Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Price of Success?

Riley, an almost senior dog, was adopted!
My least favorite part of rescue work is placing an animal I am attached to in a new home. Of course I know it's the best thing for them; that doing so makes room for another animal who may otherwise die in a kill-shelter; that I definitely cannot keep every animal I love, and that it is my duty to do this very thing. Logically, this little machine we have built is running just as it should. We are saving dogs and cats, caring for them well and finding them wonderful homes. Emotionally, however, I am finding myself in need of a tune-up.

What I did not consider when I started my own rescue is how many adoptions I would be doing! When I was with another rescue group, the animals in my home were just a few of the total number of animals in the organization. But now, with all our animals under my care, every application for an adoption comes directly to me; every animal that leaves Almost Home for a new life and forever family is a goodbye that must be endured. I get to do all the celebrating, but also get to do all the grieving.

Shiloh found her forever home!
This week has proven particularly wonderful, perplexing and difficult all at the same time. Our pet listings finally went public (meaning all legal paperwork is now in order enough to qualify to reach millions via pet adoption websites). In just the first few days of going public, my mailbox filled with applications. In the last few days, two of my hard-to-place dogs have found their forever homes, two adoptions are pending and another is in the works. This is remarkable and I am thrilled, but also finding the whole experience emotionally exhausting. It has always taken me a couple days to recover from each adoption. Now, I am finding myself without time to come up for air between them. I don't know if the current rate of adoptions from Almost Home is a trend that will continue, is related to the season or is just a fluke. And, I am certainly not complaining about what it means for our critters. I began this project with the worry that keeping our rescue small would fail to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but five adoptions per week certainly puts those concerns to rest.

Riley with his new Mommy before leaving our shelter!

So, I am adjusting. When I began rescuing animals, I told myself that if the time ever came when I wasn't sad saying goodbye, I needed to evaluate why because I did not want the experience to harden me. I am grateful my job has not become rote; that my heart is as open as it was when I began, as that means my animals are receiving what they need from me while in my care. And, as I am saying goodbye to an animal I have loved, however briefly, I am content in knowing I did so with my whole heart.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


We took the back roads home from a late night trip to the store last night. At night-time, with no streetlights on narrow gravel roads, it's a bit of a creepy drive through thick wooded areas separated by barren fields and cow pastures. Because of this, my daughter and I immediately noticed when an oncoming car turned onto the road we were about to turn on and abruptly stopped. When their interior light came on, we could see the silhouette of an opening car door. Not wanting to encounter someone in the middle of nowhere at night, we were both relieved when the door closed and the car slowly pulled away.

But as I made the turn onto the same road, we immediately saw why the car had stopped. Running in frantic circles, in the middle of the road, was what looked to be a small Rottweiler mix. We figured the other car had perhaps tried to help this dog but couldn't catch him, so I was surprised when he ran right up to me when I called. He leaped into my back seat. It was only when I began to pet him that I realized what we had just witnessed. Though it was 30 degrees out, his fur was nice and warm. The poor baby, who looked to be maybe eight or nine months old, had just been dumped by his family.

A mix of sadness for this sweet boy and fury for the horrible people who'd just thrown him out like trash flooded my senses. My attention shifted to the road ahead, where I saw the dumpers had stopped to watch us. When I got back in the driver's seat, they sped off, throwing gravel up in their quick exit. We never caught up with them.

Fortunately, we have space for him on our shelter. I'd just set up a kennel for a former foster dog that is, unfortunately, coming back, so I got our new boy settled in with fresh blankets, new toys, cold water and a bowl of food. After he settled in a bit, the two of us hung out in the lobby, where he met the resident cats, showed me his tennis ball skills, gobbled up some canned food with de-wormer hidden in it and let me apply flea medication.

I have rescued many dumped dogs in my years doing this. I have never, ever understood how someone can just abandon their pet in the middle of a road. The idea sickens me, but to be witness to it in action adds a whole new level of disgust.

And this is how it goes in rescue. Just when you are filled to the brim and barely have room and resources for more, an animal that needs you desperately comes along. You have to figure a way to make it work because the finger of responsibility points at you.

Don't worry, little buddy, you're almost home.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Very Special Announcement

If you haven't already given up reading this blog due to my unexplained absence, then I applaud your patience and shall reward you by letting you in on some very special happenings.

I did not just fall off the face of the earth for eight months, but I did go on quite a journey. Last winter, a sort of perfect storm of events combined in my life. I will skip all the mundane details, but will share that these events lead to some serious soul-searching. I was very unhappy with where I was living, as neighbors were making fostering extremely difficult. The short story is that I faced the choice of no longer fostering or figuring out a way to do so without offending the neighbors.

When it comes to choosing between people and animals, you can bet animals come at the top of the list, so before we knew it, a search was on for a new place to live. Perhaps it was divine intervention, good karma or just hard work and perseverance, but from the moment we made the decision to move, things fell into place with little effort. We found a beautiful, secluded home on twenty acres with a brand new out-building, just begging to be converted into an animal shelter.

With the help of many people, we have built Almost Home Rescue & Sanctuary. I am so excited to make our new venture official by this announcement. It's been hard keeping it under wraps!

Please, visit our website to read all about us and see photos of our facility! You can find us here: Almost Home Rescue & Sanctuary 

This couldn't have happened without the help of many people. A huge thank you to Nick at O'Fallon/Warrenton Fence, who converted our building, built our dog yards, put up with a million last-minute changes, donated a beautiful window for our shelter's loft and even helped us move supplies from the old place to the new! If you need a fence built, be sure to look him up. He's fantastic!

Also, big thanks to our new friend and attorney, Peter Merideth at GroundUp STL. He roots for the underdog, bites when needed and can even sing and dance (really!). From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for taking on the daunting task of government paperwork and answering our panicked phone calls when doggy-do was hitting the fan. If you need an attorney with a heart who can also pack a punch, look him up. He's wonderful!

