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.
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.
A spider scurried across my face and the ropes around my ankles bit into my skin as I was lowered head-first down the steep, dark culvert. It wasn’t much bigger around than I was and it was set deeply into a steep hillside. It was intended to divert water around a remote home and I couldn’t even see the dog yet as the pipe curved slightly about 20 feet down. I felt a little claustrophobic at not being able to move much in the tight space but I could hear him whimper and that motivated me to keep sliding downward on my belly. I had never even met the men who held the ropes that kept me from tumbling straight to the bottom but I had to trust that they would keep me safe.
Finally a dog appeared in my flashlight beam. He looked like maybe a Cattledog mix and he growled ominously as I slid closer. He must have been terrified and the sound echoed in the narrow space as he began to back away from me. The pipe was so narrow that I struggled to reach my hand into my pocket and remove some liver treats. I tossed one in his direction and he gobbled it and looked for more. It was critical that he not retreat much farther as I was nearing the end of 60 feet of rope and the pipe went on indefinitely. I tossed a few more treats and slowly slid the catch pole out in front of me. With some careful maneuvering I was able to get it over his head and cinch it to a safe level.
The caller had described hearing a dog barking and whining in the area for a week or so, but had been unable to locate him. He finally found the source of the noise in the long pipe on the hill and being unable to even see the dog, he had called animal control. When I arrived and saw what we were dealing with I was taken back. The pipe was too narrow to even crawl into, and too steep to back out. After brain-storming with the property owner and his friend for a few minutes we decided that the only way was to lower me in by my feet.
Thankfully he had a very long sturdy rope and some knowledge of knots, but it’s an odd feeling to have two men you have never met tie ropes to your ankles and lower you sixty feet down a hole. Still, when I had the dog safely caught, and hollered for the men to pull us up, it was all worth it. The dog scrambled up the slippery pipe after me and then stood blinking in the bright sunlight. I felt a thrill of satisfaction as I watched him taking in the scenery. He looked to be in pretty good shape and had a bandana but no tags or microchip. We offered small amounts of water as he was terribly thirsty and then loaded him into the truck.
Thankfully, a faded and tattered flier on a nearby telephone pole proved to be a match. The shocked owner stated that the dog had been missing for three weeks and they had all but given up. The dog certainly didn’t look like he had been down there for weeks but a visit to the vet confirmed that the formerly overweight dog had lost 15 pounds since his prior visit. The owner explained that they had been trying to get 15 pounds off of the dog for some time. I suppose a trickle of condensation on our foggy nights may have kept him hydrated. I felt a wonderful euphoria for days after returning the dog to his ecstatic owner. A call like this is so rewarding and helps make up for some of the sad, difficult things we see in this job.
I recently read an article about a study from UC Davis, showing an increase in some cancers and joint problems in Golden Retrievers that are spayed or neutered as opposed to intact. As a shelter worker, this is so concerning. There are endless studies showing many health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering. It’s critical to look at the overall benefits to neutering before deciding to keep a dog intact based only on a limited study of one breed. As a shelter worker I have seen Intact dogs who are relentless in their pursuit of a mate. Digging out, jumping fences, chewing through walls, I've seen it all. Unaltered dogs roam more, get hit by cars more, fight more, bite more, and cause more human injuries and even fatalities. Intact females are prone to mammary tumors and pyometra and intact males can get testicular and perianal tumors. According to one veterinary study, 80% of unaltered males will develop prostate disease. Urine marking is a common problem in unaltered dogs.
My champion Borzoi was un-spayed because she was a show dog. She developed a pyometra at 6 years of age, had to have emergency surgery at great expense and was ill with a nasty pseudomonas bacterial infection for a long time afterwards. She didn’t fully recover her former health for nearly a year. She also got along wonderfully with our spayed female dog except when she was in season. Twice yearly, they had to be separated as they were prone to fight. After she was spayed, they never had another issue. Another un-spayed show bitch that I owned was so snappy and difficult for several months at a time around her seasons that I actually considered euthanasia. Thankfully I decided to spay her to see if it would help. It ended her show career but she was a delightful happy girl after that and lived to a ripe old age as a beloved pet.
