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Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Toast to Foster Homes...

Foster homes.  They are a crucial part of animal rescue.  They take in a homeless animal and house it until a forever home and family is found for that animal. Fostering an animal opens a cage at a shelter and helps to save a life.  Foster families are extremely difficult to come by as few people believe they can handle housing an animal for an undetermined length of time, then watch it leave their home to go to another.  When we don't have enough fosters, sometimes our staff and volunteers that usually function in a different capacity, step up to foster.

A few years back, I fostered a dog, Emmie.  She was a Border Collie mix that came from a hoarder in another county.



I was hoping she would fit into my family on a permanent basis, but my son was young and she did not blend with an aggressive two year old very well.  She continued as our foster but I knew that a new home was still the best thing for her.  I fell deeply in love with her as she had the appearance AND the personality of my first dog, Immy, the Special One. 

Immy Yawning

Immy was that one dogin your life who gives you that feeling deep in your heart that you know you will likely never find again, that one dog that loves you in a way that seems human and nurturing.  I think to her dying day, she believed she was my caregiver rather than vice versa.  But the timing was wrong, so a new home was in the cards for her and the hand off would be difficult for me once this new home, the right home, reared its head.

My Adoption Coordinator at the time, Jill, had warned me that she was processing an adoption application for Emmie and this one seemed to be a great fit.  She had discussed previous applications with me, and oddly, I was able to find reason to hesitate on adopting Emmie to other applicants, as I just felt they were never quite the right fit for her.  Because I was her foster mom, I knew what her specific needs were, and was being quite picky about satisfying them.  But Jill said this application glowed.   The woman was perfect on paper, and her personal and veterinary references were outstanding.  I had to come to grips with the fact that this woman might be "The One" for Emmie.  But I was still hesitant to let her go.  I dreaded the thought of watching her walk out the door for the last time. The thought of letting Emmie go, made me feel as though I was losing Immy all over again...and it was heartbreaking.

Sometimes in rescue, it is the strangest thing that makes you realize that things are right.  Sometimes it is not a question on an application, or the kind words of a personal reference, or even a qualitative review of  previous veterinary records that let us know that a person is the one for our adoptable pet.  This was one of those times. 

Jill walked into the surgery room one day while I was spaying a cat.  She announced that she had a question for me and she wore an emotional yet knowing look on her face. 

"Oh boy.  What is it?" I responded, hesitant to hear the question.

Jill replied, "I was doing the phone interview with the woman who is interested in Emmie".  My heart sank a little with these words. "Everything went well as far as our questions for her.  When we were finished, she said she had a question for us."

Generally speaking, most of the applicant's questions are answered during the adoption process. These questions usually include, "Does she bark alot?  Is she housebroken? What does he eat?  Does he like dogs, cats or kids?"  So why Jill was standing before me with a tear in her eye, and a smirk on her face befuddled me.  What question needed to be addressed to me, and why this odd reaction?

Jill looked at me a moment longer.  When she did speak, the words were,

"Does she like toast?"

I stared at her and numbly said, "What?"

"She wants to know if Emmie likes toast.  She has toast every morning and is hoping that Emmie will sit with her and share it with her."

We both laughed and almost cried.  This question sold me on this woman as being "The One" for Emmie.  I looked down at the dog that was laying by my feet as I did surgery, knowing that my days with her were now numbered.

This question told me several things about Emmie's potential adopter.  It told me that she was looking for a pet with whom she could share her life.  It told me that she was not just looking for a pet, but was looking for a furry companion to share even the smallest of moments.  It also told me that she did not want just any dog, but was looking for the right one, The One that would appreciate those small moments.  This question told me that Emmie would have all the mental stimulation, physical stimulation, and emotional connection that I knew, as her foster mom, that she needed.  This question eased my sorrow about watching Emmie go to a new home because now I knew this was going to be a great match.

Every once in a while, I will smile as the words run through my brain, "Does she like toast".

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Tail of Two Kitties... Part 3

(Part 3 in a 3 part series: Read Part 1 HERE, and Part 2 HERE.)

The phone rang at the animal clinic.  The voice on the other end of the line was immediately recognized as one of our favorite clients.  His voice had an element of concern, that told us something was troubling him.

"I found this kitten.  Someone left it on my porch in a box. Obviously the person who left it is someone who knows me well enough to know I love cats."

He continued, "I was hoping you could take a look at it.  There is something really wrong with it. It's head looks like it was hurt, and I think he is blind."  The concern in his voice changed to worry. 

