Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Blog Has Moved

You can now find it at  Wordpress offers many more options that I would like to utilize... once I'm familiar with it.  Please check out my current post there titled "Dogs and Cats of Russia"

Thank you and see you soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Thank you to Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Illinois

This is a blog post that is long overdue.  This is about two very different, yet very similar organizations and two people I admire very, very much. 

I started volunteering for Lost Dogs of Wisconsin sixteen months ago.  Before joining Lost Dogs of Wisconsin’s ranks, I had been out of rescue work for a while and had no serious thoughts of resuming that type of work in the future. 

I started volunteering with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin because I could work from my laptop…and, to be honest, that was the appeal.  I wasn’t going to bring animals into my house yet I was still helping animals that I dearly loved in the comfort of my own home. 

When I joined Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, the organization was fairly new. I don’t remember how new it was at that time, but it was new enough.  The person who trained me, Susan Jacoby, was extremely nice.  After working with Susan for a while, one of the group’s founders contacted me.  Her name was Kathy Pobloskie. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that Kathy is a very special person.  She is someone who is honest, truthful and trustworthy.  I have seen her demonstrate these traits over and over again in countless interactions with people.  She acts the same with each person she meets.  She treats everyone in the same, respectful manner.  I’ve never witnessed any other person enact his or her personality characteristics as consistently, as steadfastly as Kathy does.  Kathy is a leader who has no problem sharing everything she knows with anyone who asks; she is not threatened by the knowledge others may gain from her.  To me, Kathy’s honesty, trustworthiness and consistency, combined with her willingness to share her vast knowledge unconditionally are what make her such a strong leader.
Within its frameworks, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin has the same values as its leader, Kathy Pobloskie.  That’s not to say that Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is perfect.  The organization is relatively new, after all, and still going through some growing pains.  But this organization possesses something that is lacking in most animal welfare organizations - strong leadership.  There are no paid staff at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and that in and of itself says a lot about Kathy’s ability to attract and retain unpaid, dedicated, capable volunteers.  Although I no longer volunteer for Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, the group and its leader have made a lasting, indelible mark on me.  And it’s good one at that.

Lost Dogs Illinois has in its ranks another person who also exhibits traits that I feel are lacking in this field, Susan Taney.  Susan is a wonderful person with an encyclopedia of information in her brain and yet her knowledge is not what is most impressive about her.  Like Kathy, Susan has leadership skills that motivate her crew of unpaid staff to do whatever they can to reunite lost dogs with their owners day in, and day out.  Susan is truly an inspiration to her organization’s volunteers and everyone else she meets.

Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois work together, hand in hand.  They do it well and they have brought to the forefront an issue that has never really been appropriately approached before, the issue of lost dogs.  Lost dogs are what populate the majority of all shelters.  Most people acknowledge these dogs as strays when, in reality, they are lost pets who need to be returned to their owners.  These two organizations are making huge strides in educating people about how to go about getting their lost dogs back.  They are also making an impact on local shelters.  Both organizations are very young and it will take some time to record accurate, reliable numbers that demonstrate their effectiveness, but I know the stats are being collected and they will ultimately produce very fine data.

This brings me up to the reason I’m writing this…or, should I say, one of the reasons I’m writing this.
Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is holding its first fundraiser ever on July 26, 2012.  The event will be held in Milwaukee at Hamburger Mary’s.  Although I’ve never been to a fundraiser at this establishment, I have heard that hosting an event at Hamburger Mary’s guarantees every attendee will have great fun. 
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone who is available on July 26 to attend Lost Dogs of Wisconsin’s inaugural fundraiser.  Both Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois need remote control nets to help return nervous and/or shy dogs to their owners.  These nets cost about $5,000 apiece. 

I also want to encourage everyone to keep their eyes on Lost Dogs of Wisconsin’s website and/or Facebook page to learn further details about this fundraiser.  Personally, I’m looking for more information daily because this is an event I’m going to do my best NOT to miss.

And just for the record, thanks to everyone who works so hard to make Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois the successes they are.  Every dog returned to his or her owner is a testament to your commitment and dedication…to your love of dogs everywhere.  All of you are pretty special.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Visit to the Local Shelter

It had been a long while since I’d volunteered at a shelter.  When I used to volunteer at a different shelter a million or so years ago, I had the enjoyable assignment of walking dogs.  And I really hoped my first day of volunteering with this other shelter would be spent walking dogs again.  Yes, that’s what I hoped for despite the old adage, “Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it,” creeping into my mind repeatedly as I walked across the parking lot to the shelter’s front door.

Silently telling myself to stop replaying that saying in my mind, I drew a breath, walked through the door, and announced to the young lady at the shelter’s front desk, “I’m here to help!”  The woman greeted me and instructed me to head to the back of the shelter as there was a bunch of people back there who could use assistance.  I did as I was told and quickly realized that the woman’s definition of “a bunch of people” was three individuals.

Approaching the bunch, I asked one of its members, “How can I help?”  In response, the young lady I’d addressed immediately led me to a small kitchen where she hurriedly prepared a mixture of Beneful, canned Pedigree, and Gravy Train.  Fighting my urge to gag at the picture and smell of the combined dog foods, I began stuffing various Kongs with the mixture as I’d been told to do.  As I filled what had to have been the fifteenth or sixteenth Kong, I began to tell my companion a little bit about myself in an effort to build a little camaraderie.  Even though I know I’m not the world’s most interesting woman (which I guess is why I don’t do beer commercials), I was surprised when the woman said nothing in response to my statements.

