N is for Neuter and Spay

NIf you wonder why pet rescue supporters are so adamant that pet owners should spay or neuter their pets, just look at your local shelter’s list of adoptable animals. Without doubt, you’ll see many puppies and kittens there, most of whom were probably born in the shelter or in a volunteer foster’s home.

Many pregnant animals are dumped at shelters because their owners cannot afford to or simply don’t want to take care of them and find homes for the newborns. Even if you keep your pet indoors, there is always a risk that your pet will get out, especially if they have the opportunity to mate. Given the size of most canine and feline litters, spaying and neutering is the only way to keep pet populations under control.

Some people express concerns about health risks. There are plenty of old wives’ tales that say that a dog needs to throw a litter before being spayed, or that spaying and neutering will change your pet’s personality. If you have concerns, always go to your veterinarian first. The fact is, spaying and neutering is very safe. Altered dogs actually tend to have fewer health risks than unaltered ones. And the only effect you’ll usually see on your dog’s personality is a reduction in certain negative behaviors, such as marking.

If the cost of surgery is a concern, most areas have organizations that will spay or neuter animals for free or at a minimal price. In the Kansas City area, Spay Neuter KC offers low-cost surgeries, vaccinations, and preventive care. If someone still cannot afford to alter their animal, they do have some financial assistance available on an application basis.

If your area has an awesome program to help people get their pets fixed, feel free to tell us all about it in the comments!

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M is for Microchipping

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--MFew pieces of technology have changed the rescue business quite as much as the microchip identification systems. A tiny microchip is inserted below the skin of a pet, usually somewhere on their back between their shoulder blades. Nearly all veterinarians and shelters have scanners to detect the presence of a microchip in incoming animals. This means that even if an animal has been found without a collar or tags, if it has a microchip, it could still be returned to its owner.

Many rescue organizations microchip all their adoptable pets. However, if you recently added a new family member and they don’t have a microchip, your veterinarian should be able to chip them for you. Many cities have regular microchipping events–often put on by rescue organizations, vet clinics, or boarding facilities–where you can get a discounted rate on the microchip service.

Once your pet is chipped, it’s important to regularly maintain your records. We use 24PetWatch and they emphasize making sure that both your personal contact information and your veterinarian’s contact information are current. If your animal is found, the vet or shelter will scan for a chip, and notify the chip issuer. They will then try to contact you first at your own phone number, then through your vet office. So it’s crucial to make sure your information is current.

Having microchips won’t prevent your pet from running away. But they can help you have a speedy reunion with your best friend. Have an awesome reunion story? Share it with me in the comments!

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L is for Lessons

SA-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--Lo you’ve adopted a new dog. What’s next? It’s time to go to school! Besides helping your dog become a well-behaved, respectable part of your family, obedience training is a great way to bond with your pet. It helps establish you firmly as your dog’s “alpha” and lets you channel your dogs energy in positive ways.

Even if you don’t want to spend lots of time working on tricks, you can still benefit from some basics of obedience training. All dogs–even ones that are primarily kept inside–should learn to come, sit, and stay on command. This is so that if your dog does get off-leash unexpectedly, you can recall them to you and keep them safe from traffic or other dangers. You should be able to tell them to “leave” something and they will ignore it–very useful if your dog likes to get into things they shouldn’t either at home or on walks. And of course, good behavior around people is essential if you want to be able to have friends over without your dog jumping on them constantly.

Whether you’re looking for basics, wanting to start doing agility training or rally, or looking for advanced training to complete canine good citizenship or be able to do hospital or school visits, you can probably find a trainer in your area. See if you can observe a class before signing up, and decide whether you want group training or one-on-one sessions. Ask for trainer recommendations from friends with well-behaved dogs.

If you’ve just adopted a dog, ask your shelter if there is a trainer who works with them to provide training for newly-adopted animals. (For example, our shelter works with Bark Boulevard in Kansas City, and adopters from Unleashed get the first session free.) Find a trainer you like, with a program that meets your needs, and both you and your dog will be happier for it!

Share the stories of your puppy school stars in the comments!

