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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Open mouth, insert foot...What did I just say?!

Yesterday, I presented my experiences with Iowa puppy mill dogs to the Care of Animals in Commercial Enterprises Study Committee at the state house. I was nervous about two things... 1. What if my powerpoint presentation malfunctioned, and I could not show my photos which are pivotal to my presentation, and 2. the question answer session afterwards. I was okay with the actual presentation, although I know I am a better writer than I am a speaker, even I can simply read from the slide and point at the photos with my new laser pointer, purchased just for the event! Woo hoo.

Fortunately, the powerpoint presentation functioned perfectly, thank you Doug Adkisson for that! But oh, the question answer session. I am not good off the cuff. I am one of those people who will have a remark made to them and not come up with a good response for an hour maybe two, when the opportunity has certainly passed. I am my own worst critic, everyone who knows me, knows that. I will pick one bad thing out of a dozen good things that I have done, and focus on that bad one until it drives me crazy. I know I do it, yet, I continue to do it. This question answer session is a case in point.

I answered most of the questions well. I am proud of that. But one legislator asked me, "Did you report these cases, and if so what happened when you did?" I was stunned. I had no quick answer, I had no "right" answer. I had not reported them. I sat there, jaw opened, stuttering. I had heard another vet who testified earlier state that veterinarians are not like child care professionals with regard to reporting. There is no mandatory reporting by veterinarians if neglect or abuse is suspected. So that was the best I could come up with quickly and I blurted it out, "I'm not required to". No one in the room was happy with this answer, especially myself. All I could think was, "I hope they remember more of my presentation that just this bad response".

I have been stewing and brewing over this the rest of yesterday, throughout last night, and I am here to clarify my thoughts right here. My Blog! This blog helps me pull the thoughts out of my scrambled brain and organize them. It has helped me examine myself, my thoughts, my feelings, and express them in such a way that even I may be understanding them for the first time. It has been very therapeutic. It has been very good for me.

I can only describe the way my thoughts have been since the meeting as a puzzle with all it's pieces in the box. The pieces are all there, but you cannot tell what the grand scheme is until they are pulled out of the box and put together. So get ready, here comes my puzzle picture. Let's hope I like it.

I could not myself understand why I did not ever consider reporting these cases of obvious neglect to anyone. As it turns out, we had. My technician today refreshed my memory. We tried one time with a breeding kennel, and got bounced around from office to office until we gave up. And prior to that I had tried to report a neglected goat, with no luck. So from experience, I knew that it was difficult to get any action from a neglect report. I also agree that if I had continued to pursue it, that perhaps I could have, in time with a lot of effort, gotten some action in these two cases. I am certain that a person not in the animal welfare business would have been frustrated long before we were, and given up even sooner. It just is not an easy process.

So why did I not report or pursue this further?
I guess, I still don't like the answer. Reporting these kennels was never something I considered as a viable option. These dogs are coming into my clinic from Class A USDA licensed facilities, and they are in obviously terrible condition. These dogs came from facilities that ARE inspected by trained inspectors once every 12 to 18 months. The inspectors have seen these dogs...they HAVE seen these dogs, and they still exist in this condition. In my view they enter my clinic with the USDA seal of approval stamped on their foreheads. An inspector HAS seen these dogs, and said they are ok. I never felt as though reporting them would reveal anything that has not already been witnessed by the inspectors. Like it or not, that is why I have not reported them.
There are other reasons too.

If a breeder gives his or her dogs to me for rescue, and suddenly has inspectors show up, two plus two equals four. They will no longer surrender the dogs to me or other rescue groups if they figure out we are reporting them as a result of their handovers. We try to keep them happy so they are happy to give us their dogs. The alternative for these dogs is a terrible one. Living their life out in a cage, being shot and disposed of, being euthanized in some way that likely does not include a veterinarian, and in the best scenario, being euthanized humanely by a veterinarian.

If I report them and the inspector goes in to rectify the situation, what is there to say that they won't just say, "Shave these down and keep them that way". They won't see the hernias, the cherry eyes, the ear infections, the rotted teeth. All this report will do in this case is result in a citation, possible fine, and another breeder that is unlikely to hand over his retirees.

What about these inspections...

What I would like to know is what is the inspection protocol? Are the animals randomly examined outside of the cage for matting or other gross signs of neglect? Does the inspector just glance in the cage and see that the dog has fur, without feeling the matts that are pulling at these dogs' skin, closing off their ears, and blocking their eyes? Do they primarily inspect the facility, or is there a protocol for looking at a dog or two specifically. My guess is that they are not looking closely at the dogs. It does not take a veterinary degree to see the dogs I see and know that there is a problem. Also, does the inspection take place at the same time each year? Perhaps the inspection is expected, and these dogs are groomed annually prior to inspection "time".

I don't know.

