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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Target, A Military Hero in Canine Clothing

I am often surprised at how emotionally invested I can be in a situation in which I played no part.

How is it that I can feel so much pain when a dog, a dog that I do not know, is accidentally euthanized in shelter? Why is it that my heart aches so much for that dog? Why is it that when I look at her photograph and those of her with her family, I cry uncontrollably, when I do not know any of them personally?  Why is it that I can visit the last moment of that dog's life when I close my eyes, and have to shake my head like an etch-a-sketch to erase it?

As a pet owner, and as a veterinarian, I have seen many animals euthanized in my lifetime.  Some were my own pets.  Many were owned by others. Many were owned by no one.  I am proud to say that in my current practice, euthanasia is performed for terminally ill or seriously behaviorally challenged animals only.  My career choice has not always provided such a fortunate path, but it has led me to where I am today.  As a result of my experiences, it is relatively easy for me to mentally visualize this dog of whom I only have seen photos, walking down a hall for the last time, wondering where she is going, and I can painfully see her taking her last breath.  I grieve for her and for her family as if I knew them.

Every dog is special, but Target had a special story, a wonderful history.

Target was one of three young dogs who alerted a sleeping troop of soldiers in Afghanistan to a suicide bomber.  The suicide bomber was trying to enter the barracks and detonate a bomb wrapped around his body.  The attempt, had it succeeded, could have killed or wounded dozens of US soldiers while they slept.  Two of the dogs attacked the bomber keeping him from entering the barracks, while Target barked to alert the sleeping US soldiers to the intruder.

AP File Photo of Target

The bomb detonated during the struggle outside the barracks.  The suicide bomber was killed, but the dogs were also injured in the blast.  While one dog did not survive the blast, the other two were saved after being provided veterinary care.  The two dogs were side by side with the soldiers for the remainder of their stay in Afghanistan. 

When two of the soldiers returned home, they contacted "Puppy Rescue Mission"  about the dogs they were forced to leave behind.  The group raised over $20,000 to bring the dogs to the States to become part of the soldiers' families.  A bond had been created during wartime, between the heroes with two legs, and the heroes with four legs.

In July 2010, the dogs arrived and placed all four paws on US soil.  There were TV cameras, and reporters.  The dogs received a heroes welcome.  They were featured on Oprah and CNN.  Then they each went home with their soldier, two soldiers that had also survived the suicide bomber's attack.  Target moved to Arizona to be with Army Sgt. Terry Young and his family. 

Just a few months later, on Friday, August 12, 2010, Sgt. Young realized that the gate to their back yard had been left open and Target had wandered from the yard.  He did not realize that she had wandered into a neighbor's yard and had already been picked up by animal control.  He contacted all the local TV and radio stations, who had published reports of the hero dog's arrival in Arizona and it seemed everyone knew to keep their eyes open for Target, the Military Hero.  At least, everyone that watched the news knew.

That night, Sgt. Young had found Target's photo on the Petfinder website that represented a local shelter.  He was relieved that she was safe, but wanted her home.  He phoned the shelter but it was after hours, and he thought they were closed until Monday. 

He arrived at 9 am to retrieve Target. The shelter personnel brought Target to the soldier, but the dog on the leash was not the same dog that Sgt. Young saw in the photo on their site.  It was not Target.  They brought him the wrong dog.  They promptly put that dog back into it's kennel, and looked for Target.  The soldier waited for one hour, when a teary eyed employee came back to him, apologizing, and stating that Target had mistakenly been euthanized just minutes before the soldier's arrival. 

While the world grieves the loss of a Hero, a family grieves the loss of a family member, and now the nations mourns the loss of a hero.

I hope the shelter spared the dog who was due to die that fateful morning.  If they did, Target has saved one more life by sacrificing her own.  I hope that dog can go on to enjoy a new adoptive family, with thanks to Target.

Sgt. Young had stated, ""I just can't believe that something like this would happen to such a good dog."

