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Tails: RTO – The Low Hanging Fruit No One is Trying to Pick

There’s celebration in Wisconsin this week.  A bill passed to shorten the stray hold in shelters.  Oh, you probably can’t hear the party, because not everyone is celebrating.  Lost Dogs Wisconsin along with their umbrella organization, Lost Dogs America, tried very hard to stop the bill.  “Why?” you may ask… Well, Lost Dogs America, an ALL volunteer organization, helped reunite over 30,000 families and dogs in 2015.  It seems they know a thing or two about the bonds between pets and their owners.  They are also painfully well aware that most of the shelter systems in WI are broken.  Return to Owner (RTO) rates are tragic with many of the big shelters not making RTO a priority and rarely attempting to find owners or list found dogs on their websites.

LDA pleaded with WI legislation to fix the shelter systems BEFORE shortening the stray hold, but, sadly, they went ahead and passed the bill with no necessary improvements for shelters.  Basically, in the vast state of WI, you now have only 4 days, that is 96 hours, to find your lost dog at a shelter before they can adopt it out, transfer it to a rescue in or out of state, or kill it.  There was some stipulation for a longer hold UNLESS the dog was ill, or its behavior was a danger to the public.  The reality is those two exceptions are subject to so much interpretation that a shelter can act however it sees fit.  One bad cough or loud growl and your dog could be heading over Rainbow Bridge long before you could ever locate him.

Yes, there are statistics that back-up some of the advantages of shorten stray holds.  Stats that show more dogs move through the shelter system quicker – HOPEFULLY resulting in more live release rates, but not always.  I don’t think anyone really challenged those stats, but, instead, argued that in the world of rescue and animal welfare, we should be trying to preserve the human-animal bond, not destroy it.

Return to Owner is an area of animal welfare few people talk about.  You certainly don’t hear the big guys talk about it much (Best Friends, HSUS – both groups who lobbied in favor of the bill).  Yet, RTO seems like an area shelters and rescues should dedicate resources to.  Why are they so willing to spend time and money on adoptions and transfers (even euthanasia) when there is a really good chance the dog sitting in the kennel already has a home?

I remember working at my county animal control… we had a binder for lost dog reports and when dogs would come in, we would check the binder.  We would also check it before placing the dog on the adoption side or euthanizing him.  However, we didn’t really do much else.  There the dog sits for a week and we just “hope” someone calls or comes in for him.

Not everyone who loses a dog knows where to look or even what to do.  LDA is trying hard to change that by educating those who contact them on the many avenues there are to find your dog, from fliers to website postings, to calling every vet, shelter and animal control in a 100 mile radius.  The truth is unless you are active in the rescue world, not many people know all the shelters and vet clinics in the area.  Rescue people take that kind of knowledge for granted.

LDA partners with Helping Lost Pets.  Helping Lost Pets has an INTERNATIONAL, FREE database that allows individuals, shelters, vet clinics, etc. to post lost and found dogs (as well as pinpoint sightings) on a map based system.  It is truly brilliant.  I did mention is was FREE, right?  Yet, there are shelters across the country NOT using it?  Shelters right in WI who choose to do nothing instead.  How does that make sense?  An animal shelter should be using all possible resources to get that dog home.

RTO is really the low-hanging fruit when it comes the array of possibilities of getting a dog out of the shelter.  To adopt a dog out, he has to stay for the stray hold period, might need medical care, he has to pass some type of temperament test or behavior assessment, he needs to have all his vaccines and be neutered, he has to sit on the adoption side waiting for the right person to want him, maybe he goes to adoption events.  Once someone adopts him, there is a fairly decent chance, he will be returned and the entire cycle starts again.

To transfer a dog, the shelter has to have partnerships with rescues in the area that they manage, the dog has to stay for the stray hold period, be medically treated,  the shelter has to reach out to rescues hoping someone will take him, they have to arrange transfer dates and at times vaccinate and neuter the dog before the rescue will take him.

To euthanize a dog, he has to stay for the stray hold, he has to be behaviorally assessed, he might have to be medically treated and, then, the decision is made to be euthanized.  For most shelter workers, that is the hardest and saddest part of the job – placing unbelievable amounts of stress and depression on shelter workers, causing them to quit the job sooner.

To return a dog to owner, the shelter simply has to post the lost dog in a database.  When the owner comes to get the dog there might be microchipping or a neuter involved, but there is no behavior assessment, no extended shelter time and rarely a chance that the owner is going to return the dog a few days later.  RTO is ALWAYS a quicker, happy ending.

