Tag Archives: animal shelters

Redemption: Shelter Plan B

Nathan Winograd with cat Shelter Plan BMy impression after reading about Nathan Winograd is that it’s animal shelters that need redemption. He is Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center in the US and is giving a lecture and workshop at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Apr. 14th [2012] . I don’t get star-struck that often, but this sounds like one very impressive man.

In 1993-94, he turned the San Francisco SPCA from a kill processing plant to a shelter where animals got homes. Killing healthy animals “declined 100 percent” and for sick or injured animals “it declined by about 50 percent” (Redemption). He did the same at the Tompkins County SPCA in upstate New York.

Are these places with less of an ‘animal problem’? Not likely. If you can do that in San Francisco, heart of ‘disposable land’, or upstate NY amid wilderness that people would see as perfect for dumping Fluffy, you can do it anywhere! Here is how Mr. Winograd looks at shelter management, from a 2007 article by Christie Keith.

“If … motherless kittens are killed because the shelter doesn’t have a comprehensive foster care program, that’s not pet overpopulation. That’s the lack of a foster care program.

Amazon link for Redemption
Amazon link

“If adoptions are low because people are getting those dogs and cats from other places because the shelter isn’t doing outside adoptions (adoptions done off the shelter premises), that’s a failure to do outside adoptions, not pet overpopulation.

“…If animals are killed because working with rescue groups is discouraged, again, that’s not pet overpopulation. If dogs are going cage-crazy because volunteers and staff aren’t allowed to socialize them, and then those dogs are killed because they’re quote-unquote “cage crazy,” because the shelter doesn’t have a behavior rehabilitation program in place, once again, that’s not pet overpopulation; that’s the lack of programs and services that save lives.”

Animal Shelter Plan B

Commonsense, when you approach it from the shelter side of the equation. “If a community is still killing the majority of shelter animals, it is because the local SPCA, humane society, or animal control shelter has fundamentally failed in its mission… And this failure is nothing more than a failure of leadership. The buck stops with the shelter’s director.”

Lab looking out from shelter pen, Wikimedia Commons, NhandlerHe describes his second day at the Tompkins Co. SPCA. “’My staff informed me that our dog kennels were full and since a litter of six puppies had come in, I needed to decide who was going to be killed in order to make space. I asked for ‘Plan B’; there was none. I asked for suggestions; there were none.’

“He spoke directly to his staff, saying, ‘Volunteers who work with animals do so out of sheer love. They don’t bring home a paycheck. So if a volunteer says, ‘I can’t do it,’ I can accept that from her. But staff members are paid to save lives. If a paid member of staff throws up her hands and says, ‘There’s nothing that can be done,’ I may as well eliminate her position and use the money that goes for her salary in a more constructive manner. So what are we going to do with the puppies that doesn’t involve killing?’”  Wow.

Nathan Winograd’s publications:

Welcome Home: An animal rights perspective on living with dogs & cats

Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America

Irreconcilable Differences: The battle for the heart and soul of America’s animal shelters

All American Vegan: Veganism for the Rest of Us

Friendly Fire

Reforming Animal Control/Building a No Kill Community Resource CD.

1 day body count of dog and cat corpses in 50 gal drums at pound
1 day body count at pound – click image to go to Imagine blog

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Aug. 5, 2012. See comments below.

Diseases of Friend and Foe

(From Aug. 5, 2011 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog)

When Waterworks Wally got his shots last week, his vet tested him for diseases I’d rarely heard of in cats. He was tested for FIV (cat HIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV).

The doctor said FIV is “a disease of foes,” transmitted by Cats lying on settee, peacefully - no diseasesblood exchange usually through fighting. Leukemia (FELV) is “a disease of friends,” transmitted by saliva shared by grooming another cat or eating from the same bowl.

Without knowing Wally’s history, the chance that he might have either disease was too great. If positive, special care would have to be taken if he were around other cats and the vaccines he would be given would be “dead” instead of “live.” That’s if it was so far progressed that euthanasia was the only humane option. Both diseases are incurable.

