If you have a companion animal in your life of have ever been inside a pet supply store, you are probably familiar with the KONG brand. KONG makes a variety of dog and cat products from toys to toy stuffing to treats to puzzles to scratchers. The volume of products is vast and goes way beyond what you may have seen in stores. I didn't realize until recently that KONG doesn't advertise. KONG sells what I consider self-marketing products. The name is so well known that the products essentially sell themselves as a result of quality and a result of word of mouth advertising between satisfied customers and KONG Believers. KONG also has a program to help shelters called KONG Cares in which it distributes factory seconds to non-profit organizations at reduced prices.
But there is a new program being rolled out by KONG which I'm blogging about today. I've known about it for months but was sworn to secrecy because the program was developed in my area as a result of some circumstances which caused a KONG employee to have a true "aha!" moment for the sake of animals. Some explanation is in order.
In the summer of last year, people were still fostering and adopting a lot of animals during the height of the pandemic. Many animal shelters were closed. Some shelters were seeing people on an appointment-only basis and some still function that way (unfortunately). Progressive shelters were using changes to their operations to try to find ways to keep animals from entering the shelters at all by implementing social services programs to help people. The HASS - Human Animal Support Services - model of shelter was developed during the pandemic and is in pilot programs today. The basic idea behind HASS is to "keep people and pets together. We are bringing animal welfare organizations and community members together to engage in partnerships that support the bond of people and animals."
As I thought about changes taking place nationally, I wondered how to help people more in my own area. I lead an advocacy group called No Kill Huntsville which was created to encourage the City of Huntsville to save more shelter animals. Part of our advocacy is interacting with the public to help modify their behavior. We decided to put together what we were calling a pet resources guide to help the public find organizations to help them find pet food, help pay for veterinary care, refer them to trainers or behaviorists, provide short-term foster placement, etc. A local television station did a story about our proposed resources guide. The plan never came together. We could not get enough organizations to provide us with input to create a guide and so the idea was disbanded, at least for now.
But one good thing happened. When the story was on the news, Sandy Howle, an employee who works for KONG as a Training Ambassador, saw it and reached out to our group. She asked what she could do to help and that started a conversation with her about what we hoped to accomplish. Sandy was the person who had the "aha!" moment when she realized that KONG could do more to help not just animal shelters but shelter animals and the people who adopt them. Sandy developed an idea for a shelter enrichment and education program which she pitched the corporate folks. It should come as no surprise that they loved the idea. The test location was at the Greater Huntsville Humane Society in Alabama and there are now plans to take the program national to help shelters, shelter animals and animal caregivers across the country. The program includes educational classes for the shelter, volunteers, fosters and pet parents. KONG is also providing a swag bag for people that adopt. There are plans to hold KONG stuffing events, building sensory gardens and dig pits, holding donation drives. The list goes on.
I've asked Sandy to tell us more about how the program began and about the plans for the future. I'd like to thank her for taking the time to share this wonderful news.
Sandy, prior to us connecting, I knew about the KONG Cares program. Were there other programs KONG was doing to help shelter animals?
We have always been involved in the shelters with our KONG Cares program and donations of product and raffle baskets. We also have our Pet Pros Shelter program that shelters or rescues can sign up for through our website at www.kongcompany.com. We help provide educational tools and marketing materials that shelters or rescue groups can use. Your group can also be entered into regular drawings for KONG Cares product, raffle baskets, and swag.
You and I emailed back and forth a bit about the pilot program in Huntsville but I'm not sure I explained it correctly. Can you tell us what you did with the Greater Huntsville Humane Society to get things started?
The first thing we did was training for the Animal Care Staff and anyone else who wanted to be involved. The first training was "KONG 101" where we discussed not only KONG, but the instincts of dogs, how that comes into the home and the "problem behaviors" it can create, and how KONG can help be a solution for these behaviors. We also did an enrichment training. We talked about why animals need enrichment and about different things the shelter or fosters could do in their everyday routines that would help provide enrichment to both the dogs and cats in the shelter or in foster homes. The shelter was able to take some of the ideas and run with them, for example, creating a "foster a plant" program to create a sensory garden for the animals. We also have a partnership with a distributor that is selling discounted enrichment kits to the shelters. These kits will go home with the newly adopted dog or cat. The hope is that the animal has enrichment in the shelter, and this can now be rolled into the home with this enrichment kit to help alleviate some of the stress on the new pet family and the new pet. We also have a partnership with Fig & Tyler Treats who, not only, have a bag of treats in the enrichment kit, but also have created a shelter give back program in which the shelter can earn free treats to use in their shelter.
Now that the program you proposed will have a national roll-out, what can you tell us about what KONG plans to do to help other animal shelters?
One of the things that we have learned is that both cats and dogs need enrichment in their lives. Enrichment leads to a happier healthier life. While we know there are many shelters and rescues that have great enrichment programs already, we also know there are many that do not. Our goal is to share this program and education so that someone can create an enrichment program in their shelter or we can help take their current program to the next level. We pair this enrichment program with the KONG Cares and Pet Pro Shelter Program and we are able to help reduce the stress in shelters and keep dogs and cats happy, which in turn helps them become more adoptable.
If there is someone with an animal shelter who reads this blog and wants to make sure their shelter can participate in the program, is there something specific they should do to sign up?
They can reach out to me via email or phone and I can give them more information about the program. I can be reached at 661-433-7687 or email@example.com
KONG's story began with a German Shepherd named Fritz, his owner, and a Volkswagen
van transmission part one afternoon in 1970.
KONG ran one commercial in the 1970s when the first KONG hit the market. The commercial ran one time
only in the middle of the night because that was the affordable spot at the time.
KONG rubber products are made in Golden, CO and KONG Consumables are made in the USA.
KONG is distributed in over 80 countries and millions of dogs worldwide.
(images courtesy of the Kong Company, Inc. and Snyder Building Construction)
I’ve never really understood the concept of buying a pet from a breeder through a website. I guess part of that is because I promote adoption of animals from shelters and rescue groups as a first option. To me, it just seems like the right thing to do on a personal level and from a point of being responsible. As a nation, we continue to destroy healthy and treatable animals in our shelters using tax-dollars even though we have more than enough homes for all of them. These are animals who either were, our could have been, someone’s beloved pet. I see it as our collective responsibility to stop the needless death from happening through adoption as a first option.
I fully recognize that some people will never adopt from a shelter or a rescue group and insist on getting a pet from a breeder. But from a website? Really?
Online shopping is a great resource in many ways. Even prior to the pandemic, more and more people turned to their electronic devices to shop that ever before because it's easy and convenient. The pandemic has supercharged a transition away from brick and mortar shopping to online sales which have soared as people do all they can to keep themselves and their families safe while limiting (or completely ending) in-store purchases. I've heard some experts say the retail industry as we have known it is forever changed and there is likely no going back. But a pet? It just seems sordid to me. Online shopping for things is great. Online shopping for a living, breathing, sentient creature who will be part of your life for at least a decade and maybe two is just not right in my book. I know people do it all the time for a host of reasons and it may relate back to that easy and convenient mindset. They’re looking for a companion animal, find a website (or a bunch of websites) that look polished on which images of cute puppies or kittens are just too hard to resist and read that the animal comes fully vetted and with a health guarantee. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.
