Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Greetings and Reflections

To our wonderful AARF family,


As the end of 2008 nears, I am reflecting on what a wonderful, difficult, tumultuous and amazing year we have had. The year has been filled with the some of the highest and lowest points we have had since our beginning in 2002. But in this holiday season, I am filled with gratitude and peace as I look back on this past year.


First, I want to thank our AARF team. We have undeniably the hardest working program board in town. These people are my colleagues and friends, and I have the greatest respect for them. You can never know just how hard they work, how many hours they dedicate to saving the lives of pets in Atlanta, how many tears they cry and how often they rejoice at a job well done. And as many of you may not realize, they don't get paid. In this tough economy, many of them have had to increase the time at their "real" jobs to make ends meet, yet they still make so much time for AARF. They dedicate themselves because they care so deeply, and know that their efforts are making a difference in the lives of so many dogs and cats. I cannot thank them enough, or tell them often enough how very important their work is. If you feel so persuaded, send one of them a note of thanks for a job well done. Our 2008 team: Brooke Martin, India Powell, Carrieann Banacki-Gillert, Melanie Wiggins, Renee Malinowski, Stephanie Manley, Julie Lewis, Carroll Ball, Gayle Schleuter and Erica Cottrill. I also want to thank our AARF members who worked with us for several years, but 2008 led them on to other endeavors. I thank them for their time and service and for jobs well done: Gwen Sparling and Amy Anderson. Last, but certainly not least, I want to say thank you to our fosters. They are the foundation of our adoption and Silver Paws programs.


We have struggled through this difficult financial time. At times during 2008, I feared that the end of AARF was near. We had to make difficult decisions, just to keep the doors open, both metaphorically and literally. During the summer of 2008, we decided to freeze our animal intake in hopes of catching up financially. Our expenses for the first half of 2008 had been almost double our income, and we were watching other rescue groups collapse under the stress of the economy. I continued to look at every email from shelter managers that came to me, with the faces of those dogs and cats that I knew we could not help. But those faces kept me motivated and inspired for AARF to survive. I knew our work had only begun, and our goal for long-term change was still possible, even in the midst of difficult times.


As many of you know, we had planned by this time to have our own facility and a paid staff -- a place to call our own. But as with many others during this time, our plans have not come to fruition. They are not halted, only delayed, and we will continue to push on in 2009. We know that our foundation is strong, and that we have not compromised our mission or our principles in the face of adversity, and that consistency will ultimately lead us where we want to go. I am excited and anxious to see what new developments 2009 will bring.


I have to end my reflections with extreme gratitude for you, our supporters. Each one of you means so much to me, and I am thankful every day that you are on this journey with us. It is because of you that AARF has survived, and grown in many ways, in 2008. Every time a dog or cat needs your help for surgery or heartworm treatment, you are there. Every time AARF has an adoption day, an event or a fundraiser, you are there. Every time we ask, you give. You help us save pets from euthanasia, help us subsidize spay/neuter surgeries, help us teach children about compassion toward animals, and help us create love matches between mature pets and mature adults.


You, our extended family of supporters, are my heroes. I wish for you this holiday season wonderful surprises and blessings. And as we enter 2009 together, I hope for a joyous year for you, for us, for AARF, and for every pet in Atlanta.


Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are helping to create a world where every pet matters.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On Christmas Morning...

On Christmas Morning...

I wish,

For every dog
searching trash cans for breakfast,
a filled bowl with his name printed in bright letters

For every dog
who slept last night chained in a frozen yard,
a soft, warm bed
with a person snoring gently nearby

For every shelter dog,
spending Christmas morning in a run,
a forever home,
filled with sounds and smells of family

For every "Christmas" puppy
given this year,
a tolerant, caring owner
who won't abandon you
as you grow into a real dog

For every ailing pet,
enough money for your owner
to pay the bills to make you well

For every lost dog,
a clear, safe and well marked path,
to lead them home

For every old and tired friend,
a warm fire, and a soft bed,
to ease your aches and pains


and

For every precious Dog who crossed the Rainbow Bridge,
a moment when you know that you are remembered today,
missed again, and loved forever

