An Auction Tale – Still the same ten years later

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I know a number of people who have been strong and brave enough to go to the Missouri Dog Auctions. It is not a pretty sight, and the auctions certainly are NOT for the benefit of the dogs. This story was shared with me five years ago, and from what I have seen, little has changed.

My own sweet Sophia came from one of these auctions, when there was even less oversight than is described below.  For almost eight years she gave me the strength and the determination to work in rescue. I will always be grateful to her for all that she taught me. And I will always regret that I could not have spared her the pain.

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I rise at 4 a.m., get coffee, check supplies, and leave by 5.  I drive alone, my van full of empty crates. As I drive through the cold dark morning, my only company is the churning of my emotions. Hope that most of the crates will be full of dogs on the way home. Anger than anyone could bring puppies into this world with no plan other than a quick profit. Sorrow that companion animals are viewed as, even legally classified as livestock, rather than the family members they should be. And fear that I will fail them.

I know that I will fail some of them. I cannot save them all. Neither I nor my organization have the money, the manpower, the political clout or enough other resources to remove all of them from harm. But we will keep trying, because we can and because we have to. We can at least save some, give them the gift of love and family and future.

I don’t want to go. I have been on a roller coaster all week, distracted and angry and so grateful to all the others who help these innocent creatures. I read again some of Joan Fremo’s writing from the PyrAngel site and am almost reduced to tears.

But I don’t have time to weep. I pull in to the site, park in the pasture and scan the vehicles, perhaps hoping that it’s been called off, or that some agency has swooped in and shut down the auction, taking all of the dogs to rescue. But no such luck. So I go in and get registered, grab a catalog, and go see the dogs.

The stench slaps at me the moment I walk into the building. As dog auctions go, this is supposedly clean and well run, but in two days they are running more than 500 dogs through the selling floor, some of them healthy, some of them not — the stack cages and the kennels are full. High school age kids rinse kennels with the hose and squeegee waste into the canal that runs along the floor. Puppies tentatively wag their tails as people stop to examine them, but the older dogs mostly just lie there, without hope, without joy, as though they have lost any expectation of being loved.

A few puppies have goop in their eyes, some are too lethargic to notice the crowd of people walking around, so many people that it is hard to get to all of the dogs I need to see. I hear sellers disparaging show breeders and the AKC and the USDA, and talking about all the paperwork and medical care that cuts into their profits. And I want to scream. I want to get into someone’s face and find out why they think they have a right to manipulate these lives for nothing more than a few bucks. I want to tell them about the breeder whose puppies almost all have orthopedic problems, but I know that he has made trades with many of them for “unrelated stock,” and I know that they don’t want to know. They don’t care. And I want to cry. But I don’t have time to weep.

I have to pay attention, to figure out who is buying and who is selling and what kind of prices they are willing to bid up to today. I have a strict budget, a limited number of foster homes, and serious medical concerns for many of these dogs. If the Amish and Mennonites are hell-bent on picking up a lot of new stock, I may not be able to save any. They have more money than I do. I talk to a few people around me, and find that at least two are here to bid on the breed I am there to get. They want to get into the business of breeding that kind of dog. All I can say to them is that it is an awfully expensive proposition — failed breedings, c-sections, sick mothers, fragile newborns, not to mention the testing that should be done BEFORE A DOG IS EVER BRED to reduce the risks of heart and blood diseases, orthopedic problems, eye disease and cancers. But they cannot see past the greenbacks to see the suffering of the animals in pain and loneliness, or the anguish of the families that buy a mill puppy that dies within weeks, sometimes days, but always after the family has fallen in love. They have no concept of what it is like to watch a dog who has almost no hip socket, who moves around by virtue of muscle and tendon and strength of will, because she loves her people and she wants to be with them and to play and to be a normal dog. Which she can never be, and my heart breaks when I see her try to keep up with the other dogs. She tries so hard. But I don’t have time to cry for her right now.

My eyes sting and my head aches from the stench, and the constant barrage of noise and odor leaves me with no appetite. I go out to my car to decompress and to grab some food, any food, that I have brought along. I cannot taste it, the food cannot overcome the foul air from the auction barn, but I know that without some nourishment I won’t make it back to the rescue home base that night. I call to relay numbers and breeder names, and to find out when help will arrive. It will be up to me to bid for the dogs, and I remember too clearly the anguish of leaving empty handed. I have to disconnect emotion from action, and be prepared for too many possibilities.

I see other rescue representatives around the room. We quietly acknowledge each other, but most of us don’t speak to each other much during the auction. We don’t want to identify others in rescue to the auction staff, and we all know too well what we are each going through. The auctioneer knows who most of us are, and makes quite a show of putting rescue together with breeders who need help getting rid of dogs they don’t want. One breeder is trying to unload an unintentional crossbred litter, four to five weeks old. They need to be moved right away. The breeder needs to get her female ready for another breeding.

My breed is next, and I have to steel myself to bid low and to stop when our limit is reached. The first girls come out, and although bidding begins in a reasonable range, it soon climbs well beyond what I can spend. The auction staff knows I am with rescue, and they keep looking over at me, expecting me to go higher. I can’t. My heart is breaking, but if we continue to pay high prices, we just encourage them to think they have a ready market in us. The only way to bring the prices back down is to bid low or not bid at all. But in doing so, we sacrifice some of the dogs. I will live with that all of my life, and I will always wonder…

I no longer sit in the bleachers facing the front of the auction ring. If I look at the dogs face to face, I know I won’t be able to shake my head no. As it is, I see one male puppy whose head and build and expression are so much like that of my own auction rescue I can’t help but wonder whether they are related — but I cannot save him, the price goes too high. Another piece of my soul leaves the ring with him, as with every dog I cannot help.

