Pound Pooch

diary of a shelter worker.



i have not been able to write this for over a week.

i consider myself not-a-softie. the opposite of a softie would be what? a tough guy? a hardass? someone who doesn't fall head over heels with every puppy, kitten, or squishy faced dog that walks in the shelter doors. i have volunteered or worked in shelters for about six years. i have brought home exactly one animal. i think that's a pretty good ratio.

about three weeks ago, a pit bull named "cujo" came into the shelter. at this point i don't remember exactly why he came into the shelter. he was horribly named. he looked nothing like a cujo. he acted even less like a cujo. this guy was someone's yard dog. anyone who knows anything about pit bulls (and i am a pit bull lover) knows that they make atrocious guard dogs. even the best dogs, and even the best pit bulls, deprived of the most basic socialization, can demonstrate some faults. this guy displayed none. he was about a year old, brindle, and had a big ole face. he had the slimiest spit, and loved to give kisses. his owner, who we tracked down through his microchip, could not take cujo back.

i took cujo out as often as i could throughout his stray period. i played with him, checked him out to see if he had an appropriate pit bull temperment. this guy was great. he gummed his toys, and then dropped them to get in my lap. he had no manners at all- jumped on people to get As Close As Possible to them At All Times (caps for emphasis to show Just How Serious About Loving On People He Was!). this guy was the real deal.

cujo did not pass his temperament evaluation. i was not suprised, but i was sad. animals are euthanized every day in the shelter, in every shelter. cujo didn't back off with other dogs. again, i was not suprised- he was unneutered, and he was a pit bull. dog aggression is VERY common in pit bulls. while noone saw any dog aggression in cujo, they didn't like what they saw either. i believed that cujo could have made it, and would have made a great pet. what saddens me is that cujo wasn't going to make it. supply is simply way too high for demand for rock solid pit bulls.

there are too many back yard breeders (BYB's) churning out too many pit puppies. there aren't enough responsible homes for these guys. i could have taken cujo and made him an awesome dog. but i can't take cujo, and every other awesome pit bull that walks into every shelter and make him an awesome dog. normally i make it through the day without letting this get to me. cujo got to me.

rest in peace, cujo.


bob barker says... spay and neuter your pets!

The tv game show "The Price is Right" is famous for two things, right? "Come on down!!" and Bob Barker's reminder to neuter and spay your pets. Bob Barker thinks that spaying and neutering is a good thing. He funds clinic and voucher programs for s/n surgeries all over the country.

The county I just moved to thinks that spay/neuter is a good thing, too. In fact, we've had a law for many years that requires spay/neuter of all animals over 6 months of age. Very few people seem to know of this law. When animals come into the shelter as strays, the first time, we offer to fix their animals at a low cost, and to waive their impound fee. Very few people take us up on this offer. We offer the cost argument: we explain to them that the second time their animal comes into the shelter (and we get lots of repeat offenders), there is a mandatory spay/neuter. This time, the impound fee is almost double, and the owner has to pay for the surgery fee. It's not cheap to bail out an animal twice. Liscences for unaltered dogs are more expensive (for those who are compliant and bother to liscence their dogs) than liscences for fixed dogs, and there is a processing fee for unaltered liscences each year.

And it's generally just risky to have an intact animal around. I would imagine that most people would have some, if not constant worries about female dogs and cats getting pregnant, or males impregnating others. There are health risks of having intact animals (a short google search brought up some of these: health risks to unspayed bitches and unneutered dogs, Health: spaying and neutering, Canine neutering and a billion more) like increased risks of prostate cancer, pyometra, etc. Most people seem unclear about the difference between backyard breeding and reputable breeders. They do not realize that by having "just one litter" or by leaving their dog intact and having an "oops" litter, they are part of the problem, and becoming a a BYB.

