Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bailiwicks of Rescue (New York City)

(Picture left: "Daisy" -- Rescued many months ago, but still languishing in boarding, despite being a beautiful, healthy and loving Retriever/Chow mix.)

As expected, it was a very slow holiday weekend. Well, except for the couple who came to see one of our dogs (Leo) in boarding, wasted almost two hours of a volunteer's time, said they wanted to adopt and then later called to say their landlord wouldn't allow.

One wonders why people like this couldn't check with the landlord BEFORE they called rescue supposedly seeking to adopt a second dog?

People sometimes criticize rescues and some shelters for asking many questions ("third degree") before either showing animals for adoption or doing actual adoptions.

Our experience over the weekend is one of the reasons why.

Because, if we didn't ask the questions we would constantly be wasting time with people who, for one reason or another, are not in actual position to adopt -- or, we would be adopting out animals only to see most of them returned a short time later.

It is truly amazing how many people call pet adoption agencies BEFORE checking with landlords, roommates, spouses and lovers. Its downright ridiculous how many people contact shelters and rescues immediately BEFORE going on vacation, painting their houses or moving. Do such people really expect adoption agencies to "hold" animals weeks or months until the "adopters" get their act together? It seems only common sense to contact shelters and rescues when one is actually READY to bring home a pet.

Then again, whoever said that common sense was really "common?"

But aside from inconsiderate time wasters, the past week or so has been extremely slow in terms of adoption inquiries at all.

This is very scary in terms of the number of dogs we have in long-time boarding.

I am now very reluctant to put any dogs in boarding situations as it seems more and more like a "black hole." -- Once going in, it seems they rarely come out.

I believe the biggest reasons for this are two-fold:

First of all, those people really serious about adopting a dog generally go directly to shelters and pick one out. However, those people demanding "guarantees" of perfection in a pet or simply toying around with the idea of adoption are more likely to call rescues.

Secondly, many people like the idea of "saving" a dog or cat's life. These people will respond to what I call, the "11th hour desperation ads." i.e. "Please Save Lucy! She has only 24 hours to live!"

Because most rescue groups are "no kill" and because most of our animals are either in foster or boarding situations, we are not in position to lie and say our pets "only have 24 hours to live!"

Such pleas only work for animals in euthanizing shelters and whose lives are thus, literally on the line. In many cases, the pleas actually work to find an animal a last minute foster or adopter.

However, in those cases where the 11th hour desperation pleas don't work, the rescue is often faced with the decision of whether to send the dog to a boarding facility. This is especially true if the rescue has already committed to the animal either by rescue from the streets or promising an animal control facility that they will "pull" the dog or cat.

But, as said, boarding can be like a "black hole" for rescued animals.

Because the bottom line is that once having been "rescued" most people no longer feel any concern or sense of urgency for animals available through rescue groups and no kill shelters. The animals are presumed to be "safe."

What most people don't realize is that in order to continue rescue and taking in animals, rescue groups and no kill shelters have to be able to move the animals they have.

Otherwise, "rescue" and "no kill" simply becomes synonymous with the "warehousing" of animals. The dogs or cats may be "safe," but they lack the sense of security, human bonding and affection that is so important in terms of their ultimate happiness, peace, balance and welfare. -- PCA

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Of Telephones and Contracts (New York City)

(Picture left: "Lady" -- former stray for whom the telephone turned out to be a life-saving device.)

I've been back in the city a week now. And though readjustment was tough the first few days, it has become easier through the wonders of the telephone.

In these days of so many people living apart from loved ones, what would we do without those devices that we refer to as "high tech?"

A telephone is not "high tech" of course. But, it is means to stay connected.

A telephone is also (in ideal circumstances) a means with which to find homes for animals.

That advantage of telecommunications has had some value this past week.

I was very fortunate to find a lovely Long Island couple who kindly took a very shy and skittish Chow mix (formerly, a true stray) from the city pound as a foster. "Lady" is a pretty, but extremely thin and somewhat raggedy dog who appears that she had a rough life while on the streets of New York. She backs off (as if expecting to be hit) when onlookers approach her head on and takes a while before allowing herself to relax when with new people.

