discuss Heartworm prevention with the young woman as the city was about to experience a major snow storm is, however, still a mystery.

But, despite my efforts to try and reassure Ellen and support her through any challenges with the newly adopted dog, she kept saying to me, "I don't think I am really ready for this responsibility. Diamond's a wonderful dog, but I think I need to bring her back...."

Such throwing in the towel especially when having the adopted animal less than a week is particularly frustrating to those of us in rescue and placement. I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from saying, "Well, if you weren't ready for a dog, why did you adopt?"

But, ultimately, this wasn't a matter of a bad dog or bad adopter.

It was a matter, I believed, of a new dog caregiver/owner wanting to do "the right thing" but becoming intimidated, frightened and overwhelmed by "too much information" (in this case) given by an overly careful vet. What was the point in scaring a new dog adopter with all these worst case scenarios?

Instead of questioning Ellen's motives for adoption when she "wasn't ready," I once again tried to reassure the young woman that challenges and doubts are common when people first acquire a dog or a cat. Most of these problems resolve themselves with time, support, patience, care and confidence. It typically takes most dogs and their new owners about a month to six weeks to fully adjust to all the changes and new challenges.

But, nothing I said apparently had any effect.

Yesterday, Ellen returned Diamond to her foster/boarding home -- apparently very distraught and in tears.

But, the interesting thing about all this is the (real?)reason Ellen offered Chris (the foster caregiver) for both the adoption and return of Diamond.

Ellen told Chris that after her mother recently died, she felt a sense of profound loss and loneliness.

She thought that adopting a dog might help to alleviate her sense of grief and perhaps help to heal and fill the empty void in her heart.

But, of course neither animals nor humans can heal the grief in one's soul when there is major loss or hurt in life.

It is unwise to either bring in a dog or cat or have a baby when either animal or human has a "job" to do. (i.e. heal a wounded heart, a bad marriage, loneliness or anxiety.)

Had Ellen told me any of this from the beginning, I never would have adopted out a dog to her. I might have recommended grief counseling instead.

In this case, the adoption and return of Diamond had little, if anything at all to do with scrapes on tails, questionable veterinary advice or even feeling overwhelmed.

It had everything to do with adopting an animal for the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately, people don't always communicate to us, the subconscious or deeper reasons why they might seek to adopt a cat or dog. And, we can't read minds.

I just know that no animal replaces or "fills" the loss of a beloved pet or human. No animal (or human for that matter) "heals" a broken heart or shattered home.

Each pet brought into a home or baby brought into the world is his/her own special entity and has to be welcomed, appreciated, cared for and loved as such.

That usually requires a free and open heart; not one leaden and weighted down in grief.

Indeed, adoptions are complicated.

That is until the day we are able to peer into both, what is in people's minds and hearts. -- PCA


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brandon's Journey

(Picture Left: Brandon in new home. Happy at last -- but such a long road to get there.)

In April of 2006, I rescued a 3-year-old, declawed tabby cat from the pound who was on the Euth list for aggressive behavior. Something about "Brandon's" wide-eyed, frightened look in his shelter picture got to me.

Brandon arrived at the shelter as an unneutered, declawed "stray" from the Bronx. I wondered what type of people would have a cat declawed and fail to neuter the animal? How did Brandon end up as a "stray?"

There were indeed many unanswered questions about Brandon. What was not in question however was that he had attempted to bite several staffers in the shelter. He was a very nervous and defensive animal -- as if the whole world was something to distrust and be wary of.

Over the many months I fostered Brandon, (following his neutering) he slowly evolved into a very affectionate animal with me, often crawling into my lap and soliciting petting. He, in fact, became my favorite cat.

However, lacking claws (the normal means for a cat to defend him/herself), Brandon was extremely defensive and nervous around my other animals. Whenever one of the other (clawed) cats or my dog would approach, Brandon quickly scattered and ran in absolute terror.

I determined that it was important for Brandon to find a cat-experienced and loving home without other pets.

Almost a year after his rescue, I finally found what I thought would be the perfect home for Brandon: A mature, married couple who had recently lost their only declawed cat of 16 years to cancer.

The people came to my home and quickly fell in love with the friendly, striped cat who wrapped himself in their laps and nudged his head against their hands.

But, it seems the first sign of potential trouble was when I tried to place Brandon into the couple's Sherpa bag. For the first time, Brandon struggled and bit me.

I attributed the mishap to Brandon's fear and nervousness when forced into a carrier.

But, I was apparently wrong.

The next day, the couple returned Brandon to me with the explanation that he attempted to bite the wife shortly after they got him home.

Having then received Brandon back for "aggressiveness" I became much more apprehensive about trying to place him in another home. Although still advertised as a special needs adoption, I did not receive any calls over the next two years that would have represented appropriate placement for Brandon.

In the meantime, my personal situation changed.

In 2008, I had rescued another cat who, sensing Brandon's fear of other animals, relentlessly harassed and attacked him. Additionally, I adopted a second dog, (Chance) who for whatever reason, seemed to intimidate Brandon even more than my first dog, Tina.

Matters became so bad that Brandon rarely ventured onto my lap for petting and eventually took to cringing almost all of the time on top of my refrigerator. Even so, Hillary (the cat) pursued him, ate his food and attacked and Chance chased him those times Brandon attempted to come down to use the litter box.

I tried caging Brandon for a while, but that didn't work as Hillary tried to claw him through the cage bars. Brandon was even more miserable than on top of the fridge. I had to leave him out again.

When Brandon became so stressed that he started using my kitchen sink as a litter box, I decided that I needed to do something.

As soon as one of my very few cat fosters became available, I asked "Yhoumey" to take Brandon to foster. But, that didn't work either as the young woman has two other cats and this time, Brandon became the aggressor to the other animals, seeking them out, jumping and biting.

Brandon was once again returned within a few weeks.

But, this time, rather than take him back to my home where he was relentlessly stressed and attacked, I sent Brandon to my vet for emergency boarding. If I could not find placement for Brandon within a couple of months, I would have to face the awful, but inevitable decision for euthanasia. -- Something I didn't want to think about. And yet, Brandon could not spend the rest of his life in a cage at the vet.