Many animal advocates are quick to preach, “don’t breed or buy while shelter dogs die.” That’s a nice idea in theory, but it doesn’t work in reality, at least at this time in our society. There will always be people who want to get a pet from a breeder and since breeding animals is legal, there is nothing to be done to stop it. Some breeders breed dogs specifically to be placed in service industries. Others breed dogs to perform law enforcement functions. Some breeders make big money from breeding animals; I’ve seen some puppies who cost thousands of dollars. Some breeders make hardly any money at all and do it for the love of the species or love of the breed. I know there are breeders who function responsibly, who care deeply for their animals, who provide their animals with all they need – veterinary care, exercise, socialization and even training – and who work hard to place animals in great homes, insisting the animal be returned to them if something goes wrong.
Then there are the other breeders. The people who insist they meet you in a Walmart parking lot or never even meet you at all. The people who will not let you see the conditions in which the animals are bred, coming up with any variety of excuses as to why you can’t see the location for yourself to judge how the breeder dogs are cared for. It is this group of people who ordinarily broker their animals to stores to be sold to the public in a retail setting or who develop inviting looking websites with wonderful images and testimonials to lure you into the sale. I’ve seen numerous sites like this over the years and am always amazed at how much the animals cost and the process used to buy one. Some require a nonrefundable deposit before you meet the animal. Some want full payment before a dog is shipped to you. I’ve often wished there was some “truth in advertising” requirement for online sale of pets so photos of the conditions in which the dogs live are posted next to the photo of the cute animal, cuddled up next to a teddy bear. Maybe that would cause people to be repulsed enough to reconsider their decision.
Which leads to the point of this blog. Pet scams are now more prevalent than at any time in history as people spend more time at home or spend more time separated from people and are looking for companionship. I heard a few months ago that the pandemic has led to a sharp rise in complaints about pet scams. I was reminded of this again today when I heard about a heartbreaking story on CBS This Morning about a woman whose young daughter had died and who decided to buy a dog from a website in her daughter’s honor (her daughter always wanted a puppy), only to be scammed out of the money she paid for the dog. This led me to look at the Better Business Bureau News page about “puppy scams” which have soared during the pandemic. The numbers are astounding. The BBB reports that the biggest increase in online shopping fraud is pet scams which have more than tripled from last year. They make up 24% of online scams reported to the BBB and are now considered the riskiest scam according to the BBB Risk Index. Of the people targeted by the scam, 70% end up losing money with the typical amount lost of $700. And, of course, the BBB reports that not only are these the riskiest of scams, they are also one of the most heart-breaking. The BBB news story states:
Some families turned to the internet to look for a pet, thinking a pandemic puppy or kitten would help ease some of the uncertainty of current events. Many have come across scammers advertising animals that don't exist and are never shipped. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has given scammers the idea to ask for money up front, or to make excuses as to why buyers can’t see the pet in person-- before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned. This practice has also lead to a jump in online shopping fraud in general. BBB suggests, be aware of these pet scams and avoid falling for phony websites."
When it comes to buying animals online, please. Just say no. It you’re determined to get an animal from a breeder, find a reputable breeder close to you or who has been recommended to you by someone you know. Meet the breeder in person, see where your new pet will come from and ask for both veterinary references and references from people who have bought a pet from the breeder in the last year.
Better yet, open your home to an animal from an animal shelter or rescue group. If you’d like to use the Internet to help with that, there are wonderful websites like Petfinder or Adopt A Pet where you can search for animals by species, breed, size and age by geographic area. You can also visit your local animal shelter in person to see the animals available for adoption or learn about animals in foster homes who are ready to be adopted. You can also visit the websites and Facebook pages for animal shelters and rescue groups in your region to see what animals are available to find the right fit for you and your lifestyle. When you adopt from a shelter or a rescue, you enhance your own life, save the life of the animal you adopt and make room for another animal in need.
I feel terribly for the woman who was scammed trying to honor the life of her daughter. I am sure she is devistated. I wish I knew her so I could help her find a puppy from a shelter or a rescue group instead.
During my Army days, there was a saying used often which has stuck with me over the years. You may have seen it on a t-shirt. The saying goes, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” The natural reaction is to think, well, wouldn’t morale improve if the beatings stopped? Of course if would.
I was reminded of this phrase yesterday when an old article about animal rescue was making the rounds on social media for the umpteenth time. It should have been called “you are to blame but please help us rescue now.” The natural reaction, for me, is that if you stop blaming the public, they may help you more and may make better choices. The 2014 article said the following things about animal rescue.
• dog owners tend to have a lot of misconceptions about rescue groups. . .and what their job is in society. Spoiler alert: it’s not to fix your problems.
• It’s not our job to fix your basket case.
• If you decide your dog needs a home, do it yourself; it’s really not our job.
• If you didn’t spay your dog, and now you have [puppies], that’s your problem, not ours.
• You disgust me.
• You thought you were good enough for that dog in the first place, now prove it.
Wow. Tells us how you really feel (yes, that’s sarcasm).
Animal rescue is not for everyone. It is often a thankless, dirty, heart breaking, frustrating and expensive venture. Many rescuers I know work full-time jobs and spend a lot of time and a lot of their own money working incredibly hard to keep animals alive. Some have what I call “life balance.” Their focus is on helping animals, but they fully realize they cannot help all animals and so they do the best with the resources they have. They learn how to say “no” to people politely and then refer people who need help to other rescue groups or organizations which may be able to help them resolve issues they are having. They work hard to help each animal, one at a time, and then go on to help other animals when time and resources allow. Then there are others whom I can only refer to as angry rescuers. They are perpetually angry with the public, whom they view as the enemy. They do not hesitate to vent or rant about the people seeking their help and whom they view as outrageously irresponsible, making the lives of rescuers unreasonalby difficult.
News flash. Problems with companion animals are not animal problems, they are people problems. And whether rescuers like to view their role this way or not, theirs is a customer service based function in our society
I feel confident that most people in animal rescue mean well and entered the rescue field to help animals in need find new homes. But the reality is that you cannot separate the animals in need of help from the people who may seek help unless you do not deal directly with the public and you only remove animals from animal shelters. Yes, there are irresponsible people who should never have companion animals, some of whom behave in ways which are criminal at worst and negligent at best. I genuinely believe, however, that the majority of people who share their lives with dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, snakes, ferrets, hamsters and other companion animals mean well. They may not always make the best decisions, but most of them lack malice. I also believe that most people can be educated to make better decisions about animals if we check our judgment at the door and presume the best of people and not the worst.
Should people get their pets spayed and neutered? Absolutely. When they don’t, that does not mean they hatched some evil plan in the dark of night to keep a pet from being sterilized for the sole purpose of having a litter of puppies or kittens they then need help to place. I can’t count the number of times people have asked me for help to place a litter of animals and when I ask them about spay or neuter of the parent animals, they either say, “I meant to do that but thought I had more time” or “I wanted to do that but my veterinarian wanted hundreds of dollars and I just could not afford it right away.”