Two cats tested for diseases

FIV and FeLV were on our minds right then. Earlier in the day, my husband took a feral cat to the vet to be fixed and vaccinated. There are many dumped and wild cats living around his shop. This year a male and female have been living in the yard.  Kittens too, we suspect, half-grown by now.  They evaded the live trap for a long time, but the male finally was caught.

Feral cat in VirginiaA dumped house cat becomes wild fast enough if he or she is to survive, and, if not fixed, produces kittens born feral. Within a year, those kittens are producing another generation of feral cats and on it goes. TNR, “trap, neuter and return,” is a humane way of controlling the wild cat population by stopping that cycle.

When the vet saw our wild cat’s battle scars, he tested for FIV and FeLV. Very positive for FIV. He didn’t have long to live but he’d pass the disease on in a feral cat colony. So wild cat went to kitty heaven, balls intact.

Wally was negative, thank goodness. Maybe, as someone told me, I am being “holier than thou” in assuming he was dumped. If thinking that abandoning a creature is a despicable and cowardly act, then I guess I am. If Wally is just lost and not found yet, I only want to reunite him with his person and commiserate on the panic you feel when your pet is missing.

So many cats

But I see that feral cat who had to die due to a preventable disease. I see a pound full of unclaimed cats. A small town with two large cat shelters  – overflowing with cats. I see dog rescue people exhausted by trying to look after dogs people leave tied to doorways, or to wander in the woods or be hit by cars. Volunteers Kitten climbing bars of cage in shelterstretched to their physical and emotional limits tending animals and raising money for kibble and vet bills.

Trying to keep up with the mess left by people who let their cats have litter after litter because “the kids like kittens.” The people who think it’s unmanly for a dog to be neutered. The ones who figure selling pups on Kijiji is fast, easy money.

I had told the vet tech that Wally couldn’t have been wandering long because he had no fleas. She said, “That feral tom Jim brought in this morning? He didn’t have fleas either.” He was only about a year old, they thought. Scars of many fights and a fatal disease. Probably never knew the shelter of a building. But he didn’t have fleas. Poor kitty.

See comments below. Wally never was claimed so he’s still with us.

The Miracle of Birth

A while ago, I met a man, his son and their two dogs.  I was making a fuss over the dogs, and the boy said “she’s going to have babies”.  The Kylie & Pups St. Louisdad confirmed it.  She was purebred, he said, as was the father of the pups.  So I figured daddy dog wasn’t their other dog, an unneutered male, but not the same breed.  Both dogs were about 2 years old, and after the puppies were born, the man said, they’d have both dogs neutered.  But they wanted her to have one litter of puppies – for her sake, for the kids to see.

“A Good Dog”

I didn’t say much about it, other than asking if they were breeders.  “Oh no, just she’s a good dog and we know people who’d like one of her pups.”  I agreed that neutering them was certainly a good idea.  They seemed like nice people.  They had got the female from a breeder they know who enters his dogs in field trials (she was a hound).  This guy wants to hunt with her.  She clearly was a beloved pet, both dogs were. Her people knew and appreciated her lineage even though they weren’t into dog showing or competitions.  Probably those pups will get good homes.

But what I wanted to say – scream even – was why?  why?  why? You’re not breeding her at the request of her breeder, so that her pups can add to the prestige of his kennel.  You’re not, fortunately, breeding her so you can make some extra money off selling them on Kijiji.  You are doing it so she has the experience of having puppies and so your children can watch the miracle of birth.  Nice, family-oriented ideals – but why?

Why, at age 2 with no breeding plans in his future, was the male not Penny & foster pupsalready neutered?  Why do people think it’s necessary for a dog’s fulfillment to have puppies?  And why is deliberately letting a dog (or cat) get pregnant the only way to let your children witness the giving of birth?

A dog adjusts very quickly to being neutered.  At least, it’s quick if he’s young.  When older, when used to being “Mr. Testosterone”, the adjustment can be harder.  Still, the adjustment he has to undergo is preferable to the fights he’ll get in, the roaming he’ll feel compelled to do, and the unwanted puppies he’ll create given half a chance if he is not neutered.  A female dog does not feel she’s missing out on something if she never has puppies.  There is no health benefit for her in having puppies.

