Sunday, January 31, 2010

At Last!

(Picture Left: Daisy -- a long time, coming.)

"At last my love has come along," the famous Etta James song goes.

While we in rescue don't spend nights fretting about either lost or possible loves, we do worry about those animals languishing in boarding too long.

For us, one of those dogs was "Daisy," a beautiful Retriever/Chow mix rescued more than a year ago.

Daisy arrived at the AC&C after her former (elderly) owner fell on hard times. An older woman apparently, Daisy's caregiver suffered major health problems and had to give up the young, vivacious dog.

Daisy was nervous in the shelter and was slated for euthanasia due to "questionable behavior."

When agreeing to take Daisy, I figured due to her looks, age and robust health, she would not be a hard placement. She was also quite friendly and would roll on her back for belly runs.

But, I was wrong about Daisy.

Daisy was a very strong dog and hard to control on the leash (especially when meeting other dogs.) The few people I showed Daisy to shortly after her rescue, rejected her due to the dog's strength and apparent lack of leash manners.

Though originally in Manhattan boarding, about a month after her rescue, one of our other dogs was adopted and the foster person offered to take Daisy.

"Carrie" has a husband, two children, four cats and at the time, she was also fostering an older, male Cocker Spaniel.

Carrie and I both figured Daisy needed more socialization and leash training. Carrie was a very experienced dog walker and fosterer and she was kind enough to take Daisy.

Daisy did well with Carrie and her family. The beautiful Chow mix was even OK around the cats and accepted the other dog.

After having Daisy in foster about a month, a nice family from Connecticut offered to adopt her.

The family consisted of two teenage children, two cats and a mature, female dog.

The adoption seemed perfect: An active family with a house and property.

But, within the first few days of the adoption, I received calls from both the husband and wife.

Though good with all the humans in the family, Daisy was "chasing the cats" and not getting along well with their other dog.

The one thing that had concerned me about the adoption was that the people had a female dog at home. Generally speaking, when adopting a second dog, it is better to adopt an opposite sex dog. Female dogs together can be especially problematic.

Unfortunately, this was the biggest challenge we were running into with the adoption. The two female dogs seemed to battle each other over who was going to be "top dog," the situation got ugly and the family ended up separating them.

I tried to counsel and offer advice which was somewhat difficult considering Daisy had peacefully lived with cats and another (male) dog in the foster home.

So often, it is the way the humans react to and handle the challenges of a newly acquired dog that ultimately determines whether the adoption fails or succeeds. The introduction of new animals to each other usually isn't pretty.

The adults in this family seemed unable to either take control of the situation or even just take matters in stride. Usually, no matter how ugly, most animals eventually work out their differences.

But, within a couple weeks of her adoption, Daisy was returned.

This time, unfortunately, Carrie was unable to take Daisy back a second time because she had taken in a new rescue shortly after Daisy was adopted.

I had to send Daisy to boarding with a trainer in New Jersey.

That was in the early spring of last year.

Daisy has remained in boarding all of this time.

Over the many long months Daisy was in boarding, we heavily advertised her on adoption sites (including Craig's List) and I personally promoted her to those potential and qualified adopters without other pets at home.

But, only two potential adoption parties actually went to see Daisy.

According to both, the potential adopters and Ed (of Working Dogs Canine Academy) Daisy was "aloof and reserved" with the unfamiliar people and they thus rejected her.

Still more months passed and I began to worry if Daisy would ever find a loving, adoptive home.

All of our efforts with her were meeting with repeated failures.

Then, last week, I received a call from a very lovely woman inquiring on another Chow mix dog who had recently been adopted.

I told "Sue" about Daisy.

Sue and her family (husband and three adolescent children) had recently lost their Shih-Tzu of 13 years to terminal illness.

Of course I questioned the choice of a young, active dog over a breed that is not normally particularly active and strong.

But, Sue explained that the Shih-Tzu had been a rescue many years ago (after a neighbor died) and that the family sought a more active dog to run and hike with. They own a townhouse here in the city near Central Park and also have a country home.

Once again, it sounded like a potentially very good situation for Daisy. But after getting my hopes high so many times over the past year with Daisy only to see them dashed, I dared not feel optimistic.

But, yesterday the family drove out to New Jersey to meet with Daisy.

And much to my delight and surprise, they adopted the red Chow/Retriever mix.

When speaking with Ed last night, he told me that Daisy immediately gravitated towards all the members in the family and happily jumped into the car with them!

This had been a far cry from Daisy's formerly cool and cautious greetings to other potential adopters.

It seems the discerning Chow mix chose her own adopters!

Just as importantly, Ed (who does his own rescues and adoptions) felt very good about the people and seemed confident that the adoption would successfully work out.

I was still much more guarded about "assuming" anything. Though the adoption of Daisy represents a possible opening for us to do another rescue, I have to be sure the adoption has actually taken before committing us to another dog.

But, so far, the news is all good.

Sue called this morning to inform me how well things are going so far and how Daisy seems to love everyone in the family and they her.

Perhaps I had so warned Sue to "take things slowly" and to expect all kinds of difficulties and adjustments in the beginning, that she seemed genuinely surprised. Daisy was far exceeding the family's expectations!

Then again, it seems far better (to me) for people to "expect" the worse and be pleasantly surprised than vice versa.

Perhaps that is why we don't get as many adoptions as other rescue groups or shelters.

But, even with all the caution and warnings, we still get more than our share of returns.

I am just hoping that at least for Daisy this time, her need to find her forever loving home has finally come, "at last." -- PCA


Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Eventful Week

Two interesting events occurred this past week.

The President met with opposition Republicans -- something very unusual in the world of politics.

Leaders of the AC&C and the Mayor's Alliance met with rescuers who had questions.

As far as I know, President Obama was not tipped off beforehand with the questions he would be asked by Republicans.

But, spokespersons for the shelter and umbrella rescue organization were.

I did not vote for President Obama (I felt he lacked experience at the time), but I have been impressed with his gutsy performance as President. Perhaps its because my "expectations" were comparatively low of our new President, that I have been mostly pleased and surprised.

Likewise, my expectations of the AC&C and the Mayor's Alliance have been far lower than their own "sugar coated" and overly optimistic projections and claims.

But, I have to admit much good has been accomplished over the past decade.

Daily (ASPCA) spay/neuter vans around the city have resulted in more animals being neutered and a lower intake at the shelters -- at least for non-Pitbull dogs. (Cat intake numbers have unfortunately risen over the past year following a decade-long decline.)

Fewer animal arriving at shelters and more groups involved in rescue, results in fewer animals being euthanized.

According to claims by the AC&C and the MA, euthanasia has dropped in NYC shelters from 75% in 2002 to 39% now.

But, 39% is still a far cry from NYC becoming "no kill by 2015."

The pre-prepared question I submitted for the Thursday meeting was:

"With regard to the particular Pitbull and cat problems in NYC, how can NYC claim to be 'no kill' by 2015?"

Jane Hoffman of the Mayor's Alliance attempted to answer this question, but I felt it was more of a dodge than an enlightening reply.

Basically, the reply was that we needed more "T, N and R" (trap, neuter and release) for feral cats and for the ASPCA spay/neuter vans (and other SN services) to neuter more Pitbulls.

But, reality is that most cats arriving at city shelters are not feral cats, nor are most owners of Pitbulls willing to neuter their dogs.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed follow-up questions.

There is no question that strong spay/neuter programs eventually result in fewer animals coming into shelters and fewer animals killed.

But, in addition to easily available and affordable spay/neuter, we also need honest, no- nonsense and targeted PUBLIC HUMANE EDUCATION programs to reach those people who, even in this day and age, refuse to neuter their dogs (particularly Pitbulls) and cats. -- In other words, WHY we need to neuter pets.

