Monday, December 8, 2008

Purr-Fect Kittens

I wanted to share an email with you from Dr. Harriet Blanton, one of the local veterinarians who performs sterilization surgery on DPVHS kittens prior to adoption:

"Dear DPVHS,
I can no longer keep silent about the state of Dakin's kittens.  I have had it up to here with them and must reconsider whether I can continue to do surgery on them.  They are WAY TOO FRIENDLY! THEY PURR WAY TOO MUCH! THEY TAKE NAPS while waiting for their surgery! They CHASE THEIR TAILS and generally have way too much fun! What the heck are you guys doing to them?!

"Seriously now, whatever it is, please keep it up.  I laughed my way through all 16 of them today (or however many it was)--they are a delight. I was forced to just hold one for a while (Ruby, I think her name was), just because she looked a little worried and because I needed a serious kitten fix (as opposed to a silly kitten fix).  It's so nice to do surgery on kittens with some fat on them, and no fleas, and no ear mites. You guys do an awesome job with these little babies and I thank you for it! (although I have had to get a lot more creative in figuring out ways to stop their purring--these guys are tough!). Please pass on my thanks to all the good folks who make these kittens what they are."

There are a whole lot of good folks who make DPVHS kittens what they are. There are the good people in our community who find them and bring them to us (often spaying their mother in the process).  

There are the volunteer foster parents who keep the kittens in their own homes until the kittens are fat, healthy, and well socialized (did you know that more than 80% of all kittens admitted to DPVHS will need foster care prior to placement?).  

There are the well-trained DPVHS staff who will perform blood tests, administer vaccines, treat parasites, and cuddle every kitten who comes through.  

There are the dedicated shelter volunteers who clean cages, fluff up the pillows, and play with the kittens during their stay with us.  
There are the local veterinarians who discount their services to allow each DPVHS kitten to be neutered prior to adoption.  

And, finally, there are our angels who bring the whole thing full circle by coming into the adoption center, falling in love, and taking a new kitten (or cat, or dog) home for the rest of her life.

Thank you all for making DPVHS kittens so purr-fect!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Humane Heroes Battle...Invasive Plants!

One of the principals of living a humane ethic is that we don't concentrate our efforts solely on the welfare of companion animals like dogs and cats. It demands that we take a broader view of animal welfare and the environment. Which brings us to land stewardship. 

DPVHS owns the land where our shelter buildings sit in Greenfield and Leverett. Both properties are wooded and offer terrific views of surrounding conservation land. The Leverett property has a large meadow--many of you may have met your best canine friend in the giant fenced play area on that meadow. Over the years, though, our beautiful meadow has been overrun by thickets of invasive multiflora rose bushes.

So on a brisk Sunday in November, a team of intrepid briar-battlers converged upon the Leverett meadow and met head-on the multiflora rose invasion.  A big tail wagging thank you to Allison, Ann, Sue, Jan, Maida, Sherrill, and Carole for their persistence in pulling, snipping, tugging, and dragging the nasty thickets into piles to be burned later in the winter (controlled 
burning will help stop the development of new plants and seeds).

One of DPVHS's best buddies is Allison, an avid dog lover, the talented designer of things like our logo and newsletters, and an advocate for native wildflower and plant species.  Here's what Allison had to say about our multi-flora rose adventures:

"Our work on the 16th concentrated on the dense thickets of multiflora rose, and a few of the Japanese honeysuckles, which surround the DPVHS property.

"Multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle are non-native invasive plants first introduced to the U.S. and Europe in the mid-1800s from Japan and China. Multiflora rose was originally used as rootstock for horticultural breeding. Japanese honeysuckles were imported and planted as ornamental shrubs. Both plants became widely used. In the 1920s and 30s, they were actively promoted, along with other species such as Japanese barberry and autumn olive, by organizations such as the U.S. Soil Service (now USDA) for use as living fences, windbreaks, crash barriers (!), and wildlife food sources.

"With the decline of New England agriculture, multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle quickly escaped controlled plantings and invaded abandoned fields and forest edges.  Like many successful invasive plants, they have the ability to thrive in a broad range of conditions: wet meadows and dry fields, full sun to shaded forest understory. The rose hips and honeysuckle fruit produced at DPVHS not only spread new plants on that site, but are bird-borne to other properties within a wide radius.

"As evidenced at DPVHS, multiflora roses can quickly form dense, impenetrable thickets which cut off light, suck up water and nutrients, and physically displace existing native species. My quick walk around the perimeter of the property showed very few remaining native plant species in what was once a rich and diverse wetland/meadow. Low plant diversity means low diversity of insects, birds, and other animals as well. The health of one piece of property affects the surrounding areas. Good land stewardship means promoting native species and diverse habitats, removing invasive species, and monitoring for new infestations."