Foster Pups

If it’s important to you that your children witness birth and the first weeks of animals’ lives, there are other ways of doing it.  There are always irresponsible people who let their dogs or cats get pregnant, then don’t want to be bothered with them.  Those pregnant animals end up in shelters or wandering the streets until they get picked up by the dog catcher.  In every city and town, there are animal pounds and rescue groups looking for foster homes for pregnant dogs and cats.

You can take the mother in and look after her, experience the miracle of birth and help her look after the newborns.  When they are old enough to leave their mother, the babies and mother will go into the foster/adoption system.  You can have the joy of nurturing a mother and her babies and you have a support system finding homes St. Thomas, Ontario, Aug 2010 pound sign no cats acceptedfor them.  You’ve got what you wanted for yourself or your kids. You’ve helped animals in need, and you haven’t contributed to the problem of too many pets and not enough homes.

Anyone willing to foster a pregnant animal for a couple of months can witness the miracle of birth.  Unfortunately, the supply of unwanted and/or unneutered pets so far seems inexhaustible, so finding a needy animal to foster isn’t likely to be a problem.

Contact a local shelter

If you can foster a pregnant dog or cat, contact All Breed Canine Rescue, St. Thomas Animal Control, Animal Aide or Pets/Friends 4 Life.  The miracle of birth will be just as miraculous and moving.

The dog and her 12 puppies in the top photo is Kylie.  An elderly feral dog, she was rescued by Stray Rescue of St. Louis in Missouri while pregnant for the umpteenth time.  The middle photo is of Penny who, after weaning her own puppies, nursed a litter of abandoned pups.  She, and they, were at Save a Mom Pregnant Dog Rescue in East Sparta, Ohio.  The third photo speaks for itself.  What happens to the cats and dogs when there’s no room at the pound?

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Sept. 14, 2010

Bear

“A sad Goodbye to Bear, the dog who you may remember that was abandoned at Dalewood, that became a ABCR rescue dog. Bear was Bear-2015-FBadopted by a young man who dearly cherished this sweet boy and lived the rest of his life well fed and very much loved until cancer took his breath from him today. RIP Bear.” Mar. 15/16 ABCR Facebook

St. Thomas people and pets have a lot to thank Bear for. He caused a pet food bank to be set up, and major policy and procedure changes to be made in Animal Control. Below is a post from my St. Thomas Dog Blog that tells his story and, after it, a bit of what happened next. My condolences to Bear’s family.

Dumped and Found (Oct. 2, 2010)

The Dalewood dog is found and at the City animal shelter. His name is Bear. His is a story more of sadness and desperation than thoughtless cruelty. It sounds like a desperate man took what he thought were his only options. For whatever reason, he had to be ‘dogless’ by the next morning (moving? an apartment? I don’t know). But he didn’t have the $50 for the pound surrender fee. So he fed Bear a good meal, and took him to Dalewood and left him. Then he called All Breed Canine Rescue and told them what he’d done. People went looking for Bear, and they found him.

I can’t be angry at this man anymore. I’m saddened and frustrated. I wish he’d phoned ABCR first. But maybe he feared he’d be refused (Bear) pound #233 Sept 29again unless he could pay. Maybe he figured desperate action would get him the result he wanted – a good home for his dog. It’s still Bear who paid the biggest price. He still wandered around alone, looking for his person, wondering how he’d lost him. Bear is a Lab/Shepherd cross. I don’t know much about Labs, but I do know Shepherds will not lose you easily. No matter what they’re doing, they will always do their best to also keep track of you.

Shelter Fails

There has to be a better way of dealing with unwanted and stray animals without making the animals pay the price of abandonment. People are discussing ways of reorganizing the management and operation of the City shelter. The idea, in essence, is to involve the city’s animal rescue groups in the administration of the pound along with the City. What’s needed is a focus on education and actions to reduce the number of animals needing the services of the pound and finding homes instead of euthanasia or refusal to accept animals.

