Why Adoption Fees Should Never Be Sponsored – the OFFICIAL Stokes County Humane Society Stance

We are lucky here in Stokes County, NC, to have a great network of sane animal welfare advocates.  People care.  Some of the people who care are people who do amazing things – witness Candis Loy of Animal Rescue of Stokes County, and Mona Triplett of Stokes County Humane Society.  Both groups are at the forefront of advocacy, education, and rescue in this county.  Of course, both groups are also volunteer based and donation supported, and so their great works are limited.

Mona dedicated a great deal of time and personal resources to earning the educational credits required to qualify as an official Cruelty Investigator.  Last year she was appointed to the position by the Stokes County Board of Commissioners.  Mona has been involved in humane education and rescue for many, many years, so she was pretty sure she’d already seen it all.

She was wrong.

One of the most shocking aspects of Mona’s work as County Cruelty Investigator has been how many dogs and cats that are “rescued” from the shelter wind up victims of gross neglect and in some cases blatant and intentional abuse.  

Even more shocking is the fact that the majority of shelter “rescues” that Mona winds up investigating were pulled from the shelter by people who couldn’t afford the adoption fee.  How, you ask, was this possible?  Well, there is a group of well-meaning individuals who sponsor adoption fees for animals in the Stokes County Animal Shelter.  These people are doing a great thing – they’re putting up their own hard-earned funds as an incentive for other people to rescue animals from death row.  We respect their dedication to these animals and their willingness to help get them out of the shelter and into loving homes.

That being said, the Stokes County Humane Society has adopted this official stance:

Anyone who cannot afford a $36 pull fee at the county animal impoundment facility does not need to own an animal.  Period.  

If you can’t afford a $36 pull fee, how are you going to afford a wellness visit at the vet?  My vet is pretty reasonably priced, but I just walked out of his office today with my daughter’s seven year old cat – who we’ve had for all but four months of the entire seven years of her life – $110 poorer.  That’s right, that says ONE HUNDRED TEN DOLLARS.  What in the world was wrong with kitty?  NOTHING.  Well, her nerves are shot as a result of our move last fall, but other than that she’s healthy as the proverbial horse.  What, then, did I pay for today?  An annual wellness visit:  a complete physical exam, a fecal flotation, a feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test, a rabies vaccine, a feline distemper vaccine, and, since the test was negative, a feline leukemia vaccine.  I didn’t have to pay my vet’s prices for these vaccines, mind you – I can get them at cost from my own employer – but I’ve been worried about kitty lately, she’s been under a lot of stress, and I didn’t want to vaccinate her without making sure she was in tip-top health.  Physically, she is.  Mentally is another story.  (Note: I spent another $15 at PetCo on a pheromone collar that I hope will help soothe her mental upset and anguish.)

I’m not here today to talk about my daughter’s bipolar cat, of course – but she’s a perfect example of the point I’m trying to make.

Two weeks ago I spent $36 per dog for a heartworm/tick-borne-pathogen test at my vet’s office.  He never charges me an office visit for my dogs unless they need an examination, because I’m one of his best clients and he loves me.  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, then how would I be able to afford this very necessary test?

The least expensive heartworm preventative on the market costs around $60 for six doses for a medium sized dog.  The preventative I use includes a flea control agent as well and markets for around $90 for six doses for the same size dog.  I have eight dogs right now, four of whom are much larger.  I’m lucky; I can get it at cost, which still isn’t cheap… but if I didn’t work where I do, I’d have to pay market prices – you do the math.  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, how would I afford heartworm preventative?

I’m sure you’ve all read my post about Biscuit – if not, please do.  I’m out around $200 on that incident, and I’m lucky yet again that my vet loves me and supports what I do.  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, what would have happened to Biscuit?  Nothing good, I assure you.

My vet, whom I love, charges around $300 to spay a 35 lb bitch in heat.  That’s a little pricey no matter who you are.  Central Spay, Neuter and Wellness Clinic in Kernersville charges $80 to spay the same dog.  If you can’t afford a $36 pull fee, how in the world are you going to swing an $80 spay fee (plus $15 for the rabies if it wasn’t received elsewhere)?

I spend around $250 a month on dog food…  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, how would I feed my dogs???

Now that we’ve had a few examples of the sorts of expenses animal owners incur, let’s look at a couple of the actual cruelty cases that have led us to publicly declare our opposition of adoption fee sponsorships.

Case #1  Last year, a pregnant bitch was pulled from Stokes County Animal Shelter.  SCHS volunteers offered at that time to assist the woman with placement of the pups once they were old enough.  A few weeks later, Mona received a tip that there was a hoarding situation with abject neglect in the northern part of the county.  Upon arrival at the property, Mona found that it was the woman who had taken the pregnant bitch.  The pups were in a cardboard box on her front porch, with a hand-lettered “Free To Good Home” sign tacked to the front.  Other animals on the property lacked appropriate shelter, were malnourished, and/or didn’t have access to fresh water.  There was animal feces throughout the house.  There were also very young children on the property.  Mona issued a formal reprimand and a list of compliance items to the woman and said that she would return in a week or so to make sure all issues had been dealt with – when she returned to the property later the woman was in compliance with a few of the requirements.  Unfortunately, in spite of the lack of care these animals received, there was no legal grounds for seizure and so the animals are still on the property.

