Dog's Life: Humane
Serving food for dogs and comfort for owners.
As the economy struggles, animal shelters across the nation are facing a staggering increase in surrendered pets due to the economic downturn, and many shelters, and even food banks, have started offering pet food. According to the HSUS, 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need, many supported by grants from the Humane Society’s Foreclosure Pets Fund established last year.
In California, the Santa Cruz SPCA distributes more than 7,000 pounds of food each month at Heather’s Pet Food Bank. Named after local songwriter and dedicated shelter advocate Heather Zir, the food bank has become one of the largest and longing running in the nation since opening 10 years ago.
This year, Heather’s Pet Food Bank has seen a 25 percent increase in demand. “People who used to donate are now coming to get food and supplies,” says Santa Cruz SPCA Executive Director Lisa Carter.
On the opposite coast, at Long Island, N.Y., Little Shelter’s Animal Soup Kitchen has also observed a striking demographic change in the past year.
“While once restricted to low income areas, people [looking for help] are now coming from all neighborhoods,” explains Little Shelter Communications and Events Manager Jodi Record. “Without assistance, many families would have no choice but to surrender their pets to the local animal shelter.”
Tom Wargo has made it his life’s mission to help Georgia families care for their pets during hard times. His volunteer-run organization, the SOS Club, has been distributing supplies for the past 11 years, and as the recession deepened, Wargo found that pet owners needed more formal assistance.
In September 2008, the SOS Club opened Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville, Ga., to keep up with increasing demand. During their first month, Daffy’s distributed 4,000 pounds of food in addition to pet supplies and discounted medical care. Now the soup kitchen averages 8,000 to 12,000 pounds each month and feeds 1,500 animals. With the growing need, plans are in the works to start five new locations in Georgia; the group is also working with others across the nation to open soup kitchens in other states.
“The goal is to keep families and pets together,” says Wargo, “We get calls every week from rescue groups with people who need to surrender their pets because they can’t afford food. It breaks their heart. Now shelters can refer owners to us for supplies and veterinarian care.”
Pets aren’t the only ones receiving support through the soup kitchen. Daffy’s encourages donation recipients to do a minimum of five volunteer hours each month at a local organization. It can be humbling to need the food pantry’s assistance, and the suggested service requirement fosters a sense of responsibility and importance. In tough times, Daffy’s has proven to be much more than just a food bank.
“At first some people are embarrassed to come,” explains Wargo, “but once they do, everyone sits in the office and swaps stories, ideas, and advice to help each other out. We have become a family for most and everyone acts like they’ve known each other for years.”
Monster Milers Saves Shelter dogs' Lives
Philly's First 5k for Animal Rescue Coming this September
We were asked to post this notice of an upcoming event/race to help a remarkable organization in Philadelphia, Monster Milers. Hope you can come out to show your support, or get inspired to start a "chapter" in your city.
Editor, The Bark
Philadelphia, PA — Fill up water bottle. Lace up running shoes. Fix the leash and martingale on their running buddy.
This is the pre-running routine for Monster Milers volunteers, whose primary mission is to connect Philadelphia runners with homeless dogs as running companions. Over 330 “Milers” or volunteers take out pre-screened dogs from PAWS Wellness Clinic in Grays Ferry, the PAWS Adoption Center in Old City and the Street Tails Animal Rescue shelter in Northern Liberties on runs throughout the city and nearby parks.
Dogs grow anxious, bored, depressed and stressed after spending the majority of their days in small, confined spaces. When they receive a visit from a potential adopter, they either give off the impression of being depressed and aloof or wild with excitement. To take the edge off, “Milers” take dogs on daily runs, anywhere from a half mile to eight miles depending on the dog.
In addition to giving dogs much needed exercise, dogs gain basic training, social skills and exposure to thousands of potential adopters during runs and adopt-a-running-buddy events at area races. Calmer shelter dogs result in quicker adoptions and more room for the 30,000 animals that flood Philadelphia’s shelters each year.
"We are an all-volunteer organization and this race is going to be our first big kick-off fundraiser. Specifically, the funds will be used to keep this all moving. Let's be frank— it's going to cover not-so-glamorous stuff like liability insurance and our volunteer management software,” said Carrie Maria, Monster Milers’ CEO and Founder.
