Monthly Archives: April 2015

Tails: Fostering Really is as Simple as Love

As I was walking Jack yesterday, I ran into a neighbor.  She stopped and introduced me to her sister-in-law.  She said, “This is Becky.  She is really involved with rescuing dogs.  She gets them when they are such a mess and, then, turns them into amazing dogs.”

Every profession has certain compliments that mean a lot.  As a rescuer, this one really touched my heart.

After we said our goodbyes and I continued to walk Jack, I started to contemplate what she had said about me.  Jack was the dog hit by a car and left for dead in Chicago.  I pulled him from CACC for NorthStar Shih Tzu Rescue.  And then, like many foster homes, I kept him.

Six months ago, Jack could barely walk on his own.  We were seriously considering major, expensive surgery, until one vet told us to wait and see how he would heal.  The vet believed that the damage was done and that surgery would only make the injury look pretty on the inside.  So, I waited.  Yesterday, Jack ran at least 1 mile.  RAN!  He can jump on the bed and go up the stairs.  Jack is a very well-adjusted dog.  Very few people even notice his funny gait.

When my neighbor inquired about who I was walking and I explained Jack’s story, she said, “That is what I mean – look at how good he is now.”

He is great now.  Her original compliment was intended for the mill dogs I have rescued.  They are complete messes.  Physically they are disgusting, but emotionally they are often beyond comprehension.

But, as I continued to walk Jack and think about what she said, I couldn’t help but wonder if others thought it took some type of magic to transform a dog.

There are always too few fosters in the world and I kept asking myself, “Are people afraid to try? Do they think it takes something really special to change a dog?”

Believe me, I am NO magician.  In fact, I am NO trainer, by any means.  My friend, Ellen, would laugh if you told her you thought I was an amazing trainer.  None of my dogs can even give paw.  Thorp only knows basic commands because he had to, to pass the therapy dog exam.

My only secret is love, unconditional love.  Sadly, the truth is the dogs I take in have never known love and when they receive it for the first time, they are hesitant.  They look at you with disbelief and mistrust.  They tremble when you speak softly to them.  They cringe when you gently touch their back.  It is heartbreaking at times to take in dogs who have never known a caring hand.

However, there is nothing more satisfying, nothing more fulfilling then seeing the transformation of a broken dog.  I want more people to understand that anyone who is compassionate, who loves animals unconditionally, can do it.

There is no science to it.  No fancy training. It is as simple as loving another soul without hesitation.  It is understanding their background and being patient with their progress.

I know many dog people would suggest obedience training, but that has never been my goal.  My dogs would follow me to the end of the earth.  I feel compelled to not necessarily transform a dog, but to make it whole again.  Simply by giving it love.

If you or anyone you know is afraid to foster, don’t be.  And, if you have the patience and a big heart, I challenge you to take the next big mess.  Take the dog who is afraid, the one who trembles.  Take that dog and love him with everything you have.

It won’t happen overnight, it never does, but in time, you will see him change.  You will see him flourish.  Family and friends will be amazed at how you transformed him.

Deep down, you will know it was simply love that changed him…and you.  I think we are the very best version of ourselves when we allow our unconditional love to work its magic on others.

Tails: Dog Left in Van for 6 Days Without Food or Water

Headlines like this one make news and find animal lovers outraged.  However, this dog wasn’t left by her owner for 6 days without food or water, she was left by Chicago Animal Care and Control!  She was left by an agency whose only mission is to care for the city’s animals.  What does that say about the agency?

Maybe if the police forgot about her in the car or the tax assessor’s office forgot her outside, but animal control?

CACC took 14 dogs to a Chicago Wolves game to be adopted.  One of the dogs, Missy, wasn’t comfortable at the event, so someone put her back in the van.  All the other dogs found homes that night.  A CACC worker drove the van back to the shelter and never took Missy out of the van.  Days later, another CACC employee moved the van and still failed to notice the dog.

I tossed and turned last night thinking about this situation.  I even considered offering some benefit of doubt.  Maybe something like this…after the excitement and success of the adoption fest, the tired worker gets in the van, the dog is sleeping and quiet, worker parks the van and overlooks the dog in the back.  That is possible.  God knows people have left children in carseats and gone into work before…

But, here is where it gets sticky for me… If that were me, and I did manage to initially forget the dog, I KNOW that in the middle of the night I would jump out of bed and remember the dog!  How could I not?  I work at a shelter, I should love animals, right?  I should care about who I am responsible for.  I should not forget they ever existed.