We are looking forward to many years helping the critters in our community. Stay tuned here for updates!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A New Start for a New Year

It was late in the evening when we got the call . . . two dogs on a chain outside an abandoned house. Could we take them? I called back and, honestly, was thinking they'd have to be evaluated first; shelter staff would have to discuss if there really was room, etc. But when I heard their story and discussed it with other shelter volunteers, there was no doubt these dogs needed to be unchained . . . immediately.

You see, these dogs, a Shepherd/Husky Mix and her Boxer mix puppy had lived at the end of their chains for 9 and 4 years, respectively.

A huge storm was brewing outside. The kind of Spring Missouri Storm that brings threat of tornado. The dogs' caretaker cautioned that, with all the rain, the dogs' area would be so muddy we'd be unable to access it for another week. Somehow, one more week for those dogs seemed too much. I picked up another volunteer and we headed to the abandoned house.

It was, undoubtedly, a dramatic rescue. In the dark, rain, thunder and lightening, we met our new dogs, freed them from their chains and loaded them in the car. By midnight, we were at our shelter . . . all four of us, dogs and people, soaked to the bone and unsure what the future would bring for these poor babies, but sure it had to be better than the lives they lived before.

Tai and Tater lived at our shelter for over a year. During that year, Tai was diagnosed with cancer. Everyone who knew Tai and Tater loved them. These two big dogs, with such a sad story, were the gentlest beings one could ever know. Their hard lives had, miraculously, not succeeded at hardening them one bit. We were faced with such a dilemma. Occasionally, someone would apply to adopt Tater and, though it was never the right match for Tater, the thought of having to break the pair up pained everyone. We couldn't imagine Tai living at the shelter without her boy. In fact, we worried she wouldn't survive the separation.

Finally, I was able to bring Tai and Tater to my house to foster. It took some rearranging of my foster animals and a little remodeling work by my handyman friend, but we constructed a place Tai and Tater could live comfortably. My thought was that it would at least give Tater a shot at a home and that Tai would do better in a home with a foster parent than at a shelter alone. We took some new photos and wrote a new bio with a plea for a home for Tai and Tater together. And waited.

Then a miracle happened. Someone wanted both Tai and Tater! Someone willing to sign up for the heartbreaking task of adopting a senior dog with a medical diagnoses and willing to work with two dogs who'd had a rough existence. After almost two years in a shelter and then a foster home, Tai and Tater were going home!

It was a special Christmas this year, as I spent my last couple days with these two beautiful creatures. It was not an easy goodbye. I was so relieved to have been spared the decision of breaking Tai and Tater apart, but my resolve that I'd probably have Tai until her time was up was hard to let go of. It's always bittersweet to say goodbye, but this one was especially hard. It was also a goodbye worth celebrating, as Tai and Tater are getting the happy ending so many of us hoped for, but didn't expect.

Perhaps it's a good sign for a wonderful, new year. For sure, it's a wonderful new year for Tai and Tater.

Be good babies, enjoy your life and know that I'll always love you!

Tater, Tai and their new, human sister, on the couch

Tater, Tai and their new, human sister, getting used to the neighborhood

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creature Comforts

Recently, I've ordered some new gear for the critters at the foster house and wanted to give props to a couple great companies!

Everyone with dogs probably knows KONG toys. And, because they are just the best, they are certainly not hurting for business. So, why give them props here? Because the company is super rescue friendly and offers "seconds" (products that are slightly damaged) at a reduced price to qualified rescuers. So, if you are with a rescue group, check them out at www.kongcompany.com, contact them and ask what they can do for you. Their customer service folks are super helpful and friendly. And, if you are not a rescue, but a dog owner, buy a KONG for your doggy! Yes, they are expensive, but they last forever and provide hours of entertainment for your critter. And you can spend the money knowing that the company you purchased it from is doing their best to help rescue critters everywhere and enhance their time in shelters!

When you have multiple critters, keeping dog and cat beds clean can be a challenge. I've spent so much money on fancy beds (it's kind of an obsession; I can't pass up a good deal on a cute critter bed, even when we don't really need one!). My bed purchases always end the same. We enjoy the bed for a while, but when it gets soiled, there isn't much you can do about it. Usually you can wash the shell, but eventually, when the insides get ruined one way or another, there's nothing left to do but toss the bed in the trash. It's such a waste!

I was searching the web for something indestructible and found Mollymutts.com. Their beds are pure genius! Molly Mutts sells "dog duvets," that allow you to stuff the bed yourself. You can use old towels, blankets or clothing to stuff the bed. Then, when your bed gets soiled, all you do is pull out the stuffing and throw the whole kaboodle into the washing machine! You can even purchase stuff bags so that you can pull out the beds insides in one piece and throw it in the wash that way. I ordered two (to start, I'm sure I'll get more) and they are fabulous! The patterns are adorable and the fabric is super tough. It's 100% (pre-shrunk) cotton, almost the thickness of canvas.

Even better, they are a fantastic company to work with. I ordered my beds and, without even asking, was credited 25% of the order because I do rescue. What company sends unsolicited gifts like that?! So, again, order a Molly Mutts bed and know that you are working with a company that happily helps homeless critters.

Need a non-fabric bed? Perhaps one for the inside of a crate, the back porch or just somewhere in the house? Try Kuranda! Shelters know these things have a long shelf life for the tortures dogs can but them through, but they also sell beds for home use, in pretty colors to match your decor. They have crate beds, regular beds, cat climber beds and, the one I am most coveting right now . . . bunk beds! Kuranda is another company that is very rescue friendly. Find your favorite rescue's website and look for the Kuranda photo and link. You can donate a bed directly to the shelter of your choice. It arrives fully assembled and ready for a critter to curl up on!