I don't know why these dogs were able to be used in these kennels in such horrid condition. I don't know whether my reason for not reporting them is sound or acceptable. But I do know that I took it upon myself to make a presentation that I feel put my reputation, and my job, and my license at risk. I made a presentation that went against the recommendation of the state organization that represents all Iowa veterinarians, my peers, both large animal and small animal. I know that that organization called me and made it known that they had concerns about the presentation I was giving. AND, I know that I still made that presentation.

I took that risk because I want to see these animals treated like the wonderful beings that they are. I want them to continue to be relinquished to rescue where they will find forever homes for their retirement years. (There is another blog discussion waiting to happen...dumping your dogs on rescue groups leaving them to foot the bills for their veterinary care is an irresponsible action...but it is an action the rescue groups will bear, and they do it happily when they see dogs that have never been hugged or on grass go home with their new forever family).

I have new concerns about the extent to which these "Kennel veterinarians" are involved in these kennels. It is my understanding after yesterday's presentation by the Iowa Pet Breeders Association that each year they have a veterinarian sign a form stating that there is an existing client-doctor relationship present. I have not seen this form and am not familiar with the actual wording of the document as I have not had the privelage of signing one. I would like to see one. That being said, I believe some Senators were making an assumption about this veterinarian's kennel relationship that is not necessarily true. If I, as a vet, have seen a person's dog one time three years ago, there is an existing client-doctor relationship. It does not mean that I, as the vet, am certain that this animal is well cared for in it's home environment, current on recommended vaccines or other health protocols. The veterinarian that signs the document is likely stating that they will be there for the client when they bring a dog to them for difficult birthing, or an injury, or other requested veterinary care. That veterinarian is not likely making husbandry recommendations, examining the breeding stock routinely, or evaluating/inspecting the state of the kennel. It is more likely that the veterinarian has never been asked into that kennel. I hate to see assumptions made about the extent to which the veterinarians who may be treating animals from a kennel are involved in the husbandry practices in that kennel. That is probably not the case.

Thank goodness for blogs. I feel better. There is still so much work to be done, but I think we are a huge step up from where we were last week. Thank you to all those involved in yesterday's process.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do you love your job today?

I have been primarily a rescue vet for several years now. I provide veterinary care for animals from shelters, and rescue groups in group quantities on a much more frequent basis than the individual pet owner client. In a town of only 1200 people, the quantity of individual pet owners is limited, and I have had to create this niche for myself. I offer rescue care services at significantly discounted rates. I do more work for less money.

Every once in a while, I get to feeling a bit slighted. Why is that vet worth more than me, as they drive by in a Cadillac Escalade. My student loans are probably higher than his are! I work more hours than he does! Not to criticize what other vets are doing. I don't know any vet that does not work hard. It is the nature of this business. Things happen in spurts. You will have 6 emergencies one weekend then none the next two weekends. You will have a day with nothing but routine vaccine appointments, then suddenly EVERYONE wants to get their pet in today because it is sick! Veterinarians work very hard for their money. So why am I so willing to work so hard for less money? Am I hurting my kids by not making more money to put away for their future? Am I hurting myself and my husband because I am not making as much money to invest in our retirement years? Am I hurting my kids because I am never home on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons with them? (Do they even still show Saturday morning cartoons? Maybe not with kid networks doing what they do... I don't know...Do they still call them cartoons?)

I have learned a lot of things about myself. I have learned that I am willing to make less money for myself if it means I can assist groups with few funds but huge hearts. I am willing to work hard for less money if it means feeling good about what I do.

I still worry that I will regret doing this in my retirement years when I wish I had put away more money. I still worry that when my kids are ready for college that I will wish I had set aside more money to help them.

But there is something that I do not worry about. I do not worry about what my kids will think of me. I hope my kids will someday look back at what their Mommy has done, and say to themselves, "I hope someday I can make a difference." I just hope that when they are doing whatever they want to do, that they take time to help others. Maybe they will help fundraise to fight cancer in children. Maybe they will read books to the elderly people in assisted living. I hope I am there to see it, so I can tell them how proud I am of them.

Although I have those days when I feel does not outweigh the days when I feel so fulfilled. I look into the eyes of the animals that truly need help, and I help them. I give them what they need. I tell them as I put them under for their spays or neuters "Don't worry, you are going to a wonderful new life." They are going home. They may not be going straight home, most likely a foster home first. Some of these animals have never left a cage. The experience of a home and family for them will be frightening at first, but they adapt, and they experience something new...something wonderful! Some of these animals were left by their families. Often heartbreakingly so. These animals are getting a second chance to be loved.

The biggest benefit is the people for whom I do this all this work. The volunteers for the rescue groups, the volunteers for the shelters...they are doing the best part of the job. They are watching these animals grow, experience, learn, and forgive. They are falling in love with these animals. They are watching these rescued animals from all different backgrounds meet their new families for the first time. They are then letting them go. Often heartbreakingly so. And they do it for free.