“On a more exciting front, we'd love to set up a fostering arm of The Monster Milers in which we'd pull animals directly out of the city shelter, but we can't do so without a stable funding base. This race will help move the Milers into our next phase of development. We want to go beyond adoption advocacy and actually start placing vulnerable animals into loving homes."
Monster Milers will host The Rescue Run, Philadelphia's first 5k to promote adoption and rescue on Sunday, September 29 at 10 a.m. at the Navy Yard. During the post-race Rescue Rally, hundreds of runners and spectators will greet adoptable dogs, enjoy favorite foods from area food trucks, and meet local vendors and rescue organizations. Early bird registration is $25 until July 31st, $30 after August 1st and will increase to $35 on race day.
The Rescue Run 5k will be chip-timed and all runners who register online will receive a race tech-tee. Running isn't the only way to get involved in the Rescue Run: Monster Milers is looking for day-of volunteers, 501(c)(3) rescue organizations to participate in the Rescue Rally and race sponsors.
To learn more about Monster Milers: call 267-282-1270, email email@example.com or visiting their website or facebook. Since Monster Milers hit the ground running in 2010, they’ve helped hundreds of dogs find their forever homes, one step at a time.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A fellow animal control officer received a call to pick up a dog found lying emaciated and soaking wet in a creek bed. The tiny Chihuahua was rushed back to the shelter and examined by the shelter veterinarian. In addition to being skin and bones, she was too weak to stand, had a clouded eye and the look of long time neglect about her. She was immediately started on treatment but the prognosis was poor. Her blood work suggested that her organs were failing. Whether this was result of starvation or some other medical condition was unknown.
When I first saw the dog she was lying apathetically on her blankets in the shelter clinic. She looked terrible but the thing I noticed was the odor. She had that terrible “hoarder” smell to her sparse coat. Unless you’ve lived it, there is no describing it but it’s a combination of rotting garbage, feces, urine and filth that’s unmistakable. Every hoarder situation I’ve gone on smells the same, whether its dogs, cats or something else.
The tiny dog declined overnight and the discussion ensued about whether it was kinder to let her go. I certainly didn’t want to put her through anymore pain if she wasn’t going to survive but she didn’t seem to be in terrible pain, just incredibly weak and sick. I decided to take her home to foster. If she wasn’t going to survive, at least she should die in a quiet place surrounded by love.
As weak as she was, I couldn’t bear the stench of her coat and gently lowered her into a warm sudsy bath. She seemed to relax into the warm water and was soon clean and sweet smelling although she still looked terrible. I wrapped her in a warm towel and cuddled her close. She sighed, leaned against me and fell asleep.
I called the little dog Hannah and since she was unable to eat on her own, I carefully syringed a tiny amount of bland gruel into her mouth every few hours. People always want to pour high fat food into starved animals but in most cases that can be very harmful. The animal’s body needs time to slowly acclimate to eating normal foods again and re-feeding must be done very carefully. Within a day or two she was able to eat tiny amounts of food on her own and was able to stand and walk a little.
I was so encouraged by Hannah’s progress but was cautious about getting too excited as I knew she wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her gum color was still pure white as a result of anemia and I worried about organ failure. I worked closely with the veterinarian on her care and thankfully she continued to improve. After a week or so it looked to me like she might have gained a little weight. I put her on a little food scale and found that she had gone from less than 4 pounds to about 5 pounds. I was jubilant! As Hannah felt better her personality began to emerge and what a delightful girl. She followed me everywhere and began playing with toys and asserting herself with my 120 pound Great Dane.
I had been posting Hannah’s progress on my facebook page each day and a woman who had seen her photos expressed an interest in adopting her. After several weeks when it seemed obvious that Hannah would survive, we arranged a meeting. The introduction was successful and after Hannah had another thorough vet exam and was spayed she went to her new home. She had gained more than 2 pounds by then and was really starting to look good.
It is such an amazing feeling to watch a neglected animal blossom and get a forever home. I would love to hear from readers who have rehabbed a dog in need, or adopted one.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I recently wrote about Take Your Dog to Work Day and how I enjoy having my dogs along with me on the job. Often they help me coax insecure stray dogs in so that they can be safely reunited with their owners or adopted out. I recently had the unique experience of having one of my dogs help me rescue a cat in distress.
