Wednesday, March 25, 2009

25 Random Things About DPVHS

In the spirit of welcoming people to join Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society on Facebook I'd thought I'd share "25 Random Things About DPVHS."

1. Janet Wilder Dakin (founder of the original Dakin Animal Shelter) was author Thornton Wilder's sister.

2. In the early 1900's Greenfield had its own Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We still have their handwritten meeting minutes. One of the decisions they had to make at a membership meeting? Whether to send funds to help care for horses working in World War I.

3. DPVHS was formed in 2006 when the Dakin Animal Shelter in Leverett merged with the Pioneer Valley Humane Society in Greenfield. Today, those two buildings still serve animals--Greenfield as the rescue center and Leverett as the adoption center.

4. The board of directors of DPVHS can consist of anywhere between 11 and 19 volunteer members. There are currently 16.

5. The primary focus of DPVHS humane education programs is working with juvenile offenders and other kids who are at risk. These programs have been featured at conferences for both social workers and animal welfare workers.

6. It's very popular to name cats after foodstuffs here at DPVHS. In recent history, we've covered most of the dietary categories (depending on your chosen diet). Some of our kitties named after main courses and side dishes were Taco, Chili, Waffle, Bacon, Chicken, Meatball, Miso and Chowder. One must always appreciate the finer tastes in life, thus the following cats named after herbs and spices: Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Mint, Peppercorn, Sage, Parsley, Basil, Thyme and Ginger. Of course, we have the condiment cats (Gravy, Honey, Pickles and Olive); the Nuts (Cashew, Almond, Peanut, Pistachio); and the dairy (Butter, Pepperjack). We musn't forget to recognize our more nutritiously named kitties: the vegetables (Corn, Pumpkin, Pepper, Bean) and the fruits (Blueberry, Banana, Cranberry, Lemon, Gooseberry, Tangerine, Raisin, Raspberry, Apple). Of course, our most popular cat named based on food stuffs have been those named after candies (Butterscotch, Caramel, Jellybean, Kit Kat, Snickers, Fudge, Chocolate, Taffy, Bonbon, Lollipop, M&M, Reeses Pieces) and desserts (Creamsicle, Ginger Snap, Fluff, Frosty, Pie, Twix, Oreo, Cookie, Cupcake, Brownie, Double Stuff, Hostess). Finally, we must wash all these cat names down with our friends who are named after our favorite beverages: Cider, Latte, Hot Chocolate, Tea, Guinness, Martini, Whiskey, and last but not least, Got Milk!

7. Volunteers contributed more than 6,500 hours of time in 2008.

8. Thanks to an innovative free software for animal shelters called PetPoint, adoptable cat and dog profiles on the DPVHS website are now updated in real time.

9. DPVHS does not receive funding from any government agency, nor is it affiliated with any national animal welfare organization.

10. 81% of the animals admitted to DPVHS are felines. Most of these are kittens and will arrive in the 4 months of peak kitten season between June and September. Two-thirds of these kittens will need a stay in a foster home before they will be ready for adoption.

11. Thanks in part to aggressive spay/neuter programs like Feral Spay Sunday and CatSnip, the death toll for felines in Pioneer Valley animal shelters dropped 42% between 2002 and 2006.

12. All animals adopted from the DPVHS have microchip identification--a rice-sized radio transmitter injected just under the skin between their shoulder blades. When scanned, the chip can provide information about the animal's adoptive family. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like Lojack--you can't tell where your animal is through global positioning!

13. Some of DPVHS's Dixie Dogs come from Alabama. The others are from Menifee County, Kentucky. Our Yankee Dogs are from all over Massachusetts, including greyhound race tracks and animal control officers.

14. Jeff.

15. DPVHS believes so strongly that both indoor and outdoor cats should wear a collar and id tag that we give them away for free (in a variety of snazzy colors!).

16. It is a little known fact that copious amounts of chocolate are integral to the seamless operation of any animal welfare agency. Thanks to a special volunteer, both our sheltering locations have bottomless stashes of chocolate.

17. Our adoption center in Leverett may hold the record for the "Hardest Animal Shelter to Find." If it weren't for our road signs, we would have potential customers wandering all over the hills, trying fruitlessly to find cell service.

18. Ever heard that strange snorting sound coming from our dog kennel cd player? It's not Pigs on Tape. It's the sound of contented dogs being played over and over. The idea is to keep the dogs in our kennels relaxed by having them listen to the sounds of other dogs being happy.

19. DPVHS is the reigning holder of the much-coveted Furball Trophy. We retained the trophy (first won by Dakin staff at the 2005 Dog Day at Quonquont Farm obstacle course) by trouncing the MSPCA Springfield staff in the Great Bowling Throwdown of 2008.

20. DPVHS provides dog and cat food to be delivered to housebound seniors in local Meals on Wheels programs. We also work with the Amherst Survival Center to deliver pet food along with groceries to people with disabilities.

21. Volunteer Pet Taxi drivers shuttle daily loads of animals to and from local veterinarians for their spay/neuter surgeries. One volunteer even makes a weekly two-hour round trip to East Brookfield to a non-profit clinic that sterilizes most of our kittens.

22. Students from the University of Massachusetts can earn college credit through an internship with DPVHS. They participate in animal care, clinical procedures, behavior evaluations, customer service, humane education, and supply drives, all while learning about current issues in the animal welfare movement.