I looked up from my mess, I mean work, and realized I was all alone in the tiny kitchen…and I was talking to myself and an audience of partially stuffed rubber dog toys.  Having finally stuffed the last Kong, I put all of them in the freezer and envisioned some homeless dogs enjoying them later that day.  As I cleaned the kitchen, I wondered if the dogs would approach their snacks as popsicles or toys and if they’d be surprised by what was inside of them.

Having put the kitchen back in order, I went to find someone who could tell me what I should do next.  As I searched, I heard an alarm.  Since the sprinklers didn’t come on and no one appeared to be sprinting out of the shelter’s emergency exits, I guessed the alarm wasn’t anything I needed to be too concerned with.  I was 90% sure everything was okay.  My confidence dropped to about 70% when I failed to find someone in the next minute and the alarm continued to sound a warning about something or other.

Finding none of the bunch in the back of the shelter, I made my way back to the front desk.  The woman who’d originally welcomed me earlier in the day suggested that I could check on the laundry.  And thus began my search for the shelter’s washing machine and dryer.

Winding my way through the shelter’s labyrinth of hallways and doors, I found two washing machines in different locations.  And I identified the location of the alarm.  The alarm was in the form of a nine week-old kitten who was not happy about being in a kennel even though it was quite spacious.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to read the kitty’s identification card and was soon surprised to learn that Ghost, named for his rather eerie white color, had been displaced from his home because he refused to get along with another cat.

I remember thinking, “Are you kidding me?  Ghost is just a baby.  He’s barely as big as my hand!”  I felt really bad that Ghost’s previous owners hadn’t given him more of a chance in their home and tried to brighten the little guy’s day by putting a toy in his kennel.  Not even my kind gesture silenced Ghost’s meows.

Remembering my task, laundry, I left Ghost to sounding his perennial alarm and went back to change out loads of clothes and towels.  While new loads were laundered, I folded what had already been washed and straightened out the shelter’s linen and food storage area.  With the laundry caught up, I again returned to the front desk for another assignment.  Noticing that I was a bit disappointed to learn that everything in the shelter was as caught up as the laundry, the young lady mentioned that a dog or two still needed to be walked and asked if I was interested.  I enthusiastically told her, “I would love to walk a dog!  Any dog.  Big or small.  It doesn’t matter.”

When she heard my answer, her eyes lit up with laughter which she tried to hide by turning away from me.  When she turned back to face me, only a sheepish smile betrayed her amusement…only a sheepish smile made me realize I might have made a mistake…only THAT sheepish smile made me realize I was about to walk a big dog, perhaps one even bigger than myself.

As I contemplated heading out to purchase a saddle, the woman said, “I’ll go get Buster then.”  “Buster?”  I wondered.  “Did he get his name because he busts people?  What have I done!?!”

When the woman returned from the back with Buster in tow, it didn’t take me long to see he was a bit energetic and to notice Buster’s powerful strength as he demonstrated both traits while dragging me out the shelter’s door.  Buster pulled me outside so quickly and determinedly that I didn’t even have time to ask if he knew any commands or make sure my life insurance policies were current.

I soon realized it didn’t matter if he knew commands or not.  Buster’s sole goal was to run and get away from me.  I can’t prove it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the shelter’s staff and volunteers were huddled in a corner laughing while Buster ran circles around me, grabbed his leash, and finally tackled me to the ground.

I didn’t even bother dusting myself off as I picked myself off of the ground since I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was knocked on my rump again.  I wanted to cry…and cry for help, but realized neither would do any good.  No one would be able to hear me over Ghost’s “alarm,” much less help me.  So I watched Buster run from side to side while silently praying he would stop and be still long enough for me to catch my breath.

In between a Hail Mary and an Our Father, I thought, “What in the world would I do if he starts to drag me all over town or gets loose?  What would I do then?  I should never, ever have said that I could handle a big dog!”  In between other prayers, I thought, “I might never get him back inside the shelter!  Oh, my word!  I might never make it back inside myself!”

Somehow (I personally think it was by the grace of God), Buster and I did eventually make it back to the shelter.  When Buster pulled me indoors, I saw that woman…and that same sheepish grin.  The lady asked, “How did it go?”  I don’t know why she bothered to ask when the answer was written all over my face.  I looked and felt like I’d just run the Boston Marathon without having trained first, after all.

I responded, “He’s crazy!”  In turn the woman observed, “Yes, he’s a little hyper.”  I thought, “A LITTLE hyper?  That’s like saying Mt. Everest is a little hill…that’s like saying a giant squid would make a single, little plate of calamari…that’s like saying the upcoming presidential election is a little political contest!  But…okay, whatever YOU say.  He’s a little hyper.”

As the woman led Buster back to his kennel, I realized I hadn’t even spoken to the dog during our lengthy time together.  Maybe it was because my time with him was consumed with prayers for my, I mean our survival.  Maybe it was because my breath had been knocked out of me a time or two.  Maybe it was because I didn’t have anything to say to the barely controllable creature and he had too much energy to listen.  I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter, does it?