Let’s say I am a totally incompetent and I never remember the dog.  Then, someone else should have noticed Missy’s kennel was empty.  At some point there had to be protocol to take all of the paperwork of the dogs who were brought to the adoption fest and process them into the system.  Either the dogs would have adoption paperwork or their kennel cards would be put back on their kennels. (remember the dog was in the van for 6 days… certainly paperwork must be completed in 6 days)

And, what about the people who feed and water the dogs each day?  I worked at an animal control facility and every time I came in to feed the dogs, if a dog was missing, I found out where it was.  Is that just because I cared?

This entire situation infuriates me!  I do think that whoever drove the van back to CACC should be immediately fired.  But, I also believe that the shelter director should be fired.  There are obvious huge gaps in the protocol of the shelter that leave dangerous issues looming.

Is there any accountability for all of the 6000 dogs who enter into CACC?  How many other instances like this have occurred without public knowledge?  Knowing the many black eyes of CACC, I hardly believe this is the first incident an animal was left for dead.

Robert Herguth reported on the situation in A Dog Gone Shame – City Pound Leaves Pooch in Van for Five Nights.  In the article, he details two other tragic deaths at CACC in the last year which only demonstrate further incompetence and a complete lack of compassion.

When Enron and the other banks collapsed, the CEOs were held responsible, that is how it should work at CACC.  The management of the facility needs to be replaced immediately.  And by replaced, I mean completely replaced by people who do NOT already work there.  Shelter professionals with outstanding track records for creating no kill shelters.  People who are excited about the world of animal welfare and are compassionate about the animals who seek shelter and homes.

CACC is a government agency, but it needs people who are specifically passionate about animals.  Not people who are just looking for a government pension.  It is the city of Chicago, for God’s sake, certainly, it can afford a professional with these qualities!

On a side note, I will be very interested to see if any criminal charges are filed.  Leaving a dog without food or water for 6 days certainly warrants animal neglect.  The police are investigating.

If a dog isn’t safe in a facility that is specifically financed, designed, and trained to care for her, is she safe anywhere?

It will be up to the taxpayers of Chicago to find justice for Missy and to demand that CACC become a shelter that a large city can be proud of.




Tails: Oh God It’s Friday in a kill shelter…

You finally decided to get a job at your local shelter.  It is an open access shelter and is NOT no kill.  You felt like it was the right thing to do.

The week went pretty fast.  You couldn’t believe it was already Friday.  Things weren’t so bad.  Only a few dogs and cats were euthanized on Tuesday and Wednesday.  You didn’t like it, but they were old and pretty sick, so you could make peace with it.

You really enjoyed so much of the job, surrounded by dogs who found all kinds of ways into your heart.  There were 3, in just the first week, who already touched your soul.  There was Bullet, a 5 year old pit mix who was surrendered by his owners because they didn’t have time for him.  He knew all kinds of tricks and commands.  A beautiful blue color, he could sit, stay, down, roll-over, give paw.  One day, he showed you how he could play dead.  He was good in his kennel and only used the outside part to potty.  He had manners when he ate and the few times you got to take him on a walk, he was polite.  You knew there would be a perfect home for him.

You also fell in love with Snoopy, a Shih Tzu -poodle mix.  He was over 10 years old.  His owner was moved to a retirement home and he no longer had anyone to care for him.  He was scared in the large kennel with all of the barking dogs.  He would show his teeth when officers approached, but when you fed him his tail wagged and he licked your hand.  During your break, you would sit in the kennel with him and he would come snuggle in your lap.  You knew you could find him a nice person who wanted a lap dog.

Lastly, there was Taffy, a young Golden Retriever who was found a stray, but after being scanned, her owners were contacted.  She was rambunctious, but so happy.  She made you smile every time you passed her kennel.  You couldn’t believe her family hadn’t scooped her up yet, but you knew they were coming.

It was getting late on Friday afternoon when the veterinarian and senior tech asked you to go get Bullet.  “It was time,” they said.

