Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There Is Inspiration In Heartache...Pinky's Story

I have often been asked why I do rescue. Why would I subject myself to such heartache and sadness? I tell them the joy far outweighs the sadness. You must focus on little victories, not dwell on the failures. You celebrate the WINS and mourn the LOSSES. I tell them about all of the wonderful and amazing people whom I have met through rescue...volunteers and adopters alike. Then, I tell them the story of Pinky. He is THE REASON I got involved with rescue.

Through the struggles and tears, Pinky taught me a valuable lesson. Life with a dog is about the QUALITY of the time, not the QUANTITY. I did my best to make his time with me enjoyable, full of love, comfort and warmth. I couldn't "fix" what was broken, but I could celebrate his life by saving the lives of others. Rescue is my passion, my mission, my calling. Thank you, Pinky...you gave me the strength to endure the heartache of rescue, and focus on the HOPE!

Here is Pinky's story...

I picked him up off of the street, after seeing him wander the neighborhood for weeks. He was getting skinnier by the day, and I was determined to help him. I brought him home, and he was literally a rack of bones. He had scars on his body, which the vet later told me were from cigarette burns. He had scars on his legs from where he had been tangled in a chain...probably left to fend for himself for days on end, and the chain began to embed itself in his skin. This dog had issues. He was afraid of everyone. He would cower when you'd stand up. He's urinate if someone raised their voice. He was terrified when the closet door was opened, he would run away, as if he were afraid I was going to lock him up in there. The same was true for the bathroom. He never stepped foot in the bathroom...EVER.

Poor Pinky had been abused. No doubt about it.

He bonded to me, my husband and our dogs immediately. We had two German Shorthaired Pointers, so we were accustomed to the needs of an active and energetic dog. He ADORED our dogs, played well with them, and loved being with them. He followed them everywhere. The problem was that Pinky felt he HAD to protect our home. The first time, we didn't really "know" there was a problem. It all started so innocently. He bit my neighbor. You couldn't find a bigger dog lover than he. He was playing with Pinky, he blamed it on himself, saying he was tugging too hard on the rope, so it wasn't Pinky's fault. We brushed it off as a playtime accident. About a month later, he attacked my mother-in-law as she entered our home. He tore into her hand as she opened the door. He knew her! He knew she was not a threat! How could this happen? I was devastated at witnessing my sweet Pinky behaving so violently. I couldn't believe he was capable of doing such damage to someone he seemed to love and trust.

I had never dealt with aggression before, so I was in unfamiliar territory.

I decided to consult a canine behaviorist. She felt he had potential to overcome the issues, so we embarked on what would become a nearly two year-long effort to "re-train" him not to bite. We started with basic obedience, then intermediate, advanced, etc. Then, we did three rounds of "charm school" which is basically a room full of dogs that are human and/or dog aggressive, their owners trying to "fix" their dogs, so they don't have to put them to sleep for being dangerous. Talk about a room full of desperate people. We were all clinging to the hope that we could somehow fix what someone else had done to our dogs. To heal what was broken. To undo what had been done. Sadly, many of us were helpless to do so.

My husband and I separated, and without an extra set of hands to manage Pinky's behavior, we just simply stopped having anyone over. I would meet my friends at their homes. I stopped entertaining. When my mother and grandmother came to visit from out-of-state, I had to put Pinky into boarding. I just couldn't take the risk that he would harm my grandmother. She was so frail, and he so strong.

It was "easy" to manage his behavior if we didn't actually GO anywhere together (except for training classes). I guess I wasn't realizing that he was a prisoner in my home, as was I. Not to mention, my two existing dogs loved nothing more than to have company. They relished in the attention our dog-loving guests paid them, more laps to choose from, more faces to kiss. They could have none of that simple pleasure, as Pinky prevented us from having company.

Well, after a combination of diet, herbal "calming" remedies, nearly two years of intensive training and consistent behavior modification, Pinky bit again. This time it was ME, on MY leg, as he charged toward the mail man (through the closed storm door). I knew that day that there was no way I could fix this dog. I loved him with all of my heart. But, I knew he could not enjoy the luxury of just being a dog...relaxing on the sofa, lying by the fire. He had a job to do, and always had to be on guard, to protect me and my home. I also knew he was a liability...he could harm someone else...a child, an innocent visitor, etc. I spoke to my behaviorist and my trainer. We all agreed. We had given it our best shot. They assured me I had gone way above and beyond what many owners would do. I had invested an incredible amount of time and money...desperate to FIX him. What more could I do? I had to make a difficult decision to euthanize him.