The next group doesn’t go as high, and I get a couple of the girls. I pay more than I had wanted, but an extra $25 is a small price to pay to keep another female out of the millers’ hands. We have enough adoption applications to place almost every dog we can get, and donations to cover the vetting. Their ages in the catalog range from barely eight weeks to over a year, but we have learned over the years that those dates are meaningless. I remember one older girl we got – when we took in to be spayed and the vet opened, her up her belly was full of cancer. We didn’t wake her up. She had been sold as a ‘proven female,’ said to be six years old. The vet estimated 12 years and too many litters. We stopped a few moments to weep for her as she was finally freed from pain.

Several breeders pull some of their puppies from the sale as it becomes apparent they won’t command the prices the breeders want. We end up with a third of the dogs of our breed that are sold, but I feel as though I have spent most of the day shaking my head no. I spent more than I was supposed to, although not by much. I’ll take the extra from my own pockets if I have to. A breeder comes over to offer me a dog he had pulled when the bidding didn’t reach the reserve price, though the high bid had gone to another breeder. I refuse the reserve price, and he offers me the dog at the level of the final bid. I say yes. As he gets up to notify the desk, he tells me he would rather we get the dog than the other breeder. I want to believe that he means it. But I can’t stop to hope, I have more bidding, another dog or two to try to bring home. I get two more.

I go to pay for the dogs, get their paperwork, try to get the auction house vet to provide health certificates, and get the dogs loaded. As I fill out money orders and credit card forms, another buyer asks what I plan to do with all those dogs. I tell him that we will find them good homes. He decries my lack of profit motive, but admits they probably ought to be pets. So should the ones he has bought, but he doesn’t suggest that will happen.

The vet insists on seeing all of the paperwork before he will look at the dogs, then asks whether we’re with rescue. We ask him why that would matter, and he tells us he doesn’t want to sign anything for rescue, there was a complaint and he had to appear before the Missouri Veterinary Board and it was all so very unpleasant. We know the vet who lodged that complaint — she was livid at the condition of the puppies brought to her facility the night of an auction, complete with health certificates, but with illnesses that had not just suddenly blossomed in the three hours it took to transport them.

He looks at the paperwork, says they all have all their vaccines and we don’t need, nor will we get, anything else. As we leave, we hear someone ask about a positive test result, but the door is closed on us before we can find out what test or which dogs were affected. The last snatch of conversation confirms that it seemed to all be from one kennel. But they won’t tell us anything. All of the dogs had been brought through the same holding area into the same auction ring, about two thirds of the dogs were placed on the table and one third on the floor, neither of which are ever cleaned in the seven hours it takes to auction off more than 200 lives. But I can’t stop to worry about that now.

We load the dogs for the drive home. There are three vehicles, and we have split the dogs among us. I carry two of the 8-week olds, with their sharp little barks and their plaintive cries for their mother.  I also carry a barker and a howler, and it takes a half hour for them to settle down. One relaxes enough to fill the van with fragrance; none of them had any chance to run around or relieve themselves, the auction house loads them directly into our crates and sends us on our way.

I open the back vents and crank up the heater. It is a cold night, and the two little ones are so small that I am grateful they have each other for warmth. The larger puppies should have enough hair and stamina to deal with the chill. If they’re not already sick.

After miles and miles of dark roads, we get to the barn. More help is there, and we unload and get pictures, and take a few minutes to watch the puppies play. I hold one of the smallest ones while we find a warmer space for the three littlest ones. He trembles as he molds himself to me. I can’t put him down. I stroke his tiny body, and put my cheek to his head, cooing to him and promising him everything will be all right. I hold him almost 15 minutes and he has almost stopped trembling by the time we put him in with the other two babies. We find a space where we can put a heater, and some carpet. The three of them play and explore for a few minutes and then fall asleep in their exhaustion. A few days later a vet will tell us the smallest of them can’t be more than four weeks old.

The personalities of all of the puppies have begun to emerge as they have a chance to interact and take more than two steps without being caught by a tether or stopped by a cage door. They start to carry their heads a bit higher, and their tails no longer droop, and you start to see a little bit of a sparkle in their eyes. They are still terribly frightened, and they fight against going through doors or walking on leash, but they look at us with almost hopeful expressions. Almost.

Some of them come back to my garage, on their way west. I can’t house them inside because they haven’t been thoroughly checked yet and my own animals already have health issues. Yesterday was my own auction rescue girl’s birthday, but rather than playing and getting treats, she and my shelter rescue and my cat get hustled off to board at the vet clinic. She doesn’t seem to mind, she loves the vet’s staff and they love her, and I think she knows why I have to go. Every now and then I have to remind her that I always come back, that she will never be deserted or alone or unloved. As long as I remind her, she’s fine. If I go without reminding her too long, she gets anxious and sticks to my side. But I think she approves.

I get my visitors settled in, and I try to unwind. I pour a drink, I take a bath, I try to feel normal again. But my mind is overwhelmed, I am exhausted, road weary and emotionally spent. I want to go out and hug the puppies, but I also want them to sleep. They have another long day and another long drive to go to get to their foster homes. I am thrilled for them, for what their futures will be, and I wish we had so many to foster that I would have to make space for some. But we don’t, and I don’t, and I need to sleep before I collapse. I have so much to do tomorrow.