A few weeks ago, it came to our attention that the poor bitch is pregnant again.  To make this even more onerous, we had offered the woman assistance in getting her animals altered.  She refused our aide.

Case #2  Mona recently received a call from a woman who had gotten a medium-sized bitch from the shelter with the adoption fee sponsored.  The woman said that she took the dog because it was free.  She is on disability and can’t afford veterinary care, and so the dog never received a physical exam.  When she called Mona, she said the dog had been vomiting non-stop for a week and a half, and since she couldn’t afford veterinary care, she wanted SCHS to take the dog.  Mona refused – all of our foster homes are past full, mine included, and none of us currently have facilities to quarantine a potentially contagious animal.  The woman became angry and said in that case, she would just return the dog to the shelter.  Mona told her that what we could do was help with having the dog vetted, and she arranged for the woman to take the dog to Dr. Debbie Cowan in Walnut Cove.  She didn’t show up at Dr. Cowan’s office for the scheduled visit.  The woman claims she has a health condition that only allows her to drive two hours each day, and that she was too busy during her two hours of daily driving time to take the dog to the vet right away.  It was the following week when the woman finally got around to taking the dog to Dr. Cowan’s office.  The dog was diagnosed with a severe pyometra and underwent an emergency spay and IV fluids and antibiotics.  She’s been in the hospital now since this past Tuesday, and is still in very, very bad shape.  When clinic staff questioned the woman as to her delay in dropping the dog off, her response was, “I suppose the dog is so important that you don’t even care if I might be going blind!”  Clinic staff was wise enough not to respond.  Mona discussed the situation with Candis at Animal Rescue and they agreed to take joint custody of the dog and share the expenses.  The woman agreed to surrender the dog.  The dog is still in the hospital fighting this very serious infection.

Those are the two cases that I chose to illustrate why we are opposed to pull fee sponsorships.  They are not the only ones, nor are they the worst of the many; because they are fairly uncomplicated, they are the ones I chose.  However, there is one more case that I think needs to be included – the difference is that while those two cases involved individual animals, this one involves multiples animals.

Case #3  Our shelter recently euthanized nearly all of the dogs being held and ceased canine intake and adoptions in order to purge a massive outbreak of parvovirus.  Parvo is one of the nastiest illnesses in existence in the dog world.  It was unknown prior to the mid-1970s, and while it is easy to prevent, it’s difficult to treat, has a 100% mortality rate if not treated, and even if it is treated there’s still no guarantee of survival.  How do you prevent it?  By following the recommended vaccination schedule.  Most vets recommend three or four initial vaccines, starting at age 8 weeks and repeating every three to four weeks until the series is complete, and then an annual booster up to age four, at which point the booster can be given every three years.  Why am I including this as a case to make my point?  Because the parvo vaccine (which is included in the DHPP vaccine) is only $15 at Central Spay, Neuter and Wellness Clinic, only $17 at my personal veterinary clinic (neither of these clinics charge an office visit fee for vaccines, though it is recommended that anyone with a new puppy also obtain a complete exam), and is also available (though not recommended by me or by most veterinary and drug company professionals) over the counter at feed & seed stores such as Tractor Supply for around $7.  If you can’t afford a $36 adoption fee, it’s extremely unlikely you’re going to be able to afford the entire DHPP series.

I’m sure that this is going to make a great many people angry.  If so, good.  That is my intention.  If I make you angry, then that means that what I’ve said has hit a nerve, and hopefully it will make you rethink your methods.

The people who are sponsoring these adoption fees are doing so for the right reasons… unfortunately, your offer is being accepted by people who shouldn’t have an animal in their care, custody or control for any reason, ever.  If you want to help increase the adoptions at the shelter, offer to sponsor the initial veterinary exam, or the first round of vaccines, or better yet, the spay/neuter surgery.  You’ll be doing the animals in our community far more good that way.

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Memories and Random Triggers

Tonight, I fried catfish for supper.  I do this four or five times a year.  Tonight was the first for this year.  As the fish crackled merrily in the fryer  I broke off a piece that was already done and nibbled at it, and was overwhelmed by an unexpected memory of a ritual I haven’t thought of for close to twenty years.

At the middle of the second semester of my sophomore year of high school, I moved to Texas to live with my maternal grandfather on his cattle ranch.  To call it a ranch is perhaps overly optimistic.  He ran around twenty head of Charolais on two hundred acres, all that was left of the empire his father had homesteaded in the early part of the twentieth century; the rest was lost or sold during and immediately following The Great Depression, when my great-grandparents lost millions of dollars and thousands of acres.