Friday, December 24, 2010

White Christmas and Happy Fosters

I wasn't particularly happy to see the snow this morning. Normally, I love snow, but I have procrastinated this season and had Christmas shopping to accomplish and a home-visit with a foster dog to do. I accomplished the above in record time, however, and came home to enjoy the snow . . . and my dogs playing in it. For many of them, it is their first snow. Below is Sophie, the newest addition to the Foster House. She is a five-month-old baby from a puppy mill. Watching her bloom this week and begin acting like a regular dog has been wonderful. Watching her in the snow was something entirely different. I couldn't stop giggling. She ran so fast, her back legs outran her front. She'd tumble over into a somersault and then do it all over again!

Romeo and Fawn are the best of friends and here they share a platter of snow. They went from bush to bush in the back yard, clearing each one!

Rex, like Sophie, couldn't stop running full speed, doing figure eights around the bushes. He was having sooo much fun. He was the only dog who never once took the time to shake the falling snow off his fur, so he came inside looking like a big snowmonster.

And there he is, my Aussie/Shepherd/Snowmonster Mix!

Miss Sophie again, doing her best to look like a Hallmark card!

My sweet, sweet Romeo. Romeo is a Golden/Husky mix and a natural in the snow. He seems to never get cold . . . or tired of leading the whole herd in a game of tag. Here he pauses for just a moment so I can get the perfect shot!

I will probably add more photos as I get them edited, but in the meantime:
Happy Holidays, from my critters to yours. Dog Bless Us, Every One.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Taking a Chance on Chester

This adorable Weaton Terrier mix is Chester. He is one of our long-term shelter dogs, no longer listed as adoptable due to two failed adoptions. Reportedly, he is a terrible resource guarder, claiming all sorts of household items as his own and then protecting them with every ounce of his being by growling and refusing to give them up. However, in the time we have had Chester, off and on, we have never seen this behavior at our shelter.

Resource guarding is not one of those things one can train a dog not to do. It is a behavior, not a habit and much harder to put an end to. Resource guarders can be dangerous because, often, their way of protecting the items they claim is threatening to bite anyone trying to take them away. We never want a dog to face the possibility of living his entire life at a shelter. With dogs like Chester, we have to entertain the thought that perhaps it would be more kind to put them to sleep. But since we have never, ever seen Chester's issues first hand, making such a dire decision wasn't possible. We love Chester and think he deserves more than a few chances.

You see, not only is Chester totally adorable, he is also totally lovable and incredibly smart. He knows commands and will "sit," "shake," "lay down," "role over," and "give kisses" for his favorite treat. When he wants a belly rub, he roles on his back and softly whines, then grunts in contentment as you scratch his belly.

Because Chester has issues, we made some assumptions about him. We've kept him away from other dogs for the most part, because dogs who guard their belongings tend to not play well with others. Recently, we took a chance and tested him out with a big, female lab and, to our complete surprise, he did great! Suddenly things were looking up for Chester.

A couple months ago, I took Chester to my house, just for a few hours. He needed a bath and haircut. Again, Chester surpassed expectations. He loved his bath and patiently let me groom him. Because I am no groomer, my attempts to do so usually take a ridiculously long time. He was a champ throughout the whole process. He liked his little field trip to my house and I felt guilty returning him to the shelter. But, when you run a foster home, you have to be selective about the dogs you bring in. Difficult dogs can disrupt a foster house to the deficit of the other dogs.

Chester hasn't been the same since his visit to my home. I volunteer evenings at the shelter. When I'd leave the shelter, poor Chester whined, pawed at his kennel and rolled over on his back, begging me to come scoop him up and take him with me. It broke my heart every time and I usually left in tears, feeling so bad for him.

A few nights ago, Chester had enough. He did his usual whine and paw and I did my usual caving in, slipping into his pen to give him belly rubs and some extra attention. He made a break for it, running to the other side of the kennel, where he promptly plopped down, rolled over and refused to budge. Chester loves his treats and I tried to coax him with one. Nope. I tried a big, irresistible blob of peanut butter, after which he slowly army crawled to the general vicinity of his pen, but then made a break for the back door - the way out. I thought if I took him for a quick walk outside, I could trick him into his routine and get him back into his pen, but couldn't get him back into the building. He put the brakes on at my car door, stood up against it and whined.

I gave in. I opened the door and he jumped in, wagging every part of his body. I told him he could come to my house for one night; one sleepover. That's it. And then I braced myself for how difficult it was going to make the evening to keep him separate from my dogs and foster dogs while spoiling him rotten for just one night.

That was a week ago. Chester remains at my house where he is getting along fine with my dogs, is submissive to any who give him grief and hasn't guarded a single thing. While I anticipate we are in a "honeymoon" phase and I may eventually see his "issues," right now he appears issue free. He is crate and house trained and is happy to share a spot on the couch with cats and dogs alike. And he is happy to be in a home. I think the odds are good I will be able to find the right people for Chester. I think he has a chance.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Long Journey Home

A motorist approaches a rural intersection; it's on one of those roads that sees more than its share of accidents; poorly lit, no warning signs, no shoulder, a four-way-stop in a most unexpected place. It's a dangerous place for motorist and even more dangerous for animals. That's why it did not at first register what he was seeing in the middle of the road . . .

A tiny little puppy.

The motorist stopped and scooped up the little thing before the next car could come along and claim its life. Then he saw them; two dogs hiding in the treeline. Fortunately, the frightened dogs came when called, jumping right into his car. Looking at them, it was clear he'd just saved a canine family. Mommy and Daddy were both purebred Boxers and their tiny baby the most adorable Boxer in miniature. He took them home. His mother promptly called a friend she knew volunteered for Heartland Humane Society, asking if we could help find the dogs' owners and, perhaps, take the dogs into rescue.