I considered asking the woman if there was anything else I could do before I left for the day, but then remembered she’d said multiple dogs needed to be walked.  Fearing Buster’s equally energetic brother and/or sister might be in the back, I collected my things, turned on my bruised heel, and left, thus ending my first day of volunteering at the shelter.  I was beat…by Buster.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Observation in the World of Animal Welfare

Compared to other people, I have not been involved with the animal welfare world long.  I have no professional experience working with animals and I have only been volunteering with animal-related organizations for a year or so.  Yet, I find my experience in this relatively new “world” to be strikingly similar to those of people who’ve advocated for animals for years or even decades in both paid and unpaid positions.

I’m not talking about the joy of seeing a dog or cat go home with a new, loving family.  I’m also not talking about the wonderful feeling that comes from seeing a lost pet be reunited with his or her family.  And I’m not talking about the satisfaction that results from helping an organization to raise money so it can continue its operations.  Instead, I’m talking about my experience with people who choose to work with animals for a profession.  Specifically, I’m talking about my interactions with people who choose to labor in shelters and/or rescues in exchange for an hourly wage.

I have had the pleasure to meet many people who work in rescues and shelters during the months since I originally became involved with animal welfare issues.  While these individuals seem to come from many different backgrounds and have just as many different motivations for being in their chosen field, there seems to be a pattern of behavior that is readily apparent among the majority of them.

In general, these laborers are hard-working, dedicated individuals who genuinely care about the animals in their charge.  They are the ones cleaning kennels while everyone else is home enjoying a given holiday, for example.  In general, they also seem to be willing to share the details of their personal lives with just about anyone who will listen. 

They also seem to move around a lot, meaning they tend to leave one organization after a relatively brief tenure only to take a position similar to the one just vacated with another shelter or rescue.  Finally, they, for the most part, are more skilled at tending to animals than they are at communicating and interacting with other people.

I don’t know why this is.  Maybe it’s because many of these individuals come from abusive backgrounds.  Maybe it’s because many of these people seem to be perpetuating the cycle of abuse by being in relationships with verbally and/or physically abusive partners.  Or maybe it’s because they simply prefer interacting with animals to dealing with other people.  I just don’t know.

I do know, though, that their inability or overt refusal to act more kindly towards their coworkers and a given shelter’s volunteers and visitors is often counterproductive to an organization’s goal of adopting out animals.  I’m not saying that these people are deliberately sabotaging a rescue’s attempts to find new homes for the companion animals between its walls.  I am simply making the obvious point that potential adopters can be put off when a worker does not acknowledge them, is not enthusiastic about their arrival or interest in a particular animal, does not help them, or welcomes them with a story about a personal issue unrelated to their interest in adopting a dog or cat.

These workers do their best every day, just like the rest of us, to do what is right for the dogs and cats in the shelter or rescue they represent.  And I’m grateful for all of their efforts just as I’m grateful for all of the wonderful animal-related organizations that exist in the animal welfare world.  As grateful as I am, however, I’m just as eager for these organizations to invest in the people who work for them.

If an organization decides to pay to educate its staff about how to properly and effectively communicate and interact with people in a professional manner, it may not only succeed in adopting out more animals, it may also reduce its staff turnover.  Instead of criticizing charities for spending money on courses and materials that can be used to develop its staff, we should examine the very real, potential benefits of an organization doing just that.

I believe that the vast majority of money that a charitable organization collects should be used to protect and preserve the animals it cares for.  But I also believe that some funds should be dedicated to things that will help the organization operate in a more productive manner, including communication classes.

While I have had some frustrating, if not insulting interactions with shelter workers in the past, I believe they are the backbone of the organizations I serve as a volunteer.  And I believe they deserve the chance to improve their skills in every area, including communication, just as much as the workers in corporate America do.  I believe they are worth the investment.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Numbers Speak Volumes

It was a year ago this past April that I went to my first meeting at the Lakeshore Humane Society.  Not knowing exactly what a “stray” was at the time, I wasn’t sure why I was going or what I expected.  But since I had recently started volunteering with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, I thought I should get acquainted with my own community shelter, so I went.

The Lakeshore Humane Society had scheduled the public meeting to discuss why it no longer had a contract with Manitowoc County to handle the area’s strays.  And the meeting did more than educate me about that issue…it literally changed my life
When the meeting’s presenter began to speak, I was torn.  On the one hand, I felt sorry for the man.  On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out why in the world he had been selected to speak on behalf of the Lakeshore Humane Society.  To be polite, I’ll describe his demeanor as “argumentative” even though “combative” is much more accurate.