Author unknown

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Emotional Connection

Since the beginning of civilization, we humans have considered ourselves the caretakers of all animals. But we are not simply farmers who take care of our livestock for our own food production or herders who tend to our horses for our own utilitarian purposes. Our role as caretaker goes much deeper. As we dare to accept that animals are more than automatons of Descartes, that they are able to think, that they have emotions, we realize that we have another level of commitment and responsibility to them: to respect and care for them as living beings with internal lives, not just as creatures with physical bodies. It is absolutely imperative that we all share this luscious planet Earth with each of its inhabitants--two-legged, four-legged, finned, winged, scaled--in a respectful and thoughtful way. -- Allen Schoen, DVM, MS, Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live

This week, CNN published a story on research that shows that dogs have, and can demonstrate, emotions recently thought only to exist among humans and chimpanzees. Dogs in their study undeniably responded to situations with complex emotions. Their behaviors were not simply instinct, but clear demonstrations of affection, pride and jealousy, among others.

We receive untold numbers of emails and phone calls every week of people wanting to give up their pets for a whole host of reasons. Some of the most aggravating for me are the ones that start with "I just can't give him/her enough attention, and I want him/her to be happy." I honestly don't understand that statement in most scenarios. Unless something in life has drastically changed, this is not a true statement. What these people need to say, if they want to be honest, is "I am not giving my pet any attention, and I don't really want to. And as a result, he/she is probably lonely, hurt and depressed, and has started to act out behaviors to get my attention. I don't really care if my pet is happy. I just want someone else to take over this responsibility."

It's clear from these emails and phone calls we get that what Dr. Schoen says above is absolutely true. While providing fresh water, good quality food and a safe space is absolutely critical to the welfare of a pet, it's simply not enough. Pay attention to your dog or cat today. Give 5 minutes of extra attention (petting, brushing, a brisk walk around the neighborhood) and see what response you get. I am going to bet everything that you'll see those honest and real emotional responses from your pet. N0w, remember those responses when you fight with someone else in your home, when you ignore your pet because your favorite TV show is on, or when your day was so bad that you don't care if your pet's day is bad too. As happy as your pet is today with your extra, undivided attention is the just how sad, hurt and confused your pet will be when you create a negative environment.

We have a responsibility to create a world where every pet matters, and that includes a world beyond simple maintenance. Do something to make your pets happy today. I guarantee it's their turn.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rescuing Humans

I rescued a human today.

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her. I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid. As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage. I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.

As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life. She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me. I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.

Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I would promise to keep her safe. I would promise to always be by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes. I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors. So many more to be saved. At least I could save one.

This story is circulating through the animal welfare cross-post lists right now. I usually find most of these kinds of posts sappy and sentimental, and not at all grounded in the reality of the problems we are struggling against. But this one struck me, primarily in light of the book I am currently reading: Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live (by Allen M. Schoen).

We focus so much on our saving them. But in so many ways, they save us, too. There is no doubt that studies have proven that having a pet has both physical and psychological benefits. Dr. Schoen (a veterinarian) recounts numerous studies showing that pets can lower blood pressure, ease depression, and encourage exercise, and the list goes on. But I think there is something even more elementary, more primal in our mutual saving. That feeling of connection to another living being goes beyond what science can explain. That bond lives where all of those immeasurable things live - love, compassion, grief, tolerance, and patience. And animals have a way of gently teaching us all of those, often even without our knowledge.

I often hear people joke about not trusting someone who doesn't like pets. I don't think it's a joke. I don't trust someone who is so disconnected from this world that we live in that they feel no connection, compassion or responsibility for the living beings around them. They need saving. Perhaps a trip down one of those shelter corridors in the story above might be the way. If you ever feel lost and disconnected, visit your county shelter. You will not, should not, be able to leave unchanged.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Numbers Game

Do you know how many pets are killed in the Atlanta metro area? In your county shelter? In the US as a whole?

One of the biggest problems we struggle with is a lack of awareness of the problem. I don't blame people for not knowing. We in the animal welfare community have not done a great job exposing the problem. We try not to overwhelm our supporters with sad stories, graphic pictures or overwhelming numbers. But the truth is, simply, that there are too many sad stories, graphic pictures and overwhelming numbers. And my goal is that everyone who reads this post can no longer not know, and can no longer not act.