Things were looking very bleak for Brandon.

But, sometimes just when matters seem to be without hope, a light beacons.

In this case, one of the veterinary technician's developed an affinity for Brandon and called me one day offering her help.

"Chris" also does cat rescue and urged me not to give up on Brandon. She too, would try to help Brandon find an appropriate home.

Between Chris and myself sharing boarding expenses, Brandon ended up staying at the vet's office for almost five months before, finally, Chris was able to find a wonderful couple willing to adopt Brandon.

It's almost two weeks since Brandon's adoption. The people love him and have sent beautiful pictures.

It's taken three years for this cat to go from "aggressive stray" in the shelter to terrified basket case in my multi-pet home to "attack before the other cats get you" in a foster home, to an animal simply needing peace and time to become himself again and finally, to a loving pet in a loving home.

Its been a long and difficult journey for Brandon, but one finally with a happy ending thanks to team work and a determination never to give up no matter how bleak things may appear.

Special thanks to Chris for reminding me of this. -- PCA


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To Each His/Her Own?

Picture Left: "Coco." If there is a home for every homeless animal, why is Coco waiting so long for hers? Rescued from death at the pound last Spring, Coco has spent almost the entire year in boarding. This, despite being a very loving, healthy and beautiful, (now) 6-year-old dog. We are literally watching Coco grow old in boarding.)

Some good news over the past couple of days.

I did call the shelter the other day to pull Bujoe off the Euth list and thanks to the last minute efforts of a colleague who frantically posted Bujoe to "Craig's List" we were able to secure a committed foster home for the gentle, Lab/Chow mix.

I think of "Craig's List" like the old adage of "having to kiss a hundred frogs before one finds a prince." Indeed, one has to wade through a lot of crap before one finds a potential foster or adopter that actually transforms into a real and loving home for an animal.

Typical calls from Craig's List however are mostly frustrating with the usual first question being: "Ya gotta pay anything for the dog?"

When one hears that question in the first three sentences, its a sure bet that the person on the other end of the line will never pay a dime to take an animal to the vet -- or, in many cases, doesn't even know what a vet is.

Still, every now and then one strikes adoption or foster gold on Craig's List and so for that reason, it is worth the aggravation.

Its just that there's so much of it. -- like the (intoxicated?) woman who called yesterday and couldn't seem to remember the sex of her dog at home.

The woman told me her dog was a neutered male, Collie mix. But, then she kept referring to the dog as "she" and "her."

Utterly confused, I asked the woman about this and she answered that she also had a cat and that the cat was female!

"But, Ma'am you should have told me you had a cat," I replied. "The dog you're seeking to adopt would kill a cat!"

Yep. Craig's List is a little weird. But, it can sometimes be very effective for those animals about to die at the pound:

"Please help us save Fluffy from the pound. Only ten hours to live!"

That only it were even one tenth as effective for those animals languishing in boarding facilities for months and advertised hundreds of times.

Indeed, one could say, the animals slowly dying from loneliness and lack of a real home -- or person to call and feel their own.

Would it be a lie to say they are dying too? -- PCA


Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Dregs

(Picture Left: "Bujoe" -- On today's Euth list.
To call or not to call -- that is the question....)

Low and behold! Yesterday, we had a cat adoption inquiry!

But, the caller demanded that the cat be a "Purebred Maine Coon, under two years of age and declawed."

Ah yes. We have so many cats who match that criteria!

I did not bother to call the woman back.

It is that time of year of course.

The time when most people are caught up in holiday shopping or travel plans.

Serious adoption inquiries rapidly dwindle except for those people seeking "toy dogs," "kittens" or "purebred, declawed cats."

I call them the adoption dregs.

We actually do have one "toy dog" right now. A ten pound Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix whom a potential adopter turned down the other day for being "too big."

I generally don't like to rescue small dogs for exactly this reason: I can't stand most of the people who want them.

And so the problem is probably me.

I have been in rescue too long.

I am cynical, burned out, pessimistic and, oh spare that awful of awful words, "negative!"

Yep. All of that is true.

There is a dog on today's shelter death list that I would normally pull.

"Bujoe" is an 9-year-old, Retriever/Husky mix who was dumped by a family who claims "allergies." (Allergies do seem to be mostly caused by upcoming holidays. I wonder why that is?) Former owners stated that Bujoe "deserves a loving home." "He is a very loving and affectionate dog. Loves men, women, children, other dogs and CATS!"

Despite the excellent owner profile, Bujoe nevertheless failed the SAFER, so-called "Behavior" test. (Wow, what else is new?) And now he is on the kill list.

Many things are preventing me from picking up the phone to pull this dog:

We have too many dogs in boarding already. We are getting mostly "dreg" (i.e. seeking Christmas present) calls now. And a lousy behavioral "evaluation" hurts the dog's chances for adoption. People actually do take this crap seriously -- more so than the actual owner profiles -- although it is the owner profiles that denote what a dog is like in an actual HOME..

So yes, I am in quandary right now.

I don't believe the SAFER test. I believe the owner profile. One look at Bojoe's face tells me to believe that -- that along with years of experience with both, dogs and the SAFER test. More often than not, the tests are wrong. But, I have never known an owner profile to be wrong.

I've got an hour to make up my mind whether to call on this dog or let him go.

I don't enjoy this kind of stress.

So often these days, I find myself wanting to finally get out of animal rescue.