You thought he must be getting his vaccines for adoption.  You happily went to Bullet’s kennel and put the noose leash on.  Smiling and talking to him, as he pranced down the concrete aisle with his tail wagging.  When you reached the back room, it all came into focus.  This was Bullet’s last day on earth.

You tried to wipe the tears before they fell, before anyone saw them.  It didn’t make any sense.  Bullet was the perfect dog.  He would make the best pet.

Soon, it was Snoopy’s time.  You approached his kennel, expecting a bit of a snarl, but he just sat and waited for you to come into his kennel to snuggle.  So, you did, because you knew it was the last snuggle he would get.  You held him closer this time.  You told him what a good dog he had been and that you wish someone would have been able to take him.  You told him that you loved him.

Lastly, they called for Taffy.  You went slowly to her kennel, trying to postpone the inevitable…secretly hoping that her owners would arrive just in time.  She was jumping on the kennel door, wagging her tail, eager for a walk.  You could barely keep it together.

It was 5pm and the shelter was closing up.  You were in the bathroom crying.  All you saw when you closed your eyes was Taffy, Bullet and Snoopy.  Their eyes staring at you, questioning why it had to be today.  You didn’t understand either.

You splashed water on your face and felt determined to find answers for them and for you.  You walked out to the shelter director.  Your voice was rattled and your body trembled, but you found the words to say,”Please help me understand why Bullet, Taffy and Snoopy had to be killed today.”

The Director saw your question coming long before you did.  All the new techs asked it every first Friday afternoon.

“I can tell you why, but I don’t think you will understand.  We are an open access shelter and every Friday we have to make room for all the animals who will come in over the weekend.  Sadly, that means we have to euthanize to do it.  Let me share with you what we did to help Taffy, Bullet and Snoopy.  We called rescues to take Bullet, but with so many breed discrimination ordinances in question, it has become hard to place dogs like Bullet.  I know he was a fantastic dog, but with nowhere to go, we had to… Snoopy was terrified, but I saw him snuggled with you on Wednesday.  We called a few of the small breed rescues, but they didn’t have any foster homes for him.  He was older and he will be harder to place, it seemed the right thing to do.  Lastly, Taffy… we found her owners and contacted them, but when they found out how much the fines and boarding costs would be, they said they couldn’t afford it and relinquished her to us.  Golden Retriever rescue had no room and… neither did we.”

“So, that’s it.  That’s all you do?  You accept those situations and find it settling to euthanize dogs like those every Friday.”

“I don’t know what else I can say.”

You got in your car and the Director’s last words swirled in your head.  It wasn’t acceptable.  All you could think about was how good the 3 dogs were.  Perfect companions.  You decided to take the long way home because you needed time to process everything.

Tears would stream down every once in a while.  They were unstoppable.

As you found your breath again, you started to really think about all of the reasons the dogs were killed today.  Breed discrimination killed Bullet.  Random cities deciding fates for dogs they never even met based solely on what?  Any normal person would have wanted Bullet.  He was the ideal dog.  He was sweet and smart.

Lack of space in rescue killed Snoopy.  All you could think about was some of the crazy rules some rescues had… worrying about where the dogs get groomed or how many hours a day the owner is home.  Snoopy wouldn’t have cared where he got groomed.  He certainly would have sacrificed 8 hours away from his family each day for a few more years of life.

Thinking about Taffy really pissed you off.  It was your own shelter who missed the mark.  Wasn’t Taffy’s life worth foregoing the fines for?  It was their first violation.  Who thought $200 was worth killing a dog for?  If they would have just given her back right away, her space could have gone to a truly homeless dog.  Taffy died because of greed.

You began to re-think working at a kill shelter.  How in the hell were you going to survive another Friday?  But, as you wiped away the last tears, you also realized that there was so much hope.  No kill wasn’t THE answer, there were many answers.  Putting an end to breed discrimination, developing better rescue protocols that get more animals into homes faster, and re-thinking fines for lost dogs, these were all issues you had heard of, but, until today, you never truly saw how each of them directly affected how many animals die in shelters.

As you pulled in your driveway, you decided you would continue to work at the shelter, but you would also get involved in the issues surrounding no kill.  You would educate people on the direct effect they have on innocent dogs like Taffy, Bullet and Snoopy.