I get up at six and try to get the dogs to play. I bring them food and water and encourage them to come out of their crates. One is happy to come out and examine the world, and mark as much of it as he can. He inhales his food and looks to be on his way to emptying the gallon bucket of water I brought out. The other boy won’t budge. Not food, not water, not sunshine or grass or snow can tempt him. He looks at me with fear and doubt and such anguish that I want to explain to him that he’s safe now, he’s heading to a good life with wonderful people and playmates and he will be well cared for. But he doesn’t trust me, and there is nothing I can do in the hour before he will leave that will change his mind.

Their transport arrives and my friend hauls the frightened one – all forty pounds of him – out of his crate. The puppy resists, then tentatively sniffs at the food, at the driveway, and at the grass. I walk out into the yard and call to him and he runs over to me. He moves away a few steps and relieves himself for what must be the first time in at least 12 hours. And then he runs back to me and reaches up to say hi, to check me out and to stretch. His front paws almost reach my chest, he looks into my face with surprise and inquisitiveness and what looks like hope. And I scratch his neck and his ears and his belly and tell him it will be okay, he really does have a future. And tears come to my eyes. But there is no time.

We load the puppies for the drive west, and make sure they have enough food and water. They look at me and hang their heads — have I betrayed them, too? No, I tell them, one more day, and they will be in foster homes where they will be loved and taught and nourished, body and soul. I don’t know whether they believe me. The van doors close and I wave goodbye to them. I know they will be wonderful, happy dogs, and I know they won’t remember me. I don’t want them to, because I don’t want them to remember anything of their lives before they reach their foster homes. I am only a waystation. We will find them forever homes, but it will be the fosters who truly bring them back into the light.

I can’t worry about that right now, I must clean the crates and the car and the garage and the yard, and start the laundry with the clothes from yesterday, and wish my son a happy birthday, and run the errands that should have been done yesterday.

I pick up my dogs from the vet’s, the staff is disappointed that I’m not bringing puppies to them, but they have loved having my girls staying with them. We get home and the dogs race out of the car and run around the yard like they were still puppies themselves. They find the scent of the other dogs and try to figure out where I have hidden these strangers. I get the cat inside and settled, and go back out to watch my girls. And I feel like the luckiest person on earth to have found them. I know that each of those who adopts one of the thirteen we brought back yesterday will feel just as lucky, and I know those lucky dogs will know much love and joy. My girls run and chase each other and look back to where I stand, then start chasing each other again.

I can stop, and take a breath. And for just a moment, weep.

Joan Fremo, PyrAngel – I Want to Quit

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Joan wrote this in 2001. We lost her in 2003

I want to quit!
I spend hours and hours emailing about dogs. There may be 500 messages when I start—and at 4 AM, when I finally shut down the computer, there are still 500 emails to be read.

I want to quit!
Gosh, I haven’t the time left to email my friends. I can’t remember the last book I read, and I gave up my subscription to my local newspaper—I used to enjoy reading it, cover to cover, but now it often ends up in the bottom of the squirrel’s cage—unread.

I want to quit!
I’ve spent days emailing what seems like everyone—trying to find a foster home, help for a dog languishing in a shelter—but his time has run out, and the shelter has had to euthanize to make room for the next sad soul.

I want to quit!
I swear, I walk away from my computer to stretch my legs—let the dogs out—and come back to find another dog in desperate need. There are times I really dread checking my email. How will I find the funds, the help, to save yet another dog?

I want to quit!
I save one dog, and two more take its place. Now an owner who doesn’t want his dog—it won’t stay in his unfenced yard. An intact male wanders… This bitch got pregnant by a stray… This 3-month-old pup killed baby chicks… The dog got too big… This person’s moving and needs to give up his pet. I ask you, friends—what town, what city,what state doesn’t allow you to
own a pet?

I want to quit!
I just received another picture, another sad soul with tormented eyes that peer out of a malnourished body. I hear whimpering in my sleep,have nightmares for days…

I want to quit!
Many of the “Breed People” don’t seem to want to hear about these dogs. Breeders either don’t realize, or just don’t care, how many dogs of their breed are dying in shelters.

I want to quit!
I just got off the phone. “Are you Pyr Rescue? We want to adopt a male to breed to our female.” How many times do I have to explain? I have tried to explain about genetics, about health and pedigrees. I explain that rescue NEUTERS! I usually end up sobbing, as I explain about the vast numbers of animals dying in shelters across the country, as I describe the condition many of these animals are found in. I wonder if they really heard me…

I want to quit!
It is not like I don’t have enough rescues of my own to worry —but others have placed dogs improperly and aren’t there to advise the new owners.

I want to quit!
There ARE some unscrupulous rescues out there—hoarders, collectors,and folks who will short change the care of the animals to make a dollar. They save them all, regardless of temperament, putting fellow rescuers and adopters at risk, but not being truthful.

I want to quit!
I have trusted the wrong people— had faith and my heart broken…

I want to quit!
AND THEN…My dog, Magnus, lays his head in my lap, he comforts me with his gentle presence—and the thought of his cousins suffering stirs my heart.

I want to quit!
AND THEN…One of those 500 emails is from an adopter. They are thanking me for the most wonderful dog on earth—they cannot imagine life without their friend—their life is changed, and they are so grateful.

I want to quit!
AND THEN…One of my adopted Rescues has visited a nursing home. A patient that has spent the last few years unable to communicate, not connecting—lifts his hand to pat the huge head in his lap, softly speaks his first words in ages— to this gentle furchild.