What better type of person is there with which to surround yourself?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I cried through church...

What a day. I think I start a lot of my blogs off this way, but really, what a day.

It is so easy to pretend you can keep your business life and your feelings/emotions separate. But when you are in a small town, and many of your clients are friends, it makes it very difficult to keep those emotions separate. It is sometimes hard to keep your emotions intact.

My doorbell rang early this morning. I saw hunter's garb through the window of the door. The first thing I thought was, "Damn, another hunting dog got shot". When I opened the door and saw my friend's husband standing there, I wanted to close the door and pretend I wasn't there. Maybe he didn't see me? His dog is one that I greeted , and patted , and kissed two times a day, five days a week since they got him. Sweetest dog in the world, and just gorgeous. Knowing that this was a friend's dog, and the dog was sweet, and that the dog was close to my heart, is not the worst part of the story. The dog was seven months old. Just a pup.

The hunter could not speak. I said, "Do you need me to meet you at the clinic?" His head nodded. It was obvious that his emotions were right on the brim... they were not running over but he was clearly a man that was not happy or comfortable about his current situation.

I ran in the house, threw some shoes on, grabbed the car keys and my new cell phone, explained to the hubbie where and why I was leaving, and ran out the door. I got into the car and drove very quickly to the clinic, screeching my tires a few times. I had no idea a Caravan could peel out! Maybe next week I will try a wheelie.

I pulled into the parking lot only to see a teenage boy also in hunting garb, visibly distraught and sitting in the bed of a pick up truck, with no signs of a dog's head peaking over the tailgate. As I prepared myself for a bloody lifeless mess, the tailgate opened. There was the pup, laying there, alert, but unable to get up. No blood. Okay, that is good, right?

"He jumped out of the truck on the highway. I think his legs went under the tires."

They picked up the pup and carried him into room two. I briefly looked at the dog, and immediately knew the right rear leg was broken just above the hock or ankle. Score! I can fix that! Knowing I needed to knock the dog out to splint that leg, and that the dog did not appear to be in shock, we planned to meet again in a few hours to sedate, splint and get a better exam of the hips, pelvis, and proximal legs. We gave him a pain reliever, and lifted him off the table.

Then I caught glimpse of another issue. I immediatley got confused... was the fracture on the right or the left. I thought it was the right but I must have been mistaken because there it is on the left. I bent over to check both legs together as the hunter held the dog up in the air.

The pup's other leg was broken in the exact same place. Both legs must have gone under the tire together. That presents a problem. The Vet School can probably pin the bones, to get more support for the rear legs...maybe. But splinting both back legs...there are a lot of issues having a dog, a large dog, that cannot walk for 6 weeks. It's not like you can tell the pooch, "Stay in bed and watch these "Benji" movies for 6 weeks, and ring the bell if you need more kibble". There was a small chance this would work...but for a large breed dog, and a dog that enjoys going hunting...the prognosis was not good.

I think perhaps the Dad knew that even more than I did. I wanted to try, I wanted to ignore the poor prognosis, with the little bit of hope that was there. He was a young dog, young bones heal faster... The fractures are both in the lower leg, easier to splint and immobilize... but perhaps my emotions were too tied up in this for me to see this clearly. I was willing to try. But as a veterinarian, the final decision is the owner's decision. He took the dog home to discuss the situation with the family. Their decision was to euthanize the dog. The pup was put to sleep that afternoon.

It took the eyes of the owner, to recognize the best thing for this pup on this day. I was clouded, and I just wanted to make it all better for erase the entire accident by making the bad things go away. But I am not sure that I could have done that. I cannot be sure that I wouldn't have extended the nightmare, only to have the same end result after weeks of struggle.

I cried through church. I broke down after church, just before I had to teach Sunday School. Everybody at church thought I was emotional because my baby boy got his first bible and attended Sunday School for the first time today. Well, chances are, I would have been teary eyed over that too, I'm just not sure I would have been sobbing the way I was.

I could not believe that as I was going through my routine life, that another family, a family with 3 young kids/teens, was dealing with an issue they should not have to deal with for another eight or ten years! This was their first dog!

For a few hours, I was glad I did not know how to send text messages on my new cell phone. I would have sent a text message to my tech stating that I was done, that I just could not do this anymore. Not here, not where I know too many people. My heart was broken over the dog, and shattered over the thought of what this family, my friend's family was and is going through...even as I type this.

As you mourn the loss of your friend, please know, that many of us are thinking of you, caring for you, and someday, only when you are all ready, you can give another dog a Chance at love.

In Loving Memory of Chance

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Will she make it, Doc?

Now this is probably the number one question any doctor hates to hear. I don't care if you are an MD or DVM.

I saw a kitten tonight, a tiny tortoiseshell kitty. One of my favorite "breed" of cat. They are usually very personable, and friendly. I do believe that certain coat and color combinations share personality traits, although there are certainly exceptions to every rule.