I'll save the sad stories and graphic pictures for another day, but let's talk about the numbers. In July of this year, Animal People magazine released national statistics. (Click this link and go to page 8 to see the full set of statistics.) There are a lot of numbers, but I'll highlight some of the most important, and disturbing, numbers that we all need to know.
  • The South Atlantic states (of which we are a part) euthanizes roughly 25% of all pets euthanized in the country. This is NOT in proportion to our population, at all.
  • Euthanasia statistics for 2007 went UP nationally. And based on feedback from our area shelters, we can expect this number to go up again in 2008 as a result of the failing economy.
  • U.S. shelters killed 2.3 million cats & 1.9 million dogs in 2007. Nearly half of the dogs were pit bulls.
  • The Atlanta metro area euthanizes approximately 16.9 pets per thousand people. In comparison, Chicago is 6.7, Los Angeles is 3.7 and New York City is 2.0.
  • We kill over 5 times as many pets in a year as New York City, which is almost double the size of Atlanta.
  • Pit bulls account for roughly 25% of dogs in shelters, almost half of the dogs euthanized in shelters, but are only 5% of the total dog population in the US.
So, now you know. And hopefully you cannot ever forgot. And I hope you will join us in our mission to end the problem of pet overpopulation. The numbers are staggering, I know. But the solution is clear: humane education, spay/neuter programs and rescue/adoption will move us closer to our goal where not one more pet is killed because there is no place to call home.

Join us.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The AARF Dream Team

Many of you who read this post may have never met me personally. And you may have not yet met any of the AARF program team. I want you to know how hard they work and how much I appreciate them.

Most animal welfare organizations that run as many programs as AARF does have a paid staff of at least 5-10 people, often more. Do you know how many paid employees AARF has - none! The folks who run our programs are all volunteers, although much of what we do could count as a full-time second job. Our folks donate so much of their time, energy and their own money to make our programs so successful, and I am grateful every day for the amazing team of folks we have.

Many of you also know that a few years ago, we started planning to have our own facility and to be able to finally pay our program directors. As this economy has put many of your own plans on hold, it has had the same effect on AARF, and we have had to delay our push to open our own place. But, we have continued to expand our programs, especially our education and spay/neuter programs. Because of financial constraints, we had to freeze our adoption program for 3 months, but that is also now back up and running strong. And all of our work has continued to be done by our very dedicated unpaid staff, fosters and volunteers.

I hope that anyone reading this will take a moment to send a card or email of appreciation to one of our AARF folks. They do what they do because of love and commitment to animals, but a little pat on the back always helps!

And --- if you want to get involved, we are always looking for more great people to join us!

Contact information:

India Powell - VP of Communications (india@aarfatlanta.org)
Carrieann Banacki-Gillert - Director of Humane Education (carrieann@aarfatlanta.org)
Erica Cottrill - Director of Marking and Client Services (erica@aarfatlanta.org)
Renee Malinowski - VP of Animal Services (renee@aarfatlanta.org)
Stephanie Manley - Director of Foster Services (stephanie@aarfatlanta.org)
Carroll Ball - Coordinator of the Silver Paws Program (carroll@silverpawsprogram.org)
Brooke Martin - VP of Operations (brooke@aarfatlanta.org)
Julie Lewis - VP of Policies and Procedures (julie@aarfatlanta.org)
Gayle Schlueter - Grants Coodinator (gayle@aarfatlanta.org)
Melanie Wiggins - VP of Volunteer Services and Director of Casper's Fund (melanie@aarfatlanta.org)

Friday, October 17, 2008

More Unconditional Love and Acceptance

We have much to learn from our animal friends....


video

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Picture of Love and Acceptance


I often wonder if we have to learn compassion, or if we are born with it. When I look to examples from our living friends, I think I have come to believe that we are all born with an innate capacity for compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love. Yet, by a very early age, most of us are conditioned to ignore and suppress these admirable traits. We learn that those that are not like us are not as important. And we definitely learn that our non-human relatives are "just animals" - disposable, unfeeling, unaware beings.

We at AARF receive approximately 100 emails and phone calls a week from people wanting to give up their pets (some even want to "donate" them to us). They all have reasons that they think are logical, but most are based on the premise that animals have no consciousness or experience no feelings of loss, connection or grief. For most people, their pets are disposable. For example, we recently received this email:

"I have a newborn baby and have to find a new home for my indoor dogs. ASAP before my wife takes them to the pound where they will probably be put to sleep."

What better way to teach your new child compassion than to teach him to love, care for and respect other living creatures? What exactly will children be taught when the responsibility of caring for a pet becomes too much trouble? The lessons that I think most children will learn are 1) animals are disposable, 2) animals have no feelings that we need to consider, 3) taking responsibility for other living creatures is optional. These are the lessons that teach children to "unlearn" the inherent compassion that we are all born with.

