Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Would You Do?

This summer, I have been watching ABC News' What Would You Do? series. The foundation of the show -- ABC sets up scenarios where action is clearly needed, and then they film the people who stumble into the scene. For example, a child actor cries on the sidewalk or a blind woman is given incorrect change at a store. In some scenarios, actors portray extremely racist or sexist attitudes. I find myself cheering for those that step in to help. And I am overwhelmed at the number of people who actively pretend not to notice, just so they don't have to get involved. We see people who pretend to be talking on the phone or reading the paper as they walk by. Some people literally turn around and walk the other way.

At the end of each scene,
John Quiñones approaches those who chose to either get involved or look the other way. Those that helped are usually in tears, as they realize that the horrible situations they just witnessed aren't actually real. Most of the people who chose not to help apparently wouldn't sign a release to allow ABC to show their face. Embarrassed, perhaps, at the evidence that they are complacent in times where they are needed most?

So, "what does this have to do with animal welfare
?", you may wonder. What would you do if you saw a stray dog running in and out of traffic, and you knew John Quiñones was watching? What would you do if you saw a picture of an injured kitten, and you could choose fancy coffee or saving a life? Would it change if you knew you were being filmed and might show up on ABC in prime time? What would you do if you knew that animals were dying every day, and you did nothing? Would it matter if anyone knew?

I am asking everyone who reads this to ask yourself what you would do if.... And I challenge you to live every day like you are being filmed and
John Quiñones is watching and waiting to ask you why you did, or didn't, do anything.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Another Friend

We lost another member of the AARF family this week. Casey, one of our Silver Paws dogs, has been part of AARF for years.

In 2003, we received an email from a young girl, begging us to take in her family dog. The young girl's parents were getting a divorce, and neither parent was willing to take the canine member of the family in the move. This young girl was devastated at the thought that her dog would be killed, just because her parents were too uncaring to consider her in the divorce.

So, Casey became an AARF dog. When we picked her up, we found out she had been banished to the back yard and hadn't had vet care in years. She was suffering from mammary tumors, a very common disease in dogs who aren't spayed. Her teeth were just a mess, and she needed some serious dental care. We got Casey healthy, and along came what we thought was a great family.

In 2006, Casey's world fell apart again. Her new family added two human kids, and Casey was returned to AARF. She hadn't displayed ANY issues with the children, but the family made the decision to abandon Casey anyway. Now, Casey was about 8 years old, and had lost two families.

Since Casey's first time with AARF, we had started the Silver Paws Program, and Casey became eligible for placement through Silver Paws. After several months, we were contacted by Bette, who had recently lost her beloved lab, Rebel. She was looking for a new dog, and was drawn to Casey.

This is where Casey's life gets the fairy tale ending. Bette was exactly the home that Casey needed. She was adored by her new mom, and I think, quickly realized that she would never be abandoned again. She knew she was finally home. I smiled, and sometimes cried, when I thought about how wonderful Casey's final years would be.

Over the last year, Casey struggled with several health problems. But Bette explored every option to lengthen Casey's life without diminishing the quality. Casey went regularly for swim therapy and acupuncture to help with her mobility issues. She took medication to control seizures and regurgitation at night. And when she wouldn't eat, Bette even cooked for her to encourage her to eat and take her medication.

A few weeks ago, Casey was diagnosed with a very bad case of pneumonia. We knew that, because of all of her other issues, the treatment might not be effective. Bette and Casey took each day as it came, enjoying the good days and working through the bad days together. Throughout the journey, Bette made sure that Casey was still enjoying life.

On Friday morning, beautiful, sweet Casey left us. Bette stayed up with her throughout the night while she struggled, and Casey took her last breath with Bette's arms around her.

We have so many touching rescue and adoption stories, it's sometimes hard to pick the "best" ones. But Casey's journey is undoubtedly one of the very best. She was discarded by two families, and finally found the place she was supposed to be. While Casey's time with Bette might have been shorter than many of us have with our pets, the quality of that time is unmatched.

I am so grateful to Bette for giving Casey such a wonderful life for the last three years. I have such admiration for her for bringing home an older dog. And I am thankful for the care and love that Casey received from Bette. I know that love was returned, and Bette was just as lucky to have found Casey.

As I write this final goodbye to Casey, I am in awe of the amazing bond that Bette and Casey had, and will always have, in all of our memories. (See a tribute to Casey, made by her friend and pet sitter here.)

Rest in peace, Casey. And take comfort, Bette, in knowing you gave Casey such an amazing life, literally to her last breath.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One of the Best Adoption Stories Ever

Many of you have followed Sesame's journey with AARF for the last several months. It has not been easy for Sesame, but we have never given up on her. Now, I want to tell you about one of the best adoption stories we have ever had.