I want to quit!
AND THEN…A Good Samaritan has found and vetted a lost baby, “I can’t keep him,but I’ll take care of him until you find his forever home.”

I want to quit!
AND THEN…”Jamie took his first steps holding on to our Pyr.” “Joan, you should see this dog nursing this hurt kitten!” “I was so sick, Joan, and he never left my side…”

I want to quit!
AND THEN…I get an email from a fellow rescuer, “Haven’t heard from you in awhile—you OK? You know I think of you…”

I want to quit!
AND THEN…A dozen rescuers step up to help, to transport, to pull, and to offer encouragement. I have friends I have never seen, but we share tears, joys, and everything in between. I am not alone. I am blest with family of the heart, my fellow Rescuers. Just days ago it was a friend who shared her wit and wisdom, whose late night email lifted my heart. Sometimes it is friends who only have time to forward you a smile. Often, it is my friends who forward me the notices of dogs in need.There are Rescuers who see a flailing transport and do everything they can do to find folks to pull it together for you. Rescuers who’ll overnight or foster your Dog while you seek transport. There are Rescuers not used to or comfortable with your breed, but who put aside their discomfort to help. There are Rescuers whose words play the music of our hearts. Foster homes that love your Rescue, and help to make them whole again—body and spirit. Foster homes that fit your baby in, though it may not be their breed. Rescuers whose talents and determination give us tools to help us. Rescuers we call on for help in a thousand ways, who answer us, who hear our pleas. Rescuers who are our family, our strength, our comrades in battle. I know I cannot save every Pyr in need. I know my efforts are a mere drop in a sea. I know that if I take on just one more—those I have will suffer.

I want to quit!
But I won’t. When I feel overwhelmed, I’ll stroke my Magnus’s head while reading my fellow Rescuers’ emails. I’ll cry with them, I’ll laugh with them— and they will help me find the strength to go on.

I want to quit!
But not today. There’s another email, another dog needing Rescue.

 

 

http://www.heroswaggintrain.com/pyrangel.htm

January 25th, 2003

Family, friends and many furkids said a sad farewell to Joan Fremo.

Thank you Joan, for your contribution to rescue and all the grateful animals you have helped along the way.

Joan was one of the great ‘characters’ of dog rescue. She was one of the most unselfish people that walked this earth. She was the Angel that rescued Great Pyrenees, made them well, gave them love, rehabilitated them and then gave them courage to go on — on, to forever homes to live out their lives in comfort. But many stayed.

Joan didn’t quit. She kept on keeping on. Joan had the respect of many and mentored more than a few. She would want us to keep this in mind when we feel the burnout coming, the strain of long hours of worry, the many trips to the vet, and the empty wallets we have all experienced. She would want us to keep this in mind when we are wondering where the next donation will come from, or how we can possibly help “just one more” dog.

Humility

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We could all use a little more of it.

And my dogs make sure I have opportunities to drown in it.

I usually think I know my dogs pretty well, and I do. But making assumptions about a dog’s behavior when that behavior has not been proofed for a while, well, there in lies the rub. And the bruises. To both skin and ego.

I have fostered a few dogs in my time, I’ve taken in some of the most petrified, broken dogs I have ever met and brought them back to finding joy in life and trust in people. My dogs have helped in the process.

What I haven’t done is bring in an adult, self-assured, happy dog. Till this past weekend.

The older dogs were fine with her. Curious, a little pushy, but fine.

Hagar wanted blood. Hagar and this lovely girl took an instant and intense dislike towards one another, the kind that only escalates with time.

Did I screw up the introductions? Probably. I hadn’t been expecting to bring her home with me right away and I really hadn’t prepared. But I don’t think it would have made much difference to Hagar. If she hadn’t been so darned happy and self-assured, he might have been just fine. If I hadn’t brought her home in the crate that he probably considers his property… lots of ifs.

The bottom line is that I cannot currently trust Hagar with any ‘new’ dog in the house. That’s okay, at least for now. I’ll work with him to try to find out whether this was a one-off or an ingrained attitude. And I know who to ask about how to work through the problem.

But in the meantime, I am reminded that they are independent minds who will occasionally surprise me. And keep me from making too many assumptions.

I hope all of my mistakes will be bloodless.

Persephone – Joan Fremo

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I never had the privilege of meeting Joan Fremo, though I recall one brief email exchange.  She was a remarkable dog rescuer, who touched many lives, both people and dogs. I had to search a long time to find a copy of this story, the related story of  A Thousand Miles to Freedom I fear may be lost forever. Joan saw some of the worst cruelty man could inflict on dogs, but she was always ready to make one more call, send one more email if it could help another dog.

I hope you have tissue handy.

Persephone has crossed the Bridge
© Joan C. Fremo

Sep 24, 2002

(Posted to Suite101.com, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/dog_rescue/95309)

Persephone is gone…

I am a rescuer.
I am made of steel.
I have stopped at the side of the road for an injured animal, and plunged my bare hands into gaping wounds to try to staunch the flow of blood.

I am a rescuer.
I am made of steel.
I have been held at gunpoint while I begged for the life of a chained dog, a dog the owner believed was his property and that he could abuse in any manner he thought fit.

I am a rescuer.
I am made of steel.
My heart is hard, and holds no forgiveness for these two legged monsters masquerading as human beings, these monsters who inflict suffering on the innocents of our planet–be they children or animals. I hold a broken and damaged animal in my arms, and hope these monsters will suffer the fate they have subjected these innocents to—that they find themselves in hell, chained without food and water, that they know no kindness.