Should people make plans to re-home their pets themselves in the case of some life emergency? You bet. When people don’t, that does not mean that they don’t care enough. I believe strongly that we should all have what I call Pet Parents in the event of our death, serious illness or some life tragedy that puts us in a position where we have to re-home our pets because we can no longer care for them. When people do not make plans and they need help, they are not evil or uncaring. It more likely than not means they did not take seriously the possibility that life would change very suddenly and that their family and friends may not be lining up to take their pets and care for them the rest of their lives. They may not have given enough serious consideration to a worst case scenario which may affect us all with no notice.
Should people be prepared to fulfill their lifetime commitment to their pets? Certainly. The reality is that many people expect pets to know how to behave automatically and put little or no effort into decompression or training whether it is house training, walking on a leash, not jumping on people or furniture, etc. Many people also give little regard to the needs of dogs in terms of exercise and mental stimulation which help reduce bad behaviors brought on by boredom. This can lead to people becoming frustrated with pets who do not behave the way they expect and decide they are not worth the time and effort it takes. There are also situations when a person brings an animal into their home, only to encounter a conflict with an existing animal in the home which cannot be resolved even through the very best of efforts. I know some people treat pets as disposable and I know that lots of people need to be more responsible and live up to their commitments. For every person who gives up too easily, there are many more people who would go to the ends of the Earth to help or save their beloved companion animals. It helps to not lose sight of that.
I am not a rescuer. I know how I like to be treated by rescue groups when I need help with some animal I have found; I am asking you to be mindful of the image you present to the public. I do volunteer work for and support rescuers and it is in that vein that I offer the following.
The public is not your enemy. You cannot bash, rant about or otherwise blame the irresponsible public for your frustrations and then expect that same public to adopt animals from you, foster animals for you, volunteer to help you or donate to your rescue. You can’t have it both ways. Recognize privately that some people are awful, but don’t treat us all that way. We have plenty of options when it comes to which organizations we deal with and support. If you are too toxic, we will just put our support toward a more friendly rescue which doesn't view all people in the same negative light.
Learn to say no. You cannot help every animal in need. You cannot help every person who asks for help. If you cannot help someone who has asked you for help, tell them no and refer them to other organizations which may be able to help them. Let it go and move on. If they insist that it is your job to help them, just don’t respond to that type of bullying or pressure.
Consider ways to help people make better choices so the need for you is lessened. Set up a spay/neuter fund to help offset costs of spay/neuter for animals owned by families of limited means. Offer free microchipping periodically to help lost animals get back home. Refer people to pet food resources in your community if they fall on hard times. If an animal is hurt and the family cannot afford the veterinary care, consider paying for the care to help keep the animal in the existing home. You can do targeted fundraising for any of these efforts. Doing so will cause people to see your rescue group as a resource to help not just animals, but to help people in the community overcome obstacles while still keeping pets in existing homes.
Drop the attitude and try to keep your filter in place. As much as you may not like dealing with some people in the public, you have made yourself a public figure by making a decision to rescue animals. It is natural for people to seek your help whether you find them worthy of your time or not. Most have no clue of your existing obligations and have no idea what resources are available to you. Our ties to animals are emotional and when we are desperate, we often don't think clearly or communicate well. Please forgive us our shortcomings. If you hope to preserve your reputation toward getting more public support, be mindful of what you say to people in person, in email messages and on social media. Take the high road even if you are fuming or exasperated internally and then find a way to release your stress other than with your words.
Try to focus on the positive. Every animal you help is a success story. Every family you help is something in which you can take pride. Rescue is really hard work and not everyone can do what you do. It takes passion, commitment, patience and creativity. Focus on the lives you save. Focus on what you know you can do with the resources you have. There’s a lot of bad out there, but there is more good than bad.
Take time for yourself and try to seek balance. Knowing you cannot save every animal and help every person, remember that you cannot help anyone if you do not take care of yourself. Set boundaries, do things just for you periodically and learn how to disconnect when you get so stressed that every ask or every animal causes you anger. To do otherwise means you may ultimately flame out and not just walk away from rescue, but run from it. If you have not been out to dinner, seen a movie or read a book in the last six months, it's time for a break. No one wants you to be so incredibly unhappy that it affects your mental health or your own personal well-being. The suicide rate in the rescue community is higher than some may imagine. If you find yourself feeling so overwhelmed and hopeless that you are tempted to give up not just on rescue, but on yourself, please step away from rescue and seek help.
Nobody likes an angry rescuer. Please don’t be that person who helps animals, but who hates people
If you consider yourself and animal person, you are probably more aware of how other people treat their animals that some people. You notice the dog chained to a tree. You see the skinny cat which belongs to your neighbor. You lament the dog you see living in a pen 24/7/365 with no human interaction. Some people can see these things and simply tell themselves that it is none of their business and not their responsibility to remedy or fix. Others of us lose sleep over these animals. We tell ourselves that there must surely be something we can do to make their lives better. Surely there are law enforcement authorities who can help.
Yes. And no.
Most of us will see something or become aware of a situation in our lifetime which we consider animal abuse, neglect or cruelty. The reality is that whether or not what we see is illegal is a different question entirely. Each state has state laws regarding animals, some of which are strong and some of which are not. Many municipalities have their own laws regarding treatment of animals and yet other municipalities rely on the state laws for standards. The only federal law related to animals is the Animal Welfare Act which was enacted in 1966 and which regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. The point is that what is illegal in one place may be perfectly legal in another place and there is little you can do about it. What you see may bother you and keep you up at night, but it is entirely possible that law enforcement authorities cannot do anything about it at all.
We have legal principles in our country which are understood by most people as a result of public education, through some personal knowledge of the legal system, from awareness of current events or just from reading books or seeing movies and television shows. We are all familiar with the concept that people are innocent until proven guilty using our legal system. Most of us are also familiar with general principles of due process and probable cause. In order to pursue a criminal case against a person for a wrong, they must be breaking an existing law and there must be a way to prove that using evidence, normally in the form of first-hand testimony and exhibits. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that someone committed some wrong. We learn of situations all the time when some crime was committed, but it cannot be prosecuted because those with direct knowledge refuse to testify about it.
The same is true regarding animal crimes. If you see something you don’t like, you can submit an anonymous report in many areas of the country. But almost all of those places which allow for anonymous reporting also require the complaining party to testify if an actual criminal case moves forward. Only those people with first hand knowledge of the abuse, neglect or cruelty can provide evidence - in the form of testimony - in support of a criminal case. This responsibility cannot be passed along to a third party or to animal control personnel.
Some instances of abuse, neglect and cruelty are self-proving. For example, if you live in a community where it is illegal to chain a dog to an object (like where I live), you can call and report a chained dog to local law enforcement. They can then go to the location, see the chained dog for themselves and issue a citation about it. That may lead to further legal action. In my city it is a misdemeanor offense to chain a dog or fail to care for a dog who lives outside. People are given an opportunity to comply with the law first but then are subject to criminal penalties if they do not comply or if they repeat the offense.
