Dog's Life: Humane
People Who Matter: Emelinda Narvaez, founder of NYC’s Earth Angels
Emelinda Narvaez, an animal rescue advocate working in both Manhattan and the Bronx, has become a familiar face to people visiting the city’s pet stores. She calls her rescues “earth angels,” and fittingly, that is also the name of her animal-rescue group. Narvaez Emelinda, who says she’s rescued over more than 10,000 animals over a span of 45 + years, was a nurse in a Bronx hospital. Until she retired about 15 years ago, she (and her late husband, who helped her) devoted evenings and weekends to animal rescue. Since then, it’s become her fulltime occupation.
A long-time admirer, I always dropped something in the donation box when I saw her in front of one of lower Manhattan’s pet stores. Then one day, I sat down and asked her to tell me more about herself and her work. That particular day, she had a terrier-mix puppy and an adult Poodle, as well as an elderly Chihuahua and a Shih Tzu who were not available for adoption; she felt the two seniors were too fragile to weather a big change, so she was caring for them herself. As we talked, she continued to work, answering my questions as well as those asked by passersby interested in her “angels.”
Catherine Johnson: I understand that you were born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and raised in the South Bronx. Where did you get your gift?
CJ: Did you have any favorite animals growing up?
We lived across from St. Ignatius church in the Bronx, and every Sunday at the end of the mass, the priest would recognize my family’s work with animals. He would also let the congregation know they could adopt one from us, which is how we found homes for many of our animals.
When I was around 15, I realized that we needed to be more formal about these adoptions. So we started having the person adopting fill out an application. We developed a screening process—that was my idea.
CJ: What were your early years working in rescue like?
CJ: What do you consider to have been the worst crisis period in the city’s history?
[In 2009, the public housing authority prohibited residents from keeping purebred or mixed-breed Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers, as well as any dog (with the exception of service dogs) expected to weigh more than 25 pounds when full grown. This ban affected residents of approximately 178,000 public-housing units.]
Dogs should be fairly assessed. Behavior has nothing to do with a dog’s weight. Of course, there is no place for a vicious dog in any apartment situation. But a policy for evaluation on a case-by-case basis needs to be put into place.
CJ: How could our state government help city shelters?
I also think they should be more proactive in letting people know they can foster an animal. Most people don’t know that’s an option.
The best thing the government has done within the last 10 years for the rights of people and their pets was the law that allowed owners to keep their pets after three months, regardless of what the lease states.
[Section 27-2009.1 of the NYC Housing Maintenance Code essentially says that if the owner of a multiunit rental has a lease prohibiting pets but doesn’t object to the presence of a tenant’s pet within three months, the lease provision is considered to have been waived.]
CJ: Where do Earth Angels’ animals come from?
I have cancer, which is in remission, and lupus, but I think my work heals me and gives my life meaning and purpose. I truly believe that. And I have a son and a godson whom I adopted and raised. They are both homicide detectives and I am so proud of them. My family of animals and my sons keep me going.
CJ: Do you have one particularly memorable story from your rescue work?
CJ: What keeps you going?
Also, the angels that I have had in my life: my mother, father, sister, brother and husband. I had a strong family. And I could not have done this work without a woman who helps me, Judy Ross. When I am no longer alive, I hope to still be of help; my will states that my house will be given to an animal rescue group working in the Bronx.
CJ: How would you describe the bond between a rescued animal and the person who takes that animal in?
Editor's Note: There is going to be an adoption event and fundraiser for Emelinda this Sunday, June 2 from noon to 3 pm at one of NYC's finest dog parks, Stuyvesant Square Park. Her friends and admirers are hoping to raise enough money to buy her a new van to replace the very old one she uses to transport the animals. If you are in NYC, do try to attend. See their flyer for this event.
Coming on June 1 and 2
The Maddie's Fund is hosting an adoption extravaganza sponsored—so get ready for another memorable Maddie’s Pet Adoption Event. Their fourth annual event is sure to be one for the record books. On June 1 and 2, 2013, more than 200 shelters and rescue groups from eight communities across the nation (see complete list here) will participate in the adoption event, which will place thousands of pets into their forever homes. Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days is America’s biggest FREE pet adoption event. Yes you can adopt priceless dogs and cats free of charge.