"Bring him over, we will take a look."  He thanked me with a sincerity that few people have when they speak these words, and I suspect he was half way in his car before the phone disconnected the call.

I told the staff another kitten was coming in to see us, and would likely stay with us. I was unsure whether this kitten would become an adoptable pet through us, or go home with the client.  While this client and his wife have hearts of gold for their cats, they also have what many would consider a full house. As their veterinarian, I was confident that if they did add another feline to their furry family, that it would be well cared for.  I also knew from conversations held previously, that they had no intentions of adding any more cats to their kitty crew.

Again, in preparation for what I was about to be confronted with, my mind started projecting possibilities of what might be going on with this kitten.  I did this with emergencies too, in an effort to prepare myself for what I was going to see, and plan my action and reaction. Perhaps this kitty was suffering from a severe Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI).  When kittens get these bad colds, their eyes often glue up and seal closed temporarily.  It is possible the kitten suffered a trauma of some sort.  I did not wish to think too long and hard about what I might see if that was the case, but the fact that the client wasn't overly distressed told me it was likely nothing too gory.

The bells chimed on the clinic door as it opened, and in walked the client with this tiny kitten. The kitten was all black, just like Tres, although his fur coat was shorter. He was also a male.  He was quite comfortable being held and carried into the office.  He did not struggle like a feral cat might if not used to human hands.  As I picked up the kitten, I noticed several things right away.

The kitten's eyes were non-existent.  The sockets were small, and shrunken in.  This kitten was completely blind.  The kitten's skull was horribly misshapen, like a partially deflated basketball.  The jawline was off center. His lower teeth stuck out like an upside down vampire and when you held his jaw shut, the teeth did not line up properly.  None of these injuries/malformations seemed fresh.  The kitten had survived whatever the nature of the trauma, and despite the obvious changes in his physical appearance and function, he was thriving.

Tres, the kitten that was dealing with the recent leg injury, was less social than this tiny blind kitten whose personality leaped from his precious body.  This new kitten was affectionate, friendly, playful, and full of mischeif. 

All we needed to do for this boy was name him and vet him like he was a normal healthy kitten, because despite his handicaps (if you can call them that) he was a normal healthy kitten. Despite his vision impairment, and his malaligned jaw, he required no special treatment. 

I suspect the changes occurred to his small body after a trauma that occured when he was a tiny kitten.  His mother's nurturing helped him survive.  While it is also possible that he was born this way, it is an odd collection of physical changes to exist together since birth. 

We named our new resident "Smooshie", and quickly decided it would be good for Smooshie and Tres to become roomates.  They were young and any socialization at this age is beneficial for their development.  Fortunately, both kittens tested negative for viral testing of Feline Leukemia and FIV Virus.  

Tres got a bigger apartment, and Smooshie moved in.  There was a significant amount of hissing and spitting initially, but the two babies soon learned to like each other.  Smooshie helped Tres realize that this was not a bad place to be.  Tres came out of his shell and learned to trust us by following Smooshie's social graces.  Before we new it, Tres was playing with toys, and running on three legs to greet us when we placed fresh canned food in their kennel.

Tres was adopted just a few weeks after his surgery.  Smooshie is in a foster home, still awaiting a permanent family to love him.  He uses the litter box like a champion, and finds his food and water bowls just fine, despite his vision impairment.

Our only regret is that we did not try to place the two kittens in the same home.  This idea occured to us after Tres was adopted.  But Smooshie, in his Smooshie-way, adjusted just fine to life without Tres, and is living with caring humans and canines in his foster home until his forever family steps forward.

I am certain that Smooshie was cared for by humans who raised him and realized that they could not keep him. He is extremely comfortable around humans, and a cat not used to human interaction would not behave in this hearwarming manner. Wanting him to be safely placed in a home, and realizing that he had special needs, these people decided it would be best to abandon him in a box someplace they believed would provide him with safety. I am grateful this plan happened to work out for Smooshie, but abandoning an animal, even with the best of intentions is an inhumane action. Bringing him safely to a shelter or rescue group who agreed to care for him, and donating towards his care would have been a wise decision. With shelters and rescue groups overwhelmed with the number of animals in their care, this may not have been an easy option, but perseverence, dedication, and responsibility would have paid off for Smooshie.  Thanks to our client's sense of responsibility, Smooshie is alive, happy and healthy.

One of the things I love about animals is that they do not know the word handicapped, they just adapt. And they don't tease each other about their "adaptation". Honorable really.

Visit Smooshie and our other adoptable pets at

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