For more information on invasive plants, visit the Invasive Plant FAQ of the New England Wildflower Society.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Black is Beautiful

Did you know that black cats tend to stay longer at the DPVHS adoption center than any other animal?  

In 2005, our shelter manager did a year long study that showed that the top 10 longest stays at the humane society were black cats. And black cats had an average stay of 4.5 weeks--when most cats get adopted within a week or so.

At this writing, DPVHS has several black cats and kittens available for adoption.  Some have been at the adoption center for a while; some are new arrivals.  All face a potentially longer stay with us until their adoption angel finally arrives.

DPVHS isn't the only shelter contemplating the plight of black animals.  Other shelters have noticed their black dogs being overlooked, too (DPVHS is happily free of that problem!).  We are left to speculate as to why black animals are so frequently overlooked by adopters.

Right now we are soliciting ideas on how we might improve our adoption options for black cats.  Ideas have included special cage lighting, a classic string of pearls for collars, signs highlighting the best reasons to adopt a black cat (after all, black is slimming and it goes with everything!), and many more.  

If you have ideas on how we might best adopt a black cat, or if you have a beautiful black cat of your own, please get in touch. We'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pan Loo Who?

Panleukopenia.  It may be a strange word to the average animal lover.  But it's a word that strikes fear and dread into the hearts of animal shelter workers everywhere.

Panleukopenia (PAN-loo-ko-PEE-nee-ah) is a viral disease that strikes cats and kittens, causing diarrhea, vomiting, and sudden death.  Although a common vaccine is available to protect cats against the disease, not every cat--especially those who are homeless, breeding, or free-roaming--is vaccinated.  To learn more about why panleukopenia is so dangerous in an animal shelter environment, visit the website of the University of California at Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program.

In late October, DPVHS staff admitted several litters of kittens and their mothers from a home in Chicopee.  The gentleman who lived with the cats started out with good intentions by helping stray cats...only to be quickly overwhelmed when the cats began multiplying.

The cats and kittens we admitted to our Greenfield rescue center didn't look well.  We isolated them and immediately began treating them for severe upper respiratory infections, eye infections, dehydration, and a host of other complaints.  We were all excited to be helping a person and animals who were clearly in dire circumstances.

But last week our hearts sank when one of the Chicopee kittens died from panleukopenia. Shortly thereafter, another kitten, unrelated to the Chicopee kittens, was diagnosed with the disease. In order to stop any further spread of the disease, we took immediate measures to protect our sheltered cats.

First we separated the "at-risk" cats (those with no history of vaccination prior to coming to DPVHS) from the well-vaccinated cats (those who were vaccinated in their previous home). We placed all of the at-risk kittens and cats into quarantine.  The cats with a history of vaccination in their previous home remain available for adoption in the adoption center in Leverett.

Because panleukopenia has a 7- to 14-day incubation period (the time it takes for an animal exposed to a disease to become symptomatic), all cats will remained quarantined until 14 days after the last case was diagnosed.  

In the meantime, our adoption center and rescue center staff have changed their daily routines to incorporate "Panleukopenia Protocols." That changes everything from the way they clean and disinfect to how they handle animals in the shelters.  

Panleukopenia is not a disease that spreads through "aerosolization" (breathing), but rather through transmission of  microscopic amounts of fecal matter.  Just think for a minute about all the items in each cat's living space:  his bedding, newspaper, cuddle box, litter box, food and water bowls, even the cat himself.  And then the walls of his living space. The floor in front of it.  The walls of the room he is in.  The list of potential surfaces to be contaminated becomes endless.  While our staff and volunteers clean and disinfect rigorously every single day, Panleukopenia Protocols will require them to dig even deeper and clean even harder.

In speaking to our colleagues in other New England animal shelters this week, we have learned that we are not alone. Panleukopenia tends to strike hardest in the spring and fall. Many of us are battling the disease today.

Until the end of the quarantine period, immune cats and, of course, dogs (who are unaffected by panleukopenia) remain available for adoption.

If you have questions about panleukopenia, email me at  We appreciate your support!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Victory for Greyhounds in Massachusetts!

Yesterday Massachusetts voters made history.  We became the first state with an active greyhound racing industry to bring an end to commercial dog racing through voter initiative.

Thank you to everyone who voted Yes on Question 3 to bring an end to an industry that puts profits before dogs!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why End Greyhound Racing?

On November 4, 2008, Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to put an end to the greyhound racing industry in the Commonwealth by voting Yes on Question 3.