Personally, I don't see that happening now as it did occur nationally throughout the 70s, 80's and 90's resulting in Intake declines in almost all shelters nationwide.

By contrast, we seem to be intimating to the public that we have "rescue" and "adoption" for all the animals entering shelters now and in my personal judgment, that will ultimately result in higher intake numbers in shelters, not lower.

That is already the unfortunate reality for cats in NYC shelters.

And despite the valiant and dedicated efforts of cat rescue groups and no-kill shelters, reality is, that we cannot "rescue" or "adopt" our way out of the cat overpopulation and pet dumping problems.

The same is true for Pitbulls.

As mentioned many times, our group is not a member of the Mayor's Alliance (though we are a "New Hope" partner to the shelter.).

I did not sign up with MA because first of all, the name itself is deceptive. (I have been informed from a colleague that the name, "Mayors Alliance" was chosen in order to "open doors" in terms of support and opportunity that ordinarily would be closed.)

Reality is, however, that the Mayor of New York City has nothing to do with animal rescue and in fact, in many ways has acted as an obstructionist to major progress. Both, Mayor Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg have kept control of our animal shelters in the hands of the Department of Health as opposed to creating a much needed and separate Animal Services agency.

The agendas of the Department of Health and the goals and objectives of animal rescue and welfare are often in conflict with each other.

The other reason I did not sign up with the Mayor's Alliance is that I felt the promise of a "no kill" New York City by (at first 2012, and now) 2015 was misleading and unrealistic to say the least.

I did not want to be part of what I felt to be a fabrication or false promise to the public.

Only time will tell whether this was truly a wise decision in terms of benefit and support versus a kind of "holding to principle."

The truth is that everyone in rescue, including myself has the same goal of an eventual "no kill" city.

The difference is that I don't see how we make such a promise to the citizens of our city and specify a particular "no kill" date when we don't have all the "ducks lined up in row" to make that goal a reality.

When I say, "ducks lined up in a row" I refer to enough and adequate full service shelters in every borough of New York City, as well as strong public humane education programs -- particularly as mandated in our city schools.

I fear that as money and funding begins to dry up (particularly in this economy) and rescues become saturated with animals they cannot "adopt" out so quickly, these decreases we currently see in shelter euthanasias will eventually level off and sadly again start to rise.

The other night, in answer to a specific question, Jane Hoffman referred to herself as "perhaps overly optimistic."

Yes, I do believe Hoffman is overly optimistic in more ways than one. -- Just as some might refer to me as "overly pessimistic."

Perhaps between the two of us, the real truth lies.

This is one area where I hope to be eventually wrong, as I now think I may have been in my initial assessment of then-Senator Obama in 2008.

But, only time will tell. -- PCA



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adoption Blues

(Picture Left: Diamond. Loving, loyal and well behaved dog (even good with cats!). Returned from Adoption for failing to perform an impossible "job.")

The past few days continue to be frustrating.

Very few calls. And those we have been getting are almost all pleas for help:

Neglected cats and kittens in a store. Senior citizens who cannot care for their 7-year-old Pitbull anymore. A family moving to a place they cannot bring the family cats. These are just a few of the calls.

In every case, the people tell me they have called numerous no kill rescues and shelters and cannot get any help.

Unfortunately, I can't offer help either as we cannot place the animals we already have and I have no fosters to put any more dogs or cats into.

Currently, we have nine dogs in boarding.

Of the nine dogs, all but one have been returned from either foster or adoption.

Three dogs have now been in boarding almost a year.

I am extremely worried and distressed over this situation.

It makes me question our own adoption and foster contracts.

Like most reputable shelters and rescues, we guarantee that we will always take back an animal if an adoption or foster placement does not work out.

But, some people abuse that guarantee.

In recent months we have had dogs returned within a day or two of an adoption for things as minor as chasing a cat, or pulling on a leash.

If one imagines the dog returned for leash pulling was a powerful 100 lb Rottie or Pitbull, the reality is that the dog was a 27 lb Lhasa Apso.

Yes, before he finally found his forever home (two weeks ago) after being rescued three months before, our perfect and lovable Tiki had been formerly adopted and returned within 3 days for leash-pulling.

But, probably the craziest reason for a return was the woman who adopted Diamond (a lovable and wonderfully behaved Hound/Shepherd mix) to us three days following the adoption because the woman claimed she "wasn't really ready" for a dog.

Diamond had been perfect in the home. Good with the young woman's cat. Totally housebroken, quiet and loving.

But, the truth was, the woman adopted Diamond to try and fill an emotional void that was left after her Mother recently died.

In other words, Diamond had a job to do.

Unfortunately, a dog cannot "replace" a parent who dies, a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend who rejects or abandons or even another pet who has passed on.

People don't always tell us the more complex motivations for their decision to adopt a dog or cat.

We tend to learn these things when they return the animal a few days after an adoption.

Other "complications?"

Everyone in the household not being on the same page regarding the adoption.

In those cases where it is primarily the husband or wife who wants a dog and the partner is just tacitly going along, it usually doesn't work over the long (or even short) haul. Nor, does it work when it is primarily the "kids who want a dog." I always tell the parents in these situations that THEY have to want the dog because it is THEY who will end up with all the care of the animal, regardless of what their kids "promise" or don't promise. One simply cannot depend upon or dump on children, adult responsibilities.

But, no matter how careful one is in doing adoption screenings, there are the inevitable returns.

Some people presume that with the rescue group or shelter accepting responsibility for what ultimately happens to the animal, they (the adopters) don't have to accept any.

Not even that of giving an adoption more than 2 or 3 days to work itself out. -- PCA


Monday, January 25, 2010

Just Like a (Blended) Family! --The Ducks and Swans of Central Park

(Pictures: Top Left: Three white ducks who suddenly showed up in park last August. Top Right: Canadian Geese taking a stroll along pedestrian paths in summer. Bottom left: Mating pair of swans in park yesterday. Bottom right: "Family" of swans and the three white ducks!
"Light a candle or curse the darkness," a saying goes.

It would be easy to worry one's self into a frenzy these days with the number of loving animals we have in boarding who urgently need real homes and the truly scary drop in qualified adoption calls and inquiries.

But, I have decided to try and make the best of a bad situation. -- Hence, one of the main reasons for spending a lot of time in the park recently with my dogs.

Some might call that, "escapism" and they would probably be right.

I am just not sure what to do apart from worrying or obsessing about the problem. We have continually advertised our dogs and cats for adoption. We send out occasional newsletters. I write a blog.

But, apart from emailing guilt-tripping Alerts: "Either someone steps up for Fluffy or s/he dies tomorrow!" or standing on a street corner with a sign saying the same, it seems nothing else works.

And yet, as a no kill rescue group, such "alert" would be a lie were it to refer to our own animals for adoption.

So yes, it is quite a quandary these days.

But, in the midst of all this misery (especially the Euth lists and endless Alerts from Animal Control) I have somehow managed to find some sense of peace and joy.

That is, walking in Central Park with my dogs and discovering all the amazing sights and animals there!

Yesterday, our journey took us to the North End of Central Park. -- the area where I go to swim in the outdoor pool during the summer. (Lasker pool is converted to an ice skating rink during the winter!)

I haven't been to this area since the pool closed in September.

At first, it was surprising to see the crowded skating rink. It is quite extraordinary to realize the transformation of a larger-than-Olympic-size swimming pool into a winter skating rink!

But, that was only the beginning of the surprises!

There is a large duck pond adjacent to the skating rink ("Harlem Meer" I believe it is called.)

During the summer, I always loved passing by the pond and noting all the ducks and Canadian Geese. The geese were so bold, they would sometimes walk upon the grass and pedestrian paths like little humans!

But, yesterday there were two new additions to the usual assortment of birds.

