Giving shelter

Years ago, I went to the London Humane Society with a friend.  While she looked for a cat, I stayed at the front desk.  I was horrified – kitten-photo-D-Stewartjustifiably or not, I don’t know.  It was my first time in an animal shelter.  A man came in with a box of kittens he wanted to leave.  The attendant started processing them, and I said “I’ll take them.”  The attendant said “ok”, and the box of kittens never even crossed the reception counter.  I found homes for them all.  When I had learned more about animal rescue and the operation of shelters, I was amazed that I was allowed to take those kittens with no questions asked.

Later in St. John’s, my boyfriend and I found two beagles on a woods trail.  The male’s footpads were torn and bleeding.  He led us to the female, lying in a little nest by a tree.  She’d recently had pups.  We searched everywhere but found no pups.  The dogs willingly came with us, although we soon had to carry them.  Both were too weak and sore to walk.  My partner said “I hope the SPCA is still open”.  “No,” I cried, “not The Pound!”  I cried until my eyes were puffy, all the way to the SPCA.  But he was adamant: we were not taking them home. I did extract a promise that we would take them if they were going to be euthanized.

St. John’s SPCA Shelter

Only the SPCA Director was there, with her kids, doing after-hours paperwork.  After a quick look, she said to her son “get soft food and water and put blankets in that big cage.”  To her daughter, “take this little girl and get her settled in.”  Debbie cleaned the male’s bloody paws.  “Poor dog, must have run miles.”  She figured he’d been looking for food and help.  By now, I was blubbering with gratitude over how nice she was, how nice the place was.  She said, “Don’t worry, dear, we’ll take good care of them.” Their owner did find them.  They were hunting dogs and had got lost while after rabbits.  There were indeed pups, but they were weaned.  The dogs returned home.

I began volunteering at the SPCA. A new shelter was built during my time there.  The old one really was in bad condition.  The animals never lacked for anything, but the building was small and drafty.  The new one had several cat rooms so cats didn’t have to be caged.  Dog rooms had easy access to outdoor runs.  It was a ‘kill’ shelter, so there was trepidation when, on entering rooms, you saw a dog or cat wasn’t there.  Check the log book and cross your fingers you see ‘adopted’ beside their name.  But it didn’t always say that.

St. John’s City Pound

I went to the St. John’s city pound once on SPCA business.  I’d been there once before and it was horrible. Rows of cages along the walls of one room, dogs on one side, cats on the other.  Barking, yelping, meowing, hissing.  I dreaded this revisit and hoped I wouldn’t have to see beyond the front desk.  I was surprised to hear only music coming from the back, no overpowering smells.

The manager came out and we recognized each other.  She had been an SPCA volunteer.  “Let me show you what we’ve done,” she said.  Heart in my throat, I followed her to the back.  The dogs had large pens in the big main room with easy access to outdoor runs.  A separate large room with lots of windows housed the cats.  In the cat room, there were cages but most of the cats were loose.  There were toys and beds, climbing trees and nooks with blankets.  There were separate rooms where animals could be quarantined. The manager was proud of what she had done in a short period of time with little money and no major construction work.  “I just used what I’d learned at the SPCA and reorganized the space.”

Animals were kept at the pound only for a limited number of days and there was no provision for going to the SPCA or other shelter.  But she ensured that their time at the pound, whether a brief stay before they were claimed or adopted or their last days on earth, was as pleasant as she could make it.

St. Thomas pound and rescue groups

In St. Thomas, the practice has long been that animals at the pound go to one of the rescue groups when their time is up.  I’ve never been to the City’s Animal Control shelter shelter dog at home-photo-D-Stewartbut I have volunteered with local rescue groups.  All our groups are “no kill”, a laudable idea. But the rescue groups and pound are limited in the numbers they can handle, and unwanted animals just keep coming. Then what happens?

There have been changes in theory and practice in shelters and pounds over the past few decades. ‘Cage’ versus ‘no cage’, ‘kill’ or ‘no-kill’.  And with feral cats, ‘trap-neuter-tame’ or ‘trap-neuter-release’ is also an important decision.

Treat them as if they were your own

An important, and easy, thing for shelter staff to think about and do is treat the animals as if they were your own. These are living creatures whose whole world has been turned upside down.  They may be well-loved pets who got lost and are frightened.  They may be victims of “changed circumstances” in their household, now facing life without their familiar places and people.  Or they may be abused animals who have learned not to trust people.  They may be paupers used to foraging for scraps or pampered princesses.  Either way, a room full of cages and other animals is going to be very frightening.  The St. John’s City pound manager knew that and acted accordingly.  She knew she was responsible for lives.  That’s the most important thing animal control officers should remember.  The city animal shelter is not the same as the car impound lot.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post.  Photos are our dog and kitten when they first came to us. The kitten was feral, the dog was on death row at a pound. (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 6/10)

Corrie Street Feb. 22/15

Underacting

Sometimes it’s not the great speech, not the grand gesture. A look tells the story; underacting makes the impact. Three such moments from three actors.  Emotional scenes that, in lesser hands, could become melodrama.