I usually have Sundays off but a fellow officer, Justin, called me on a Sunday afternoon to ask for help with a call. He had a report of a cat with a jar on its head and when he arrived, the panicked animal ran into a culvert. It was too small for him to climb into and he knew that if he tried to push her out from one end she would run out the other and be lost. He was wondering if I could bring one of my dogs and help him? Of course I would. This is so much more than a job to me and I have always told my co-workers to call me anytime. I loaded up Hula the Golden Retriever and Breeze the Doberman and headed out. Half an hour later we pulled up behind Justin’s truck and he showed me the culvert. My flashlight beam found the unfortunate cat smack in the middle of the pipe, plastic jug still firmly attached.
With Justin situated on one end of the pipe and ready with a net, I took Hula to the other end. Hula is as mellow and easygoing as they come and she’s also gung ho for any adventure. I showed her the pipe and told her to “go get the kitty.” Hula isn’t very tall and the narrow pipe was a tight fit but in she went. Justin called to her from the other end as she made her way through. The kitty didn’t see her at first due to her jug and Hula walked right up and sniffed her before the cat realized it and went bonking down the pipe with her burden. Hula followed her as she darted right into the net and was safe.
I put Hula on a sit-stay as we dealt with the cat who acted quiet feral. She appeared healthy and had a tipped ear (meaning that she had been trapped and spayed) so we planned to just remove the jar and release her but I asked Justin to scan her first. To our surprise she had a microchip so we took her back to the shelter.
Once there we carefully removed the jug and settled her in while waiting to hear back about the chip. Soon the couple who had trapped her and had her spayed and chipped came for her. The cat was truly feral but had kind people to care for her and it was great to see her returned home safely.
I would love to hear how our reader’s dogs have helped another animal.
Dog's Life: Humane
We humans are terrific at measuring and recordkeeping— we even know the length of Noah’s ark, in cubits (300) no less. Technology abets this trait, as computers dutifully crunch our numbers, ad, well, infinitum. As a species, however, we are not so good at appraising information to extract its meaning. Confronted with new data, we tend to overemphasize and generalize, often less than critically.
On that cautionary note, what are we dog people to make of a new University of California, Davis, study that examines relationships between early, late or no spay/neuter and several health conditions in Golden Retrievers? How do we apply its conclusions to the animals in our care?
The Davis docs found increased risk of several cancers, hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears among sterilized Goldens; the incidence varied according to the sex and age-at-neuter of their subjects. As such, their findings add to a growing library of veterinary literature on the spay/neuter subject. However, the authors are careful to limit their conclusions, as should we.
First, the findings are breed-specific. Goldens, a highly inbred line, were chosen in part because of their susceptibility to cancers and joint issues. The gene pool was further limited by a study sample of dogs (759, to be precise) seen at the UC Davis clinic, in northern California.
Second, we need to remind ourselves that risk is not destiny, and that correlation is not causation. The study notes that the risk of one type of canine cancer quadrupled in late-neutered females, but also reveals that its incidence grew from 1.6 to 7.4 percent— meaning that about 93 percent of the subjects did not contract the disease.
The authors also indicate that they did not specifically consider obesity, another known factor in dysplasia and cancers. Neutered dogs do tend to be heavier, but we can manage that risk by controlling food intake and quality. We also need to recognize that other studies have noted countervailing positive health effects, as spay/neuter reduces or eliminates rates of other common diseases, such as mammary cancers and uterine infections.
Third, context is crucial. These data feed into the universe of things that are harmful to canines. We know, for example, that nationwide, some 50 percent of the animals in shelters don’t survive the experience. To the extent that intact canines contribute litters to the shelter population, that risk dwarfs exposure to accidents or disease. Shelter “save” rates are improving in many places, but we remain far from a no-kill equilibrium. Job One for canine partisans (including the veterinary community) remains the imperative to reduce that carnage.
After sheltering, risk-of-death varies widely by age and breed. A comprehensive University of Georgia study of vet-reported deaths (“Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004,” published in 2011) identifies infections, trauma and birth defects as primary culprits in young dogs, with tumor-related diseases at various breed-specific rates, distantly followed by trauma and infections, which dominate the tally for the late-in-lifespan.