Luckily, "Lydia" and her husband are very compassionate, patient folks whose two other pets (a dog and a cat) were former rescued strays. Lydia formerly had a Chow for 16 years and is very familiar with the breed.

But, if the phone presents wonderful advantages in terms of keeping us connected to loved ones and serving as means for good people to contact us to save animals, it also serves as conduit for bad news.

For example, those people who contact us years after adopting an animal to return the cat or dog.

Thus, I was called a couple of days ago by the husband of a couple who adopted a female Cocker Spaniel from us several years ago and now want to return the ten-year-old dog for "moving."

I informed the man (who called me from his job) that we don't exactly have people lined up for blocks waiting to adopt animals whose ages are now in double digits. While it should not be impossible to place a sweet and reasonably healthy purebred Cocker Spaniel (even if a senior) it is not a piece of cake, either. -- Especially now that we are going into traditional summer and vacation periods, generally the toughest times of the year for animal adoptions.

I asked the man to email me updated photos of "Daisy" for Internet advertising, but he seemed agitated by the simple request. As my boyfriend suggested to me, the man is probably being hounded by his wife to quickly "get rid of the dog" and when calling me, he likely expected to solve the "problem" in five minutes.

Certainly, it indeed was only five minutes that the man was willing to give me over the phone. He was impatient and annoyed when I asked him simple questions like how the dog was with cats or kids ("Very good" according to the man.). But, it was very obvious he didn't want to spend any time at all either discussing Daisy, (the couple's companion dog of more than three years) or the best means for finding another home for her.

Incidents like these are frustrating. Yes, we guarantee when people adopt animals from us that we will always take an animal back. However, the guarantee also stipulates that people give us proper notification and make arrangements for return. "Arrangements" aren't usually arranged in five minutes.

Moreover, for people to keep animals until the cats or dogs become senior pets (8 years or older) and then want to dump the animals suddenly back on the rescue for something like "moving," shows a complete lack of regard for the pet as well as understanding for the challenges to rescue and adoption.

I don't know how I "take back" and place a dog that the people aren't willing to discuss with me or even send email pictures of.

They just want to dump back -- not make any kind of effort to responsibly place.

I realize with all the thousands of animals we have placed over the years, this kind of thing is bound to happen and that we are extremely fortunate that it doesn't in fact, occur more often.

But, it is making me re-think this entire concept and guarantee of "taking back animals" no matter how long an adopter has had the pet.

Obviously, it is not possible for us to instantly "take back" animals who years after an adoption are suffering geriatric illnesses or whose days on earth are obviously numbered.

Few people want to adopt older animals whose life expectancy is diminished and/or who one could expect to run into veterinary bills with.

Years ago (when doing cat adoptions out of Petco) I used to have constant nightmares about walking into the store and finding hundreds of cats stacked up in carriers waiting for me to find placement for. "Oh my God, what do I do with all these cats!?"

I am no longer at Petco, but the anxieties and fears haven't entirely gone away. They have simply changed in awareness and mode of communication.

Now, the nightmare is simply waking up to hundreds of phone calls from people who suddenly want to return those animals adopted from us years ago.

If we never rescued another dog or cat, I would probably never run out of animals to place, due to those anticipated to "come back" to us months or years after an adoption.

Perhaps I should disconnect the phone -- or finally get, "caller ID?"

Or, perhaps I need to re-write our adoption contract. -- PCA


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Welcome to New York City!"

(Picture left: A family of Canadian of many beautiful images left in the west.)

I arrived back in New York City this past Saturday after a short, 4-day trip to California.

But, while my physical body, animals, work, friends and cozy Manhattan apartment are here, my heart is not.

Always in the past, when traveling somewhere I eagerly looked forward to returning "home."

But, that has not been the case now.

Having to say goodbye to that special person in my life at the airport was more like the last scene from "Casablanca."

Since getting back, there have of course been the things to keep the mind occupied.

It was great to get my dogs, Tina and Chance back. It was good to see my cats again and talk to good. dependable friends.

Furthermore, I was not back in the city more than an hour when there was the inevitable call from Animal Control about a particular dog and a couple of cats that needed rescue.

