Category Archives: Humane Society

Breaking the Chain

Dogs are America’s favorite animal

Or so the statistics suggest, with 46% of U.S. households including dogs.  That equates to more than 78 million canines cohabitating with humans in one way or another. ZachwtoyinchairUnfortunately, not all of them are pampered pooches wandering PetSmart with their human companions in search of toys and treats and resting their heads on plump pillows in cozy beds at night. Some of them aren’t even seeing the inside of a house, let alone a store to satisfy their doggie desires. Too many of them – and in this case, one is too many – are spending their lives at the end of a rope or chain.

The Humane Society of the United States puts the number of “tied-up” dogs at more than 200,000, although this is a hard number to precisely tetheredcalculate. But I’m guessing you know about it and have seen it: the dog pulling and straining against the restraint around his neck, which is tied to a tree or fence, or maybe a post stuck in the ground just for this purpose.  Sometimes the dog is barking wildly; other times, he or she simply lies there in depressed defeat, knowing there is no escape.  Except:  there can be escape.  And anyone who knows of a dog enduring this kind of existence can help be the escape.

Movements against tethering are taking hold across the country, spurred on by increased awareness of the cruelty to dogs and danger to humansimages by restraining dogs in this way. Dogs are pack animals, descended from wolves.  They crave companionship and interaction.  Dogs are smart, emotionally astute creatures. They yearn for stimulation and affection.  Tie them up and abandon them and they can go berserk from deprivation.  Imagine the human in solitary confinement year after year, seeing no one except the keeper who drops off food and water and, torture on top of torture, the occasional unfettered creature walking by who doesn’t stop to set them free, or even to say hello. Do any of us doubt that this can provoke a descent into madness? Physically horrible things can happen on the end of a tether also.  Dogs can be tied up so long that their collars become embedded in their necks.  They can develop all sorts of diseases, sores, and mange from neglect and the inability to maneuver to scratch or groom themselves.  They can become entangled in their tethers or even strangle themselves.

Let me be clear:  dogs who have endured and survived the worst of circumstances can be rescued, rehabilitated, and restored to the loving, giving creatures they were born to be.  (The Michael Vick dogs are a case study.) Tethered dogs are liberated, taken to shelters and adopted out daily across this country.  But the dog on the end of the chain can also be hazardous to humans, driven by stress, desperation or even training – some dogs are tethered for the express purpose of protecting property; they are expected to be dangerous. The American Humane Association says tethered dogs are almost three times as likely to bite, and cites their sense of vulnerability as one reason why.

Hence the anti-tethering movement, for our mutual benefit.  18 states now have laws on the books addressing tethering.  The laws tend to set conditions for tethering, rather than prohibit it.  For example, there are restrictions on how long a dog may be tethered, or specifications as to how long the tether must be.  One state simply mandates that there be “adequate space” for a tethered “companion animal.”  Excuse me, but an animal that is tethered outside and away from you is not a companion.  Try this on your spouse or kids for even an hour and you’ll see what I mean. (Just making a point here:  do not take that sentence literally, please.)

Many tethering restrictions happen on the local level, with ordinances. You can find out whether your community or county limits or bans tethering here. In my county, the campaign against tethering proclaims Tethered Dog 2“Break the Chain – It’s the Law.”  If you want to become part of the chain of citizens working to untether dogs who don’t yet benefit from government protection, take action. Contact your local representatives.  Change happens when enough of us demand it long enough.

And if by chance you get up close and personal to a tethered dog that you don’t know, don’t try to pet or free it yourself. Call a reliable, humane animal welfare organization for assistance. Chances are you’ll be helping that dog to a far better life, maybe even one indoors with doting humans, which is where America’s favorite animal belongs.

My Wedding Anniversary…

Warning:

If you are uncomfortable learning intimate details of a relationship, do not read on. If, however, you accept voyeurism as an inalienable American enjoyment, then please: step into my bedroom.

The day begins like nearly every other. Whether our alarm sounds at 5:00 or we sleep in until the sun beckons brightly through the window, time for togetherness is always part of the morning. My husband gets up, showers, and returns to the bedroom, where the object of his affection lies drifting in and out of a luxurious doze, dreaming in anticipation. As he approaches the bed, smelling of freshly soaped skin, herbal shampoo, minty toothpaste, coconut sunscreen – a delicious morning mélange – dozing morphs into consciousness and a long, luxurious stretch upon the comforter, still redolent with sleep. Anticipation mounts to expectation. Expectation, built upon the memories of so many mornings prior to this one, induces an involuntary quivering, as though the skin is rising up of its own accord to meet the hands about to descend upon it. And then the caresses begin.

My husband’s powerful fingers settle into the back of the head, gently teasing the brain into total wakefulness. They travel down the spine, digging deliciously into either side of the back until they reach that region that motivates the body, mindlessly giving itself up to sensation, to turn over and invite more caresses, offering up its most vulnerable areas in complete trust, without reservation…

It is, I admit, an enviable way to welcome the day. I am, I admit, occasionally envious. Because I am talking, of course, about the dog. Anniversary, birthday, holiday, every day: Wee Willie Winky gets a morning massage before his walk in the park.

It took me years to soften my spouse to the point where he would accept a dog in our household, already populated with cats. When I suspected that the time was just about right, I called friends at our local shelters to let them know what I was looking for: a small dog who could travel, wasn’t inclined to be yappy and wouldn’t shed too, too much. The very next day, the call came: an alleged puppy mill runner from Alabama had been busted selling six week old dogs out of the back of his pickup truck in the unforgiving Florida sun. I took this precious, tired Shih Tzu home, cuddled on my lap.Willie croppeda I walked into my husband’s office and said, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” The puppy fit entirely into his palms. Tom looked into his gently Willie 3picblinking eyes and instantly named him. That first night, Willie slept for a dozen uninterrupted hours, on his back in his brand new puppy bed with his legs straight up in the air, exhausted.

The love affair between spouse and Shih Tzu took some time to develop. Tom hadn’t lived with a dog before and he was somewhat slow to succumb to Willie’s considerable charms. But once he opened himself to the experience and began bonding with play time,bathtime snuggle time, bath time, there was no denying it: my place as most loved member of his family was being challenged. And with valid historical and scientific reason.

Wolves, from whom dogs descended, are believed to have first turned to humans for food and shelter, while humans welcomed the wolves’ protection, hunting prowess, and eventually, their warmth, affection, and empathy. 24rDogs can “read” their humans in extraordinary ways: a simple movement of the body or even the eyes can speak volumes to your canine companion about your intentions. Your dog very likely can understand and even share your emotions. Dogs and humans have the same brain structure, including the amygdala, which is linked to emotional and psychological states. Dogs and humans also share many of the same hormones. Furthermore, a recent study suggests that several sets of genes in humans and dogs evolved along the same timeline, likely as a result of living together.

There are reasons other than scientific for the profound love between man and dog too, of course. I, along with most humans, absolutely refuse to run to the door every time my husband comes home (whether he’s been gone five days or five minutes), wiggling my fanny like a feather in the wind. I decline to lie on the floor at his feet, gazing up at his face with naked love in my eyes. I will not pant in anticipation of a leisurely walk in the evening.

But I will – and do – work on managing my envy. After all, I “gave” Willie as a gift and thus am happy to accept the sharing of affections. Besides: I am madly in love with Willie too. Happy anniversary, sweetie.

11monthswide

Note: actual spousal interactions on our anniversary have been omitted in deference to traditional decorum – and so that my mother does not expire prematurely from mortification.

 

Just a Whisker Away

Can you feel it, just a whisker away?

The promise of breezes lifting the curtains, naps in the afternoon sun, playtimes spent wrestling, climbing a tree, batting a ball around? Ah, summer. kitty hammockMemorial weekend approaches, the unofficial start of the exalted season – and of another, less well known. It’s the height of kitten season. Thousands of kittens born and nurtured in the spring are now mature enough to find homes.

Can you imagine it? Kittens inhaling the fresh air through the window, nestling in the sun’s rays, playing with the zest of a youngster discovering new games each day? Might your home have room for more love and an extra dash of joy? As the French writer Jean Cocteau said, “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul.” If you’ve never lived with a cat or kitten, this may mystify you. Many people still think of cats as elusive, independent creatures who turn up their noses at even their closest humans except for when it suits them – like meal time. But as Cocteau knew, cats can gladly offer their lively spirits and ready adopt-a-shelter-cat-monthaffection if we are open to them – and little by little, we come to realize that home is where the cat is. But far too many cats are left wondering where the home is.

An estimated four million cats wind up in shelters across our country each year. They extend their paws through their cages at the workers and visitors passing by: notice me! Notice me! They rub against the wires and purr: pet me! Pet me! They live as fully as possible within their confines: Catincage1play with the toys, lap up the food and water, use the litter box, snuggle with their cage mates. I hope they don’t know what lies around the corner or down the hall if they cannot entice an adopter: the euthanasia room. 70 percent of shelter cats are carried there.

So June is Adopt a Cat Month, also known as Adopt a Shelter Cat month, because this is when shelters are most crowded with kittens and when you catincagehandsbwhave a marvelous opportunity to add to your family and save a life or more. I always recommend at least two cats, for multiple reasons. They will be happier when no humans are at home, because they have each other. You will be more entertained, watching the cats play together. And you’ll get more attention!

The extra care and expense of an additional cat are minimal. Although this is considered sacrilege in some corners, I find that one litter box can do nicely, if it’s cleaned often. (My three cats have a choice of two litter boxes, one indoors and one on the catio. They steadfastly ignore the catio box and happily share the indoor one.) More food is required, but cats are not gargantuan consumers. You’ll also need to provide entertainment, which doesn’t have to mean Fred in a boxexpensive toys. Cats are happy to chase the proverbial yarn, and they love boxes, tissue and wrapping paper, and any number of natural playthings already in your home. Among those playthings should be surfaces they are allowed to scratch: wood, carpet, cardboard. These can all be purchased or you can make your own cat scratchers cheaply and easily. And you’ll want to write an annual veterinary visit into your budget – but that comes later. Shelter animals are spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and often microchipped before they are released. At most shelters, adoption fees are kept as minimal as possible.

And it’s not just kittens who are on borrowed time at shelters, waiting for homes. There are cats of all ages available, from high-energy adolescents to stately elders looking for a warm hearth and snuggly lap. Not sure who is right for you? Ask your shelter’s staff. They’ll help you find the match to suit your time, temperament, and environment.

May 22 Blog Pic Cathy copy2So go ahead: spice up your summer if you can. Adopt a Cat. Then, when the too-brief season slips away and the chill creeps in, you’ll have your friends to keep you warm.

 

 

 

“Be the Way Home”

It’s a simple sentence, an imperative – and in the not-so-simple county of Hillsborough, Florida, it’s now the officially sanctioned plea to citizens: be the way home for shelter animals.

In a nation that is increasingly concerned about its abandoned companion animals, where the terms babyboy“no kill” and “save 90” have become part of the animal welfare lexicon, Hillsborough lags in finding homes for the creatures who wind up at its county shelter. Fewer than 37 percent make it out alive. Dogs are the most fortunate: 56.6% had a “live outcome” in fiscal year 2012, while only 18.9% of cats did. And yet when Be the Way Home was introduced as an effort to up the percentages, a virtual catfight ensued. Why? The old tired topic of TNR.

I use the phrase “old tired topic” advisedly – and personally. I’m tired of arguing about and having to cathytnr advocate for Trap Neuter Return. As a longtime practitioner of TNR, I’ve watched it work, believe that it’s the best practice for free-roaming community cats and the humans with whom they co-exist, and just want the freedom for all TNR’ers to get on with the business of doing it. This freedom exists in hundreds of communities across America, where leadership recognizes that TNR is the most effective, economic, and humane way of controlling and managing free-roaming cat populations. But in too many other communities, hard-working big-hearted caregivers to community cats are driven underground by ordinances against and opposition to their efforts. One common ordinance bans the outdoor feeding of “public nuisance” animals. Opposition says the cats are not indigenous species, claims they are too great a danger to other wildlife through their hunting behaviors, and a threat to humans primarily through carrying disease.

Hence when the director of Hillsborough County Animal Services included a pilot program to trap, neuter and release up to 2,000 community cats per year in his overall Be the Way Home plan to increase live outcomes, the claws came out. A small clutch of veterinarians were the most vociferous opponents of releasing healthy, neutered, microchipped and vaccinated cats back into the community (but away from “sensitive areas” such as parks, playgrounds, schools and conservation lands), seconded by wildlife proponents. The vets invoked the welfare of children to try and whip up Catcornerfear of crazed cats pursuing the populace, while the wildlife advocates focused on allegedly besieged birds. Pro-TNR groups including Animal Coalition of Tampa, Cat Crusaders and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay rallied the local troops on behalf of their successful Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return endeavors and to point out that available science does not support the anti-TNR allegations. National groups like the Humane Society of the United States, Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Animal Society stood with us.

As I commented during the discussion, community cat advocates are not the natural enemies of catsroosterswildlife conservationists. Most of us are in favor of all animals being allowed to experience their full, natural lives within an ecosystem that does include predatory behavior – including by birds that eat small mammals (such as cats) and even other birds. We argue that the evidence does not support claims that cats are the wildly prolific killers that TNR opponents make them out to be. We know from experience that TNR with feeding reduces feline hunting behavior. I will concede here however, that – as with almost any issue – you can bandy both the empirical and anecdotal evidence about like balls of yarn. The most beautifully simplistic, indisputable statement made in the entire exercise is this: the cats are already here. Are any of these dire scenarios (diseased cats on the rampage, birds falling by the flock) occurring now? Fortunately for the animals of Hillsborough County, the answer (no) and common sense prevailed as commissioners overwhelmingly approved Be the Way Home – a comprehensive plan of which TNR is just one component. Now comes the implementation on behalf of all affected animals. And as in any locale, Animal Services can’t do it alone.

No matter where you live, you can help the animals in a myriad of ways:

–volunteer with a shelter or rescue group
–donate funds, food, or equipment needed
–offer your expertise in communications, marketing or technology to help educate
–adopt or foster animals waiting for homes
–be a responsible pet owner; spay, neuter and promote it to others
–practice TNR and caregiving to community cats
–participate in pet expos and adopt-a-thons
–lobby your lawmakers to support animal welfare legislation
–write letters, send e-mails, post on social media on behalf of animals.

Saving the animals starts with us, the grass roots citizens. It is not the job of governments alone. Reputable shelter and rescue groups are limited by the time, space, and money they have to work with. There’s an ever-growing public aversion to massive euthanasia rates and an expanding energy around education and adoption, along with an increasing willingness to help.

Be the Way Home. It’s a simple sentence – an imperative. It deserves the upper case letters. Let’s bethewayhomefamilyhope it’s the start of a beautiful story in Hillsborough County, Florida – and an inspiration to compassionate, conscientious communities everywhere.

To read the “Be the Way Home” plan click on the image.