Opponents of Question 3--primarily those involved in the greyhound racing industry--say that the two tracks remaining in Massachusetts (Wonderland Park in Revere and the Raynham-Taunton track) generate substantial income for state coffers while providing as many as 1,000 jobs. They argue that greyhounds are treated like athletes and do not receive inhumane treatment.  

Proponents of Question 3--those interested in seeing an end to commercial dog racing--say that the industry is inhumane.  They site the following: greyhounds spend at least 20 hours a day in cages barely large enough to stand up or turn around in; are fed cheap, raw meat that comes from dying, downed, or diseased livestock; and are injured at an unacceptable rate (nearly 800 injuries reported since 2002--80% of which were broken legs).

By its own admission, the greyhound racing industry is dying its own slow death.  Gambling receipts have declined precipitously, Wonderland chose to cut back to a seasonal racing schedule, and even a multi-million dollar bailout served up by the legislature has not resolved their ongoing problems.

So why not just let the industry continue on its path to decline? Why vote now to end racing? Because Question 3 calls for a phased end to racing by 2010.  This gradual closure allows kennels to move their "good" dogs to tracks outside of Massachusetts and allows workers to plan ahead for job transition.  On the other hand, if the tracks close down suddenly (as did the track in Plainfield, Connecticut in 2005), not only will workers suddenly be at a loss, but hundreds of dogs (those not "worth" transporting to another race meet) will suddenly be homeless.  Voting Yes on Question 3 allows the tracks, the employees, and the rescue network supporting greyhound adoptions to plan ahead for the end.

Both of our local newspapers--the Daily Hampshire Gazette and The Recorder--have come out against Question 3.  They say the industry is dying anyway, that abuse isn't a good enough reason to stop the income to the state, and that anti-racing advocates should take their case to the legislature.

Aside from the fact that anti-racing advocates have taken their case to the legislature on more than one occasion to no avail, any editorial position that doesn't consider evidence of systematic mistreatment of animals to be reason enough to end an industry is morally bankrupt.

The fact is that our society has been willing to accept a double standard for dogs who share our lives as companions and those used for commercial gain.  While we wouldn't leave our own dogs confined to a crate for 20 hours every day, we have accepted that greyhound kennels do. While we wouldn't feed our own dogs raw meat unfit for human consumption in order to save a buck, we have accepted that greyhound kennels do.  While we wouldn't shoot our own dogs up with cocaine to make them faster, force them to run until their legs break or their hearts give out, or prevent them from living a life of happy companionship, we have accepted that greyhound kennels do.

It's time to end greyhound racing in Massachusetts.  Vote Yes on 3.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Welcome to The Society Page!

Welcome to the first installment of the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society's new blog. We hope this forum will provide a place for animal advocates to learn about the latest work of the DPVHS as well as engage in respectful dialogue about some of the latest issues in our movement.

First, a little bit about us. The DPVHS was created in 2006 when the Dakin Animal Shelter of Leverett, MA merged with the Pioneer Valley Humane Society of Greenfield, MA. This event marked a new beginning for animal welfare in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts. You can learn more about our organization by visiting

As cold weather descends upon New England (and as my resident animal friends jockey for the best spot near the woodstove), I am reminded of the less fortunate souls relegated to a life outdoors.

At this time of year, the media draws our attention to the plight of homeless humans, huddling under blankets on park benches or competing for a cot at the local shelter. And rightly so. The tragic effects of homelessness can be seen even in small, rural communities like ours.

And the economic and social forces that lead to homelessness for humans are often the very same that lead to homelessness in companion animals--poverty, substance abuse, violence. We speak daily to people who love their animals but are forced to make choices between feeding their children or caring for their pets.

We also hear from some members of our community that people who can't afford to care properly for pets--vaccinating them, neutering them--shouldn't have them in the first place. They certainly shouldn't need handouts from the community to make sterilization surgeries or vaccines affordable.

At the DPVHS we realize that cats and dogs (and sometime rabbits and birds) wander into the lives of loving people with few financial resources. Maybe they had money when they first opened their doors and their hearts to a new dog. Maybe they just have a soft spot for stray cats. The fact of the matter is that people who can't afford regular veterinary care--or even good food--do share their lives and homes with animals. And without resources, the animals will suffer.

The DPVHS provides free pet food and supplies to needy people through our Pet Aid program in Greenfield. We are currently working on a program to provide Pet Food Meals on Wheels for the pets of seniors in Amherst. Our CatSnip, Feral Spay Sunday and other low-cost or free sterilization programs make pet sterilization surgeries accessible.

We know that a lack of choices often leads to homelessness for people and pets. We are here to provide the safety net that keeps animals in their homes.

What do you think?

Leslie Harris
Executive Director, DPVHS