It is a tragedy, but walking a good dog to it's death in this country happens every hour of every day!  That is why the person who euthanized this wonderful, calm, loving animal did not hesitate to perform the duty that they are paid to perform.  Wonderful dogs like Target die not because they are not "good dogs" but because we buy the puppy that looks so cute in the pet store window, or because we fall in love with an online photo of a puppy from a commercial breeder/puppy mill, instead of adopting from our local shelter. 

The dogs that die each day in shelters in our country often have unknown pasts, and once in the shelter, their future is unknown.  In each of those dogs, there may be a hero.  There may be a past hero, or a hero whose life has ended before being given the chance.  They may not be a military hero, but there are many ways of becoming a canine hero.  A dog who lies at the foot of the bed as his owner died from cancer is a hero for the comfort he gave.  A dog who comforts a child who is hiding behind a sofa as his parents argue, is a hero.  In each of those shelter dogs, there is a dog with the potential to become a hero.  Hero or not, all of these "good dogs" deserve a chance to live, and deserve a chance to give love and get love.

Dogs are over bred in this country.  There are more dogs and cats, puppies and kittens than there are homes for them.  They are being euthanized annually by the MILLIONS in US shelters!  If this was not a normal routine for this employee... if only the ill of health, or ill behaved animals were euthanized in shelters, perhaps something would have CLICKED that saved Target's life Monday morning as she walked to that room.  But that is not the case.  To that employee, this was just another good dog, going to a bad room. 

Target was not the only good dog to die that morning.  There were many others in shelters everywhere. 

The employee made a mistake by euthanizing the wrong dog, and another dog, likely a good dog, was the one that should have been euthanized despite it's potential for loving his or her family.  But  this employee performed a flawed daily routine, and did not think twice about the act of euthanizing a good dog because it is part of the shelter "norm". 

Perhaps Target's death can bring this issue of disposable pets to public eye:


I hope that the world sees Target's story and can recognize how often we euthanize good animals in shelters.  I hope that people will read Target's story and it will motivate them.  If you love animals, you cannot sit idly by while they suffer. You need to do something! Please spay and neuter your pet. Please adopt from a local shelter or rescue. Please volunteer with and donate to a local shelter or rescue.

One of the saddest statistics is that there are more animal lovers than there are animal shelter volunteers.  YOU can do something to help.  Call your shelter and find out what it is!  Sew blankets, wash dishes, write a newsletter, have a party and ask each guest to bring a donation, transport dogs to the groomer or vet.  There are so many opportunities for people with limited time or limited funds to still provide their shelter with the help they require to save lives.  If you love animals, you need to ACT on that and not assume that other people have that covered!

Rest in Peace, Target.  You are loved by millions who never knew you but grieve your loss, and the loss of all the other furry heroes that lose their lives in shelters daily. 

I will continue to shake my etch-a-sketch head to try to erase that awful image of your final moments, and try to visual you forever like this:

My prayers go out to the Young family for their loss.  You have the sympathy and support of millions!

If you would like to donate to the Puppy Rescue Mission, who continues to bring back the furry comrades of our fighting soldiers, please visit their website at . 

Tomorrow, you should call or visit your local shelter, and see how you can help...

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tears for one. Tears for many.

As an animal rescuer, there are always those animals you can not or could not save.  Regardless of the reasons, the rescuer becomes powerless in the fate of that animal, and the animal is lost. 

Meet Kitty La Rue:

Kitty La Rue was one of our puppy mill rescue dogs.  She was quite timid due to her lack of socialization.  She had to be completely shaved down because her fur was matted, and urine stained.  The hair on puppy mill dogs retains the odor of urine and feces even after multiple baths.  This is the same odor they breathe into their lungs, day in and day out for a lifetime.  Shaving them down provides the most relief for the dog, and the caretaker. 

Kitty LaRue was adopted by a family in April.  We received this touching update from her new Mom within a week of her adoption,

"I took Kitty to the Vet Saturday for a wellness exam and suture removal. Here is a copy of the vet record of that visit to comply with the adoption guidelines.