Meanwhile . . .

Heartland volunteers spent the morning at our shelter, loading as many dogs as we could fit into two cars, then transporting them from the fringes of Lincoln County to O'Fallon PetSmart, hoping to find homes for at least a few. It is quite a sight to see; cars so loaded, from floor to ceiling, with crates and animals, there is only a small space for a driver to fit. And it is a lot of work. It takes hours to prepare for a few hours of showing dogs. The dogs must be bathed or brushed. At both ends of each leg of the trip, there are dogs to walk, crates to set up, break down and haul. At the end of the day, it is worth all the work if dogs find new homes. Nothing, however, is more disappointing than loading all the same dogs back into our cars and returning them to the shelter at the end of the day.

But that is what happened last Saturday. The day was long and hot and tiring. In the end, all the dogs remained. There were no adoptions. As the economy collapses, our adoptions slow. Our foster homes are full. Our shelter is beyond capacity and each day we have to say "no" to saving more animals, knowing dogs and cats are being euthanized at alarming rates in shelters all over the region.

Room for Three?

We faced a huge dilemma when the Boxers arrived at PetSmart. Having none of our shelter dogs find a new home was depressing and disappointing enough, but returning to our shelter with three more dogs was overwhelming - no matter how sweet and adorable they were (and they were!) A flurry of phone calls to our contacts, begging for help to house the Boxers produced nothing. Everyone was full, my home included.

At the end of the day, we were faced with the choice of recommending they be taken to a city shelter, knowing that would expose the baby to deadly viruses she likely wouldn't survive and, because all the city shelters are also full, give the Boxers only a few days before their names made the list of animals to be euthanized. The other choice was to squeeze them into our full shelter. Somehow. We weren't sure how. We did not even have room in our cars to get them there and weren't sure we even had space to house them if we found a way.

One of our volunteers agreed to transport them to our shelter. There was no question that, from the point of view of animal lovers and rescuers, we were making the right decision. But from a logistic and financial standpoint, it wasn't wise. We were short staffed for the week and had a substitute coming in. We are under pressure to get our numbers down because the donations supporting the shelter are also down. Still, we found room and got the Boxer family settled - and hoped and hoped their people would soon surface.

A Series of Coincidences . . .

The following day, one of our shelter subs called me. "Why do you have Gypsy here?" she asked. "You know the Boxers?" I replied, thinking it just wasn't possible. But, it was possible. Her other job is as a vet tech and, by happenstance only, she had been the tech on duty when Gypsy, the female Boxer, was brought in by her owner for an ultrasound when it was discovered she was expecting puppies. We had the owners of the dogs in our sights and started calling immediately.

There was no response.

It was a very confusing situation. Once we knew the area the dogs were from, we were certain they did not walk themselves to the area they were found. The only option left was that they'd been dumped there. But what dog owner dumps dogs that not only looked well cared for, but were receiving veterinary care? There was a missing piece to this puzzle.

Finally, after days of no response, I drove to the Boxers' home. I half expected to see a For Sale sign in the yard of a vacant house, for the Boxers to be yet more animal victims of the economy. Instead, a young man answered the door. I asked for the owner. He said she was out of town. I asked if he knew anything about her dogs . . .

He said they'd be stolen.

A Cautionary Tale . . .

A teenage girl regularly puts on her rollerblades, puts leashes on her two Boxer dogs and takes them for long walks through their suburban subdivision. This is a very nice area filled with large homes and manicured lawns. It's a family neighborhood, filled with kids and pets. It's safe.

One day, a car slows next to the girl and her dogs. Two men inside comment about the dogs, noticing the female is about to have puppies. She later mentions it to her mom, but then the incident is forgotten.

A puppy is born. Seven weeks later, two men knock on the door of the home. They ask the homeowner to see the Boxer puppy. They want to know if the adult dogs are for sale. The homeowner shows them the pup, but is relieved when they leave. She has a bad feeling about the whole incident. She replays the conversation with the men, realizing they asked curious questions and that she may have unwittingly fed them information they used to convince her they were friends of a family member.

A bit later, she leaves to run errands. The dogs are out back in the fenced yard. They are contentedly basking in the sun and she doesn't want to disturb them. She instructs her daughter to let them in when they are ready. When her daughter goes to do so, they are gone.

The police are called immediately. There is no doubt the dogs have been stolen by the men. They must have still been nearby, close enough to see the police cars and know the incident had been reported. The heat is on. They remove the dogs' collars and identification, drive fifteen miles away and dump all three dogs out in the middle of a dangerous intersection.

Reunited . . .

Yesterday, the three Boxers: Gypsy, Zeus and baby Meatball, were reunited with their family. They spent a week in an animal shelter, doted on by its staff and volunteers, but unhappy just the same. They recognized their house and owners the minute they got out of my car. They rolled around in the front yard, wrestling with their owners' daughter and wagging their tails. When it was time to go inside, we let them off lead and they ran into their house. When we left, all three dogs were laying on the kitchen floor, totally content. Everyone involved was grateful.

Lessons Learned . . .

That these beautiful dogs found their owner was a complete and total fluke. They plan to spay and neuter the adults immediately, to update the dogs' microchips and to never again leave the dogs unsupervised outdoors. They went through an emotionally horrendous week, believing their dogs had been sold as "bait dogs" to a dog-fighting ring. Their dogs went a week separated from their owners. And our little rescue group learned, once again, how much more we could do for lost or homeless animals with greater resources. We came very close to saying "no" to these dogs. Had we listened to reason, as we perhaps should have, there would have been no happy ending for Zeus, Gypsy and their baby. We are so glad there was.