She was very sweet, but very sick. She was weak, dehydrated, and tiny for her age. She had diarrhea on her hind end. She had labored breathing.

"Do you think she will make it? Am I going to wake up and find her dead?", the client asks.
The truth is, the answer is "maybe" to both questions.

You see a lot of different experiences in veterinary medicine. I have seen dogs that have been hit by cars, without a scratch, but died overnight. I have seen dogs that look so mutilated that something must be broken or damaged that is going to threaten this dog's life, and some of those have made it. I have seen a litter of kittens or pups, same parents, same age, same genetics, where some survive illness and others do not.

Truth is, in veterinary medicine, unless you have access to full emergency staff, MRI and ultrasound, and God's little handbook to life, we cannot be sure, even with all the best equipment. We look for signs, like pallor, capillary refill time, pupil dilations, nerve reflexes, alertness, response times, and for the most part we have an idea whether a pet will make it through a trauma or accident. But there are always those that surprise us. There are always those with just a little more than the mechanics of life that surprise us. The little medical miracles...

When I went to help rescue pets five weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans, we pulled a young Rottweiler out of a house. She was skin and bones. She was in a two story house, with all the doors locked, and windows were barred shut. The water had risen at least 8 feet as evidenced by the staining on the walls. The ONLY evidence of food that I found in the house was a single serving size empty bag of Doritos. The first floor was covered in mud. We followed her upstairs to catch her. The toilet seat was down. How does a dog survive with no food, and only muddy salt water to drink for 5 weeks??? I cannot explain that!

We just don't know enough about life or death to know why some animals or people make it through an experience, and another with similar experiences does not. We understand quite a bit about the mechanics of life, like organ function. If a lung lobe is torsed, if the spleen is ruptured and bleeding out, we are pretty sure that without medical intervention, the injury is likely to cause death.

I don't know if this little kitten will make it. I hope it does, of course. Perhaps this little kitten has a spark of life in it that is going to protect it and guide it through this illness. Perhaps this kitten's purpose in life has already been fulfilled, and it is time for her to go.

I do believe that every thing in life has a purpose, both animals and people. I recall a bible study class, where the pastor asked if animals go to heaven. Well, I don't know much about the bible which is why I decided to go to bible study, but I knew that answer to that question..."DUH, of course they do". Okay, I didn't say DUH out loud, but I did think it, and it was loud in my head. The pastor continued to say that animals do not have souls so they do not go to heaven. To summarize my thoughts, "Yes, they do, PERIOD" They have souls, you can see it in their eyes. Yes, they do go to heaven. I believe anything that can experience unconditional love has a place in heaven.

There was one lady that was appalled at the thought of animals in heaven. She was so shocked, that when bible study was dismissed, she stood behind me, close behind me, and said, "I can't believe SHE thinks animals go to heaven!" I never went back to bible study. I see her in church every Sunday, sitting right up front. Can't you just picture her in line waiting to get into heaven, with a cow in front of her, and a shih tzu behind her lifting his leg on her!

You may think your purpose in life is one thing, like raising your kids, being a CEO of a big corporation, fundraising for a charity, going to bible study, or rescuing animals. But your purpose in life could be the words you mutter to the nurse on your death bed when you are alone and 89 years old.
Perhaps this kitten's purpose was to help me make you laugh with the bible study story.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The One You Left Behind...

Do you ever get sentimental about the old days. The days when the biggest concern you had was if you were going to make it home before curfew? You didn't pay rent. You didn't pay for utilities. You ate Mom and Dad's food...and still complained that they did not have what you wanted. Your friends knew a carefree side of you that most of your new friends never knew existed.

That being said, I do not want to go back to high school. But with the addition of facebook to my life, I have been cyberly reunited with most of my friends from the ol' days. We were creative, easily excited, and always had a good time, all without drugs or alchohol or police involvement. Not bad hunh? This was long before the internet and cell phones. This was before most video games unless you count Atari and Intellivision (does anyone else remember that one?). This was when you had fun with your friends by using your imagination.

Darryl was one of my best friends. He was not the one that you called to cry on his shoulder about the bad day you had. He was the one who made you forget that you had a bad day. He was the life of the party with a natural comedic timing. He was the one that always had the punchline. It seems he is still like that although only talking via text on facebook sometimes loses the punch.

I don't recall Darryl having any pets back in high school. Oh, there was Baha! Baha was a fisher price sheep we never went anywhere without. He sat perched upon the dashboard of the world's ugliest car as we drove down the road. Darryl and I never related much on our love of animals, although I was already a defined animal lover. Perhaps he had not yet discovered this love.