The cats were actually rescued and adopted out by me more than a couple of years ago, but then were unceremoniously dumped back in the shelter while I was away, due to so-called "allergies."

I called Tessa from the Martha's Vineyard shelter to request her to take the two cats and the dog. Fortunately, because her shelter has room, Tessa thankfully agreed.

Yesterday, I received a call from Sabrina at the Brooklyn Animal Care and Control shelter about two Chows that need rescue.

I promised Sabrina I would do what I could to save the dogs.

All of these things normally would have the affect of bringing one quickly back down to earth and into the swing of things, but I can't say that I feel "in the swing" of anything here in New York.

Rather, I feel like I am in some foreign land.

The feeling of "going to or being in a foreign land" began from the moment the plane took off from California to head east. I looked from the window down at the fast dwindling and disappearing lights thinking to myself that my heart was still on the ground.

A flight attendant then announced, "Please pull down the window shades as the sunrise streaming in the windows as we head east is likely to disturb those passengers trying to sleep."

"Great!" I cynically thought. The whole point of requesting a window seat on an otherwise "red eye" flight was to enjoy the sight of the sunrise coming over the east.

I felt like I was riding back to New York on a plane full of vampires.

That feeling was reinforced when personally requested by the flight attendant and a passenger next to me to pull down the window shade.

I was afraid to sleep for fear someone would suck the blood out of my neck.

Once arriving in New York City from sunny California, the morning was cool, damp, overcast and drizzly.

I later battled crowds at Grand Central and a packed subway taking me "home."

Numerous telemarketing and other time wasting messages awaited my arrival back to the apartment.

The highlight of the day upon arrival back in New York was the reuniting with my two dogs and my cats.

It was also fun catching friends up to the highlights of the trip.

But, still feeling I was in some sort of "fog" or roaming around a foreign land, I attempted to "get back to normal" by taking my dogs, Tina and Chance for a nice Saturday walk in Central Park.

Since the day was cool and threatening rain, the park was not as crowded as it normally is on a Spring weekend.

For a while, the walk was quite pleasant -- that is, until I ran into a couple of other dog owners and our 4 dogs greeted each other and briefly intermingled.

But, then totally unexpectantly and out of the blue, Tina decided to play "alpha dog" and nipped the Shih-Tzu of a youngish, 30-something, Asian woman.

The woman recoiled in horror as I immediately pulled Tina away. She closely examined her dog, looking for any bite wounds or injuries.

"I'm so sorry," I said, sincerely. "My dog is usually good with other dogs, but can sometimes be a bit dominant."

"Look at this!" the woman corrected, pointing to what was a tiny pinprick of blood one would practically need a magnifying glass to see. "Your dog bit my dog!"

The woman then demanded my license and proof of rabies shots.

I pointed to the rabies tag on Tina and assured the irate dog owner that Tina was both spayed and vaccinated.

"I'm hardly walking around Central Park with a rabid dog," I added sarcastically.

Well, admittedly, that wasn't the smartest or most sensitive thing to say under the circumstances and simply added fuel to the woman's fire.

I tried to assure the woman that this kind of thing happens all the time in dog runs or casual dog encounters. Not all dog automatically like each other. The superficial nick was not something that would require veterinary attention and in fact my own dogs have been victims of such scrapes in the past. The Shih Tzu was skipping around with tail wagging, having already forgotten about her rebuffed attempt at play with my older Tina.

Myself and the angry dog owner finally parted ways, but I left the park feeling somewhat drained and with the feeling that I could not again allow Tina to go up to other dogs. Yes, normally Tina is fine with other dogs, but for that one rare time she might not be, (for whatever reason) its not worth the aggravation.

Phone calls over the past few days have been likewise, mostly "aggravating."

They have ranged from the time-wasting, curiosity calls to the normal, perfection-seeking dog adoption calls. They want guarantees for how potentially adopted dogs travel on airplanes to how they will be with the neighbor's kids or dogs. As someone whose 13-year-old dog recently had a negative encounter with a dog in the park, I feel I cannot answer these questions with any kind of certainty. As for the woman asking how a dog might be under the seat of a plane, I told her that these days, airline passengers can't even stand the thought of sun light through the cabin, let alone the potential barking of a small dog.