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K is for Kennel

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--KOne area where new adopters tend most to resist the advice of shelter staff and volunteers is when the discussion of kennel or crate training the dog arises. Many people seem to think that putting a dog in a crate while you’re away from home or at night is cruel. After all, they just rescued the dog from a shelter where it was cooped up. They don’t want to put the dog behind bars all over again. That would be cruel, wouldn’t it?

Actually, a kennel provides a safe haven for your dogs in times of stress, keeps them from harming themselves by getting into things they shouldn’t, and it can be a useful tool when house training a puppy. Our mutts have terrier instincts, so when they are left loose, they could easily tear up our entire house with their strong jaws. And the few times early on that we tried to leave Charlie confined to our bedroom instead of his kennel, he chewed up carpet, blinds, and got into an overnight bag full of my makeup. Beyond being incredibly frustrating and costly to us, this could have been very harmful to him. Carpet strings can easily create an internal blockage. And who knows what damage the plastic blinds could have caused if he had actually eaten them. So we learned very quickly that Charlie needed to be kept in a kennel.

Was it easy? Not at first. The key is to make the kennel a fun place for your dog. Give them treats when they go in, put a favorite toy in there. Be careful to give only very durable toys, such as Kongs, until you know they won’t destroy them while you’re away. Likewise with bedding, observe your dog to know whether they will tear up what you put in there. You can use a carpet remnant or heavy blanket down if, like Charlie, your pooch likes to chew up any bedding with stuffing. Our dogs generally sleep on either the bare kennel floor or a blanket.

Sometimes it takes experimenting with different types of kennels to know what kind your dog prefers. Ginny likes a plastic-sided kennel, but our others prefer a wire one. Be sure to keep any loose objects away from the sides of the kennel, as some dogs are particularly sneaky and can pull blankets, toys, cords, and other objects through the bars or holes. (Ask me how I know this.)

If you have a puppy, try to limit the time they are in the kennel to one hour at a time per month of age. So if you have a three-month-old, keep your puppy kenneled no more than 3 hours. If you work away from home full-time, you might consider confining a younger dog to a playpen to give them room to romp while still keeping them safe. You can work them toward true kennel training over time.

And one last pointer, look for kennels with the squeeze-style closure or multiple slider bars that lock into place. By the second day we kenneled Charlie in a wire crate with a single slider bar closure, he figured out how to flip it and open it. He ran out of the house when we opened the front door, startling us to no end. The tougher the closure the better!

When used properly, kennels are a great way to tap into your dog’s natural den instincts, giving them a safe place to go to when they’re tired or anxious. Does your dog have a favorite toy you keep in their kennel? Or do you have a story of an escape artist? Share with me in the comments!

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J is for Japanese Chin (and other DNA surprises)

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--J

When we adopted Tessa, the shelter’s best guess was that she was some sort of West Highland Terrier mix. She certainly has some Westie qualities, and we actually guessed she might have been part corgi, because of her short front legs, ears that stick out when she sleeps, and a few other quirks of personality. But we could never really pinpoint anything. She’s a mutt, and we love her.

Last spring, we decided to have a DNA test run on Tonks. These tests can tell if a dog has pure-breed heritage, and give the most likely candidates for the dog’s genetic makeup in the case of mixed-breeds. We ran the test on Tonks figuring that it was kind of like getting a 2-for-1 on the test, since Tessa’s lineage would show as well. If only things had been that clear.

The closest pure breeds on Tonks’s family tree were at the great-grandparent level, which is as far back as the tests can extrapolate. (This is why we’re considering testing Tessa now, just to get one level back on her side.) On one side–most likely Tessa’s, but they don’t mark them as maternal/paternal–she had a Lhasa Apso who mated with a mixed breed, and a Labrador Retriever who mated with a mixed breed. On the other side–likely the paternal one–she had a Chow Chow who mated with a mixed breed, then two mixed breeds who mated. So our Tonks is 5/8 utterly mixed.

We actually thought she had some Chow Chow in her, because she has spots on her tongue and her undercoat is incredibly thick. Two of her brothers also had the spots on their tongues. And discovering that Tessa is likely part Lhasa Apso makes sense when you look at her. Not sure where the Lab fits in, but that was marked as having been detected but at a lower confidence level. So might not actually be any Lab in them.