A pair of male and female swans!

Surely, these creatures are among the most beautiful on earth! -- Regal, statuesque, proud and just plain gorgeous!

My eyes nearly popped out of my head with the sight of these magnificent animals. I quickly whipped out my cameras.

It was amazing the way the swans willingly swam up to and seemed to trust people. One suspects they are getting handouts on a regular basis -- perhaps not such a good thing should the birds ever approach the wrong people.

On the other hand, the swans are quite large and presumably strong. Hopefully, they could defend themselves if ever they had to.

The male swan was particularly watchful of my dog, Tina. He puffed out his feathers in order to appear even bigger than he was. Tina was of course, her excitable self when seeing these unusual and large creatures. Straining on her leash to get near the water, I had to pull Tina back. The swans did not look like ones to mess with!

But, if I was totally awed and delighted in seeing the swans, I was downright shocked to see the three white (Peaking) ducks that popped up suddenly in the pond last August!

White ducks are not indigenous to Central Park.

When thumbing through a book last week on the wildlife in Central Park, I however, read that white (Peiking) ducks are sometimes seen in the north end of the park. According to the book, the ducks either "escaped" from a live poultry market on 116th Street or are dumps from human homes.

I figured the ducks were probably abandoned Easter presents when I saw them last August and feared that they would never survive. Perhaps the native ducks and geese might attack them or, as "domestic" birds, they simply wouldn't know how to survive.

But, amazingly, not only have the white ducks survived, but they seem to be thriving!

Swimming peacefully in the water alongside the regular ducks, the white ducks seemed especially fond of staying near the swans! The five white, but unrelated birds appeared almost like a family, bearing truth to the old adage that, "Birds of a feather, flock together!"

I never expected that when leaving this area at the end of last summer's swim session, I would ever see the three white ducks again!

It was an unbelievable thrill seeing the Peaking ducks again yesterday and truly a testament to the resiliency and survivability of nature.

A friend has questioned and suggested that perhaps these white ducks are not the same ones I saw last summer.

That is possible, of course. But, I would be willing to bet the house that they are exactly the same birds.

If it were just one bird or two, there would be some doubt.

But, the way these three white ducks are so closely attached, never more than mere inches from each other leads me to conclude they are exactly the same birds I saw huddled together last August.

So frightened they were then. Barely venturing off the grass into the water.

But, now the white ducks are proud, confident, clean and seemingly very content -- especially when staying close to the swans, perhaps for that added little bit of protection.

The five white birds really did look just like a family! --PCA

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Dizzy Lizzy" No More -- (Or, Remedies Within Us)

Last night I went swimming for the first time in three months.
That may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it was huge.

The struggles with vertigo and dizziness since October have kept me far away from the indoor pool. The last time I went swimming, I experienced dizziness while swimming, as well as vertigo (false sense of the ground moving or slipping away) when in the locker room.

About a week later, I almost passed out on a subway platform when on my way to the animal shelter.

That particular episode of weakness, dizziness and vertigo landed me in the hospital overnight. The total lack of control one feels when experiencing these symptoms easily leads to panic. By the time I arrived at the Emergency Room in a cab that late October evening, I was barely able to walk without stumbling and wavering like a drunk. Doctors saw me immediately.

But, tests revealed nothing seriously wrong and I was sent home the following day with a prescription for "Zoloft" (an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug) which I never bothered to fill. The possible side effects of the medication included "dizziness" and it made no sense to potentially exacerbate a problem I was already experiencing big time.

Research on the Internet, as well as a previous 9-month bout with this affliction back in 2002 led me to believe the problem was mainly due to an inner ear fluid imbalance -- a fairly common problem apparently, but one which we rarely hear anything about.

Since that time I have been forcing myself to do those things that seem the most "scary" when dealing with this kind of problem. -- Long, brisk walks (with the dogs) in the park. Dancing with special emphasis on turns. And oddly enough, a "balancing" exercise that involves walking with my dogs on a fairly narrow, short, stone wall in the park. The wall is about a city block long.

The first time I stepped on the wall (which ranges from about 2 to 3 feet high), my legs went immediately weak and I was sure I would fall off. A feeling of panic washed over me.

But, with both Tina and Chance slowly walking in front of me, we were able to prevail and walk the entire length of the wall.

When finally reaching the end and jumping off, I felt this enormous sense of relief -- and victory. The ground suddenly felt very solid under my feet. I felt almost 100% of "normal!"

Since the first "wall walk" about three or four weeks back, there have been many others; each one getting just a little easier.

I realize it probably looks a little odd to passers-by. An older woman with two dogs balancing and walking on a short, narrow wall (like some kid), but it was really something important to do. -- like a kind of physical therapy. If balance is the problem, then it is balance that has to be addressed. That means doing scary or even crazy looking things.

But, I hadn't been on a subway alone since that frightening day back in late October. Nor, had I been to the indoor pool again.

But, yesterday I felt particularly embolden, especially since taking my dogs on a two hour, almost 3-mile hike in the park in the mid afternoon.

Last night, I thought to myself: "Why not? It's time to try again!"

But, I was nervous when packing my swim bag. Anxious questions began to pop up in my brain:

What if I start wavering on the subway platform? What if I go dizzy when walking down the narrow, winding staircase at the city pool? What if I get dizzy while swimming again?

I could not be sure about any of the questions -- or their answers.

But, in the end, I pushed them out of my head. It simply wasn't a time to give into fears and anxiety. If exercise was the thing making me feel better and stronger over these past few weeks, then exercise was the thing to embrace and not avoid.

I focused on the music playing through my Walkman while waiting for the train on the subway platform. I was careful to enter a subway car that would leave me closest to the street exit when getting off at 59th Street. The worst thing would be to get caught in any kind of crowd getting off the train. -- That is what happened back in October.

The subway ride went amazingly well. I was able to make a quick exit from the train, avoid a crowd and get on the street within a mere minute or two.

But, that was only the beginning.....

When arriving at the pool, I experienced some initial feelings of vertigo and dizziness when in the locker room. But, I attributed them to mostly anxiety.

The unsteady feeling continued through a quick shower and making my way to the actual pool.

Am I crazy? I wondered. Jumping in a pool when I feel so unsteady and off balance?

But, I jumped in anyway.

The real "test" would occur once I was actually in the water. I had come this far and there was no sense in chickening out now. If worse came to worse, there was a lifeguard stationed at the pool.

The water was almost shockingly cold, and one had to immediately start swimming in order to warm up.

Once swimming, a feeling of great relief swept over me. -- Everything felt normal!

I swam for about 40 minutes. Far less than I normally did over last summer, but it was like a dream come true. No dizziness. No feelings of nausea, "fading out" or panic. It was just so wonderful to be in the water again.

Back in the locker room and shower after the swim, things continued to feel great. The anxiety and unsteadiness of earlier in the evening was gone.

I realize it is probably foolhardy or presumptive to say I am totally "cured" from the vertigo spells based upon one successful swim.

Nor, would it be accurate to say that the recent progress in battling this (apparently inner ear) affliction is based entirely on exercise and "balancing therapy."

About two weeks ago, I saw a commercial on TV for an over-the-counter product designed to address "ringing in the ear."

I don't have ringing in the ear, but since the condition is related to inner ear circulation problems, I figured I would check it out.

The next day, I read the label on "Lipo-Flavonoid" (a dietary supplement, rather than drug) and it was also indicated to be helpful in dizziness/vertigo associated with the inner ear.

I had nothing to lose by trying it.

And indeed, the only thing "lost" since purchasing and using this product are the intensity and length of the vertigo spells.

Its the first time I would say a product advertised on TV turned out to be really helpful!

The funny part is, the product wasn't even advertised to be helpful in inner ear balance problems and/or vertigo!