I adored my grandfather, and I loved the ranch.  DG, as he was known, and I settled quickly into a very comfortable routine.  I went to school.  I had chores around the house and the ranch.  And we had our little rituals, never to be skipped, never varied.  Thursdays for supper we had pizza off the buffet at Mr. Gatti’s in Early.  Mondays we had lunch from The Hickory Stick in Brownwood, home of the best damned chopped barbecue sandwich that’s ever been made.  (Sadly, neither Mr. Gatti’s nor The Hickory Stick are around these days.)  Saturday nights and Sundays after church we would go to either The Section Hand Steakhouse, Golden Corral, or Underwood’s (another very fine barbecue restaurant, one which, thankfully, is still extant).  

Tuesdays, however, we had fried catfish at the Bangs Cafe in downtown Bangs.  Downtown is possibly a misnomer – you could stand at one end of downtown Bangs and throw a rock and hit the far side of uptown Bangs right on the nose.  There was one stoplight in town.  When DG was a boy, it was a stop sign, and one time he and some of his friends stole clothes from the mayor’s clothesline, dressed the stop sign with them, and hauled it to the town square.  The mayor was furious.  I don’t think they got caught.  

I went to high school in Bangs.  I made the best friends I’d ever had up til then in Bangs.  I fell in love in Bangs – and had my heart broken there too.  These memories are never far from mind, and I’m still in contact with quite a few of those good old friends.  (Say what you will about Facebook, it’s kept me in touch with quite a few people I’d have lost otherwise.)

However, I’d forgotten about the catfish at the Bangs Cafe.  That was likely some of the most exquisite fried catfish I’ve ever had in my life.  Possibly this is the result of the good memories surrounding those Tuesday nights, but I’d be willing to bet the catfish really was as good as I remember it being.  

I’ve never cherished moments as much as I cherished those one-on-one times with DG.  

It’s funny how nibbling on a piece of catfish fresh out of the fryer tonight brought Tuesday night with DG at the Bangs Cafe flooding back as if it was yesterday.  I could have closed my eyes and made a wish and stepped back into the dimly lit wood-paneled diner and taken my seat next to DG – if magic responded the way memory does, I could have followed that memory and I would have done it.  

Hard on the heels of memories of the Bangs Cafe came memories of warm summer evenings spent on the front porch watching the stars come out in the east as the sun painted its deathbed promises in the west; evenings listening to coyotes yipping and cattle lowing and the occasional sounds of goats or sheep or peacocks on neighboring ranches.  Evenings spent sitting side by side with DG, Bonnie the Border Collie stretched out on the cool concrete between our chairs, listening as we contemplated the nature of man and the universe, religion as opposed to faith, science, mathematics, fine arts, breeding programs, and the merits of a good dog.  

Sometimes I can hear a song I haven’t heard for years and I’ll think about a boy or a friend or a teacher.  Sometimes I can smell fresh-mown hay and remember haying time on the ranch.  Barns and stables never fail to inundate me with memories of those days.  Now and then – but rarely even so – I’ll hear a diesel engine at a gas station and turn, expecting to see DG and Bonnie sitting in the pickup waiting on me to pay for the gas – Bonnie would always move to the cab when I got out of the truck, and she’d always flip me in the face with her tail when she gave me back my seat.  A dry wind transports me fairly often to the windswept plain atop the butte where we ranched.  

Tonight, however, I made a trip I haven’t made since I left, and I’m left wondering if the old cafe is still in operation, and if so, whether they still serve catfish on Tuesday nights.