Then, again.......... -- PCA


Thursday, December 10, 2009

As it Is (Reply)

In a message dated 12/10/2009 11:26:34 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, writes:
amby111 has left a new comment on your post "Where the Logic and Truth? (Reply)":

Thank you for posting this. I respect Nathan's ideology, but concur with you that both the public and shelters are responsible for the current horrific "euthanasia" numbers. Nathan argues that there is no pet overpopulation, just deception and poor marketing on the part of shelters. Anyone who has ever worked in a shelter or with a rescue that pulls from a municipal shelter knows that human irresponsibility results in a staggering number of unwanted animals. And no, there are not enough homes for them all. But that doesn't mean we should accept "euthanasia" as necessary. In a civilized, humane (and wealthy) society, killing healthy cats and dogs is not "necessary." Even so-called "no kill" shelters--including those championed by Nathan--are killing feral cats and dogs with behavior issues. They are doing this while calling themselves "no kill." This only serves to further obfuscate the truth and lull people into thinking, as Nathan we have us believe, "There is no overpopulation problem." Change will be impossible if we can't start by acknowledging the truth. (Emphasis supplied.)

Reply: I am reposting your comment in its entire as every word is so accurate and important for others to read.

"Overpopulation" is a blanket term that, in fact, cannot be universally applied to all cats and dogs.

We don't have an overpopulation problem with Bloodhounds for example or Scottish Fold cats. Of course one could argue and question why we need so many "breeds" when millions of adoptable animals die in shelters every year. Especially with cats who don't differ significantly in size, body shape or behavior whether "purebred" or not, the argument is a legitimate one.

However, as stated yesterday we DO have a huge "overpopulation" problem with one particular breed of dog and that of course is Pitbulls. Almost ALL of the dogs currently dying in New York City (and other big city) shelters are Pitbulls and Pit mixes. That should tell everyone involved in this issue that we have a specific problem that needs to be addressed specifically.

"Breed bans" (and subsequent shelter killings) seems to be the typical knee-jerk reaction to a problem like this, though as with most bans of anything, the problem tends to go underground and/or abusers of animals go on to another breed of dog to exploit. Moreover, breed bans punish the responsible owners of said breeds of dogs more so than actual abusers.

I believe we need TARGETED educational and spay/neuter programs to go into the schools and communities where most shelter dogs (and cats) come from. This means that shelters have to do a better job of obtaining accurate information regarding original location of shelter animals, how and where such animals were acquired (if owned) and owner "profiles." We need community, political and sometimes cultural activists and leaders to address the issues and urge constituents and/or followers or fans to act in more responsible manner towards their animals.

Most important of all (as you point out), we need shelters to be HONEST and forthcoming about the real problems facing animal shelters and rescues and how these issues can be responsibly addressed and hopefully solved.

Putting out false messages that a particular city "is on the road to no kill" or will be "no kill" by a specific year when the above problems are not being addressed in any significant manner is to be as irresponsible (and worse, deceitful) as the very public that creates the problems in the first place.

The idea that rescue groups and special adoption events are somehow the "solution" to the cat and Pitbull overpopulation problem is like saying it is possible to empty out an overflowing bathtub with a teaspoon.

We have to find ways to turn off the running faucets.

As you so correctly point out, the first step in that process is full acknowledgement and acceptance of truth.

As said hundreds of times to callers over the years, "We have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be." -- PCA


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Managing" in the Twilight Zone (Reply)

(Picture left: "Tommy," a loving Pomeranian rescued several months ago and yesterday finally finding his fabulous and forever home.)

amby111 has left a new comment on your post "Dancing (Dizzy) Ballerina": Patty, I hope you feel better soon. It is worrisome to get sick when one lives alone with lots of animals to care for. I'm glad you have a friend who could help out.

Reply: Thank you so much for your kind thoughts.

Part of sharing this experience on the blog is to remind those living alone with animals the importance of having some kind of arrangement for care of the pets in case of any emergency. It is especially important that such trusted person(s) have keys to the home (a good thing to have anyway in case one ever loses keys.)

What I didn't say the other day is that I have experienced vertigo before. In 2002, I had the condition for about 8 months before it finally subsided and went away on its own. That was after all kinds of medical tests that revealed nothing significant other than "stress" and once again resulted in a prescription for Zoloft which I never filled.

The problem with vertigo is that it can come back years later with a vengeance. And I am only in the early phases of it now.

It doesn't seem there are any real "cures" for this condition other than time itself. Doctors typically prescribe anti-depressants because the anxiety, fear and nervousness that accompanies the condition (i.e. lack of control) can be worse than the imbalance itself. It can be very frightening and unnerving to be walking around and feel the ground wavering beneath ones' self. Sometimes there is also a sense of "fading out" or nautiousness that goes along with it.

In short, its like living in the Twilight Zone.

The episodes come in clusters sometimes lasting several hours before they subside or temporarily go away all together.

Exercise, especially dancing or long walks (if one is up to them) really do seem to help at least on a momentary basis.

For now though, I have had to give up swimming and or getting on subways -- things that the loss of are, in and of themselves depressing (especially, the swimming.)

Yesterday, one of our dogs ("Tommy" the Pomeranian) was adopted from a foster home way downtown and I had to request the adopters, a lovely older couple to pick me up in their car and drop me home following the adoption. The people were exceptionally gracious and understanding. I hate feeling so deficient, unpredictable and vulnerable, but wavering on a subway platform is simply not an option.

Anyway, the best one can do when experiencing episodes of vertigo is to try to manage the condition, not panic and anticipate that time itself will eventually take care of the problem.

Unfortunately, it just seems to take a lot of time to get rid of the problem and for the body (or ear) to once again, right itself.

In the meantime, an occasional shot of brandy, an episode of "Two and a Half Men" and some mindless, happy old rock tunes to dance to help get one through the worst of times in the "Twilight Zone." -- PCA


Where the Logic and Truth? (Reply)

(Picture left: Loving "Nia" with caregiver. No one knows how many rescued, affectionate Pitbulls are currently languishing in boarding kennels, sanctuaries or no kill shelters, but the numbers have to be staggering. We cannot "rescue" or even adopt our way out of the pitbull or cat overpopulation problems. Until shelters are more honest about the killings they must do on a daily basis and the public is willing to accept some responsiblity for animal care and responsibility, the carnage will never end. THAT is reality.)

audrey fisher has left a new comment on your post "The Real Problem -- (Reply)":
i agree with a lot of what you are saying in this post. however, i hope you will reconsider some of the statements you made, statements that i also used to accept as obvious truths - that shelters HAVE to euthanize, that the problem is the PUBLIC, that there aren't enough HOMES.......