How odd is it, that sometimes the remedies for afflictions that plague or debilitate us are right under our noses?

Under our noses in the sense of our own bodies that need to be challenged and worked or a simple (fairly inexpensive) supplement on the shelf of the local CVS.

One is tempted to wonder, what good are doctors and hospitals for the simple problems that commonly ail people or can seriously disrupt our lives?

More often than not, the real cure is ultimately within us.

I am (hopefully) "Dizzy Lizzy" no more.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Synchronization -- Tiki's Story

(Picture Left: Tiki, shortly after rescue.)

Back in November, we rescued a Lhasa Apso mix from Animal Control.

Normally, I don't pull many small dogs because these animals are the first to be picked by other rescues.

With the exception of Chance, my Pomeranian, It is rare for a small dog to end up on the shelter Euth list these days. If New York City has made progress in one area with companion animals, it is the fact that most little dogs entering our shelter system either go to rescue or are direct adoptions.

Nevertheless, once in a while we take a smaller dog. If the shelter is unusually full with small dogs or we don't have any for adoption, I believe it is good to have some diversity among our adoptable dogs.

We (myself and two volunteers) were at the shelter in mid November to pick up a dog who had been on the Euth list. But, while there, I asked Jesse (the New Hope Coordinator at Animal Control) if there were any smaller dogs that she particularly needed to get out. We didn't have any at that time for adoption.

The small dog ward was full and Jesse pointed out several dogs who had been there a while.

One was a 27 lb, 6-year-old, Lhasa Apso named "Tiki" (in video) who had then been at the shelter two weeks without being picked up by a rescue. At that time, Tiki seemed to be the most urgent.

It was not clear why Tiki had not already been pulled. Perhaps some rescues considered him "too big." Perhaps some were cautious with the breed. (Lhasas have a reputation for sometimes being quite feisty or "one person dogs.")

Tiki had been relinquished to the shelter by a family who claimed that he was "too costly" despite having the dog six years. Since Tiki was quite matted and dirty when surrendered to the shelter, I presumed that the former family could no longer afford the grooming that Lhasa Apsos require.

Although the family left a very good profile on Tiki ("Housebroken, Loves men, women, children, other dogs") he had unfortunately failed the food part of the SAFER ("Behavior") tests and therefore, did not make it to adoptions.

My first impression when looking at Tiki in the cage was that he was a very sweet dog. There was a softness and vulnerability about his face and eyes that seemed to be in contrast to the "Questionable" behavior status on his shelter record.

I removed Tiki from the cage and walked him in the yard in back of the shelter. Although a little withdrawn and depressed at first, Tiki quickly warmed up after spending some time with him. He responded very well to gentle petting and after a few moments, happily wagged his tail and nuzzled into me.

I told Jesse we would take him and requested that the shelter neuter him.

The next day, Jesse called to inform me that Tiki had been rejected for neutering due to him then being sick with Kennel Cough. Jesse requested that I immediately pick him up.

Fortunately, my vet had space to take in Tiki. My plan was then to leave Tiki with my vet for treatment and when healthy enough, neutering.

I picked up Tiki that day and took him to my vet. While waiting at the vet's office, I was struck by how truly endearing and well behaved Tiki was. I thought to myself: If I didn't already have two dogs at home, Tiki would be mine!" Something about this little gentle, ragamuffin leaning against my legs and peering into my eyes made my heart melt.

Although Tiki would have to stay at the vet for a while, I advertised him for adoption anyway.

I wanted to have a waiting foster or adoptive home for Tiki upon his recovery and sterilization.

Over the next few weeks, I did get a couple of decent inquiries on Tiki. But, neither were willing to wait until such time Tiki was ready to go to a new home.

Unfortunately, between Tiki's Kennel Cough which took a while to go away and my vet's very busy schedule, the whole process took longer than anticipated.

After Tiki had been at Dr. G's about six weeks, he had finally fully recovered, was neutered and ready to leave.

But, I did not have a "waiting" adoptive -- or, foster home for him.

I requested long time friend and volunteer, Kathy to temporarily foster Tiki.

Kathy has worked with me for many years. She came to me when I did cat adoptions out of Petco from late 1996 to 2000.

Kathy lives in the Bronx and is a rescuer in her own right.

Sadly, the neighborhood Kathy lives in has many strays and over the years, Kathy has picked up many cats and some dogs.

I have helped Kathy in vetting and placing some of her rescues. Kathy has helped me in many ways from transporting animals (she has a car), to doing offsight adoptions, to the occasional emergency foster.

I don't like to ask Kathy to foster because she has as many animals as I do. She also has a full time, demanding job and therefore doesn't have the time to take in a larger, younger or highly active dog.

But, in Tiki's case, I figured since he was such an "adoptable" dog, as well as being smaller in size, older and good with other animals, it would not be such an imposition to ask Kathy to temporarily take him in.

Kathy kindly obliged the request.

Unfortunately, Tiki did not turn out to be the "quick and easy adoption" I figured him to be.

Although being all the things his former family claimed him to be (fully trained, healthy and loving), Tiki's ads did not generate many adoption inquiries (this despite me advertising Tiki has part Shih-Tzu). Those inquiries that did come in on Tiki I had to turn down due to lack of experience, knowledge or resources to properly care for a high maintenance breed like Tiki's or horrible, "give away" histories with dogs -- I didn't want Tiki to experience what he had in the past: Being dumped in a pound for "cost" or lack of commitment.

I began to seriously wonder: If we can't find an adoptive home for a loving and wonderful dog like Tiki, who can we find a home for?"

Then, about two weeks ago, I received a call from a past adopter.

"Rita" had adopted a Jack Russel Terrier from me almost ten years ago.

A few months ago, the dog died after a long bout with an incurable immune system disorder.

After enduring months of grief over her lost dog, Rita felt finally ready for another one.

But, was she, I wondered?

After discussing a number of our dogs with Rita and showing her Fawn (a lovely Shepherd/Lab mix who is currently boarding at our vet) I wasn't sure exactly what Rita was looking for.

I, of course, heavily promoted Tiki to Rita as the dog I felt would be "the perfect match" for her.

"At this stage in our lives, we (mature women) don't need a dog who is going to present with major challenges or pull us down the block," I told Rita. "Tiki is a very easy, loving and balanced dog."

Rita is a mature woman around my age who lives alone in an Upper East Side, Manhattan apartment. Recently retired, Rita has the time, love and the financial resources to handle the care and maintenance needs of a dog like Tiki.

She represented a wonderful home for a wonderful dog.

But, would Rita in fact, be receptive to Tiki's warm affections and attention needs? Was she in fact, really ready for a new dog? Those were the questions I wasn't quite sure about.

Upon my suggestion, Rita did, in fact, make an appointment with Kathy to meet Tiki.

But, after meeting with Tiki, Rita was still unsure.

"She said she needed time to think about it," Kathy told me after the meeting.

"Well, Rita may still be grieving over her last dog," I replied. "She may want to look at many dogs before making a decision. Tiki is the perfect dog for her and she would be a wonderful home for him. But, is she really ready? We can't push dogs on people, Kathy -- We can't break arms. They have to come to these relizations on their own. All we can do is recommend, guide -- and hope."

I didn't hear from Rita and just assumed that once again, we had struck out with Tiki. Once more, I disappointingly wondered: If we can't find a great home for Tiki even after having him vetted, neutered, groomed and cared for in foster, who can we find a home for?"

But, this past Monday, Rita called. She sounded a little worried over the phone.

"I realize today is a holiday and I feared Tiki might get adopted by someone else," Rita told me.

I almost laughed considering we had Tiki almost two months with less than a handful of serious or qualified calls on him!