Although I knew nothing about the Lakeshore Humane Society at the time, I lost all trace of sympathy for the lecturer when he began to recite statistics regarding the Society’s operations.  His exact words were, “We are a high kill pound,” and the stats he provided only validated his statement.  The Lakeshore Humane Society was a killing machine.  I left the meeting completely dumbfounded by how a group that exists solely to preserve and protect animals killed so many helpless, adoptable companion animals.  And that’s how my year-long journey began…

I’m happy and relieved to say that things at the Lakeshore Humane Society have changed radically in the months since that meeting.  In fact, the organization has done a 180.  The Society has proven that leadership is the number one reason that a shelter can stop killing animals…good leadership, that is.
I’m eager to tell you about the changes that have happened at the Lakeshore Humane Society since its fiscal year started last October and its new board was elected later that same month.  Following is a recap of the significant changes made by the Lakeshore Humane Society in the past six months:

·         After more than a year of negotiations, the Lakeshore Humane Society is expected to sign a 3-year contract with Manitowoc and Two Rivers on Tuesday, May 8, 2012!  Once the contract is signed, the shelter will provide pound services for both cities.  The Society will receive $22,000 per year in exchange for its services.

·         In the current fiscal year, the Lakeshore Humane Society has an adoption rate of 96%!  This rate is up 15 points compared to the 81% adoption rate recorded in 2011.  Of course, last year’s number at least partly reflects conditions that no longer exist at the Society.

·         The current reclaim rate, which measures the shelter’s success at reuniting lost pets with their respective owners, is 33%, but it tops out at 60% for dogs in the shelter.

·         The Lakeshore Humane Society presently maintains a kill rate of 4%, which is significantly lower than the 19% kill rate the Society reported in 2011.
·         This year, dogs stay at the shelter for an average of 19 days while the Society’s records show they usually stayed for 25 days in 2011.  Cats now typically stay at the shelter for 32 days while they reportedly used to stay for up to 73 days last year.

·         The Lakeshore Humane Society is now considered an open admission shelter, meaning it currently accepts all animals that are brought in.

·         Recognizing the importance of establishing relationships and partnerships with area businesses, the Lakeshore Humane Society has stopped boarding pets.  The Society will soon stop selling perishable pet goods such as dog and cat food as well.  The shelter will continue to raise funds by selling impulse items such as collars and pet treats, however.

As you can tell from the above list, it’s all coming together at the Lakeshore Humane Society!  There isn’t one thing that’s not improving over there!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Volunteer with Your Voice...For the Voiceless

Despite the erroneous announcement from the White House last week, THIS week is National Volunteer Week!  So…happy National Volunteer Week to all!

Even though I’m a volunteer for many animal-oriented groups, this post is not going to be about me. I want to talk about volunteers in general with a focus on those who work with organizations dedicated to animals.

To begin, I would like to know why you volunteer where you do.  If you’re like me, you volunteer where you do because you get some enjoyment out of it.  And if you’re like me, you love the clients…you know those furry little four-legged guys and gals who have no voice of their own.

As I spend more of my time volunteering and getting to know other volunteers, it’s starting to seem like the animals we all work so hard to help are not the only beings that don’t have a voice.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a volunteer say, “Well, I can’t say anything or else I can’t volunteer there.”  And yet it shocks me every time I hear someone make that statement.  It shocks me because what these people are reluctant to comment on usually has to do with one of two things:  how animals are being treated or paid staff members not doing what they are compensated to do.

Clearly, there is something wrong with this.

If you are a volunteer trying to do make a difference in the lives of animals, the most effective tool you have at your disposal is your voice.  It’s more valuable to the animals’ well-being than your hands or your back.  So, use it!  Stand up and say something about what you see, about what you know is inappropriate.  If you wouldn’t let it be done to your own pet, don’t let whatever it is be done to an animal who is not as fortunate as yours.  Call people out intelligently, in other words
Every animal-related organization has its share of workhorses (forgive the pun!) who do the majority of the physical work required to keep animals safe and well.  And I’m in no way, shape, or form trivializing the importance of what these devoted individuals do.  But while these organizations are lucky enough to have tireless workhorses, most of them are not fortunate enough to have people who are willing to say something when there is a breakdown…when things are obviously wrong.

Well, all of us and all of the animals need volunteers who are willing to use their voices to point out anything and everything that is wrong with how an organization operates.  What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do, anyway?  Will you get “fired?”

To put it simply, if that possibility is why you’re not saying anything, do yourself a favor and move on and volunteer somewhere else.  Life is short and you, your willingness to volunteer, and your voice are valuable resources for every single voiceless animal out there.  And there are many organizations that will recognize how valuable you, your effort and your words are.

Friday, March 23, 2012

No-Kill pioneer to lead Lakeshore Humane Society

What’s so special about April 9th, 2012, anyway?  It’s not a national holiday.  It’s probably not your birthday, your spouse’s, or one of your kid’s.  And, thankfully, it’s not the deadline for filing your income taxes.  So, why should all of us living in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin celebrate on April 9th, 2012?

Because that’s the day Dayna Kennedy officially assumes the position of Director of Operations at the Lakeshore Humane Society!

Well-known throughout the animal world, Kennedy helped turn UPAWS, a shelter near Marquette, Michigan around.  During her tenure with UPAWS, Kennedy successfully saved companion animals from death at a rate of 96 percent, meaning less than 4 percent of the animals that entered the open admission shelter she ran were put down.