Maddie's Fund® decided to expand this year's event to include adoption sites across the U.S. because of the continued success of Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days on a local level. Every year, the number of adoptions has increased with a total of 6,722 dogs and cats adopted during the event's three-year history.
This event is being held to increase awareness of shelter animals and their need for loving homes, and to shed light on the tireless efforts of the shelters and rescue organizations across the country that work so hard to save the lives of countless dogs and cats every.
What is also so great about this, besides it being free to adopters, is that it’s also a fundraiser for shelters and rescue groups because the Maddie’s Fund will pay organizations $500 per regular adoption. And it even will sweeten the pot for those who adopt out senior dogs, or pets with medical condition. So it will donate $1,000 for each adoption involving a dog or cat who is seven years of age or older or who has been treated for one or more medical conditions and $2,000 for each adoption involving a dog or cat who is seven years of age or older and who has been treated for one or more medical conditions (a list of medical conditions can be provided upon request). This is a remarkable generous act from the good people at Maddie’s Fund. So hopefully this year is the perfect time for you to expand your family by adopting from one of these organizations, but for you to show your support for their good work by adopting during this event. Everyone, including the dogs and cats, win big with this one.
We would love to see a photo of the dog or cat you adopt during this adoption weekend, email them to me, and we’ll publish them online and perhaps in the next issue of The Bark!
For the complete list of participating groups and their locations, click here .
About Maddie’s Fund
Maddie’s Fund® is a family foundation endowed by the founder of Workday® and PeopleSoft, Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl. Maddie’s Fund is helping to achieve and sustain a no-kill nation by providing solutions to the most challenging issues facing the animal welfare community through Maddie’s® Grant Giving and Maddie’s InstituteSM . Maddie’s Fund is named after the family's beloved Miniature Schnauzer who passed away in 1997.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What you can do to help
I had a recent interaction with a small injured dog that touched me deeply. The entire episode lasted maybe 5 minutes, but I keep thinking back to it. I was putting an injured rabbit in our shelter vet clinic when I spotted a forlorn looking little dog lying on a thick blanket. His entire rear leg was shaved and a long row of sutures ran the length of it. His cage card said fractured hip, and listed a number of medications to help pain and infection. One of the shelter technicians told me that he had come to the shelter as a stray after being hit by a car and had surgery to repair the injury. I opened his cage and spoke to him. The big brown eyes were soft as I stroked his head and rubbed his ears. He was hesitant to move much but wiggled a little closer when I stopped stroking for a moment to look closer at his injury.
A bowl of untouched canned food sat near the dog and I offered it to him. He sniffed politely and turned away. “Come on Buddy, you’ll feel better if you eat something” I coaxed, scooping a little onto my fingers. This time he took a few bites before licking my hand and lying back down. I stroked him a few more times before heading out to finish my paperwork. When I glanced back he was watching me intently.
I haven’t been able to get the little guy out of my mind and a phone call to the clinic confirmed that the dog is doing well. He will go to a foster home to be pampered until he heals up and is ready for adoption.
In thinking of what to write for Be Kind to Animal Week, May 5-11, it occurs to me that anyone reading The Bark magazine is likely already doing just that with their own beloved dogs. Still, many animal lovers want to do more and just don’t know the best way about it. Bark readers may be pampering their own dogs while lamenting the difficult lives other dogs are living, isolated on chains or other unfortunate situations.
Adoption is the best way to give an unwanted dog the life he deserves but if you are unable to add another pet there are still plenty of things you can do to make a difference. Fostering a dog until he/she is ready for adoption can be so rewarding. The little guy I spoke about above will need weeks of cage rest while he recovers. Some feeding, cleaning and meds several times a day, along with some cuddles, are all he needs. It’s something that could even be done before and after work.
Volunteering to walk dogs, groom or just cuddle a frightened dog is another way to make life a little sweeter for a homeless dog. Donations of money, blankets, toys etc can go a long way, as can educating friends and neighbors on the needs of dogs and the benefits of spay and neuter. “Like” your local shelter page and share a pet in need on FB.
Yes, it can be hard to see an unloved animal, but the rewards of helping them are so worth it. Find a way to make a difference today.