"Well, no," I replied. "We don't have a line outside the block waiting to adopt Tiki, but, I do believe, Rita he is the perfect dog for you. You'd be wise to adopt him."

Rita did adopt Tiki that day.

And so far, the news has been nothing but wonderful.

"I feel like I hit the lottery in dog adoptions!" Rita told me, happily yesterday.

And, I feel particularly good about this adoption.

This is what I envisioned and hoped for with Tiki.

He is finally a happy dog in the home he is meant to be in.

Its a great feeling to be the conduit between happiness for animals and happiness for people.

Its in fact, everything we work and strive for. -- The entire purpose of our mission in animal rescue and placement.

But, it is not always easy to find or achieve that perfect synchronization between what we want for our rescued animals and what others are seeking and capable of giving to an adopted dog or cat.

Adoptions are, after all, so complex.

They can be the right people, but sometimes, its not the right time in their lives. It can be the right animal, but many times the dog (or cat) needs time to "adjust" and fully appreciate the new circumstances and people in their lives. Are the people willing and capable to give the animal that time?

And, sometimes its good people and a good animal, but not the right situation.

No, adoptions are never "easy."

But, for those times everything "synchronizes" and falls perfectly into place, it is indeed like the rainbow following the rain! -- PCA


Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Animal Planet"

(Picture Left: My dog, Tina. A "herding" type dog, Tina is forever representative of her natural instincts. Training can modify, but it does not eliminate or overide a dog's natural instincts. -- A lesson learned last night on Animal Planet's "From Underdog to Wonderdog."

Last night, I spent some time catching up to some of the newer shows on Animal Planet.

Impressive was, "PitBull Boss," which follows, "Shorty," a self-described Pitbull lover who does rescue on the side of running a talent agency for little people.

Shorty is an ex-con who got on the wrong side of the law as a teenager growing up on the mean streets of South Central, Los Angeles.

But, apparently while doing time in jail, Shorty developed a respect and love for feral cats, as well as sympathy for Pitbull dogs (who are so much a part of the landscape of the inner cities.)

Shorty has two rescued Pitbulls of his own. He appears to be a very bright and driven guy.

On last night's show, Shorty rescues a "stray" Pitbull from the Watts section of LA and then spends several days trying to find the Pitbull's owner. Since Shorty apparently grew up in Watts, he seems to know the neighborhood folks.

Eventually, the Pitbull's owner comes looking for Shorty, accusing the diminutive, but feisty man of "stealing" his dog.

Shorty learns that the blue Pitbull is being used for "breeding." While being compelled by law to return the dog to the original owner, Shorty attempts to educate the owner against breeding Pitbulls by bringing the man to the Animal Control pound in LA.

The Animal Control shelter in Los Angeles appears very much like the one in New York City.

It is almost entirely filled with Pitbulls.

Most of the dogs of course die, just as they do in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and all the large and diverse cities throughout the US.

Tears welled up in Shorty's eyes as he looked at the endless cages with sad-eyed Pitbulls in them, one after the other. But, it wasn't clear that tears welled up in the Blue Pitbull's owner or that he even "got" the necessity to neuter -- or, at least, not breed his dogs.

But, I think the attempt at education was a very noble endeavor on Shorty's part and more importantly, a vitally NECESSARY one.

Until every backyard breeder of Pitbulls is forced somehow to come to a reckoning of what his (or her) actions are truly doing in terms of animals, killing in shelters and society at large (it is, after all, the taxpayers who ultimately pay for all this carnage) then any talk of any major city in the USA going "no kill" is pure and utter bullshit.

That only every backyard Pitbull breeder could be forced to watch the long line of Pitbulls being killed in shelters each day with the phrase, "You are either part of the solution or part of the problem" being said to them. -- That is my dream. That, and possible laws mandating the neuter of this breed of dog until such time Pitbulls were not overpopulating our shelters forcing endless and unjustifiable "euthanasia" on a daily basis.

Another show on Animal Planet last night airing an early episode for the new season was, "From Underdog to Wonderdog."

Those familiar with this journal will remember I have been very critical of this (second season) show in the past.

Too much unrealistic, "happy ending fluff."

But, last night's show, sadly did not have a happy ending.

The highly active "Shetland Sheepdog" rescued from a shelter (I put in quotes because I personally believe the dog was far more Border Collie mix than Sheltie) was a challenge in terms of the training and other resources that had to be put into "Chases'" eventual rehabilitation and placement.

But, knowing the dog's strong "herding" instincts, it was questionable placing this dog in a situation where the possibility that he might run off and come to some untimely end was in fact, more probability than possibility. This, despite the dedication and hours of hard work put into the training of Chase, as well as the search to find caring and loving adopters.

Reality is, that training only goes so far. I personally don't believe that all the training in the world is enough to totally overcome a dog's natural and basic instincts -- that, which a particular breed or type of dog was bred to do. (Training can modify, but it does not eliminate natural instinct.)

As one who has owned a "herding" type dog for 13years, ("Tina") I am only too aware of my Corgi mix's propensity to chase anything that moves in open space. On three separate occasions I almost lost Tina in Central Park when foolishly allowing her off leash. Tina is a wonderful and well trained dog in every other respect but this one. (She cannot be allowed to run off leash in open space.)

Tina runs to me the second I call her while in the home. But, outside the home, my "herding" dog reverts back to her natural instincts and looks for squirrels, ducks or anything else that she can "herd." Tina is gone in a flash and doesn't look back.

Likewise, I suspect that despite the dedicated "training," Chase was a dog that ran off the second he saw something moving and didn't look back or respond to calls.

The dog's placement on a horse ranch with miles of open space, (while perhaps seeming on the surface like a good adoption for an active dog) was one that when first seeing it, gave me chilling pause.

I just got a "bad feeling" when learning Chase was going to a home with lots of open acreage.

Moreover, I don't believe the adopters were properly instructed and cautioned on how protective and careful they would have to be with a dog like Chase. The tendency to revert back to herding instincts would be with the dog for life, regardless of attempts to "train" or rope that in.

Unfortunately, Chase's life on the horse farm was but a few months. At the end of the show we were sadly informed that Chase was killed by a car.

This had to be very hard for the small group of young, dedicated people who put so much time into the care and rehabilitation of Chase (especially, the trainer), but there is a lesson to be learned:

That is, (as I have been saying for years) that responsible Adoption is a far more complicated and challenging process than what we have been led to believe.

We in rescue and placement have to be careful about making false promises that all problems are solved by "training" or thinking that responsible adoption is only a matter of finding nice people.

We have to find people capable of truly learning about and KNOWING their dog and taking the appropriate measures to address their dog's strengths and yes, perceived "weaknesses," as well.

Every dog I have ever had, I have been able to allow off leash (including, Chance, my Pomeranian.)

But, Tina is the lone exception.

Although Tina gets plenty of exercise daily (one to two mile walks), even at 14-years of age, she will still bolt on leash to chase a squirrel up a tree.

I don't love Tina any less for her instincts or perceived, possible "weakness," but rather respect her uniqueness.

Chase's story on last night's "Underdog to Wonderdog" was a sad and realistic reminder of just how complex and challenging animal placement really is.

I commend the show (and the network) at least for its honesty. -- PCA


Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Pigeon and A Twig

Today, I noticed a pigeon grabbing and flying away with a piece of twig.

She was presumably preparing to build a nest someplace.

It was a tiny moment of sunshine, hope and renewal during otherwise troubled times.

Spring is apparently not so far away and with it, the promise of new life and new hope.

At least the birds seem to feel that way.....

The past few days have of course, been tragic.

The devastating and destructive earthquake in Haiti is hard to imagine except that the air waves are now filled with pictures and videos of it. -- Small glimpses into incalculable human and animal suffering and death.

I thank God that no catastrophic tragedies have occurred in New York City since 9-11, but also question why such horrors have to happen at all?

Earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, war, terror attacks. These are the things that grab headlines due to the magnitudes of their destruction.

Then there are the tragedies of everyday "normal" life. -- the ones that don't grab headlines. Disease, poverty, job loss, death, divorce, break-ups, crimes, family strife, slaughterhouses and animal shelter "euth lists."

One could easily become depressed thinking about all these things.

But, then there are those little rays of sunshine and hope that likewise present themselves each day.

Moments that are, in the course of everyday hard stressers and otherwise "bad news" are all too easy to miss:

The wag of a tail when your dog enthusiastically greets you upon coming home.

The smile in the voice of friend.

Some small achievement in a work endeavor.

Or, the sight of a pigeon flying off with a piece of twig in her beak.

I might have been the only one to notice that small "non-event" today.

And if that be the case, I am the luckiest person on the planet. -- PCA


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stars Perfectly Aligned

(Picture Left: "Bujoe" -- a very lucky dog, indeed.)

I guess it is somewhat a miracle that in these days (since the New Year) of greatly diminished dog adoption inquiries we actually succeeded yesterday in the adoption of one of our recently rescued dogs.

"Bujoe" is a somewhat large (72 lbs), older mixed breed dog who, despite a glowing profile from previous owners, landed on the Euthanasia list of the pound shortly before Christmas.

The shelters were of course packed and the Kennel Cough ("Illness") that inevitably hits almost every dog that comes into the pounds provided the nail in Bujoe's would-be coffin.

But, in one of the very rare instances of a Craig's List posting actually meeting with success, Bujoe represented that fortunate and rare occurrence.

Three young women roommates offered to foster Bujoe.

Normally, I am reluctant to send either foster dogs or dogs for adoption to a triple roommate situation. There are simply so many things that can (and usually do) go wrong in this kind of placement despite the noble intentions of the person who actually does the calling and offering: One roommate turns out to be "allergic." Or, another freaks out the first time the dog pees on the floor, barks or sheds fur on the furniture.

But, even more than the inevitable "conflicts" that almost always arise in multiple roommate situations (where it is primarily one person who wants the dog and the others initially and merely "go along to get along,") there is also the fact that roommate situations tend not to be stable over time.

But, in this case, all three roommates were dog lovers and fully on board for the fostering. Moreover, the young women all seemed to realize that under the circumstances, "fostering" was the more responsible way to go as opposed to an adoption which requires an ideally permanent commitment (and situation) to the animal.

I was, in fact, very lucky with this particular foster placement. The dog, Bujoe turned out to be everything his former owners said he was (housebroken, great with people, kids, other dogs and presumably, cats.) The young women turned out to be everything they claimed to be -- and more.

Both, humans and dog were balanced and in harmony with life and with each other.

It made for a very successful foster situation.

But, ultimately temporary "fostering" is not the ideal when it comes to our long range goals for animals.

It is that elusive and hard to find, (forever) adoptive home.

Last week, a very pleasant and intelligent young woman called offering foster, (with intent to adopt) for a dog. Nellie is married and lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and she and her husband now felt they were in a good part of their lives to help and ideally adopt a dog.

Perhaps due to the very unfortunate experience with another recent dog foster ("Lisa") I felt much more cautious (or even fearful) about sending a dog directly from the shelter into any new foster home. -- If the foster did not work out, I had no more boarding spaces left to put another dog.

I told Nellie that I could offer "no guarantees" with any dog coming directly from the shelter or how that animal might be able to immediately "adjust" to the noise, stresses and crowds in Manhattan.

But, we did already have one dog for adoption already living in a Manhattan apartment and apparently doing very well. That dog was Bujoe.

A few days ago, Nellie and her husband made an appointment to meet Bujoe in the foster home and yesterday morning, Nellie called, very enthusiastic, to adopt Bujoe. We met yesterday to take care of the paper work.

It is very good news for us and obviously for the dog, Bujoe. It represents one of our first actual adoptions of the New Year.

But, as of this moment, it is not clear whether the three young women who fostered and took such good care of Bujoe until he was adopted, will immediately take in and foster another dog.

As said, roommate situations tend to be generally tricky and unstable. -- Everyone has to be on board and in the same place at the same time. That is hard to pull off as stars aligning perfectly in the heavens.

But, sometimes it actually does occur.

And, at least for one needy dog, the stars all perfectly aligned at the right time -- a time that actually saved Bujoe's life.

He is a very lucky dog indeed. -- PCA


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lending Nature a Hand

(The wonders of nature: Ducks finding those small areas of water that still remain in otherwise frozen lakes, rivers and ponds.)

This morning, when I awoke it was 16 degrees outside.

That is cold, even for me.

Still, there is the desire to make it to the park later today -- if for nothing else, then to throw some bread out for the birds.

I greatly marvel at, but also worry with regards to our park animals' survival during the coldest days of winter.

During the summer, the thousands of people in the parks, as well as the many food vendors virtually assure that squirrels, raccoons or birds never go hungry.

But, in the winter, it is a different story.

Presuming that the animals need extra layers of fat to help them survive in winter, food thus becomes more critical than in the summer.

For water fowl like ducks and geese, frozen-over ponds and lakes limit their food resources even more.

They are, however, amazingly adept at finding those few small pools of remaining waters.

It makes one truly feel awe at the resilience of nature.

Yesterday, while at the park with my dogs, I tossed some bread to some of the ducks still remaining in the unfrozen parts of the Reservoir. The desperation with the way the ducks dove for the food, made me feel regretful that I did not have more.

But, of course no one person can help feed all the ducks or other animals in the park anyway.

It is hoped that other people are moved by the plight of our park animals in winter. A particularly brutal winter might mean fewer squirrels, raccoons and birds to delight in over the spring and summer.

For both my dogs and me, that would be truly sad.

My dog, Tina especially lives for seeking out squirrels, raccoons and ducks to "herd."

Tina would never hurt another animal of course. But, yes, she likes to keep them on their wings and toes. -- Even if it means jumping into cold waters to do it! (I don't allow Tina to do this in winter.)

But, even the ducks are not afraid of Tina anymore.

These days the birds have more important things to worry over.

Like where their next meal is coming from......PCA


Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Month (or Two) No Pets Would Die

(Picture Left: "Bear" -- Former owners too busy to return a phone call.)

One imagines the image of walking a dog when the temperature outside is 20 degrees with single-digit wind chills is not appealing to most people.

Personally speaking, I rather like it,,,, well, except for those single-digit wind chills.

Dog adoptions have been tough over these first couple of weeks in deep, dark and bitter January. But, that is to be expected; particularly during cold weather spells.

That only we could say that there is an equal "slow down" in the numbers of animals being dropped off at shelters.

While the number of kittens arriving at city pounds does slow in winter (due to lack of births and survival of outside kittens in winter), dog and adult cat abandonments remains about the same as most of the year.

The other day, I received a call from the New Hope Coordinator from the Staten Island Animal Care and Control center.

Some family had just dropped off a 7-year-old, Chow mix dog with the excuse, "The dog is too much work."

I asked Joanne, "What does that exactly mean? Assuming the people had the dog 7 years, what suddenly became 'too much work'? Does the dog have some obvious medical or behavioral issue?"

"Not that we can tell," Joanne answered. "Bear seems like a very mellow and sweet dog. Medical did not detect anything wrong with him."

"Can you call the former owners and get more information?" I asked. "Has the dog ever been around cats? Is he OK with other dogs and kids? Its really hard for us to place dogs when we have no history or other important information on them, other than the dog is housebroken."

Joanne understood the point and promised to call and try to get more information from Bear's former owners.

"By the way," I asked. "Why isn't Bear in Adoptions?"

"Oh, because we have no free cages in Adoptions. We are totally packed," Joanne answered.