RTO is not a number many shelters use to measure success, but if your dog gets lost wouldn’t you want to believe that getting him back home is part of the shelter’s responsibility as an animal welfare organization?  Wouldn’t you want to assume that a shelter’s first priority is to find the owner, not just get the dog out the shelter?

My favorite phrase is, “Dogs don’t fall from the sky.”  Not really just a phrase, a fact, right?  Yes, in some areas strays are a prevalent reality.  Yes, some people (very few) lose their dogs and don’t even try to find them.  I have found quite a few dogs in my 45 years and not one has been a stray.  Each one had a family desperately looking for them.  Interesting that when good Samaritans find dogs they almost always make incredible attempts to find the dog’s owner, yet, shelters and rescues don’t?  The irony… and the very sad reality that needs to change NOW.

Tails: Homeless NOT Heartless

I just got back from a few crazy days at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The beads, the liquor, the parades – it leaves your head spinning and your liver begging for mercy.  But, beyond the drunken fun, is a very sad reality: the homeless population in New Orleans.  And, for someone like me, it would be impossible to NOT notice that just about every other homeless person we saw had a dog.

A decade ago, maybe even just 5 years ago, I would have been completely distraught by the number of homeless people sharing their homeless lives with a dog.  I would have wanted to take the dogs away and find them homes – find them “better” lives, assuming that a roof equals a better life.

A couple years ago, I did story on a group called Pets of the Homeless.  I learned a lot from them, mostly, the important fact that homeless people love their pets as much as I do.  Homeless people almost always go without food, so their pets can eat first.  Losing their pet is just as devastating to them as it would be for me.  They are homeless, not heartless.

During Mardis Gras, it was my friends who gasped at the idea of allowing dogs to stay with homeless people.  They couldn’t believe I made peace with it.  I pointed out what great shape the dogs were in.  None of them looked the slightest bit hungry.  Their coats were shiny and well-kept.  Their tails wagged.  Some even had sweaters to keep them warm.

Above all else, I could see love and loyalty in the dogs’ and the humans’ eyes as they sat together.

What really allows me to make peace with this situation is the harsh reality of shelters across America.  Over one million dogs will die this year simply because of a lack of space.  As I looked at the dogs sitting in the laps of people who loved them, I also could see the thousands of pictures of dogs in dire need I get every day on Facebook or twitter or thru my own email.  Thousands of dogs who will die alone in shelters.  Each one of them a victim of a human being – a human being who probably had a roof over his or her head.

Homeless people spend every minute with their dogs.  They feed them and love them.  What more could I want for a dog?  Certainly, that is a far better alternative to euthanasia in a shelter. I looked at the dog cuddled tight in his owner’s arms and I thought of the dog alone on death row, days away from being killed.  There is zero doubt in my mind which situation is better.

I did notice many of the dogs weren’t neutered.  In fact, I even talked to a few New Orleans policemen about it.  They weren’t experts, but they both felt that the SPCA would spay and neuter the dogs, it was more likely the owners weren’t willing to let the dogs go.  I am sure they fear never getting them back.

I can’t lie- the images of the people and their dogs haunt me.  I am always trying to understand how someone’s life can come to that.  I also wonder how, as a society, we accept something that seems so fundamentally unAmerican.  Statistics show that thousands of homeless people are military veterans – an even sadder state of America.

I, by no means, have solutions for such complex and overwhelming social issues.  However, I do strongly believe that homeless people should be allowed to keep their dogs.  And while I think we need to always work towards being more compassionate, I don’t think we need to feel such pity for the dogs.  Truthfully, most of the dogs living with the homeless population have it far better than the million dogs left to die in shelters.  Taken even one step further, many of the dogs living with their homeless families are given more love and attention than many of the dogs living in middle class suburbia.

 

Tails: 8 Years Later…I’m glad I Got Off the Couch!

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to a classroom of vet tech students.  The topic was puppy mills.  I watched, along with the class, the infamous Oprah segment on puppy mills and euthanasia in shelters which first aired in 2008.  I remember 2008 vividly because it was the year I walked into my first puppy mill auction.  Oprah’s show aired only a month after.  Back then, I was on the couch tears streaming down my face, screaming at the TV that it was “WAY worse” than what they were showing.

As I sat through the movie last night, tears streaming down my cheeks again, I couldn’t help but wonder what has changed in 8 years.  We are STILL fighting the puppy mills and there is still the senseless killing of millions of dogs and cats each year.  EIGHT years later…

When I was watching the movie and thinking through my presentation, it was the same.  Eight years later and there are still 10,000 puppy mills.  Eight years later and we haven’t closed down a single one?

I know we have closed down a number of mills, but new ones open and we continue to battle an industry that is cruel and heartless and yet, still exists legally.