This morning when brining my dogs back to my building after a walk, I was barely able to make it to my entrance way for the rush of oncoming pedestrian traffic. One guy rushing in a business suit gave me a dirty look when I stepped in front of him to get to the steps of my building.

"Welcome to New York City." I thought. You can't even get into your own building!

Yes, New York City has everything -- but those most dear to my heart.

My heart is still on the ground, far, far west -- not to know if it is ever coming back. -- PCA


Monday, May 11, 2009

For the Moment (New York City)

(The toughest part of traveling is having to hand your dog over to a friend for "babysitting" when you leave. Tina, one of my dogs, happily jumped into the car with friend and colleague, Kathy. But, Chance [pictured left) struggled and tried to follow me, when handing him over to trusted friend, Carrie. I couldn't make him understand, the separation is only temporary!)

I am leaving today for a short 5-day trip.

I very rarely travel or take "vacations."

Its hard making all the arrangements when one has a bunch of animals one is responsible for.

But, sometimes it is necessary.

Aside from the good news of the other day -- being able to work with someone to save two dogs and almost a dozen cats and despite one good dog adoption this past week, it was otherwise tough in view of sudden broken commitments, some rude and obnoxious phone calls and other anxious moments, particularly as regarding one adopted dog's sudden problems with "seizures." Whether this was a one time event or indicative of the dog having Epilepsy is yet to be medically determined.

Anyway, I knew it was time for a "getaway" with two quick phone calls yesterday:

A man called saying he wanted to adopt a dog.

"I've been looking for more than a year," he added.

"More than a year?" I gently inquired. "Well, considering all the dogs out there, Sir, is there some kind of problem?"

"No," the voice came back hard and cold. "I don't believe in rushing. And I don't like your judgmental attitude!"

The man then rudely hung up the phone.

Another man accused me of an "inquisition" when I dared ask him to tell me about his former dogs.

Yep, its time to get away for a few days.

There are times when one has had quite enough.

At least for the moment. -- PCA

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Karma" (New York City)

(Picture Left: "DJ" --One in a million dog with apparently "one in a million" karma.)

My Grandmother used to say:

"God looks out for Saints and drunks."

Since being in animal rescue, I have added to that wise line:

God looks out for Saints, drunks -- and animal rescuers."

Similar to last week, this week was still one more example of that.

I had committed to rescuing a Chow that had arrived at the city shelter more than a week ago after his owner died.

Because "DJ's" former owner had died, the red Chow became a "holding" case at the shelter and, by law, a letter had to be sent out to the former address in the event a relative of the deceased wanted to reclaim the dog.

It is very rare in cases like these that a relative steps up to reclaim an animal. Nevertheless the "holding" is a protocol that is important to have in place for those rare exceptions that actually occur.

During the week that DJ was on "hold" in the shelter, it gave me time to advertise him on adoption sites and to personally promote him to potential adopters or fosters.

At least three different people had expressed interest in either adopting or fostering the gentle and mellow Chow.

One man actually made an appointment to meet and hopefully adopt DJ, but then called the next day to tell me his wife didn't think they were "ready" for a new dog so soon after their 14-year-old Chow died a couple of months ago.

Two other people offered to foster DJ, but then seemingly dropped off the planet when I left messages on their cell phones that the hold was off on DJ (as of Thursday) and the dog needed to immediately get out of the euthanizing shelter.

For a dog that should have been "easy" to find a foster or adopter for (due to DJ's excellent behavior in the shelter and handsome looks), things were turning out a lot more difficult than I anticipated.

Then, on Thursday a young woman living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called about adopting a dog. "Alisa" had an ideal situation for adoption (or fostering). She lived alone and didn't have either kids or other pets. Additionally, Alisa was experienced with dogs, having grown up with them and even having previously fostered two dogs for another organization.

I told Alisa about DJ and she seemed eager to actually adopt the fully trained and easy going Chow. I also offered the possibility of fostering DJ if Alisa wasn't sure about immediately adopting. The main thing was to get DJ out of the pound. I had already received two calls from New Hope personnel at the shelter besieging me, "When are you picking up DJ? He needs to leave."