Heartland would like to thank Zeus, Gypsy and Meatball's owners for their donation to cover the expense of housing and caring for their dogs. Because of their generosity, we will be able to help the next dog who needs us . . .

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Baby Tails and Tales of Babies

They were born a week later than anticipated. There were supposed to be 5-6 puppies. There were ten. It just goes to show you Mother Nature will do what Mother Nature does . . . no matter what the doctors say.

For two weeks, I was like a relative pacing the lobby of a hospital maternity ward, waiting for the special delivery. I read every whelping article ever uploaded to the internet, crossed off each pre-labor symptom as it was observed and stopped just short of begging Ava to just have them already. Okay, I didn't really stop short of that! Finally, just before Midnight last Saturday, new life entered the Foster House. I'd gone downstairs to check Ava one last time before heading to bed and there it was . . . a wet, wiggling little puppy being lovingly tended to by it's mother.

Ten minutes later, another little life entered the world.

And so it went, until about 4:30 in the morning.

Until there were ten puppies and one tired mama dog.

Since then, we've lost two babies. Shepherds aren't designed for such big litters and, in the breeding world, it is not an uncommon experience. But for me, who is not in the breeding world, it was a heartbreaking experience. One little guy was not well from the beginning and, after two days of bottle feeding, I rushed him to the vet. I hoped tube feeding might save him, but was instead faced with a more difficult decision. Letting him go was the kindest thing to do. And the hardest. The next day, we lost the tiniest of the litter, a little girl I had to resuscitate at birth. There is another little girl I continue to worry about, although she seems to be thriving thus far. She was born with a leg deformity the vet will address as she gets bigger. Her story will likely unfold on these pages as she matures. In the meantime, ask your furry critters to cross their paws for her. She's a fighter!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Little Rant

If you were hoping for an uplifting and inspiring post, this probably isn't the day to read my blog. But, if you love animals and are sick and tired of what people do to them, you might be glad someone else feels the same way.

It is hard not to get burnt out doing rescue work. There are times you want your naivete back. There are times you are tired of shedding tears and times you worry why the tears don't come as easily as they used to, and wonder if it is because you've just seen too much.

The reality is, one cannot just do the fun part of rescue work. Most foster people are not fortunate enough to have an animal in need delivered to them, find them the perfect home and then sit contentedly back and bask in the happy ending. The work usually sucks one in wholly and completely and then, along with the rewarding experiences, you must also suffer through the unbearable ones. You must walk into animal control facilities and know that any animal that doesn't leave with you will die, alone and scared. You most certainly will have to take an animal you love on his last trip to the vet so that you are there to comfort him as he passes on, because he is just too sick or because neglectful or abusive beginnings damaged him too much. You will have to witness animals lingering too long in their foster or shelter placements and face the resulting conflict of your heart and mind, wondering if he is, indeed, glad to have been saved or sad to still be waiting for a home. You must deal with the reality that not all endings are happy; that sometimes, what you were certain was the right home, was the wrong home, as you add that animal to the list of those you will worry about forever.

Once you begin this job, you become the person your extended circle of acquaintances call upon when an animal needs help. Daily, you listen to the voice mails and read the emails (and picture text messages - damn, you, iphone!) that plea for help for dogs and cats, each with a story that breaks your heart, knowing you cannot help them all and saying "no" more often than "yes", feeling guilty about it even though your house is full, you are exhausted and there is no longer enough of you to go around.

Sadly, those relinquishment stories aren't very varied. It is actually a rare occurrence to hear a reason for giving up an animal that compels you to sympathize with the people involved. And that is when it gets frustrating and you begin to wonder if it will ever change; if you are really making any kind of difference at all. While there isn't an answer to those questions, sometimes it helps to rant and rave a bit and then get back to what you are doing, which is the intent of this post. So on with the rant . . .

-No, your dog did not need to "just experience birth one time before getting spayed." The ten black puppies you "can no longer deal with" will not be easy to find homes for because they will grow to become big, black dogs, the most frequently euthanized dogs in shelters all across the country. Dogs have an innate desire to be part of your family, to be cared for and loved. Giving birth is not on their list of must-haves.

-You can both move and keep your pets. They are not furniture you can simply replace once you get settled, they are part of your family. It isn't easy to move with children, but you aren't "getting rid" of them because it is difficult, or because you can "just get another one later."

-You say, because you've had a baby, you can no longer give your pet "the attention it deserves, so have to find it a new home." Is it really that difficult to find time to pet the dog or cat every day? To pour a bowl of food? To let your pet sit next to you on the couch as you feed the baby or watch Sesame Street? They ask for so very little and it does not take much at all to make them happy. If you are that stressed out, you should probably make an appointment with a therapist.

-Speaking of your new little munchkin, did it not dawn on you that you would eventually have children when you committed to take home a pet that can live almost 20 years?

-Did you ask your dog if he wants to go "live on a farm where he has room to run?" Maybe he would rather stay with the people he loves and go for a walk once in a while. If you needed exercise, your family would probably not leave you at the gym and never return.

-The guy who answered the "Free to a Good Home" ad you posted online may not be providing a good home. Your dog might be sold to a lab to experiment on, be used as a breeder dog to make "bait puppies" for illegal dog fighting, might become a bait dog itself, or could be "flipped" for a profit to someone else with ill intentions.

-Same thing for the person willing to take the whole litter of "free kittens" off your hands. You should ask if they also have a large snake. Some people have no problem using kittens as snake food. Yes, really.

-By the way, this is off subject, but affectionate cats do not "suck the breath from newborns."

-Because your child/husband/great-aunt/canary sneezed, does not mean s/he "suddenly developed allergies" to your pet. And did you know you can buy allergy meds over the counter, breathe easy and keep your pet?