Reply: There is a little blame for everyone and the whole blame to no one.

I don't hold either the shelters or the public entirely responsible or blameless for the disgrace of killing millions of animals a year. The truth, as usual is in the middle.

The author you cite, Nathan Winograd makes many excellent points that there is little legitimate argument against. But, sometimes one wonders if he fully understands the entire harsh realities of this issue?

When I say "harsh realities" I refer to the fact that we now have millions of pitbulls being bred and dumped by certain segments of the public into the shelter system every year. It doesn't matter how loving the dogs or how hard one tries to promote and advertise them. The FACT is that this breed of dog is now banned in many buildings, housing complexes, communities and even some cities. Even were that not the case, Pitbulls are not meant for everyone.

Can one realistically and comfortably try to promote a Pitbull to some senior citizen with limited mobility or someone with small pets at home? Perhaps those pitbulls who have been raised with cats or other animals in a previous home might be OK to send to an adopter with other pets, but usually the shelters don't have that information on the dogs. Considering the sheer strength of Pitties, sending one (with limited or scanty information) to a home with other smaller or weaker pets can be disastrous.

The bottom line is that we have far, far more of these dogs coming into municipal shelters than what we have responsible homes for. That is not fabrication or exaggeration. It is truth. Certainly, more than 80% of the dogs arriving at New York City municipal shelters are pits or pit mixes. Probably more than 90% of the cruelty cases coming to the ASPCA are the same.

As said in recent weeks, one suspects the real reason the ASPCA killed Oreo was more due to her BREED than anything else. With so many nice Pitties dying for lack of homes, why go to great lengths to try and save a Pitbull with issues? My biggest "problem" with the ASPCA for killing Oreo (when they had life-affirming option) is that they blamed it on the DOG. The ASPCA should have blamed Oreo's needless death partly on all the cretins breeding, abusing and abandoning this breed of dog, (instead of the hapless and tragic animal herself) and partly, their own decision. By holding Oreo responsible for her own execution, the ASPCA thus ABSOLVED the public and themselves for any culpability and that is both disgusting and inexcusable.

Reality is that Oreo's death was 50% due to those who bred and abused her and 50% the choices of the ASPCA.

Likewise, I personally see the deaths of millions of shelter animals as 50% the result of public irresponsibility and 50% the result of shelter deception, lies and obstruction of truth.

For ANY shelter system in a large city such as New York, Los Angelos, Chicago or others dealing with the Pitbull and cat overpopulation problems to claim "We are on the road to no kill" is an outright lie right up there with "Don't worry, baby, I'll pull out just in time."

Outrageous and incomprehensible.

And as long as shelters continue to hide, sugarcoat and obfuscate the truth, we can never expect the public to change or to accept ANY responsibility for the never-ending carnage.

There will forever be "Euth Lists" containing pictures and names of dozens of animals going down daily in our local shelters.

Euth lists that are forbidden to be shared with the public -- even though it is the public that CREATES the problem in the first place.

Where is the logic and truth in that? -- PCA


Monday, December 7, 2009

Dancing (Dizzy) Ballerina

(Picture left: "Brady," loving and well behaved Chow currently in foster home. But, his rescue, a complete blur to me.)

It is the early hours of Monday morning and I am finally motivated to get back to this journal after attending to it very sporadically over the past few weeks.

No, I wasn't on any kind of vacation -- unless one calls an overnight in a hospital a "vacation."

I landed in the hospital more than a month ago after nearly passing out on a subway platform one evening while on the way to the shelter to see a dog (whom we later rescued).

I did manage nevertheless to make it to the shelter that night -- but barely.

I was so out of it by the time I got to the AC&C that the memory of meeting the black Chow named Brady was, quite literally, like something out of a bad dream or total fog:

No ground seemingly below, it was like trying to walk on water or in a very rocky boat.

Those who did not know me, might have figured I was someone on bad drugs or a keg of booze.

When arriving at the shelter, I explained to Jesse, (the New Hope rescue coordinator) that I felt very dizzy and sick and that she would have to accompany me to meet the dog. I weakly added that I could not stay long, though that must have been blatantly obvious.

Walking through the narrow corridors and winding halls of the shelter did not help. By the time Jesse and I made it to the Adoption ward of the shelter, (located in the garage) my legs felt like cooked spaghetti and I had to immediately sit down. Everything was in a whirl.

Jesse brought out the bouncy black Chow.

"Do you want to take him for a walk?" she cheerfully chipped.

"I'm not up for any kind of walk right now," I mumbled barely audible even to myself.

I managed to pet the friendly Chow once or twice and told Jesse that we would take Brady after he got neutered. I then asked her to call me a cab.

A few minutes later I stumbled into the cab debating with myself whether to go home or go to a hospital.

Panic won out and I told the driver to take me to Metropolitan hospital.

The thought of passing out or worse, dying in my apartment was not appealing.

By the time the cabbie dropped me off in front of the Emergency Room, I was barely able to walk.

Indeed, I must have looked scary as the doctors saw me right away.

After insuring that I was not having a heart attack or some other immediately life-threatening condition, I was left sitting in a freezing exam room while they attended other patients.

When a couple of the doctors finally returned after what seemed like hours, I requested to go home.

"Oh, we don't advise that," one of them answered somberly. "That is a bad idea. You could pass out in your home. You need to be admitted for tests."

"But, my animals!" I shot back. "My two dogs need to be walked and my cats fed!"

"Don't you have someone to call?" the other doctor asked. "It would be very risky to leave tonight. We can't be responsible for what might happen to you!"

Well, there was a scary proclamation. Gee, thanks, I thought.

Yet, who was I to pick a fight with a doctor? Though feeling slightly better than the previous couple of hours, I was still shaky and unsteady.

Reluctantly, I called my friend, Elizabeth who thankfully has keys to my apartment and lives close by and asked her to tend my animals.

Elizabeth kindly obliged and said she would be happy to help.