Kennedy’s success at UPAWS is often discussed by NathanWinograd, the founding father of the No-Kill Movement, in his public presentations.  In fact Winograd, along with many other No-Kill advocates, considers Kennedy a pioneer in the Movement.  And, it is possible that with Kennedy’s demonstrated success in Michigan, that at least some of the 350 shelters operating in Wisconsin that have the tools necessary to turn themselves around and evolve into No-Kill shelters like Upaws, will do so.  Currently, Wisconsin only boasts of one nationally recognized No-Kill shelter,  Elmbrook Humane Society in Brookfield, WI, but hopefully that will change as other shelters follow the example Kennedy is sure to set in this state.

When Kennedy begins serving the Lakeshore Humane Society as its Director, the shelter will start to adopt its way out of killing animals…something Kennedy’s experience with UPAWS proved is possible.  With Kennedy at the helm, this community will have a shelter that works and staff members that care as much as their leader does…because Kennedy will accept nothing less for the animals, herself, and the No-Kill Movement.

While April 9th, 2012, really is a day we should all celebrate, the truth is our celebrations should have started about six months ago when  Lakeshore Humane Society’s Board of Directors was elected.  This board inherited a literal mess that included the Society’s horrible yet deserved reputation.  And, this board has taken some very large, difficult steps to address the Society’s obvious internal and external problems.  Hiring Kennedy is only the most recent of these steps.
The Lakeshore Humane Society’s current Board of Directors is probably the best one the Society’s membership has elected since the shelter opened its doors in 1970.  And, we all need to remember that whatever success Kennedy is destined to have in our community would not have been possible if the board hadn’t hired her.  The future success of  Lakeshore Humane Society, the future evolution of the Society into a No-Kill facility, belongs to the board members as much as it will to Kennedy.

April 9th, 2012, is a date we should look forward to with great excitement because it’s going into the history books of Manitowoc County and the animal welfare world.  It’s the date that will mark the beginning of  Lakeshore Humane Society’s transformation from what was to what will be.  It’s the date that will represent a victory for the No-Kill Movement because yet another shelter, our local Humane Society, will recognize that life is the only viable, desirable option for the animals between its walls.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Samson!

One year ago today, my adult daughter got the first dog she could call her own, a Bulldog named, Samson.  I didn’t know what to expect as we traveled north to see Samson after he was born.  I didn’t know too much about Bulldogs at the time and had always thought only well-to-do people had them as pets.  Once I saw him, though, I knew he was a cutie!  All puppies are cute, of course, but Samson was the cutest of the cute.

My daughter brought Samson home when he was 12-weeks-old.  And he was a feisty little guy from the moment his paws landed on my daughter’s floor.  That is, Samson was feisty right up until the day he got sick.

Samson hadn’t been at my daughter’s house long before he started to make noises he hadn’t made before…noises my daughter mistook for normal Bulldog noises as most people would, including me.  Bulldogs make more noises than any other breed I know of, after all.

Well, Samson continued to make even louder noises over the next few days and, even more alarmingly, began sleeping much more than he usually did.  Worried, my daughter took Samson to his veterinarian who said Samson needed to see a specialist right away to treat the dog’s severe case of pneumonia.
My daughter and I scheduled the earliest appointment the specialist had available to examine Samson.  Even though he was still just a puppy, the specialist told us that Samson might not survive.  Rather callously, the specialist went on to explain that Bulldogs sometimes are born with such small tracheas that the most humane thing to do is put them down…to deny them a chance at life.  The only thought that crossed my mind as I listened to this presumed “pet care professional” talk was, “This guy is insane!”

Despite the specialist’s lack of bedside manners, Samson stayed at the clinic for three days.  His condition did not improve, however.  Samson was not eating and my daughter and I were reminded of the specialist’s grim prognosis for Samson.  During this stretch of time that seemed like one really, really long day, my daughter kept in constant contact with Samson’s breeder, Laurie, who owns and operates Starr Bulldogs.

Laurie suggested that my daughter and I should visit the clinic where Samson was being treated unexpectedly so we could truly determine if he was getting the best care possible.  Laurie had a dog go through a similar experience before and she advised us what to look out for.  So, we made an impromptu visit and were relieved when Samson seemed somewhat alert…alert enough to wiggle his little stub of a tail when he saw my daughter at least.

Unsure of whether Samson’s semi-conscious state demonstrated he was receiving adequate care or not, my daughter and I decided to sign the dog out of the animal hospital…against medical advice.  We figured the best chance Samson had at recovering his health was with someone intimately familiar with his breed.  So, we turned up the air conditioning in the car as far as it would go and began the three-hour drive to Laurie’s.

We questioned whether we had made the right decision at various points of our trip.  Even though he was riding in the back, we could still hear Samson making the same noises that led my daughter to take him to the vet in the first place.  He sounded horrible.

All of our self-doubts were alleviated the moment we arrived at Laurie’s.  Laurie met us at our car and immediately took Samson from my daughter’s arms.  With an oxygen tent already set up for Samson, Laurie and her husband observed him the whole while it took for Samson to do a complete 180! 

It didn’t take too long for Samson to recover his happy-go-lucky demeanor and begin eating his favorite food.  Having received breathing treatments and lemon to break up the phlegm in his chest over the week that he was with Laurie and her husband, Samson was prepared to celebrate when my daughter and I returned to pick him up.  And celebrate he did! 

Even though Samson still received breathing treatments for a few months after leaving Laurie’s, his health was eventually fully restored.