Biscuit – or, rescuing isn’t always rainbows and unicorns

Last summer my husband and his coworkers were facing yet ANOTHER long-term (several months time) layoff and the week before the layoff one of his coworkers started telling him about a dog that he was going to have to take to the shelter. They live in Mt. Airy – and I think it goes without saying that my husband reacted to the idea of a dog going to the Surry County Shelter the same way any of us would have. He told his coworker he would take the dog, but only if the dog kennel and dog house were part of the package. After some initial hemming and hawing his coworker agreed.
Mind you, this was arranged without my knowledge or consent. Biscuit is what’s known as a personal foster: Because my husband went out on his own and took responsibility for this dog, without first getting approval from the group with which we work, Biscuit is not sponsored. Everything that I do with Biscuit is at my expense.
The day Biscuit’s former owner brought him to us I started to guess that there was more to the story than had been originally revealed. Here is the story, which I’ve cobbled together from what we were told, what we WEREN’T told, and what we’ve experienced since Biscuit has lived with us:
Biscuit showed up in Mt. Airy as a puppy, a few years ago – they couldn’t remember exactly when. They bought a dogloo and a 10×10 pen and that was the pup’s home for the next three or four years. They fed him when they thought about it; otherwise he was never handled. We were told he didn’t eat or drink very much; the truth of the matter is his appetite is great and he drinks as much water as any dog his size – they just didn’t care enough to give him food and fresh water regularly. The first night he was with us, he bit me when I brought him his food. I remained calm and went ahead and put his food down; I didn’t freak out until I got back in the house. My husband wanted to shoot the dog; I refused any notion of doing so. I rescue – I don’t give up on a dog the first night. Ever. No matter what… And I WON’T have a dog shot, period. Instead, I drew up vaccines and went back out to the pen, vaccinated him, and spent the next half-hour convincing him he could trust me. He was horrified by the entire situation. He’d never been in a car; he’d never been around strangers; and suddenly he took a car trip and had strangers thrust on him all on the same day. Of COURSE he bit me! I would have done the same!
That weekend we were having a rabies clinic in Sandy Ridge, and we brought Biscuit along for his very first ever rabies shot. The following week I had him neutered. He’s been on numerous car rides since, to the vet, to adoption events… He never bit me or anyone else again.
The only bad thing about Biscuit’s new life was my very own dog, Max, who is an Akita mix. Max, who is neutered, hated Biscuit from the moment Biscuit came to me. Max has never objected to adult females or to puppies of any sex, but he absolutely had a bloodlust-type hatred for poor Biscuit.
Biscuit was kennel-crazy when I first got him. As I write this he is laying quietly in a large crate in my living room – I hope that means he’s not kennel-crazy anymore. He only barks when my cat walks by.
I’ve learned a great deal about Biscuit in our time together. Biscuit loves to run – he loves it more than he loves anything else. He also loves to chase tennis balls. We haven’t quite achieved “fetch” yet, but he’s getting there. He loves to play with other dogs, and he enjoys meeting people. He’s rough, but that’s because he was never socialized. There’s not an alpha or aggressive bone in his body – his whole goal in life is to PLAY, and when he’s all played out, he wants someone to love him. He wants a job, and he wants to belong somewhere.
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We had done a fairly good job of keeping Max and Biscuit separated until two weekends ago. Sunday March 10th Biscuit somehow got the gate of his kennel open and got into the main yard. Max and his minions took advantage of the opportunity to beat the hell out of Biscuit. Biscuit did not fight back; from all appearances he broke away at the first opportunity and ran to hide in his dogloo, which is where I found him later that morning. We cleaned him up and determined that his injuries, though serious, were not life-threatening nor in imminent danger of becoming so; we gave him antibiotics and pain meds and my husband had him at my vet as soon as they opened the next morning.
That was almost two weeks ago. I brought Biscuit home from the clinic this past Friday morning. He’s had two surgeries to insert drains and looks pathetic with his neck shaved and the stitches from the drains – they didn’t stitch the wound from the fight. As I said before, he’s quietly laying in my largest crate on a nice soft pillow and hasn’t made a peep since he’s been home. I’ve walked him on the leash so he could potty and he’s done very well… He’s greeted my other dogs (of course I kept him away from my bad boys) and my mother’s dogs as well – there’s honestly not a mean bone in his body. He wants to be friends with everyone and doesn’t deserve Max’s ill will.
Besides having been kennel-crazy when I first got him, Biscuit also has some resource-guarding tendencies. I believe this stems from his having not been fed and handled regularly during the first three or four years of his life. I also believe that someone with the skills and time to work with him could work past those tendencies.
Biscuit has been neutered, vaccinated, and cared for at my expense; the last two weeks worth of medical treatments have also been at my expense; I will never recoup these expenses. I don’t say that because I regret the cost – I don’t. I say it because people don’t always understand that rescue is not always rainbows and unicorns – it is emotionally and physically draining, and it can be financially costly.
Biscuit deserves far better than I can provide… I was afraid of something like this happening when my husband agreed to take in a strange adult male, but I can’t bring myself to wish that we hadn’t taken him. I just want a better life for him than this. I think he would be ideal for a family with an older boy to play ball with him and take him fishing and exploring, or someone who likes jogging and long walks.
If you’re reading this blog and are interested in Biscuit, please email me: hcamp@stokescountyhumanesociety.com.
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T. Rex and the Dinosaurs

Back in mid-October, when I was house-sitting for Mona during a family emergency, Emily and I rescued three pups from a not so great situation.  The old lady was trying, but she was battling early-stage dementia and dealing with her own mother’s pending death, and the grandson who was supposed to be caring for the pups was “throwing out scraps every now & then.”  She called Emily and begged for our intervention… and we intervened.

Dad was a stunning black Lab; mom was a scrawny GSD/Chow mix.  She was not even a year old and far too young to have given birth.  One of the pups had a short, thick coat of glossy black fur, just like dad.  The other two (who were identical) had long black coats.  All three had a Chow-like face and sloped forehead – if the one hadn’t had such short hair, they’d have all three been identical.