We often consider ourselves as humans as the most evolved species on the planet. Yet no other animal kills other animals for convenience or expediency. No other species exploits hundreds of other species for their own benefit, with often little regard for providing a mutual benefit. And no other species teaches its young that other living things are disposable.

The picture above is of a chimp named Anjana who lives at The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species in South Carolina. Anjana has helped to raise several orphaned lion and tiger cubs, including currently caring for two white tiger cubs rejected by their mother. This picture, more than any I have seen in a long time, exemplifies the unconditional compassion that I think we are all born with, that we all still possess. This picture touches me in a primitive way, in that part of me that knows we are all connected. And in a way that reminds me that as the most destructive and exploitative species on the planet, we have caused so much pain and suffering to our cohabitants, if only through our non-action.

What I wish for everyone that reads this blog entry is that you feel a pang of compassion reminiscent of a child's, before the unlearning process began. And that you feel a tug of responsibility that comes only from knowing that you have no other choice but to act. We need all of you. They need us.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

October is Adopt A Dog Month

October is national "Adopt A Dog Month." Why do we need a special adoption month for dogs (and for cats, in June)? Why do we, as a society, ever designate special months or days? I think simply it because we tend to forget or ignore those groups/people/pets on the rest of the days and months. So, we set aside a special time to highlight and remember, in hopes that we won't forget. "Adopt A Dog Month" is not just about adopting a dog in October, but about remembering adoption for the other 11 months of the year. It gives those of us as an animal welfare community a chance to collectively promote adoption together for a solid month, in hopes that the message will sink in, ESPECIALLY as we get close to the holidays. We all know the mythology of the puppy or kitten in the basket under the tree (which is bad for a lot of reasons - click here to find out why). But I hope that in some way, a month of focusing on adoption will mean that fewer of those living presents will be bought from back yard breeders and puppy mills.

We at AARF are celebrating "Adopt A Dog Month" by giving away a weekend stay at a Savannah B&B. We want people do adopt for the love of the dog. But if the chance at a weekend getaway encourages more people to at least consider the idea of adopting rather than buying, then it becomes effective marketing. The breeders and pet shops market, why shouldn't we? We need to be creative about how we make people aware of the wonderful possibilities of rescuing, fostering and adopting.

So, if you are thinking about adopting, now is the time. You might even win a chance to get away for the weekend. If AARF doesn't have the dog you are looking for, don't stop looking. On any given day, there are AT LEAST 2000 dogs in the metro Atlanta area looking for a home.

Visit the AARF site first. Then, visit the Not One More site. Then the Atlanta Pets site (run by Lifeline Animal Project). Then Petfinder. Your new dog is out there, waiting for you. Let's make October 2008 the best "Adopt A Dog Month" that the homeless dogs of Atlanta have ever seen.

If you do adopt, send me an update. On November 1, I'll list every single adoption that you send me, and we'll see what a difference we can make together.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Compassion Fatigue

I am fatigued this morning - not frustrated, disheartened or cynical, but fatigued. I am feeling that cyclical syndrome of compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue? The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project says:

Studies confirm that caregivers play host to a high level of compassion fatigue. Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in care giving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society's flagrant disregard for the safety and well being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers.

All of us in the animal welfare community, including program directors, volunteers and donors, experience this fatigue at some point. We question if what we do really matters. We wonder if we are really making a difference. And we feel like long-term change is all but impossible. It's not that we experience this fatigue that defines us, but how we respond to it.

All too often, I see people eliminate fatigue by eliminating the connection to the cause. Simply - they just walk away. They don't do any prevention or intervention steps. Instead, they just "take it" until they can't take it anymore. The animals lose an advocate, the organization loses a valued member, and the person loses a sense of connection to a greater purpose. Everyone loses when this is the response.

For all of you in the animal welfare movement, at all levels of engagement, I encourage you to take steps to feel less fatigued. We are experiencing an overwhelmingly devastating time in animal welfare - hundreds of pets are losing their homes as a result of the financial crisis. Families who love their pets dearly are faced with excruciating economic choices, and often the pets are the first expense to be eliminated. And sadly, many irresponsible pet owners seem to be using the economic crisis as a reason to dump their responsibilities on someone else. In the midst of declining donations and skyrocketing costs, animal welfare organizations are struggling just to keep the doors open at a time when the pets need us most. And many donors are struggling with how to keep up support when their own financial situations are tough. We are all tired.