"Hopefully, I will be able to leave here tomorrow," I tried to promise her.

The next 24 hours was like some blur of constant blood pressure monitoring, EKG's, temperature checks, numerous blood tests and even an X-Ray.

Perhaps from the anxiety, stress or horrible hospital food which I couldn't eat, my blood pressure at one point fell to 95 over 47. The low count threatened to add an extra day in the hospital.

That thought was worse than death however and thankfully, the BP came up on the next check and the doctors told me I could leave later in the day.

All the tests did not seem to point to anything concrete.

Perhaps that is why the hospital sent in a couple of psychiatrists to confer with me.

"Are you depressed or anxious about anything?" one of them asked.

"Well, yes," I answered. "I'm depressed and anxious about feeling so lousy! I've been having these dizzy spells for some weeks now. They happen out of nowhere. I feel I could pass out in the middle of the street or in my home. Anywhere. Anytime. That is depressing and scary. -- I have no control."

One of the doctors wrote out a prescription for Zoloft.

I left the hospital in grateful time to miss dinner.

The only food that was edible during the day-long hospital stay was a small box of Rice Krispies as that was the only thing the hospital could not ruin. -- Even so, they provided no sugar to go with the cereal.

Probably from the lack of nutrition, I was so weak when leaving the hospital, I had to take a cab home.

My legs felt like cement blocks when walking up the stairs to my apartment.

Gratefully, Elizabeth offered to walk Tina and Chance that night as well as the first one.

Its vital to have reliable friends when one runs into trouble like this.

Since returning home more than a month ago, life has become one daily adventure -- but not an adventure one particularly enjoys.

"Vertigo" is, I guess the official term for it. But, unlike the condition that plagued James Stewart in the famous Hitchcock movie of the same name, this sense of spinning in a rocky boat has nothing to do with heights.

Rather, it seems more to do with some kind of fluid imbalance (or retention) in the inner ear that affects one's sense of balance and equilibrium. (Did I swim too much over the summer and into early fall?)

One recalls former first lady, Mamie Eisenhower reportedly suffering from the condition many years ago and being touted by some tabloids as a drunk.

So far, I don't think I am walking like a drunk most of the time, but there are numerous occasions of feeling "tipsy."

Its enough to make one want to take up drinking just to earn the feeling.

But, rather than embark on a blitz of dizzy lizzy alcohol or prescription anti-depressants whose possible side affects can include dizziness or suicide, ("Suicide cures depression!" the ads should read) I'm considering taking up a blitz of almost non-stop dancing or really long and brisk walks in the park with the dogs.

Yes, those things really do seem to help keep the spells or "adventures" at bay -- at least while one is doing them.

Perhaps I should aspire to become the dancing ballerina from the movie, "The Red Shoes?" ---PCA


Monday, November 30, 2009

The Real Problem -- (Reply)

(Picture left: He's a happy boy now, but when rescued in August of 2008, Chance was on shelter Euth list for "Severely aggressive behavior.")

In a message dated 11/29/2009 4:01:05 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, Anonymous writes:
Wonderful insight into the world of dog rescuing and chow chows. I'd like to know what are the procedures and reasoning behind these temperament tests. Are there natural biases being applied by any given volunteer who happens to perform the test or is it the process in general?
Reply: You ask very good and complicated-to-answer questions.

Personally, I believe the main reason for the tests is protection from possible lawsuits resulting from a adopted dog potentially biting someone.

Of course whether a rescuer or a shelter doing animal adoptions, we all have to worry about any negative repercussions resulting from an adoption we do.

None of us want to learn that an animal we placed in a home has caused harm or injury to someone even if not specifically concerned over lawsuits.

But, the reality is there is NO 100% way of predicting or determining how any given animal may act in every perceivable situation. We are, after all dealing with animals, not computers or robots that we can "program" and "predict."

Add to that, the difficulty of trying to "evaluate" a dog's true temperament or possible behavior in a home when the dog is being held in the unnatural setting of a crowded and noisy municipal pound.

The sheer stress, disorientation, fear and possible depression most animals suffer when abandoned to a pound situation is enough to seriously alter their natural behaviors and reactions.

Actual aggressive dogs might feel intimidated in a shelter situation and behave in a deceptively passive or even docile manner. Such dogs will often "score" well on the SAFER tests.

On the other hand, formerly pampered dogs (particularly small ones) often panic in a shelter and act out in defensive or even aggressive manner. (Chance, my Pomeranian is a good example of this, although the shelter never officially SAFER tested him. He was too "aggressive" and resistant to any handling at all. Chance attempted to bite everyone in the shelter.)

Then, there are protective dogs like Chows, Rottweilers or German Shepherds (known for loyalty to owners) who are naturally wary of strangers. These breeds will often flunk the "tag," "pinch" or resource guarding parts of the SAFER tests. (For some reason, many Cocker Spaniels also fail food and resource guarding parts of the test.)

I have many problems with the SAFER tests as a matter of POLICY, one of which is its abysmal failure to differentiate among dog breeds.

There can be no reliable "one size fits all" Behavior Test for dogs. Breeds were created with different purposes and attributes in mind. To expect a German Shepherd or Rottie to behave or react like a Shih-Tzu is, (to my mind) pure lunacy.

So how DO shelters or rescues try to determine potentially aggressive dogs from those who are simply anxious or wigged out in a shelter environment?

That is not easy -- especially when the dog has been turned in as a "stray" and there is no history or "Owner Profile" on the animal.

I believe that instead of devoting so much time and resource to so-called SAFER tests, shelters need to PRIORTIZE getting as much history and BACKGROUND on the dogs as possible:

Where did the dog come from? What were the conditions in which the animal lived? If owned, was the dog owned by one individual or a family? Did the dog live with other animals? Etc., etc.....

If the dog arrives at the shelter as a severe cruelty or neglect case, (such as "Oreo" the formerly abused ASPCA dog euthanized after 5 months of medical treatment in the shelter) then special allowances need to be made for that. Usually, these dogs cannot be adopted directly to the public, but rather need to go to special trainers or rehabilitation centers if they are to be saved.