The article mentioned that neutered dogs are more likely to be overweight causing stress on the joints. While it is true that intact dogs may burn more calories fretting and looking for a mate, this is a feeding issue, not a neutering issue. All dogs should be kept trim and fed properly for their needs regardless of altering status. Excess weight is also a cancer risk. Ethical breeders are going to neuter dogs with joint problems and keep those with good joints for breeding which may result in a skewed study.
I would be interested in knowing more about the way the study was conducted. As shelter workers, we often see dogs surrendered to the shelter to be euthanized when they become sick or infirm with issues including cancer and hip dysplasia. Often these dogs are unaltered. The level of responsibility that goes along with extensive veterinary care often includes neutering, so of course neutered dogs will see the vet more for other issues as well. Unaltered dogs are commonly surrendered to shelters for behavior problems such as roaming, barking, urine marking etc. Many of these issues can be improved on by neutering. The article mentioned the fact that service dogs were affected. Unaltered dogs are not suitable for service work as they become distracted by potential mates. Could the work they do assisting people be a factor in causing stress on the joints?
The number one cause of preventable, premature death in companion animals in this country is euthanasia due to overpopulation. If people decline to alter their pets, this number will certainly climb. I have the greatest respect for those highly dedicated and ethical breeders out there, but for the rest of us there are endless, well-documented veterinary studies showing many health and behavioral reasons to neuter our pets.
For more information on the study see Joanna Lou's post.
Even though I work mostly out in the field as an animal control officer, and love it, the animal shelter is still my baby. Almost every day I walk through at the beginning and end of my shift to check on the animals. As I passed through one of the small dog areas recently, I noticed an adorable terrier mix puppy in a cage. The puppy begins to growl as soon as he sees me. Teeth showing, eyes dilated, body tense, the pup makes no secret of the fact that he will bite. I open the cage and he growls louder. I talk softly to him, then offer a cookie that I always have in my uniform pockets. He threatens to make mincemeat out of my face but finally leans forward and sniffs the treat cautiously.
He continues to glare at me as he reaches for the tidbit. “That’s a good boy, you’re such a good boy” I croon as he chews. The body visibly relaxes and I scratch him under the chin. He licks my fingers and wiggles closer. A moment later, the puppy crawls into my arms, snuggling as close as he possibly can while his tail whips in delight and he covers me with kisses. In less than two minutes, we’ve gone from “Get away, I hate you, I’m going to bite you” to “I love you, I trust you, don’t ever leave me”. I’ve seen it a thousand times and yet it never fails to move me. I cuddle him close and promise him a better life, swallowing the lump in my throat and marveling again at what a gift dogs are.
Of course, sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks for a scared dog to come around, and a few never do, but most improve quickly with patient handling. My own Great Dane, Tyra, took longer than most to trust, but now she’s the happiest girl around. It always warms my heart to watch a dog blossom into a confident pet.
The puppy’s initial behavior is so understandable. Abandoned, terrified and in a strange place, his response was completely based on fear. As soon as he felt safe, his reaction changed. Over the following days of his stray hold period, I visited with the pup daily. He greeted me happily each time, with a wagging tail and soft, wiggly posture. The pup had been vaccinated, wormed and flea treated on intake and as soon as his stray hold was up, he was vet checked and neutered. Once on the adoption floor, it only took a few days for him to be adopted by a loving family. This is what it’s all about, I thought, as I watched him go out the door in the arms of his new adopters.
A Dangerous Job
As animal control officers, we put our lives on the line every day trying to make a difference. We go in with other law enforcement to dangerous situations, drug busts, domestic violence, murders and other crimes. We deal with aggressive animals and unstable people. Often we are called in because someone has lost everything, their money, their home, their pride. When we arrive to take their animals it can be the last straw.
The recent shooting death of a fellow animal control officer in the Sacramento area is a grim reminder of the dangers we face every day. Officer Roy Marcum was called to a home where the owner had been evicted the previous day and left some pets behind. I've lost count of how many similar calls I have responded to. As Officer Marcum approached the home, he was shot and killed by the former resident. Officer Marcum was described as a devoted animal lover and was there to help. What a loss for his family and the community.