Other situations are not self-proving and require you to become personally involved. You may see something day after day which bothers you. A cat who is being physically abused by being kicked or thrown. A dog who never has water or who has no shelter. If authorities go out to check it, it is entirely likely the animal owner will either deny the allegations or will claim the situation just arose. The water just ran out. The shelter was there an hour ago. In some cases, authorities will have to have a search warrant to investigate abuse and neglect which has been issued by a judge as a result of a showing of probable cause. In many cases there is little authorities can do about the abuse, neglect or cruelty absent your willingness to speak up for the animals who cannot speak for themselves. You are the one who must break the he said/he said stalemate by reporting what you know, by being prepared to file a formal complaint, by being prepared to testify about what you know and perhaps even by providing photographs you took or video you have recorded (while doing so in a manner which does not amount to trespassing or harassment of the animal owner).
I got into an argument of sorts with some rescuers recently who are upset about how a man is treating his dogs. They have been told numerous times by authorities that they must file a formal complaint in order for criminal charges to be considered. They must have evidence of what they allege has occurred even if that evidence is only in the form of personal testimony. They simply refuse to do so. They also refuse to meet with authorities to talk about their concerns or about to keep track of what they see in order to develop evidence. Their opinion is that it is the job of the animal control officer in a particular county to handle the situation without them having to be involved. Our legal system simply does not work that way in cases that are not self-proving. They can complain about the ACO all they want, but it does nothing to help the dogs they claim are being neglected in some way. Animal control officials have been to the property multiple times, have spoken with the owner multiple times and have found no “actionable” neglect or abuse. They have even gone so far as to persuade the owner to surrender some of his dogs to rescuers and to allow rescuers to provide dog houses for his dogs in an effort to improve their quality of life. Is the situation perfect? No. But what is happening on the property that is within view of officials is not illegal and the people who claim to have knowledge of neglect refuse to step up and report what they know formally.
If you see something which bothers you so much that you loose sleep over it or you feel compelled to get involved, please be prepared to own your outrage. If you think the animal owner is approachable, try direct contact first. There may be circumstances going on of which you are not aware. If the person is not approachable and you really want something done by someone, remember that the someone is you. If you have time to complain about the situation on social media, you have time to channel your energy into positive action. Stand up for what you believe and speak for the sake of the animals who cannot speak for themselves. If you won’t do it, who will?
Other information on this topic is found on these pages here:
Animal Cruelty in Your State
Who to Contact and What to Report
Reporting Mills, Dog Fighting or Hoarding
Using Common Sense Regarding Animal Cruelty
(images courtesy of Chris Haight Pagini and Tamira Ci Thayne)
I love Petfinder. It’s a wonderful way for animals in need to find new homes. I’ve described the site as being like an online dating site, but to connect humans with companion animals instead of humans with humans.
I hate Petfinder. There are so many animals who need new homes that going on the site can be depressing for me. I want to help them all.
My husband was on Petfinder a couple of weeks ago looking at dogs and he ran across a 15 year-old American Eskimo dog in South Carolina. The rescue group was charging a $150 adoption fee. My first reaction was overwhelming sadness that a dog that old has no home. I know intellectually there are senior animals across the country who need to be placed so this one dog is not unique. My second reaction was to the adoption fee. I told Rich that the rescue should screen adopters, but should just give the dog away. Really.
The plight of this one dog rumbled around in my head for weeks and ended up colliding with a lot of other thoughts about how rescue groups function in their seemingly never ending quest to place animals in new homes. Those in rescue are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Most work full-time jobs and do rescue on the side as a labor of love, being paid absolutely nothing in the process. I call you Rescue Warriors. There are some bad apples out there who do terrible things while masquerading as rescues, but I’d like to think that most groups are genuine and have the best of intentions.
Having said that, I think that there are things that rescues either do or fail to do which drastically limits their effectiveness and that’s the subject of this blog. I hope that if you run a rescue group or you work with a rescue group in some capacity you will at least consider my input. I admit that I am an outsider looking in, I cannot possibly appreciate all the challenges you face and that my suggestions may not be welcome. I really do mean no offense. I think I just see some of these things from a different perspective as both an animal welfare advocate and a potential adopter. In making my suggestions, I fully recognize that most rescues function with only volunteer labor and that tasks are spread out among a number of people. My suggestions are aimed toward rescue groups which are nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status. If you are in rescue and do not have that status, please work on that. There are many steps to get your nonprofit status, but the online filing options available now make the process move much faster and it costs a lot less than it did just a couple of years ago.
Your adoption listings should be detailed, compelling and kept up to date. Whether you list your animals on Petfinder, on Adopt A Pet or on Rescue me (or all three sites), your listing is your sales pitch for the animal. There are a lot of articles out there on how to write good content so that it is positive and compelling. Please do a little homework on how to best describe your animals in ways which help the reader "meet" the animal using a computer or phone. Not only should you describe the animal in positive ways, but include enough detail so an adopter knows the approximate age and approximate weight. Some adopters are looking for animals of a particular size due to their lifestyle or their own age. There are a lot of adoption listings which say so little that people really don’t look at them long and just click the "back" button to move on. The value of good images can also not be understated in your listings. An image of the animal looking happy and who is in a friendly environment will always get more response than a sad or depressing image of an animal in a kennel or looking away from the camera. Finally, make sure you keep your listings updated. If your initialing listing says the animal is undergoing some treatment or in need of some rehabilitation, make sure you update the listing later so that the potential adopter is getting the most current information on the pet and understands his or personality. Petfinder listings may take a little time to develop with the help of volunteers who write descriptions and take photographs for you, but is it worth every minute to market your animals effectively.
Relax your adoption standards to make them reasonable. Nathan Winograd of the No Kill Advocacy Center wrote an article years ago which was later included in his book, "Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart and Soul of America’s Animal Shelters" as a chapter called Good Homes Need Not Apply. The gist of the chapter is that some rescue groups make their standards so high that really good adopters are turned away. Of course you want your animals to go to good homes and live fully and healthy lives. This means, however, that you need to consider adopters on a case-by-case basis and not judge them all the same. Arbitrary rules like not adopting out animals to homes with young children, not adopting animals to couples who are not married or not adopting out a dog to a family that doesn’t have a fenced yard simply keep perfectly good adopters away and limit your ability to place animals. In the almost 20 years I have lived in Alabama, we have lived in two separate places, neither of which were fenced because they encompassed acres of land. Our dogs have never been outside unsupervised and both lived more than 16 years. Yet many rescue groups may not adopt to us now because we don’t have a fully fenced yard.
Find creative ways to raise money so you are not relying on your adoption fees to cover costs. I know that helping animals costs a lot of money. Some of the animals taken in by rescues require thousands of dollars of veterinary care to treat injuries, skin conditions or even heart worms. All of the animals have to be fully vetted and must be spayed or neutered before being adopted out. But please do not rely on your adoption fees to cover your costs. There are a host of ways to fund-raise to get money coming in regularly to help offset your costs. Do shirt fund raisers with a company like Bonfire which requires no cost output, produces great shirts and helps you brand your organization at the same time. Consider ordering custom vehicle magnets from a company like Magnet America. You can purchase high quality vehicle magnets for a small price and sell them for 5 times what you paid for them while branding your organization. Organize a “no budget” event like a dog walk at a local park and raffle off donated items. Consider doing a cyber auction using a Facebook page or a website like Bidding for Good. You can invite supporters to list items in your auction virtually and then those supporters ship the item to the winning bidder once the auction ends with no cost to you. Those are just some ideas. There is a great book called Funds to the Rescue which may give you some ideas you haven’t thought of before. And when in doubt, network with other rescues you believe do a good job raising money and just ask them how they do it.