You declared to yourself, “One day Fridays WILL be so much different in shelters.”



Tails: To be inspired again

Last night I attended a Pet Lovers Speaker Series at PAWS Chicago.  I always enjoy being surrounded by people who love animals just as much as I do.  There is a magic to it, a power you feel when a group of people dedicated to animal welfare come together.

I knew Cari Meyers would be one of my favorite speakers because she founded The Puppy Mill Project and, well, puppy mills are what I am MOST passionate about.  Tears streamed down my face as she talked about holding a mill dog who has never felt compassion, or had someone pet her with a gentle hand.  A mill dog whose eyes squint at the slightest bit of sunshine and whose paws dance on green grass.  “A mill dog is not like a rescue dog.  It is so much different,” she said at one point.  I could not agree more.

However, it was Laurie Maxwell, PAWS Chicago Community Outreach Manager, who truly inspired me when she said, “I walk in assuming the person loves their dog just as much as I love mine.”  Laurie does outreach for PAWS in a Chicago neighborhood called Englewood.  It is one of the most underserved areas of the city with little opportunity for jobs.  Most of the people live in complete poverty.  Most families make on average $19,000 while the IL average income is $53,000.

They believe there are about 25,000 animals living in the Englewood neighborhood and PAWS has chosen to do direct outreach, going door to door, informing people about spay and neuter and vaccinations.  If the dog or cat owner agree to it, PAWS will pick up their pet bring it to their clinic to be spayed or neutered, give it the necessary vaccinations and bring it back to their home.  PAWS is also bringing leashes and collars and bowls and food.  They bring whatever people need to keep their pets healthy and IN THEIR HOMES.

Laurie explained that it is NOT about judging people, but educating them and giving them the opportunity to get the resources.  She showed us a map of vet clinics and pet supply stores and there was neither anywhere near the area of Englewood.  In fact, the only hope of getting dog or cat food is at the corner store, and they charge 3 times more than anywhere else.

Her words inspired me because I have spent a lot of time in the midst of private rescue.  I have listened to them bitch about the lack of quality applicants and nitpick faults of potential adopters.  Many times “rescuers” do NOT assume anyone loves their pets as much as they do.

Laurie said that the way Englewood residents cared for their pets might not be like she would, but she said after meeting so many of the people, she knew they loved their pets just like she does.

Another interesting moment during the night was when one person asked the police officer, who was a speaker, about how to take away a dog from a homeless person.  I could feel the angst in the air as so many other people cringed.  Laurie was quick to point out that, that pet in the homeless person’s care is probably all they have left in the world.  How cruel would it be to take that way?  Yes, the dog might have to endure a harsh environment, but unlike many companion animals whose owners are gone for 8-12 hours a day, a homeless person’s pet is with them all of the time.  They are never left alone.  That must mean something.

I had the chance to talk to Laurie at the end of the night and tell her how much what she said meant to me.  I told her about some of the rescue horror stories I had.  She said she had seen some of the same things.  She has met many people in Englewood who were denied adoptions and then went out and BOUGHT a dog elsewhere.  Clients, who, she said, love their dogs, like they are their world, yet weren’t worthy enough of the adoption process.

There is such beauty in assuming the best in people.  Such peacefulness in not judging.  As a group of animal welfare people, I think we need to embrace what Laurie said.  We need to go in to each animal-owner situation and assume they love  them just as much as we do.

I believe the rage and anger we feel towards people is our own fault.  We set standards so high for animal care that few people can achieve them.  As a result, millions of dogs and cats are unjustly killed everyday.  I think for the sake of the animals and for the sanity of ourselves, it is time to be inspired simply by the love between animals and their owners.


Tails: Let’s not go backwards…

Discrimination…most often a bad word.  Until lately.

In the last few weeks, with the state of Indiana on the forefront, discrimination has become ok again.  All of a sudden, one person’s personal/religious beliefs become the basis for acceptance or denial.

On the four legged front, breed discrimination is being fought all over the United States.  It usually targets Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans.  Breed discrimination is most often led by an individual who has personal reasons for hating a breed and then seeks others to join the cause.

All discrimination is hugely disappointing to me and I believe it should be to everyone who lives in this country.  We have fought for years, literally waged wars on our soil, to combat discrimination.  Yet, in 2015, we are still fighting.