Finally, there are the behavioral and other risk implications of fertility, including management of ardent males and bitches in heat.
The Davis study is a significant contribution to our understanding of the unintended consequences of fertility management in a useful and popular breed. Reproductive organs contribute hormones for many reasons—it would be surprising if their removal were completely trivial. Alternatives to traditional spay/neuter do exist, but they are rarely performed. Injectable sterilizers and contraceptives are coming on the market (they, of course, will carry their own measurable side effects).
It’s important to recognize the limitations of the study: one breed, one gene pool, defined conditions and their rank among all the calamities that can befall our best friends. The study itself notes that spay/neuter is uncommon in Europe, which would appear to open up a range of comparative research possibilities and fertility management options.
We should add the Davis work to the burgeoning database. But until a lot more measurements have been taken from which broader conclusions may be drawn, the best advice is not general to all dogs, but individualized: choose your canine companions carefully and love and support them well, and completely. And recognize that we can’t measure or control for everything, yet—or ever.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The 4th of July from an Animal Control Officer’s Perspective
As the fourth of July approaches, I feel my dread rising. I always volunteer to work as the on-call animal control officer on the fourth, even though it’s our worst day of the year. Why would I volunteer? I guess it’s the hope that my training and skills will make a difference to some of the panicked animals that will be suffering in our county with the onset of fireworks.
Last year was my worst 4th ever. Within minutes of the first fireworks going off, my phone rang with an injured dog. I rushed to the scene to find a stunning German Shepherd lying injured on a busy road. He looked well cared for and I’m sure he was a beloved pet but he had no tags or microchip. I scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency vet and held his big beautiful head in my hands as the vet started treatment. His blood stained my uniform and his terrified eyes bruised my heart but minutes later my phone rang again and I left him to rush out and pick up the next victim. When I got back to the clinic with the second dog, I learned that the Shepherd had died.
I continued getting calls all night long, and each time, I would race out and pick up the injured dog and rush it to the ER. And each time, the dog I had picked up previously would have died of his injuries while I was gone. In one case, I arrived on a rural road to find a beautiful young woman in tears as a young red heeler bled his life away in her headlight beams. She had come across the critically injured dog on her way home and been kind enough to wait for me. I rushed the heeler to the vet where he also died.
Only one dog that I picked up last Fourth of July survived and his foot pads were a bloody mess from his panicked run. One is enough to make me feel that I made a little bit of a difference, but I’m haunted by those dogs whose terror caused them to jump fences they wouldn’t normally jump, break through windows or rip through doors. I also had a case of a terrified dog a few years ago that escaped and then tried to climb into a van full of strangers. 4 or 5 people were bitten in the dogs panic to get away from the noise and the dog had to be quarantined.
It’s critical to plan ahead for a safe Fourth of July. Ideally, we would stay home, with our dogs inside with us. If that’s not possible, dogs should be safely crated inside, in an interior room, with a radio, air conditioner or other noise to help mute fireworks sounds. Some pets may need sedation so talk you your vet ahead of time if you think that might be the case. All dogs should have tags and microchips and please check and make sure your information is current.
I even know of one family that goes camping in a remote area every year on the fourth. They do it just so they will be far from the fireworks for the sake of their beloved dog.
Please share with us what measures you take to keep your dog safe on the fourth?
Arizona group steps up to help
I got to “meet” this adorable, adoptable dog, Pippy, a Pit mix, this morning when I opened my “smiling dog” email messages. I also got to learn about a remarkable rescue group in Phoenix, AZ called M.A.I.N., Medical Animals in Need. More about them later, but as for the two-year-old, Pippy, he came into their foster program when they found him at the county shelter (where he came in as a stray) suffering from a very sad condition known as “happy tail,” something that I had never heard of. As they note in his description:
"The concrete walls of his kennel have caused his tail to split open and his tail cannot be treated properly as long as he remains at the shelter. Contrary to the term, Happy Tail is actually very dangerous. Dogs end up with this ailment by wagging their tails so much that the concrete walls of the kennels split open the tips of their tails—causing infection in some cases and a bloody mess in most. Some dogs come into MCACC with Happy Tail, and others develop it after a short while. The danger, of course, is that it can make the dog go from being very adoptable to very unadoptable—through no fault of its own. They wag their tails and try to be as friendly as possible, and this is what they get for all of their hard work."