Then the paperwork goes on to list the most likely components of the mixed breed part of her DNA. This is where things really get interesting. In descending likelihood, they listed Chinese Crested, Swiss White Shepherd, Great Dane, Japanese Chin, and Border Terrier as possible components to her DNA. Yep, my fluffy girl could be a Great Dane mix. This cracks me up. What’s interesting, though, is that we can see resemblances to nearly all of these breeds in Tessa’s puppies. Truffle (whose name is now Flint) was much larger than all the others, even at birth, and at 4 months he was already over 40 pounds. He won’t ever reach Dane size, but he is definitely a large breed. Timon, who was the runt, is a wiry thing, and weighs less than 20 pounds. He definitely has the feisty personality of a Chinese Crested, with the appearance of a terrier.

Look how huge I am. I'm totally a Great Dane!

Look how huge I am. I’m totally a Great Dane!

While I take the possible mixes with a grain of salt, given how distant any other pure bred ancestors must have been, it is definitely fascinating to see these results. We do plan on running Tessa’s now, just because we’re curious to see if having that extra level of ancestry reveals anything new. And we’ve always wondered what Charlie’s origins are, because he looks like a Westie-Cairn mix, but with a little something else thrown in. No results from DNA tests could ever make us love our dogs any less, though. All it would do would be to help us have better answers when we go to the dog park and everyone says, “Aw, they’re so cute! What are they?”

Have you tested your dog’s DNA? Any surprising results? Share with us in the comments!

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I is for Introductions

IAny time you welcome a new pet into your home, you’ll want to take time to properly introduce them to any other pets in the home as well as to learn the best ways to introduce the new pet to people. You probably wouldn’t feel very comfortable having a total stranger stay the night in your house, right? That’s how your existing pets will feel if you force them together before they have a chance to get to know each other.

Believe it or not, Tessa and Charlie didn’t get along all the time when we first got Tessa. Granted, some of that was hormonal, because Tessa was pregnant at the time (unbeknownst to us at first). Hormonal surges in pregnant dogs can lead to some aggressive outbursts periodically. If you happen to adopt or foster a pregnant dog, be very careful to supervise interactions with any other animals in the house, and be aware that even the gentlest mama dog can lash out at humans or other animals when pregnancy brain kicks in. She’ll get back to normal after the pups are weaned, honest!

It’s best to make first introductions on neutral space. If you’re adopting an animal from a shelter, ask if you can bring your existing pet there for supervised introductions. If this isn’t possible, try introducing the animals to each other in a yard or at a park, while both are on leash. Without making a fuss, have the dogs pass each other on leash, without stopping walking. Correct any lunges or aggressive posturing immediately, and only try another pass if both dogs are calm. If they can pass each other well, have them approach each other slowly and allow them to sniff each other.

Try to keep out of this process as much as possible, but do correct them if they show undesired behavior. Sniffing, licking, and yes, mounting each other is normal dog behavior. Growling or snapping is not. When you’re satisfied that the introductions are going well, take the dogs on a long walk together. Joint walks are a great way to help dogs bond with each other and see each other as part of the same “pack”.

Don’t rush these introductions. Be sure to supervise all interactions between the animals for at least the first few weeks. Make sure to give each dog some separate play time and training time with you during this transition phase, both to offer reassurance and to make sure that they both still see you as top of the pecking order. And try not to overwhelm your new pet by introducing them to lots of people right away. One-on-one interactions are best, especially with an animal that might be fearful of strangers. Always have a kennel or room ready as a safe haven for your dog should they get overwhelmed.

With patience, most dogs adapt very well to their new environments. Taking time to allow all the animals in the family to work out their place within the “pack” will make for a much happier group in the long run. Tessa and Charlie are now utterly bonded to each other, and spend most of their time cuddled up, despite having had a rough start. Ginny hadn’t been socialized much at all before we got her, and now she loves to play with the other dogs, especially Tonks. It took work, of course, but the happiness of our pets is worth it!

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H is for Heartworms

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--HToday’s topic is a serious one that we are particularly passionate about. Our Ginny was heartworm-positive when we got her, as are many shelter dogs. At Unleashed, approximately 1 in 5 dogs who arrive at the shelter are heartworm-positive. Many times, the owners abandon their dogs because they cannot afford the expensive treatment to rid their dog of the parasite.