One cannot expect a formerly traumatized and/or tortured, starved dog to score like Lassie on a SAFER test. -- Again, pure lunacy.

Another way to get an idea of a dog's true temperament is information and input from shelter dog walkers and experienced, knowledgeable volunteers or shelter dog handlers.

Those who spend actual TIME with the dogs and walk or feed them usually have a much better handle on the dogs' true natures, then an individual paid to do a ten-minute temperament "evaluation" on the animals under high stress and unnatural circumstances. Gilbert's case was a good example of this. The shelter volunteer was able to better gage the dog's normal behavior than the so-called "SAFER test" wrongly determined.


We are killing millions of animals a year due to lack of human responsibility, failures to spay and neuter and pet overpopulation. Most of all, we are killing due to a lack of loving and responsible homes to send the animals to. Too many people BUY animals from back yard breeders and pet stores. Too many people fail to neuter animals. And too many people abandon pets to shelters or streets.

But, instead of the putting the responsibility (or blame) where it truly belongs (with the PUBLIC and the politicians), we put it on the animals by claiming that they "fail" their SAFER "temperament" tests. There is "something wrong" with them.

In short, as conducted now, I believe the SAFER tests should be eliminated from all shelters as they, at best are unreliable and given to great errors and at worst, simply used as (usually false) justification to kill shelter dogs.

I understand shelters have to "euthanize" for all the reasons emphasized above.

But, lets me HONEST about the real reasons we are killing the animals, instead of dressing it up in "blame the victims and pacify the public" gift wrap (i.e. "The animals are old, sick or vicious.")

That is what is truly inexcusable and unconscionable as it insures we will NEVER address or solve the real problem -- human irresponsibility. -- PCA


Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Number to Ponder

(Picture Left: Gilbert -- One, very fortunate Chow Mix)

The past few weeks have thankfully seen some increase in adoption inquiries, adoptions and new rescues.

Perhaps these are the first indications that things might finally be turning around in the grim economy -- or, at least just a bit. There seems to be some room for new optimism.

One of our dogs recently rescued is Gilbert.

Gilbert is a 4-year-old black Chow who arrived at the city shelter (AC&C) early in November after being abandoned in an apartment after his former owners moved out and left him.

Gilbert is a peaceful, seemingly well trained dog who was put into Adoptions shortly after arriving at the pound -- something very unusual for a Chow. Due to their general aloofness and reserve with new people, most Chows don't make into the adoption wards of shelters.

Those times when a Chow does, it is something to behold.

Alas however, Gilbert did not stay in the AC&C adoption ward long.

A day or two later, the shelter conducted a SAFER ("temperament") test on Gilbert and he dismally failed the "dog-to-dog" part of it, garnishing a "5" -- the worst rating a dog can get.

Gilbert was immediately pulled from the Adoption Ward (located in a garage) and put into the main building where his fate was certain death unless taken out in rescue.

Workers at the shelter then called me asking if we could take Gilbert.

I, of course had concerns about the "dog-to-dog" behavioral rating, but long experiences with both the shelter and the controversial "Behavior Tests" have taught me never to take the SAFERS at face value.

I requested one of the volunteers at the shelter (who I know and trust) to do a separate evaluation and let me know her thoughts.

"Jane" (not her real name) thankfully obliged and later told me that Gilbert showed no aggression towards other dogs when taken for walks. Once again, the SAFER test was put to question.

"I don't know how they came up with a '5' on Gilbert's dog-to-dog," Jane said with frustration. "I've walked him by many dogs, including some who are dog aggressive and Gilbert shows absolutely no reaction."

Feeling more assurance with Jane's words, I went to the shelter to see Gilbert myself and my experiences with him and other dogs were exactly the same as Jane's. He seemed a very peaceful and mellow dog.

I then told Jesse, the New Hope Rescue Coordinator, that we would try to take Gilbert, but I needed a couple of days to advertise and try to find a foster for the black Chow.

"Oh, that's good," Jesse remarked. "He's already on the Euth list for tomorrow. I will pull him for now, but you need to get him out. How soon can you take him?"

"Jesse, I can't make promises!" I replied with some exasperation. "I will do my best to come up with something, but you know how this goes. Right now, we are full in boarding and foster. I have to hope we get lucky in finding a suitable foster. -- I will TRY."

"Oh, well you always find people," Jesse quipped cheerfully. "Just let me know," she smiled.

Jesse was a lot more optimistic than I was.

The following day we advertised Gilbert on several adoption sites, along with another dog, "Lady," an older, very sweet little Shepherd mix who had also hit the Euth list due to Kennel Cough. We had already committed to saving Lady.

As luck would have it, I did receive one very good offer for foster that day.

"Chris" and his finance, Jen are a youngish couple from Manhattan's Upper West Side who were thinking of adopting a dog, but saw our desperate foster "life or death" ads for Lady and Gilbert.

"We'd like to help," Chris told me. "Which dog is more urgent?"

"To be honest, they're both urgent," I replied. "I realize you can't take both dogs, but if you can take one, we can try to get the other one into emergency boarding."

Later that evening I met Chris and Jen at the shelter, along with a couple of my volunteers, Firouzeh and her boyfriend, Michael who were there to help with dog photos and other matters.

I was almost sure Chris and Jen would take Lady who is a smallish and very sweet and ingratiating dog, but for some reason, they took more to Gilbert.

Gilbert too, responded very well to the young couple.

Within an hour or so, Chris and Jen were on their way home with Gilbert in the back seat of their car while Firouzeh, Michael and I took Lady to a boarding facility on the Upper East Side, where a few days later, the affectionate, gentle mutt was successfully adopted.

At no time when we had the two dogs together, did Gilbert act anything but the perfect gentleman around Lady.

It was still a mystery on how Gilbert scored a "5" on his dog-to-dog behavior test. Nevertheless, it was something I had to point out to and warn his new foster people about.