But the hardest part of all this, for me, is that we have this great mandatory s/n ordinance and no way to help people be responsible and fix their pets. I know all about overpopulation, and all about the excuses people will give to not fix their animals, or to be BYB's. At the end of the day, that's not what gets me. What gets me are the 5 calls a day that I take asking for low cost s/n services. We don't have any in the county. There is one city in the county that has a free program for low income people, but there are all sorts of people in the county that aren't in that city, or are in that city and aren't low income but can't afford s/n, or are low income but not in that city, etc, etc. A coworker suggested that we go around to every vet and ask them to do one free surgery a month. That would be 12 a year, and probably 200-300 for the whole county. It would be a start. My dream? To get the county organized and apply for Maddie's Fund money. Until then, every day, I just have to think of Bob, and encourage people to spay and neuter their pets.


two bites

Two women came in today to have their bites verified. This isn't something that happens very often- someone calls and says that they were bitten by a dog, and then they have to have a designated staff person verify that they were really bitten by a dog. The women came in within minutes of each other. And what is weirder, the women were bitten by each other's dogs. Or so they say. There was no dog fight. There was no "incident." One woman was bitten, and conicidentally, minutes later, her dog bit the other woman. Something was very suspicious in this situation. We have to take the reporting parties' word on these bites, so we signed both dogs into mandatory bite quarantine.

In other weird moments today.... A family came in and wanted to look at a dog. Standard operating procedure: before any person can view any animal, we have them fill out a short application- front and back of a single page. The application covers their address, where they want their animal to sleep, their past and current pets, etc. After the application is filled out, we check in the computer to make sure all the information matches up. This family was quite alarmed by this application and left, telling me that the application borderlined on an invasion of privacy and that they would go through other channels to find a dog.

Another family started to fill out the application for a dog, but asked me first if all the dogs had to be microchipped before leaving the shelter. I explained that yes, microchipping was part of the adoption process and would be covered by the fees. The girl explained to me that they were against microchipping and so could not adopt. They left without further explanation.

A man who was on hold waiting to connect on the phone today gave me a lecture about how awful our classical hold music combined with the PSA's about spay/neuter and microchipping were. How DARE we tell him that someone would be with him shortly when in fact, it took me 27 minutes to get to his call? I promised to alert my supervisor to this dire situation.


Katrina Pets

I keep going back and forth about this, and I know it's controversial, but lately I've been upset by the fallout from the animals from Hurricane Katrina. A group in our area took about 100, and I personally field about 5 calls a day asking where those animals are, how people can view them or donate to them, and if we have any (name that breeds) for adoption from Katrina. I would guess there are 15+ inquiries a day. They started within days of the Hurricanes.

The plight of the animals (and the people) from these Hurricanes is unspeakable. This was an un-natural disaster (I think I stole that term from Bill McKibben, but it could be someone else)- a hurricane made worse by the factors of global warming, and the effects of the hurricane compounded due to years of cries for help from the Gulf States falling on deaf ears. Environmentalists warned developers that ridding the Gulf States of the wetlands would produce this kind of destruction. Engineers begged for more money to support cities built below the waterline. These warnings and more were ignored, and I would warrant a guess that they were ignored in large part due to the poverty and largely minority populations of the Gulf Coast areas.

The disaster response for hunans has been hashed and rehashed, and the response for the abandoned animals was only slightly better. What gets me is how it takes a crisis- a close to home crisis, since war and famine and natural disaster abroad don't seem to do it- to make people care and want to donate time, money, etc to a "cause". I love it that people are opening their hearts and homes and wallets for the animals of Katrina. Those cats and dogs (and I haven't heard about any, but I assume parrots and turtles and hamsters and rabbits) need help, and urgently.

But in every city and county, there were existing animals that needed help just as urgently. I can't understand the need to help only the animals from Katrina. These are the phone calls that rub me the wrong way. People who want to adopt Louisiana animals, because some how animals from their county, who are very much at risk, are different, not good enough? Every city and county in this country, I would venture to say, is euthanizing animals every day. And I would be suprised if most weren't euthanizing adoptable animals every day. They haven't all survived hurricanes, but they're all homeless, and in need.

I suppose, in a dream world, city and county animal shelters would be adequately funded and this wouldn't be an either/or. I could have my cake and eat it too. The lady down the street who wants to adopt a golden retriever rescued from Katrina could do that, and I wouldn't begrudge her, because in this world the Heinz 57 waiting at the shelter wouldn't be at risk of euthanasia, since his perfect family would be waiting around a different corner to adopt him within days. Animals would not be treated as throw-aways, and when disaster struck, there would be room in every shelter to absorb some displaced pets, and I wouldn't HAVE to begrudge any animal. Hurricanes aren't their fault, after all.