I am a rescuer.
I am made of porcelain.
My heart shatters into fragile shards as I hold this gentle soul while she gasps her last breath. My tears fall on her soft muzzle as I kiss her goodbye.

Persephone is gone…

Persephone was just a puppy. In her too short life she had endured so much suffering—She, and the two dogs rescued with her, Donnan and Courage, had lost almost all their fur. Their skin was burnt black from chemicals; mange and the blistering Summer sun in Arkansas. They had been starved, their limbs withered and weakened by malnutrition, and their joints were painfully swollen. Their eyes were puffy and oozing from being sprayed with weed killer. Rescued from Hell, these three traveled over 1000 to find safety and love.

One month. That was all the time Persephone had. One month to learn that hands don’t hurt, that food bowls are meant to be filled, that fresh water is plentiful. One month to learn to play, to learn to trust, to love and be loved. One month to heal the wounds, the skin lesions and infections. One month to savor special meals, to gain weight, to grow fur—to grow beautiful and confident.

One month could not undo the damage her previous life had caused. One month is too short a time… One month is all we had.

Persphone was doing so well, that I never entertained the thought she would not continue to do so. She had gained weight, her skin has softened, and she had grown a downy soft fur that covered her formerly burnt skin. Of these 3 sweet Rescues from AR, Persephone seemed to be the strongest…

Wednesday evening, though she didn’t eat her full portion, she was still bouncing and happy. When I awoke on Thursday she was in distress. She was lethargic, would not eat, didn’t want to go out, and acted like her hind legs were stiff.

I called the vet’s office, and we there, waiting before the vets arrived. Persephone was seen by the first available vet, Dr. Langbourne.

Of the things I was concerned about, and asked the vet, were blockage; tick borne illnesses, (the three had been covered in ticks when they were first picked up); mushroom poisoning, (though I religiously search my yard every morning); and toxicity from the weed killer they were sprayed with.

Thursday’s visit consisted of exam and x-rays. The x-rays showed gas at either end of the intestinal track, but no blockage. Persephone was given a long acting antibiotic, a blood test, and we were sent home with instructions to return first thing the next morning for a barium enema.

On Friday, her films showed no blockage. Her liver enzymes and kidney functions were within normal range. Her white blood cell count was slightly elevated, but this could also be from the staph infection, (the small pustules under the skin).

In addition to the medicines for her stomach, we also started her on doxicycline in case this was a tick borne disease, and we waited for the results of the titers test. $500 in two days, still mounting, and we still didn’t know the cause of her discomfort.

When I picked her up Friday, I was accompanied by Courage. On the trip home from the vets, Courage lay with his head and one paw across Persephone–worried and quiet–as she was so still.

Persephone was not eating, barely drinking, and on Saturday I began subcutaneous fluids. There had been no change, she lay as still as death. She would raise her head to drink a little, but would not eat. I sat with her, gave her a bit of broth, and held her.

I held her, professing my love. I was afraid to sleep, afraid I’d lose her. Courage and I lay close to her on her blanket—he with a paw thrown over her, me with my arm cradling her head and stroking the soft new downy fur. We returned to the vet’s on the Monday morning.

Her blood test was dismal, showing both liver and kidney involvement. But her x-rays… Her lungs were completely obscured from view by the cloudy white of fluid or massive infection in her lungs. She was laboring to breathe; her liver and spleen were enlarged. As I looked at the x-rays, my heart dropped. Hopes dashed, tears sprang to my eyes as Dr. Paula and I made the decision to release her from her suffering.

I kissed her nose, her muzzle, and her soft ears. I told her how much she was loved, and how many people had sent Angels to guide her and keep her. I tell her of my Magnus waiting for her at the Bridge.

My tears fell on her soft fur, she gasped, and she was gone.

I am a rescuer. I am made of porcelain. My heart is shattered. My sweet little Angel is gone. No forever family, no home of her own.

Persephone is gone…

I come home, and attempt to explain to Donnan and Courage—survivors of Hell—that Persephone has gone to the Bridge. That she is safe, and happy… Exhausted, I seek my bed to finally rest from the last several days of round the clock vigil when suddenly my home is filled with a mournful dirge. All 9 Rescues in residence have thrown back their heads, eerily lifting their voices in plaintive song to the heavens. For several minutes their grief is given voice, and my tears flow.

Persephone is gone…

I have asked that she be cremated, and her ashes returned to me. I will not regret the expenses of the last few days. I hope there will be help for her vet bill, but if not… I will find a way. Take out a loan, beg–something.

I am a rescuer. I am made of stern stuff.
My heart will heal with each animal rescued, the glue that mends my heart is the pictures from adopters, their stories, and their love for their adopted Rescues.

Persephone is gone, but she knew love. When the time comes, I wonder if I will recognize her at the Bridge. She will have a lovely coat of long white fur. She won’t be naked, will she?

R.I.P. 9/23/02

Please light a candle for this sweet furchild and remember her in your hearts. Please visit 1000 Miles to Safety (sadly, I am unable to find a link to this report. I remember reading it several years ago and being tempted to violence against those who would be so cruel to these innocent souls. I will keep looking).

Persephone, journeyed to the Rainbow Bridge 9/23/02.
Running with the Angels

First, educate

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Most rules and regulations are not created for the sake of being punitive, but rather to provide guidelines, minimums, basics of behavior and care. Very, very rarely are they put in place to simply to enable to seizure of assets or persecution of individuals.