But being tired doesn't have to mean being done. We all need to learn, remember and practice the 8 laws of healthy caregiving that the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project suggests:

The Eight Laws Governing Healthy Caregiving:

#1 Sustain Your Compassion
#2 Retain Healthy Skepticism
#3 Learn to Let Go
#4 Remain Optimistic
#5 Be the Solution
#6 Embrace Discernment
#7 Practice Sustainable Self Care
#8 Acknowledge Your Successes

Let's end with #8:

This is Rueben. Reuben was an AARF dog in 2006 (he was named Max when he was with us). He had been neglected by his owners, and was in awful shape. He was living on a 2 foot chain connected to a fence, and was fed regularly by an AARF volunteer. Eventually, she convinced the owners to "sell" Max to her for $50. He then spent the next several weeks undergoing heartworm treatment and learning to trust people and other dogs, as he had no reason to trust either until then.

Here's what his new mom has to say: His name, now Rueben, has been quite the lover in our family! He also has his own Dogbook page on Facebook. He graduated last year from his beginners and intermediate levels of obedience training and is amazing and super smart! He loves to be around people and loves pets, belly rubs, and a good walk. His favorite spots are the Silver Comet Trail, Chatahoochee Park, and there is a Polo Horse Park near our house where he goes and runs with all the horses. Although he doesn't smell too good when he comes home. I wanted to attach a picture of him from his birthday (Adoption Day Oct. 27th, 2008) to share with all your staff as he is an awesome advocate of AARF and we love what you do with other pets!

I encourage all of you to try steps 1-8 this week. You are engaged, if only because you are reading this blog. We need all of you to stay engaged. We need all of you to make a change. They, the dogs and cats we want so desperately to save, need us all. And they need us refreshed. Rest, and recover from fatigue this week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Commitment and Inconvenience

One of our dogs got out of our fence at 6:00 this morning. Luckily, I was standing at the door to the backyard and heard her escape. (It was too dark to SEE her escape.) I grabbed a leash and immediately ran out the front door. My first impulse was to run after her, screaming. In most times of panic and crisis, our first instincts are the exact wrong thing to do. Even though she has not been trained consistently enough to have a good instinct to "come," I have been trained well enough lately to resist the urge to run through the neighborhood, chasing her and screaming like a crazy woman. I did all of the things that I have learned in our recent training seminars - AND THEY WORKED!

I can't tell you how often I hear excuses from people about why they can't train their dogs. Most who think off training want to send their dog off to "boot camp" for a few weeks, and let someone else do all of the work. (Read this article about why dog "boot camps" don't work.) And 90% of the time, dogs end up in shelters or rescue groups, abandoned on the streets, or euthanized, as a result of very trainable, treatable behaviors. These same people who didn't have enough time or energy to train their dogs get so angry at us when we won't take over the responsibility for the problems they failed to address in the first place. If my dog this morning had been permanently lost, had been injured or had been hit by a car, it would have been my fault, not hers, for not making the commitment to her training. If I had taken the time to perfect the "come" command BEFORE the crisis occurred, the whole experience might have been quicker and less scary for me (of course, she wasn't scared - she was having fun).

Having a pet requires a commitment. Pets are not really active toys or animated stuffed animals. We can't just fill up the food and water bowls and throw a few toys out, and expect that our dog will just "get it" and turn into that vision of a perfect family dog that we imagine in our heads. We can't just put a scratching pad on the floor and a litter box in the bathroom and expect to have a cat who immediately "knows" the rules of the house. When we adopt a dog or cat, we aren't just making a commitment to a certain amount of time, but we are promising that dog or cat, and ourselves, to provide the best possible life for our new companion, and that includes training, even when it's inconvenient. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT'S INCONVENIENT.

For training resources, visit:

AARF's Polite Pups Seminars
Association of Pet Dog Trainers
K9U Training and Behavior Modification
Paws-A-Tive Results Dog Training

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Good Days for Six AARF Pets!



It's been a few good days for some of the AARF pets! We have added three new kittens - Natalie, Norah and Chloe. This is a picture of Chloe, looking glamorous. I think there is nothing like the antics of a young kitten to make you smile and just feel good about life. I never, for one second, forget the enormity of the problem we are facing. But when I see the absolute joy that these kittens have for life, I am reminded why it is we do what we do. These little lives are so precious, and we do make a difference. We all make a difference, in whatever ways we are involved.