“Take your time, Roy”

take-your-time Roy perfect underactingMonday, Roy is aware that he’s taking up Tyrone and Chesney’s time, going through the woods along the waterfront, from spot to identical spot. He’s looking for the right place to scatter Hayley’s ashes. He finds it, and starts the ritual he has practiced so many times in his head. He can’t continue. His anxiety is in his words, face and the frustrated flap of his hand. Take your time, says Tyrone. And Roy pauses and looks at him. He calms, and proceeds with his words of goodbye.

The pause, more than his words, conveys the importance of this event, the reconciliation he is making with his past life ending and a new one beginning.

Owen’s Ex

Thursday, Owen sees his ex-wife Linda with Katy. He confronts them, how dare Linda me-from-seeing-hersneak back to meet with Katy. How dare Katy have anything to do with this woman who abandoned her. They challenge him, why should they not talk to each other, hear out the other’s side. In one sucked in breath, Owen shows twenty years of pain. For just a heartbeat, he is silent.

In that instant, we see the hurt he still feels from Linda leaving him and their children, the fear that his daughters will be hurt again, and the fear too that they will abandon him. Then he goes back to yelling and threatening, being Owen again.

“Could you be…”

Friday, Craig consults Dr. Google to help Faye find possible reasons for her gain in weight. After they dismiss Cushing’s Disease, he continues scrolling then looks at the possible-thenscreen with shock. He asks, “could you be…?”

The pause and the look in his eyes is all we need to know what he is asking. Could she be pregnant. He is embarrassed and horrified but he waits for her answer. Not possible, she says, also looking embarrassed and horrified. But he perseveres with an ungainly but lovely sensitivity, making her aware she has to be honest with him and with herself.

All three situations are ones in which overacting would be easy. In all three, it’s the tiny pause the actors give that sets up the dramatic strength of the words that follow.

The Wrong Dog

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Aug. 21st, 2010

In the library last week, I found a new-to-me dog mystery writer.  Carol Lea Benjamin writes a series featuring The Wrong Dog Amazon link - Dashiellprivate detective Rachel Alexander and her intrepid Pit Bull partner Dashiell (as in Hammett), Dash for short.  I have so far only read The Wrong Dog which is about cloning of dogs.  The dog who is cloned is a Bull Terrier, a “seizure alert” dog for her person who has severe epilepsy.

It’s a good story with quite a bit of information about dogs’ ability to sense an impending seizure and how they respond in such an event.  It also talks about the issue of cloning, not so much technical information, but more ethical.  What would be the ramifications if we could clone our canine best friend?  Would personality and emotional response be identical or just the physical characteristics?   Can inherent talents like sensing seizures be passed on?  These questions are wrapped in a story of good guys and bad guys, money and loneliness, all set in NYC’s Greenwich Village.

Dashiell doesn’t do the intellectual work of detecting, but he’s good at finding clues and he’s great protection for Rachel.  I didn’t get much of a sense of what Rachel looks like. That’s because in this book at least, Benjamin doesn’t say much about her appearance.  But also, when seeing the name, I kept thinking of the filly who won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and Preakness.  I’m quite sure the two Rachels don’t look alike.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a dog trainer with several fiction and non-fiction dog books to her credit, and a former detective.  Next time I’m at the library, I’ll be getting out another Rachel and Dash mystery.

Corrie Street Feb. 15/15

History Today

Friday Sinead makes peace with Roy and, in doing so, spurs him to make peace with his sinead-smiles-at-royand Hayley’s history. Sinead’s brush with mortality makes her empathize with Hayley’s illness, one from which there could be no return to good health. Putting herself in Hayley’s shoes, and Roy in Chesney’s place as sickbed companion, she sees the emotional pressure that Roy has felt. No wonder he snapped and attacked an intruder, she realizes.

roy-with-magazinesRoy comes to the hospital, bringing magazines. He brushes off her praise of his selection. Chesney chose, he says. Train magazines and History Today comprise his tastes. Shouldn’t it be History Yesterday, Ches says. Roy ignores the pun and explains it is about understanding past events with contemporary analyses. Perspectives change, he says.