Dog's Life: Humane
Rescuing neglected dogs from neglected streets
On the edge of the American Rust Belt, the once-prosperous city of East St. Louis, Ill., collapsed with industry in the 1960s and ’70s. Anyone with means moved away, siphoning off more than half the city’s population. Those who remain live in a landscape of fallendown buildings, burned-out houses, strip clubs and urban prairie with one of the highest crime rates in the country and countless free-roaming pet dogs and unwanted strays, nearly none of whom are spayed or neutered.
Although she was born in the city during its heyday, PJ Hightower has lived in St. Louis, Mo., for more than 30 years, and she rarely had cause to wander the dilapidated neighborhoods across the Mississippi River, until the route to her sister’s new home took Hightower through the heart of the street dogs’ territory. She began carrying food in her car on visits and going out of her way to deliver it to the dogs, eventually making trips for the sole purpose of feeding them. “It’s just one of those things that sort of mushroomed,” Hightower says. This was in 1995.
She progressed from simply feeding the strays — she hasn’t missed a single day since 2001 — to rescuing dogs in need, sometimes working with other rescue organizations, although more often on her own and with the help of friends and neighbors.
“She takes the same route every single day,” says Amie Simmons, president of Gateway Pet Guardians, the nonprofit organization formed in 2004 to support and expand Hightower’s efforts. “The dogs know she is going to be there. They hear her car and come running.”
Dribble, Nigel, Nina, Nigella, Hank, Aaron, Spelling, Bea, Arthur, Malcolm, Show Me, Blondie and on and on. “She has names for all of them. It’s like she has 200 pets,” says longtime volunteer Rebecca Ormond, who recently directed a documentary about the group called Gateway Guardians (see endnote).
Hightower pours kibble from 50- pound bags onto dry sidewalk or pavement and dispenses giant biscuits (and rubs, to those who will let her). In the summer, she brings clean water, which she’ll set out in cut-off plastic milk jugs. During these visits, she also monitors the dogs — keeping an eye out for trouble, such as when she first spotted Nigella with a flea collar so tight she couldn’t eat. Hightower managed to catch the dog and clip the collar.
“She knows everything about these dogs,” says Gateway executive director Jamie Case. “She knows medical history, heat cycles, where they came from, whose mom is whose, how many litters they’ve had over their lifetimes. That was the incredible thing to me — her knowledge. They’re like her family members.”
Hightower says she’s almost never afraid of the dogs. The day before we talked, she had spied an unfamiliar Pit Bull curled on a loveseat that had been dumped on the sidewalk. “I thought, I’ll just kind of see what’s going on,” Hightower says. “So I start to walk and I could just see his face but I could tell he was doing a total body wiggle … he was super friendly. I put the food on the [nearby] mattress … and before he even wanted to start eating, he wanted to be petted. He was so thin, it broke my heart.”
The East St. Louis strays suffer many of the plagues afflicting strays in the developing world — starvation; tick and flea infestations; heartworm; mange; parvo; cruelty at the hands of humans; attacks by other dogs; and TVT, a sexually transmitted venereal tumor that is usually only found in chronic stray populations. When a dog is too sick to survive on the street, an animal has been beaten up, or a new litter of puppies is born, Gateway Pet Guardians puts out the call for fosters (the organization has no shelter). Then Hightower rescues them, sometimes following them into manholes without first planning how to get out, or slips leashes on dogs who’ve never worn them, or dons long leather gloves and crawls on all fours in dark and decrepit buildings. She avoids breaking up adult packs — she’s seen pack mates left behind who suffer or disappear. With a shelter, the organization could rescue groups of dogs.
Gateway rescues an average of 100 dogs per year, although by mid-June 2010, they’d already pulled 90 dogs off the street — mostly puppies. Illinois law prohibits spaying strays and re-releasing them. Sometimes Hightower persuades residents to let her take free-roaming, “owned” dogs to be altered.
Reaction in the community is mixed. “I’ve never encountered anyone being negative toward us in all the time I’ve ridden [with PJ],” executive director Case says. “There are people who wave every single time they see us driving, and they’re like ‘Hey, it’s the dog lady.’ But then there are people who think we’re the problem. If we didn’t feed [the dogs] they would just die and there wouldn’t be a problem anymore. They don’t realize it’s a never-ending cycle.”