We also had a few adoptions this weekend. Our sweet Lily, who has been through so much since she joined AARF, finally found her forever home. From what we hear, she has already settled in as the center of attention with her new mom and dad. And two cats have moved in with their new families. Jane has joined a family with her new people and some kitty siblings. Her new home planned on spending the first night with Jane in the guest room, just to help her settle in. And Mr. Buddy, who has been waiting for almost 9 months for a new home, has joined the family of a previous AARF cat, Pearl. We hope that Pearl and Buddy hit it off - we love multiple AARFers!

Despite the frustration that often comes with all of the bad news and obstacles, we have small victories along the way. Chloe, Norah, Natalie, Lily, Jane and Buddy are six of the those victories.

Monday, September 8, 2008

creating a world where every pet matters

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we will never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth. -- Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928

I just finished reading a book about the connections among animal abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and humane education. The author, Frank Ascione, uses the quote from Beston above to introduce the emotional connections between children and animals before launching into the multitude of studies that explore these interconnected links of violence.

I finished this book on a weekend full of events and stories that reinforce Beston's claim of our errors in our perceptions of animals. Many of you are aware of, and are actively voicing your opinions about, the political tug-of-war regarding the veterinary contract at DeKalb County Animal Services. For some involved in the decision-making process, the animals are nothing but a footnote in the negotiations. Their care and well-being are of little concern when profit and convenience are considered. Others in the process, especially the DeKalb County Commissioners, are trying to put the animals in the shelter first, and are facing staunch resistance from those that fall into the errors that Benton talks about. As we struggle to create a world where every pet matters, including those homeless pets in the shelters, we must ask that our leaders lead the way rather than simply drag them along, literally and figuratively kicking and screaming. We teach our children to be kind to animals. Why don't we expect, even demand, at least as much from those we choose to lead us.?

I am also struck by the multiple news reports and articles touting Sarah Palin's love of hunting, and her great prowess at the sport.
My comments aren't an endorsement or critique of any particular candidate, but rather, a critique of our fascination with the art of killing. Regardless of our politics, party affiliation or candidate of choice, I think we, as a community of animal advocates, need to be concerned that we live in a society where expertise at killing animals is considered a qualification to lead our country. Now, I am not saying that hunting is and of itself is morally wrong. Many hunters actually eat what they kill, and have respect the animals and the environment in process. But I am so troubled by a media frenzy over Palin's hunting ability, implying that somehow her ability to kill a moose makes her a good back-up for commander-in-chief. The hunted animals in the stories are not considered conscious, sentient beings. Rather, they are simply props in the pictures; their deaths are proof of Palin's "toughness," her readiness to lead us. I would be much more moved by a picture of one of our candidates mourning the loss of a beloved pet than the pictures of a candidate proudly standing over a bloody, dead moose.

Animals are not props in our lives. Nor are they lesser beings at our whim and disposal. They are legitimate cohabitants in our space. And we have created a world where most pets, most animals, don't matter as much as money, convenience and property. We cannot be surprised when we read about stories of children who torture stray kittens or of soldiers who throw puppies off cliffs. We have taught them to do it, and we have taught them well.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Douglas and Amelia

Yesterday brought a mix of news. Douglas, our newest addition to the AARF family, is learning to live again. His foster mom emailed that she finally saw him wag his tail a few times. I wonder how long it's been since he was happy enough to wag his tail. I love to watch and hear about the transformations that happen with each new pet that we save. I have such high hopes that Douglas will start to relish life again, and will soon be ready to bring that special joy that only a pet can bring to a lucky new family.

The good news about Douglas was followed by more troubling news about Amelia, one of our Silver Paws dogs. She has been fighting an infection for a few weeks, and her vets are concerned it's something more serious. You can read more about the surgery and contribute toward the costs below.

I am proud of all of the programs that AARF has, but if I was forced to pick a favorite program, I would have to pick the Silver Paws Program. My heart breaks for the senior pets at shelters. Most of the time, it seems like they just already know they don't have a chance to getting out of there alive. Often, when we meet them at the shelters, they seem to have already given up on life. But almost instantly, they seem to come alive again once they are out of the shelter and in a new home. The love and companionship that both the Silver Paws pets and the Silver Paws fosters get from each other is so clear and so visible. I don't cry often anymore over what we do and how we do it. But EVERY time we are able to save a senior pet through our Silver Paws Program, I get choked up. Reading the updates that we receive from the Silver Paws fosters reminds me why we do what we do. I hope you will all take some time to look at the stories on our Silver Paws page. They will give you some hope for the day.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Meet Douglas!