"Watch him around other dogs," I cautioned. "Even though Gilbert was good with Lady and seems OK with dogs on the street, he must have shown some reaction to whatever dog they tested him with in the shelter."

Yesterday, I called Chris to inquire how things were going with Gilbert being that the couple now had the Chow for more than two weeks.

The news was nothing but positive. -- so good, in fact, that the couple is going to officially adopt Gilbert this Monday.

Chris told me that not only is Gilbert great with every dog encountered in Central Park, but also good with the family CATS in Connecticut where the couple and their new dog were spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

So much for Gilbert's "animal-to-animal aggression."

We will never know of course why this animal-friendly dog scored so deceptively and badly on the so-called SAFER ("temperament") test in terms of other dogs.

Is it the stress of being abandoned and winding up in a crowded city pound? Is it the unnatural way the test is conducted? (Putting two strange dogs face to face in a small room and then scoring how they "react.") Or, was there "something" about the tester dog that for some reason, put Gilbert on the defensive? The "something" about the other dog could be anything from a medical condition to sex of the dog to fear or some other "energy" emanating from the tester animal.

There are in fact, so many variables when these SAFER tests are conducted in a city pound that any kind of reliance on them is foolhardy at best and totally misleading and dog-condemning at worst.

Gilbert is simply a very fortunate dog that a number of people from a shelter volunteer, to myself, to his ultimate adopters were able to perceive the real dog underneath the inaccurate, disparaging and scary shelter "Behavior" label.

The question to wonder about is, "What if, one day, one of these negative behavior evals turns out to be right?" (So far, at least for us, that "What if" has never occurred.)

Another, even more important question to wonder of:

How many good dogs, not so fortunate as Gilbert have actually died due to faulty and inaccurate SAFER tests?

I shudder to think of that number -- or the faces and actual, gentle souls behind it. -- PCA


Friday, November 20, 2009

Response to ASPCA Generic Letter

My personal response to the ASPCA's public information letter:

Dear Generic ASPCA Public Information:

The PR robotic response below addresses none of the questions or statements of my first communication with the ASPCA, nor does it refer to Oreo, a young Pitbull who suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of her former owner with any sense of empathy or understanding.

On the contrary, the ASPCA seems determined to paint this victim of cruelty in the worst possible light in order to justify the "A's" arbitrary decision to end Oreo's short, painful and miserable life.

In some ways, it reminds one of those lawyers who have attempted to blame rape victims for their own rapes by putting a woman's past or style of dress on trial ("She brought the rape on herself!")

By describing and labeling Oreo as "untreatably aggressive" the ASPCA raises many questions -- Questions that have yet to be answered.

What exactly is, "untreatably aggressive?"

Did Oreo arrive at the ASPCA with a history of biting, fighting or attacking either humans or other pets? Did she bite or attack her human abuser who reportedly beat her with regularity and threw her from a roof top? Did she attack residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood she came from?

When suitably recovered from her broken legs and fractured rib, was Oreo regularly walked in the neighborhood by an ASPCA staffer or volunteer?

If so, would it not put the people and pets residing on Manhattan's crowded Upper East Side at great risk of attack from an "unrtreatably aggressive" dog?

If not, would it not be considered "cruel" to keep a young and ordinarily very active Pitbull confined to a small cage almost 24/7 for five months? Wouldn't most normal dogs go insane (and become "aggressive") from long term confinement (and isolation) in a cage?

How exactly were Oreo's needs for exercise met? Was she run on a treadmill? Exercised in a yard? Walked on the streets?

According to dog expert, Cesar Millan, a dog's number one need is "exercise."

If Oreo was so "aggressive" and "unpredictable" that it was impossible for staffers at the ASPCA to walk her on busy Manhattan streets, properly socialize or "rehabilitate" her, what attempts were made to send Oreo to a more suitable environment and rehabilitation center such as Best Friends ("Dogtown") in Utah or even Cesar Millan's dog center in California?

Best Friends is an organization that has taken in and rehabilitated many dogs (from shelters) with major behavioral and aggression issues, including most of Michael Vick's dogs. Surely, they would have taken Oreo if approached. Oreo was a very special and high profile media case. (Ditto, one might suspect with Cesar Millan.)

The question is: WAS Best Friends contacted and requested to take in Oreo and work with her? If so, what was their response?

How does the ASPCA know Oreo's "aggression" was "untreatable" if no attempt was made to send this dog to a more suitable and appropriate environment that would allow for proper exercise, stimulation, time, expert care and possible rehabilitation?

If most of Michael's Vicks "fighting dogs" could be rehabilitated in a proper environment, why couldn't Oreo?

Oreo was a very young dog whose behavior presumably could have been modified and worked with over time in a more nurturing, natural and suitable environment.

Expecting a horribly abused, fearful dog to magically transform into "Lassie" while confined to a smallish and busy brick and mortar shelter on Manhattan's congested Upper East Side seems unrealistic and lacking in understanding of bully breed behavior and regular canine needs for exercise, peace and stability.

Finally, attempts to discredit all those who question or criticize this decision by the ASPCA to kill Oreo seems, once again, like a cheap lawyer tactic to "attack the credibility of witnesses for the opposition" as well as to divert the issue.

It isn't Pets Alive who is at issue here for simply offering to take and attempt to work with Oreo.

It's the ASPCA for not allowing this victim of cruelty and abuse ANY "second chance" and instead, seemingly blaming Oreo for her own execution.

In doing so, the ASPCA has not only killed one dog for whom we will never know whether rehabilitation was possible or not, but unfortunately, has also tainted and shown all other Pitbulls and shelter dogs in an extremely derogatory and damanging light.

Instead of saying "we are killing these dogs because there are far too many and we don't have the homes for them" (which would put most of the blame rightfully on the public), the ASPCA claims instead, to kill because there is something wrong with the animals:

i.e. Blame the victims.

What a horrible message and death knell for the animals.

The ASPCA should be ashamed of itself.