Sinead agrees, and gives her new perspective on Roy’s behaviour. It still comes from sentiment, and Roy’s self-assessment is based in logic. But, despite talking roy-at-hospital-bedsidepast each others’ meaning, they both take away important insights. Sinead realizes that Roy is the gentle man she knew him to be but that everyone has stress limits beyond which they cannot be pushed. Roy sees that he must accept his emotional responses and let them inform him instead of locking him in history. it is time, he decides, to move to the present without losing his memories of Hayley. He should, as she wished, use her as a guide but not a limiter.

All this coincides with the Woody needing an inspection certificate and a good clean up roy-says-sell-carand drive. Carla and Tyrone take over the practicalities and give a needed nudge. Hayley wanted you to learn to drive, Carla reminds him. He argues that he has no need or wish to drive, so find the car a new home. But the marble of driving starts rolling around in his head.

The Woody takes Roy, Tyrone and Chesney to a park to find a spot for Hayley’s ashes. He has given a lot of thought to Hayley’s wish that her ashes be taken to Blackpool, but woody-in-woodsdecides that a place filled with only good memories of their love is better for him, the one still living.

It is nice that it is Sinead who causes this shift in Roy. She is a soul as guileless as both Hayley and Roy. He returns the favour by showing her that judgement cannot come from emotion alone. Carla and Tyrone will do well the heavy lifting of implementing change in Roy’s practical life. I thank God that Fiz is still away so she cannot ‘help’!

Fur Babies

I’m reading Michael Schaffer’s very interesting book  One Nation Under Dog. He talks about the term “pet parent.”  When I first encountered this phrase, I saw it as, yes, a bit ‘politically correct’, as in it’s bad to think of yourself as an authority figure over another being.  It’s like trying to be ‘friends’ with your kids, discussing why they shouldn’t do something, instead of being ‘mom’ explaining only with “because I said so”.

Amazon link for One Nation Under Dog
click for Amazon link

However, I thought it was good to frame the pet/human relationship in terms other than ownership or mastery.  “Ownership” means complete control over and ability to acquire or dispose of at will.  “Mastery” implies the same plus some innate superiority which justifies that control.  So dog owner and dog master are terms fraught with the history of dominance and hierarchical power.

I liked the use of “pet parent” in shelter and rescue writings, seeing it as a way of reminding people that getting a dog or cat is not the same as getting a new dress or car.  When you’re tired of the dress or the car doesn’t fit your lifestyle any more, it’s not going to distress the car or dress if you sell it or give it to the Goodwill.

Relationship of responsibility

But giving your dog away because you’re moving into a new apartment and “they don’t allow dogs”???  If you have a dog, why are you even looking at apartments where dogs aren’t allowed?  If you have children, do you look at an adults-only building and then give the kids away if you really really like the apartment?  Taking on a living, breathing creature makes that creature part of your life and its well-being your responsibility.  The word parent stresses the relationship of responsibility and caretaking instead of the notion of possession.  It also gets away from the nastier connotations of ‘mastery’.

Yes, you have to be the dog’s master in the sense that you ought to be the pack leader.  But are you the master in the sense of having the right to abuse the dog?  No, but it can get muddled in people’s minds.  Spike getting a slap or kick every time he doesn’t sit or heel exactly right is not good ‘mastery’ of the techniques of dog training, but the right to kick or slap is implicit in the notion of being the master (i.e. owner) of something or someone.

However, ‘parent’ requires ‘child’, and so the next term circulating in the pet world was fur babies.  Oh dear.  Granted, some dogs it’s easy Jack & Dot on porch swing Fur Babiesto think of that way, to coo at and cuddle.  The little fuzzy ones.  But a great big German Shepherd – fur baby?   I did babytalk with my late Shepherd and he liked it. In my defense, I raised him from a puppy so he was always my baby.  However, he quickly outgrew any possibility of being thought of as a “furbaby” in his looks and demeanor.  Other dogs in the past, I never thought of as being their ‘mommy’.  We were friends.

Fur Babies or Friends

My present two?  They were adult when we got them, but I use ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ with them.  Yes, one is little and fuzzy and likes to be carried and cuddled.  But the other isn’t.  I have no excuse, other than the parent/child terminology with pets has so permeated our society that I have internalized it.  I catch myself calling myself ‘mommy’ to my old cat.  She’s been with me since before the days of pet-parenting.  I feel silly when I say it to her, we always had the relationship of friends and roommates. Something that now comes naturally with the dogs seems cloying and demeaning with her.