I scheduled "the appointment" for late Saturday, the following weekend. It was a gray and gloomy New England February day (which fit the mood). Pinky and I relaxed on the sofa together. I wanted to drink in every last ounce of him. I didn't ever want to forget how he smelled, how his fur felt beneath my fingers, how he looked up at me with such beautiful brown eyes...oh that look...I will never forget that look.

On the way to the vet, it was drizzling. It was a damp, gray and cold day that soaked right into your bones. We went into the vet office, and they allowed me to sit on the floor with him. I brought Pinky's favorite blanket, and had given him a sedative before leaving the house, so he'd be a bit more relaxed. As I held him on the floor, my vet sat beside me, we had tears streaming down both of our faces. When he took his last breath, I realized something remarkable...he was relaxed. For the first time in 2+ years, he was actually at peace. He no longer had to protect me. He could rest.

I took a few moments to compose myself (well, more than a few minutes actually), and then put on my coat. As I walked outside toward my car, I realized the damp, gray sky had been replaced by a beautiful, sunny, pink sky. Everywhere I looked, there was pink. Bright pink, INTENSE pink, with sun beams streaming down through what little was left of the clouds. It was a stunning sight. I knew it was a sign. I had made the right decision. My little Pinky had gone home...he was at rest.

The Power of Petfinder - Milton's Paradise FOUND

In honor of Petfinder.com's "Adopt The Internet Day", I felt compelled to post an updated version of one of my posts from 2010. Milton's story is a testament to the power of Petfinder.com, social networking sites, and the dedication of rescue volunteers, shelter staff, veterinarians, transport coordinators, volunteer pilots and foster parents.

I recently stumbled upon a quote by an unknown author which I found to ring true:

"It takes one person to abandon an animal. It takes a small army to find him a new home."

I think the quote captures the team effort that is often involved with just "one save" and Milton's story is surely an example of that small ARMY in action!

At the beginning of September 2010, I saw a Petfinder.com link on a rescue friend's facebook page. There was a nameless male, labeled by the shelter as a Coonhound, but his face looked A LOT like a German Shorthaired Pointer to me. So, I clicked on the link. Sure enough, he WAS a GSP! He appeared to be blind, and was extremely emaciated. I realized he was at an OH shelter that I know all too well. That particular shelter does not have the budget to perform humane euthanasia (through injection), so they still use the antiquated (and horribly inhumane) system of the gas chamber, death by carbon monoxide poisoning. Any dog that shows up at that shelter had better get pulled quickly by rescue, as they are forced to euthanize for space WAY TOO OFTEN!

I phoned the shelter immediately. I spoke to the Dog Warden's assistant. He told me of the desperate situation at the shelter. They had taken in over 50 unwanted dogs the day before. They had run out of space and were housing dogs in crates in the lobby. He told me they would have to euthanize that day. The GSP was not only blind, but a senior.He would most likely be at the front of the line. Needless to say, I knew that poor boy needed to get out of the shelter ASAP, preferably within the hour!

The main challenge was there were no volunteers in the area. I could find no one available (or even close) who could pull him from the shelter and get him to a vet. Thankfully, the dog warden agreed to transport him to a nearby veterinary clinic. He required treatment for a severe parasite infestation, and needed to gain weight before he could be transported. The vet staff fell instantly in love with his sweet senior boy. Despite his blindness and his weakened state, he always found the strength to wag his tail, and nuzzle his caregivers.

I decided to name him Milton, after the "Paradise Lost" author, John Milton. He lost his sight later in life, so it seemed appropriate given Milton's age. Plus, I figured Milton may have never known paradise, or, if he had, it was most certainly lost. I was determined that Milton's story would be one of, "Paradise Found!"