Alisa informed me that she was getting out from work early on Friday (yesterday) and would call between noon and 1PM to arrange meeting at the shelter.

But, I knew well that such "promises" could not be relied upon and had already begun to consider boarding for DJ -- especially when the clock neared 2PM and I had still not heard from Alisa.

Then, the phone rang and I quickly picked up thinking it was the young woman to adopt or foster DJ.

But, it was somebody else.

The woman at the other end of line spoke with a sophisticated, well bred accent and told me she was in New York City for a few days visiting her Mother. She was a partner in a no kill shelter that was located in Martha's Vinyard, Massachusetts. "Tess" added that the shelter had plenty of space this time of year and she was hopeful of being able to rescue a few animals from New York City to bring back to Martha's Vinyard.

The call seemed like a small miracle, but having been "burned" so much -- especially recently, I proceeded carefully and slowly with Tess.

Nevertheless, I told Tess about DJ and his urgency in needing to get out of the shelter.

As matters turned out, Tess's Mom lived in my neighborhood and so, (within minutes) Tess arrived with a driver to pick me up and go to the shelter together.

Sitting in the back of the car with Tess, she casually informed me that she was the daughter of a famous and Oscar winning actress from the 50's through 70's.

"Oh, wow," I replied. "Well, I certainly see the resemblance! Your Mom was immensely talented. I saw her in a number of wonderful movies."

"Still is," Tess gently corrected referring to the "was" in talented. It was obvious she was very proud of and close with her Mother.

Arriving at the shelter, DJ was brought out to us and it was quickly decided within minutes that Tess was indeed taking him back with her to Martha's Vineyard.

DJ was beautiful (although needing a bath and some brushing), well cared for, healthy and a pleasure to handle.

But, meanwhile, since Tess's shelter could take more animals, we left DJ with Tess's driver outside the shelter to look at other animals in the wards.

The Manhattan AC&C was totally packed with no empty cages anywhere in the shelter.

Since Martha's Vinyard (due to an aggressive spay/neuter program) did not suffer the usual cat and kitten overpopulation problems that almost every other area of the country does, Tess told me she was in position to take kittens or even a couple of Moms and litters as there was now high demand, especially for kittens in her area.

Sadly, there was no shortage of "Moms and litters" at Animal Care and Control.

The shelter had at least a half a dozen "new families" -- a very ominous sign for so early in the kitten breeding season.

Tess agreed to take at least two sets of moms and kittens, a couple of solitary kittens and an 8-year-old raggedy, but sweet, Shih-Tzu (in addition to DJ, the Chow) back with her to Massachusetts.

Since she represented a no kill shelter and had all her Non-Profit paper work with her, I suggested to Tess that she and her shelter become a "New Hope Partner" of the AC&C, so that she could do direct rescues and even arrange transport of the animals to her shelter's location.

I introduced Tess to Lisa (one of the New Hope coordinators) in order expedite that process along. While in the wards, Tess had liked a couple of beautiful (and seemingly purebred) Labrador Retrievers, (given up from homes for "cost") but was in no position to cram the larger dogs in the car with DJ and all the cats.

We had been at the shelter more than two hours when all the animals had finally been decided upon that Tess would take back with her to Martha's Vinyard.

But, for the moment, Tess was only taking DJ back to her Mom's apartment, as the other animals needed shots and testing.

Outside the shelter, Tess's driver, Less, sat with a very relaxed DJ and raved to us on how well DJ was already trained.

"You know, this dog sits on command, gives paw and even lies down!" Less told us enthusiastically and then proceeded to demonstrate.

And like the obedient and cheerful dog he is, DJ jumped in the back seat of the car and sat down, like he had done this a million times before.

I couldn't help but think to myself the truly fabulous dog, all the flaky losers who had bailed on DJ missed out on. There was no question that DJ would be a highly desirable dog back on Martha's Vineyard. Someone there would be very lucky to adopt the beautiful, red Chow.

But, even more so, for the dog himself, DJ had truly "lucked out." He was now going to one of the most beautiful and opulent areas of the entire country. There was no need to worry that DJ would ever become some pitiful "yard dog" chained to the back of some decrepit dog house.