Every day, animals are surrendered. Some days it takes all that I have to keep from being a real bitch about these surrenders.

My dog is my life, and I cannot, at this point, think of a single thing that would cause me to turn him into an animal shelter and certain death. I have rearranged my life for him- taken a job where I could bring him to work, driven him around in the car so he wouldn't be home alone, shortened my social outings for him, paid more for apartments that would allow a "power breed," moved in with my dad for awhile while looking for an apartment, etc. But I also understand that I haven't been everywhere, and that I am lucky in so many ways- I am healthy and stable enough to be able to support myself and him.

People surrender animals for reasons that really cause me to bite my tongue, and could be fixed with a little work. There was the outside, declawed, all white cat a couple of weeks ago, that apparantly bit the grandkids. The woman who surrendered had no will to separate the kids from the cat, or to bring her cat inside (the cat had skin cancer when it was surrendered). We get animals all the time with the "moving, can't keep" explanation, or the "got too big" or "allergic" explanation. I have never quite figured any of these out- a german shepherd that got too big for the kids? Um, right. A husky that keeps escaping that is kept in the yard all the time? Okay.

The other day, a couple came in with a cat. The cat was 15, and they had had her for 15 years. They were being forced out of their home. No rescue group or individual would take the cat. Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita animals are all the rage around here, and this was just a local animal, with nowhere to go. The women really hoped that I would have good news for them, but I knew that we would not be able to place their beloved pet up for adoption. I explained to them that they could surrender the cat to us and we could evaluate her, but that most likely, she would be humanely euthanized. I offered them a form that would give the shelter permission to euthanize the cat immediately, after her evaluation, instead of sitting through a hold period in a small cage, in the chaos of the shelter.

The women left for a few minutes to talk about this, but they knew that it was coming. The cat was no longer consistently using the litter box. She was a stray when they found her- not exactly feral, but not anyone's pet. They socialized her, had her fixed, and made her their house cat. And now, life had changed, and their time together had come to a close, through no choice of their own. I was in no place to fault them for that.

They signed the release for euthanasia, and made a donation to the shelter. Life changes, kitten season, and national natural disasters had made for a sad ending to their cat's life.


The Freezer

The freezer is not for the faint of heart. Or for the weak of stomach.

Yesterday, a man came into reclaim his cat, which had been sitting in the freezer for a few days. Even in the freezer, dead doesn't smell very good. He handed me a cat carrier, I brought it out to the freezer, fished around for the right bag, and returned his carrier to him, with an unspeakably sad weight inside.

We laugh about the freezer- if we didn't laugh, we'd cry and not be able to continue on with the day. But the freezer is one of the parts of my job I try not to think about too often. The "John Does" of the pet world are in there, for the most part, since the amount of deceased animals that are actually reclaimed or identified is very small compared to the amount of unknown animals that come through the shelter. Hit By Car's and Dead On Arrival's sit in there with the animals who wait through their stray period and aren't lucky enough to make it out reunited with their family or matched up with a new family. We fish out only a few, to go home for a decent burial.



I sent an adult cat home today. They don't go home often- kitten season seems to go on and on, and noone looks at the adults in their cages. But this family looked past the kittens, to the teenage cats, and even the adults. The first cat we looked at was a long haired black cat, that looked just like Mom's old cat, "Jackson." This cat was spunky, and playful, and seemed like a good fit for the family. Then I brought out the second cat- the adult, who ended up winning the kitty-adoption-jackpot. He was a mellow adult, and walked around rubbing himself against us, and especially the 2 year old child. Whenever the kid would sit, the cat would follow him- to the chair, on the floor, etc. This cat knew kids, and liked them. We checked out a third cat, but nothing could compare with our black and white adult.
The kid wanted to take all the cats home- the young boy kept telling me "I want to take care of him! I want to take care of him!" I had a feeling this cat was going to help take care of the young boy, as well.
The cat had been with us for three weeks- a long time for an adult during kitten season. Good luck, Nicky!