Seek out business sponsorships and grants. Another way to keep money coming in regularly is to take advantage of business sponsorships. Simply approach a business you think may be willing to give you a one-time donation each year and ask if they are interested in sponsoring your organization with a tax deductible in exchange for having their name and logo appear on your website. Even businesses which have nothing at all to do with animals appreciate the value of exposure and having positive public opinion about them. If you have ever decided to use a business because you knew it was animal friendly or supported animal causes, you have seen this process in action. Related to businesses, you can also see if you can persuade them to either cover all adoption fees in a particular month or all spay and neuter costs in a particular month. If you can find just one business to do this one time, it will allow you to later challenge another business to do that same. As far as grants go, there are many to be had. I am told that grant writing is a skill and it is not one that I possess. If you have a volunteer who is computer savvy and who likes a challenge, have them do some searing for both national and regional grant opportunities and consider sending the volunteer to a grant writing class. Many large organizations like Petsmart Charities offer grants, but so do local organizations you may never have heard of before. In the city where I work, there is a biomedical business that gives out annual grants and many of them go to animal shelters and rescue groups.
Rethink your adoption fees. I wrote a blog about adoption fees and what they mean in December of 2016 so I won’t restate the whole blog here. Adoption fees should be a way to offset some of your costs, but should not be the only way you cover costs. Please remember that you are in the business of marketing animals to get them into new homes and the focus should be on the placement itself, not the purchase price. If your adoption fees are too high, you price yourself out of the market. I have seen some fees so high that people go to a breeder instead and that’s just a terrible shame. In the process of writing this blog and searching on Petfinder, I found a rescue group close to me which charges an adoption fee of $450 for some dogs and which claims those fees are tax deductible*. I really do wonder how many people will pay that much in my area. Charge some nominal fee if you have to or consider waiving the fee entirely in at least some cases. I encourage waived adoption fees for adoptions of senior pets, adoption of pets to seniors and adoption of pets to veterans. I also encourage to waive the fee for any harder to place animal whether it is a special needs animal or just an animal you have had for a longer period of time that other animals. As I wrote in my prior blog about this, the adoption fee has nothing at all to do with the value of the animal. When you waive that fee, you are saying that the animal’s life is worth more than the fee you would have charged. You absolutely still have to screen adopters. I’m just saying that the fee itself should not be the focus. (*Adoption fees are not tax deductible because the person giving you money is getting something in return. If you have low or waived adoption fees, you can then encourage people to donate toward your organization and those funds would be tax deductible.)
Have a fully functioning website. Social media is a wonderful tool to help place rescue animals. Please just do not make it your only tool. Although most people have computers, laptops, tablets or smart phones, there really are a lot of people out there who "don’t do" social media. Even those who do use social media are not focused on a lot of the content. News feed items come and go and while people may "like" your Facebook page, they are surely not checking it daily. In order to market your animals and reach more people, you need a fully functioning website that looks polished and which contains all the information you want people to know about your organization, your animals, your fund raising, your events, etc. There are a variety of companies you can use to get a domain name and then host your site for very little money. I moved my sites to Weebly a couple of years ago and I recommend it highly. It is easy to create a website quickly with no prior experience and you may very well have a volunteer who can develop and manage your website for you for very little money.
Be visible and not invisible. Your rescue group may be the most important thing in your life, but if people don't know about your group then you are not important to them at all. You may be an island in your community and your region even if you have a fully functioning website and Facebook page. You have to be proactive to get your organization on the public radar. Think in terms of how to set yourself apart from other groups in your area. Brand yourself and the name of your rescue group through t-shirt drives, by selling vehicle magnets and hosting periodic events (even if they are low budget or no budget events). Check with a local billboard company to see if they offer a nonprofit rate particularly on electronic billboards which can be much cheaper than static billboards. Try connecting with movers and shakers within your community - people of influence who run businesses or may have some celebrity status - to see if you can get them on board to support your rescue in some way by attending a function or by doing a PSA for you to appear on television. If there are dozens of rescues in your area you simply have to find a way to make yourself stand out and to do it consistently and in a positive way so that people know your name.
Don’t forget to use the media. One of the areas where I think most rescues miss out is use of the media. If you are having an event, do a press release and send it to local television stations and radio stations. Also consider doing a PSA (public service announcement) about your event or just about your rescue group in general. It is not difficult to create a PSA using a computer and some software and it is not difficult to develop relationships with local TV and radio stations. We see nonprofit advertising on television all the time from The Ad Council and other nonprofit organizations. There is no reason you cannot create a PSA for your group and get it aired; it will not air in prime time when paying ads run but any exposure through television is a plus. The same is true for radio. Some radio stations are owned by large corporations which make it hard to get air time. Most communities, however, have at least one locally owned and managed radio station which will allow you either submit a PSA or which will work with you to record a PSA. Just this month I prepared a television PSA for nonprofit group about an adoption event and I recorded a PSA at a local radio station about a "Chipathon" in which people could get pets microchipped for reduced prices. I don’t have any special skills on this subject beyond what any rescuers have. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities out there by being fearless.
(images, sound file and video clip courtesy of Petfinder, Inc.; Dana Kay Mattox Deutsch; Southern Skies Labrador Rescue & Adoption Inc.; Becky Lyn Tegze, Fun 92.7 and A New Leash on Life, Inc.)
On April 27, 2011, I was getting ready to go to work when our lives changed. Storms had been predicted for that day. We didn't know that they would turn severe and it would happen fast. I stopped getting ready for work, we packed up our valuables into small bags and we hid in an interior room of our house with our leashed dog until the worst passed. I distinctly recall Rich saying to me, very calmly, "stop screaming. You're scaring the dog" as our house lifted up off of the foundation. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. That was to be the first of two waves off tornadoes to pass through our area that day. We were very lucky compared to some. Many lives were lost that day and countless homes were destroyed. The F1 tornado that crossed our property did some roof damage to all of our structures, blew out some windows, threw debris all over and downed countless tall pines and cedars, but we were not hurt. We spent a really busy week of clean-up with no power, getting our news from a local radio station on a windup radio Rich had picked up a few years earlier and using a Coleman stove to cook.
As we listened to radio broadcasts of damage reports, people trying to find family members and the status of places to find gasoline and ice, we also heard countless stories of animals lost and animals found following the storms. As the weeks and months went by, we learned that thousands of animals who would ordinarily not be separated from their families could not be found and were presumed dead or missing. Large numbers of pets ended up being transported out of state and I never quite understood that process well. Surely there was some way to house found animals so that people could reclaim them, right? Wrong. The sad truth is that even under the most ideal of circumstances not related to natural disasters, most pets who are displaced from their homes never get back home. Whether pets go missing as the result of an open door, unlatched gate or natural disaster, the vast majority simply cannot be identified. They cannot talk, most do not wear identification and most are not microchipped.