St. Clair County Animal Services director Jim Jacquot, who’s not familiar with Gateway Pet Guardians, says feeding strays, even with the best intent, can create problems, such as inspiring dogs to congregate in certain areas. But, like animal control departments around the country, he lacks the facilities, budget and people-power to tackle the enormous problem. With less than one-fifth of the county’s population, East St. Louis is the source of a large number of dogs — 2,500 to 3,000 a year — that end up in the county animal control.
There’s a definite gap on the ground. “We’re a couple of white ladies going over to a predominantly black community; there is what I consider to be a pretty large communication barrier. I guess I’m naïve. I thought with my background in social work … that I could go in and talk to just about anybody. But I have conversations with people … and we’re not even having the same conversation.”
Simmons and Case are developing strategies to open up a dialogue, beginning by reaching out to neighborhood churches. They’re hoping the documentary, which features people from the community, will also help bridge the gap.
In addition to developing spay/neuter outreach, Gateway is ramping up foster recruitment and fundraising to cover rising expenses (veterinary costs were $22,000 from January to June 2010, with adoption fees covering only $8,000) and to build a shelter. The goal: Move from a one-woman crusade to a sustainable effort.
It sounds like they have some time to complete the transition. Talking to Hightower late one night — the only moment she could spare in a busy day made busier by seven rescue puppies with parvo — she hardly sounds ready to stop her rounds. “It’s just a part of my morning,” Hightower says. “It doesn’t matter if I’m sick, if the weather’s bad. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are; I’m gonna go.”
For ten months, Gateway Pet Guardians’ founder PJ Hightower and volunteers used little pink flipcams to capture an intimate view of their work with East St. Louis stray and feral dogs. Hightower concocted a variety of ways to keep her pinhole camera at her waist as she fed, tended and rescued the street dogs — including a little jean pocket with a lens hole that she pinned to her clothes each morning and a pair of old pants with Velcro strips on them. The results can be seen in Gateway Guardians: A Documentary, which premiered at the 10th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase in July, where it won the St. Louis Film Critics Association’s Humanitarian Award. The film will also be shown in the Webster University Film Series (St. Louis) on Oct. 10 and the Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival in Nov. 9, and in other festivals during the course of the year. Buy the video ($20) or find screening details at gatewaypetguardians.com. All film profits benefit Gateway Pet Guardians.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I recognized the name on the memo and my heart caught in my throat. Michelle Rowe. Her family had been in the news after her 4 year old son Christopher was struck in a crosswalk by an unlicensed, hit and run driver. Michelle and her 6 year old daughter and 4 year old twins had been crossing when a driver whipped around the stopped cars, hitting Christopher and knocking him 80 feet onto the pavement. He succumbed to his injuries the next day.
I couldn’t imagine what she wanted from me, and as a fellow mother, I choked up at the thought of what she had been through. I called her back and she explained that her daughters’ therapist had suggested getting each of the girls a puppy to give them something positive to focus on after witnessing the accident that killed their brother. My name had been given to her by a co-worker who knew I was fostering a litter of puppies. My first reaction was caution. Puppies are a tremendous amount of work, and I usually recommend against two puppies together. On talking with her at length, however, I found her to be a delightful woman in spite of her heartbreak, and someone who obviously had the resources and ability to care for two puppies and two traumatized children at once.
We arranged for her family to come to our home and see the puppies that were only about a month old at the time, and not ready to go home yet. I felt an instant connection to Michelle and looking into her eyes was a painful reality of the hardest thing a mother could ever experience. The epitome of the perfect family, yet there was a Christopher sized hole there that would never be filled. As much of a dog lover as I am, I knew these puppies could never take away the pain of what this family had been through. Still, as I watched the girls hold out their hands in wonder and then cuddle the puppies close, I could see that just holding them was a comfort.
Over the next few months, Michelle and the girls, and sometimes her husband Jim and other friends and family, came to my home to cuddle puppies from that litter and another litter that followed. We talked about Christopher and puppies and life and death and motherhood. Eventually they chose two sweet female puppies, Chrystal and Oreo, to join their family. I made multiple visits to the home after adoption to help the transition and give tips on training and managing the frisky young dogs.