Looking back, and forward, I am still glad my daughter made the decision to take him out of that veterinary clinic.  I might not have a “granddog” if she hadn’t.  Still looking back, I also now believe that Samson’s pneumonia was caused by a Bordetella nasal vaccine.

Thankfully, Samson is now a happy, healthy, one-year-old Bulldog.  And, he is truly unlike any other dog I have encountered in my life.

I love you, Samson!  Happy 1st Birthday!  Love, Your Nana!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remembering Olly

Anniversaries are usually cause to celebrate…but today’s isn’t.  Today marks the one-year anniversary of me having my two-year-old Doberman, Olly, put to sleep.  No one knows this.  My husband does not remember the significance of this date.  Only I do.  Just me.  I remember everything…

Four years ago, my husband and I drove from our home in Wisconsin to Michigan to pick Olly up from a rescue.  Olly was just a seven-week-old puppy at the time.  We were concerned that Olly might be too young to come home with us, but the rescue assured us he was old enough. 

It seemed a little strange, but, then again, the whole situation was a bit awkward.  As I recall, a breeder donated a litter of Doberman puppies to the rescue so the group could make money from the sale of the pups.  I sensed there was more to that story, but I’ll never know for sure.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Olly was his size.  He was so tiny!  He was much smaller than I had expected him to be, but I didn’t care.  He was ours.  I knew he was special from that moment I first laid my eyes on him.

Olly was quiet even as a puppy.  He slept a lot.  He behaved very well during his vet appointments.  And, he was sitting on command by the time we celebrated his 10-week birthday!  He was amazing!
As the weeks went by, my suspicions that Olly was not a typical high-energy Doberman puppy were confirmed.  Instead of wreaking havoc in my home, Olly usually laid quietly by my side during the day.  I had no idea what we were in for when Olly started limping when he was only 11-weeks-old.

I raced Olly to his vet, Dr. Hauser, when I saw him limp the first time.  Olly’s vet said she thought my dog had Pano, a condition that affects fast-growing dogs as I understood it.  The pain medicine she prescribed seemed to help Olly as it worked its way through his system.  But, his limp would return when the medicine ran its course.

Olly submitted to having his blood drawn and posing for x-rays.  Even though his x-rays revealed certain abnormalities, no definitive diagnosis could be drawn from them because of Olly’s youth.  No one knew what was wrong with our dog.

Over the next several months, Olly chose to spend a lot of time in his kennel.  In fact, it was a struggle for us to convince him to come out on a few occasions.  Even though we were barely making enough to pay our mortgage every month, my husband and I decided to take Olly to a specialist.  The specialist told us we had the option of consenting to more tests, very expensive tests, to determine what was wrong with Olly.
I was torn between keeping a roof over my family’s collective head and agreeing to these tests which, according to the specialist, might reveal nothing.  I was mad, too.  I was furious that my husband and I had to make such a difficult decision.  Above all, though, I was just sorry, so very sorry for Olly.

As time went by, Olly went from being on one medication to being on another to being on another.  We had meds to treat his nausea.  We had meds to deal with his occasional diarrhea.  And so on and so on.  We made Dr. Hauser’s most frequent visitors list because Olly went to see her so often.

I spent too many nights to count lying awake trying to comfort Olly.  I stayed awake just as often wondering what I could do to help my dog, wondering if I was being fair to Olly.  The side effects of his medicine had significantly decreased his quality of life.  Olly was even more miserable than I was…and I was in bad shape.

More than once I turned to Dr. Hauser for advice because she knew Olly and me.  She was intimately familiar with Olly’s obvious pain and my personal torment…which was equally obvious.  After I watched Olly continue to suffer for months, I stopped asking Dr. Hauser about what I could do.  And, I began to ask myself some difficult questions.

I thought about why I was allowing Olly to suffer in this life.  Was I doing it because I loved him and wanted him to be with me?  Was it because I simply was not able to let him go?  Were these the same questions?  Even though I commanded myself to answer these questions, to be honest with myself, I couldn’t.  I was confused.  I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my innermost thoughts, so my emotional turmoil just continued…until I had an epiphany.

I finally resolved that I was being selfish, that I was putting my desire to be with Olly ahead of his need to be free of pain.  The hurt I felt when I realized this was indescribable.  I began to talk, literally talk, to Olly about our current situation – him being in pain and me being an emotional mess.  Every so often I asked him if he wanted his pain to end.

The only hint of a response I got from him was that sad look in his eye, the look that made him look much older than just two years.  He barely walked anymore.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I took Olly to his vet one last time and asked that he be put to sleep.
My husband and I held Olly as his vet gave him a shot to relax him.  We were still clinging to him when she administered the last, lethal injection.
The whole process was horrifying, but the thoughts running through my mind were tortuous.  What had I done?  I killed my dog.  I killed Olly.  I remember thinking that I was a truly horrible person as I looked at Olly’s lifeless body.  Why had I done this?  How could I leave him lying on that cold floor?