In other words, they would probably have to euthanize a dog in Adoptions to make room for Bear. -- So much for New York City "being on the road to no kill."

"I understand," I replied.

Earlier today, Joanne called back to inform me that although leaving a fairly urgent message for Bear's former owners two days ago, she had yet to hear back.

"I don't understand it," Joanne said wistfully. "I left a message saying that Bear's only chance to get out of the shelter alive was to go to a rescue. But, the rescue had questions. I asked politely for them to call back, but they haven't...." Her voice trailed off.

"That is surprising," I said. "Usually the people are only too happy to tell you everything about the dog if they think the information will save the animal's life. These people must be real winners. -- It shows how much they cared about their dog."

There is, of course another possibility:

The dog's former owners don't regularly check cell phone messages -- Something I've experienced over the years with others since the cell phone revolution. It also explains why neither I nor Judge Judy are fans of cell phones. You could not, in fact, pay me to have one.

Since Bear was never neutered, it ironically buys us a little time with the dog.

"I can put him on the list for neutering on Monday," Joanne said. "Do you think you could find a foster or adopter for Bear by then?"

"Go ahead and put him in for neutering." I said. "We will post him and try to come up with someone decent to foster or adopt. If nothing comes up, I can temporarily put Bear in boarding, but quite frankly, we are over budget and over extended now with dogs in boarding. Let's hope we can find a real home."

Joanne sent a picture of Bear and my colleague, Firouzeh immediately posted him to Craig's List.

Since then, we have fortunately had one offer to foster Bear: A young, professional married couple living on Manhattan's Upper East side.

The people sound very nice and I get a good feeling about them.

The bad news is they called inquiring to adopt a dog that we have long had in boarding: Coco.

Presuming the people do foster and potentially later adopt, Bear, it would not be the first time I forfeited a possible adoption of one of our dogs in boarding in order to save another dog facing immediate death at the shelter.

It forces one to self-question:

We are always bemoaning the dogs in long time boarding. But, do we not in fact, create the situation when overlooking these dogs to save another in more immediate peril?

Its an important question that too often draws a "yes" answer.

Or, perhaps the real problem is that of the ever present and constant animal drop-offs at the shelters.

If I had but one wish it would be that there might be some period of time -- Let's say at least a month or two when NO animals would be dumped off at shelters to die.

Perhaps that would finally give us the time to concentrate on, catch up to and finally adopt out those dogs (or cats) who have languised in boarding or even foster homes too long.

Unfortunately, that is nothing but a wish and a dream -- not likely to see any kind of reality any time soon. --- PCA


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Place of Belonging

(Picture Left: Leo when at Animal Control [with shelter volunteer] -- Just another Pitbull landing on Euth list almost as soon as he arrived.)

Last night David Lettermen presented, "The top ten ways you know you are already having a bad year."

I could have easily written that top ten topped off with the foster person who turned out to be a modern day version of "Sybil."

But, not to overly dramatize or bemoan the precipitous drop in dog adoption inquiries or the equally daunting rise in email "Alerts" on animals needing rescue or the bitterly cold weather that has suddenly gripped the North East since the New Year, one also needs to remind one's self of those positives that have occurred.

We have two dog adoptions since the New Year.

Both dogs were fostered in 2009 and have become the first dogs adopted in 2010 by their foster caregivers.

One of the dogs I feared might never get adopted:

"Leo" is a 4-year-old, Pitbull who due to the prejudices against his breed, I would normally not have rescued.

But, Leo had the good fortune to be dropped off to the AC&C in the spring of 2009 with a very sweet Chow Chow who we did rescue and quickly placed within a couple of week's time.

Usually, when we know an animal we rescue arrived at the shelter with another dog or cat, we try to rescue the companion pet, as well.

I later learned (from the person who brought the two dogs in) that Leo and "Fluffy" were not actually "companions" from the same home. Fluffy the Chow, had been abandoned by a neighbor who suddenly moved back to Puerto Rico. Leo, the Pitbull, had been a stray in the neighborhood who many people were afraid of and who some kids taunted.

Leo was not on any of the shelter "Alerts," nor was he a particular favorite with the shelter volunteers, one of whom told me point blank, "I would not pull that dog."

But, we pulled Leo anyway.

When I say, "we," I refer to myself and Firouzeh, a very dedicated volunteer and foster person and the woman, who in fact, adopted the second dog of the new year: Smokey.

Firouzeh felt a particular sympathy for Leo, but was not in position to foster or adopt as she and her fiance were already fostering one dog and had previously adopted another. Two dogs were the limit in the couple's small apartment.

After rescuing Leo from the shelter, we placed him into a Manhattan boarding facility. Firouzeh promised to go to the facility several times a week to walk Leo. I tried to fill in the other times.

I say, "tried" because the fact was, I could barely walk Leo.

Leo never apparently had any kind of leash training. And being a breed of power and muscle, I was no match for him. It required all my strength and determination to try and walk Leo even a few blocks.

But, the worst part was trying to put Leo back into his little room at the boarding facility.

On one occasion, I had so much difficulty trying to get the resistant dog back into the small enclosure, for a moment, I was afraid Leo would bite me.

Fortunately, despite Leo's unhappiness with the confinement, he never attempted to fight or attack. Still, I wondered, what if he ever did?

Firouzeh and I finally consulted a trainer who came by several times to the boarding facility to give us tips on walking Leo and putting him back in the room.

The tips helped greatly, but ultimately, it was Firouzeh who mostly walked and socialized Leo as I had other dogs at the facility to walk. Firouzeh, being a lot younger than I am was in better position to deal with Leo. I simply paid the bills.

After several months boarding in Manhattan, we finally decided it was better for Leo to go to a boarding and training situation in New Jersey. "Ed" is a dog lover and trainer who runs a very humane and reputable facility that is able to not only board dogs, but provide training as well.

It had become very hard on Firouzeh coming after work everyday to walk Leo when she had her own two dogs at home and a very demanding job.

In the end, it was better for Leo to go to a professional trainer.

Leo spent another several months in boarding in New Jersey and it seemed to me, that despite all the advertising and promotions, we might never find a home for Leo. It was something that worried me greatly -- as I worry when any of our dogs are in boarding a long time.

But, then one day Firouzeh called and announced that one of her colleagues at work was interested in fostering Leo!

Bruce is a young man living in Manhattan with a good job, active lifestyle and previous committed dog experience.

It was an opportunity that we could not pass up!

After providing Bruce with many tips, support and some supplies for taking in Leo, Firouzeh made the arrangements and she and her fiance picked up Leo in New Jersey and brought him to Bruce's home.

That was almost three months ago.

Last week we finally got the news that Bruce is supremely happy with Leo and has made the commitment to adopt.

As I write this, the adoption contract and fee are already in the mail.

Leo's adoption thus represents the first one of the New Year, but it was in fact, many months in coming.

It is, in fact, an adoption I thought might never occur at all.

So yes, while there are many things to worry about or feel disappointment with this first week of the New Year, at least for one Pitbull whose only good fortune in 2009 was to be abandoned at the pound with another (unrelated) dog who went to rescue, 2010 is the year of finally finding his place of belonging -- his adoptive home.

What better way to start off the New Year than finding one's place of belonging? -- PCA


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Old Adventures in New Craziness

(Picture left: "Cindy" --Near victim of new year craziness -- or just poor screening?)

If the old year ended on a somewhat optimistic and hopeful note, the new one begins with adventures in assorted craziness.

For example, a few days ago I received a couple of calls from people interested in Tiki, a wonderful and loving Lhasa Apso we have for adoption.

Tiki was abandoned to the city pound by a family who indicated "cost" as the reason for giving up the dog. Tiki was dirty and matted and it is presumed the family could not afford the high costs of maintenance and grooming that are required with this type of dog.