Which leads to the purpose of this blog.
The first Saturday of April of each year is "Every Day is Tag Day." The third week of every April is "National Pet ID Week." Both of these annual events are used to encourage people to take proactive steps to make sure pets can be identified if they get lost or are stolen. Although a lot of people use collars and tags for this, and there is nothing wrong with that (provided cat collars are the breakaway type for safety purposes), nothing compares to the use of a microchip to make sure your pet can be identified. Chips are manufactured by a number of different companies and are available at a variety of prices depending on where you live and what your veterinarian charges to implant the chip. Some chips are sold with the price of registration included and others require a registration fee in addition to the cost of the chip itself. The chip is about the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique number which is a lot like a barcode. It is implanted under your pet's skin (normally at the base of the neck); in some states this can only be done a veterinarian or pet owner. If your pet ends up at an animal control facility, is found by law enforcement authorities or is taken to a veterinarian by a Good Samaritan, he or she can be scanned and the chip will be tracked back to you, provide you registered the chip and kept your information current.
I do volunteer work for my local animal control officer and some of the tasks I do relate to trying to get pets back home. I register found pets on a wonderful website called Helping Lost Pets, I prepare "Found" posters using that same website and I post about found pets on his Facebook page so the posts can be shared and we can find owners. Most of the dogs picked up have collars but no tags. One cat picked up a few weeks ago had been recently spayed. Surely she had a home. But we just could not find it because she was not chipped. Very seldom is a chip found in one of the dog who ends up in our animal control system. The good news in our area is that we have a great track record of keeping animals alive with the help of volunteers, donors, rescuers and adopters. Such is not the case everywhere. In many areas of our state and across the country, the fact that pets cannot be identified means that they are destroyed.
To honor the animals lost during the April 2011 storms in our state, we our promoting a Chipathon in our area during the month of April. People can make appointments now to have pets microchipped at one of a variety of locations for very low prices. The cheapest chips cost about the same as the price of a large bag of dog food or a couple large containers of cat litter.
My personal hope is that chipping of pets will become the norm and not the exception not only in our area, but across the country. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every lost or stolen dog and cat could be reunited with his or her family? If you love your pets or just value them in some way, please have them microchipped. It could honestly mean the difference between life and death for your pet and is just so easy to do.
There are few things more tragic in our lives than loss of life. Whether we lose parents, siblings or friends, that loss can have a tremendous impact on how we see the world and on how we move forward as we find our “new normal.” For many of us, the loss of a beloved companion animal is no less tragic and in some cases we are affected more profoundly than we are by human losses. We love the people in our lives, but we just don’t spend as much time with them as we do with our pets. When a friend dies, we grieve. When a beloved dog or cat dies, we may be changed as people. This is not to compare the loss of people to the loss of pets. They are just different types of loss and much of that comes from the fact that we spend so much time together. Your dog or cat is there when you wake up and there when you go to sleep. You spend hours feeding them, engaging with them, playing with them and caring for them. You likely take them places and celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. They are there on your worst of days, accepting you just as you are without judgment. Our companion animals become as much a presence in our lives as is breathing. When we lose them, the reminders of that loss cannot be escaped. The places where we live seem extraordinarily quiet without them, even if they did not talk much. The place where their dishes were located or where they beds took up space are constant reminders of someone we love who is no longer there each and every day to comfort us, understand us, make us laugh and make us cry.
Everyone who loves companion animals has suffered loss because there is no escaping it. If you are incredibly lucky, your beloved pet will pass in his or her sleep. If you are not so lucky, you have likely had to make what Marion Hale once called The Terrible Decision to have your pet euthanized to either end or prevent suffering. There are also occasions when animals get loose and are never found again, leaving questions for which there will never be answers. Regardless of how we part ways, our beloved dogs and cats simply do not live as long as we would like. We know that going in and we accept it anyway because the unconditional love they provide us is worth the eventual loss.
Because of our relationships with our pets, and how losing them is so very tragic, I wanted to take an opportunity to let you know about Poison Prevention Awareness Month which is recognized in March of each year. Do you know what substances are toxic to your pet? If your pet was poisoned, do you know what you would do?
There are a host of articles on the Internet on this topic that most of us don’t pay much attention to until we have to. In order to make sure we keep our companion animals as safe as possible, so they can live full and healthy lives, I encourage you to take the time to learn about which items and substances can either make your pets incredibly sick or may end their lives. Our time with them is too short already and we owe it to them to educate ourselves so we don’t inadvertently expose them to something which can hurt them and have them end up paying for our ignorance with their health or their lives.
The graphic shown here is a good start. I hope you’ll save it somewhere so you can refer to it.
I also recommend that you keep the following phone numbers handy in the event of a disaster:
your veterinarian’s office number and emergency contact number (if one is available)
the contact information for the emergency veterinary clinic near you; and
The Pet Poison Helpline
The Pet Poison Helpline is Pet Poison Helpline is a 24-hour animal poison control service available throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance with treating a potentially poisoned pet. They have the ability to help every poisoned pet, with all types of poisonings, 24 hours a day; their knowledge and expertise of pet poisons can put your mind at ease when dealing with a potential emergency. In order to provide this critical service, the Pet Poison Helpline charges a $49 per incident fee (payable by credit card) to cover the initial consultation as well as all follow-up calls associated with the management of the case.
This link also contains information about poisonous plants and may be helpful to you.
I hope you never have to get help for a pet who has been poisoned. If you do, I hope you are prepared with the information you need to be able to act quickly to save the life of someone you love.
(images courtesy of Mary McClure, Vegas Animal 411 and Candace Camp)
The subject of whether or not companion animals go to Heaven is a controversial one. After we let Snake go in 2006, I did a lot of reading on the topic including a wonderful book by M. Jean Holmes called, "Do Dogs Go to Heaven? Eternal Answers for Animal Lovers." It helped.
There was a big hullabaloo in the media a couple of years ago after Pope Francis made some comments about dogs going to Heaven which were initially mistranslated and later clarified. Regardless of what Pope Francis really said or how you interpret it personally, most of us have our own opinions about whether or not animals have souls. (And pretty much every animal lover on the planet got a kick out of a meet and greet Pope Francis had with some service dogs last year which led to some memorable images in which a dog "photo bombed" the Pope.)
There is a new movie coming out called "A Dog's Purpose" which is based on the W. Bruce Cameron book by the same name which tells the story of a dog which is reincarnated many times and "who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love."
I have my own beliefs regarding companion animals which have been forged through time, experience and loss. Whether you agree with me or not is of little consequence. I believe our companion animals do have souls. I believe that when they leave this Earthly place, they move on to another existence, as do people. I believe that some animals come into our lives to teach us lessons and to help us learn how to be better versions of ourselves. They are part of our becoming. I also believe that some of us are animal guardians or paladins and that there are times when animals are put in our path (or we develop some awareness of them) so we can either personally help them get where they are meant to be or to facilitate that process in some way.