At that time, Emily had a houseful of fosters.  So did I, but Emily tends to have very large litters whereas (with three exceptions) I take in singles or three or four littermates.  I took the pups home.  My teenagers insisted that we name one of the long-haired pups Reptar – I named the other long-haired pup Godzilla, and the short-haired one T. Rex.

It didn’t take very long at all for us to realize that, while Reptar and Godzilla were the sweetest, gentlest souls you could ever hope to meet, T. Rex deserved his name.  Very much.  He was dominant-aggressive to his siblings, who lived in utter fear of him.  Though only ten weeks old, he had already challenged me before the first nightfall.

I was extremely uneasy about T. Rex.  I have seen dominant dogs, but I have not seen all that many who are willing to challenge a human… and I’d NEVER seen such dominance in a puppy.  I put my uneasiness aside and separated the brothers – Reptar and Godzilla stayed at the back of the property with my mom’s frou-frous, and T. Rex went up front with my dogs.  I knew that Max, my alpha male, an Akita mix, would keep T. Rex in line.

Max is the least aggressive dog I know, but he’s the alpha male, and he keeps his pack in line.  People tell me I’m mistaken to let him be the pack leader.  I disagree.  He is the pack-leader among the dogs… but make no mistake, he is extremely submissive to me, hubby, and all three kids.  If Max fights with another adult male (which is why Biscuit is in a solitary pen, but that’s another story), all I have to do is say in a firm voice, “Max.  No,” and he stops.  I don’t have to shout; I have never struck him.  He recognizes my authority and accepts it.  Read about  how Max came to live with us at https://heathermcamp.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/max-or-we-needed-another-dog-like-we-needed-a-hole-in-the-head/

Back to the Dinosaurs.  Like I said, Reptar and Godzilla were great puppies.  They got along well with everyone – dog, cat, or goat.  (Note regarding the photos – my mom put a pink collar on Reptar so she could tell them apart.)Image

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In the meantime, T. Rex made a nuisance of himself at every turn.  He was constantly picking fights, and Max was constantly taking him down a peg.  Even Nanuq had to put him in his place a few times… and Nanuq has no social aspirations!

The day came to take the Dinosaurs for their health certificates.  Companion animals cannot be transported across state lines without a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian.  We have to get health certs on our pups prior to putting them on the North Shore Animal League transport van.  Read more about Operation Puppy Love at https://heathermcamp.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/operation-puppy-love/

I leashed all three puppies and headed out the door.  We got into the yard and T. Rex immediately attacked his brothers.  I didn’t put my hand into the fray; I used leashes to separate them… T. Rex whirled and attacked the leash and, leaping up, snagged my fingertip with one of those needle-sharp puppy teeth and tore it to the bone.  I swore and slung all the leashes at my husband and rushed into the house to bandage my finger.

By the time I got to the vet’s office, my bandage was saturated and, unbeknownst to me, blood was running from my finger, down my arm, and dripping from my elbow to the floor.  The vet tech said, “Oh my God, you’re bleeding!  What happened?”

I was shocked and answered honestly, “T. Rex bit me.”

The vet tech took me into the back and made me scrub the finger with a Betadyne solution they keep on hand for just such situations as this.  The staff is accustomed to bites.  The tech said, “You need stitches.”

I said, “All things heal with time,” and it did, without stitches, though it took several weeks.

Keep in mind that the pups were only around twelve weeks old at this juncture, far too young yet for a rabies vaccine.  Because of this our vet only wrote a health certificate for Reptar and Godzilla.  She ordered me to keep T. Rex quarantined for ten days.

“You know and I know that he doesn’t have rabies,” she told me, “but I know a vet who was wrong about that once, and I don’t want to make that mistake.”

The next morning, Emily and Mona came to pick up Reptar and Godzilla – I don’t always ride to Martinsville for the transport.  I was sorry to see them go, but glad at the same time, because T. Rex was a thorn in my side, a pain in my arse, a trial and a real cross to bear, and straightening him out was going to be a full-time job.

We had our behaviorist do an evaluation on him.  She said, “Neuter him now.  It’s the only thing that will save him.”

We don’t always like to neuter pups that young – we prefer to wait til six months – but in this case we went ahead and had him done at three months.  

I saw an improvement within a week.  They say that it can take two weeks or more, but he calmed down so much after the surgery that he was almost like a different dog.  I worked with him intensively.  I crate trained him.  I leash trained him.  I took him to soccer games and parks – he even walked with me in the Walnut Cove Christmas Parade.

T. Rex still had some bad days – but they were few and far between, and he was always willing to give up the fight.  He and Nanuq became very good friends… and he and I grew to adore one another.  

We decided that since we’d put so much money and time into T. Rex that we would try to adopt him locally.  Our photographer did a shoot for us.  The photos were fabulous, and Tammera captured his very T. Rex-ness perfectly.

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And my favorite of all:

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Surely, with these photos, someone would come along and adopt this beautiful boy.  Surely, someone would see him on Petfinder or Adopt-a-Pet and say, “Oh my God, I’ve been looking for a black lab and this one is perfect!”