As I explained last night, the movement has taken a different approach.  Instead of only battling the mills, we are now focusing on the demand.  There are currently 126 ordinances in place among varying states, cities and counties that prohibit pet stores from selling dogs/puppies who come from mass breeding facilities.  Today, in those pet stores, the dogs must come from rescues and shelters.  That IS progress.

I want to believe that MORE people are aware of the truth.  I want to believe less people buy their puppies from pet stores or on-line.

I can’t lie.  I felt a bit defeated on my drive home.  I mean nearly a decade later after the Oprah show and things felt painfully similar.

However, on a personal level, I had a major realization.  Eight years ago, I was sitting on my couch crying.  I felt lost and unbelievably embarrassed to be a part of the human race who treated animals so poorly.

Today, (AKA: last night) I was actually speaking to future veterinary professionals about puppy mills.  Sure, I shed a few new tears, but most of my tears have become actions.  I am involved  on so many levels.  My book is published and raising awareness.  I attend events to educate people on puppy mills.  I hold protest signs and shout truths.  I have even made my way to TV to share my journey.

I acknowledge these accomplishments because I want people to see that IF you are really passionate about something, it is up to YOU to get involved.  Eight years ago, I was a meek, overly emotional person struggling to make sense of the horrors I saw.  Today, I am committed to making a difference.  And while there are moments where I feel change hasn’t come fast enough, I, personally, know by the emails I get and the people I meet, that I have made a difference a person at a time.

YOU can make a difference.  Whether it be puppy mills or shelter killing or even a non-animal cause, find what you believe should be better in this world, get involved and make a difference.

Eight years have passed and if I know nothing else, I know I made use of them by following my heart and believing I could change things.  I am grateful that I got off the couch and got involved.

 

Tails: If you are considering giving your time or money, think small and local…

It is a new year and, often, people contemplate getting more involved with a charitable organization or, perhaps, donating to one. I thought this would be a great time to share MY OPINION on those issues concerning animal welfare organizations.

My first words are, “GIVE LOCALLY!”  It is easy to be enamored by the large groups such as The Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, and Best Friends Animal Society.  Beyond the calendars and free address labels they send out, their brand is everywhere.  How many of us have cried at the Sarah McLachlan commercial?   They are big and glorious and appear to be saving all the animals.

(Just a quick FYI… PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is BEYOND controversial in the animal welfare world.  In my world, NO ONE believes they do good for domestic animals.  In fact, most reports show them killing homeless animals as a way to “save” them from the horrors of people.)

I have a lot of friends who seek out my advice when it comes to giving money to animal groups. I used to tell them this, “Give locally if you want your money to actually go towards saving a dog or cat.  If you don’t mind your money being used for legislative lobbying, give to the big guns.”

I would say that still rings true, however, in the last few weeks, I have seen the big guns, HSUS and Best Friends, lobby for legislation that I, and many others, including The No Kill Nation do NOT find to be in the best interests of the animals or their families.

In Wisconsin, HSUS and Best Friends are both lobbying to shorten the stray hold for dogs from 7 to 4 days.  Meaning that if your dog gets lost, you have 4 days to find him in a shelter before he is adopted out, transferred or killed.

Shelters tend to want shorter stray holds because they can turn dogs over faster, instead of allowing dogs to take up cage space.  However, if your dog gets lost, he could easily travel out of your initial search area and end up in a shelter counties away, and it could be days before you even think to call a shelter so far away.  If you wait more than 4 days, your dog could be dead.

Best Friends and HSUS swear that they are out to save the most animals possible.  I argue that they have lost touch with the day-to-day reality of rescue.  If they really want a shortened stray hold then they should ALSO be lobbying for better return to owner programs.  Most stray dogs don’t fall from the sky!  Most stray dogs aren’t stray at all – they are simply lost.

Lost dogs are the most overlooked issue in the shelter and rescue system.  Instead of focusing on getting dogs BACK home, we focus on getting them into homes.  Return to Owner (RTO) rates in most shelters are heartbreaking.  Until recently, there were few laws to even require shelters to scan for microchips!

There are ALL-volunteer groups popping up across the states called Lost Dogs WI, Lost Dogs IL, Lost Dogs FL, etc… They are all part of a group called Lost Dogs America.  They are 100% committed to helping people reunite with their dogs.  They are assisting with THOUSANDS of reunions every month.  They are proving every single day that RTO matters.

When groups like HSUS and Best Friends barge in with their expensive data and fancy calculations and not one ounce of day-to-day experience reuniting dogs and families, I, and others, have a hard time believing they have any real understanding of what is going to save “all the animals.”  Not to mention having any respect or compassion for the human-animal bond.  They are completely overlooking the desperate family longing to find their lost pet.