As with most of the dogs who M.A.I.N. rescues, his condition was treated by the kind vets at the Bethany Animal Hospital in Phoenix. Dr. Katie Andre and Dr. Melissa Miller work with M.A.I.N. to ensure that all the animals are treated and well-cared for. Then fosters step up to complete the final step of a dog’s rehabilitation, and help to find forever homes for the dogs. What really impressed me when I looked around their site is how much information is provided for each dog, including notes from foster homes and trainers so you get to really know each dog. And then they have wonderful videos (of before and after) like the one below, which makes a adoption all that more possible.
M.A.I.N.'s mission is statement: M.A.I.N. Team is an Arizona based 501(c)3 all volunteer group focused on identifying, transporting, aiding and promoting animals from Arizona shelters who need immediate and sometimes costly medical attention the shelters are unable to provide.
Good news about their dogs, they seem to be open to out-of-area adoptions, if you are interested in any of them, do let them know! Or if you are in the Phoenix area you might want to step up and volunteer to help or become a foster for this program.
Dog's Life: Humane
A partnership aims to save animals
Raise taxes to save animals? In this economy?
When a grassroots coalition of animal lovers, sick at heart about Miami-Dade County’s perennially high shelter death rate, proposed asking voters to do just that, veteran rescuers responded with a resounding: "Yeah, right."
But on election day last November, a solid majority of voters—65 percent— did exactly that via straw ballot, setting the county on a clear path to fulfill the no-kill goal that county commissioners had adopted five months earlier, albeit without providing funding to make it happen.
The initiative, Pets’ Trust, should raise $20 million annually through property taxes for measures designed to reduce intake at the county’s high-kill shelter, and the intake rate’s main driver, overpopulation.
The trust will operate independently of the county’s Animal Services Department, funding grants to accomplish what Animal Services can’t afford to do. The unpaid, 13-member board will include the department’s director, veterinarians, rescue-group leaders, sheltering experts and knowledgeable lay people.
The cornerstone of the campaign: free and low-cost high-volume spay/ neuter clinics and public education.
Bolstered by the straw ballot’s solid win, the county commission is poised to enact legislation this year that would add about $20 to the average property owner’s tax bill. It will "sunset" periodically so that voters can monitor its progress and decide whether to quit or continue.
It’s a unique approach that trust organizers expect will inspire similar efforts nationwide. There’s already one well under way in neighboring Broward County, and "how did you do it?" inquiries are coming in from around the country.
As the Florida Legislature kicked off its 2013 session in early March, organizers sped to Tallahassee and secured sponsors in both chambers for a statewide Pets Trust bill.
Michael Rosenberg, the Miami-area businessman who conceived Pets’ Trust, estimates that Miami-Dade—which kills more than half of the 37,000 animals who end up at the shelter—can reach its no-kill goal in four years once the clinics are up and running. How this Miami miracle came to pass owes equally to one man’s determination and to a fractious rescue community’s willingness to shelve philosophical differences and work toward a longsought and seemingly impossible outcome: keeping dogs and cats out of the county shelter’s euthanasia room.
In a mere 10 months and on a shoestring budget of $70,000, trust proponents managed to sway key commissioners and nearly 500,000 supportive voters. They reached out to more than two dozen animal-welfare authorities, who consulted on the plan’s proposed mission and structure. The roster includes experts from Best Friends Animal Society, the ASPCA, the Petco Foundation and the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Aggressive use of social media, an adorable "spokes-puppy" who charmed commissioners before a crucial vote and publicity gimmicks like the 60-year-old Rosenberg’s weekend in a dog run at the shelter helped close the deal.
But Rosenberg, who’d never been involved in an animal-related cause, mainly credits others: rescue advocate Rita Schwartz, spay-neuter activist Lindsay Gorton and a small army of volunteers who took to the streets to convince skeptical citizens that even in a time of historic budget shortfalls and human-services cutbacks, innocent animals deserved a chance to survive.
The "warm and fuzzy” approach swayed some, but for others, there was a sound economic argument to be made. It costs about $300 to house, feed and medically treat an ultimately doomed animal during the mandatory "stray hold" period. In contrast, spay/neuter costs $65.