As the world becomes more complicated, and our lives become more specialized, there are a lot of lessons we do not learn in childhood or at our grandparents’ knees – if we are fortunate enough to live within a few hundred miles of our grandparents. So there is a lot that might have been taken for granted as common knowledge fifty years ago that is largely lost from cultural memory today.

Hence the rules. It might not occur to some people that cages or crates or other living areas need frequent cleaning (ya think?!?), or that some animals need more room than others. Since people are not learning standards of care on the family farm, the AWA spells out bare minimums of care, required room and the like.

USDA inspectors have told me and others that they do not go on inspections looking for ways to punish breeders or dealers, but to ensure that the animals are receiving adequate care. AKC reps, representatives from law enforcement and from local humane societies have said the same thing.

If adequate care is not being provided, the FIRST thing to do, so long as the animals are not in immediate danger of severe injury or death, is to explain to the inspectee what is lacking and how it can be corrected – and why. Sometimes that’s all it takes to correct something that looked like it could have become a huge problem. Other times the ones being inspected nod and smile and ignore everything they hear.

If someone is trying to ‘do right’ by their dogs, then they should have the opportunity to learn how to do that. If the dogs are not put at risk in the process, why not leave them where they are and help provide them with better care? Dogs, cats and other animals seized and removed from the only homes they have ever know can be horribly stressed, and if the only human bond they have ever known is broken, how much harder will it be to build new bonds with people?

Those that ignore assistance, who thumb their noses at anyone else’s standards of care, who who sooner shoot the dogs than take them to the vet, well, those folks should have only limited opportunities to improve care.  Three strikes is likely too many.

These are living, sentient beings, and they deserve the best care we can give them. And if more people can be educated in how to provide that care, and they follow through, that’s a good thing.

Put rescues out of business?

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Every rescuer I know would much rather have the luxury of just taking care of their own animals without having to rescue, vet, rehab, retrain someone else’s animals.

So, how? What can we do to help keep dogs and cats and other animals safe, healthy, and in homes?

How do we educate the public on how to train and maintain their own animals, and how to keep them if they have to move, if they lose their job, get a divorce, etc. etc?

Please, leave comments with your ideas. Somewhere between 2 and 4 million dogs and cats are killed by shelters each year, perhaps not all of those animals can be rehomed, but shelters should be a place of last resort anyway. There have to be other options!

Education? Regulation? Incentives?

Be creative! Be realistic! Be cynical, if you must, but offer some sort of solution. After all, if you’re not part of the solution…

Expectations of shelters

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I’ve seen a lot of grousing about local animal shelters the past year or so, and it’s getting on my nerves. Mostly because most of the grousing comes from the people most resistant to actually funding the shelters at a manageable level and/or making use of user fees to help with that funding.

First, let’s define what the shelters are there for – to provide a safe holding space for stray animals and/or sick or vicious animals until such time as either they can be returned home, found a new home, made healthy, or humanely euthanized. Shelters are in place to protect the public health and safety.

They are NOT intended as a convenient place to dump a pet you really should have thought about more *before* you got it. They are not intended as the place you go to get your pet treated for free, or, failing that, turning over the responsibility you should never have had in the first place.

So where do all of these stray or unwanted animals come from?

Some of them have simply wandered from a loving home when someone left a door or gate unlatched. Some got bored and wandered away, in spite of the owner being convinced that their dog would *never* leave the yard. Some of them may have spotted a deer or a rabbit or squirrel, gave chase and got lost. For those, the shelter can be a single place for owners to hopefully find their healthy pet instead of having to search the whole county. Presumably, the shelter will provide some education regarding responsible stewardship (and good fences) when the owner happily reunites with the animal.

Ah, but then there are the rest of the animals. The ones who are dumped for so many sad reasons.

I can’t housebreak him.

I didn’t know he would get so big.

She just won’t get along with the rest of the dogs.

She can’t tolerate the toddlers grabbing her ears and she nipped at one of them.

She keeps chasing my livestock.

I can’t afford the vaccinations.

I didn’t know they shed so much.

They keep bringing mud in the house.

They bark at everyone walking by.

He hates my boyfriend.

I refuse to pay for a $5 license, take the dog.

She just won’t obey me.

He keeps chewing the furniture.

She doesn’t go with the decor.

The claws are scratching the floor.

My new apartment won’t take pets.

She’s getting big and I don’t know whether she’s fat or pregnant.

I thought I would get over my alergies if I got a dog.

Well, you get the idea.

Some would say that those weren’t homeless pets. They might have been better off if they had been.

To expect shelters to clean up after our idiocy while operating on a shoestring is ridiculous. And people wonder why animal control officers and shelter workers get cynical or burn out.

I haven’t even mentioned the breeders (so-to-speak) who sold or wholesaled those animals in the first place with little concern for whether they were going to good homes – as long as the check cleared. Where is their responsibility to the shelters?

I doubt that I’m changing any minds here, but it does help to vent. At least I know I can stop by my local shelter, drop off some supplies or some cash, and know that it is clean, well-managed, and even many of the local breeders recognize that they have an obligation to fund the place. And to help find homes for the dogs who have been abandoned for what is really no good reason other than an irresponsible seller and an irresponsible buyer.

Please, please, support your local shelter. If you don’t like the way it looks, help paint some weekend, or fix walls, or buy some light bulbs or some bleach. If you’re supposed to be licensing your dogs, do it. The shelter often depends on licensing fees for its operating fund.

Instead of griping what a horrible place it is, give an hour or two a month and help make it a better place. Help socialize shy dogs, bathe them or feed them or walk them. Whether you like the dog catcher or not, maybe you can at least come to understand each other better.