Yes, we live in a free country where we are able to speak our minds and practice our faiths, but at what point do we believe our individual beliefs are greater than a common good?

Human beings are being denied service based on life style and dogs are being euthanized because of their breed.

To some it might seem an odd comparison: humans and dogs, but I think both speak to a bigger problem in our society.  We want to all belong, yet we keep singling people (and dogs) out simply because we don’t like them.

Diversity makes the world go round… It enlightens us, makes us better people.  Why can’t we embrace it?

Breed discrimination is beyond my understanding.  During my time at animal control, I witnessed many dogs who came in for aggressive behavior.  There was not one breed who stood out.  We had Golden Retrievers, Labs, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels… we even had a long haired Chihuahua who would bite your head off, if he could get his mouth around it.  To classify any one breed or any 3 breeds is unjust and unfounded.  And, to ban a breed such as a Pit Bull from a city, but then not be able to actually identify one is ignorance.  And, most cities cannot accurately identify a true Pit Bull.

ANY kind of discrimination should be illegal – not just the human kind, but all kinds.  Let’s not go back to the days when discrimination was common place.  Let’s prove once and for all that we are an evolutionary society who is able to embrace diversity and able to coexist in peace.


Tails: What fuels me

I know that many people who see my FB posts and read my blogs must wonder things like,”What is her deal?  Why can’t she let some of this animal stuff go?”

My love for animals has been strong since I was a little girl.  I didn’t play with dolls.  I played with stuffed animals.  We played pretend school with a diverse classroom of dogs, cats, bears, and rabbits – NO dolls.

I was lucky to grow-up in a family who allowed me to have any kind of pet, from turtles to dogs to hermit crabs to gerbils.  Our house always had critters.  We raised orphaned ducks and nursed a goose back to health.  My life was filled with animals and I loved it.

I had no doubt that, regardless of my journey in life, animals would always be a part of it.

However, because of my passion for animals, I got involved in animal rescue.  Starting with a wildlife refuge, and eventually, finding myself in an Amish barn surrounded by dogs so scared and sick and helpless that I became physically ill.

At the wildlife refuge, I witnessed a popular area theme park decide to euthanize all of its animals in 24 hours unless rescues stepped in to take them.  We took a fox.  We named him Sydney and he became my fox.  I walked him and played with him.  And, I was always reminded that his life meant nothing to the theme park and yet, in just days, meant everything to me.

At my county animal control, where I worked for a few years, I witnessed the euthanasia of so many dogs and cats whose lives meant so little to their owners that they were just dumped without any concern of what would happen to them.  There were dogs 10 – 14 years old dropped off at the gate because the owners didn’t want to be the ones to euthanize them.  I saw how the loyalty of a dog could be easily erased by a selfish human being.

At the puppy-mill auctions I witnessed a type of greed I couldn’t begin to fathom.  Dogs who were once only loving pets to me bought and sold like products.

Everyday when I wake up, I spend the first 10 minutes snuggling with all of my rescued dogs and cats on the bed.  Each day I look into their eyes and I am reminded of the cruel world we live in.  In Thorp’s eyes I see such sadness.  A dog aged beyond his years from pure neglect.  In Penelope’s eyes, I see a yearning to make-up for all of the years she spent nursing puppies and not playing with toys, something she does every day now.

Every pet we have is a reminder of the harsh world we live in.  The harsh world I try to change everyday with my posts and my blogs.  I wish I could just let it go, but things aren’t changing fast enough to let a day go by without trying to teach the millions of people out there who don’t believe such cruelty exists.

When I was a little girl I loved animals simply because they brought an amazing joy to my life.  Today, I seek to give all animals the kind of joy they brought me.





Tails: I made friends with a breeder

It probably doesn’t sound like much, “I made friends with a breeder,” but if you know me, you know that it is.  Since attending my first dog auction 8 years ago, I have despised breeders.  I am very outspoken on the subject, just ask anyone.

If I hear someone say, “We just bought a puppy,” my stomach turns and I feel an enormous sense of agony (and anger).  I hear people say they went to Petland or found the cutest puppy on-line.  It makes my heart sink.  For years I have been asking, “Where are the good breeders?”

