As I watch the videos and see the photos of the fires in Colorado, right where I used to live, I am reminded of how the animals fled before. How the horses on the ranch became distraught before being caught by their owners and taken home. Of how I watched the fire and smoke come up the mountain and the air turn dark over days.
I remember being evacuated and having to watch the red and golden flames shoot up from the mountain and wonder if the house...any of the houses...were going to be there after the fire stormed through.
I remember months after, walking along the back of the ranch with the dogs high above the house, and smelling the smoke and seeing the blackened trees and ground. I remember how silent it was because the animals were all gone. As far as they could run, slither, fly and scamper. But, then a small baby bear was found by a neighbor wondering lost and alone. It was saved and taken to a safe place. That was a good feeling.
It reminds me of how those of us who are trying to save lives in our own way each day watch the many animals come through our lives like a fire out of control. So many not saved, but the ones who are will always be strong because they made it
I have been involved in welfare since shortly after beginning in the veterinary field in 1997. Since that time I have helped people find homes for their pets, rescued many off of the streets, fostered, spay/neuter clinics, community outreach, come up with original fundraising items, covered stories for rescues and shelters, witten a book about the welfare world and much more.
But, during most of that time I was lucky enough to have access to resources most people do not. I had all the veterinary help I needed: cages to hold animals, wholesale costs...and so on. When I wanted to pull an animal off of the street I could do so easily and without the urgency that most people experience when trapping, etc. I could take the time to work with an animal who may not have been immediately adoptable, and when ready, find a good home.
So, as I sat on the ground in my neighbors yard a few hours ago, listening to her tell me how to use a new and fancy trap, I felt somewhat embarassed. But, also amazed at what the woman knew and how much she does for the cats in our community. The few roaming around while we talked were reminders of just how dedicated she is.
I found myself eagerly absorbing all the directions and information she gave me and a little nervous about what I was about to do. After all, it was my first time actually using a real trap instead of patiently stalking as I have often done. The cat to be rescued is a very, very pregnant girl who suddenly showed up down the hill from me in my apt complex and is living in the gutters among the cars. I have been feeding her on a schedule the last 10 days to get her used to me and a time to be fed...just so I could catch her. Of course, none of the other million people who actually live by her were going to do anything.
As I crawled under the bush, trying to avoid the sharp dried holly leaves from poking further holes in my knees, I spotted the perfect place for the trap. When done I called her and, of course, she did not appear. Nothing is that easy for me. After a few moments of waiting I knew she would not come so I decided to walk the block and come back.
About half an hour later I arrived back at the bush and saw a flicker of paws pacing back and forth and a smile broke out across my face. Success! Well, to my surprise the cat staring at me was not my girl but a big Tom Boy, and he was not happy. The feeling of success quickly changed to, oh crap, what now!?
So, I called the woman and told her that I did indeed have a cat, but it was not the one I wanted. To my surprise, she said no problem, they all need to be fixed, so bring him up. And so I did. The very large hill seemed even more difficult to hike up as I attempted to carry the trap and a heavy, very upset cat in the afternoon heat. By the time I got to her house, both the cat and I were panting. I put him under the shaded table and sat next to him. We both looked at each other and I told him I was sorry, but it was for the best.
Tomorrow I try for the girl and hope that she has not yet had her babies. Tonight I go to bed with a new appreciation of trappers and their plight. We all have things to learn...
I was recently asked the questions below, how would you answer!? ...</strong>
<strong>Generally speaking, how has working in animal rescue affected your perception of pet owners? Have your experiences changed your views on animal issues in any ways? And have you noticed any changes in the behavior and attitudes of pet owners themselves since you began?
I began my "rescue career" in 1997, shortly after taking my first job in the veterinary field. A neighbor ran into hospital and said there was a litter of newborn kittens and their mother in a trash bin and the truck was going to come and crush them. A few hours later I had the entire family at my house. I remember asking myself how someone could do such a thing to their pet. Many years later I am not shocked at anything anymore and sadly just shake my head when others show dismay at the horrible things they hear. I have had the unique experience of dealing with pet owners in the veterinary field as well as those who unfortunately contribute to the rescue world's woes. For me, this insight into both worlds has highlighted the many things wrong with our society. From the man who does not want to neuter his dog because he feels like it is a personal attack and also wants “just a few puppies," to the woman who does nothing for the sick cat living outside of her apartment, other than say "poor thing" as she walks by with her dogs. There are so many pet owners who just do not understand how their actions affect the world, or are just unwilling to take the time to care.
Like others who have had hands-on time in the welfare world, my experiences have changed my view of many things. It is difficult to live life oblivious to what is going on around us once you literally scrape frozen stillborn kittens off of a sidewalk or pick maggots out of a dog that was shot and left to die. It makes you much more aware of the responsibility we all have to be good people. On a positive note, I have met many wonderful and good people over the years who devote themselves to making a difference.