"I believe when you engage the community as we did and educate with the facts and no negative campaigning and pointing blame, here’s what happens," said Rosenberg, who owns a promotional- item customizing company. "People around the country can’t get over it. They’re amazed."
It all began when Rosenberg, a Chamber of Commerce booster in the Miami-Dade community of Kendall, heard about the shelter’s high kill rate and couldn’t quite believe it. He requested and was given permission to spend a day in the euthanasia room, from which he emerged a changed man. Deeply disturbed that 60 to 70 animals were dying every day because nobody wanted them and the shelter had no space, he vowed to accomplish what many had tried to do and failed: end the carnage.
Long an underfunded bureaucratic afterthought, Miami-Dade Animal Services had been run by the public works and police departments before it became its own department in 2005, headed for the first time by a veterinarian and given a general-fund budget (another first). Previously, it had subsisted on fees and fines, and focused on enforcement rather than adoption.
At times, the kill rate topped 75 percent, casting the county’s threadbare shelter as a notorious death factory.
The veterinarian, Dr. Sara Pizano, brought a different perspective in 2005. She upgraded the open-admission facility, increased adoptions and reduced euthanasia. But poverty, an out-of-control feral cat population and entrenched customs in a multicultural county of 2.5 million people continued to fuel the high intake. Some 100 animals come in daily to a shelter that can humanely house no more than 400. Most years, owners reclaim fewer than 1,500 lost pets.
Even at its peak of $10 million, the department’s budget never came close to meeting its needs. Then came the financial collapse of 2008, and with it, deep cuts to all county departments.
Pizano left in 2011, replaced by veteran county administrator Alex Muñoz, who faced the same lack of political will to adequately fund Animal Services as did his predecessors.
In late 2011, Mike Rosenberg was fresh off a victorious, against-all-odds battle with the county’s water and sewer department over billing practices. The kind of guy who doesn’t hear the word "no," he decided on a novel approach: no more begging or "guilting" the commissioners.
Instead, he adopted the model of another local initiative, the Children’s Trust, a public/private partnership that provides dedicated tax revenue for services to at-risk children. Voters approved the plan, but only after a decade-long, nearly $2 million lobbying effort.
When Pets’ Trust proponents applied to the Petco Foundation for a grant before the election, foundation president Paul Jolly, knowing Miami-Dade’s reputation, was so skeptical that he initially declined. Then came the election. "If I would have picked a community for this to happen, it would not be Miami," says Jolly. "For something like this to be accepted by the citizens and commissioners, it’s sign of the apocalypse!"
He finds the notion of a public/private partnership and voter ratification "intriguing … We thought it was a great template program to be used in other parts of the U.S." He signed on to help.
"I agreed to be on the advisory committee— and the cheering committee … This seems [to be] light-years above what any other community is doing in terms of animal welfare."
News: Guest Posts
One dog at a time
For Havana's dogs, it's not the best of times, but it's not the worst either. Some improvement is due to the efforts of the non-governmental Cuban Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants (ANIPLANT), an organization focused on improving the lives of dogs and other animals in Havana. Founded in 1988 by Cuban entertainer Maria Alveres Riso, and Cuba's first prima ballerina, Alisia Alonso, ANIPLANT eliminates animal suffering through massive spay and neuter campaigns, public education, animal health promotion, and hands-on intervention in cases of animal suffering. The founder's daughter, Nora Garcia, who is now president of the organization, talked with me during a visit to the re-purposed house located within walking distance of the heart of Old Havana. The neighborhood, like many in Havana is a contradiction—tidy and clean in spite of decades of neglect.
Prior to my November 2012 arrival in Cuba, without too much difficulty I'd arranged to meet Nora. When my friend, Florence, and I arrived, we received a warm wet-nose welcome from 11 rambunctious happy dogs. Like most, they weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. All are rescues, but unlike their street counterparts, they are on the portly side, mange and parasite free, confident and playful.