Kitty is doing very well and has adjusted to all of our family members. She is over coming her shyness and will allow you to approach her from a standing position. She is starting to obey the come and stay command and readily obeys the outside command. She has done very well with house training and hasn't had any accidents in 4 days. She enjoys the outside backyard and gets along well with the three cats. She is enjoying chewing things up thus I think she has been making the transition to becoming a real dog!"

After a few short months, in mid-July, we were excited to see another email in our inbox from Kitty's new family.  But the contents were not what we were expecting.  It read,

"On Monday morning Kitty LaRue had gone missing with what appears to be that she was stolen. Our fenced in back yard had a wooden plank removed with evidence of tampering. I have contacted our local vets and if she does not return by tomorrow will be contacting the local police. I did not know it until now but our local county has had a rash of stolen pets. I am contacting you in the event that her chip is scanned and for some reason or another your shelter is contacted.
We are sick about this as Kitty LaRue had made such great progess in trusting us and had become one of our family."

We began Facebook groups, and shared emails with other local rescues.  We notified police, shelters, veterinarians, the microchip company, the neighbors.  Signs were made and posted.

But the fact is, there was a rash of curious dog disappearances in that part of Iowa during those months.

Here are a few links to different stories that covered the topic of dog thefts during this time in Iowa:

We still have no news on Kitty LaRue.  I hate to think of what her life could be.  I dare to hope that perhaps it wasn't a theft, and that she has become someone else's beloved pet.  If she was someone's knew pet, the microchip would certainly be discovered, right?  Perhaps it was a few neighborhood kids playing a prank, making an obviously bad choice.  But the fear of the unknown still exists.  What if she had been brought to a research facility?   What if she had been taken to a breeding facility for her body to be used again.  She is spayed, so she can no longer produce puppies.  What would have become of her when this was discovered?  I dread to imagine.  I wish I knew.  I wish her family knew.

Meet Lucky:

Lucky  (read more about Lucky here ) was a puppy mill dog as well.  She first presented to us so severely matted and covered in fleas that we treated her arrival as an emergency.  She was immediately examined then sedated for an emergency groom.  Her front legs were literally matted together.  In the photo below, her ear flaps sit almost straight out from her head due to the large matts that occlude her ear canals.  Her eyes were also matted over impairing her vision.

Emergency Groom Procedure

Lucky in her cage days after her arrival, still hiding and cowering in the corner, still avoiding eye contact.

Lucky months later on her ride home with her new Mom.

Lucky was one of our few untouchables.  She had fear issues of people, including all the people on my staff who cleaned her and cared for her daily.  To Lucky, people in general were a thing to fear.  As a result, we could not cuddle her.  We could not pet her.  She would snap and run, hide and cower.  It was never an aggression issue in the sense of  "I am going to bite you", but more of a "If you grab me I am just going to have to grab at anything with my teeth to get myself loose". Even the most unsocial mill dogs will rehabilitate beyond this point, but there are those few like Lucky that are extremely difficult.

A woman saw Lucky's picture and knew Lucky was right for her.  We explained the situation, and she still wanted to drive four hours just to meet Lucky.  When she arrived, we caught Lucky and brought her into the room.  To our surprise, Lucky walked up to this woman, this stranger!  Lucky proceeded to lick this stranger's hand, then sat down 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!

Eleven short months later, while Lucky's new Mom was on vacation, and with her parents dog sitting, Lucky escaped the confines of the house.  She ran for several weeks, well fed by well intentioned neighbors, but no one was able to catch her.  Her body was discovered next to a field. 

Here are two very different losses of two sweet angels who had little time to enjoy the good life.  One dog has a resolute end, a final means of acceptance.  While Lucky's family grieves their loss in the usual way, Kitty's fate lies unknown.  Thoughts of Kitty linger and haunt the minds of all who knew and loved her, even for a brief time.  Both scenarios leave us unsettled, and wanting answers.

We wonder why, after all that both dogs have been through, after finally being rescued, after being truly loved by their new forever families, why do things like this happen?!  I sometimes feel sad, and sometimes quite angry.