I've been bitten, kicked, scratched and run over in my years in animal control, but the human encounters have been by far the scariest. I have been threatened, had the wall punched next to me and gone into homes with armed suspects, all to try and make life better for dogs and other animals. I wear a bullet proof vest and carry an asp, pepper spray, a shotgun and a rifle. I hope they will keep me safe.
Uniting Dog with Human
Our department recently received a report asking us to check on the welfare of two dogs. When I arrived I found the dogs in an open side yard. The weather was cold and wet and the dogs were living in filth. There were feces and garbage everywhere, no food, no water and no adequate shelter. The stench of their conditions hit me from 15 feet away and one of the dogs was seriously underweight. He balanced like a circus elephant on top of his overturned water bowl in an effort to escape the mess beneath him.
I had another officer with me as the neighborhood had a high rate of crime and gang activity and I banged on the door of the house as he kept watch. No one responded so I notified my supervisor and prepared to seize the dogs.
While my partner continued to monitor the area, I quickly took a bunch of photos of the dogs, their conditions, empty bowls etc. I made sure to get lots of shots of the ribs, hips and spine on the skinny dog.
Next, I posted a notice of impound, leashed the dogs and hurried them to my truck. Both had sweet temperaments and followed me eagerly with tails wagging. I lifted them onto blankets in the vehicle, getting multiple wet kisses in the process, and closed and locked the doors.
It was a relief to leave the neighborhood and even more of a relief to get the dogs out of there. Several shady characters lingered next to a graffiti-covered wall, watching us as we drove away.
Back at the shelter I was surprised to see that one of the dogs was neutered and had a microchip. The chip traced to woman living in Reno, five hours away, who was shocked when she learned that her dog was in our shelter. She told me that a vengeful ex-boyfriend had taken the dog nearly a year and half previously!
The former owner is making arrangements to make the long drive to claim her dog and the person responsible for their conditions is facing animal cruelty charges. Another miraculous case of a dog going home that never would have been returned to the rightful owner without a microchip.
I’ve seen a hundred of them but I’d love to hear of any microchip miracles our readers have had.
(See What a Good Dog for another miracle.)
On a recent dark, chilly fall evening, a three year old child wandered out of his home un-noticed by his parents. His departure was, however, observed by the family dog, a large neutered male Pit Bull, who took it upon himself to follow the little boy and stay close by his side. They were a good distance from home before they were seen by some passers-by who stopped to help. The child was unable to tell them where he lived or give them any other information so deputies were summoned. The dog stayed by the child’s side the entire time, friendly but watchful.
The child was going to be taken into protective custody so one of my fellow animal control officers was dispatched to pick up the dog. The officer scanned the dog and found a microchip which had been implanted by our shelter during a free neuter clinic that we had offered a few years previously. Thanks to the chip, one phone call was all that was needed to get the pair home safely. The situation is still under investigation but could have been much worse had the dog not chosen to stay with the little boy.
I was so touched by the way the faithful dog stayed with the child the entire time and by the way, once again, a microchip led to a happy ending!
I would love to hear from readers about things your dogs have done to be there for someone in need.
I was headed back to the shelter after a long day when another call came in. Dispatch informed me that a small dog had bitten a passerby who tried to catch her as she was running in traffic. I called the victim who stated that she had grabbed the dog and received a minor puncture. She hadn’t been able to hold onto her after the bite and had last seen the dog run under an SUV parked in front of a business. When I arrived and looked under the vehicle there was no dog. I poked around in the bushes in front of the building with no luck. Soon a man inside the building saw me and come out. He pointed to the vehicle and said, “She’s under there.” I looked again but no dog. “She’s not there now.” I said.
“Yes she is.” He insisted. “She’s up underneath.”
I found that hard to believe. Cats often climb up inside cars but I’d never heard of a dog doing it. Still, the car was next to a busy road and the dog needed to be quarantined so it was critical that I find her. Doubtfully I got down on my knees and peered under. I was still unable to see anything so I inched underneath it on my back. As I slid farther I saw a small white dog wedged up in the undercarriage of the vehicle. Well, that was a new one. Thank goodness the man had come out. I shuddered to think what might have happened if the owner had driven away.
The dog growled at me, undoubtedly terrified by her ordeal and I sweet-talked to her to calm her down as I slowly worked my way closer. My legs were dangling practically in traffic and I was afraid she would panic and run out in the road and get killed before I could a hold of her in that tight spot. Working slowly and carefully, I managed to slip a lead over her head. In her fear, she snapped at me but I managed to dodge her teeth and get her secured.