That didn’t happen.  These photos were taken in December.  As of yesterday, we had not received one inquiry on T. Rex.  Therefore, yesterday we put him on a transport for North Shore Animal League.  We feel that T. Rex will stand a much better chance of finding a good furever home with North Shore’s vast resources than with our very limited ones.

I bathed him night before last, and sat on the side of the tub long after his bath rubbing him with the towel (which he loved) and sniffling.  Yesterday morning was hectic – we sent a total of 17 pups and young dogs to North Shore, and had to use two vehicles to get them all there!  I thought maybe I’d be too busy to grieve until later.

They loaded the young puppies before the older pups & dogs, and so I had ample time to sit on the tailgate of the van with T. Rex in my lap and fully realize what I was letting go.  

The North Shore driver is a regular, and he shook his finger at me before we ever got to T. Rex.  “I know you,” he said.  “I remember you.  You and that other gal are always up on my bus crying your eyes out over these dogs.  Don’t you do it this time.  I don’t want to see that.”

(That other gal is Emily.)

I gave him a winning smile and said, “I don’t know these puppies.  I’m fine right now.  I won’t promise not to cry, though, because my boy will be loaded last, and I’m pretty sure I’ll cry then.”

He shook his head.  “You foster parents.  I could never do what you do… but I’m glad you do it.”

T. Rex didn’t understand when I walked him onto the bus and put him in a crate.  He stared at me with betrayal writ large in his eyes.  And I was weeping openly when I walked off of the bus.  (I’m sniveling about it again even as I write it.)

Here’s the thing about these problem kids.  I’m good at this.  I’m not the best by any means – I am not and will never be Cesar Milan – but I’m good with them.  The only thing is, they take a lot of investment, a lot of time, energy… a lot of love.  And when you put that much into a dog it’s impossible not to feel the separation like a rift in your soul.

Yesterday Mona & I wrote a grant application that wanted stories with an emphasis on volunteers.  I wrote, “Our volunteers love to be abused.  Physically or emotionally, it doesn’t matter – they take it and come back begging for more.”

T. Rex wasn’t the only dog I put on that transport yesterday that I love.  Louise, a stray female Border Collie-type mix, also went, and after I spent a month earning her trust and devotion, I betrayed her as well.  

Why? you ask.  Why do you keep doing this?

Oh, Gentle Reader, the answer is not easy to put into words and is more about feelings than logic.  Maybe, as the song says, I just miss the misery.  Or maybe it’s that the feelings of doing something RIGHT in this world outweigh the feelings that I’ve betrayed my best friend.  I don’t know.

What I do know is this: 

Over the course of the last two years, I have fostered over fifty dogs and puppies, and two cats.  Of those, more than half went to North Shore Animal League.  Of the rest, most were adopted; two had to be euthanized (Billboy Baggypants due to severe birth defects, and Pepper due to age-related dementia); five are still with me – those five won’t go anywhere if they’re not adopted, because I am a no-kill advocate, and any animal that I take in is safe for the rest of its life.

From a numbers standpoint, that’s why I do it.  I’ve saved over fifty lives, thanks to my work with Stokes County Humane Society, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Want to learn more about what we’re doing in our community?  Visit our website – http://www.stokescountyhumanesociety.com

 

Never An Easy Choice

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Back in May, I rescued Pepper, a senior dachshund mix, from the Stokes County Animal Shelter.  I saw her on Facebook and my heart stopped – that face, those ears, that build…  

When I was in Kindergarten, my mother picked me up from school one afternoon brimming over with a surprise.  Whatever was the secret? I wondered.  I begged; I cajoled; I whined; she wouldn’t tell.  We pulled into a parking lot I’d never visited, and walked into the most wonderful building ever, full of people and dogs.  My mother told me it was The Vet.  What was The Vet? It was the place where Good Pet Parents take their pets to visit the doctor, get their shots (I cringed; I hated getting shots myself and felt sorry that pets also had to have shots), and get medicine if they’re sick.

It was possibly the greatest place I’d ever been – but there was one teeny problem:  We didn’t HAVE  a pet!  My mother ignored this observation and instructed me to sit on a chair against the wall, and not to touch any pets without asking permission first.  Of course, as soon as she turned her back and walked up to the counter, I sidled up to a man with a very large dog whose ears were bandaged.

Is he hurt? I asked.  No, the man responded; this sort of dog was called a German Shepherd, and his ears were supposed to stand up by themselves, but since they weren’t standing up The Vet was using tape to help them learn to stand up.

Fascinating.

Only then my mother turned around and beckoned for me, and so I trotted up to the counter.  The lady behind the counter carried a towel over, laid it on the counter, unwrapped it… and there was a scruffy little wire-haired dog with one ear that stood up and one that laid down.  My mother said it was ours, Our Very Own Puppy.