I was quite surprised after our cyber reunion to find out that he is a now a vegetarian (refuses to eat anything that was breathing at some point), and has a tattoo of his two dogs, Snoopy, a Beagle, and Bigglesworth, a Basset Hound, on his leg! OUCH! It must have hurt, but I must say the artist did a great job. He has photos of his dog's birthday parties with hats and cake and presents on his page. A more loving pet owner, you could not find. He is the ideal client for any vet.

To the 20 year older Darryl, his dogs are his children. They are also aging, as dogs do. With an average life span of 10-12 years, they are bound to age as we watch.

A few weeks ago, Darryl started mentioning that his sweet beagle, Snoopy, was sick. She was 11 years old. They had done everything medically possible. There is a point where even the best medicine does not have a solution, and only comfort is the key. Comfort for Snoopy, and comfort for Darryl.

About a week ago, Darryl messaged me that Snoopy had quit eating and requested advice. The desperation in his writing was obvious. I dispensed some advice, but having been such a good pet owner, he had already consulted his own vet, who had given similar advice and nothing was working. He was desperate for any help that anyone could offer. I would love to write that a miracle occurred, but unfortunately, it did not.

Friday, Darryl's friend messaged me that Darryl had lost Snoopy. They had raced her to the emergency room and were told that there was nothing more to be done. He brought her home, and Snoopy died in Darryl's arms.

I know that pain. Many of us do. Those of us who have experienced a dog's love know that they have a soul to be seen deep in their eyes, that dog's have feelings, that dog's give unconditional love. We know this pain.

Darryl wrote a heartwrenching yet wonderful memorial for Snoopy, the love and tears flowed out of the computer like ink from a pen. You cannot read his memorial and not cry. So much love for such a little dog, and I am certain every bit of it was returned in kind.

But as I read his memorial, I got concerned. I was concerned with the details posted in the memorial about where Snoopy was purchased. I have been working in rescue a long time, and I could see a few red flags.

So many people do not know what puppy mills are. In high school, I knew what they were but really did not understand how big the problem is until I moved to Iowa. As a state, Iowa ranks fourth in the highest population of puppy mills. I see the results of these mills all the time in the rescue work we do.

Snoopy was born and purchased in Wisconsin. RED FLAG! Agricultural states are high in numbers for commercial breeding of animals, and that includes dogs, and cats. Okay, thinking positive, there are a few good breeders everywhere. Breeder's whose dogs go to the vet routinely for health care. Breeder's whose dogs live in the house as part of the family. Breeders who are heartbroken when they lose the 12 year old dog they spayed when she was 7 because the vet said it was not safe to breed her anymore. Perhaps this is one of those breeders?

Darryl mentioned the name of the kennel. It sounds like a wonderful place, out in the country where puppies run free, chasing chickens, and tumbling in the grass until a new family comes to buy one.

I googled the name of the breeder. Under the business listing were reviews of this breeder written by customers. A few of the reviews were positive. Two people defended the breeder stating that the dog they purchased from this farm was very healthy. This gives people a false misunderstanding of puppy mills. Not every puppy from a puppy mill is sick or has issues. I did a little more research and was shocked to find a website with photos, and details of this farm. There is even a link to a video with the owner, although I have been unable to view it but there is a transcript. Please visit.

Snoopy came from a terrible place. She went to a wonderful place for the remainder of her 11 years. She was spoiled rotten. She had birthday parties, and photo shoots. She got cookies. She went to the vet, although it was likely not her favorite day. (The downside of being the vet is that the animals are never really happy to see you.) She was one of the most well loved dogs on the planet! I love Darryl for giving her that. Darryl you rescued her, and perhaps she rescued you.

But Snoopy's Mom likely spent her entire life within this mill. Breeding every cycle, watching her puppies go on to a new and better life. And her death was not likely one that was memorialized by anyone. Another link...

I am hoping Darryl does not read this for a while. I sympathize with his pain, I wish I could take it from him. He is dealing with a lot of emotion right now. Some people go back to the same breeder after losing their pet, hoping to get another dog like the one they lost. This is my reason for writing this. I want Darryl to think long and hard about that. I want Darryl to know that this guy likely has 30 beagles, none of any relation to Snoopy.

I hope when Darryl does read this, his anger will enlist him into the fight. The fight for all the dogs that are legally being cared for in a way that is blatant neglect. When I see eight month old pups coming from these mills, and they require dentals due to tartar buildup, there is something wrong. When there is so much ammonia and debris in the air because there are so many dogs in one building, and the dogs get dry eye and go untreated because it would be an "unnecessary business expense", there is something wrong. When they are breeding dogs that have congenital defects that are being passed on because the dogs have NEVER been to a veterinarian for a physical exam, there is something wrong!