This type of thing is being talked about in City shelters across the country. Calgary has a very good model which has been very successful. I wrote in an earlier post (Giving Shelter) about the manager of the St. John’s Animal Control Shelter who had created a pound environment very different from the usual cages of dogs and cats left essentially alone. Change must be made in our Animal Shelter. It is doable and it’s urgent. With job losses, the number of animals needing the help of the pound and rescue groups will increase. That is on top of the normal levels of strayed and abandoned pets.

Changes Bear made

In early October 2010 a committee was struck to assess and improve operations of the St. Thomas Animal Shelter. Shelter employees, City staff and rescue group members have worked to better reunite lost pets with Charity-Cat-TNRtheir people, started a spay/neuter programme, and held micro-chipping clinics.

After thinking about pets like Bear dumped maybe only because of lack of money, we in the STDOA decided to try to make a change. We started a pet food bank. With the Caring Cupboard, the local human food bank, and other businesses in town, pet food was collected and distributed to those in need. In the first 10 weeks, over 1,000 pounds of kibble went through our hands. The programme is still going, and tons of kibble, canned food, litter, leashes and dog beds have been collected and distributed in St. Thomas and Aylmer in those six years. I think it’s helped a lot of people keep their pets during times of financial difficulty. And it’s all thanks to Bear.

Home for the Holidays

Don’t give a dog as a Christmas present.  At least not as a spur of the moment gift.  But if you are planning to get a dog anyway, why not?  If you are aware that your “present” is alive and, with luck, will live many years, you will give an enormous gift to the dog as well.  A home – permanent and loving.

Home for the Holidays "No one came, now I'm gone" dog

Adopt

The St. Thomas Animal Shelter gives you a $75 spay/neuter rebate when you adopt an eligible pet.  Wherever you live, if you can give a dog or cat a home, please do.

Adopting from a rescue group or pound rather than a pet store or off Kijiji or Craig’s List means you also are not supporting puppy mills or backyard breeders. Support “No-Kill” shelters, but adopt from any shelter or pound.  Don’t let more pets be killed just because they couldn’t get adopted in 3 or 7 days.

Donate

If you can’t have a pet, give to an animal shelter or rescue group.  Money is always welcome, or ask what is needed.  They always have a wish list of goods they need most.

Sponsor/Volunteer

If you’d like a connection with a specific dog but can’t have one, sponsor a shelter dog.  You give a monthly donation in the name of that dog and you’re welcome to spend time with “your” dog.  If your shelter doesn’t have such a programme, you can do it unofficially.  Shelters generally always welcome volunteers who will play with dogs, walk them and clean kennels.  That’s a way you can spend time with your special dog and help all of them.

Foster

If you could have a dog but can’t commit for the long term, consider fostering. You’ll have to give him or her up when a permanent home is found, but you’ll have the fun of canine companionship until then.  It’s work too.  You have to properly socialize the dog, but you’ll learn as much as the dog does.  If you’re a post-secondary student and wish you could have a Puppy (or Kitty) Room at home, talk to an animal shelter near you. Some are happy to have students foster dogs and cats.

Transport

If you like driving, volunteer with a group such as Open Arms Pound Rescue.  They need people to drive animals to new homes or to shelters where there’s a better chance of finding homes.  If you’re a pilot and love excuses to go flying, check out Pilots N Paws (US or Canada) or talk to your buddies about setting up something similar in conjunction with a rescue group or shelter.

Everything above also applies to cats, horses and other domestic animals.  There are rescue groups for all of them across the country.  Give an animal somewhere a very happy holiday season.  It will make you happy too.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Dec. 10, 2012, minus information on adoption events specific to that time. (Below and right are Amazon links to some Christmas dog stories that look guaranteed to make you cry happy tears.)

 

Movin’ dogs: An underground railway

dog underground railway Sept 2008 photo D StewartWho can resist this little face! Small, friendly terrier mix desperately needs a home. House-trained, healthy 1 year old male.

That might have been the ad for Charlie placed by the pound near Lexington, Kentucky where he was in September 2008. Maybe he never was advertised. That pound, like many in the US, was overcrowded that summer. It was the height of the subprime mortgage collapse, house foreclosures, abandoned homes, abandoned pets. Charlie might have been one of those pets, or he may have come to the shelter by a different route and got lost in the crowd of dogs. Either way, no adopter and no shelter space meant he was scheduled for euthanasia. It didn’t happen. Charlie is “top dog” in my house, thanks to a reinvented underground railway.