Sitting in the back seat of the car with Tess and DJ (as she kindly offered to drop me home), I asked Tess why her Mom didn't have a dog. "She travels too much" Tess explained.

"Well, tell your Mom for me, how much I admire her as an actress," I said. "They sure don't make 'em like that anymore!"

"Maybe you'd like to come by and meet her." Tess replied cheerfully, though I couldn't tell if she was serious. "You can hold her Oscar!"

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time I'd be perceived as a 'drama queen!' I laughed.

Finally back home, I considered briefly, calling all the unreliable duds who had promised and then bailed out on DJ just to tell them the great dog they lost out on.

But, in the end, I figured they weren't worth either the time or the dime that it would cost to call.

"Karma will get them back one way or the other," I reasoned to myself.

Just as "karma" -- or God, "looks out for Saints, drunks -- and animal rescuers." -- PCA


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Life-Saving Waters of Rescue (New York City)

(Picture Left: "Laci" -- a lucky dog that there was water in the glass.)

When in animal rescue there is tendency to look at the glass as either, "half empty" or "half full."

Then there are those weeks when one looks at the glass and is simply grateful that there is water to drink.

This has been one of those weeks.

One strangely of some incredibly good luck and "miracles." But, one of sadness too, for all those animals rescue is always too full to take.

The good news started with one of our dogs (Leon) being adopted earlier in the week. That enabled Leon's foster person, Nicole to rescue and take in Bobo.

And oh, such a miracle of good timing it was!

I had just about given up all hope that anything could immediately be found for Bobo after she was cruelly and abruptly returned to the pound from another foster for fear "of getting attached to her."

I have to admit to that being the most bizarre reason ever (in my experience) for the return of either a dog or a cat.

Part of me even wondered at the time if Bobo had actually done something, (such as snap at one of the family members, pee all over the floor or lunge at a neighbor) and the people just didn't want to tell me?

But, such questions have since been dispelled since Bobo went to her second foster home.

After speaking a short while ago with Nicole, I am informed that Bobo is a "totally great dog!" Affectionate, totally trained and housebroken, wonderful with kids and other dogs.

Nicole in fact, refers to the "Heinze 57" Pit mix as "Sunny Bobo" as Bobo smiles all the time and is of such sunny disposition.

So, as bizarre at it sounds, a loving, totally trained and cheerful dog was actually dumped in a pound (to die) because the people were "afraid of getting attached!"

Score that one for the record books!

Score for the record books too, the sheer miracle of being able to rescue an older, plain, Pit mix (with Kennel Cough no less) within 24 hours!

The other good news this week was that we found a wonderful foster home for Laci, the Jindo dog from the Staten Island AC&C who was dumped along with a purebred Chow Chow (who has since gone to foster with one of our volunteers, Sarah).

I had begged Joanne from the Staten Island shelter for "more time" with Laci and she kindly obliged. But, with a fully packed shelter, Laci's time soon ran out and I received the inevitable call from Joanne on Thursday of this past week:

"She needs to get out of the building by tomorrow."

Fortunately, I had just received a foster offer for Bobo from a lovely-sounding woman from Poughkeepsie, New York. But, Bobo had just left with Nicole the day before.

"Let me call this woman from upstate and ask her to foster Laci," I said to Joanne.

And as a lucky roll of the dice would have it, "Anne" offered her family's home as a foster for Laci.

The shelter gratefully transported Laci to Anne's home and so far, the news is also good on the beautiful, 5-year-old Jindo. Laci is settling in well, gets along with the family's other two dogs and is seemingly enchanted with life in the country. (I doubt the dog has ever seen horses or raccoons in her life!)

Anne emailed me new pictures today of the happy, "smiling" Jimdo dog (above).

And so, yes, sometimes the glass is half empty and sometimes the glass is half full.

But, whatever the case may be, the main thing is to be appreciative and grateful that there is always something to drink.

The life-saving water of rescue is represented by those generous and sacrificing people like the Nicoles, Sarahs and Annes of the world kind enough to take an otherwise doomed dog (or cat) into their homes. -- PCA