This isn’t a perfect world and shelters are not an ideal place for any animal to end up. Often they are scared, confused, abandoned, sometimes even injured. A shelter can be a waystation, a bridge between abandonment and home. Help make that shelter a good place rather than a place you just keep kicking while you keep it from being properly funded.

Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Neutered

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Well, it’s done. Hagar’s encroaching doghood has been nipped in the, well, bud.

As a rescue, there was never any question that he would be neutered. It’s in the contract and I take that agreement seriously. I also take the health of the breed seriously and with no background information for him or his sire or dam or siblings or grand-sire and -dam, etc, etc, even if Hagar were gorgeous and typey and a well-behaved agile herder and drafter, it would still be wrong.

I cannot imagine life without Berners. But not at the expense of a healthy breed. I would rather do without Bernese of my own than see their already precarious health tipped over the edge just to ‘meet consumer demand.’

And that’s probably the biggest difference between those who can ‘justify’ so-called Professional Kennels (commercial kennels sounds soooo crass, doesn’t it, yet that’s really what they are, or, not to put too fine a point on it, puppy mills) and people like me who actually care about the “product” of those kennels.

“Oooh, that one’s damaged? Sorry, we’ll make some more.”

should have been

“A genetic problem? Let’s see whether the same issue is showing up in related litters or anywhere else on the family tree. If we find it, we will remove the parents and siblings from our breeding program right away!”

No dog is going to be perfect, but the honest, ethical breeders I know go through a lot of work and a lot of heartache trying to find the best combinations of breeding lines to try to IMPROVE the overall health of the breed. The status quo really isn’t good enough, not when the life expectancy of the breed is still less than 8 years.

So as a rescue, who had to be neutered as a condition of adoption, and an unknown quantity in terms of the genetics behind him, today he lost his marbles.

With luck, since he will be playing at least one fewer party game, maybe the brain fairy will find him *before* he’s two years old.

I can dream, can’t I?

Tired of Extremism…

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… In all forms.

Anyone who is convinced they are always right and that anyone who disagrees is stupid, ill-informed or evil has some serious ego issues.

There are few real absolutes in this world beyond the need for us to try to understand one another and be generous in our compassion. Too simple, I know, but wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Of late I have been dreaming of an ideal community. At the foundation would be Berner owners and their loved ones – these are people who already know how to defend the well-being of an endangered population, the greatest flaw of that group being the very passion for the breed that makes it a remarkable and wonderful community. Sometimes patience and compassion are not all that they could/should be — we strive to be as wonderful as our dogs expect us to be but we have a ways to go yet in terms of how we treat each other.

We do need to fix a lot in the way we, as a nation, treat our animals, whether they are companion animals, working stock, or livestock. There’s a *lot* of room for improvement.

But that does not mean that we need to throw out the baby with the bath water.

We need to call upon our local and state law enforcement and animal health officials to enforce the laws that exist, and if those laws don’t address changes to technology (can you say Internet puppy sales?) and modern culture, then amend those laws to include what is missing.

We don’t need to over-regulate how we care for our animals, or we may find that USDA regulations for commercial kennels (which are MINIMUM standards, by the way, you’re allowed to treat your animals MUCH better than that) become the only legal way for animals to be housed, fed and exercised. Do we want the minimum standards of care to become the only standard?

Of course, there are those organizations that would just as soon make animal ownership – or guardianship or stewardship or any other relationship – next to impossible. They seem to think we have no right to bring our animals into our homes and farms and lives. They want to make it as hard as possible.

Well, animal ownership *isn’t* a right. It is a responsibility and a privilege — one of the greatest honors and blessings we have in this life. There are some who abuse that privilege, and I feel awful for those people and for their animals.

The other extreme regarding animal ownership are those who consider their animals as their private property that they can do with as they wish, with no interference from anyone else.

I strongly disagree.

If animals are considered property, it must be as a special class of property, for these are living, sentient beings. They are not toasters or t-shirts that we can use up and throw away or stuff into a drawer to get them out of the way. They are alive, and they are dependent upon us to keep them fed and healthy and socialized – as part of our team, part of our family.

They are not simply a product.

I don’t know why that’s so hard for the Commercial Kennel/property rights extremists to understand. You have to be licensed to carry a gun or drive a car or conduct a business in many states (especially if your business can have an impact on human health) – but commercial breeders (yes, puppy mills) seem to think that licensing them is singling them out unfairly.

But we’ll get back to the ‘puppy mill’ definition debate later. Yes, Virginia, and Walter, and Karen, there really is such a thing as a puppy mill and there have been courts that have even ruled on a definition.

Instead of arguing about who is imposing what rules on whom and whether it’s fair or not, why not do what is in the best interest of the animals?

Even if we can’t agree on what the best *best* is, certainly we can agree that each and every one of us could do better – in terms of nutrition, health and training, and what jobs we have to offer our working breeds, and giving them the opportunity to spend more time with us and/or more time at play.

Regulated kennels don’t have to be the Taj Mahal, but adequate light and ventilation and cleanliness and comfort are either possible or there are too many dogs.

Consider the situation of someone with 200 dogs – if we estimate that the kennel owner sleeps 6 hours a night, they have 18 hours to care for the dogs.  Eighteen hours is 1,080 minutes. If there are 200 dogs, there are, presumably, at least 100 kennels, cages, enclosures of some kind. If the dogs have not had the opportunity to find somewhere else to relieve themselves, each of those kennels needs to be cleaned at least once a day (geez, wouldn’t it be a lot easier – and more pleasant – to just have 40-50 dogs and give them space to exercise and relieve themselves away from the kennel structure? But I digress. Sort of.)