Dog Underground Railway

Open Arms Pound Rescue is a rescue and transport group based in Ohio. They work with US pounds and US and Canadian animal rescue groups, Charlie at the dogpark 2010 photo John Blake moving dogs from pounds to shelters to foster and adoptive homes. Photos and descriptions of dogs on ‘death row’ are posted online by the pounds or Open Arms. Rescue groups and individuals arrange to have dogs brought to them and Open Arms organizes the transport.

Volunteers drive dogs from one town to another, where they meet new drivers and transfer the dogs to their vehicles for the next leg of the journey. Dogs are left in receiving shelters and homes along the way, and dogs are picked up. The relay continues north. When the dogs are safely across the border with their final American drivers, they are met by Canadian volunteers and are driven on to their receiving shelters or foster homes.

Lois, of All Breed Canine Rescue in St. Thomas ON, saw Charlie’s picture while checking for ‘last chance’ dogs scheduled to be put down. She earmarked him and other small dogs for the next transport. She didn’t have adoptive, or even foster, homes but she figured she’d be able to place these little dogs. For big dogs, it’s not so easy to find homes. They aren’t ‘pulled’ from pounds unless someone specifically asks for them.

We wanted a dog, but were still recovering from the deaths of two dogs and a cat. Fostering seemed like a good ‘grieving time’ option – have the company of a dog, but don’t get attached. Charlie was supposed to only stay overnight until his foster home could take him.

Little and Big

“Aaahh,” I thought when I saw him peeking out of the pickup he arrived in, “isn’t he just the cutest ever!” I’m not a small dog person, so I was somewhat immune to his charms. But within five minutes of seeing him, my husband said this dog’s not going anywhere. I made some calls and Charlie stayed with us as a foster.  His picture was posted on ABCR’s website and enquires started.

Charlie 2008 photo Dorothy StewartWe had to decide quickly. Jim was all for keeping him. And Charlie had quickly claimed a spot in my heart. But I still wanted “a real dog” you could take long walks with. Also, if Charlie got a good home, we could foster another, less adoptable, dog. Charlie was happy with us but, that early on in our relationship, he’d be happy with anybody who loved him and kept his belly full. I did a lot of soul-searching and, in the end, decided to be selfish. We adopted him.

A month later, in another Open Arms transport, I got my ‘big dog’. A Standard Poodle, Leo came out of five years as a stud dog in a puppy mill. He started with us as a foster, and there was a lot of interest as soon as his picture was posted.  Again a decision was needed and Leo made it:  frightened, needy and weird, he adopted us.

Adoption Geography

Two highly adoptable dogs – unadoptable in their home Leo-Oct-2008-photo-D-Stewartcommunities. How many cute dogs must there be in pounds for a dog like Charlie to be overlooked long enough that he’s going to be put down? How many purebred and ‘designer’ dogs must there be that rescue groups send Poodles and Labradoodles across the border? Supply and demand of dogs are often out of whack: too many dogs in one area, not enough in others. Too many dogs leads to abandonment and needless euthanasia, too few dogs leads to ‘backyard breeders’ and puppy mills finding ready buyers willing to pay exorbitant prices  for pups. Groups like Open Arms Pound Rescue try to even out the supply and demand problems by sending dogs unwanted in one area to places where there are homes for them.

The internet has made dog rehoming much easier. If you want a particular type of dog, you can just search through petfinder.com or breed rescue groups and find ways of getting together with a dog no matter where he or she is. Breeders of purebred dogs have been doing it for years, sending pups across the country or further to new homes. Now rescue groups are doing it for stray and abandoned animals too. And we’ve got two of them, my Dixie Dogs I call them.

Charlie 2009 photo Dorothy StewartBy the way, I found out little dogs can walk just as far and just as fast as big dogs. Charlie goes like a little steam engine and, the few times he gets too tired to walk, I can carry him home.