This is Douglas, our first new addition to AARF's rescue/adoption program since we lifted our freeze. Like every pet that comes to AARF, Douglas has a story...

Douglas and his canine sibling were turned in by their owners to Paulding County Animal Control. The reason - they were moving. This is one of the most common reasons why people give up their pets, and, one of the most difficult reasons to understand. Rarely does anyone decide on a Tuesday to move, pack up on Wednesday, and drive way on Thursday. Usually, there are months, or at least weeks, of planning. And often, people just don't include their pets as part of the planning. I understand that sometimes circumstances do require that moves happen quickly and pets can't be included, but those situations are rare, and definitely not the case with Douglas.

Anyway, he and his canine sibling were dropped off to face the uncertain future of a pet at animal control. Many of the shelters are so full right now that owner surrenders are often euthanized on the same day. Fortunately, for Douglas, he was given a short reprieve at the shelter, which is staffed with incredibly caring and dedicated folks. Douglas' owners told indicated on the shelter paperwork that he was heartworm positive and they had known about it since November 2007 and had done nothing to treat it. I don't know how the shelter workers keep their cool in situations like this - it would be hard not to just lose my temper on a daily basis.

Douglas' sibling was adopted within a few days after someone read a post about them on Craig's List. But, since Douglas was heartworm positive, no one came for him. The shelter volunteers reported that he just sat in his kennel and cried when his companion left. I wonder if his owners think about what he went through - losing the only home he's known, entering a shelter with a companion, only to lose her and be left alone, struggling with a preventable illness and the inevitable fear he must have felt. Do you think it keeps them awake at night, thinking about Douglas?

Douglas' story touched one of our volunteers who has experience helping dogs recover from heartworm treatment. Douglas began his heartworm treatment on 9/2, and has a long recovery ahead. We know he has been heartworm positive for at least a year, and probably even longer. But his body will be easier to heal than his spirit. Douglas' foster mom tells us that he is a very sad boy, showing no real engagement with the life that is going on around him. But, he does want to be with his new foster family, and that's a good sign. He is in a loving foster family, and they will work as hard to heal his soul as they do to heal his body.

Do his previous owners think about him? I think about them.

Douglas' wish list: a new dog bed, soft toys, chew toys, flea medication. To support Douglas in his physical and mental recovery, stop by one of our favorite pet supply stores (Park Pet Supply and Mom and Pups) to get something from his wish list or visit our donate page.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rescue/Adoption Program Relaunch

Yesterday was the first official day of our rescue/adoption program relaunch. Because of increasing costs and severely declining donations and fundraising, we had to suspend our animal intake in May. Deciding to stop rescuing animals was the hardest decision I ever had to make as a director, but we literally had no other choice. In order for our organization to survive, we had to stop our finances from spinning out of control.

Throughout the summer, I forced myself to look at every email that I received from area shelters with pictures of pets on their euthanasia lists. I knew we couldn't do anything to save them, and I often teared up by the end of each email. But, although we had placed a freeze on our intake, I did not want to allow myself to pretend that the dying ended during our freeze. From May 16 to September 1, our rescue and adoption program was on hold. During that time, over 23,000 animals died in metro area shelters.

I have no illusions that we can save anywhere near that number. But every one of those lives matters. Every one of those dogs and cats could feel pain and fear at the end of their lives. And every one of them could also feel the compassion of the hands that held them for a humane death at one of the shelters that actually euthanizes in a humane way.

I often wonder how we created a society where we claim to be the most advanced beings on the planet, yet we routinely kill each other and kill other sentient beings. I know of no other species that routinely engages in genocide against its own species or another species just for the sake of greed, irresponsibility or convenience. And the rest of us just turn our heads and pretend not to see.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Welcome to the Director's Blog!

For a long time, I have been thinking about how to share my journey of leading an animal welfare organization with our supporters, friends and visitors. I am often asked about what it takes to run AARF, and the answer is always long and never complete. I hope that my thoughts on this blog will give you a peak into the world of animal welfare and into the daily operations of AARF. My goal is to engage more of you in our mission to end pet overpopulation, and I hope that you will walk with me, and with all of us in AARF, as we strive to create a world where every pet matters.