I pointed to the German Shepherd and wondered if Our Very Own Puppy ought not have her floppy ear taped so it would stand up.  My mother said no, that she liked it that way.

We named Our Very Own Puppy Pepper.  She was a wire-haired terrier mix, with a long, low build that makes me think now that maybe there  was some doxie in the mix somewhere back along the line.  Pepper was a spunky little firecracker, and stayed in trouble.  We had her until I was eighteen years old – she was fourteen, and it was her time.

When I saw that little black doxie mix with one perky ear and one floppy ear on Facebook last summer, I immediately thought of Pepper.  I went and picked her up the very next morning.  She attached herself to me and within two days she knew that her name was, in honor of my childhood best friend, Pepper.  

I took little Pepper everywhere.  She was such a great ride buddy – and I hardly ever had to use a leash, because she stuck to me like glue.

Of course I posted her picture on Petfinder, and on Facebook, and listed her as Available for Adoption, because I needed another dog like a hole in the head.

It just wasn’t meant for Pepper to leave me.  No one ever showed any interest in her, and I was secretly glad.  Pepper could be snarky, and she could be a nasty little piece of work, but she loved me fiercely, and I loved her too.

Unfortunately, little elderly dogs are prone to senility and dementia just like little elderly humans, and Pepper was not immune to the condition.  She started recoiling from my touch in fear a few weeks ago.  There were times I would reach to pet her and she would bite my hand even as she hit the ground screaming like I was killing her.  

Yesterday she bit me and within an hour had started a nasty unprovoked dog fight in my living room.  When I broke up the fracas I put all involved parties in crates to cool down.  I waited a good twenty minutes before letting Pepper out of her crate and she promptly bit me again, drawing blood this time, and screaming the whole time like someone was scalping her.  

It was with a heavy heart that I picked up my cell phone and called my vet, who is the best vet who ever practiced medicine.  Of course they could work her in on their Saturday half-day clinic; how soon could I be there?  I got dressed and convinced Pepper to let me pick her up.  

She was confused by the whole proceeding; she wanted to sit in my lap in the car, but she snapped at me if I tried to touch her.  She cowered against me when she heard Doc in the back, and growled and snarled so that we had to muzzle her so she didn’t bite him.

Once she was muzzled, Doc gently stroked her head and told me this:

When a little dog is suffering from such paranoid dementia that she fears even you, who I know good and well has never hurt this or any dog, then it’s time to let her go to that place where there is no more fear and she can be happy and young again.

My poor little second Pepper went to the Rainbow Bridge yesterday.  No one else in the world wanted her… but I loved her for the nine months I had her, and I hope that her last months were some of the happiest of her life.  That little dog worshiped the ground I walked on, and when she crossed the Bridge she carried a piece of my heart with her.

Be fearless again, little Pepper dog.  Tell First Pepper and Sandy, Mandy and Scruffy, and Rosie and Bonnie and Szundi and Dusty and Chinook and all the other great dogs I’ve loved that I look forward to meeting you all again.

A Day in the Life of a Crazy Dog Lady

I drove as fast as I dared down the winding Stokes County road as a damp misty fog rolled into the valleys with the coming of night.  One hand on the wheel, one hand on the stick, and an ice-cold puppy between my breasts, supported only by my bra (and oh, was I ever glad that I’d chosen to wear the one that fastens in the front!)…

Maybe I’d better back up and start from the beginning.  I’m sure you’d like to know how exactly I wound up with a puppy in my bra, snuggled between my boobs.

It had already been a crazy day.  We’d been to Lowe’s for a new electric fence box and to Wal-Mart for travel rations, and BACK to Wal-Mart for tires and to Lowe’s for a spool of electric fence wire, all before lunch time.  Hubby installed the new fence box between the two trips to town.  I spent over an hour after the second trip stringing new and/or repairing old electric wire and in several places attaching new plastic fobs to the fence posts.  Nanuq and T. Rex seem to have a taste for bright yellow electric fence fobs, and had torn down the wire that was attached to the bright yellow fobs they ate.  Unfortunately the yellow ones are actually better fobs than the black ones, so it’s yellow ones we’ll be using here on out, and we’ll just have to make sure the fence is always on to prevent further destruction.

But I digress.  You, gentle reader, care not at all about my electric fence problems.  I hooked you with the puppy in my bra, and that’s what you want to read about.

Evening had fallen.  I was reading a book, Facebooking, and halfway watching Celebrity Ghost Stories on Biography.  It’s not because they’re Celebrity Ghost Stories – it’s because they’re Ghost Stories.  I like to get a little spooky once in awhile.  I could care less about the Celebrity angle.

Just as I was beginning to pay more attention to the book than the other distractions, my cell phone rang.  It was an old friend, Dottie, and she was absolutely in tears.  I could hardly understand what she was saying – but I got enough to know that Allie had puppies and was dead.