Thoughts of Kitty and Lucky surround me tonight because I read a similar story in the book  The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption .  Sweet Jasmine's tale can be read in this revealing book which I highly recommend. 

As I read Sweet Jasmine's story, I could not stop the tears.  I cried for more than just Jasmine.  I cried for more than just Jasmine's caregivers, her new family. 

After reading Jasmine's story, I felt the pain and grieving of all the animals that despite our greatest efforts,  we have lost.  Animals I have lost in rescue.  Animals owned by clients that despite my greatest efforts, I could not save.  Animals I have lost of my own.   I cried for a dog I did not know.  I cried for animals I did know, but wanted to know better.  I cried for the animals I will never know.  This pain stayed with me most of the day.  But I know it will subside.  It always does...until next time.

I know deep in my heart and mind, that despite the fact that their time with us was so short, that we made that time special.  These animals felt love in a way that they never had before.  But still the question lingers.


Is it because we cannot save them all?  I don't care for this statement.  While I cannot save all the animals that need help in this world, I can dedicate myself to providing a safe place to all the animals that I can put my arms around. 

Is it because their purpose in life has already been served?  I choose this one.  I do believe we all have a purpose in life.  By doing animal rescue, I believe I am following my purpose or perhaps finding my purpose.  But if the truth be told, no one knows what their purpose in life is.  My purpose may not be animal related at all.  Perhaps, on my death bed, I will whisper some nonsensical saying to the nurse tending me, and those words will create a domino effect in her life that serves my purpose.  Perhaps these stories, these lost animals, served their purpose with me, with my staff, or with their new family.  Even though the time was short, obviously the impact was great. 

Whatever my purpose truly is...
I will continue to do animal rescue as long as I am able.  

I will save lives. 

I will lose lives. 

I will make wise decisions.

I will make mistakes. 

I will be surrounded by people who understand what I do and how I feel. 

I will be criticized by those who do not understand.

I will rejoice when each homeless huggable finds a new forever family.

I will continue to suffer through days like today, when I cannot get the lost rescues out of my mind. 

On these days when I am reminded of the lost, I will remind myself, that for each day that I continue to move forward, I can help keep more from being lost. 

Perhaps animal rescue is not my purpose in life, but it is certainly how I will continue to occupy my time until my purpose is served. 

In addition to Kitty and Lucky, here are just a few of the many special souls that occasionally reach into my heart.  The photos are in no particular order.  They all touch my heart in my own special way.  Their stories are all different, some are young, some are old, but for all, their time was too short, at least in my opinion.  They will not be forgotten.  While their time was short, their impact on our hearts will last forever.

In Loving Memory of Leiya

In Loving Memory of Shyla

In Loving Memory of Capone

In Loving Memory of Cracker

In Loving Memory of Immy

In Loving Memory of Tito

In Loving Memory of Pugsley

In Loving Memory of Coco

In Loving Memory of Hancock

In Loving Memory of Chance

In Loving Memory of Cluck

There are more, but these are the stories whose photos were easily accessible.  We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words...

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Salads, Belly Buttons, and Popskickles

4 year old Connor looks at my belly button, an innie.  He then looks at his own belly button, an outie.  He looks up and says, "Is that your belly button?" I said, "Yes, it is." to which he responds... "But it doesn't have a button, right?"

I got frustrated with my weight one day (read as 'every day').  I said, "That's it!  I am losing weight!  Miranda, do you think Mommy can be skinny again?"  Six year old Miranda looked at me seriously with furrowed brow and said, "I don't know, Mom.  You're pretty old."

Connor sees me upstairs walking with a packaged individual tampon that I thought was hidden discretely within my hand. He looks at me curiously and tilts his head to the side. "Mommy, is that a popkickle?"

We went to eat at the Olive Garden Restaurant.  I love their salad.  Miranda also loves to eat salads, so I told her how wonderful their salad is so she would not beg for a McDonald's meal.  We arrive at the restaurant and after a 30 minute wait, the "wonderful salad" finally arrives at our table.  My husband mixes and doles out the salad onto each of our plates.  Connor just looks at his.  He is not a salad eater.  If it isn't coated by or filled with sugar, he doesn't care much for it.  Miranda dives into her salad!  "What is this?" she asks in an excited voice.  Before I can stop her, I see her biting into a jalapeno pepper.  The ONLY jalapeno in the entire salad landed on her plate!  I quickly reach for the pepper before she actually bites through it, but she experienced enough of the taste to know that she did not like it.  Suddenly, I hear the same words again, "What is this?"  Again, she is eagerly biting into the "wonderful salad" before I can answer.  A black olive has disappeared into her mouth, only to quickly return onto her napkin as tiny chewed up bits of black olive.  The third bite is a charm, right?  After two distasteful bites of a wonderful salad, she grabs her fork and continues to try to "find the pearl".  After all, Mommy said these salads are wonderful.  Her next bite, a small circular ring cut off of an onion.  My little trooper ate it up, and bravely swallowed it, but then drank a fair amount of her drink.  She wiped her mouth, looked at me and said, "Why do they put so many bad things in a good salad?"

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Monday, November 1, 2010

How a Vet Carves a Pumpkin...

In honor of All Hallow's Eve, my family had a pumpkin carving night at my house.  I admit it, I have never carved a pumpkin before, ever.  Because of this, I had never realized how unique the inside of a pumpkin truly is.

I grabbed my scalpel, a paring knife, to begin the task of carving my pumpkin.  The "caps" of our pumpkins were not easily removed as the flesh was too thick for me to incise easily.   There was no delicate surgical incision.  It was more like a Horror Movie attack!  I was waiting for fake blood to spurt in all directions, a lightening strike, and a coyote to howl in the distance!  I held the knife in a tight fist, aggressively stabbing into the flesh and dragging it along our dotted cap line. 
Finally, after much effort, the cap was completed, with the help of my husband, and off it came.

My husband, Justin, dug right into his pumpkin.  No fear!

Miranda also dug into her pumpkin right away.  Surprised at the odd textures within the pumpkin, she made a few squeals, but she was eventually okay with the entire endeavor of pumpkin gutting.

Connor refused to put his hands into the pumpkin.  I reassured him that he had to pull the seeds out of the pumpkin if he wanted to make the face on his pumpkin.  Miranda reassured him that it was okay to reach inside.  I reassured him, but he did not bite.  He was grossed out.

At this point, Justin noticed that I too had not touched my pumpkin.  While I was explaining how it was not icky gross to Connor, the truth is that I was repulsed by the look of the inside of the pumpkin.  The closest I had previously been to pumpkin guts before was pumpkin pie!

The inside of these pumpkins had long, string-like, adhesions of pumpkin flesh extending from top to bottom and side to side.  There were stringy, gooey, lumpy insides, containing moist sticky seeds. 

While the smell emanating from the inside of this giant orange melon was fantastic, the insides were scary looking, scary feeling, and as you scoop, the sound too was...well...scary.  As you scoop inside the pumpkin, grasping the slimy innards, and ripping them out, the long, string-like adhesions make a popping noise as they break. 

Pop, Pop, Pop...ick...

After the lovely insides became lovely outsides, the hollow melon was ours for decorating.  We all used markers to create our faces.  Connor and Miranda created cute simple faces that only gifted artists would create.  I designed a detailed swirly decorative face.  Daddy carved the faces on his own pumpkin, and also carved the faces on Miranda and Connor's pumpkins.  As he carved three, I struggled with my own pumpkin's face.

Stab, jab, drag.  I could barely make straight lines, never mind make intricate curves and curls!  The swirly decorative face I designed suddenly became the simplified, typical, triangular face seen on most jack-o-lanterns.

I have discovered two new things about myself in this new Halloween adventure...

1. My first pumpkin carving...and it is less gross to spay a cat...

2. I have discovered a fondness of the toothy, crooked grins of the typical jack-o-lantern, although I am not sure why...

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