Does framing our relationship with pets as one of pet parent and fur babies lead us to infantilize our animals?  Does it cause us to forget their natural traits?   Most dogs have strong protective and hunting instincts.  Your dog, or cat, can save your life.  They can also take life.  Do we run the risk of not respecting both those traits when we think of them as kids in fur coats?

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Mar. 15/10

Corrie Street Feb. 8/15

Radio GaGa

Once I was prescribed pills for severe stomach pains. The doctor told me to eat “a bland diet”. I thought milk and cream soups qualified as bland. The pain, despite the pills, Michelle-and-Steve depressedgot worse. Later, another doctor told me to avoid food high in fats, like milk and cream soups. Then the pills worked fine.

I think Steve too is caught in conflicting “remedies”. He’s got pills to counteract his depression. But he’s also got Michelle. Oh, she wants to help him. Poor man. Much more of her help and he’ll be teetering on the upstairs window ledge.

After she finished with her own indulgence about “should have seen the signs” (yes, Michelle, you should have), she started watching him like a hawk and quizzing him. Have you taken your tablets, how do you expect to get better, and on and on until I wanted to jump out a window myself.

Norris-about-bad-drivingThen it got worse. She defended him. Norris was picking at him to others at the bar, about his driving, about sitting like a zombie while injured people needed help, about Sinead maybe paralyzed. His audience, Eileen, Nick and Leanne, were actually sticking up for Steve. But Michelle couldn’t let it go. She got right in Norris’ face: Steve’s got problems too you know, he Steve-watches-Michelleis clinically depressed. Oh great, exactly what he had asked her to keep to herself.

Maybe the others ought to know and it is not something he need feel shame about. But he should have a chance to come to terms with his diagnosis, and the accident, a little bit by himself so he can handle the questions and opinions of others. It is not her story to tell. Tracy made that point abundantly clear when she barged in the back Tracy-asks-if-Steve-is-gagaroom, asking Steve if what she’d heard was true, that he had gone “radio gaga”.

Steve is starting therapy in addition to the anti-depressants. That’s good. But Michelle will be there, hovering. What I think would help the most would be if Michelle went away, with poor Hamish or whatever. And, of course, for Liz and all to stop telling him how lucky he is to have someone as great as Michelle. It’s little wonder he’s depressed. She’s like a great vampire sucking out his lifeblood of self-esteem.

Corrie Street Feb. 1/15

Crash

Can’t pick one: three excellent episodes, countless excellent scenes. The bus crash, of loading-buscourse, from lead-up to aftermath – perfect in acting, writing, lighting and camera work.

Everybody dressed up for their big night out. I was glad Tracy was included. I felt sorry for her – alone and broke and the others going to a bash at a hall she and Rob had looked at for their wedding. But I was sorry Beth got left behind.

on-the-busThe drive. The atmosphere in the bus is toxic. Road-trip singsongs barely covering sniping that was ratcheting up. They aren’t going to get there, I thought. They’ll start clawing at each other, a great big catfight inside a small box.

Instead it’s ‘boy racers’ taking everyone’s attention. They cut Steve off. Then he passes so they come alongside, jeering. It’s van crashhard to ignore that. Steve accepts their challenge. They up the stakes, passing then slamming on the brakes. To avoid rear-ending them, Steve must swerve. Into a tree. Crash.

Steve wakes and crawls out of the van. He sees the cliff, and what’s below – Julie-phones-for-helpway below. Does he act? Call for help? No. He goes into a fugue state. Julie and Sean rouse and clamber out. Moonlight, mist, rocks, and a still figure – it looks like Wuthering Heights. Then Julie comes alive. She phones for help and pulls people from the van. Her billowing skirt is her bandage supply.

tracy-looks-in-busThe bus slips toward the cliff edge slowly. Tracy sees Carla inside, hurt. Help her or not? Hard decision. Forced by the others coming near or maybe decency, she gets Carla out.

Back at the Rovers, those left behind have rovers-cell-phonesbeen having fun. They had an awards ceremony for themselves. Then Beth gets a call from Kirk. Everyone whips out their cell phones to call their person on the bus. Streetcar cabs take them to the hospital. Rita and Norris sit at the bar of an empty pub.

At the hospital, the desk nurse deals with everyone asking about everyone all at once. Then Steve tells Michelle he’s been diagnosed with depression. It’s a surprise to her (okaaay). julie-sees-devSally warns Maddie about PTSD (“Gary Windass went doolally”). Touching moments as someone sees the person they seek. Everyone seems to be fine physically, except Sinead. She is conscious but cannot feel her legs.

Realistic that there were no other serious injuries or fatalities? No, but I was happy to suspend disbelief.