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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raven Haired Beauty

You never know how a day is going to go when you wake each morning.  Usually, our days are uneventful, perhaps even routine. Sometimes we are aware that something we have to deal with is going to be different and perhaps difficult.  But there are always those days where things happen beyond our control, and we are left standing like a deer in the headlights.

I was at home searching online for good animal related quotes when the phone rang.  Missy, one of my veterinary assistants, was on the other end of the phone line, and then the words were said, "Raven just died." 

"I'll be there in a minute."   The moment I hung up the phone, Raven's name came bellowing out of my mouth amidst sobs and tears.  I hopped into the shower and let the water wash the tears away in what could be a world record for fastest shower.  I got dressed, shoved my three dogs into the car, and drove quickly to the clinic. 

I walked into the office to find my staff all crouched on the floor next to Raven's lifeless body.  All of their eyes were red and puffy.  I walked toward them and blurted out, "I'm sorry guys" then I flopped on the floor next to Raven, clutching her head and white ruffed mane.  Her warm soft Collie fur soaked up my tears, and softened the sounds of my sobs.  "I let you all down, I'm so sorry."

I couldn't let go of the thought, that if I had euthanized Raven prior to this experience, then my staff would not be suffering through the experience they were currently in.

When I first adopted Raven from Minnesota Wisconsin Collie Rescue she was seven years old.  She helped me foster orphaned kittens.  I would feed them, then place them next to her and she would lick them clean and stimulate them as though they were her puppies.  She did a much better job mothering many litters of kittens than I could ever have done without her.

Raven had a way of pushing into your legs when you pet her, like a moose rubbing its mossy antlers on a tree.  Perhaps it was her way of expressing her appreciation.  This morning, she pushed into Missy's legs, and Missy responded with her usual touch of love.  Missy sunk her fingers into that thick Collie coat and scratched Raven's back and rubbed her legs.  As usual, Raven pushed her head into Missy's legs.  Suddenly, Raven slumped forward into Missy's legs, in an unusual way.  Missy called for help then found herself supporting Raven's head so it wouldn't hit the floor harshly as Raven's body slowly sank down to the floor. As quickly as that, she was gone.  There was no lingering, no suffering, nothing that could have been done.  She was just gone.

I knew her time was coming.  She was blind, and almost completely deaf.  She was urinating in the building, not knowing where she was when she was outside.  She lived at the clinic her final years because going back and forth to home and work became risky and confusing for her.  She could no longer judge the distance into or out of the car. One time she jumped the 14 inches out of the van, and smacked her nose on the ground so hard it split open.  Her incontinence also became easier to clean at the clinic with linoleum than with the carpet at home.

She had a recent history of seizures.  I brought her out of her last one a few months ago.  I had her on a doggie "DNR" (do not resuscitate) order in my head.  I knew, rather, I had decided that if there was another sudden health crisis, such as a seizure, or if there were other signs of decline, that the time to euthanize her humanely would be at that time.  There would be no more outstanding efforts to save her if her body let go any more.  But I could not make the decision to euthanize her in her current state, although I know others may have. 

Making the "decision" about Raven was difficult because she had a good appetite and still enjoyed attention.  She had eaten a full meal this morning, just an hour prior to her death.  She did not seem to be in pain, but I knew her quality of life was very limited. 

Raven enjoyed her "Missy rubs" each day.  She usually ate substantial meals with vigor, although she had her off days.  She also had a best friend with her twenty four hours a day.  Her friend's name is Mama Cat and she was a rescue we took in along with her four kittens in July of 2008.  Mama Cat went up for adoption after her kittens were weaned and her vet work was complete.  But we noticed something that quickly removed her from the adoptable list.  Each morning, or after lunch, it was a common occurence to enter the clinic only to find Mama Cat snuggled up next to Raven, both of them sound asleep.  Our entry would waken Mama Cat, who would rise and stretch when we arrived, but Raven, with her hearing difficulty remained sound asleep.  Often we found ourselves hunched over watching Raven's chest rise and fall, just to be certain that she was still breathing, and she always was.  Once this bond became evident, Mama Cat belonged to Raven, or vice versa.

Raven snoring while Mama Cat rises to welcome us back to work.

When Raven would walk around the clinic, Mama cat would walk right between her legs, rubbing her ears and face on the soft undercoat of Raven's belly.  If Raven stood still, Mama Cat would rub her way from Raven's belly to her nose purring the entire time.  None of this seemed to bother Raven.

We have our silly stories together. She was so silent a passenger in the car, that I would sometimes forget she was with me. One time, I dropped my van at the auto shop for an oil change. I walked to work, and as I walked into the door, my heart stopped in realization of something! Raven was still in the car! My employee drove me to the auto shop. The car was high on the lift, and the repair crew had no idea why I ran into the building insisting they bring the car down. When I opened the hatch, Raven popped out as though nothing had happened. Back to the clinic we went, Raven trotting on her lead, leaving the guys at the shop with a story to take home that night.

With Raven gone, we wonder what to do about our sweet Mama Cat.  Should we continue to let her live in the clinic?  It's not a bad life by any means, but each animal we place into a home, provides an opening for another cat into our rescue.  Should we list her for adoption? Perhaps there is a family that would give her as much love as we do, and Raven did. 

Our memories and feelings of Raven are so intertwined with Mama Cat.  In the past weeks, Mama Cat has been interacting with us more than she ever had.  I believe she knew changes were coming.  I believe she knew Raven's time was coming. 

It was hard enough letting Raven go, I am unsure as to whether we can let Mama Cat go.  I know it is in her best interest to be in a home and family setting, but perhaps we will give her and ourselves some time to grieve.