Although the rescue and veterinary worlds have become a stronger public force for animals over the years and more people are educated, there is still much that will never be solved. What happens when you drop your pet off at a shelter will never be fully comprehended and Pit Bulls will always be misunderstood. Helping owners understand the need to spay and neuter will always be a struggle, and what really happens when you throw your pet outside to fend for themselves will never be completely understood. Unfortunately, pet owners are human and each makes their own decisions for their own reasons. Therefore I cannot say that I have noticed any widespread changes among pet owners as a whole. Those who care and want to be educated are.
Sometimes the difference between real animal-people, those who naturally have a connection, and those who just like animals, is very obvious.
I have often been told over the years that animals are nice to me that are never nice to anyone, and it always surprises me as I would have never thought these particular animals were unfriendly. In the veterinary hospitals where I worked, I was always the one that got sick animals to eat when no one else could. Perhaps it is because they sense something in those of us who genuinely care and understand.
Tonight this revelation made me smile yet again as I sat with my body half way in a carrier petting the girl that I had just trapped a week ago. She has been through hell the last few months living on the street and in a crazy situation for a few days before I got her back from her spay. Last night I took her to my neighbors house and set her up in a big crate with a bed and lots of food. She was very stressed and so I wanted her to have a quiet and calm place to rest for a few days while I figured out what to do with her. My apartment is anything but calm with a crazy kitten running around.
I was not sure what I would be dealing with when I visited tonight and was not surprised when she hissed and growled at me when I first opened the cage door. Knowing that food is always a good offer of friendship, and that she would remember that I had been feeding her for a few weeks before she was tricked into the trap, I made a tasty bowl of fishy food. As I slowly showed it to her over the edge of her safe box, she glared at me with distain and fear. Food may be good, but she was in no mood.
Without thinking I did what I have done so many times over the years and talked to her. I showed her the food, moving it closer and closer, and let her sniff. She was very hungry and it was not long before she devled into the bowl with vigor, all the while watching me through the corner of her eye. As she ate I moved closer inside the cage and touched her head slowly. She jerked back and hissed and then went back to eating.
Ten minutes later she was letting me pet her as I continued to speak to her slowly and softly... and a few moments after that a wonderful sound of purring was heard. Her posture relaxed and she was tempted to roll on her back and show me her belly...so tempted. Her head moved into the palm of my hand and the look of distain turned to calmness and perhaps a little love...I like to think:)
In the meantime my neighbor had come in and was sitting on the floor a foot away from her, watching the process. His mouth hanging open because he said she would not do anything but hiss and lunge at him through the cage and he was not sure how to deal with her.
He likes animals...
Do you have any experiences that made you know that you are an animal-person rather than a person who just likes animals? Evie and I would love to hear from you!
Perhaps because of my books about animal welfare and work to help humans understand animals, I was recently asked to take a look at a special new book. Feeling honored to be part of the process, I eagerly opened the digital version and a smile broke out on my face as I reviewed the pages.
The smile was a result of seeing such a simple, colorful and entertaining book make such an immediate impact...not only on me, but my dog Evie. Why Evie? Well, because the pages are full of rhymes and poems written by a few unique dogs for all other dogs. As I read to Evie the first poem called "Happy Walk," it was difficult not to relate. Evie, after all, has quite the nose and our walks consist of stopping every second so that she can smell. As I read the words "pee pee" she looked over at me, wondering if she needed to go outside. The same happened when I read her "The Squirrel" as Evie has a strong love/hate relationship with the word "squirrel."
This happened many times as I read aloud the different sweet poems; Evie's eyes getting wide and her ears perking up as I laughed and giggled at some of the words that reminded me so much of our life together. And, what makes the book special is that behind the seemingly simple theme is a more complex and important message. One being that author Lony Ruhmann wanted to communicate the needs of dogs who have been abused or neglected and to encourage adoption, and what better way to do so than help humans understand what they are really saying!
Evie and I wholeheartedly agree that any way that we as humans can help needy animals of all kinds live a better life is worth the time and energy. We also know that reading aloud to your dog not only brings you together, but it can now also help us be better people for our furry friends.
More Information can be found at: http://www.bitethisbook.com
Even after many years in the non-profit world, I am constantly amazed, and sometimes shocked, as I open donations.
More often than not, they are sent back with money and I know that they are doing so because they care about the cause. There are people who send monthly, and there are some who have been donating for years. Many are senior citizens who note that they are 80 plus years old and apologize that they cannot give more. Each one, the type of people that every non-profit hopes to reach, and are thankful for.
But, it is the others than continually amaze me. Some are sent back with clippings from other organizations or religious pamphlets, some are sent back with nothing but the paperwork we sent them, others are sent back with a very nasty note such as Fu$% Yo#. And, yes, there are even some who send back the card with 5 cents included….and a nasty note.
It takes more time to do these things than to just throw out the appeal, but there is a definite point to what they do. I continually ask myself what IS that point? Is it because they need to make a point? Is it because they feel they have the right to express themselves because we are a charity? Is it because they do not trust anyone anymore?