It was a challenge to get the little dog down out of the vehicle while avoiding her teeth and the rushing traffic but I finally worked my way out and stood up with the little dog in my arms. She was tense and wary but stopped trying to bite.
Back in the truck, I scanned her. She didn’t have a chip or tags so I settled her in the front seat with me where I could keep an eye on her and headed for the shelter. By the time we made it back we were friends and I found her to be a delightful little dog who had just been terrified by her circumstances and felt the need to defend herself.
No one claimed the little dog during her 10-day bite quarantine and since her bite had been provoked and very minor, she was put up for adoption. Young, healthy and totally adorable, it was only a few days before a lucky adopter snatched her up. I watched her prance out the door with her new person and felt a warm glow of satisfaction.
Saving a shelter dog
I’ve always felt that the best way to remember a beloved dog is to rescue another dog in need. I was missing my previous rescued Doberman when a friend who knows that I have a soft spot for them sent me a photo. It was of a Doberman scheduled for euthanasia in a shelter in southern California, many hours away. The dog was a black female of maybe 3 or 4 years old. The sweet face appealed to me and I requested more information. I was told that she was friendly and had come in as a stray. She had a microchip going back to Oaxaca, Mexico and the unfortunate name of “Slash” but the owner never claimed her and no one came to adopt her.
I agreed to foster her and waited to hear back. On a Thursday I heard that she had to be pulled by the next day or she would be euthanized. I had no way to pick her up until Sunday as I had to work and there was no one to cover me. I offered to give the shelter a credit card or whatever it took to hold her. The response: “You don’t understand. We want to help but there is no room. She will be euthanized Friday unless she’s picked up by closing.”
It was a sad reality to hear that this shelter was so overcrowded that friendly, healthy dogs were being euthanized. It was a frantic scramble to try and find a way to save the dog. I would have driven there after work but they would be closed. It was a long shot for a dog that I hadn’t even been able to evaluate but I made a bunch of phone calls and fretted.
Finally one of the rescues got back to me with the news that a nearby kennel would board the dog for $10 a night and a rescue transport could bring her part way up to Northern California on Sunday. I was also asked to pick up a Pit Bull who had also been scheduled for euthanasia and had a foster home waiting. We met on interstate Hwy 5 at a gas station on a desolate stretch of barren freeway.
The rescue driver snapped a lead on “Slash” and brought her out. The dog greeted me eagerly, her stump of a tail wiggling with delight. I was thrilled with her sweet temperament and confident friendliness. Her coat was dull and she was thin but I knew that was easily remedied. The Pit Bull was a sweetheart as well and I walked them both before loading them into crates in my station wagon and starting the long drive back. As I glanced at the Dobie in the rear view mirror I decided to change her name to Breeze.
I dropped off the Pit with her foster family and when I got home I took Breeze out into my fenced pasture and let her loose. She began racing huge joyful circles around the field, darting back to give me kisses before she was off again. As the sun set over the trees I glanced at my watch and realized that she and the sweet little Pit Bull would have been dead by then if not for the combined efforts of a lot of people. My eyes filled with tears as I continued to watch her run.
I introduced Breeze to my complicated family of teens, husband, elderly house-mate and other dogs. She couldn’t have been any sweeter with soft playful body language and a constantly wagging tail. She also had an endearing habit of carrying her stuffed toys, her “babies” everywhere she went. I was absolutely smitten.
The only snag was introducing Breeze to the cats. She had major cat issues and those took a lot of work to overcome and manage. She is such a truly wonderful dog in every other way though that it’s been more than worth it and she became a permanent member of our family. Every time I watch her racing joyfully on the beach, playing with the other dogs or feel her sweet head on my lap, I’m thankful she’s alive.
I’m so grateful to all the people who spent their valuable time making it happen. My friend who sent me Breeze’s photo and made rescue arrangements, the overburdened shelter workers, the woman who agreed to board her for two nights and the people who transported her on their own time all had a hand in saving this wonderful girl’s life. For those of us who think dogs are one of our greatest treasures on earth, it’s time well spent.
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