Mid-Atlantic GSP Rescue graciously accepted financial responsibility for Milton. We found a foster home in VA, with a lovely foster mom named Mary Deppa, who already had a few blind dogs of her own. She was well suited to meet Milton's special needs. So, the process began in searching for transport options for Milton. We explored ground transport, but would be traveling through an area where we had no volunteer coverage. We feared the transport would fall through and the long journey by car may been too much for blind Milton. So, I enlisted the help of Liz Bondarek, our wonderful volunteer "flight attendant" who acts as a liaison between rescue and the Pilots N Paws organization. Pilots N Paws is a nationwide network of volunteer pilots, giving freely of their time (and fuel) to help fly "death row" and needy pets to the safe arms of rescue groups and adopters. Thankfully, Liz was willing to get to work to try to find a pilot (or two) to fly Milton from northern Ohio to Virginia.

Liz went to work immediately. She found an amazing volunteer pilot, Mahesh, and his co-pilot, John. They graciously offered to fly from Columbus, Ohio to northern Ohio pick-up Milton, then fly him to Virginia to his waiting foster mom, Mary. The veterinarian who had been caring for Milton offered to take him to the airfield to meet the plane. Aside from some early morning fog delays, Milton's flight was smooth sailing all the way to VA. Mary tearfully greeted her new special boy, and the Mahesh and John admitted they felt a special connection to their most gracious passenger.

Milton felt at home in Mary's house right away. He got along great with his canine siblings, and even accepted his new sister of the feline persuasion. He quickly learned the ropes at Mary's, learned the layout of the house, and mastered the doggy door. It didn't take him long to find the softest dog bed in the house. It was as if he had always been there. He was HOME!

I think Mary knew almost immediately that Milton was extra special. There was just "something" about him, a quality that could not be described in words. Given she had experience with blind dogs, and Milton was getting along so famously with all of the household members, Mary decided to make it official and adopt Milton into her family. Milton truly found his PARADISE!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Adopt-the-Internet March 15

As many of you know, Petfinder.com has been a pioneer in the world of pet adoption.

I can attest that Petfinder.com revolutionized our rescue efforts. We have been able to reach a wider audience. We have recruited new volunteers through Petfinder as well. Prior to Petfinder, many rescue groups had websites. But, we had to hope that interested parties would "find" us online. By listing our adoptable pets through Petfinder.com, doors were opened to a whole new world of networking and publicizing our adoptable dogs.

In celebration of their 15th anniversary, Petfinder.com is planning to Adopt the Internet. They are asking people everywhere to pledge to spread the word online about adoptable pets on March 15.

What You Can Do

  • Add a badge to your Web site to show your support. You can find badge information here.
  • Take Petfinder's pledge that you will tell one person about pet adoption on March 15. By pledging, you'll enter for a chance to win one of 10 Pet Hair Eraser® Vacuums from BISSELL.
  • Caption a Petfinder adoptable-pet photo on ICanHasCheezburger.com! The photos with the best captions will be featured on the ICanHasCheezburger.com homepage on March 15.
  • On March 15, if you are a Twitter user, please share an adoptable Petfinder pet on Twitter with the hashtag #adopttheinternet.
  • Add a link to your blog, Facebook or Twitter post to this page! (Visit http://www.petfinder.com/info/adopt-the-internet on March 15 to find out how.)
  • On March 15, donate your Facebook status and photo to an adoptable Petfinder pet. Simply replace your photo with one from the Adopt-the-Internet All-Stars gallery and post one of these messages:
More than 320,000 pets are waiting for homes on Petfinder.com. Help Petfinder Adopt the Internet today and find forever homes for as many as possible!

I adopted my pet from Petfinder and now I want to help get this pet adopted! If you want to help pets in need of forever homes, please repost this!

Please do your part to help spread the word about pet adoption. The internet and social media outlets give us the amazing power to reach a wide audience. It will only take a few moments for you to do your part, and, your message could indeed save a life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One Day, One Volunteer, One Inbox

Most any breed-specific rescue volunteer will tell you, they normally hold their breath each time they open their e-mail. Hoping today will be a day without a plea for help, a dog in dire need in a shelter, an owner surrender. On those days, we can focus on counseling new volunteers and fosters, dedicate some "free" time with our own dogs and families, and focus on preparing for what challenges may lie ahead the following day. GSP Rescue groups are scattered about the US. We have some amazing people, forging ahead each day despite startling numbers of GSPs in need.

There are countless others like me, answering e-mails, scrambling to find foster homes, arrange transports, etc. We are an army of people with a common purpose, kindred spirits, trying to do our best to help the dogs that need us. What disturbs me the most is that the scenario below is repeated over and over again, each day, across the US. This is the story of one day, one volunteer, and one inbox.