I was inconsolable as Dr. Hauser told me over and over again that I had done everything possible for Olly…in life and, now, death.  She told me repeatedly that most people would not have gone to the lengths I had.
I listened to Dr. Hauser’s words at the time and replay them every so often in my head.  But, even now, I grapple with the decision I made one year ago today.  And, I’m still angry.  I don’t know if spending more money on more care would have helped Olly, but I’m angry it wasn’t an option for me and my husband.
I don’t tell Olly’s story often because it’s not easy for me to get through the tale.  I think about my Doberman a lot, though.  A picture of him hangs in the kitchen above the spot where his kennel used to be.
No, today’s anniversary is not one I’m going to celebrate.  Instead, I will simply take comfort in knowing that Olly is in heaven…and that I will see him again when I get there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Water Bowl

Frozen drinks are great, aren’t they?  Everyone enjoys a smoothie or a margarita every once in a while, right?  Well, if you live in a cold climate like Wisconsin, the feral cats in your area may be having too many frozen drinks during the winter months, meaning they may not have sufficient access to the water they need to live.
You can ensure the critters that live outside in your community have access to unfrozen water by purchasing a heated water dish online or in a local pet store.  I purchased mine from Revival and I’m glad I did.  Using the dish, I know the feral cat I care for and love always has water to drink no matter what the temperature is outside.  Of course, I have to check the water level more often than I do with a non-heated bowl because water evaporates faster when heated.

Here in Manitowoc county, there is no program in place to control the population of cats that live outdoors.  None of the county’s municipalities will pick up feral cats, either.  Whether you live in Manitowoc or not, there are probably feral cats living in your community, animals that need help to survive.
If you think about one way you can help the animals in your area this winter, think about giving them access to water.  Investing in a heated water bowl will enable the animals in your locale to have the water they need to live.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Feline Trio

What a difference time can make.  Just a month ago, I would not have thought I’d again be volunteering for Lakeshore Humane Society or that I would be trying to spread the word about all of the positive, long-overdue changes that are being made within the shelter’s walls.  But, I am a volunteer and I am spreading the word.
Three times a week, I have the absolute pleasure of visiting what I refer to as the “Petco Cats” on behalf of  Lakeshore Humane Society.  The Petco Cats are a trio of cats who, like the feline who stays at Colonial Pet, are the responsibility of  Lakeshore Humane Society.  I spend about an hour-and-a-half with this trio, beginning at 10 am, cleaning their cages and talking to them.
At the start of every visit, I take each cat out of a cage, spend some one-on-one time, and put the animal in an Xpen that has a hiding place in its center.  I take Princess, a seven year-old, long-haired cat who was surrendered by her previous owners, out of her top cubby first so she can enjoy some time stretching and lying in the Xpen.  I enjoy watching her daintily drinking water.  Her behavior makes me think she would like to sit on the back of a couch and enjoy the soothing rays of the sun coming through a window.
Then, I remove Salty from the cubby below the one that belongs to Princess.  Salty was surrendered by his former owner more recently than Princess.  Even though he is adjusting to his new environment well, I can’t help but wonder how he feels.  I wonder how it must be for him to be in a new home without the family that was once his.  I enjoyed the time I spent in the Xpen with Salty earlier today!  He enjoyed the attention I gave him as much as I liked the affection he demonstrated for me!
Finally, I put Stix in the Xpen.  Stix is the only one of this threesome that I think would be able to hold his own during playtime with my dogs – he is feisty!  Despite his youth, Stix has mastered the art of escaping his enclosure and has had me chasing him in and around the store…more than once!
Fortunately, many people come over to play with the Petco Cats as I clean their living spaces.  Chatting with these kind-hearted people allows me the chance to inform them about TNR and the importance of micro-chipping their pets.  I’m amazed by how little people in general know about either TNR or micro-chips and am grateful for these opportunities to share my knowledge and experiences.
When the cleaning is done, playtime is over, and my conversations have ended, I put the Petco Cats back in their respective cubbies.  I usually feel tugs at my heart strings as I close the doors to their cages.  I have to convince myself that these cats aren’t crying for me as I prepare to leave…and that’s hard.
The work – cleaning cages, changing litter, delivering food and water – and the time I devote to these cats are worth it, though.  I know I make a difference to this trio and everyone I meet while caring for them the same way  Lakeshore Humane Society is now making a difference in the lives of the animals it cares for.
When its new board of directors was elected a few months ago, Lakeshore Humane Society began to change – it began to evolve into the kind of facility it was meant to be in the first place.  I don’t know how the Society got so far off track from its mission years ago, but I do know that its current board is right on target with the changes it is making.
I offered to write about Lakeshore Humane Society for a local paper so that members of the public could learn about and support the changes that are ongoing at the facility, but was turned down.  It’s unfortunate because the Society needs the support of its community now more than ever as it prepares to not only fulfill its mission, but exceed the public’s expectations as well.

Yes, time can make a big difference in a lot of ways.  In addition to getting me to volunteer and be a mouthpiece for Lakeshore Humane Society, time has re-instilled my hope for all of the animals cared for by  Lakeshore Humane Society…and for the Society itself.