The 2000 square foot building, originally a 1920s home, was officially turned over to ANIPLANT in 2007, in very bad shape. Donors, usually dog-loving tourists, helped to rebuild the interior, donating office equipment, lights, chairs, time and money. But money goes only so far in Cuba, because there is very little to buy. The reception area was welcoming, squeaky clean, and decorated with photos of dogs before they were rescued accompanied by after photos as well. Staffed by a few dedicated volunteers, the clinic is open two days a week. Veterinarians volunteer their time as well, but are sometimes paid a small fee when possible.
In urban Havana, people who own dogs often give them free range. I saw a few dogs wearing hand-made ID tags, indicating that someone takes care of them. However, taxes and tags are expensive, so most people own dogs unofficially. I estimate that less than 15% of the city's free-ranging dogs are true strays. The others are sustained by some type of care, from scraps and water, to real meals, to indoor privileges.
ANIPLANT rescues dogs in jeopardy. But they also respond to phone calls from concerned citizens. Many are tourists, who often make donations for the rescue and care of specific dogs, usually ones that frequent the hotels. Some tourists want to take the dogs home, but this is especially tough in a country like Cuba. Most rescued dogs suffer from mange, anemia, distemper, gastroenteritis issues, tape worm, ear mites and renal infections. Due to lack of space, money, homes and people who can't afford to care for a pet, dogs are medically rehabilitated, sterilized, then placed back on the street where they receive minimal care from neighborhood dog lovers. Special case dogs stay at the clinic as permanent residents.
We took a tour of the ANIPLANT facility. The kennels are more like rooms and corridors that can be closed off when necessary with ancient wrought iron gates. Except for the upstairs office, the facility seems to be open for free-run. In Havana homes, interior rooms open to a patio courtyard and this one is no different. I'd be stretching it to say this is an outdoor exercise area. It's more like a lounging area where dogs siesta and soak up sunshine. For easy clean up, they are trained to pee and poop in potted plants. Building materials are neatly stacked outside, waiting for money and an opportunity to be turned into something more useful than just shade. But in Havana, shade is good, too.
In 2007 it was estimated that 20 thousand dogs roamed Havana streets. You can help. To find out more about ANIPLANT and see more photos of my visit, go to http://doctorbarkman.blogspot.com/2013/06/street-dogs-in-havana-cuba.html
News: Guest Posts
This weekend I’ll be the keynote speaker at the 5th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control. The conference title is a bit of a mouthful, but the basic idea is this: Can scientists develop a drug that will permanently sterilize dogs and cats? Or, put even more simply, can we make “the pill” for pets?
Now a lot of you may be asking, “Don’t we already have birth control for our companion animals?” Well, yes. Spay/neuter has been around for decades. But it’s not a perfect solution. For one, it’s expensive. That means not everyone can afford to sterilize their pet, even at a low-cost clinic. For another, it’s time consuming. That’s been a huge problem for non-profits trying to tackle America’s feral cat problem. With tens of millions of these felines on the streets, volunteers can’t catch and sterilize them quickly enough to keep up with their numbers. And if you think things in the U.S. are bad, consider China and India, which are home to tens millions of stray dogs that bite and spread rabies, yet these countries lack the resources to implement even meager spay/neuter programs. As a result of all of these limitations, millions of cats and dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year, and millions more are shot and poisoned around the globe. If scientists could develop an injection or pill that would work as well as spay/neuter surgery, we might have a shot at eliminating the world’s homeless pet problem.
Enter the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D). Founded in 2000, the Portland, Oregon-based non-profit has been working with scientists and animal welfare advocates to create a non-surgical sterilant for pets. In late 2009, the mission got a huge boost from a U.S. billionaire named Gary Michelson, who announced $75 million in grants and prize money for the development of such a product. The announcement spurred dozens of research teams to begin brainstorming a solution. Some have proposed drugs that would kill the cells that produce sperm and eggs, treating them, essentially, like cancer. Others hope to go after the brain, shutting down pathways involved in fertility and reproduction. I covered these efforts in my award-winning 2009 article in Science, A Cure for Euthanasia?
ACC&D is behind next week’s symposium. It will be giving an update on these efforts and describing some new approaches to the problem of pet overpopulation. I’ll be talking about the topic of my book and what feral cats teach us about the changing status of pets in society. I hope you’ll check out the important work this organization is doing!
See more from David Grimm who is a reporter for Science magazine, you can see more from him at davidhgrimm.com
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