-Just for the record, do you really think the future is bright for the dog or cat you tossed from your car on the rural road? That fantasy you have of someone scooping him or her up and loving your pet forever is just that. A fantasy.

-When your lease says "no pets" it actually means "no pets." It does not mean "buy a $600 designer dog from the mall pet shop on a whim", then call it a bad dog when it barks, as dogs are want to do, and your landlord busts you.

-Your kitten can make babies as early as five months old. Six weeks later, she can make them again. No, the shelter does not have room for the population explosion in your house that you seem so perplexed about.

-Ditto for your puppy.

-By the way, spay or neuter your kitten or puppy before it's sixteenth week.

-Dogs and cat are animals. Animals are covered in fur. Fur covered things shed. Why does this surprise you?

-Yes, your pet probably does miss you while you are away from home because your work schedule changed. Do you really think she'll miss you less while living in a cage at a shelter, wondering why you disappeared and if you are ever returning?

-Different breeds have different needs. Why are you surprised it is difficult to accommodate a Mastiff in your studio apartment or that your Yorkie isn't happy being a "farm dog."?

-Don't fool yourself. Your senior cat or dog is not "highly adoptable." There is no waiting list for older animals with pending medical expenses. It doesn't matter how sweet or cute your critter is. Relinquished senior pets do very poorly in shelters and those very special people willing to adopt them come along infrequently.

-Puppies and kittens grow and you cannot always predict their adult size. A pet getting "bigger than we expected" does not justify "getting rid" of them.

Pets are not commodities one can throw out or recycle when one tires of them. You are the center of your pet's world; your presence is what she breathes for. He would lay down his life for you. They will stay by your side until your last breath, no matter what life has thrown your way. They deserve no less than the same in return. Please. If you don't have 18 years to give, the resources to care for, the tolerance to tough it out when times are hard and the flexibility to accommodate the unexpected, do not add a pet to your life. And, if you do have those things to give, please find your next pet at your local shelter or through a rescue group, because the world is full of animals whose human's have failed them . . . and they need you.

End rant.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Expecting . . .

Her name is Ava and it took three rescue groups and several volunteers to save her. She's a little scrappy looking for a purebred German Shepherd, but with proper nutrition, medication for her ailments and a good bath, she'll soon be a beautiful girl. Ava has lived outdoors all her life. She has never been vaccinated or given flea or heartworm preventative. Of course, she's had puppies before because she hasn't been spayed. Her last litter all died because she had them outdoors, in the winter. Her owners did not want to deal with puppies again, so when she became pregnant this time, they called a rescue group. The rescue, however, was full. They called another rescue that was also full. That rescue called Heartland. Heartland, too, is full, but because I love Shepherds and because her story touched me and because she had nowhere else to go, I said "yes," when asked if I could just make room for one more.

With little notice and a dog on the way who could give birth at any time, the last 24 hours have brought a whirlwind of preparations. Nature designed its creatures to instinctively know what to do when babies arrive. More than likely, I'll need none of the things I stocked up on. I might miss the birth entirely. Then again, emergencies never happen when it is convenient and only very, very expensive veterinarians are available at 3am. So, I wanted my bases covered for the things that might go wrong that I can handle on my own, the things that will make Ava more comfortable and the things that will help her puppies if they need it.

That handled, I headed to Lowes for the materials to build a whelping box. I read many ideas on the internet and ended up sort of hodge-podging those ideas together based on the supplies I could find in the lumber, hardware and plumbing departments. It all looked simple enough until I was staring at this big pile of stuff in the middle of my living room floor. A lot of drilling, sawing and cussing ensued and, sometime around 4:00am, I had a whelping box assembled. It isn't pretty, but I think it'll do its job.

My visiting Grand-Puppy, Blue, models the finished whelping box

Just a little time in rescue can really suck the enthusiasm for cute puppies right out of a person. I look at any litter of whoops puppies now and know the odds each pup will have a wonderful life are abysmal. It is simply a reality that irresponsible breeding directly correlates with the senseless neglect and suffering rescue workers witness daily. It is times like these I sort of miss my naivete.

Today was the big day; I went to pick Ava up at the vet. The news on her condition is mixed. She is due, with 5-6 pups, any time. She also has a uterine infection we await the lab results on. Bad news means the babies wont make it and good news means the antibiotics she's taking will clear the infection and all will be well. The odds are in favor of all being well.

Ava has gone through a lot the last couple days. Three rescue groups were involved in her transport to Heartland. The life she knew disappeared and she's been surrounded by strangers. She doesn't feel well and is very frightened. Ava isn't familiar with the inside of a house. Doorways scare her and stairs terrify her. She is, however, a gentle girl, and obediently followed me into her new room, where she jumped right into her whelping box and snuggled in. I check on her often as she becomes accustomed to the sounds in her new home. She doesn't greet me with enthusiasm yet, though when I crawl into her box, she will put the very tip of her nose on my knee and let out a big sigh. It will take us a couple days, but we'll be fine. And we'll wait together for nature to take its course. Hopefully, I wont miss the big event.

A BIG Thank You to Impact for Animals and SNUGGLE, who went out of their way to find Ava a safe place to have her babies and made sure she reached her destination. And, thanks to each of the volunteers who participated in her transport. You've changed Ava's life for the better!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


What happens when you work at an animal shelter, foster dozens of cats and dogs, spend every moment of your free time running around doing something associated with the above and then, on top of it all, buy a home and move? You can't find the time to update your blog for two months! My apologies. I am trying to get back in gear!

Coming Out of the Animal Closet:

I've moved away from suburbia and the land of close neighbors and three pet limits. My critters now have a roomy home, three acres for leash walking and a large, fenced yard for running. I am no longer in fear of neighbors peering over the fence, counting fuzzy heads and making a call to authorities. I now can take in an emergency foster because I have the space. And, I can openly share the number of animals currently being cared for at my home . . . if I want to, which I don't, for fear of being committed. In a nutshell, me and the critters are loving life where we are. It is a blessed relief to be free of the worry that accompanies fostering where pet numbers are limited. The move was a great decision.