Friday, January 20, 2012

You were wrong Dad...they were not vermin

When I was a young girl being raised in Eureka, CA, it was not uncommon for my father to shoot cats that wandered into our yard.  He told me the wayward cats were pests that needed to be killed.  His actions and explanation confused me because some of my friends kept cats as pets even though many people in that era did not allow cats in their homes.  I was young at the time and, believing my father knew best, I didn’t think much about my dad killing these animals other than deciding that what he was doing was strange.
Another influential figure during my youth, my aunt who lived in Redding, CA, bred one of her labs hoping to produce saleable hunting dogs.  After she made the drive to visit my family, I overheard a casual conversation between my aunt and my mother during which my aunt described putting puppies in a bag.  My aunt continued to explain that she had thrown the bag of puppies into the Trinity River as she headed toward our home.  My mom didn’t even bat an eyelash as my aunt finished her story.
Even though I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing up to that point in my life, I knew what she had done was cruel and horrible.  I cried and yelled at my aunt as I thought about the fate of those helpless puppies…as I thought about the pain and terror those living creatures must have experienced as they sunk to the bottom of the river without even a chance of making it out of the tightly cinched bag.  My aunt responded to my outrage calmly, explaining that this was how things needed to be done.
My aunt’s response combined with her unrepentant demeanor left me speechless.  As I stared silently at my aunt and my mother in complete disgust and disbelief, I realized that something was very, very wrong with these people, with my family members.  I knew I didn’t belong with them.  I knew that being adopted by this family was going to be a long nightmare as I was only ten at the time.
Now a grandmother, I currently live in Wisconsin, a state I love but one in which time seems to move more slowly than in some of the other places I’ve lived.  I say this because it remains a common practice to shoot cats, or vermin, in this state decades after I was introduced to it by my father.  Why is this?
After all, groups all over America are working to save cats by practicing TNR, or trap, neuter, and return.  TNR involves humanely trapping cats, getting them “fixed” and inoculated at a veterinarian’s office, and returning them to the environment where they were initially caught.  This practice is an effective way to prevent a feline population from growing to an unmanageable number.
Instead of TNR being a common practice in Manitowoc, however, there are people, like the lady I encountered yesterday, who are trying to preserve the lives of cats in their communities on their own.  My recent acquaintance has been providing care for cats living near her home her whole life, but she’s been doing so in fear.  She is afraid that some residents in her community will continue to poison the very cats she is trying to save from a painful death.  She is also afraid that any one of her neighbors may report her to local authorities.  And, she has a reason to be afraid because Manitowoc has an ordinance that states cats are not allowed to roam freely on area streets.
You read that correctly.  Manitowoc essentially outlaws cats from being outside unsupervised.  Why is this law on the books when cats have lived outside for centuries?  And, why are there so few TNR groups in Wisconsin?  Is it because there aren’t enough people who are interested in helping these animals?
No, I don’t think THAT’S it.  Instead, I think Manitowoc’s laws may be preventing more individuals from providing care for the cats in their communities and TNR groups from taking action locally.  While I haven’t reviewed all of the county’s ordinances as of yet, I plan to in the near future.  I believe we all have a duty to protect the animals in our communities whether they live inside or outdoors, whether they have nametags or are anonymous.
Whether you love cats or not, they are going to continue to break the county’s laws and live among us outside.  I think it’s about time we residents of Manitowoc take responsibility for our communities, educate ourselves and others about TNR, and garner as much support for the practice of TNR as possible.  I think it’s time for Manitowoc to handle its cat population with the positive, humane approach that has worked in locations throughout the country.  I think it’s time for Manitowoc to be an example for the rest of Wisconsin’s counties.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Big News at Lakeshore Humane Society

Lakeshore Humane Society’s board of directors finally fired the facility’s shelter manager yesterday – an action that was l-o-n-g overdue.  The Society’s current board is well on its way of overcoming the shelter’s history of poor leadership and indecision, a history that has resulted in the unnecessary, preventable deaths of too many adoptable companion animals.

Now, the board is charged with the task of making a critical choice, one that has the potential to shape the future of the Lakeshore Humane Society while simultaneously redefining its past as a period that demonstrated how the facility should not be operated ever again.  The board of directors must now select a person to serve the Society and its surrounding community as the facility’s shelter manager.  The board must filter through the resumes of people with outdated modes of operating a shelter and those with too little or no experience running a shelter.  The board must find someone to act as the Society’s shelter manager who will treat the animals in the facility as well as he/she treats the humans who visit, someone who recognizes and genuinely appreciates the fact that the animals are the reason the Society exists in the first place…someone like Dayna Kennedy, or simply, Dayna Kennedy herself.

A Manitowoc native, Dayna visits the shelter in her hometown every time she revisits the area hoping the facility has made improvements to its operations…especially since she knows so much about how such improvements can be made.  As a nationally recognized shelter manager, Dayna has earned the hard-won respect of No Kill advocates who hail her facility, the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter in Marquette, MI, as one of the best shelters in the country.  Boasting a live release rate above 90 percent, Ms. Kennedy is eager to repeat the success she has had in turning UPAWS around by serving the Lakeshore Humane Society as its shelter manager...all she needs is the opportunity to do so.

For now, all eyes remain trained on the Lakeshore Humane Society’s board of directors to see if the members will continue making decisions that ensure the well-being of the animals within the Society’s walls.  Will they do it?  I sure hope so, but only time will reveal what this board can and will do.  I promise to keep you posted about the board’s continuing progress…or its lack thereof.