Keeping in mind the reason for Tiki's prior abandonment, I have deemed it important to inform potential adopters (especially without prior experience with a high maintenance dog) of the grooming expenses inherit with dogs who have hair rather than fur.

One of the callers the other day was a man who had previously had a German Shepherd for many years. When telling the gentleman about the regular grooming Tiki would require, he sincerely thanked me for being "honest and informative" and said he would have to discuss these expenses with his wife. It wasn't clear that the older couple could afford monthly clipping and grooming expenses for a dog.

The second caller on Tiki that day was a woman who had previously owned a Jack Russel Terrier for 15 years. When informing the woman that Lasa Apso's are a high maintenance breed (unlike a JRT) that require regular clipping, she became insulted and hung up on me.

I thought afterwards how "crazy" it is that in saying the exact same thing to two different people, one sincerely thanks me and the other becomes angry and hangs up.

Its hard to know what to say to people these days. I just want to be sure that whoever ultimately adopts Tiki is aware of the care expenses that come with this breed of dog. If that is "insulting" to some people then so be it. It wasn't the right home for Tiki.

But, if it is sometimes stressful dealing with anonymous callers over a phone, that is nothing compared to the situation of sending an animal to a foster or adoptive home and later discovering that the emotional stability of the person is in question.

Just before Christmas I received a call from a single woman offering to foster a dog that was about to die in the city pound.

"Lisa" (not her real name) is a teacher in the public school system and already owns a 4-year-old, Border Collie mix that she adopted from a local shelter a few years ago.

I explained to Lisa that I could not guarantee either the health or the behavior of a dog pulled from the Euth list of the city shelter. However, she assured me that her dog was up to date on all shots and she had a friend who was a dog trainer and could help with any behavioral issues.

Lisa sounded like a pretty together individual and possessing both dog experience and a vet reference, I had no logical reason for saying "no" to her.

As matters were, I was, in fact, trying to find safe sanctuary for a dog I had just pulled off the Euth list the day before. All my fosters were full, as were boarding spots just before Christmas.

I told Lisa about "Cindy."

Cindy is a somewhat timid, though sweet and very young, Border Collie mix who ended up on the Euth list of Brooklyn Animal Control due to nervous behavior in the shelter. However, two different shelter staffers assured me that Cindy was in fact, a loving and gentle dog.

After meeting Cindy at the shelter, Lisa enthusiastically agreed to foster the 1-year-old, Collie mix dog.

But, since receiving Cindy on the 23rd of December, the going has not been easy with Lisa or apparently, the dog.

Lisa called me almost everyday to report different challenges with Cindy from Kennel Cough to dominance with her dog to separation anxiety.

I carefully listened to Lisa's concerns and tried to counsel and advise. Many of these things are to expected with new and insecure dogs out of the shelter system. I offered Lisa various tips to get through the problems.

But, after having Cindy about a week, Lisa called one evening to report that Cindy "attacked" her dog over food and treats. Her dog was then so "afraid" of Cindy that she was "cringing under the bed."

OK. This was not a good situation.

Since we just had one of our dogs adopted from boarding, I told Lisa that she could bring Cindy to one of the trainers who works with me. -- Chris, in Brooklyn.

The following day, Lisa showed up to Chris's home with both dogs in her car. That seemed a bit strange, since the whole reason for giving up Cindy was the dog's supposed "aggression" towards Lisa's other dog. Why, under those circumstances, would Lisa put both dogs in the car together? Would that not be potentially dangerous?

But, that was not the worst of the situation.

When Chris apparently reached for the wrong dog to take in, Lisa became agitated and according to Chris, called him a "jerk."

He in turn, called her a derogatory name and thus, the handoff did not occur.

I spent the next couple of hours trying to "mediate" between the two offended parties, each one calling the other, "crazy."

Lisa took Cindy back to her home.

Since Lisa was still in possession of Cindy, I realized I had to handle the young woman with kid gloves, giving her the benefit of the doubt -- or warnings from Chris.

Each day Lisa called and once again, I attempted to counsel her through the challenges.

Things seemed to be getting slowly better with the two dogs then getting along.

"Better" that is, until yesterday.

Yesterday, Lisa called to report that Cindy was "spotting blood" all over her apartment, not eating and vomiting up bile.

As this could represent anything from Urinary Tract Infection to a dog in heat, to Pyometra (Uterine infection), I called my vet and requested an emergency appointment.

Dr. G was kind enough to extend his hours to accommodate the emergency request.

I met Lisa with Cindy at my vet and at least for a while, things seemed to go smoothly. The dog was bright and alert and at first glance, appeared healthy. The young woman appeared put together and cooperative. We engaged in small talk with the few remaining people in the veterinary waiting room.

Dr. G did a very thorough exam. It seemed that Cindy was indeed, in heat, but the lack of appetite, slight temperature and vomiting could indicate a possible onset of Pyometra. He recommended leaving Cindy at the clinic a few days for observation and treatment.

Personally, I was very relieved with Dr. G's offer. The thought of Cindy possibly developing life threatening Pyometra (while in foster) in the wee hours of some morning with few places to send her was not comforting. Moreover, I was relieved to leave Cindy in the trusted hands of my vet as I was becoming increasingly uneasy about Lisa's stability in handling the dog or the situation.

At first, Lisa seemed fine with leaving Cindy with Dr. G.

But, then, while waiting in the reception area of the vet's office for the paper and other arrangements to be made, Lisa suddenly unraveled.

Without warning, the young woman began crying hysterically, yelling and appeared distrustful of everyone, including my vet and me.

"I LOVE this dog! I CARE about her! I took YOUR dog in when she was going to be euthanized! YOU haven't even thanked me!"

I tried telling Lisa I appreciated her efforts, but it was best that Cindy stay with the vet for observation and treatment.

But, the young woman was wasn't listening.

"YOUR person (Chris) called me a bitch! You say my vet's no good!" (I never said any such thing.) Where's the license for this vet?"

I pointed to a couple of dozen Christmas cards on Dr. G's door. "Do you think people would be sending greetings to a bad vet?" I asked. "I've been using Dr. G for ten years. He is one of the best vets in the city!"

"Christmas cards?" Lisa laughed. "I want to see this vet's license, otherwise I am calling 311 and demand that Animal Control pick up this dog! Where's the license?"

With all the commotion, Dr. G suddenly appeared with his license in hand. "Its the first time in ten years someone has asked to see this, but here....."

Dr. G gently tried to console Lisa and reassure her that we all cared about Cindy and would see to it that the dog got good care. "But, you have to be able to trust," he added, while gently leading the then very scared and stressed dog away.

But, Lisa continued to cry and yell. Trust apparently wasn't something she could easily feel towards others.

"I LOVE this dog! I saved her life. I just wanted the best for her!! How am I going to know what happens Cindy now?"

Once again, I tried to reassure Lisa, but she interrupted me.

"I have to leave now. My brother's leaving for Iraq tomorrow!"

Frustrated, I answered that I wasn't responsible for her brother leaving for Iraq.

Lisa became more agitated and finally stormed out of the vet's office. The last I saw of her, she was making calls on her cell phone presumably bad mouthing me and my vet.

It had been an ugly and for me, totally embarrassing day especially in terms of my vet being insulted and belittled. Dr. G had kindly gone out of his way to accommodate us and he didn't need this kind of scene. Nevertheless, I was greatly relieved that Dr. G now had Cindy and the dog was in our possession.

I wanted to apologize to the vet techs and Dr. G, but the office was then closed and I finally left.

Dr. G and his staff must be wondering now how I screen my fosters and adopters?

The question is, how does one "screen" for emotional and mental stability in others?

I was obviously fooled on this one. -- PCA