This process is, at times, a study in human psychology. And honestly, there are times that I worry that one day one of the donations will contain something harmful to me. That alone makes me wonder about the world and the lengths that people will go to to express their opinions.
In the meantime, I will devote my time to concentrating on the people who care and hope that every non-profit and charity out there does the same. We are nothing without them.
I was a jeweler/metal smith before I found my way to the veterinary and welfare worlds back in 1997. But, I was born to create so my hands decide once in a while to tell me it is time to do something new.
Recently they decided I should really do something with all the shells, rocks and beach finds cluttering up the window sills around the place I live. So, I listened...
What I figured is that I would make some "touristy" pieces on local wood shingles and wood pieces from the houses being built and sell them to make money for the local shelters and rescues. Thus, the pieces would be genuinely local. I had never painted on wood, and I am not a painter per se', but fun was main goal anyway.
After a crazy stint of making a few a day, I finally had enough to show. Although I have done many trade shows and events, I am definitely not a salesperson in nature, so I was nervous about the next step. But, I was offered a table at the Renaissance Festival the other day and so I said yes, why not.
It was an interesting experience and I met a lot of very nice people, and I sold a few pieces as well, so all it all it was a good day. Next step...getting them into a few stores. Wish me luck:)
Update 4/2014 - I now have pieces in a local store and the owner is a huge animal lover, so it is wonderful. Thank you to Twigs and Tides!
Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to feel like they have a life worth living. And everyone wants to have a reason to smile. </strong>
<strong>For some, those want's and feelings come easily as they find family, career and the many things those have to offer complete them. For others, such as myself, it is much more difficult.
As I sit here tonight I could be out meeting friends and enjoying meaningless conversation and silly fun. Instead, I am here writing this after a long day working on this new website. And even though I could be out doing what most people probably think I should be doing on a Friday night, I am content because I have accomplished a lot today in regards to what I care about. And that makes me happy.
It reminded me of the feeling I get every time I have spent a day covering a welfare event, or the countless hours I have spent rescuing and working with strays in one way or another. Or, the smile that I always have on my face, and in my heart, after doing something animal-related that I know was important. A smile that I usually can't control, and a feeling of happiness.
Probably the only time I ever really feel completely happy and that my life is definitely worth living...
The "no-kill" debate has been rolling around the welfare world and the world in general for many years now, and there is still nothing but talk and opinions to show for it.
In my humble opinion, there is no black and white answer to this dilemma as the world stands today. There is no real regulation or oversight of the welfare/rescue world as a whole and too many emotions rule everything!
If people continue to not spay/neuter and dump their animals on the streets and in shelters, there will never be enough space or adequate and proper facilities to keep them forever. What good is keeping all of them alive if they are confined to cages for their entire "no-kill" life? I have seen what happens and it is not humane. Humane can only be determined and solved if enormous changes are made on many levels, and that will never happen for so many reasons, which is incredibly, incredibly sad.
In my humble opinion, there ARE things we can start to do, but they would need those regulations and oversight, and simple laws in general. And with the government and politicians much more interested in what humans think of them than remembering what being human really should be about...none of these things could ever happen...no matter how simple they are.
As with much in our society, there are many people with opinions, many people with good hearts and many people who just don't care about anything. That is what makes our world our world...and, yes, that is also very, very sad for us all because it leaves all of us going round in circles with nothing ever really happening. It is like a perpetual hampster wheel of movement with nothing to show for it.
In 100 years when we are all gone, it will be the same. How depressing is that for us all.</strong>
I wrote a chapter about this topic in my book years ago because I felt it important for people to know if they were thinking of dedicating themselves to the animal rescue world, or any cause. But, it has struck me recently how bad some good intentions really can go...
When most people envision a non-profit charity organization, or group, they probably think of people living very simply in order for the money donated to go to the cause. They probably think of people with good hearts who decide to sacrifice many things in order to make sure their cause receives all of the good things.
And those people are out there. I have met them and have been honored to learn from them and work beside them. I have also documented many of them in that same book for others to see.
But, what happens when people who start out with all of those good intentions lose their way? When years later they can only concentrate on how many Likes their organization gets on Facebook, or how many times they are mentioned in an article, or how famous their pet becomes? Did they ever really care, or did they enter the charity world for their own ego, even perhaps without ever truly realizing it because ego is all that they have ever known? Is it okay for them to be living in a huge home with a housekeeper, a handyman and someone to come and pick up their dog poop weekly? Is it okay for them to get all of their personal expenses reimbursed in the name of the charity and to take full advantage of that? Is it okay that they have no regards for anyone but themselves and care only for what others can do for them, and never have to be accountable?
When DOES good go bad?
And does it really matter if they are still helping in some way?
Perhaps there is no black and white answer, but in my humble experienced opinion, the answer is bad comes when doing good no longer is the first and sole purpose...