To those people who believe this farm is okay, because their puppy is okay, I would like them to consider their dog's parents. What if the farm had decided to make a breeder out of your puppy, and you never had the chance to purchase it. Your puppy, your dog, the one that you currently love, would be sitting in a cage with only a wire bottom just like your dog's parents. He would be highly undersocialized and afraid of everything that he has never experienced before including humans, grass, and the wind. Your dog would be breeding every cycle throughout it's lifetime, regardless of age and health. Your dog would likely die in it's cage or at the hands of that breeder when it's productive days are over, without EVER having seen a veterinarian.

Now think about the puppy that was sitting next to your puppy when you picked him.
I wonder where she is now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tail of Woes...

Time for a tail of woes, oops, I mean TALE of woes.

We took in the most adorable little golden retriever puppy today, only three months old. She was found walking on a gravel road, by a concerned citizen. She is blind. I bring this sweet angel up for two reasons...

Reason 1. To discuss the cynicism that eventually takes control of all rescuers at some point. The shelter volunteer who brought this sweet pup to me, believed the concerned citizen who claimed to find her wandering on the road, may actually have been her owner who decided not to keep her once he realized she was blind.

Reason 2. To discuss the extreme cruelty to animals that goes unpunished daily. If someone really dumped a blind 3 month old puppy on the side of a ROAD, is there really anything more negligent, cruel, despicable, heartless, irresponsible... The thought of this poor puppy unable to find food on her own, getting hit by a car because she cannot see the car coming, although she is running because she hears it coming her way.

It happens to all rescuers/shelter personel at some point. Someone walks into the shelter or rescue, and says they cannot keep their pet. Rather than sympathize with the situation of which we know little about, we sigh, hand them a form to "sign over their pet", then we send them on their way.  We then look into the pet's eyes, and say, "How could anyone just give you away?" It is not something we do intentionally. It is not something we do just to be mean. It is not something we do just because we do not like people. It happens because it is a learned response, an emotional scar. We have heard the tale so many times. We forget that there may be heartbreak for the owner. We remember when the people brought their 7 year old dogto us because their 3 year old son wanted a puppy. The new puppy and the resident dog who they had since puppyhood did not get along, so the older dog is tossed in our direction as worthless.  We remember the time when John found three pups on the side of the road and brought them to us, only to discover later that the pups really came from John's farm dog which he has not had fixed and has no plans to get fixed. We recall the people whose kids outgrew the pets, so it is time to discard them like clothes that are two sizes too small. 

These deceptions or heartless handovers may seem to be rare to you, but we in rescue hear them all too often.  The poor excuses are much more abundant than the heartbroken owners that are devastated by the decision they have had to make. A woman comes in sobbing with her pet because her house burned down and she was forced to rent a place that did not allow pets. The man whose eyes well up with tears when he hands over his pet because he is going to assisted living and cannot take the dog... He loves the dog but his wife passed last month and she used to care for the dog and for him due to his special needs.

I try to keep my team from developing this scar, or at least from showing it. We try to control it, but we all feel it at times. We try to remember that "there but for the sake of God go I".

So, was our little golden retriever puppy brought in by a concerned citizen?  Was the person who handed over the dog being honest?  This is possible. Or was this person the actual owner and relinquishing the pup because of its handicap and just too embarrassed to admit it. This is also possible. Either scenario, the man who brought the dog to us is a better man than the one who would leave an animal out in the country rather than bringing it to a shelter or rescue. We will never know the truth. But I do know that puppy is going to be very well cared for despite it's special needs!

The cruel nature of the act of abandoning an animal on a road, or in a field or at a farm where "hopefully the farmer will take it in" is lost on me. So many shelters, so many rescues, reckless abandonment should not be the chosen option. There are times when we get phone calls about a pet that needs to be rehomed, but we are full to the brim and cannot take in another animal. The guilt we feel after we say no and hang up the phone can be overwhelming. You wonder what happened to this cat or dog when the dial tone sounds...  We hope the owners care enough to continue the search for a rescue or shelter with space, and ask the right questions about whether their pet will be safe at that rescue or shelter.

There have been many times when I have arrived at my clinic to find a box sitting in front of the door. The box moves, and makes a curious noise. One time the box included a note from the cat's previous owner. It asked us to care for her cat, Snowy, because she was going to a nursing home.  The last line of the note was "Don't ever grow old, because no one will take care of you." I wanted to find the woman who wrote this note and take HER into my shelter!

I have been called by the police after hours because a dog was tied to the fire hydrant in front of my clinic. I received a phone call once from my assistant wondering why there was a black lab in our back yard. I knew nothing of a black lab. We had no such dog in the clinic at that time. The dog was dropped OVER a 6 foot fence and into my backyard. Thank goodness it was not a black lab with a newly broken leg! We recalled having to say no to someone who requested we take in their black lab only a few days earlier. We named the lab Hopper for his uncanny ability to leap 6 foot fences in a single bound. He has a family who loves him now. He still comes to board with us, and has not leaped over that 6 foot fence since then... hmm, I suspect he had a little help the first time.