March 7 - 10:30 PM: Make final arrangements for a young female GSP in a high kill KY shelter. She is going to the last open foster home. I hold my breath, knowing it will only be a matter of time before another plea for help will arrive. We will be out of foster space. Little did I know what the next day would bring...

March 8 - 8:00 AM: Good morning, inbox. Note forwarded to me from a rescue volunteer in IN. There is a local family in dire straits financially. They have two GSPs, a mother and daughter pair. One has food allergies, so she must be on special prescription food. Both husband and wife lost their jobs. Wife two years ago, husband a year ago. They can no longer afford to care for the dogs. They live outside (have never been in the house). The "mother" was used for hunting, but the daughter has had no hunt training. They have not been vetted in a long while, and have not been on heartworm medication. They have not been spayed.

I realize quickly this could be a challenge, to say the least. Find two fosters (yeah, right), full vetting for each dog (all vaccines, spay, fecal exam and PRAY for negative heartworm tests). Foster care for basic obedience, housebreaking, crate training, etc. Could be a long haul. I take a deep breath and decide to take it one step at a time.

12:15 PM: Receive e-mail from an OH shelter we have worked with in the past. They have a young male GSP in their care, unclaimed stray. He's about 3-4 years old, VERY stressed in the shelter. He needs to get out ASAP and into a foster home. Oh yeah, I forgot, we don't have any open foster homes. Now what? I write back to shelter contact, asking how much time he has left, can we buy a few days to try to work something out? Can we get a jump on the vetting and perhaps pay for boarding for a few days until I can find somewhere to put him? If he's stressed in the shelter, a boarding facility will NOT be ideal for him. But with no open fosters, what else can I do? I start feeling guilty about not being able to foster him here. But, I already have three fosters and four dogs of my own. I ask myself again, "Why won't more people foster?"

6:40 PM: E-mail arrives from a GSP owner in KY. She has a 5 year-old male. He's wonderful with children and other dogs. He is up-to-date on vaccinations and neutered. He lives indoors, with the family. She says they love him to pieces. But, he needs more exercise. She just can't provide it. She hates to give him up, but he really needs more room to run. Can I help?

9:45 PM: Open an e-mail from my friend who works at a shelter in Indiana. They already have one GSP in residence. We have been in regular contact about him. He needs to get out of the shelter, but we don't have any open foster homes. We have been trying to work together to find a temporary solution for him. She writes to tell me they have received an owner surrender, another GSP. She says she's 13. Her owner lost her job. While unemployed, she had a serious car accident which resulted in a broken shoulder. She cannot care for her dog any longer. She contacted another rescue group, and they told her they could not help her, due to the dog's age. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????? Age should never be a factor in rescue. EVER!!! We will gladly take her, IF we can find a foster...

11:45 PM - I'm awake in bed, trying to formulate a plan. If we can purchase some food for family #1, and get some vetting started for the two girls while remaining with her family, perhaps that will buy us some time until we can find a foster home.

For dog #3 in the shelter, I'm hoping the shelter can help transport him to a veterinary office for some initial care and boarding, with the HOPES AND PRAYERS that a foster home will surface. Even if I could just find someone willing to keep him for a few weeks, that may be enough time to get a current foster adopted, which will open a spot for this boy.

Re: Dog #4 - I will talk with the KY family, hoping they will understand we don't have open foster homes at this time. If they love their dog as much as they say they do, perhaps they can hold onto him for now. I can send a volunteer to meet with them, meet and evaluate the dog, and perhaps list him on our website. Maybe someone will fall in love with him and we can adopt him out of his owners' home. That would eliminate the need for a foster spot for him.

And for our sweet senior girl, well, I will fight tooth and nail for her. So, the wheels start turning. How can I help this older girl? She is currently being treated for a UTI, so she must finish her medication before being released. Once that day gets closer, I can post her info and photos in the hope of finding a wonderful person who realizes that adoption is not about quantity of time, but QUALITY of time. I know she can find someone who will love her, for whatever time she has left on this earth. I just know it! She deserves the chance, and I will do all I can to give her that chance. I won't look the other way, simply because she is a senior. SHE NEEDS US. After all, isn't that why we do this? To help this breed, not just the youngest, healthiest and most 'adoptable' ones?

One day. One volunteer. One inbox.