So, I digressed a bit and picked a particular subject that is getting press right now.  Let me venture away from one specific and generalize.  If you want to get involved or if you want to donate money to save animals, I highly advise you to look locally and think small.

There are thousands of rescues and local, independent shelters throughout the United States.  And, while they might not be saving THOUSANDS of animals each, each one of them is saving lives.  Those are the places you want to research.  If you do your homework, you will see that it is the smaller rescues and shelters who are giving 100% of YOUR money to the animals.  No overhead, no free address labels  – just dedicated volunteers saving 4 legged lives.

I am not naive, in fact, we are battling a rescue in my area right now because she is a scam artist.  She is bringing up dogs by the truckloads and turning them over in the name of rescue to make money.  Her pups are sick and dying.  She is running from the law as we speak.  So, it is important to do your research.  I wish I could say ALL rescues were run well, but that is sadly, not the case.  If you are reading this blog and have questions, feel free to post or contact me.  I would be happy to help guide you to the “good ones.”

Beyond the local rescues and shelters are the local individuals who are forever fighting for the cause.  Between the fight we have going with the bad local rescue and the recent Winona County, MN protests against the approved Amish puppy mills, I have seen every day citizens stand up and fight with fury.  During these battles, I contacted the big guys like HSUS and Best Friends.  Their canned answers were nowhere near as passionate as the people I have met spending sleepless days and nights rallying to make a difference.

Organizations tend to get too big, lose their focus, and forget about the day-to-day struggles.  As an animal advocate, I have lost faith in the big organizations.  My time and money goes to the rescues and organizations I see working hard on a daily basis.  The groups who are in the trenches treating sick dogs, organizing thousand mile transports, and physically holding protest signs.

Take the time to decide what issue matters the most to YOU and what YOU think will improve animal welfare.  Look hard at organizations and dig deep to find what their stance on issues are.  You might be surprised at their beliefs and values.

I would encourage you to take an hour and research where you want to spend your time and who you want to spend your money.  Personally, I would rather see my $50 go directly towards the treatment of an injured dog, than 100 free calendars given to strangers.

 

Tails: “Cheers to Animal Advocacy in 2016”

I have been working on a  new post since New Year’s.  My idea was to focus on the positive in animal welfare… and, then, this week happened.  The county of Winona, MN allowed SIX permits for Amish puppy mills!  I am crushed.  I feel like someone stabbed me in the heart.  I feel like we just went backwards 10 years!

Major cities across the U.S. are passing laws and ordinances to prevent pet stores from selling puppies who come from puppy mills and Winona, MN approves SIX more?

For 8 years I have fought passionately to rid the world of mills.  I have educated and advocated until I was hoarse.  What happened this week in Winona, well, it broke my heart.

It definitely made me pause and re-think my original New Year’s post – all about the positive in animal welfare.

However, I saw something else happen in the last few days… I saw so many people outraged by what Winona did.  So many people being the voice for the animals.  So many people who shared their personal stories about their own rescued mill dogs.  So many people who want things to change.

Eight years ago, I felt very alone in this fight.  Through-out my book I talk about how I didn’t think anyone else understood me.  I didn’t believe anyone cared as much as I did.  So, to see the many posts of strangers reaching out to help and to act IS a very positive thing.  It is something to be celebrated.

In my original draft, I wanted animal advocates to realize that they are not alone.  I, think, all too often, we believe we are the only ones who care, the only ones who will save them. I think, in some ways, animal welfare organizations have led us to believe that because they want us to take action. They show sad commercials of desperate animals and imply that you are their only hope.

I want to change that because I do not think it is the healthy way to look at things. It is much healthier and more productive, if we feel like we are part of a much bigger group – if we feel surrounded by people who want to change things – if we believe that we aren’t alone. If I have learned nothing else in 10 years, I have learned that there are A LOT of people out there working hard to change the lives of animals for the better.

I worry about animal people because it is easy to lose  your sense of balance.  Each animal matters and each situation seems dire.  However, I have seen too many animal rescuers lose themselves and when that happens, no one wins.

Every single day I see posts for dogs on euth lists. Desperate cries for help. They make my stomach turn. There is no way that I could respond to each one. However, after a day goes by, I go back to the posts and I am always reminded at how many people there are fighting for the animals. There will be 100 shares and 100 comments of names and organizations willing to step up for that dog. No, sadly, not every dog gets saved, however, so many do and sooooo many people are trying.