Sesame was rescued from the DeKalb County shelter. She was exremely thin and had a horrible case of mange. She simply did not feel good at all, and had no chance at being adopted with her health issues.

In Sesame's first foster home, she was introduced to the resident dog. We expected the meeting be smooth based on her behavior at the shelter. But her foster parents rushed the introduction and skipped some critical steps, and the resident dog attacked Sesame. So, this girl started her journey in a home where she was not fully integrated into the family. We quickly learned that she had some anxiety issues, and they worsened over the weeks in her foster home. Her behavior was improving a little by working with one of our favorite trainers. But she had a long way to go, and as she got healthy, her strength increased, which made her behavior even more difficult to manage. We got feedback from the vet's office that her behavior became increasingly difficult every time they saw her for a check-up for the mange.

Then, Sesame got an adoption application! It looked great, and we were excited for her. After several play dates with dog in her potential new home, Sesame went home with her new family. Unfortunately, her new mom used some popular, but ineffective, training techniques, and Sesame responded badly. So, the adoption didn't stick. But her foster family wouldn't take her back, because they decided it was just too much work. (Unfortunately, this is so common that we aren't even shocked anymore when people just give up.)

So, we scrambled. At this point, we were worried that we had a dog that was out of control, and strong. We had no foster homes and nowhere for her to go. We tried a few boarding places, and they couldn't handle her. We tried one trainer who was so afraid of her that she kept her in her crate for over 24 hours. Finally, we found a training place that would work with her.

So, Sesame entered a boarding facility where trainers would work with her during the day, and she would spend the rest of the time playing with the other dogs in day care. Sesame adjusted to this new environment, and made some progress. But her trainers insisted that she was a difficult dog, and any new foster or adopter would need a high level of skill and ongoing training to be able to manage her.

Sounds like a horrible dog, right? I kept getting these reports about what a terrible dog Sesame was, but I spent some time with her, moving her from location to location as she bounced around. What I saw was a scared bully dog, who didn't understand what was going on. In her calm moments - going for a walk, riding in the car - she was a love of a dog. In her nervous moments, she was scary. I could see how some might interpret her behavior as aggression. But, a closer look at what was happening revealed really clearly that Sesame was scared. She reminded me of 10 year old foster child, who had been bounced from home to home. In every new location, she went totally out of control, because that was the only thing she ever learned. I knew Sesame wasn't a dangerous or uncontrollable dog. But would anyone else ever see that in her? If I had space at my house, I would have simply brought her home with me.

We all waited patiently for a foser home or forever home for Sesame. I had hope that one day that home would come. But in the meantime, Sesame continued to struggle at the kennel, and her boarding bill continued to grow. We and Sesame were both in a really difficult position.

Finally, Melanie (one of our board members) and her husband Mike decided to give Sesame a shot. They brought her home, and the first day really did not go well. Sesame's fear and anxiety often comes out as overwhelming tugging, nipping and jumping. She just had never learned what else to do. So, while we all knew it wasn't really her "fault," it's hard to ignore when she is literally ripping your jeans off.

But Melanie and Mike did something that no one else had really done yet. They didn't give up. They committed to working through this first day, to at least see what happened the next day.

I am so grateful that finally Sesame had someone committed to her. And what a transformation this girl has had.

Within 24 hours, Sesame had started to settle in to her new foster home. She began to feel comfortable around Melanie and Mike, and even with the visitors that came over. She met the resident dogs and cats, and quickly became an integrated member of the family.

Sesame has been with Melanie and Mike for just over a week. At the last report, Sesame has a best friend at the dog park that she plays with, sleeps in bed with her new mom and dad, and is a great napping buddy. Sesame's name is now Sammy, and I am excited to say that her foster home has become her forever home. Melanie and Mike are simply not willing to let this great girl go.

So, what makes this one of the best adoption stories ever? Is it just because Sesame was a difficult dog and we didn't give up on her? That's part of it, but not all. Is it because Mike and Melanie took a risk, and gave Sesame a chance? That's also part of it, but not all.

This is an amazing adoption story because it embodies our motto - "creating a world where every pet matters." Sesame, in all of her health issues and behavior difficulties, matters just as much as any of pet in our program, in your home or in any shelter. She is no less deserving of a home where she feels safe, secure and happy than the well-behaved healthy homeless dogs.

And this is an amazing adoption story because it's a story of commitment. This is one of the rarest words I hear and one of the rarest behaviors I see these days. We have become a society where few people are committed. In Sesame's case, she experienced this from her fosters, her potential new mom and even trainers. How sad that so many gave up on her so quickly.

And how sad that they missed out on such an absolutely amazing dog. Congratulations to Melanie and Mike for their new addition.

And congratulations to Sammy, for finally finding her place in this world where she matters.