Initially upon finding an unexpected arrival at the clinic, I feel panic upon the discovery. I wonder if I will ever find homes for all these animals, and now I have another one to add to the bunch! The next feeling I get, as I look into their eyes, is thankfulness. Thank goodness you are not in a box on the side of a highway.

If you have ever had to heartbreakingly relinquish your pet at any shelter, and were not treated as well as you think you should have been by the staff, please keep this information in mind. It is not an excuse for the shelter employee's poor behavior. It is a reason for it. It does not excuse poor personal skills at the front desk. I just thought if you knew about the emotional side of these jobs, it might help you to forgive that person who hugged your pet as she or he took it to it's kennel.

Most small animal shelters are staffed by volunteers whose work unfortunately goes unappreciated day in and day out. Even if they left the shelter crying over a dog or cat yesterday, they will likely be coming in to work today. Their reward is the love they feel when that homeless kitten's whiskers brush across their cheek, and the warmth they feel when a paw and chin is laid upon their knee as they place a food bowl in a homeless dog's kennel.

If you have never had to heartbreakingly relinquish your pet, thank goodness. Perhaps you could help your shelter comfort those animals who are not so lucky.  You could bake a batch of brownies or cookies for the people at your local shelter, donate some much needed supplies, or just walk in and say "Thank you for what you do for the animals" to show your support for the emotional days they put in every day.  

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Friday, September 4, 2009

One Question...

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been. We vetted an overwhelming number of former puppy mill dogs. We sent 11 dogs off today to their foster homes with their own respective rescue groups, and 5 more go off tomorrow. It is an amazing thing to see these dogs, to look into their eyes. We have a golden that is so timid that it headpresses into the back of its cage so it won't make eye contact with you. We have pomeranians that bounce and bark wildly and excitedly when they see you approach their cages. Stick your fingers into that cage and they lick and rub on them. Open the door to that cage and they run to the back corner. Reach for them and they will cower or race back and forth trying to dodge your hand. Pick them up and they either go stiff and rigid from fear with eyes wide and dilated, or they tremble. Their bodies are not used to the stimulation of being held. Once the dog is comfortable being held, if you move your hand to pet it or just shift the dog in your arms, the reaction occurs again. Every new feeling, every new stimulus, every new person brings on this fear reaction.
Sometimes I feel as though I am mean. These poor dogs just get out of these terrible confines, and are transported in a vehicle to my clinic. We try to get them comfortable with us, and used to these new sorts of attention. THEN, we hold them still to restrain them while we poke them with a needle for anesthesia and surgery. BOY, what a way to violate a newly developed trust, Lisa! I forgive myself this misbehavior, as it provides an entirely new lifestyle for these little creatures, and ensures that they will not be used to breed litter after litter after litter ever again. I try to comfort them as I do it, using soft tones, telling them they are going to feel better...perhaps another small violation of the truth. Waking up from anesthesia following a major surgery like a spay, is not necessarily what I would consider "feeling better". Thank goodness they only interpret the tones, not the words.
This week, I had a small dog with a serious heart murmur. She was a cute little pekingese. She was a senior dog, estimated to be 8 or 10 years of age. She was likely bred her entire life. A large percentage of her puppies likely had the same murmur, some better, some worse, some not at all...those are the lucky ones.
I have seen an inguinal hernia the size of a tennis ball on another senior girl. When I went to repair it surgically at the time of her spay, I discovered it was filled with her intestines, often they are filled with only fat. This girl was incredibly lucky that the pressure of a pregnant uterus did not press on the intestines where they entered the hernia. If that had happened, the intestines would have died due to lack of circulation, as if strangled by a tourniquet, and the life of the mom and the pups would have been lost. But she made it to me, and to her new rescue.
I saw a 10 week old pup today that had a suture still in place where there was a small hernia repair performed. The pup was left intact (until today), meaning it was not neutered at the same time as the other surgery was performed. This really concerns me on a multitude of levels. This dog had a genetic problem. A problem that required a surgical repair, and one that can likely be passed on to its offspring if bred.
The first problem I have with it is, if this pup had been sold, would the owner be aware of the fact that their new pet has had a surgical alteration performed prior to it's purchase. Perhaps the breeder would have disclosed this information. There are many levels of breeders out there, some more consciencious than others. Not every breeder is a puppy mill. Not every breeder is bad. I know some quality breeders, they do exist. The good information that comes out of the scenario with the suture in the pup, is that this repair was hopefully performed by a veterinarian. Many of these dogs never see a vet. Not the parent dogs, and not the puppies, unless it is necessary to ship the dog to a new owner by plane. This one apparantly had. YAY!
The other problem I have is one of professional ethics. I personally do not perform most forms of cosmetic surgery in general unless it is medically warranted and will improve the animal's health or quality of life. I don't perform ear crops or tail docks for cosmetic reasons. The exception to this would be if a tail was injured and needed to be ampuatated, or the same with an ear flap. I do not repair congenital problems on a dog unless it is getting/or has been spayed/neutered. Again there are a few exceptions, like a life threatening hernia.
I truly believe that certain problems should not make a potential breeding dog look different to a potential purchaser, because they still retain a greater potential of passing those genes and those problems to their puppies.
One of the most common pieces of advice on any "getting a new puppy" brochure, book, or website is, "Make sure you see your puppy's parents". Let us say that you meet the momma dog, and she looks wonderful, healthy, and has a great temperament. Let us say that what you don't know is that she has a history of a hernia repair, a cherry eye repair, and oh, her nostrils were too small for her to breathe through so they were also repaired... All with wonderful results, kudos to that surgeon. Yet, you as the purchaser of her pups are unaware of these minor alterations! This is an extreme example used only to make a point.
Here is the longest question I think a person could ask...
Should a genetic disorder that has been shown to be passed on to further generations be repaired by a vet (excluding of course any life threatening disorder), if the dog is still able to breed?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lucky Dog