My goal in 2016 is to make people feel good about rescue and animal welfare. I don’t want to show the hurt, injured animals anymore. I want to share the stories of reunion, the stories of transformation. The stories that show us how many good people there are out there who love animals.

We live in such a negative world. The media loves surrounding us with murder and disparity and prejudice. I want to surround people with the glory of animals and the overwhelming amount of love and kindness that is expressed each and every day to them.

Animal welfare is hard. I mean gut-wrenching hard. If you aren’t wiping tears, you are wiping pee off the floors – it is physically and emotionally demanding. Add to that the myriad of personalities you meet along the way. Many of who, do not see eye to eye with you. Animal people love animals, but they don’t always have the same forgiveness or understanding when it comes to humans.

So, while you are crying over the euthanasia list, you can also be having a screaming match on FB with someone who is also crying over the euthanasia list but firmly believes the exact opposite of you. It is a messy business.

I don’t know if I can change that, but I do think I can offer a more positive outlook.  I spent the last 10 years like Eeyore  – all doom and gloom.  I want to focus on the positive.  I want to focus on the compassion and the passion people have to help animals.  Yes, what happened in Winona is an atrocity, but the reactions and the actions of the animal advocates have been truly amazing.

I say, “Cheers to animal advocacy in 2016!”  We are THE most passionate group of people on this planet.  We fight battles every single day with only the animals in mind – not money, not greed.  We ARE a force to reckon with and I plan to celebrate that each day in 2016!

 

Tails: To Save Them All, the Antiquated Rules of Rescue Must Change

To the rescue who just denied my friends adopting a dog: shame on you! Not only did you break my friends’ hearts, you broke mine because you ruined it for so many other rescues by degrading my friends and making them feel like criminals.

You denied them based on a background check and charges you found from 13 to over 26 years ago! You never even met my friends. You didn’t even call their reference checks. You based your decision on something that happened decades ago. I think, Duke, the dog they wanted to adopt, cared more about who they are today.

They are a good family. They live in a nice neighborhood. They both have fantastic jobs. Duke would have lived a life of luxury filled with love. Kids to play with, doggie daycare to socialize at, and training whenever needed. They are actually an ideal family. Even the Animal Control officer WHO MET THEM gave her approval.

I have spent the last 10 years of my life entrenched in animal welfare. I have worked as a kennel tech in a county shelter holding the heads of dogs as they were euthanized. I have pulled dogs out of Amish puppy mills. Dogs so broken, they broke my very soul. I have lobbied in front of legislators begging for change. I have publicly spoke in hall meetings to improve the lives of shelter dogs in Chicago. I pull dogs from the shelter for my rescue and foster them. I spend every single day of my life educating people on the horrors of pet stores and encouraging everyone to adopt their next dog.

When rescues do what you did, it ruins everything we all work so hard for. Now my friends, feeling like criminals, believe the only way to get a dog is to buy one. Isn’t that what we, in rescue, fight so hard against? Yet, you have taught them that their only hope is to go to Petland or order a dog on-line. Rescues like yours infuriate me. You enjoy playing God and judging people and yet, your actions only make things worse for animals everywhere.

There are hundreds of thousands of pits who will be killed this year simply because of space, and yet, you deny people like my friends the opportunity to adopt one? I get that a few bar fights might persuade you to think my friend is dangerous, but that was 25 years ago when he was 20 years old? Do you really feel people don’t change? Do you really believe people should have a perfect record to adopt a dog?

Why wouldn’t you at least take the time to meet them and see where they live? Why couldn’t you call their references? Why was it so easy for you to hit the DENY button, when so many dogs are being killed? My friends want to save a dog and YOU didn’t let them.

The Kansas City Pet Project founder spoke at a Best Friends conference in July and said something to this effect:” “Imagine you are walking by a pond and you see a thousand dogs drowning. You jump in the pond and you just start throwing the dogs out of the water to ANYONE who will help save them. You don’t ask a lot of questions or worry about who the people you are. You just want to save the dogs. Well, people that is where we are right now. There are thousands of dogs drowning and we need to start acting like it.”

Your rescue is NOT looking at the whole adopter nor are you looking at the whole picture. We have millions of dogs to save, denying good people solely on background checks is never going to save them all.

Rescues like yours should be held responsible for euthanasia rates and the number of dogs bought in stores and on-line because you can’t see the forest from the trees. Sure, you might think you “saved” Duke, but your actions have now led to consequences that will do more damage. My friends will tell other friends never to bother adopting because of their horrific experience.

Their experience was horrible. It took your rescue two weeks to even get back to them on their original application. Two weeks. When will rescues learn that they are running a business and people should be treated like customers? And, after you denied them, it took your rescue another THREE days to tell them why.