So, that is an animal guardian? In my view, these are people who are focused enough on animals to know when they need help, are willing to help those animals in need and who believe that they are used as instruments as part of a bigger plan to help certain animals. If you view yourself as an animal guardian, you may be nodding by now, thinking back to all of the times that an animal crossed your path or entered your life inexplicably, not to become a member of your family, but so that you could be used as an instrument to help that animal. Most people in animal rescue are eternal guardians and may feel like animal magnets. Something that happened to a friend recently served to reinforce my belief about her status as an animal guardian and I thought it worth sharing her story.
Shelley was staying at a the Harrah’s in Reno for the holidays over the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day weekend. She and her family had taken the train to Reno with her mom for a holiday trip in 2015 and they decided to go for a memorial trip in 2016 after her mom passed away. It was a way to honor her mom and get through that first holiday season without her. It was cold. Seventeen degrees to be exact. Shelley and her family were coming back from dinner on Christmas Eve when they saw a young cat run around the long entry to the hotel, crying. The cat was obviously trying to get someone’s attention. Shelley and some others did their best to get the cat, feeding it chicken at one point to distract it. They had no luck at all. Shelley stayed up most of the night revisiting the entrance trying to get the cat but with all of the foot traffic, it was impossible. When she got up at 4:00 on Christmas morning, the cat was nowhere to be found. They were scheduled to leave Reno at 8:00 a.m. Shelley called a local rescue group and left a voice mail to explain the situation and to ask them for help, only to get a text later that day saying there was nothing they could do and to contact animal control. Shelly was despondent, later telling me, "you know what it’s like, one of those situations that you cannot help, and that will haunt you forever."
But all was not lost. Shelley told me about her "Harrah’s kitty." Reno? I have contacts there. I checked in with Diane Blankenburg of Humane Network whom I know from my no kill advocacy. Diane was the Community Programs and Development Director of Nevada Humane Society in Reno for years up until 2013. I was sure there was something which could be done. I asked Diane if there wasn’t some way that the NHS could help refer Shelley to a local organization which does TNR (trap, neuter, return) in the city. (Much like other "entertainment" cities like Las Vegas, Reno has a large population of free roaming cats who live in certain areas due to the resources they find there.) Diane said she was sure NHS still had a TNR program. She connected with Denise Stevens, the Chief Operating Officer at NHS to explain about the cat. Denise was gracious enough to contact Harrah’s security staff about the cat and was told that the talkative little cat had been taken to Washoe County Animal Services (which shares a building with NHS). The Harrah’s cat was safe. He was transferred to NHS from animal control and was temporarily named "Feral Tune" due to his propensity to talk. We’re waiting on an update now about his condition.
Looking at what happened over a period of days, the outcome was surely improbable. What are the odds that a single cat seen at a very busy hotel in a very busy city would be helped over a holiday weekend? Surely lots of other people saw and heard the cat. Shelley was worried for days, not knowing the outcome and fearing the worst. She felt responsible in some way. But she also underestimated her role as an animal guardian. This is not the first time an animal in need found Shelley and it won’t be the last.
I have no doubt that Shelley saw Feral Tune so she would seek help and set a series of events in motion which would ultimately confirm the lost cat was safe. California + Nevada + Alabama = a saved cat. As it was surely meant to be.
NOTE: If you think you are an animal guardian, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to educate yourself about some basic issues regarding companion animals and to connect with local animal shelters and rescue groups so that you have a plan in place in the event that an animal in need finds you. Be prepared for your next guardian encounter and be prepared to see the situation through to the point where the animal is placed in a new home or with a reputable organization. In short, be prepared to "own" your guardian status. It is not enough to by sympathetic to animals in need; you have to be prepared to actually help them in a direct and meaningful way to the extent you can.
Please also do not assume that any animal you help is unwanted or was abandoned. Pets go missing very day for a host of reasons and not all of them relate to someone's irresponsibility. If you find a lost animal, report that fact to your local animal control personnel and list the pet on Helping Lost Pets. Every municipality has a "property hold period" so people can reclaim a lost pet. The best outcome for most lost pets is simply to get back home where they belong with people who care about them.
(image of Tashi courtesy of Becky Lynn Tegze; image of Feral Tune courtesy of the Nevada Humane Society)
It happens every day. Pets get lost or go missing, people frantically try to find them and in some cases, they never do. As the go-to animal person at my office, I hear about this regularly. The family cat who was scared by fireworks on New Year’s Eve and bolted through an open door. The newly adopted rescue dog who was let outside to relieve herself and ran because she was scared by a car. Maybe the worst one I heard at work was about an elderly dog with limited vision who slipped out a door when some contractors were doing renovation work. The family felt she could not have gone far and did all the right things: searched the neighborhood, knocked on doors, put up flyers, put a “lost” ad in the local paper, put food and her bedding outside. They even went to the municipal animal shelter with photos in hand to look for her, only to be told, “sorry, your dog is not here.” They searched and knocked on doors for days. After almost a week of anguish, the family went back to the shelter one more time on a hunch, only to discover their beloved dog had been there for a week and was scheduled to be euthanized the next day. This family was both lucky and incredibly relieved. Some are not so lucky.
I know that animals end up in shelters for a host of reasons and that some of those reasons have to do with public irresponsibility. But not every animal in a shelter is there because of someone’s fault. We do better at a society to treat each and every shelter animal as someone’s beloved pet who is lost than to presume that “the irresponsible public” does not care enough to keep them safe. Gates get left open by children, contractors pay more attention to ladders and tools than to cats and animals are displaced due to traffic accidents and bad weather. Life happens. It is a reality of our animal sheltering system that healthy and treatable animals are destroyed every day and in most cases these are simply lost pets who could not be identified in order to be reunited with their families. It is a national tragedy.
I’m a huge proponent of microchipping all pets whether they live inside of not. You simply must prepare for the possibility that they may end up outside and while collars and tags are also advised (with breakaway collars for cats for safety purposes), nothing can really take the place of what amounts to a barcode for your companion animal to help them be identified if they get lost and end up in a shelter, with a rescue group or at a veterinary office. Most microchips cost very little, including lifetime registration, and really can make the difference in ensuring your pet can be identified if he or she is lost (or even if they are stolen).
If you do a simple search on social media using the words “lost found pet” you will come up with a variety of groups and pages all trying to help people find lost pets or trying to reunite found pets with the families searching for them. As valuable as these pages may be, they all have one thing in common. They are geography specific. Just because your dog goes missing from your home in X city doesn’t mean he or she will stay in that city. He may very well end up in Y county for whatever reason and you may never know that. Animals don’t know geographic boundaries and the reality is that once your dog or cat is outside of your control, you really never know how far they will travel either on foot, in the back of a truck bed or in a vehicle or even taken an unknown distance by a good Samaritan who is simply trying to help them.
All this leads to an announcement about a wonderful new tool in our animal lover’s toolbox I learned about recently: a website called Helping Lost Pets (HeLP). The website has been active since 2010 and is used across Canada and the United States. The site is the brainchild of Rob Goddard of Goddard Information Systems Limited and is currently funded by his company (with hopes to be funded by sponsors and advertising at some point). I learned about Helping Lost Pets just recently and I’ve been telling everyone I know about it because it’s just such an incredible tool.