Leaving the clinic tonight, and not needing to make sure Raven's food was in it's proper place, or that a light was left on so she could "see", was more than a bit sorrowful.  These actions become automatic, and will take time to dissipate.  Each time it happens will be a reminder of our loss.  We will be reminded again in the morning as we seek out Raven and Mama Cat.  My thoughts are with Mama Cat as I write this hoping she is nestled comfortably somewhere, without her partner of the last three years.

Despite the fact that Raven no longer lived in my home, or slept on my bed, I knew she was always there.  Like a warm blanket, or a soft shoulder, she was there.  And that is what Mama Cat, my staff and I will miss.

A note from my 7 year old daughter sits on the dry erase board at work...

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Iowa's Whistle Blowers BIll SF-431

Iowa is considering passing a Bill SF-431 also referred to as the Whistle blowers bill.  This bill passed in the House of Representatives, and is now being considered in the Senate.  In Section 9- 717A.2A, the bill addresses the legality of producing or possessing a video or audio recording of the facility without prior consent of the facility owner.  It would make anyone who produces or possesses such a video a criminal.

We live in a society where images have become our police. We record our babysitters to make sure our children are safe. We record our property to be certain our homes and businesses are safe. We fall victims of being recorded in stores. We are videotaped in businesses, recorded by friends and by strangers on cell phones. We are imaged by officers of the law on the highways going through red lights, or speeding past speed signs. There are television shows that give prizes for videos of people who often are unaware of the recording at the time they are made. We police others with our own actions, we are policed by strangers every time we leave our house. We accept and survive knowing this fact, and realize that this new era of technology has become the new Big Brother that is there to protect us, and perhaps make us realize that our behavior holds ramifications especially if the behavior is improper.

As a consumer of Iowa agricultural products, I have a right to know that the animals used to produce these products are well cared for and not abused or neglected. It makes me terribly uncomfortable to think that the living source of the products that I serve to my family are kept behind locked doors with little to no quality control or supervision.

In August of 2010, less than one year ago, an Iowa egg farm had to recall its eggs after making hundreds of people nationwide, not just Iowans, sick with Salmonella. After the outbreak, it was made evident that the producer had a well-known history of violations, with fines from multiple government agencies. It was brought to light that recent inspections of this facility were non-existent. These governmental agencies were trusted with protecting the American public, and protecting the livestock in this producer's care.  This one incident gave Iowa Agriculture a new look as it was mentioned again and again on nationwide television associated with this tragedy. 

Perhaps if the issues were brought to light, the illnesses could have been prevented, as could the bad PR that Iowa Agriculture took for being the cause of hundreds of illnesses in adults and children.  Employees risk losing their job for voicing concerns.  How does an employee show proof of protocol shortcuts, neglect, or abuse taking place in his or her work environment?  If you are an employee and cannot record or photograph evidence, it would be your word against those that are afraid of unemployment lines.  What outlet do concerned people and employees have when the rules in place are not being followed, other than going to the boss who is likely aware of the situation and not motivated to fix it? 

In April of 2010, Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, published a study entitled, FDA INSPECTIONS OF DOMESTIC FOOD FACILITIES. In this report, findings include the following quoted from the actual report:
"On average, FDA inspects less than a quarter of food facilities each year, and the number of facilities inspected has declined over time. "

"Fifty-six percent of food facilities have gone 5 or more years without an FDA inspection."

"Our report found significant weaknesses in FDA’s domestic inspections program. We found that there was a significant decline in the number of food facility inspections as well as a decline in the number of violations identified by FDA inspectors. Further, when violations were identified, FDA did not routinely take swift and effective action to ensure that these violations were remedied."

I fear that the effects of a law that makes "whistle blowers" criminals create an increasingly negative image recently left upon the reputation of Iowa Agriculture.  We take pride in our state and our livestock, what do we have to hide?  When those in charge fail to do their job, sometimes it is the whistle blowers that remind us why these supervisory jobs are so important. Why should animal facilities be exempt of the same policing that all Americans are subjected to on a daily basis?

Please ask your Iowa State Senator to Vote No on SF 431.  I would like to be confident that the animals in the care of all Iowans are safe and treated fairly while cared for in any Iowa facility, and that Iowa agricultural products are safe for my family. 

Representative Annette Sweeney is the writer of the bill.  View this news video from WHO-TV News to see her idea of ethical actions and her opinion of freedom of speech!

Is this video of a person stripping the display of a group with whome she is not affiliated proof of why video evidence can be helpful, and what can happen when people feel they are not being supervised? 

Here are more examples of undercover video that have helped make lives better: 
Scroll down the list and watch the videos of Iowa dogs and their breeders.  Then look for videos from your own state.  These videos have helped to pass laws which give more protection to animals within these facilities.

Representative Sweeney spoke at the Iowa Pet Breeders Association Annual Meeting.

If you are from Iowa, contact your State Senator and ask them to Vote No on SF-431 TODAY!

Not sure who your legislator is?  Visit

If your Representative is Annette Sweeney, District 44 (Much of Hardin and Marshall County Iowa)  Let her know your opinion of her actions and her bill today. 
Contact: Cell: (641)-373-4899

Agricultural facilities, including commercial dog breeders, do not have an open door policy for many reasons. What can happen behind closed doors, without proper oversight, is not something Iowans should want to hide or encourage. This legislation screams to the world that Iowans have something to hide. Let us prove that our animals are important enough to be cared for in the best way possible by following our animal care laws, rather than criminalizing those who dare to show us violating them.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Trip: Part 4 ... That is When I Saw Her

From where I was standing in the tiny office, there was half of one cage that was visible. In this cage, there was a little white dog. She was staring at me, straight in the eyes, and wagging her tail. "NO BONDING!" I reminded myself, "NO FALLING IN LOVE!"  If I bonded, if I fell in love, I could not take that dog with me.  If that dog was not on the retirement list, it was not coming with us. It would just break my heart to look deep into a dog's eyes and leave her or him behind knowing that the cage was all he or she would know.  So I did all I could to avoid looking at her.  I moved a little further into the office in an attempt to get her gorgeous pleading eyes out of my line of sight.
But she moved.  She stuck her head into the top corner of the kennel, the only part that was now visible to me, and she was again in my line of sight. She stared. She wagged. Her eyes pleaded, and my heart sank.  She acted as though she knew me, although that was impossible.  She had two cagemates, but only she wanted to make eye contact. Avoiding eye contact is an act of submission often seen in puppy mill dogs.  The little white dog wanted to make eye contact so strongly that she was contorting herself in the upper corner of the back of her cage to achieve it. She looked at me, tail wagging, and body wiggling. I moved again, and so did she. Damn.

There were only a few dogs left on the list. "Some Lhasas, some Bichons..." as the kennel owner went through the remainder of the list. The other rescue girls were done.  Their limit was reached, so they asked if my assistant and I wanted to see the remaining dogs. My assistant looked at me, and I responded affirmatively. As I walked out of the office, I tried not to look into that little white dog's cage, but there she was! I turned away again. Damn.

The owner walked us deeper into the building. He showed us a few more dogs. As we walked back to the office, he pointed to one more cage. It was a cage by the office.  It was her cage!  It was the little white dog's cage! He said something to my assistant, but I could not hear the words over the barking. My heart was pounding! My assistant asked me if I wanted any of them. My reply into her ear, "Yes, take them all."  She was completely unaware of the interactions that took place between the little white dog and me.  Her response was, "All of them?"  I responded with a yes that was outwardly calm, but inside of me I was screaming "YES!  TAKE ALL OF THEM! WOO HOO!"  I agreed to take all three of the dogs from that cage in order to be certain that the little white dog was mine! I could not believe my luck! The little white dog was coming with us!

The owner started pulling the dogs out of the kennel and handing them to us.  The little white girl was placed right into my arms. Her little body went stiff as I held her because she was now out of the only comfort zone she had ever known, her cage. This is a very typical reaction of puppy mill dogs when removed from the only environment they know. Their body stiffens and it is like carrying a doggy CPR dummy. But I could feel her tail wagging as it hit me in the back.  I carried her to the tiny office. If I had a tail, it would have been wagging too! I was thrilled, but tried so hard not to show it.

Inside the little office, the dogs' microchips were scanned and the owner checked them off the list of his breeding stock. These dogs were no longer breeders! They were ours, and they were going to a new life! Even the little white pest who kept staring at me!

When the final dogs were checked off the list, and the kennels in our vans were beyond full, the owner turned and shook everyone's hand. The deal was done. It was an easy and inexpensive way to cull his breeding lot. The owner seemed to appreciate having this option.

When we shook hands, it was a business deal. It was his way of thanking us for doing "business" with him. It was my way of thanking him for allowing us to do business with him. It was not an acceptance of what he does.  As long as what he does is acceptable by local, state, and federal laws, I will continue to be there for the dogs being handed over to rescue.  The handshake was an appreciation of what he is allowing us to do. For that, I do thank him, and so do the dogs.

And now for the moment you have been waiting for, here they are...

The 4-6 dogs I was going there to rescue, somehow became 12 dogs.

Maltese Born July 2004

Shih Tzu Born October 2006

Shih Tzu Born December 2006

Bichon Frise Born March 2005

Robin: one of Little White Girl's cagemates
Lhasa Apso Born April 2005

Silky Terrier Born September 2006

Sugar Watch her Video : one of Little White Girl's cagemates
Lhasa Apso Born May 2006

Shih Tzu Born August 2007

Maltese Born May 2010

Brussels Griffon Born July 2006

Shih Tzu Born November 2007

And my precious little white girl:

Lhasa Apso Born April 2006

On the drive home, the car was oddly quiet. The dogs were too frightened to make any noise. My adrenaline was still pumping.  It is not a good thing to visit a place where animals that you think of as family are considered no more than inventory, especially when you care for animals as deeply as I do, but I felt good about the fact that I finally did experience the "thing" about which I am so vocal.

I would and will do it again, because each dog I am given, gifts that dog and it's future family a new beginning.

To see who has been adopted, and who is still available for adoption, visit our adoptable pets at .

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Trip: Part 3

*(if you missed part 2, click here "PART 2" to read it)*

The cold metal handle on the door opened up a whole new world to me.  It was a world that I have heard about, one of which I had seen photographs, one that I have fought actively against.  But this is my first time stepping into a puppy mill.  I was hesitant, but how could you fight something wholeheartedly without having truly experienced it?

The cages were made of wire mesh coated with a black plastic.  The mesh made up all four walls, the ceiling, and the floor of every cage.  The dogs barked and bounced within their cages.  There was a strong ammonia smell from the urine and feces.  The one thing that no photograph or video can give you is the intensity of that smell.

As you step into the building, your feet hit a concrete floor.  There were cages to the right and to the left of us, with a solid object, possibly a ventilation unit, running down the center of the room. We were led through the first room of the building.

The design of the cages' waste trays was creative, to say the least. The design was intended to minimize the work required to clean the entire building.   Beneath each kennel, was a waste tray installed at an angle, creating a ramp onto which the feces and urine would drop onto after making its way through the wire mesh floor of the cage.  The ramp would cause the urine and feces to roll down the ramp into a trench that ran the length of the building on the floor. Unfortunately, the trench was on the other side of the narrow walking space on the floor. The walking space was probably around 12-18 inches in width. The urine and feces were meant to roll down the ramp, across the walkway into the trench. That which did not make the trip on its own, sat on the ramp, or on the walkway. The walkway on which we were walking.

The kennels housing the dogs were similar to those seen in the photos below with the exception of the box attachement intended for shelter.  There was no box or any shelter area as in the photos below because these cages were inside a building.  Most of the cages had more than one dog, most had two or three. They all barked and danced on their hind limbs at the front of the cages excitedly.  They were likely hoping that we were there to feed them.

The cages lacked any toys, blankets, and there was no solid resting surface upon which the dogs could rest. The Federal Animal Welfare Act was amended in April of 1999 removing the requirement for dogs to have any solid resting surface.

"Summary: We are adopting as a final rule, without change, an interim rule that amended the regulations under the Animal Welfare Act pertaining to primary enclosures for dogs and cats by removing the requirement that primary enclosures with flooring made of mesh or slatted construction include a solid resting surface."

The amendment removed the requirement for facilities like this to provide a solid surface within a wire kennel for an animal to rest upon.  There was no way for the dogs to get their feet or bodies on a solid or soft surface.  There was nothing other than the wire mesh that they rest upon for their entire reproducing life.

I could see Pomeranians, Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, Bichon Frises... but I didn't spend long looking at them.  I knew that if I fell in love with any of these dogs that I could not take it with me.  I could not take one home that was not already on the "to go" list.  As I walked down the room's small walkway, I avoided making eye contact with the dogs. There would be no visual or momentary bonding, because my hands were tied.

If I were to do or say anything to upset the owner, the outcome could be that the owner would discontinue his work with rescue. The dogs that routinely left this place to be vetted and await a new family with their rescue group, would no longer have that outlet. The only options without rescue would be sending the "discontinued" dogs to auctions or dog sales, selling them directly to other breeders to continue this life of production, or euthanizing them hopefully by a veterinarian, but that is not always the most economical decision for large commercial breeders.

View this video to hear a breeder discuss his option for putting down dogs...

If a veterinarian is not euthanizing the dogs, how is it being done???

There are more videos like this at , the website of the Companion Animal Protections Society. Perhaps there is one from your state.

Being aware of these other "options", I appreciate any breeder that will "dispose of their outdated stock" by giving it to rescue. It costs rescue groups a lot of money, as well as emotional expense, to house and care for these animals before they get adopted, but if you ask most rescuers, these are expenses they are willing to pay when presented with the other options.

Halfway down the building was a tiny office.  We were led into this tiny office where the owner consulted a list of dogs needing to go.  Some of the dogs were no longer producing well due to age or health reasons.  Some of the dogs were members of a breed that he was no longer interested in selling. 

I stood inside the office as he went through the list of retirees with the rescuers in charge of this particular rescue.  The kennel owner consulted his book and listed off the breeds still in the kennel that he was willing to retire.  I stood back and casually observed the tiny office.  There were towels on the floor, some spotted with blood.  The whelping dogs were kept in another building, so perhaps the blood was from vaccinations, or implanting the dogs microchips, or even a brief dog fight or cage wound. 

Then, I glanced outside the office door, and that is when I saw her.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Dear Whoopi,

This morning on The View, you made a statement defending your right to purchase a puppy from a pet store. 

I would support your right to buy a puppy from a pet store IF 99% of those puppies did not come from puppy mills. You and all consumers have the right to buy a puppy whose parents are not neglected and suffering in these horrible mills. When that puppy in the window's parents are no longer suffering and are being raised and loved in a home setting, receiving proper veterinary and grooming care, and know what it is like to be part of a family rather than refered to as a # amongst breeding stock, then I will agree with you. When animals INCLUDING PUPPIES are not being routinely euthanized in shelters all over the US, then I will agree with you. For now, we stand far apart.

I see animals from these large facilities in such deplorable condition.  They come into my office with matted coats, teeth literally rotting out of their heads, interdigital cysts between their toes caused by irritation from living only on wire flooring, eyes burned dry from environmental conditions that have high concentrations of ammonia due to volumes of urine and feces, urine scalding from sitting in their own urine and feces, coats permanently stained from sitting in their own urine and feces.   The odor cannot be washed from their fur, so they must be shaved. 

US shelters are routinely euthanizing dogs, cats,  AND puppies, and kittens by the millions per year.  In an economy when people's lives are being abruptly changed due to job losses, divorces, and evictions, the shelters and rescues are inundated with animals with which even loving owners tearfully have to part.  Many of these animals never find homes.

Here is a well done educational video, The Truth About Euthanasia!

Yet these commercial breeders/puppy mills are still producing their product.  In Iowa alone there are approximately 400 puppy mills, many of whom have hundreds of dogs breeding within them.  The number of puppies produced are staggering, and they are sold in pet stores and on the internet. 

Here are a few videos you can watch to see what puppy mills are:

When buying that puppy from the pet store, you are sentencing that puppy's parents to sit in squalor and breed until they no longer produce.  You are saying that what those parents are suffering is OK. 

What happens when they no longer produce?  Let's ask a breeder...

Please remember, the puppy sold today from that pet shop window, may be the dog that is euthanized in the shelter in 2 years when no one adopts it.

(My apologies to my regular readers, I had to interrupt in the middle of a blog series, but could not resist speaking out when I heard about Whoopi Goldberg's remarks.  Thank you to Companion Animal Protection Society for their videos and more importantly, for their continued investigations and enlightenment.)

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The Trip: Part 2

I parked next to the the other rescue vehicle. I popped open the rear hatch on the van which raised my back personalized license plate out of view.  I could practically hear the empty pet carriers scream for their new occupants.

Two women walked out of a white building carrying two dogs. These women were the other rescue team.  The dogs they held quickly went into the carriers in their car.   My assistant climbed into the back of their van and helped them arrange their crates in their car.  She moved the ones with occupants to the front of the vehicle, and the empty ones toward the back so they were easily reached when the next rescue dogs came out of the building.

I stood there longing to get inside the building, but I had to wait patiently. A man came out of the building also carrying a small dog. He was wearing ear protection gear that looked similar to 1970's headphones.

I thought at first that he was with the girls, another rescue volunteer, but I soon realized that he was the kennel owner. 
Several trips in and out of the building, and many rescue dogs into one vehicle or the other.  When their van was almost filled, it was time to fill our kennels.  We were invited inside.

My heart pounded as I approached the door, again scared and excited.  On the door of the building was a warning sign for potential thieves similar to this one:

My instinct was to grab my camera.  I found the sign somewhat comical and wanted a photo.  But I didn't grab my camera.   But I SO wanted to!  But I didn't.  But I SO wanted to!  But I didn't.  I did not want to do anything to jeopardize the rescue.  If the owner of the kennel or the rescue group saw me pull out a camera, tempers would flair from both sides!

The door to the building was finally opened.  I remember the cold metal handle hitting my hand.  It wasn't a special handle, but it was a special moment.

The waft of urine, ammonia, and feces hits you like a brick as the door opens.  I was so anxious that I felt as though I was running into the building!  But I wasn't running.  I was walking.  Even more astounding than the odor, was the sound.  The sound of 600 dogs barking about our presence.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Trip: Part 1

I had an opportunity to rescue dogs that were being voluntarily relinquished by a commercial breeder, aka puppy mill, into rescue.  This is certainly not the first opportunity I have had to rescue the dogs, but this is the first time that I had been invited to retrieve the dogs from on site. 

It was a long drive.  Not just because it was many miles, but because I was nervous.  The person in charge of the rescue had made it clear that I was not to do or say anything.  There should be no remarks or reactions regarding the conditions of the place.  There should be no remarks or reactions to the conditions of the dogs.  I was to be the blind assistant.  Take the dog you are given and put it in the kennel that you questions, no remarks, no regrets.

It was relayed to me that the rescuers were nervous about my participation, perhaps because I am so vocal about animal welfare.   It was a bit disconcerting that the rescue group thought my presence might pose a threat.  I had feared being recognized by the breeder, but never gave a thought that the rescue people would be hesitant to allow me to participate.  I promised to behave.

My assistant had mentioned we could probably get 6 to 8 dogs according to open cages left at the clinic.  I was thinking more along the lines of 4 to 6 dogs.  I hate overworking my staff caring for the animals and did not want to overwhelm anyone.  I hope my employees see it NOT as a never ending job, but as an effort of the heart.

As we pulled onto the driveway, I thought about our preparation for today. We had loaded kennels into the back of the van. As my assistant closed the door to my van, I asked, "Should we bring extra kennels, there is a lot of room back here?" Her response was a wise one, "We have one extra kennel. Don't allow yourself to bite off more than you can chew."

During the entire drive, I nervously chatted.  I cannot for the life of me recall what conversations took place on the way there.  I just remember hearing my own voice almost constantly.

I wanted to go there to see for myself what these places are like, but I was so scared of any negative ramifications.  This is a potentially traumatizing personal experience.  I am an emotional  wimp, in case you have not figured that out.  I cry during talk shows, cry during old movies, cry watching animal planet when they are doing or seeing the exact same thing I see in my own rescue world... abuse, neglect, or apathy.  Why on Earth was I subjecting myself to this experience?!

I was initially nervous about pissing off the owner of the facility...and now I was scared of pissing off the rescue people.  Burning bridges does not make rescue any easier.  If I did blow up, the owner could simply decide to quit working with rescue groups and sell his dogs at auctions to other breeders.  The dogs would go from one cage to another, rather than to a retirement home.  This would not bode well for the rescue group, but more importantly, this would not bode well for the dogs.

As we pulled into the driveway, I left cameras and cell phones in the car.  No risk!  Suddenly, I regretted having personalized plates, but glad I remembered to remove my magnet!

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Angel Who Could Not Fly

An email arrives in my inbox.  It was just one of many similar emails received on any typical day in rescue.  Upon opening it, I see many furry, friendly faces staring at me through the computer screen.  One in particular catches my eye.   A three month old puppy is unfortunate enough to find herself sitting in a high kill shelter, and her days are numbered.   Look into those blue eyes and tell me you don't love her.

I didn't fall for this puppy just because of her cute face.  I didn't fall for this puppy just because of her stunning blue eyes.  I fell for her because she had a deformity, a birth defect that put her life at risk.  I knew that this defect, even though it was not a life threatening one, was potentially life threatening in a shelter situation.

When requests for help are sent out from any shelter, it is often the "difficult" placements that get left behind for euthanasia day.  The old dogs, the black dogs, the large dogs, the ill mannered dog, and the dogs that have health issues.  I knew this puppy would likely be left behind as few rescue groups or shelters can afford the amount of veterinary care she would need to take care of this defect in order to be considered "adoptable".

She is functional as she is.  There is no question about that.  But would she get adopted with such a deformity if it was not "fixed"?  Would an adopter consider her for their home, or fear the unknown issues that may present as a result of this deformity in the future?  Would this deformity affect her gait as she grew to adulthood?  A dog will sometimes attempt to use a deformed leg, and this may lead to chronic injury as the dog gets bigger and places more weight on the leg.  I feared that the high cost of "repair" and low probability of an "as is" adoption put this dog at high risk for euthanasia.  I was right.  I asked the shelter if anyone had stepped up to take this pup, and no one had. 

So I did.

The original photograph did not reveal much of the details of the deformity, so I requested that the shelter volunteers send a few more photos.  The deformity involved her left forelimb.  Look closely at the photo below.  The normal right leg is pressed against the holder's blue sweatshirt.  The deformed left leg is in the foreground.  It looks as though a third front leg is protruding from the pup's proper left foreleg.  It may be interesting and odd, being a five legged dog.  But being interesting and odd would not keep her out of the euthanasia room.

Upon arrival, we named her Polly, a shortened version of the term "polydactyl" meaning extra toes.  A surgery intern at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine was eager to meet Polly and look at her leg once I shared her photographs with him.  He examined the leg and he was interested in getting a more detailed look at her leg using x-rays to see if the leg could be salvaged surgically, rather than amputated.

Polly's radiographs (the medical term for x-rays) revealed that it was not an extra leg growing out of a normal anatomic leg.  The defect consisted of her normal radius and ulna being separately wrapped in skin, making it appear as though there was an extra leg.

The consensus among Iowa State's surgeons was that the leg would need to be amputated.  Polly returned to my clinic.  A few days later I amputated the leg that almost got her killed.

I immediately posted Polly on  Shortly thereafter, I received an email from an interested adopter.

"We are interested in adopting another puppy. 3 years ago we adopted our mixed breed Jenny from and she is a dream. We have been in training since she was 8 wks and continue to bring her for socialization. Our home has a fenced in back yard which is surrounded by conservation land. My husband and I have no children, but we love animals. What we are looking for is a companion and playmate for our 3 year old, she has lots of energy and is well mannered. Our hope is to someday pass the Canine Good Citizen test and visit nursing homes. The only reason she has not passed is she gets a BIG F for friendly! Knowing Polly may lose her leg stands out because I wonder if it is harder to find them forever homes. We would be interested in speaking to someone re: Polly and find out how she is doing. You can email or call my cell."

After a few weeks of recovery time, and approval of her interested adopter (they could not have had a more beautiful application), transport to New England was arranged.  Airline requirements mandate that the temperature at every stop between starting and ending point has to be above a certain temperature, and in the dead of winter, this presented a serious issue.  Polly was scheduled for her flight.  Her first flight was cancelled due to extremely cold weather.  She was scheduled for another flight.  That flight was also cancelled due to extreme weather.   Hopes were high, then hopes were dashed.  It seemed this girl would not get the chance to fly home.

Also in the clinic, we had a rescued Brittany Spaniel that was going to the New England Brittany Rescue by car transport.  Car transport consists of volunteers, each driving the rescued dog in 50-100 mile increments.  That dog inches its way across the country one car at a time.  At our request, and their acceptance, Polly was able to go from Iowa to New England via automobile, into the arms of her new forever home over 1200 miles away.

Polly's new Mom and Dad, Chris and Blair, monitored the progress of the transport on their email.  Each time the dogs went from one volunteer's car to the next, the transport coordinator sent an email to all of the participants about the status of the transport and to correct any time changes.  If the transport was running behind or ahead of schedule, the volunteers could adjust their meeting time to avoid waiting needlessly.
On these volunteer transports, the recipients of the rescue dog that is being transported, whether they are a rescue group or an adopter, are required to drive up to 150 miles to meet the transport of the pet they await.  Chris and Blair did this without hesitation.

The transport weekend arrived and on day two, Chris and Blair waited anxiously at the agreed upon meeting spot for the transfer.  This final transfer was not just a dog going from one car to the next.  This transfer was the most important one.  On this final transfer, a homeless dog becoming a family member.
They watched for the vehicle described in the Final Transport Run Sheet that was sent to all transport volunteers for confirmation before the transport began.  Finally, the anxiously awaited vehicle arrives, and Blair and Chris get to meet their new girl.  As Polly's leash was handed from volunteer's hand to new Mom and Dad's hands, the volunteer looked at them and said, "You have yourselves an angel here". 

I wonder if that transport volunteer realized that she and all the volunteers on that two day transport mission also had wings.

A few weeks later, another email arrives.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. we can't say it enough. We have changed Polly's name to Allie. When we first brought her home she was like an "allie gator" slithering around the hard wood floors snapping at Jenny's ankles. She has brought so much joy to our home. Yes, you were right she is full of energy and can run like the wind with her new sister. We bring her 2 days a week for socialization to a day care where they play all day with other dogs and the employees there LOVE her. All are amazed at how she gets around. She just won an award for the Halloween costume contest, she was captain hook!

We could not be happier. Thank you all so much for giving her a chance, I do believe it was fate that got me on the computer that day when I found her on your website.  It was a long wait in trying to get her with the cold weather but the wait was well worth it. She is a dream! "

Here we are, three years later, and another email arrived.
"From the moment we picked her up she has been smiling and so have we. Not sure if you recall, but when we found her on Petfinder, we felt she looked a lot like our 3 yr old rescue Jenny. It was meant to be! She runs like the wind and is fearless. She chases birds, bunnies and snakes. Running till she can't go any further, then taking long naps with Jenny. Even while she sleeps, her legs are moving while she dreams of her next adventures!"

While they had mentioned that Polly/Allie looked a lot like their current dog, Jenny, I was shocked at the resemblance!

A friend and mentor of mine, Mary Ann, once said to me, "Dogs and cats are born with three legs and a spare." I never forgot that statement.  Allie is living proof of the truth in that statement.
Two beautiful dogs, a loving family, and a wonderful new life for a dog whose life was almost robbed of its chance to begin.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

She Wouldn't Leave.

I received an email a few weeks ago with the subject line, "Afghanistan soldier pet on way to my house‏". I almost passed it over as spam, but the name looked familiar so I opened it. I am so glad I did.

"I am hoping you will help me... My son is stationed in Afghanistan near Bagram and shortly after he got there he befriended a "puppy" that was being kicked and having rocks thrown at her by the locals. This animal has been his companion since he has been stationed there , however, he was ordered a couple weeks ago to stop feeding her and if she did not disappear with the other animals around their compound then she would be shot...
I will be in need of a doctor....."

I was honored to be asked to help a dog in such special circumstance. I was excited to know that the soldier was comforted during his time at war by a dog.  I was saddened to hear of another circumstance in which shooting a dog is considered acceptable. 

Aaron was stationed at a small post 81km outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, known to the troops as Red Hill.  Stray dogs and cats are drawn to army posts for one reason only, the compassion of a soldier. Not every soldier is compassionate to the animals that stray onto base.  In fact, I am certain there are some that are not only not compassionate, but those that are just plain mean.  Why should it be any different than the general population?

The Army's General Order 1-B of 2006,  prohibits the "adopting as pets or mascots, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal."  I understand why such a rule can be important for the safety of our troops and for the animals, but I can also see where some soldiers, just as in the general population, may interpret "not caring for" an animal as an excuse or license to be unkind or abusive.

In Afghanistan culture, dogs and cats are not considered pets. They are considered unclean and impure. It is believed that angels do not enter a house which contains a dog. As a result, animals are not cared for, but often treated as offensive and distasteful creatures to be kept away from family and property. From the Puppy Rescue Mission Website, "it’s as if the animals know the difference between the heart of an American versus that of an Afghan ... dogs growl at the Afghan soldiers but show nothing but love towards American soldiers."

These animals find a soldier who will give them a scrap a food, a warm place to sleep, or just a scratch behind the ear, and their life is phenomenally better.  Both of their lives are phenomenally better.  These animals will continue to care for these soldiers, and they will work their way through a battery of boot kicks and thrown rocks to do so.  These animals will be loyal to their soldiers and do their best to protect them of harm.  In return, the soldiers receive love, comfort, consolation, and a reminder of home. Pets can calm a stressed soldier, and offer solace to a lonely heart.

Proof of a base camp pet's loyalty lies in the tale of Target, Rufus, and Sasha:
Or the tale of Nubs the Dog:

But what happens when the troops leave?  Will the animals attempt to follow?  Will the animals stay behind and linger to only eventually perish after the care they received has walked away?  Will they become a hostile feral dog pack?  Will soldiers be so heartbroken leaving them behind that they cannot perform their military function?  When the troops are ordered to eliminate the pets, what becomes of their loyalty and pride in their chosen service?  Perhaps these are some of the reasons for the general order.

Below are some comments from soldiers in response to an article entitled "Bases going to the dogs - and cats"
"I had the horrible task of removing all pet dogs from Camp Eagle, RVN in March of 1972, when the 101st ABN ' went home'. It was because, the US Army pets might, and probably would, become hostile packs attacking the local Vietnamese. Our own 'hootch dog' Butch, was the first dog we had to load up into the back of the 3/4 ton truck. You probably cannot imagine both the hostility and tears of GI's as we went through Camp eagle from Bn to Bn. We loaded the dogs and took them to Phu Bai to the US veterinarian (who) was too euthanize all of them. It was and never will be a mission that I was proud of."

"We had to do essentially the same thing some years ago in Djibouti - tough mission, and one I never want to go through again. I'm with you...... "

Another comment on the same article:

"when my son returned from Afghanistan, his impatience and stress showed until he started petting his rescued dogs. Literally you could see the strain disappear from his face."

Aaron, the soldier whose Mother had sent me the email, has seen dogs come and go on base, but there was something about the dog that soon became known as Oreo.

"I see dogs here everyday, just something about her."

"She wouldn't leave. I gave her a rabies shot when I got here and fed her. Then there were dogs "spreading disease" and we were told they all had to go. She kept coming back to my tent.  She was taking some big kicks and getting hit w rocks daily.  I kept her alive til I could get her out of here." said Aaron.

When Aaron was ordered to stop feeding her so she would leave camp, he asked for help.

He wrote a letter to "Puppy Rescue Mission". 

"I am writing to you because I have been told that my lil girl Oreo has a limited amount of time here with us on my COP. I have taken care of her, gotten her shots mailed from home. She had a pretty good set-up. I knew there was going to come a day when I would have to leave and go home and thought I had time to try and take her with. Yesterday, I was ordered to remove her food bowls, blanket and stop feeding her. She is sad, but didn't go away. She is still outside my tent. I have been told that it is just a matter of time before they will be "putting down" the remaining dogs that are around here.

I don't quite know what to do? I snuck her food and have been giving my friends food to give her. They ordered me, not them, after all.

Oreo is 8 months old +/-. I would have to say. I paid my driver $100 to run her up there and will continue to send you money for her care and to get her fund going. I have had a fellow Sgt take pictures and I will get them to you ASAP. I am sure that I can get the ball rolling with help from the other soldiers here as well as my facebook network. I also look forward to continuing to work to help this cause even after we get Oreo to her forever home.

Thanks a ton, let me know if there is anything else that I can do in the meantime!

She should arrive (at the shelter) in the next couple of hours...I miss her already but it is such a relief to know she is safe."

Aaron's $100 got Oreo safely from the base camp to a shelter in Kabul.  While in the shelter, Aaron sent in his contribution to the Puppy Rescue Mission for Oreo's trip.  Puppy Rescue Mission raised funds for her as well.  In two days, $2800 was raised to transport Oreo safely to the United States.

Oreo was transported from Kabul, Afghanistan to Pakistan.  In Pakistan, she boarded a plane for New York, a flight that would last approximately fourteen hours.

Oreo was now on US soil, but far from her new home.  Another $430 paid by Aaron, and Oreo flew from New York, to Detroit for a brief layover, and then on to Des Moines, Iowa. 

Oreo is adjusting to life in the US, and is now being cared for by Aaron's mother and brother.

When asked about the expense involved with bringing Oreo home, Aaron remarked, "I just paid it, nothing to spend money on here, that's for sure... important thing is she is safe. I just couldn't let anything happen to her"

There is another controversial aspect to this type of rescue.  Should we be bringing animals from other countries into our country, where our own dogs and cats are disposed of  in US shelters to the extent of over 3 million per year? 

When our soldiers, the people we trust to defend us, the people who sacrifice time with their family to protect those they do not know, have bonded with an animal during what is likely the most difficult time in their life, providing them a way to bring that source of comfort home is a way to give that soldier the respect he or she deserves.  Discounting that bond, dismissing that love created during peace or war, would be a disservice to both soldier and dog.

Oreo is the first mission dog to come to Iowa.  She will not be the last. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Oreo.  I was fortunate enough to provide her with her veterinary care.  I was most fortunate to have been able to hold her. 

I completely understand why Aaron loves her.  While I believe all dogs have the ability to love and be loyal, not every dog has that "Je ne sais quoi" that Oreo has.  Her eyes look into your soul, and when you talk, you know she not only listens, but understands.  She melts into your lap when you get close to her.  You can almost feel the love come out of her when you hold her.   She exudes trust and unconditional love, which is amazing considering the life dogs have in Afghanistan. 

I met Oreo for moments, and will love her for life.  I am certain her soldier, Aaron, felt the same way when they first met.  Aaron, I pray for your safe return home.  Your new member of the family awaits you with a heart made of solid gold, just like yours.

I just hope your brother is willing to hand her over!

If you would like to support the Puppy Rescue Mission, visit their website at

This group began when a few stray dogs saved the lives of dozens of sleeping soldiers from a suicide bomber. You can read this story here: .  The soldiers wanted to bring the dogs back to the US with them. One of the soldiers' wives initiated a fundraising campaign on facebook. This campaign for a few dogs and a few soldiers, became a project dedicated to many dogs and cats and their respective and respected soldiers.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Sock It To Me

I can remember my friend, Adrian, walking over to me when we were in veterinary school.  I knew he was up to something.  He put his arm slowly around my shoulder, and with a smirk on his face, he asked, "Lisa, do you own any article of clothing that does not have an animal on it?" 

During my years at vet school, my sister would send me clothing and jewelry with animals on them.  I had earrings, pins, ear muffs, hats, mittens, shirts, bracelets, rings, all of them featuring dogs, cats, cows, pigs, or some other critter.

I had a favorite shirt.  It was a denim button down with the front end of a cow on the front of the shirt, and the back end of a cow on the back of the shirt.

I had myself convinced that this shirt made it appear as though I had been comically pierced with a Holstein.  The shirt is now so stained, faded, and worn that it is unfit to wear, yet I will not part with it.  Perhaps I will make a little pillow out of it.

I also collected small animal doctors. I am literally referring to animals that are doctors. I have cat doctors, mouse doctors, cow doctors, pig doctors. If the nik-nak is a human doctor, then the patient being cared for is an animal of some sort.

My animal item collecting has become much less aggressive, I no longer seek out dog earrings, cat bracelets, or small animal doctor nik-naks.  It is rare that I find a cute dog or cat shirt.  They often remind me of the 80's so I just walk away from them.  But my sock drawer is a completely different story!

My sock drawer is like a tiny quiet Noah's Ark.  Each sock, and its mate, are nestled safely inside my drawer.  They sit, two by two, and no two pair are alike.  My husband is convinced that these socks are reproducing as it seems to get more difficult to close the drawer.  When I see socks with animals on it in a store, I stop.  It is as though I can not rest until every animal sock is nestled comfortably in my sock drawer! 

When I was fortunate enough to go to Paris, I did not bring back a miniature La Tour Eiffel, but I will encourage you to take a guess as to what I did bring back from the City of Love.

You guessed it!  French socks with kitties on them!

Not everyone sees my socks when I wear them, but I know they are there.  It is a subtle way of expressing my personality and my desire to resist growing up.

Socks are a fun collectible.  They allow you to show your personality, and yet they are completely functional.  You do not need to dedicate wall space to display them.  You do not need to install shelving.  You do not need to hang them just right, or put them in the right order for aesthetic purposes.  You need only have two feet, and you choose to whom you will show them.

Each year I retire a few pairs after they lose their elasticity, or I find they have holes.  Sock retirement is somewhat bittersweet.  No two pair in my drawer are alike, so each pair that is retired is gone for good .

Then again, with each pair that enters into retirement, I can keep my eyes open for new ones.

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