It could so easily have been overwhelming to deal with housebreaking and chewing and all the other issues of puppyhood but I was pleased to see that the pups seem to be bringing far more joy than stress. Some small problems that popped up were easily addressed with management.
I was invited to attend the sentencing and listening to Michelle and Jim address the court with their impact statements was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. To hear a mother describe what it was like to see her child suffer a fatal injury due to the negligence of another, and a father tell of watching his baby son take his first breath, and 4 years later take his last, left me devastated. Later that day, I embraced my own dogs and sobbed until I had no tears left. I couldn’t understand how the family could go on at all.
But go on they did. As parents they are determined to give their daughters a wonderful life in spite of their loss. A recent follow up visit to the family showed the puppies to be well adjusted and happy. They provide comfort and comic relief during some of the darkest times and continue to be a source of delight as the family navigates through the never-ending process of coping with grief. We shared a heartfelt talk about the ups and downs of life in the year since they took the puppies’ home.
It feels like such a privilege to have shared in some of the healing and to have gained precious new friends while finding a wonderful home for two needy pups makes it all worthwhile.
We got the following story from the good folks at Muttville, a remarkable senior dog rescue organization in San Francisco. They publish wonderful stories from their adopters about their new senior pups and this one, by Tricia about her dear Winston was especially inspirational. Hopefully this will motivate you to consider opening up your heart to a homeless senior dog.
Oh, Winston. You are: hungry, happy, waggy, ridiculous, hungry, sweet, grumpy, hilarious, hungry, adorable, cute, impatient, hungry, endearing, charming, resilient, hungry, spunky, excitable, friendly, hungry and, without a doubt, unique.
When I first saw Winston on Muttville’s website in June of 2011, I was immediately smitten. I had never seen a dog quite like him before. Or since.
I still get a little sad when I think about his kennel card from the shelter he was at before coming to Muttville. STRAY HOLD ONLY – NOT RECOMMENDED FOR ADOPTION. Yeah, he’s old. Yeah, he’s got two teeth. Yeah, he’s got some health issues. Yeah, he seems pretty pathetic at first glance. I’m just so grateful that Muttville saw past all of that. It’s now two years later and he’s more excitable and spunky than either of my other two Chihuahuas, both of whom are considerably younger.
Winston is so unique in both appearance and personality. He’s been compared to a lemur, a sugar glider, a sloth, a badger. He does not, however, resemble an American Water Spaniel, which is what came up in his DNA test. I’m pretty sure Winston would sink like a stone if submerged in water.
I met my boyfriend after Winston entered my life. He has never been a big animal person and definitely not a Chihuahua aficionado. Winston has changed all that. He recently mentioned that he can’t believe that Winston was in foster care for four whole months prior to me adopting him. “I can’t believe that people weren’t lining up to adopt a dog like him.” I can’t believe it either. I was the lucky one.
I know that it is not uncommon for people to be quite incredulous at the idea of adopting a senior dog, especially one like Winston. They are put off at the idea of becoming attached to something that, most likely, won’t be around for a terribly long time. I’m of the opinion that it’s a very selfish way to look at it. Is the prospect of being upset at the passing of a pet more important than giving that pet a good life? Your feelings are more important than saving an animal’s life? Really!? I don’t think so. I’ve been through it before and I know what it’s like. I know that when it’s Winston’s time to go, the pain will be nearly unbearable. But it will be bearable. Just bearable enough to offer a home to another senior dog that got dealt a bad hand in life.
And yes, Winston is always hungry.
See Winston's Facebook page
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Australian programs acknowledge links
There are many links between domestic violence and animal cruelty. There is the tendency of individuals who hurt animals to hurt people, too. Many abusers threaten their victims by telling them that they will hurt or kill their pets if the victim tries to leave. Many people who have been harmed by domestic violence stay in the situation because they don’t want to leave their pets behind, and many shelters do not allow pets.