A few posts ago, when expressing my displeasure with the AKC, I asked that exact question.  Well, just a few days ago, a breeder emailed me to let me know, “She breeds only for love of the breed.”

She wrote a long email explaining what she does and how she is part of an organization who educates the public on good breeding.  I could tell by her words that they were true and heartfelt.  She wasn’t antagonizing me or being defensive.  She wanted to understand me, as I wanted to understand her.

We’ve emailed a few times back and forth now, always maintaining a very pleasant and respectful tone, something I didn’t think I could ever do with a breeder.  She invited me to see her website and when I went, it almost brought tears to my eyes.  There, in front of me, were all of the things I tell friends and family to look for:

* I will NOT ship my puppies to anyone

* You must come to my house, so I can meet you and you can meet me and see my dogs

* I only breed 1 -2 litters a year, so chances are I will not have a puppy when you want one.  I don’t breed for Christmas or spring.

* I don’t take deposits because I think that puts people in a situation where they might have regrets.

* All of the puppies I sell are for families and will be altered.  If you want a show dog, you can call and we can talk about that.

The list goes on…every single thing I preach to people.  This breeder is serious.  It was the first time in 8 years that I felt a sense of hope, that I truly believed there might be a place for breeding in this world, after all.

Her and I have exchanged stories and opinions about “our own kind.”  She explains to me why “her people” won’t further initiate opposition to the AKC or why they won’t always support legislation.  I explain how “my kind” doesn’t understand why they aren’t more furious with the AKC and why they don’t protest Petland.

We also talk about the weaknesses in our own kind.  Truthfully, it has been one of the most enlightening conversations I have had in awhile.  She is the breeder I always wanted to exist and the breeder I always wanted to be able to talk to.

This morning I was thinking about this new relationship, how unlikely it always seemed to me, and an analogy hit me.  I feel like breeders and rescues have the same relationship as the major political parties in Washington.  We are unable to reach an understanding and bridge our differences.  We cannot act in any kind of bipartisan way which I think has hurt our chances of truly successful and effective legislation to protect breeding dogs.

I don’t have answers.  I wish I did.  But, my new friendship, with who I would have once only considered the devil, is giving me hope and inspiration.  If more of my kind and more of her kind could come together and work as a team, I think there is great opportunity for immense change.  Hopefully, our love for dogs will push us to work harder together than those in Washington and we will accomplish great things in a more timely manner.  The dogs are counting on it.

Tails: Idiocy adds to the numbers

Just as the light bulbs are turning on, CNN provides us with further reason to mistrust the municipal shelter system.  In its article, Dogs Killed Over Unpaid Fines, CNN reports on a family and how their dog was killed at a shelter because they didn’t have $180 to get him back.  The family located him at the shelter less than a week after he went missing.  Sadly, in just a few days, the daily fines exceeded what they were able to afford.  With no other recourse, their dog, a loved family member, was killed.

This is happening all over the United States.  It happened in the county shelter I worked at.  At some shelters, just one day’s fine can exceed $100, making it impossible for many people to afford to get their pets back.

Such tragedy taking place, while city shelters scream they are running out of space and don’t have the resources to care for so many dogs and cats.  It would appear it is idiocy adding to the overcrowded shelters.

City shelters don’t operate for free, but our tax dollars fund them, not necessarily the fines.  Yes, of course, there is reason to fine people for repeated behaviors.  However, why not make the first time a warning?  Surely, the faster the dog or cat gets home and out of the shelter is better for everyone, right?  One less animal  to care for in an already overcrowded shelter system.  One less animal to adopt or even to euthanize.

And, why not make fines payable in other ways… There should be payment options.  The obvious is a payment plan, but what about getting creative… Why not forego the actual money and offer people the chance to pay it back by volunteering at the shelter?  There are no prerequisites for working at a shelter.  Anyone can brush cats, clean kennels, and walk dogs.  And, isn’t that what shelters say they don’t have enough of…staff to help maintain the facility and care for the animals?

I really cannot think of a better way for people to “pay back” a shelter for caring for their dog or cat, than to offer the same services in return.  Not only does it provide more manpower for the shelter, but it educates citizens on animal control and raises awareness on the homeless animal population.  Win-win.