It’s seven years since the dogs came to live with us, and five years since I posted this on my St. Thomas Dog Blog (Jul. 15/10)

 

Lost and Found

Amazon link Lost and Found: dogs cats and heroes by Elizabeth Hess
Click for Amazon link

Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats, and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter is a wonderful book. Elizabeth Hess, a New York City arts journalist and author of Nim Chimpsky, writes about volunteering at the Columbia-Greene Animal Shelter near Hudson, New York. She and her family were among the “weekenders” who travel between this rural area and the city. When her daughter wanted a dog, they found one at the shelter and Elizabeth found a world that she hadn’t known before. She volunteered and kept notes.

I’ve had this book for a while, but put off reading it. I thought I would cry too much. I did, and got angry, but not as often as I feared. That’s due to Ms Hess’ writing. She is empathetic but analytic. She acts as a camera, showing us a whole picture from her perspective. She records events and puts them in a larger framework. She says what she thinks about it but lets us draw our own conclusions.

One story stood out for me. A “week-ender” came into the shelter one hot summer day, saying he’d found kittens and couldn’t keep them. Elizabeth knew him from gallery events in New York City, so they chatted about new shows and gossip in the artsy crowd. Finally he remembered the kittens and said they were in a box in his car! But the heat inside a sturdy box with only “a few pencil-sized holes” had done its job. The kittens were already nearly dead. “While Fitzgerald was chatting with me… the cats were in his car baking.” She doesn’t need to say that clearly this urbane man didn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain (or bring kittens out of the sun) or that she felt guilt for not asking the cats’ whereabouts. Both things are there, between the lines.

rescue dog Max before and after picturesThe Columbia-Greene Animal Shelter was a county operation, and therefore responsible for cruelty investigations as well as taking in owner-surrendered animals and strays. It adopted animals out and it euthanized.* It had animal quarters in the shelter and used foster homes and farms. Knowledgeable people committed to the well-being of animals staffed this shelter, fortunately.

Grim circumstances for heroes

Ms Hess talks about puppy mills and describes a raid on one. She talks about euthanasia of animals for no reason other than homes have not been found for them. She takes us into the euthanasia room and introduces us to the people who do the killing.

A story from a euthanasia technician: just after euthanizing a young dog sick with pneumonia, she saw the young couple who had surrendered her. She overheard them excitedly talking about going to the pet store and what kind of puppy they would buy. They asked how their other dog was. “She’s such a good little dog.  You’ll have no trouble placing her.” The Columbia-Greene Animal Shelter, poster for Animal Art at 2012dog’s illness was curable, but this couple evidently didn’t want to be bothered, and the shelter was full. The “good little dog” had been killed.

You become engaged in the stories and you think long and hard about the issues. This book is neither fluffy animal tales nor a diatribe.  It’s a valuable ethnography of our society’s treatment and attitudes towards pets and those who clean up the mess. And, yes, it’s also about heroes.

*At the time of the book’s writing. Their website home page states: “We do not euthanize animals for space constraints.” (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Jan. 13/12)

 

Barn Cats

Frank Moore, a farmer north of Belmont who my parents knew, always had lots of barn cats.  He said one year, years before, there had been an explosion of cats – so many that 3 barn cats on stepsall the farms were overrun.  So that year he, like the other farmers, got rid of many of them. “Then the next couple years, it just seemed like there weren’t any cats.  Some died, some just disappeared, kittens didn’t live.  The mice and rats were everywhere, and you couldn’t find a good mouser in the whole county.  I never got rid of another cat after that.  They come here, they’re all welcome.”

His barn and house cats were well-treated.  They drank milk straight from the cow, all lined up in a semi-circle, waiting, at milking time.  He’d shoot milk out toward them, and they’d lap it up then lick off their faces.

Being a barn cat, in a good barn, is a pretty good life.  You can chase all the mice you want.  You’ve got cozy places to sleep.  There’s always something to do.  Barn cats have to learn to navigate around animals much larger than themselves.  Some don’t, so there are always some losses.  Most horses like cats and take care stepping around them.  Cats sometimes will sleep right in a stall beside a horse or cow.