The concept is simple: the website is a map-based site and is free to use for shelters and animal owners alike. If you run a shelter or animal control department and you pick up animals running at large or found animals reported to you, you enter them on the site with an image and some basics about where they were found. This allows pet owners to look for their lost pets. If you are an animal caregiver and your pet goes missing, you enter them on the site with an image and some basics about where they belong. This allows animal control personnel and social media platforms to help reunite lost pets with their families. Helping Lost Pets describes the website this way:
HelpingLostPets.com (HeLP) is a FREE nationwide database for lost and found pets that connects shelters, veterinary clinics, rescue groups, the public, and volunteer groups across the nation to effectively reunite lost pets with their owners. What makes HeLP unique is it is mapbased and fully searchable by breed, location, size, color, gender, and other identifiable information, making it easy to match lost and found pet listings. To ensure our listings stay current, our system automatically contacts owners/finders for status updates at defined intervals. This allows our system to remain uptodate and display only pets that are still missing and truly need our help getting home. We have found that flyers are one of the most effective ways to reunite a lost pet. When someone list a pet, free flyers are instantly generated to provide an effective tool in getting a pet home.
What makes the website even more powerful is the many volunteer groups across the country that also use the website to help pets get back home. Lost Dogs of America is their largest partner with chapters in over 30 states now.
If you manage or are affiliated with an animal control agency, rescue group or veterinary office which often takes in lost pets, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to learn about this wonderful resource. If you are a pet owner, I encourage you to take all the normal steps to find your pet: talking to your neighbors, putting up flyers, putting an ad in a local paper, posting on social media, putting food and bedding outside, etc.
Having a pet go missing to never be found again can be a life-altering experience for you and can be a life-ending experience for your pet. Please use HeLP. It’s quick, it’s free and you just never know when using that one extra tool in the toolbox will help you be reunited with your beloved companion.
Lost Dog Recovery Tips:
Lost Cat Recovery Tips:
I am considered the resident "animal person" where I work. I am known to be outspoken in my advocacy and that means people come to me for advice on a host of issues like re-homing a pet due to a death in the family, finding a lost pet, where to get the best prices for spay and neuter, which local rescue groups are the best, "what do we do about the bat hanging on the outside of the building," etc. I'm no expert on any of these topics, but I do try to steer people in the right direction while perhaps teaching them something in the process. I had an inquiry from a co-worker recently about getting a new-to-him dog in the wake of the passing of a beloved dog. My response was immediate: get a senior.
Our attachments to animals are emotional and involve chemistry, so a lot of people gravitate to animals based on appearance or based on assumptions about future behavior. The reality of our culture is that people often get pets from breeders, stores or websites because they equate cost with value or worth and they believe animals from sources other than shelters and rescues are somehow superior. The flip side of that negative bias is that people assume that since animals die in shelters in all but our most progressive communities, they must somehow be damaged or broken. Neither or those assumptions is true. Animals in shelters are there due to no fault of their own and many may very well have been someone's beloved pet. When it comes to animals adopted from shelters, our other reality is that people tend to gravitate toward younger, cuter animals while overlooking animals who are older.
In honor of Adopt a Senior Pet Month, here's my pitch for why you should adopt a senior animal. My personal hope is that some day after I retire, I'll adopt only senior pets and work to give them the best years of their lives. They deserve nothing less.
What You See is What You Get. All puppies are cute, but it can often be difficult to tell how large they will grow and what kind of personalities they will have as adults. The same is true for kittens. When you adopt a senior pet, you know exactly what you are getting in terms of size, color and general physical condition. Some senior pets require a period of time to decompress from the circumstances which led them to you, but good shelters and rescues can tell you a lot about the animal's behavior and temperament so you know more about what to expect. Many animals adopted from rescue groups have been in foster homes so the group can tell you a lot about their personalities. The vast majority of animals adopted from shelters and rescues are also fully vetted so you know about their health and they come to you spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.
Seniors are more mellow and predictable. As cute as a puppy may be, the reality is that they take a lot of work. They need structure and boundaries. We are responsible not only for teaching them our language, but learning how to understand the body language they use to communicate with us. Puppies can be destructive when bored and can be mouthy when playing. Even young cats can have a destructive side and can keep you up at night with nocturnal play. A senior dog or cat has been there done that and is simply going to be a more mellow addition to your household. Many senior animals have spent years living with a family and are socialized to people. Senior dogs may know basic commands and may very well be house trained. Even if an older dog is not house trained, many are very easily trained in a short period of time. All dogs and cats need exercise and mental stimulation but your senior pet just needs less to keep him or her entertained. Most senior pets don't require the same level of monitoring or training that younger animals require so they're a good choice for busy families with young children, for older people or for people with disabilities.
Older Dogs (and Cats) Can Learn New Tricks. Training a puppy or a young dog can take a lot of time, effort and repetition. You have to be consistent and help the dog learn what behaviors are expected and which are not appropriate. This includes involving all members of your family, including your children. Adult dogs and cats are simply more focused and learn fast. If your senior dog needs to learn about how to function in your family, you can enroll him or her in an obedience class or consult with a behaviorist so you can learn how to read your dogs' behavior and how you can be a good pack leader. Although people perceive that cats cannot be trained due to their independent nature, most can be trained to follow basic instructions.
You Still Have Plenty of Time With Them. Whether or not a dog is a senior is based on breed and size. In general, the larger the breed or size of the dog, the shorter the life span. Many large breeds are considered "senior" by the age of 6. Many smaller breeds are considered senior by the age of 10. Most cats are considered senior between the ages of 7 and 10. Regardless of the age of the senior, older pets still have plenty of great years left. If you get a medium sized dog who is 6 years old, he or she may have 10 good years left. If you get an 7 year old cat, he or she may have more than 10 years with you. You can talk to your veterinarian about ways to keep your senior dog or cat happy and healthy for many years after your lives together begin.
Older Pets are Great for Seniors. A lot of older people don't get new pets because they worry about their ability to care for them for the entire life span of the pet. A dog or cat can live from 10 years to 20 years and some older people are worried that their pets may outlive them. When seniors adopt seniors, it can be a perfect fit. The older person gets an animal who is more mellow and who is more content to just spend time together and the animal gets a new life in a more mellow household where companionship is the focus of the relationship. Many animal shelters have Seniors for Seniors Programs in which adoption fees are either waived or greatly reduced and with programs in place to re-home an adopted pet if something happens to their adoptive family.
Be a Hero, Save a Life. Older dogs and cats are often overlooked in shelters and end up being destroyed in all but the most progressive communities even though they are perfectly healthy. When you adopt a senior animal, you are quite literally saving that animal's life. If you have ever loved a animal into their old age, think about what a tragedy it would have been if that animal had never been given an opportunity to live out their last years in comfort. Although you may have fewer years together than with a puppy or kitten, your rescued senior may enhance your life in ways you never imagined. The health benefits of pets is well documented - they lower our blood pressure, reduce our stress levels and provide us with unconditional love that we rarely provide each other as humans. Older pets somehow just seem to know that you have done a good thing to help them and you may find yourself bonding with a senior much faster than you would with a younger animal.
(images courtesy of Dana Kay Mattox Deutsch)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson