Tag Archives: Shelter dogs

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.

 

“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.

KINDNESS WEARS MANY FACES

The students hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy.  “Did they catch the man who wanted to poison all the cats?”  “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”

Their questions spring from concern over events in the novel that Lucy Miracle – the cat – narrates.  Cathy Unruh at Academy Prep Center TampaThe events are fictional, but these students have reason to believe.  They are living an extraordinary story themselves. They are from low-income, frequently fractured families in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma.  They qualify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.

But these students’ bodies, minds and souls are being fed through the kindness of people many of them will never meet.  They attend Academy Prep Center of Tampa, on scholarships fully funded by donations at no cost to the kids or their families. In an area of the city where simple attendance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone graduation, these middle school students are at the Academy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to prestigious high schools and colleges, mentored all along the way.  They have no trouble relating to Lucy’s miracle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:

Cathy Unruh Lucy Miracle Academy Prep Center Tampa“Hurray!  I’m saved by an angel from above.  My crystalled eyes shine with joyful tears.  I’m glad to know I can trust someone I love.  I felt like life was worth losing, but now, it’s reversed.  Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”

“Curious About Everything
Agreeing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”

“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”

Earthly angels may not be too farfetched a term for some other people who think cats rock – and IMG_5295prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their weekends, time with family and friends to advocate for spaying and neutering pets, trapping and neutering free-roaming cats, and adopting out everyone they can.Colony Cats and Dogs Ohio

Colony Cats (& dogs) of Columbus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adoption center where the occasional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, handsome deaf one who was there the day I visited.  I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in.  It’s an all-volunteer organization, 150 people strong.  Some come by regularly to scoop litter boxes and clean. Some spend time giving the cats attention and affection.  Some facilitate the adoptions.  Some foster animals waiting for homes.  Some staff the boutique at which sales of upscale secondhand goods help keep the money coming in.  Some organize and run the events that do the same.

As for the cats themselves – abandoned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housedIMG_5290 together at the adoption center – they share food, bowls, litter boxes and sleeping spaces ungrudgingly. They offer affection to each other and to visiting humans.

Kindness wears many faces:  the abandoned animal still willing to trust and love; the volunteer willing to get dirty and tired to better Academy Prep Center Tampa Lucy Miracle Cathy Unruhthe lives of other species; the benefactors willing to fund educations of kids who otherwise might not be in school; the students who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s willing to indulge their attentions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.

Colony Cats and Dogs volunteer

 

Extending ourselves in kindness can be uncomfortable – but if we’re willing to make the reach, we can also discover that it feels pretty darn cozy.