According to Lost Dogs America‘s statistics, 10 state Lost Dog organizations reported over 21,000 dogs were reunited with their owners last year.  If we average that data and extrapolate to include all 50 states, we are looking at over 105,000 dogs who went missing and had owners looking for them.  I believe that number is extremely conservative based on two factors: one, my math is overly averaged, neither CA nor NY have Lost Dog organizations (Perhaps someone would like to get one started.) both states would contribute large numbers to these statistics and two, while Lost Dogs is growing in its numbers, still not every dog lost is reported to them.

There is an entire population of lost dogs adding to the numbers in city shelters.  It is a population that should be acknowledged and better protocol should be put in place to deal more effectively with it.  If we could eliminate the lost dog population in city shelters by returning these animals to their owners more quickly, I would be willing to guarantee that city shelters would see nothing but positive impact.

I would be so bold as to state that a quarter million of the dogs who enter shelters in the United States have homes and have owners actively looking for them.  General statistics state that 1.2 million dogs are euthanized each year, meaning that potentially over 20% of the dogs euthanized could be lost pets who already have homes.   Certainly that statistic is enough to make lost dogs (and cats) an issue to take seriously.





Tails: Rescue is bringing them home, not just saving them

I am in awe of the response to my last blog about making the priority getting dogs back home and not adopted to new families.  I have heard that I “turned on a lot of lightbulbs.”  I am happy that I could be inspiring, but it saddens me at the same time.

When I was 8 years old, I found my first stray dog.  He was a shaggy, tan mutt and he wandered into our garage.  It was a rainy day and all I could think about was where did he come from and that he must live somewhere nearby.  I grabbed a leash and spent the next 3 hours walking the streets until I found his home.  I can still remember the lady smiling when I knocked on her door and the way his tail wagged when she called his name.  I was hooked.  Rescuing dogs was in my blood.

I feel like, perhaps, we have forgotten along the often painful road what rescue really is.  I feel like we have become hardened souls, so cynical of the human race and how they treat man’s best friend.  We see things so few people see.  So much abuse and neglect.

We fight so hard to protect animals from human beings that I think we have overlooked one really important thing: most people who own dogs love them.  No, maybe they don’t love them like WE do, but they love them nonetheless.

We are a select group of people.  The love we feel for dogs and animals is something few people understand.  I am sure we have all tried to express our passion to friends and family, but they look at us confused and unable to share such devotion.  This doesn’t make them bad people nor does it make us crazy.

I do believe that between the horror we see each day and the unbridled passion we have for animal welfare our expectations for animal care has become a bit out of control.  We want picture perfect homes for each dog we place and sometimes picture perfect is…well, ridiculous.

I think that is why we have been so quick to “save” dogs from shelters and adopt them into new homes, homes we have “assumed” will be much better than the homes they left.  As I mentioned in the earlier blog, I think we make too many poor assumptions about the care the lost dog was receiving, that we fail to acknowledge the vital relationship between the lost dog and his family who, more than likely, loves him and is devastated.

When I was 8 years old, I didn’t know all the tragic things I know today.  I didn’t know about puppy-mills or dog fighting.  I had never seen a dog beaten or abandoned.  It was easy at 8 years old to only assume that the dog had a GOOD home and just wandered off on his own.  At 8 years old, I thought nothing bad of the home he had.  I only knew that I loved my dog and that that dog must have someone who loves him, too.  At 8 years old, the only solution was to find that dog’s home.

I think we all need to be 8 again.  I think we all need to re-train our hearts and minds to believe in the good of people again.  We need to trust that people do love their animals.  We need to believe that dogs don’t fall from the sky and that rescue means bringing them home not just saving them.


Tails: Let’s focus on getting them back home, not adopted.

I won’t lie… it wasn’t until recently that I started to give this a lot of thought, thanks to my friend Susan Taney, Director of Lost Dogs IL.

In the last 10 years, I have adopted 6 dogs.  Buddy came directly from a couple who could no longer keep him. Sadie came from a rescue organization who saved her from euthanasia at a city pound.  She was found stray.  We adopted Digger from a city pound.  I don’t think I even know his story.  Thorp and Penelope I, physically, rescued from a puppy-mill auction.  Lastly, Jack.  Jack was hit by a car in the city of Chicago and left.  A police officer brought Jack to Chicago Animal Control where he was assessed to have multiple injuries and in need of a rescue to pull him.  I pulled him and got him to the vet.  Needless to say, after 3 months of post-care, he officially became our dog.