The Patricia Guiles Centre in Australia acknowledges these links between violence towards people and cruelty to animals. The organization provides housing and counseling for women and children affected by domestic violence. They also offer a fostering program called Safe Families, Safe Pets (SFSP) for dogs so that when a woman leaves an abuser, her dog can be taken care of for three months by a volunteer while she focuses on building a new life for herself and her children. Australia and the UK are ahead of the US in providing such fostering services, although they are becoming more common here, too.
One of the programs offered by the Patricia Guiles Centre is for kids. Building Animal Relationships With Kids (BARK) is a therapeutic program for children who have either lost a pet when they left their home or who have begun to hurt animals as a result of the violence in their home.
BARK is aimed at elementary school kids with the goal of increasing children’s empathy, trust and self-esteem. It also helps them heal by handling the grief, loss and confusion that results from exposure to domestic violence. The kids learn to care for animals, and are taught to be respectful of them. One of the goals of the program is to break the pattern of kids who are cruel to animals as children and grow up to commit acts of violence towards people.
By considering the importance of animals, these programs support people who want to escape from abusive situations. They also educate children about how to be kind to animals and to people.
The good people at the Search Dog Foundation sent us this notice about a PBS show that is not to be missed.
Starting April 1st, PBS affiliates nationwide will feature SDF Search Teams as part of a series that celebrates shelter animals and the people whose lives they touch. For the first time, a video crew has captured the story of our teams -- from recruitment, to training, to pairing with a first-responder. The show is hosted by Jane Lynch, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress, singer, and comedian.
Click here to see the Dates/times in your area
Dog's Life: Humane
Old Dog Haven accommodates senior dogs
It’s not easy to catch up with Judith Piper, founder and executive director of Old Dog Haven (ODH). She reschedules our first interview when one of her charges starts having grand mal seizures and another needs immediate treatment for glaucoma. The following week, she cancels when a tumor sidelines a pup named Pearl.
So, even before meeting the 15 mature dogs on Piper’s five acres north of Seattle, I have a pretty good idea that rescuing homeless seniors is a more-than-full-time vocation. What I’m not prepared for is how Piper—dressed in fleece, sweatpants and sneakers—gives herself fully to the moment. Talking about her work, she betrays no impatience. She introduces each dog: A Spaniel named Byron may have Cushing’s disease, a little black mutt named Jet has flunked out of several adoptions, a yellow Lab named Malik has Horner’s syndrome, a Cocker named Biscuit is “a little bastard” and so on, until I have stroked nearly every graying head.
Inside, the décor is “donated dog bed,” and everyone quickly settles onto a soft surface. Only one dog fails to join in the greetings. Off in the kitchen, a Terrier-mix named Snoop sleeps on a bed. He’s a recent arrival—underweight, with untreated dry-eye, ear problems, and terrible skin and fur. “I think he’s going to be a short-termer,” Piper says sadly. “He’s just not here.” She confides later that cases like Snoop’s, when she can’t provide even a few hours of real contact before death, are the most difficult.
Talking in terms of hours is not your typical rescue timeframe. But Old Dog Haven isn’t typical. It’s one of only a handful of organizations around the country that focuses exclusively on the unique challenges of old dogs. With the help of 148 foster homes and 62 volunteers up and down Western Washington, the three-year-old nonprofit provided placement assistance, assisted living and “Final Refuge” (hospice care) for as many as 400 eight-and-older dogs last year; about 85 percent are Final Refuge dogs.
Although Piper and her husband, Lee, who is a key collaborator in the organization despite a full-time job, always had space for rescue and shelter dogs in the past, it wasn’t until a few years ago that they became aware of the particular plight of old dogs. In 2004, a friend asked them to save an ailing oldster named Liza, who had been dumped at a shelter. In a loving home, Liza rebounded, and though she didn’t live long, she had some happy days. It took only a few more elderly shelter dogs for the Pipers to realize that it wasn’t all that rare for people to abandon an old companion, and to see that in shelters, these dogs were passed over for adoption. At some point, they looked at each other and said, “You know, this is the pits. They can’t be dying like this.”