23. It makes our day when we receive letters and emails from our alumni animals. We just learned of a cat adopted from us in 1998 who has successfully recovered from surgery and treatment for cancer. Maxine is now fat and happy once again. We hope they all find such a loving home.

24. While our Greenfield rescue center was built as an animal shelter, our Leverett adoption center was originally built as a boarding kennel. The kennel owners lived in the house where our administrative offices are now located.

25. In 2008, DPVHS found new homes for more than 1,300 cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens. They were cuddly, rambunctious, tentative, frisky, mellow, loyal, frightened, silly, and (most of all) special.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wanted: Foster Heroes!

Of the 579 kittens DPVHS sheltered in 2008, 319 needed foster care prior to being placed up for adoption. That's 319 kittens too young, sickly, unsocial, or otherwise unprepared for life in the Big World.

The percentage of kittens needing foster care continues to go up as we make headway against feline overpopulation in our communities. So many people now do the right thing and spay their pet cat before she has a litter, that it is unusual for us to see healthy eight week old kittens being surrendered. Instead, we receive primarily the offspring of stray and feral cats--kittens with little vaccine history, a justifiable suspicion of humans, and often without even a mother to provide for their basic needs.

This is where our heroic foster parents step in. Thanks to the hard work, compassion, and spare bedrooms of dozens of Pioneer Valley residents, 319 infant and orphaned kittens got a second chance last year. Our foster parents bottle fed, cuddled, scooped litter pans, made special trips to the veterinarian, and taught kittens how to lap their food from a bowl. They reassured frightened mother cats, lured scared kittens with toys and treats, and taught their kids about the importance of gently helping animals in need.

Most of the 900 or more kittens we expect to see in 2009 will come in during the few short months of the late spring and summer. In fact, our first have already begun to arrive. We need your help.

Do you have what it takes? Do you like the antics of kittens but don't want to let your own cat contribute to overpopulation by having a litter? Do you have a spare room? Are your resident animals vaccinated and healthy? If so, we're looking for some everyday heroes like you to help us save a few hundred lives.

To learn more and to volunteer to be a foster parent, please contact our foster coordinator, Mike, at or call 413-773-3148.

If you can give them a home for a few weeks, we'll find them a home for life.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hate Mail

Through our feedback form on the DPVHS website, I received this anonymous message: "I think that it is your responsibility, especially in this hard time for the MSPCA Springfield, to step up to the plate (for once) and become an open admissions shelter. I believe that any 'limited admissions' shelter has NO RIGHT to call themselves a 'Humane Society' for many reasons; one being that you constantly turn animals away and push your 'problems' onto true humane societies like the MSPCA. Who will no longer be your 'dumping ground' it's high time you actually help the aniamls [sic] that need it. You people may boast about your high adoption rate, but in reality it is only high because you turn a huge amount of animals away at the door or during a phone call! It's a disgrace! I hope you people decided to take action for once and not pawn your 'unwanted, non adoptable' animals on someone else."

Semantics about the definition of "humane society" aside (there being many humane societies with no sheltering function at all), this anonymous emailer does not say anything we at DPVHS do not already know. We do not boast about our "high adoption rate," because we are well aware that we achieve it only by accepting primarily those animals we believe we can successfully place for adoption. We also readily agree that this is a luxury afforded us by the presence of the MSPCA's open admission shelter in Springfield. The closing of that shelter is very likely to change some of the ways DPVHS operates, including which animals we admit.

What it is unlikely to change, however, is the DPVHS commitment to ending companion animal overpopulation. Our decision, years ago, to accept only those animals with a reasonable chance at finding a new home (even if they needed expensive rehabilitative care beforehand) was a decision based on one principal: adoption programs alone do not end animal homelessness.

DPVHS expends an enormous amount of resources--as a percentage of our budget, far more than most open admission shelters--on homelessness prevention programs (accessible or free sterilization, humane education for at-risk populations, pet food assistance, safe haven foster care, etc.). The challenge of keeping these successful programs operating while also adjusting to a higher than usual influx of animals will be a significant challenge.

While we recognize that our sheltering programs, which re-homed more than 1,300 cats and dogs last year (including 300 cats and kittens taken directly from the MSPCA in Springfield) make a difference to each of those 1,300 individual animals, they aren't the solution to too many pets and not enough homes.

The difference between a limited admission and an open admission shelter isn't simply whether all animals get admitted or not. It's an issue of how resources are allocated. In an ideal world, limited and open admission shelters (along with animal control agencies, trap-neuter-return groups, breed-specific rescuers, and others in the rescue community) all work together to end animal homelessness.

The 300 or so kittens DPVHS took each year from the MSPCA, for instance, were not adoptable kittens ready for adoption--they were infants needing weeks of foster care and medical treatment prior to placement. With the volume of animals coming through their doors during peak kitten season, the MSPCA did not have enough available foster homes to give these kittens a chance. Because DPVHS controls the influx of animals through an appointment system and prioritizing admissions for adoptable or rehabilitable animals, we do have foster homes available. Together, MSPCA and DPVHS saved those kittens' lives.

Neither of us could have done it alone. The MSPCA closing is a loss for the entire community. While my anonymous emailer's divisive and ill-informed hostility doesn't serve to help any animals, it does highlight the looming challenge facing all animal lovers in our region at the end of March when the MSPCA leaves town for good.