Happenings Since Patch and Rags' Adoption:

Several animals have come and gone since we celebrated the adoption of Patch and Rags (who are doing terrific in their new home!). Dylan, an Aussie mix who stole my heart, found a wonderful home with a couple who spoils him rotten beyond belief. Tess, my puppy-mill Shih-Tzu found a family willing to tolerate all the scars her past left and love her just the same. Wilson, who had his own warts, lucked out like Tess and found a new person who loves him with patience and compassion . . . and he even gets to come visit at my house when he needs dog-sitting so I don't have to miss him so much.

And, since the move, I've brought home and said goodbye to some terrific dogs. Gizmo, a Japanese Chen, was one of my favorite doggy guests ever; a fun little dog with a great personality, would have been easy to keep and was hard to part with, but his new family updates me and he's come to PetSmart to visit during adoption events. Coal, a three-legged Pomeranian, who slept on my pillow every night, went home with his new Mom yesterday. And Murphy, a black lab mix pup who took a long time to find a home, left Petsmart yesterday with his very own boy at his side.

The most recent adoptions couldn't have come soon enough because the house is FULL. Wednesday, I took a drive to pick up a Husky and Husky mix whose future was destined to be the city pound, where their age may have brought upon an unhappy ending for them. Beautiful dogs, they are slowly adjusting to their world turning upside down and, probably, grateful to have each other.

Beautiful Sterling

Adorable PJ

It seems I always have a puppy mill dog to work with and, for now, it is Gretchen. Gretchen appears to be a Shih-Tzu/Cocker mix. She is cute, sweet and complete with some of the usual puppy mill personality glitches, but is slowly learning how to be a house dog. She LOVES toys, which is something we usually don't get to see with breeder dogs from puppy mills, but she is always carrying a toy around in her mouth. It's adorable. Gretchen has been to the vet and is ready for adoption.

And then there is my dear, sweet Olivia. Whoever adds Olivia to their family will be getting such a wonderful, loving dog. I love her to pieces. Totally housetrained, all she wants to do is be with her people, doing whatever they are doing. Livvie is truly happy just to be loved; you just look at her and her tail wags while her eyes light up. She too sleeps in my bed every night. I don't know why I torture myself so. Inviting a foster into your bed makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye when the time comes, but the reality is that she deserves it. Before coming to foster care, Olivia was an outside only dog. Seeing her settled on her dog bed, chewing on a bone, makes that really hard to believe!

And, as soon as I can get him to hold still for a photo, I will introduce you to Grover, a scrappy Boston Terrier who joined the menagerie here a week or so ago. Grover is quite the character and has found a way to make me laugh daily.

More soon . . . promise!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Home for Patch and Rags!

When Patch came to me, he had little hair. His head and tummy were essentially bald and covered with sores from secondary infections. He'd been brought into a city shelter to be put down. Another Heartland volunteer saved him and he came to me.

A week later, a call from the same shelter came. They had a puppy they thought was Patch's sibling, in even worse shape than Patch. In addition to mange taking hair from all the same places and secondary infections, Rags had a terrible case of kennel cough. A week later, he nearly died from pneumonia. I took him from his temporary foster home and he came to me.

I now had two very sick, tiny puppies on my hands. Rags needed medicine for his pneumonia so dangerous to humans, they cannot touch it with bare hands. Both dogs needed antibiotics twice daily, ointment applied to their whole bodies three times a day and medicated baths every other day. For months.

There were multiple vet appointments. It was a bad case of mange, and not quick to clear, but we were keeping it under control. Patch and Rags were growing beautiful, shiny, coats. As the hair filled in on their heads and faces, two beautiful dogs emerged. Every six weeks, we'd return to the vet for skin tests . . . and every six weeks, we'd go home to continue their treatment. Meanwhile, the tiny puppies grew. And grew. Soon it was no longer possible to bathe them together without flooding the bathroom, so we started separate baths.

Finally, when they were about seven months old, they passed a skin test! No more mange! We had to continue treatment until a second test confirmed they were free and clear. It was time to start looking for a forever home for these boys I'd watch grow up and cared for so many months.

At almost a year old, Patch and Rags still hadn't found a home, maybe because of their breed or because people were afraid of the disease that struck them as youngsters, or perhaps they became victims of big, black, dog syndrome. At any rate, other foster dogs came and went, while Patch and Rags stayed with me. It was difficult not to consider them my dogs. I loved them every bit as much as my dogs . . . and they'd been with me longer than some of the dogs I adopted. I would have been fine with them staying forever, but the reality is, I wanted better for them. I wanted to see each of them in homes where they would be the center of attention because these dogs are special. Both are the most affectionate, loving animals; some of the sweetest dogs I have ever cared for. They deserved to have all the attention they craved. While I loved them and cuddled them and played with them, with all the other dogs I cared for, it just never felt like it was enough for them.

Friday night, I filled the car with crates and supplies, bathed dogs and organized their medical records and other paperwork. Saturday, I loaded four dogs into the car, in hopes they'd find their forever homes at Saturday's adoption event. I rarely bring Patch and Rags to adoptions together. The odds they'd find homes on the same day are astronomical. While I always dreamed they'd find a home together, I just didn't see it happening. So, yesterday was Rags' turn to go to adoptions.