Piper sold the tack store she’d run for 18 years to dedicate herself to the mission of providing quality of life for old dogs for as long as possible and then letting them go surrounded by friends rather than alone in a concrete cell. In 2005, news stories about her fledgling group drew calls for help from as far away as Florida. “Be careful what you ask for,” Piper says, as the dog in her lap—Alice, a 14-year-old deaf Schnauzer with four teeth—looks on adoringly with her only eye.
“She is an amazing person who has focused on a population that most would rather forget,” says Kathleen Olson, executive director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, which operates the busiest shelter in Western Washington. Old Dog Haven rarely takes dogs from owners, although it will post notices on its site for owners who need to rehome old dogs. Mostly, ODH takes in those faring poorly at shelters or on euthanasia shortlists. As many as 75 Pierce County dogs find homes through Old Dog Haven each year.
“It’s hard to think about the hundreds of dogs who would have died in shelters by themselves if it hadn’t been for Judith,” says Ron Kerrigan, a longtime shelter volunteer on Washington’s Whidbey Island. He runs the ODH website (which is key to placement and fostering efforts) and serves on the board. He and his partner live with nine old dogs—including Calypso, who is blind and deaf.
After making a career out of taking in dogs no one else would adopt (including more than a few “psychos”), Kerrigan’s switch to ODH’s Final Haven dogs has required a change of mindset. “We do it to give them a place to die in a loving home,” he says. “We don’t do it to have pets.”
On the other end of the Old Dog Haven volunteer spectrum is Lisa Black. She has two traditional rescues, plus a Final Refuge Pointer named Betty and an elderly mystery-mix foster named Lucy (for whom she finds a new home within days). Black lives and breathes the faith that these can be the best years of a dog’s life.
“They are easy,” Black says. “They’re usually housebroken. They don’t chew your stuff. If you want to take them for a walk, they’re ready to go. But if you want to hang out at home, they’re happy to do that too.”
Piper’s phone rings frequently, and during my visit, she lets the machine take messages. But when her cell phone sounds, she answers it. A new dog has been diagnosed with a grade-4 heart murmur. As the main contact for more than 130 dogs in ODH care, she is a seasoned sounding board and fairly expert on geriatric health.
“The great thing about Judith is that she has so much practical hands-on experience,” says Julie Nowicki, who volunteered for ODH before launching a national senior dog advocacy group, The Grey Muzzle Organization, in May 2008. Because Piper is so immersed, she is often a better judge of an old dog’s condition than many vets, according to Nowicki.
“By the time we get them, it can be years and years of neglect,” Piper says. Sometimes their guardians were too old to manage. Other times, aging pets’ special needs (and accidents) overwhelm their people both financially and emotionally. Unlike shelters, which vary greatly in the information they gather, ODH makes sure their dogs receive thorough checkups, blood and urine analyses, dental exams and treatment, and sometimes ophthalmology exams. The group has even financed open-heart surgery and eyelid lifts. Piper has a standing veterinary appointment every day of the week, and the organization’s bills can run $20,000 a month.
One-eyed Alice switches to my lap as talk turns to the future. Piper admits that the 18-hour days are catching up with her. Even as her organization has accomplished so much so quickly, she sees problems for old dogs exacerbated by the recession.
“Right now is a disaster,” Piper says. “I’m getting calls about every two hours from people wanting to surrender their dogs. At least half to two-thirds of those are, ‘I lost my house. I lost my job. I can’t keep my dog.’ It’s really hard—I get these people who are just hysterical, and I don’t have any more batteries in my magic wand.”
She has learned to say no. She has also had to counsel some people that euthanizing an old dog in the company of loving familiars is far kinder than dumping him at a shelter, where he will most likely be put down alone after days or weeks of stress and discomfort.
After a couple of weeks, I e-mail Judith to check up on poor old Snoop. I’m expecting the worst. “He’s actually doing better!” she replies. “Getting much brighter ... started eating everything in sight last week … seems to be enjoying himself … and gives tiny little kisses and tail wags every so often.”
It looks like there’s still a little power in her wand after all.
Coming together at Best Friends
In 2008 Best Friends Animal Society took in 22 dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels. On March 11, six of the dogs and their families came together again at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to mark five years of freedom. Vicktory dogs. Watch Cherry, Handsome Dan, Halle, Little Red, Mel, Oscar and their families in their joyous reunion.
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