The past few days, have been very emotional. In the last blog I wrote, I mentioned rescue dogs that may live only 8 months after their rescue due to age or illness or accidents. I recognized that they have had the best 8 months of their lives. If you have not read that one yet, please go back and read it...I am actually pretty proud of it. I hesitate to write this one because it may not reach the mark in my mind that the last blog did...I will say I am proud of what I wrote.

To make a short story long... Last winter we had taken in a small lhaso poo from a puppy mill. She was so scared she would sometimes snap at us wildly if we approached too quickly, and she was COVERED in matts and fleas. Her ear flaps stuck straight out from her head due to the large ear matts she had. Her legs were matted together under her chest and belly making walking uncomfortable. She was one that we literally put under anesthesia immediately after taking her in, because we could not let her go on in that condition.

We named her "Lucky", and for quite some time she was the cover dog for our "Animal Alliance and Puppy Mill Rescue" group on facebook. We were so in love with a dog that we could hardly touch. Well, this woman calls from Minnesota. She wants to come meet Lucky. Her application and vet reference were spotless. We were brutally honest with her about Lucky's fear issues. It was never an aggression in the sense of "I am going to bite you", but more of a "if you grab me I am just going to grab at anything to get loose". Well, she STILL wanted to come down and meet her. We had gotten Lucky past the snapping if we approached slowly and in a way that she could see us clearly. Soon she was able to be brought in and out of the cage for potty visits outside...but by no means had she shown any sign of real affection for us.

This woman drives the 4 hours to come meet Lucky. My assistant talks to her about Lucky again so the woman knows just what to expect. Then he goes in the back, brings Lucky to the meeting room. And then it happened. Lucky walked up to this woman, licked her hand, then sat and let her pet her!!! Let's just say there was no way we were going to let this woman leave without that dog. It was a deal whether she liked it or not!

We called her a few times for updates and Lucky seemed to be fitting into the household very well, gaining more and more trust as time passed. Until a few weeks ago, the woman's parents were doggie-sitting for Lucky...and she got away. She immediately notified us in case her id tag or microchip led anyone who might find Lucky to us.

The morning after writing the last blog which discussed this very type of situation, there was a message on the machine at work. It was a tearful message from Lucky's Mom. She was informing us that they did find her, but that she was not alive. I have not spoken with her yet, so I don't know the details of Lucky's death, ie hit by car, or whether they found her yesterday or days after they reported her missing weeks ago. But the emotion in the message was clear. They loved her, and they loved the time they spent with her. They didn't regret one moment of their time with her.

I have to say that my last blog helped me through this experience. It is so emotionally draining to realize that you put all this effort into this little life, only to find out that she survived 11 months after being adopted. I can look at this as a reason to quit doing what I do, or I can look at her 11 months as inspiration.

I want to raise my glass to each month of love and affection that little dog received, each kiss that she received and returned, and each walk that she took. I want to pat Lucky's Mom on the back for all she did for that little dog. I want to thank God for guiding my life in this direction, even though there are times when I question it.

There is a reason why my blog was written about that very topic, and the phone call came just hours following my self expression and self exploration. There is a reason this blog is not just a window for you to peak into my little life as entertainment or education. This blog is also a way for me to explore myself, learn from my experiences, and keep me suited up for the next Lucky that comes my way.

I am going to change my photo for the blog to Lucky in salute of her 11 months of love. As I look at the before photo of Lucky in our facebook group's page, I cannot believe how far she came. I look at my animal hospital, and I see the direction it is taking, straight into the animal rescue fast lane, and I am happy. Happy to continue doing what I love.

Someday, hopefully far in the future, as I approach the rainbow bridge, I am going to be greeted by a large mass of furry friends...and loving every minute of it. And behind them all will be my Mom, shaking her head, saying, "Only you, Lisa. Only, you."