Patty Adjamine,
New York City


Thank you for contacting the ASPCA - America’s first humane organization – regarding Oreo. It is important that our members have a voice in what happens in our organization – your willingness to take the time to send a message is truly appreciated. Due to the large volume of phone calls, mail and e-mails, we apologize for a generic response to your message, but please know that each and every communication is thoroughly read.A great deal of misinformation regarding Oreo’s euthanasia has been passed around on the Internet-- everything from what time Oreo was euthanized (it was 3 p.m.) to Pets Alive’s credentials (they are NOT a member of the Mayor’s Alliance). In addition, critics have seized on Oreo’s plight as an opportunity to discredit the ASPCA—which is interesting when you consider that one of our most ardent critics, Camille Hankins, the Director of Win Animal Rights, was convicted of animal cruelty in 1995 when nearly 100 animals were found stuffed into a tiny, filthy trailer that she rented.While we certainly think all of these issues merit rebuttal, we believe it is critical that we address the questions and concerns regarding our decision not to send Oreo to a sanctuary.It is first vital to consider the very definition of “animal sanctuary.” The mission of animal sanctuaries is generally to be safe havens, where the resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as naturally as possible in a protective environment. Due to the extreme emotional and physical strain Oreo suffered, her living conditions at a sanctuary would have been anything but "natural," and her quality of life would have been poor at best. She would have been forced to live a life of isolation with extremely limited human contact and virtually no animal contact. For an animal that is distinguished by sophisticated social cognition and communication, such an existence could hardly be defined by the word "sanctuary."Many groups like Pets Alive dispute that this would have been Oreo’s fate. But how can that be anything but empty rhetoric when these groups had no access to Oreo or her evaluations? We had our own professional behaviorists, as well as an independent veterinary behaviorist, conduct numerous evaluations, and in our experience, the findings were not consistent with sanctuary placement. We spent five months with Oreo- day in and day out- not only evaluating her behavior—but trying to rehabilitate her. This is central to the ASPCA’s mission. Just since 2003, when Edwin Sayres joined the ASPCA, we have rehabilitated over 1,200 animal cruelty victims at a cost of over 5 million dollars. Why would Oreo be any different?The fact is… she wasn’t. Despite the sensational nature of her injuries, she was treated with the same love and respect—and given the greatest of care and rehabilitation-- that we afford all of our animals. But at the end of the day, and more often than the animal welfare community discusses, we made the most humane decision we could. There is no “Oreo conspiracy,” as some have claimed. This is simply, and tragically, the case of a heartbreaking decision made all the more difficult by the ignorance and hypocrisy of a few.Should you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to email us again.

Sincerely,ASPCA Public Information >>>

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Setting Animal Protection Back 100 Years (Reply)

(Picture Left: "Nia" and Chris. Nia is a fabulous "Throwaway Mama" Pitbull that we rescued from death at the AC&C almost a year ago. All this time, this loving and dog friendly, child friendly dog has languished in boarding. Our abilities to place loving Pitties like Nia is now further hampered by the ASPCA's distruction of Oreo and false rationalization for it.)

Cubby's Daddy Writes: A high visibility organization with the massive funding and community standing of the ASPCA has a responsibility to set an example. By killing Oreo, the example they set is that it's ok to put down pitbulls because they are "aggressive" and can not be rehabilitated. The average person knows nothing about this breed except what they hear on the news. They think all pits are dangerous and should be put down. The ASPCA has done nothing but re-affirm that misconception. People are the problem, not the pitties.

Reply: The wisdom of your comment cannot be emphasized enough.

As powerful "role model" to almost the entire animal protection movement, the ASPCA has sent a silent message to the media and the public at large in its needless and unjustifiable execution of Oreo.

The message is that Pitbulls are aggressive and beyond redemption and should be put down in order to "protect the public."

What the ASPCA doesn't say is that according to insiders who knew Oreo, the dog was not aggressive at all. Vets had no problems in treating Oreo or volunteer dog walkers in walking Oreo.

Ah, but alas, Oreo (a former victim of beatings by her owner and being thrown from a rooftop) didn't fair well on her so-called, "Behavior Test." She charged a plastic hand dangled in front of her face.

My, my. Surprise, surprise.

I wonder what my dogs would do were I to dangle a plastic hand in front of their faces? Sadly, I can't answer that question as I've never had occasion to tease or torment my dogs with a plastic hand. I suspect, Chance, my Pomeranian might "charge" a plastic hand. Perhaps I should have him put down as a "danger" to the public?

What is particularly distressing about the ASPCA's killing of this particular dog is not just the actual execution, but the ASPCA's justification and rationale for it.

"Blaming the victim," so to speak.

One might be a little more understanding of the ASPCA position had they said something like:

"More than 90% of the dogs we get in from cruelty cases are Pitbulls. More than 80% of the dogs arriving at city Animal Control shelters are Pitbulls and Pit mixes.
Tragically, we don't have the responsible and capable homes to place all of these dogs into. We are forced to kill most Pitbulls because there is no reputable placement for the majority of them."

Had the ASPCA said the above, while representing TRUTH, it still would not have justified the killing of Oreo, because this particular dog DID have placement offer through a reputable and capable sanctuary ("Pets Alive"). If (as said yesterday) the ASPCA didn't like the particular shelter, they could have appealed to Best Friends in Utah who, almost assuredly would have taken a case as special as Oreo's and had the means to do so.

But, the ASPCA never bothered to ask Best Friends and ignored Pets Alive's offer.

In its arrogance, The ASPCA apparently didn't want another organization to succeed in what it failed to achieve: "Rehabilitation" and possible placement of Oreo into a loving home. It was more convenient and politically expedient to kill the dog and then blame Oreo for her own execution ("unadoptable.")

Thus, rationale for Oreo's death is put on the DOG, rather than the vicious human individual who so cruelly beat and tried to kill her OR the culture that is so ruthlessly breeding, abusing and discarding this breed of dog en masse.

The ASPCA's inexcusable killing of Oreo sets back the Animal Protection Movement at least 100 years.

The message is: "It is easier and more convenient to blame and kill the animal victims of abuse than to challenge and go after the human perpetrators." -- PCA