Everyday I look at Jack and I can’t help but wonder what his story really is.  Was he a stray, roaming the city streets looking for food?  Was he like Tramp in the movie scurrying from garbage can to garbage can barely making it, until one day he slips up and gets hit by a car?  Or, is he like Lassie, who has a little boy named Timmy who loves him, and is still wondering months later if they will ever find him, and if he is ok?

It is super easy to make judgements about the families who lose dogs.  It isn’t uncommon to think they were bad people.  “Good people don’t lose dogs,”  if only it were that black and white.

We lost Digger.  One day he ran off the boat as we were docking and we couldn’t find him for 18 hours.  And, tragically, when we did, he had been hit and killed by a car.  Maybe that makes me a horrible person.  I have spent 15 years rescuing dogs and advocating for animals and I can tell you that, that day will haunt me forever.  I would like to believe that I am a good owner and that what happened was a horrific accident.

Maybe Jack’s owners could say the same?

Unfortunately for Jack, he did not have a collar or ID tag or a microchip which brought his chances of being returned to his owners to nearly zero.  But, maybe he had just gotten a bath or they bought a new collar and didn’t put it on yet.  There have been times when all of my dogs have been without collars at one point or another for many different reasons.

Jack had fleas when I got him.  He had had fleas for quite some time.  It would be easy to make assumptions about his care, but if he had been gone for more than 30 days and his flea and tick medicine was no longer active, it would make sense that he would get fleas.  I will never know how long Jack was missing or if he was missing at all.

Jack was not neutered and while, to me, that shows irresponsible ownership, it does not mean he wasn’t loved or cared for.  Spay and neuter operations can be costly and many people don’t fully understand all of the benefits to performing them.  Jack’s owners could have loved him but had neither the resources or the understanding to get him neutered.

Part of me wants to assume Jack’s life, “before Becky,” was awful.  I want to believe that he didn’t know love until he found us, but that is quite possibly untrue.

My big saying these days is, “Dogs don’t fall from the sky,” because they don’t.  And while stray dogs can be an issue in some areas, in general, that is not the case in IL.  The likelihood that Jack was living life like a stray Disney dog is just not that likely, though it would make his life with us more romantic.

I will never know Jack’s story and for me, that is sad.  I worry that the dog I love so much is a dog someone else loves so much and is still looking for.

So, what’s my point… My point is returning dogs to their rightful owners isn’t something a lot of shelters or rescues are making a priority and that is scary.  Especially, if you already own a dog and find it missing one day.  Shelters like CACC have just reduced their stray-hold period to 3 days meaning that after 3 days any rescue can come in and take the dog.  So, while the city says it won’t euthanize the dog sooner, the dog will leave the shelter sooner- giving owners much less time to find it.

My rescue operates out of Minnesota.  Lucky for Minnesota, their city shelters aren’t overcrowded, so our rescue goes to places like Chicago to offer help.  A dog that comes into CACC with no tags and no microchip can end up in Minnesota for adoption in 4 days.  Think about that.  What Chicago resident is going to scour the state of Minnesota looking for their dog?

Until recently, I would have “assumed” that the city shelter goes above and beyond to find the dog’s owner, but I know that is not the case.  And, after reading about the MANY places a stray can end up in the Chicago animal control system, I know it would be practically impossible to find a dog without tags or a chip in less than 3 days.

So, now I am pondering if my rescue or ANY rescue should begin to feel some level of responsibility for return to owner rates.  I think it would be ignorant of us to continue to assume the city shelter has done their due diligence.

The irony is that it has been said that it was rescues who promoted the shortened stray hold.  Rescues wanted to get their hands on the dogs quicker.  I understand, in theory, why.  The longer the dogs are in the shelter, the more stressed they become, the more likely they will get urinary tract infections and kennel cough.

No one, especially in rescue, wants to see a dog sit in a city shelter longer than he has to, but shouldn’t we, as rescue people, be cheering for the dog’s family, too?  Isn’t the best scenario the one where the dog doesn’t enter the world of rescue at all and is, instead, returned home to the family it already had?