It used to be that few barn cats were neutered.  With a high attrition rate, due to large hooves and farm machinery, the farmer wanted to be sure he always had enough mousers.  barn cats looking at henBut many farmers now get their barn cats fixed.  There are generally cats available if you need more.  Usually more than enough. So each farm does not have to be a “cat factory,” producing its own supply of cats.

The bane of most farmers are people who dump off their unwanted pets at their gates, assuming they’ll be taken in by the nice farmer.  Then the “nice farmer” has to pay for the spaying and neutering of these additions or look for other homes for them.

St. Thomas Barn Cats project

The City of St. Thomas has started seeking farm homes for some cats at the Animal Control Centre.  The idea is to neuter suitable cats and adopt them out as barn cats.  It’s an innovative way to decrease the number in the pound without euthanasia and, especially for semi-feral cats, provide a well-matched home.

Some cats prefer a life more or less on their own; they don’t want to be housecats kept indoors.  They want to mouse and explore.  It’s always saddened me, seeing those ones in shelters.  Looking out a window if they can get to one, or sitting sullen in the back of a cage.  You know they would rather be outside living life according to their own rules.  And that’s what barn cats do.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Jan. 27/11

 

‘Trifles’ of Creature Comfort

A 1916 play Trifles was written by American journalist Susan Glaspell. It is a murder mystery based on a real event in Iowa at the turn of the century. A man is found Girl with a canary, 1765 painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuzestrangled. The sheriff and a neighbour man search the house and outbuildings, can’t find anything. Their wives are there too. They are friends of the widow, who is also prime suspect. The women look around the areas that the men consider unimportant – the kitchen and sitting room where only women’s  ‘trifles’ are kept.

In the widow’s sewing basket, they find a dead canary wrapped in a scrap of silk inside a fancy small box. Its neck had been wrung, strangled. Knowing the late husband had been a hard man who ruled his wife with an iron fist, they figure out what happened. They keep it to themselves.

The play is described as being about domestic violence and the subjugation of women. The clue is the dead canary. It is seen as symbolic of the husband killing his wife’s joy in singing, something she’d hoped for as a career or hobby when a young woman.

But an essays-for-sale site showed a paper that I think strikes an essential point about the canary. The little bird was her pet, her small bit of warmth in a cold household. In strangling the bird, her husband took away her friend and her comfort.

Pets and domestic violence

I learned about Trifles while searching for information on domestic violence after listening to a CBC Radio Living Out Loud documentary in May 2011. It was about AnimEscale (AnimEscape in English), a shelter run by a Quebec woman Nicole Messier. A former victim of spousal abuse, she and her new husband turned their home into a shelter for the animal victims of domestic violence. Sadly, Ms. Messier passed away in 2013. What she did should be emulated by women’s shelters everywhere.

Nicole Messier said she had stayed in her abusive situation longer than she would have if it had been just herself. She wouldn’t leave her dog and cat, and she couldn’t take them to the women’s shelter. She learned she wasn’t the only woman doing that. Seventy percent of women, she said, will not leave their abusive households if they can’t take their animals with them.

Domestic Violence PETA posterMs. Messier worked with local women’s shelters to provide refuge for the pets. Women and children stayed in the women’s shelter, pets stayed in Nicole’s home. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, rabbits, goldfish – they were all welcome. For large animals like horses, she had farms who would board them.

While in the shelters, the humans and animals spent time together regularly. Violence too often is passed on to children, so she would be there to see how the animals acted towards the kids and vice versa. Animals can become afraid of or aggressive toward people they associate with abuse – usually men – so Ms. Messier’s husband worked with the pets to show them that not all men need be feared.

These remarkable people kept families protected and intact. Leaving an abusive situation is good for women and children, but how can you leave your pets? If you do so, what are you telling your kids about responsibility? And, in the absence of the wife and kids, probably the abuser is going to turn his attention to the animal if he hasn’t already. Unless their animals also find shelter, women might not leave to protect themselves. Nicole helped fill that huge gap in domestic violence prevention measures.

This was published on my St. Thomas Dog Blog July 15, 2011. I emailed Nicole and received a lovely reply with more information about her “mission”. It is under my name in ‘Comments’, July 19, 2011. Mission AnimEscale is on Facebook.

 

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)