“I’m hanging up,” I told Dottie, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

I grabbed some felt blankets, jumped in the car, and headed out.

I know that Dottie is absolutely heartbroken.  I have been in her shoes many times, and when I got to her house I made sure to give her a hug.  I’m pretty sure that’s the proper thing to do in this sort of situation – I speak dog so much better than I speak human, but Dottie understands me anyway.

Allie was on the enclosed back porch.  Her neck and head were swollen horribly, and it appeared she seized a little before she died.  Even though it’s been cool lately, I was pretty sure I was looking at a snake bite victim.

Here’s the thing about snake bites.  When a snake bites a human, it’s generally on a foot, a leg, a hand, or a lower arm – in other words, far enough from the heart that there is time to administer anti-venom  and far enough from airways to be safe from suffocation.  When a snake bites a dog it’s usually around the head.  Venomous snake bites swell fairly rapidly, and a bite to the head or neck can swell until the airways are obstructed.  I’m no vet, but to my layman’s view, that’s what happened to Allie.

The pups were two or three days old, and Dottie said that Allie died on top of most of them and they smothered.  There were three left, scrabbling at Allie’s dry teats in frustration.  I quickly scooped them up and slipped them into the pocket of my hoodie.  I reassured Dottie that snakebites can happen to anyone and that I’d make sure the pups were cared for, and I was off.

I immediately called our puppy expert, Emily.  Emily is not just our puppy expert.  She’s also the mother of four children, the younger three of whom she homeschools.  The oldest, Maya Sings, was homeschooled until this past fall, when she decided she wanted to go to high school.  Maya & my youngest daughter have gotten to be good friends.  They’re the same age and have some classes together.  Emily handles a free clothing closet ministry for her church, is very craft-y, and helps to manage her husband’s band and Maya’s budding singing career.  In addition to all of this, Emily is one of our most reliable foster moms.  Shortly before I called her, she’d been down to the animal shelter to pick up a guinea pig and a rabbit, and had submitted photos of some puppies for approval in our Operation: Puppy Love program.

I called Emily and explained the situation.  Did she have any puppy formula?  It just so happened that she did.  Could she take these three on?  Of course she could.

I sped down country roads, around curves and up hills and down into valleys, over the river and through the woods, to Emily’s house I went.  The pups in my hoodie pocket squirmed and whimpered.  I kept my shifting hand in my pocket (except when I had to shift gears) and the other hand on the wheel.  The pups were chilly but they were squirmy and whiny and so I was confident they would be all right.

When I got to Emily’s, she wasn’t there – she’d gone to Mona’s for bottles.  Maya met me at the door with her younger siblings in tow and took the pups off my hands.  I headed back for town, thinking that it was a good night not to cook.  I hit the Hardees drive-thru, got supper, and headed toward home.  I almost made it, too, when my phone rang again.

It was Dottie.  One of the dead pups was moving.  I told her I would be there directly – she offered to have her husband meet me halfway instead.  We met at a small country store/gas station.  He rolled his window down and passed me the pup, which was wrapped in a tee shirt.  I unwrapped the shirt.  The pup was cold as death, and I thought there had to be a mistake, this pup couldn’t possibly be alive – but then it groaned.  I quickly handed the shirt back.

“Don’t you need something to wrap it in?” Brian asked.

“No,” I responded, “I’m going to carry it in my bra.”  It was the only warm place I could think of where I could hold the pup skin to skin, hands-free.

“Good Lord,” Brian snorted, and he left as I stuffed the pup down the front of my shirt.

Back in the car, I unfastened the top three snaps of my bra and wiggled the pup around until his chest and paws were against my chest.  Then I pulled my hoodie down and hit the gas.

I drove as fast as I dared down the winding Stokes County road as a damp misty fog rolled into the valleys with the coming of night.  One hand on the wheel, one hand on the stick, and an ice-cold puppy between my breasts, supported only by my bra (and oh, was I ever glad that I’d chosen to wear the one that fastens in the front!).  As I drove I tried to reach Emily, to no avail.  No problem; I’d just turn up on her doorstep.

And I did.

Maya opened the door, saw me standing there, and said, “I thought the rest were dead!”

“They thought so too,” I said, stepping inside.  In the living room, I pulled the pup out of my bra and passed it to Emily.  “No promises,” I told her.  “It’s too cold.  It might not make it.  But I know that if anyone can pull it through, you can.”

Emily looked grim.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “I’ll do my best.”

I flopped down beside her on the sofa and grinned at her.  “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” I demanded.

She laughed at me.  She usually does – but I meant it then and I’ll always mean it.  Emily is absolutely my hero.

Will the puppies live? I don’t know – but if Emily can’t save them, I’ll know it was because there was no saving them.

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think about how much death I’ve seen since I got involved in the animal rescue and welfare world.  I’m pretty sure the only thing that keeps me going is that I speak dog better than I speak human… and the dogs that I save tell me every day not to give up.  So I don’t.