I didn't know it, but a couple had been looking at Patch and Rags on the website. They were also considering one of our shelter dogs, their application for which was already pre-approved. With no children to care for, and a big empty spot left in their home from a beloved pet they'd recently lost to illness, they were the perfect placement. A home in the city, a fenced backyard, and two devoted parents to smother a dog with attention. They spent some time with Rags. I answered questions. I nearly fainted when they said that if they adopted Rags, they couldn't imagine not taking his brother with him.

I always encourage potential adopters to take a step away from PetSmart and the pleading eyes of homeless animals to discuss the decision to bring a new dog into their lives. While my job is to find homes for my animals, I want those placements to last forever. An impulsive decision to adopt often leads to an animal getting returned once the adopter realizes the huge amount of responsibility that accompanies pet ownership.

Though they intended to go out to lunch and discuss the adoption, once this couple made it to the car, they realized they were both on the same page and were both serious about taking my boys home. They came back and asked me to go get Patch. While I was thrilled for my boys, I burst into tears on the spot. After a whole year with my beautiful boys, imagining my home without them was overwhelming.

Two wiggling, active puppies in great big bodies did not deter them. Patch and Rags left, together, with their new parents, a pair of matching crates, bowls, leashes, collars and doggy beds. I said goodbye, sitting on the floor of PetSmart, with both my boys trying to fit into my lap at the same time. I hugged their big heads and kissed their puppy faces and watched them walk away into forever with their new family.

I am so happy for them. It is a dream come true that I didn't have to place them in separate homes, that they will always have each other. I came home to an email update and a photo of my boys in their new home.

Loving Patch and Rags has been a blessing I will always be grateful for. In time, it wont hurt so much to miss them as I do today. There are other dogs who need me that I will now have space for . . . and that is the whole point of going through the heartache of this goodbye.

Have a blessed life, my sweet boys, I will always love you!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kermit's Village

Perhaps nothing illustrates the saying "It takes a Village" more than Kermit's story. Almost three years ago, a neonate rescue group saved him. A distemper survivor, others would have put him down because neurological injuries resulted in a minor disability; a funny gait and coordination problem. But Kermit's Snuggle foster mom knew he was a smart, happy dog who deserved a chance. She got him through early puppyhood and then called Heartland. One of Heartland's foster moms also saw Kermit's potential and agreed he deserved a chance at a happy life, so she agreed to take him in.

Kermit grew. And grew. And grew. Soon he was a very big, black dog with a shiny coat and happy disposition. Since the beginning, Kermit has been a favorite of shelter staff and volunteers. Volunteers have always gone out of their way to give him extra attention. It was difficult to find a foster home for Kermit because foster homes are, of course, filled with dogs and Kermit was a bit selective about who he'd hang with. We did not imagine this wonderful dog would become a long term resident of Heartland's shelter. But, he did. Potential adopters passed him by for many reasons: they feared his disability would make their life difficult. Being a big, black dog was a knock against him. Being a rescue dog was a knock against him. Being a big, black, disabled rescue dog made it very difficult to find a home for Kermit.

And then a lovely, young couple perused Heartland's website and came upon Kermit's photo and story. They filled out an application. We read it, full of hope, because they sounded wonderful.

This morning, myself and Lori, another Heartland volunteer, loaded Kermit into my car and headed towards what we hoped would be his new home. There was one more test to pass; a home visit to assure Kermit, with his wobbly disposition, could navigate the household. When the front door opened, Kermit let himself right in and happily pranced around the whole house, exploring every nook and cranny. He helped himself to the cats' water. He stood at the back door, waiting for someone to open it so he could explore the huge back deck. He stood on the back deck, surveying the view, all alert and excited, then returned to the house for more exploring, stopping occasionally for attention from one of his new parents. Kermit looked happy and content, like he belonged to this house, to this family.

When the papers were signed and it was time for goodbyes, Kermit escorted us to the door. I got a big, sloppy, wet Kermit kiss. We whispered to him to have a wonderful life. We told him we loved him. And then, we said goodbye.

In the three years of Kermit's life, so many people have loved him. His first foster mom who originally saved him. Each and every volunteer who came to our shelter to walk him, spend time petting him, give him a bath or play in the yard with him. Each volunteer who gave up a Saturday to transport Kermit to adoption events. Shelter staff who always made sure Kermit had the best spot in the place and that it was clean and Kermit was comfortable on the cot where he napped. The morning staff who always added canned food to Kermit's breakfast and brought him rawhide bones. The shelter manager who got him to his vet appointments whenever they were needed. Our webmaster who throughout the years updated his bio and photos, made sure he got coverage on other sites and made him our featured pet in hopes of finding him a home. And, there were so many Heartland supporters who followed Kermit's story. We know everyone who loves Kermit is celebrating with us today.

It does take a village. And, because of it, Kermit is home at last!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Latest Arrivals

Some of the newest arrivals to Heartland's shelter:

ROCKY: Rocky is a young, large
black lab; truly a gentle giant of
a dog with nothing but love to share.

REMINGTON: It is hard to believe this sweet, sweet
boy is living in a shelter. He is a terrific dog! He is
sweet, gentle, housetrained and loves other dogs!

ZOEY: Zoey is a petite border collie mix. She is super
friendly, loves people and other dogs and wants
nothing butto be by your side.

RALLY: Since I am partial to shepherds, Rally
is one of my favorites! The beauty of a German
Shepherd at about half the size. Rally is a young,
sweet boy who will make the perfect companion!

ZIGGY: Ziggy is Rally's brother and is a favorite with
shelter staff. He is just so adorable and loving he
makes you smile!

LEIA: This little hound mix has the sweetest
face you've ever seen, and the personality to match!

BEAU: Our resident Puggle! Just look at that face!

PANDORA: Quiet, attentive, patient and loving, Pandora
is impossible not to fall in love with!

SIMON: Our friendly Bassett Hound. Simon is a love
bug with people and absolutely loves other dogs!

Apply to adopt HERE !