Okay, so 100 kennels, even at two minutes per kennel, 200 minutes to clean all of the kennels. Another minute per dog to feed each dog, so another 200 minutes taken from that 1,080-minute, 18-hour day. So we’re down to 680 minutes. That’s 3.4 minutes PER DOG to socialize, groom (ever bathed a dog in 3 minutes? Only place I’ve ever seen that done was at a dog auction. Even the auctioneer was stunned by the stupidity), check health and well-being, and decide which dogs are appropriate for breeding.

Oops. What about getting dogs to the vet, or assisting with whelping, or bottle feeding puppies or…. yes, all of that cuts in to that three-point-four minutes per dog per day.

What about kennel help? Sometimes there may be other family members available, if they aren’t in school or doing chores around the house or farm, or out working elsewhere. Some kennels do hire kennel assistants, minimum wage workers who might be there 10-20 hours a week. Even if there is someone hired 40 hours per seek, 8 hours per day is 480 minutes. An extra 2.4 minutes per dog if there are 200 dogs, but is someone is going to hire kennel help then they have to breed more dogs to pay for that help so 200 dogs won’t be enough to make a living. After all, each dog is getting a whopping 5.8 minutes a day of attention now! (Minus meals for the kennel owner, and their potty breaks and phone calls and paperwork.)

The most common definition of puppy mill is that of a puppy factory – more concerned with profit and cutting costs than with the health and well being of the animals. With two minutes to clean kennels, little or no time to keep records or spend with the vet or get to know the individual strengths and weaknesses – let alone temperament – of the dogs, a puppy mill simply grinds out puppies for sale, and small wonder so many raids find inadequate shelter, ventilation, water or cleanliness. Yet a flour mill is far more tightly regulated – and our expectations of the cleanliness are much higher in the flour mill than the puppy mill, in spite of the fact that animals need and deserve more time and care and can have just as dramatic an impact on health, both positively and negatively.

I know there are those who would consider this analysis unfair. I might, too, had I not seen puppy-manufacturing facilities too many times.

Dogs and other animals are not corn or potatoes or something you can plant, water a few times, harvest and sell. They need more, and they deserve more. And we deserve better than what the extremists on both side of the issue are offering us.

Posturing and polarizing hurts all of us. Worse, it hurts the animals. And it just drives the opposite side further and further away, with an increasingly hardened view.

The puppy buyers lose. Our society loses. And the dogs suffer.

Mill rescue dogs

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There has been a lot of discussion recently about placement of rescues from puppy mills and whether those dogs can be placed without extensive rehab as well as training of the adopting family.

It would be so nice if there were easy answers for this.

While evaluation of the dogs by experienced foster homes or rescuers is crucial, there is also a lot of benefit to getting a dog into a new permanent home as soon as possible. If a rescued dog bonds too closely to the foster, it can be harder for the dog to adjust to the permanent home. But we also want to be sure that both the dog and the new home are ready for each other and that there aren’t any issues that will pop up as soon as the dog develops some level of comfort.

I have had dogs that have been with me only a short time become so dependent on me for direction that it was tough for them to learn to look to anyone else for that direction. Yet those dogs are easier to work with than the dogs who refuse to bond at all — you always wonder whether any but the most experienced homes will be able to cut through the layers of defense in order to make that dog a part of the family.

Everything about mill rescues should be expected to come in small steps – house training, trust, obedience, leash comfort, car travel. Some mill dogs take weeks or months before they are comfortable going through doors. Some hate to be groomed, either because of painful associations with bathing and grooming, others because it is too close an invasion of their space, others because the interaction between them and the individual person is just too intense. It can take time to desensitize the dog to specific activities and actions.

The worst thing an evaluator, foster, or permanent home can do is baby the dog. You don’t want to reinforce their fear response. It is important to be as positive and matter-of-fact as possible, to show the dog that some things are just plain normal, that some things are expected, that some things are simply part of their new life and it’s all going to be just fine. If the person working with the dog is confident, that helps the dog build confidence as well.

Some dogs are so fearful that they will snap or growl at anything new or different. They present another series of challenges, but still should not be coddled NOR rewarded for their behavior. You do need to be certain though, NOT to train them not to growl – a growl is an early warning system, the dog is telling you they are worried and feel threatened and are prepared to escalate. Redirect their attention and energy but, again, don’t baby them and don’t teach them not to growl, or you may find yourself with a dog who goes straight from mild discomfort into snapping or biting, and that’s not a good thing for either you or the dog.

Working with mill dogs takes patience, confidence, and a lot of optimism. There are very few dogs that cannot be rehabbed, but each will adjust in their own time and their own way. Some may always show some signs of damage, and may always be fearful in some situations. It is up to the fosters and the new homes to identify those situations and find ways to constructively desenstize the dog. Sometimes making something into a game or into a job for the dog will encourage the dog to be more confident in the face of other fears, too.

The most important thing is to love the dogs AS THEY ARE AT THAT MOMENT. Dogs have no concept of future or what might be possible sometime down the road if…. They need companionship and direction and care *now* and they only know whether they trust you *now.* There will be plenty of time later to love the dog they might become, but it is important to value the dog that’s right in front of you right now. This is the moment they live in, this is the moment and the relationship to cherish and to build upon.

Enjoy the dog you have. Even if they are a challenge. Maybe even more so because they are.