If we really want people to think of rescue and adoption as a positive experience, we have to make it one. My rescue does. I wish I could say the same about yours.

I work too hard in this field to ignore what you did. I spend too much time and give too much of myself to let you off the hook. Rescues like yours are not making a positive impact on animal welfare today. I am sure you have a long list of the dogs you have saved and if that is enough for you, so be it. But, people like me are truly out to save them all – and to do that takes initiative and creative thinking. It means not judging people from behind a computer screen or with a generic point sheet. If we want to find homes for the million dogs who will be killed this year, the antiquated rules of rescues like yours must change.

Tails: A Week of WOW!

It is easy to lose hope when you are in the animal welfare world.  Everyday I am blasted with dogs on death row, rescues who need money for veterinary costs, or petitions to stop the abuse of animals across the world.  It is a sad, sad group to be a part of most of the time.

However, the last week of my life has proven to me that there is so much hope, so much to be thankful for,  and to be proud of.

Last Sunday, my husband and I did the first transport leg from Chicago to Minneapolis.  We were the ones picking up the fostered dogs.  There were two dogs: Carl and Smokey.  They were Shih Tzu from CACC who were both on death row until NorthStar Shih Tzu Rescue stepped up to take them.  And NorthStar was only able to because two compassionate women said they would foster the dogs sight unseen.

Carl had a troubled past and could be a bit reactive.  Smokey was old and had some severe illnesses that needed immediate treatment.  These two women each took a dog  for 30 days and treated him like a king.  When they met us in the Ikea parking lot, there were tears streaming downs their faces.  They had fallen in love.  Carl’s mom wanted to make sure he would get the training he needed and be placed in a home that would understand him.  Smokey’s mom went down the list of meds and foods that he needed as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.  Both of them handed us shopping bags full of things the dogs had acquired in just 30 days: toys, blankets, food, treats – these dogs were loved more in 30 days than, perhaps, their lifetimes.

I was completely enamored with the affection these women had for the dogs.  Sure, I had fallen in love with foster dogs before, sometimes in as little as 2 days, but to see other people fall in love and care so deeply about a “temporary” dog they never met before, I was beyond hopeful.

Tuesday, a few animal advocates and I read public statements at the Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting.  We are trying to bring about change at the Cook County Animal Control department.  Chicago is huge and crazy, but to see a group of us willing to take it on is hopeful.

Wednedsay I was invited to speak at a high school near the city.  I spoke to over 200 students and many faculty about my book Bark Until Heard and the truth about puppy mills and pet stores.  I hate public speaking, but I loved every moment BECAUSE the students and the teachers were so interested in the subject.  They truly cared about the conditions of the dogs and they really want to do the right thing.  The questions they asked were phenomenal.  I sold out of my books and they want me and Thorp to come back with more.  To engage with future generations about improving animal welfare and to see their eyes light up and make a genuine connection is beyond hopeful.  I left the school that afternoon on cloud 9.

Later Wednesday afternoon, I found myself at CACC to pick up a senior dog named Snuggles who was surrendered by his owner.  CACC’s Director retired last week and the 2nd in command left about a month ago.  I was pleased to feel a different vibe when I walked in.  I could actually sense change in the air.  The employees were kinder, more helpful.  It felt better.  Add to that a group called Advocates for Chicagoland Animals petitioning the Mayor to hire a Director with animal sheltering experience and a passion for saving animals, and I could hardly hold back a smile.  Chicago is on the precipice of HUGE change.  A high kill facility has the potential to soon save lives IF the right personnel are put in place.  There are over 1200 signatures on the petition in less than 24 hours.  So many individuals stating their personal reasons as to why they demand better for the animals at CACC.  YOU can help by signing the petition here.

Thursday rounded out the week with three more hopeful experiences.  I was interviewed by a Florida newspaper for my upcoming book signing in Cape Coral at The Waggle.  I never know how reporters will feel about my work, but this reporter was extremely supportive.  She, too, understands the horrors of puppy mills and backyard breeders.  She rescued her dogs and believes strongly in adoption only.  She was pleased to share my story and encourage people to attend my signing.

I had also gone into a small local book shop in Crystal Lake and asked if he would carry my book.  Once he learned what it was about, he, too, was supportive.  He would love to share that message and do whatever he could to bring about awareness.

By nighttime, I had read that the Chicago ordinance to prohibit pet stores from selling puppies and kittens from mass breeding facilities was UPHELD in court!  We had won!  Thanks to The Puppy Mill Project, pet stores in Chicago can only offer cats and dogs from shelters and rescue organizations!  Even on a political level and a judicial level there was absolute hope for animal welfare!

