Monday, January 26, 2009

Buddy Fund Helps Kitten in Need

We're hoping Samson will grow into his name.

This little guy came to DPVHS after being found wandering around Greenfield with his sister, Aurora (you might remember Aurora as the calendar-perfect longhaired orange kitten whose website photos caused a stampede--and nearly a brawl--in our adoption center).

Samson is about three months old, but he is only the size of a two-month-old kitten.  While his sister may have been the picture of health and elegance, Samson suffered from a congenital disorder known as pectus excavatum.  This deformity, according to the website of Veterinary Surgery Central, Inc, results in the depression of the heart and lungs.  So while Samson's breastbone disorder wasn't obvious from the outside (it was covered with fur), it was impacting his ability to develop and grow normally.

Here's where the staff of DPVHS decide if it's time to dip into the Buddy Fund.  Started in 2006 and named after a shepherd mix with a heart problem, the Buddy Fund is what we use to provide veterinary care above and beyond the routine vaccinations and dewormers all our animal guests receive.

After consulting with Dr. Dave Thompson at Riverbend Animal Hospital of Hadley, we determined that Samson was likely to make a full recovery after having corrective surgery.

Indeed, Samson came through his surgery with flying colors.  His foster parent (and DPVHS animal care specialist), Rena, says his breast plate keeps him from jumping on furniture, but
 otherwise, he's a normal, healthy kitten.  She says he is social, loving, and curious about what his big cat brother Liam is up to.  Needless to say, Rena plans to adopt Samson.

Without the Buddy Fund, kittens like Samson would have no second chance. And without you, the Buddy Fund doesn't exist. Please consider making a contribution to DPVHS today.

Friday, January 23, 2009

When Cruelty Flies Just Under the Radar

The other morning, our staff arrived at the door of our adoption center to find a cat in a carrier wrapped in a plastic garbage bag. The temperature that night had fallen to below zero. Fortunately, the cat survived the night (without freezing or suffocating).

What was your first thought when you read that story? Mine, too. It's hard not to be angry when we hear about an animal being hurt. And many animal advocates allow bearing witness to such awful instances to tarnish their view of human nature. I usually have to take a deep breath and remember that, on the other end of this story, we'll find a person doing a good thing--opening her heart and adopting that abandoned cat.

While animal abandonment is illegal, one of the perpetual frustrations for animal welfare advocates is when we encounter cruelty or neglect that is just this side of the law. People who allow their longhaired cats to become painfully matted or who chain their dogs 24 hours a day or who keep their rabbits in freezing, filthy outdoor hutches usually aren't breaking any laws.

Proving cruelty or neglect and getting a case through the courts all the way to conviction are Herculean tasks. And the most common kinds of neglect--failure to provide socialization, adequate exercise, and basic compassion--aren't illegal at all.

Some communities decide that the minimal standards for what constitutes cruelty aren't enough. They might decide that there is more to caring for a dog, for example, than just giving him food, water, and a dog house. Those dog-loving voters then get together and pass anti-tethering ordinances. (For more information about anti-chaining legislation and other ways you can help end the torture of perpetual tethering, visit Dogs Deserve Better).

But legal options aren't always the best way to make change. For instance, communities with aggressive low-cost spay/neuter programs are more successful at achieving high rates of companion animal sterilization than those that pass legislation requiring sterilization. Making it illegal to care for an unspayed cat doesn't make it any more affordable to get her spayed.

Building a community that cares humanely for its animals involves educating people about the needs of different species, as well as the individuals within those species. Most people care for their pets the way they were taught to care for their pets--tie them up, let them run loose, keep them indoors, make them stay outside, take them to the vet, let them have a litter.

Our job as animal advocates is to provide accessible information. And by "accessible" I mean information people are willing and able to learn from--that means everything from delivering our message with compassion to delivering our message in a language our audience can understand (i.e., when I first started out in animal welfare 20 years ago, we served significant Spanish-speaking populations, but not only didn't we have Spanish-speaking staff, we didn't have Spanish-language materials).

DPVHS is fortunate to be located in the Pioneer Valley region, close to four renowned colleges and a major university. Our adopters, donors, and friends are often savvy animal lovers. Their attitudes about everything from farming animals to wearing them to hunting them to neutering them are typically more progressive than in other communities. But we still have a long way to go.

Some day, we'll live in a community where no one would consider wrapping a living cat in a plastic bag and leaving him outdoors in sub-zero weather. We'll live in a community where no one buys their puppy from a puppy mill or considers it okay to tie their dog up to a doghouse his entire life. Until then, we'll continue reaching out to schoolchildren, youthful offenders, college students, families with kids, elders in need, and all of the animals in their lives.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Animals and the Economy

The steep economic downturn and mortgage crisis of the past eight months has led to a flurry of phone calls from television and print reporters wanting to know if DPVHS has been inundated with homeless animals. The truth is that, unlike our colleagues in other New England animal shelters, we have not been overwhelmed with animals becoming homeless due to foreclosures.

While it's true that the upper Pioneer Valley region has simply not been hit hard by the mortgage crisis, that doesn't mean there doesn't continue to be a crisis of animal homelessness in our community. Animals lost their homes by thousands in the Pioneer Valley long before this latest housing bubble.  Maybe they wandered away from home without identification, maybe they were born before their family got their mother spayed, maybe their special old lady died without a plan in place for her pets...whatever the reason, animal homelessness is nothing new under the sun.

And there are other signs of an economic downturn on the animals in our community.  Demand for our CatSnip program--a subsidized spay/neuter program for cats of people in need--has more than doubled. The demand on the pet food bank at our rescue center in Greenfield has surged. We are seeing more animals coming to our shelter in worse condition, causing our veterinary bills to go through the roof.

Still, the DPVHS philosophy of not just helping homeless animals but preventing animal homelessness holds firm. We know that subsidizing the cost of spaying a cat is less expensive than caring for her kittens. We know that sometimes a bag of cat food may make a difference between being able to keep a pet at home or sending her to a shelter.

As we head into 2009, we're proud to report a new food program in partnership with the Amherst Survival Center. They have begun weekly grocery deliveries to housebound seniors  We'll supply pet food for that program. Keep a eye out, too, for an expansion of our successful pet food Meals on Wheels  effort to towns beyond Amherst.

If you would like to donate food to any of these efforts (cat food is especially needed), we will gratefully accept your contribution at the Leverett adoption center or the Greenfield rescue center. Monetary donations to any of our life-saving programs are also greatly appreciated.