Friday, March 30, 2012

Cat Sanctuaries and Other Myths

My uncle died from complications from diabetes last week. He was very sick for a long time so while his death was sad, it was expected.  Whenever someone dies it is always emotional going through their personal belongings but it is also very healing.  Unfortunately my families healing cannot begin because of all the stress involved in re-homing my uncle's cat Jones.

Jones is 8 years old.  He has lived his entire life with my uncle.  While he has made appearances over the years for other family members he was definitely a one-man cat. I have made calls to every rescue within an hour of my uncle's house and none of them will take the cat.  I have been told that an older cat who has only had one owner may take a long time to warm up to new people and will be difficult to place.  I knew this and that's why I called places that marketed themselves as sanctuaries and no-kill shelters. I figured they would give Jones the time that he needed to adjust could find him a nice home. 

What bothers me the most is that the public is donating money to no kill shelters and sanctuaries on the allusion that they are the last stop for animals that no one else wants.  That you should give them your money because they are taking care of those animals that would otherwise be euthanized.  In some cases that is true.  I know that there are true animal sanctuaries that take everyone and give them a happy life even if they never get adopted.  But those places do not exist in this area. 

After spending days on the phone I have discovered the following:

1. Many no-kill shelters only take animals that are highly adoptable and, therefore; would not be there for very long.  If you market yourself as no kill but just don't take in the animals that another shelter would euthanize you are still sentencing that animal to death, just shifting the responsibility to someone else to do it.

2. A lot of animal sanctuaries focus their attention on shelters with a high kill rate so they can rescue animals that still have a lot of life to live.  Because of this, those sanctuaries do not take any animals from the public.  You can take your animal to one of the high kill shelters with the hope that a sanctuary volunteer or worker will notice him and rescue him before time runs out but that is an awful risk to take.   The reality is that these places have limited space just like shelters and stop taking in animals after a certain point as well. 

I have volunteered with animal rescue for 14 years and adopted four dogs and three cats from rescue organizations during that time.  I do not want to give the impression that all rescues and sanctuaries are bad.  This is just about my personal frustrations with rescues in Maryland where my uncle lived and my shock at discovering that things were more depressing in the animal rescue world than I could have ever imagined.

I think of the stories on the news that I hear about people dying and leaving behind dozens of neglected animals.  There are always the news reports that show police and volunteers going into the hoarder's house and rescuing the animals.  They show these animals going to local rescue groups and give updates over the next several months as the animals are adopted.  But what about when it's just one cat.  Those stories don't make the news.  Those animals are often sentenced to death when their owner's die or go to jail but we don't hear about that.  If the authorities euthanized 20 cats that had no major medical problems the public outcry would be immense.  But if they euthanize these cats one at a time from 20 different homes the impact is the same. 

I will likely take the cat the 6 hours back to where I live in New York and take it to a true no-kill shelter in my area.  A place that takes healthy (and sometimes not so healthy) pets and gives them the time and love that they need to have a chance at life.  I will continue to donate my time and money to these organizations and try not to let the experiences of the past week jade me too much.  I will not accept that my uncle's best friend's life ends just because his did. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Prisoner in My Own Home

I hate my neighborhood.  I live off of a busy street where people speed and run the 4-way stop sign in from of my house.  You have to be careful when you go for a walk, drive or anything in this neighborhood because of all the traffic issues.  In addition to the traffic, there are a number of people who leave their dogs outside unleashed and unattended or who have invisible fences.  I've written about how awful my neighborhood is in the past but it has only gotten worse since then.

In the past few years we have had 3 new neighbors move in who have made what used to be the sanctuary of my yard, uncomfortable for me as well.  To one side I have a grandmother who watches her 6 grand kids.  She leaves the grand kids unattended in the yard and they enjoy coming up to my fence and poking their fingers through to taunt my dogs and yelling things at them.  If I didn't hate kids before this, I do now.  I am planning on planting trees on this side of the yard to block this neighbor.   

Behind us, we have a neighbor with a labradoodle that is outside and alone all of the time.  This dog is very friendly but very bored and frustrated.  The woman lives alone and is very old and often takes long naps and forgets that her dog is outside  On more than one occasion we have caught her dog after she broke her lead and had to bang on her door to wake her up.  The dogs all agitate each other when they are out at the same time.  The fence that we built to deal with our next problem, has solved this problem.  The dogs still bark at each other when they hear one another but they can't see each other so it doesn't escalate. 

The worst neighbor of all has three large dogs that get no exercise.  She opens the door and lets them run free in her yard while she stands on the porch or stays inside the house.  They run straight to my fence every time and try to jump the fence to get to my dogs.  So of course my dogs try to jump the fence to get to her dogs.  There is a hill on one side of my neighbor's yard that makes the fence only about 3 feet high where our two yards meet.  The dogs could easily get to each other when it was like this so we spent $1000 building a 6 foot wooden fence in front of the 4 foot chain link fence on 2 sides of our yard before anything awful happens.  Unfortunately, my neighbor hasn't done anything and we still have to restrain our dogs when they meet on the one side of the fence where they can still see each other.  All of the dogs immediately run to this side of the fence every time they go outside just in case the other dogs are their for them to fight with.  It is incredible stressful.  I have plans to block their access to each other on that side as well.   

I am extremely nervous that I am going to run into one of these situations when I am in my yard.  It was bad enough that I didn't feel comfortable walking my dogs in the neighborhood but now I stress out on my own property.  I leash my dogs in my 1-acre fenced-in yard or avoid taking them out when I think the neighbors might be out.  My dogs don't get nearly as much exercise as they should and, because of that, have behavioral problems which are difficult to fix.

I have started driving my dogs to a different neighborhood to go for walks in the morning because my neighborhood is so stressful but 1 walk a day for 2 active 4 year old dogs doesn't cut it.  I know that I need to work with my dogs more on their training but it is difficult to train a dog that doesn't have any way to drain his excess energy.  My old German shepherd, Chale, was so much more behaved than these dogs are because he got walked 4 times a day and played fetch until he was exhausted.  But he didn't have the challenges that these 2 have.  He wasn't as reactive as they are because when he was young I didn't live in this neighborhood.  I was able to exercise him without fear of neighbors and traffic. 

I talk about moving with my husband all the time.  Somewhere more secluded where there isn't traffic and where we have less neighbors.  Realistically that can't happen for a couple years with what we owe on the house and where we are in our lives right now.  I have had these dogs for less than 2 years.  I can turn around their behavioral problems if I work at it.  I can't let this neighborhood beat me but on days like this I feel so defeated because I know exactly what they need but I don't feel like I'm in a place where I can provide it.   

I need to come up a with a solution that doesn't involve building a fortress that blocks all neighbors from view and putting a dog park in my yard to keep them entertained.