In my world, tears come everyday.  The sick dogs and unwanted cats make for depressing reading all of the time.  As animal advocates we can easily become overwhelmed and burned out.  This week has taught me so much and given me such hope.

We are not alone.  There is an entire population wanting to make a difference, eager for more knowledge.  There is a new generation who WANTS to do the right thing.  They care about animals.  From people wiling to share their homes with strange, complicated dogs to people willing to speak publicly in the name of change, the tides are turning.

The days can be sad, but it is time to wipe the tears and look-away from the heart wrenching posts and celebrate how far we have come and how much we have to look forward to!  This week is just the beginning.  Animal advocates pat yourselves on the back – we ARE making a difference and there is an army of people waiting for us to give them direction so they can join in and help!

Tails: Animal Control, Rescues, and Shelters, oh my…

This little blurb ran through my FB feed this morning and spurred something in me.  What is the difference between shelters and rescues and really, it should have included animal control.  To be truthful the blurb seems to make the assumption that all shelters are government run, but that is not the case.  There are thousands of private 501(c)3 shelters out there.  Just as there are thousands of private rescues who foster cats and dogs in individual homes.

So, where should you go for your next dog or cat?  Personally, I have always looked to petfinder.com as my map to the right place.  You can search for the animal you want simply by putting in what you want and where you live.  Petfinder as well as adoptapet.com run databases of ONLY rescue animals.  In seconds, you will see so many dogs needing homes and from there you can pick the ones who seem to touch your heart and you can either go to the shelters they are at or contact the rescues they are in.

But, then what?  It is true dogs at animal control (government run shelters) will have much lower adoption fees.  Typically under $100 and all their vaccines, microchip and spay/neuter is included.  I worked at AC for awhile, so I am happy to share a few things.  Personally, my heart breaks a little more for animals in government run facilities.  The employees are often employees who don’t care if they work at AC or for Streets and Sanitation or for the Mayor.  They needed a job and they got one.  It is true that the government is FAR less likely to spend any extra money on a dog needing vet care.  So, if there are broken bones or cancer or a continual viral infection, unless a rescue comes in to pull the dog, AC will put it down.

The thing that people have to remember is it was never the dog’s choice to go to AC.  Either they got lost and were never reunited with their families or their families brought them there for a myriad of reasons. Typically they are: the family had a baby, the family was moving, the family was getting a divorce, someone was allergic.  Rarely are dogs at AC because they are bad dogs or misfits or “have baggage.” REALLY AWESOME dogs are at animal controls across the country.  Purebreds, puppies, you name it.  I highly recommend checking them out.

Shelters and rescues have their own benefits.  When you adopt from them they tend to really know the dog you are interested in.  USUALLY, the people who work/volunteer at rescues and shelters WANT to be there because they love animals, so when you ask them about a specific dog, they have lots to share.  They tend to be, personally, invested in that dog and only want to see a positive, lifelong outcome.  If you go with a breed specific rescue, they are going to know a lot about that breed and be able to tell you if that breed fits with your lifestyle.

It is true that most private rescue and shelter adoption fees are high.  They can be anywhere from $200-over $500.  However, that always includes vaccines, microchips, and spay/neuter.  Depending on the dog’s behavior, that also might include training and/or additional medical treatment.  Unlike animal control, rescues and shelters are willing to invest a lot of money in a dog just to see it live the life it deserves.  They will take it to training, get it surgery, etc… While not every dog needs those things, by charging a higher adoption fee for all dogs, they are able to give services to the ones who need it.  Animals rescue or not – we all have to run on budgets.

Here is where I put in my sly commentary… I am often irritated by people who roll their eyes at adoption fees, looking at me like rescue dogs should be free or something.  Yet, those same people and many others will walk into a pet store and buy a puppy for over $1000.  That same puppy will then need a $300-500 spay/neuter surgery, a $50 microchip, and over $100 in vaccines.

I always tell people, “No dog is free.”  Even if you get a free dog, one day you will have to spend money on vaccines or surgery or illness – not to even mention food, treats, and medicine.

As for AC, shelters or rescue…there are fantastic dogs at all of them.  So many dogs who never chose to be abandoned or lost or unwanted.  The important decision is to ADOPT.  1.5 million dogs will be euthanized this year, wouldn’t you like to know YOU were solely responsible for changing that by at least 1.

 

 

Truths: Have Faith and Believe in your Dreams

I had a moment yesterday.  The Puppy Mill Project was at an event, Hiking for Hounds, and I was selling my book, Bark Until Heard.  Angie had this great idea that Thorp should pawtagraph books, so I finally got an ink pad, and, for the first time, Thorp was signing books,  too.

Later in the day, Christine photographed Thorp signing the book and texted it to me.  When I opened it and looked at the photo, my heart melted.  It was perfect.

I thought about the picture the whole ride home.  I can re-call 7 years ago, March 12, like it was yesterday.  The smells, the noise, and the pure heartache remain amazingly vivid for me.  I also remember the exact feeling I had in my soul when I decided in an instant that I would rescue Thorp and write a book about him.

I am by no means a religious person.  I don’t go to church or read the Bible, but I can attest that the feeling I had that day had to be driven by something much larger than me.  I remember sitting in the crappy bleachers, looking around at what seemed like Hell to me, and being overcome with this idea that I could do something to make a difference.

I knew writing the book about Thorp was something I had to do.

It was a difficult road, no doubt.  The writing wasn’t always easy, but the entire journey was  challenging.  Going to two more auctions nearly did me in – emotionally.  Being surrounded by broken spirited dogs is beyond gut wrenching.  The pain and the anger and helplessness were hard to wrap my head around at times.  The fighting and the pleading with legislators took a toll.  Every beat of my heart was wrapped up in the emotional roller coaster ride I spent 7 years on.  Yet, I never once chose to give-up.

The book is out and the reviews have been great.  The last few months have been surreal to say the least.  I am still attempting to take it all in.

Seeing Thorp making his paw print under the words “Bark Until Heard” not only made it all very real, but made me realize how important it is to listen to your soul and to have faith in things bigger than yourself.

I certainly didn’t know the extent of the journey when I felt the desire to save Thorp and pursue writing his story.  I only knew it had to be done.  Now, I find myself at these wonderful dog events being able to share my story and raise the awareness of puppy mills.  I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who are volunteering their time to rescue dogs and improve their lives.  I get to meet adopters whose lives have been changed by their rescue dogs. I spend time petting dogs of every single kind of breed or combination. My heart is full.

I can’t stop smiling.

It isn’t and it never was about “writing a book.”  It has always been about so much more.  I am not a life coach, but I just want to encourage others to follow what they feel in their heart, to listen to their soul when it speaks.  Have faith and believe in your dreams because not only are they possible, the journey they take you on is far better than you ever imagined.

Bark Until Heard is my first book.  It can be purchased on amazon or signed copies can be bought on my web-site beckymonroe.com.  

 

Tails: Maybe they don’t know any better

Last weekend we headed up to our cabin in Wisconsin for the weekend.  As usual, Penelope, our Shih Tzu/rescued mill dog, sat on my lap in the front seat while Thorp and Jack slept peacefully in the back.  Penelope gets shotgun because she gets car sick.  We have found that letting her sit in the front seat with the A/C blowing on her alleviates it.  Secretly, I think she is over the carsick thing, but I can’t imagine not having her sit on my lap.

So, she was sitting on my lap and for whatever reason, I just looked down at her and held her tight.  I often find myself re-living her puppy-mill past and reaching towards her to make myself feel better. As I held her close, I had this spontaneous thought, “What if not all humans are given the heart to love animals like I have?  What if they really do not feel the way I do about dogs?  What if, when they look at a dog, they only see a furry animal and not a loving soul?”

What if?

It is unfathomable at first, but maybe it is possible.  Why else could it be so hard to save them all?  If everyone felt like I do, surely things would be different by now.

As I let my hand softly stroke Penelope’s coat and watched her rhythmic breathing,  I paid close attention to that feeling I have in my heart.  That feeling that makes me feel whole when I hold my dog close. That feeling that makes my soul feel at peace.  When I hold an animal, all is right with the world.  I feel connected and loved and in the moment.

Could it be that not everyone has had the same experience with animals?  Are there people who don’t feel that connectedness?  People who don’t feel that warmth in their hearts when they pet a dog?

For the first time in my life, I felt sadness for people like that.  All of the puppy-millers, the abusers, the neglecters… was that why they chose to be so awful to dogs?  Were they really not given the gift of connecting to animals on such a higher level?  Did they really not ever have “that” moment with a pet?

How very sad.

I can never excuse their actions nor stop condemning them for their behaviors.  I will never cease advocating for animals and expecting better treatment for them.  However, to begin to acknowledge or at least theorize that there are people who don’t spiritually connect to animals like I do, allows me to better understand the world and why it is taking so long to make things better for the animals.

It also reminds me how fortunate I am.  Sure there are days when being so connected to an animal hurts, but the benefits of loving an animal so selflessly, of feeling so unconditionally loved back.  I cannot imagine my life without those feelings in it.

I have never just seen a dog.  I have always felt a soul looking back at me.