Heartworms are spread to dogs through mosquito bites. From the time a mosquito bites an infected animal, it takes about 2 weeks for it to be able to spread heartworms to a new animal. Therefore, if you have a heartworm-positive dog, you don’t need to worry about it infecting your other dogs. All dogs need to be on a regular heartworm preventive medicine year-round, regardless of whether there are mosquitoes present, to keep their resistance up and because the preventive medications for heartworms also prevent other types of parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms.

This is definitely one situation where the old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure rings true. Monthly heartworm medications can cost as little as $10 per dose, and are safe and effective in preventing infestation. Treatment of heartworms is far more expensive, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand depending upon the type of treatment you choose. The treatment which works the most quickly is a series of injections of a drug known as Immiticide. The dog needs to be kept on activity restriction during treatment and often for several months afterward, because the dying worms can cause blockages in the dog’s pulmonary vessels, and exercise can aggravate the condition.

Some veterinarians now prefer a “slow kill” method because of risks involved in the Immiticide injections, or simply because they cannot get the Immiticide. There is a good article here about this issue, and the different options a vet might use. We are doing the slow kill method with Ginny, but it is a long process. It takes at least 9 months to complete, and requires vigilance about preventives even after the initial process. We had to keep her immobile during the initial phase, when she was on steroids, and even now, we have to limit her activity because she tires so easily.

It’s so important to keep on top of preventives for your dog. Make sure to set an annual check-up for your dog to be re-checked for heartworms, because most states won’t allow the prescriptions to be renewed without the vet having tested your dog first. If you are concerned about the cost of preventives, many websites such as Petango and 1-800-PetMeds offer them at more affordable prices, you just have to get your vet to confirm the prescription. Petango also gives a portion of all sales to rescues, so you can help your local shelter just by shopping! A small cost and a little vigilance will keep your dog heartworm-free.

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G is for Ginny

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--GNearly a year ago, I was volunteering at a 5k to benefit our shelter, Unleashed. It was a dreary morning, pouring rain, and I was exhausted from setting up tables, filling and handing out race packets, and hauling donations for the silent auction while soaked from the torrential downpour. All I wanted was to go home, dry off, and get warm.

Then I got a text from Josh. He was working at the shelter at the time, and sent me a photo of a scruffy-looking corgi. The text that followed was a sarcastic, “I can adopt her, right?” I think I surprised him when I said I’d think about it. But as soon as the race was over, I volunteered to take supplies back to the shelter so I could meet this lovely girl.

Josh has wanted a corgi for as long as I’ve known him. So it would be up to me to be the voice of reason if ever there was going to be one in our house. When I got to Unleashed, Josh had me go in one of the adoption rooms, and brought “Natalie Cook” (named after one of Charlie’s Angels, hilariously enough) into the room.

Her coat was in rough shape, matted and shedding like mad. She seemed a little over-excited, but ran right up to me and leaned her head on my knee. As I petted her, whole handfuls of fur fell out. I asked Josh to find a brush for me, and proceeded to spend nearly an hour and a half brushing her and playing with her. I filled an office wastebasket with the fur that she shed. It didn’t seem possible so much fur had come off of one dog. Josh had left me in the room since he was working, and every time he would walk by the door or he talked outside, “Natalie” would run over to the door and paw at it, looking back at me with the cheeky corgi grin.

At some point during this time, Josh told his co-workers to mark her as unavailable. We took her into foster that day, and officially adopted her at the end of August 2014. We named her Ginny, after Ginny Weasley from the Harry Potter books–because with all that red hair, she must be a Weasley!

Ginny’s journey with us has been a challenging one. She was heartworm positive, had not been well socialized with other dogs, and was frightened of fairly common household sounds. It’s taken a lot of time, patience, and just plain work to integrate her into our little pack. And it’s been worth every bit of it. We’ll share more of her story throughout the remaining A-to-Z posts, but for now, just enjoy some pictures of our quirky girl…

Ginny photo collage

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F is for Fostering

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--FToday I get to share with you about a topic that is very dear to me: FOSTERING! For those who don’t know, many rescue groups and shelters rely on volunteers to take animals into their home for either a short-term or long-term basis before adoption.

The rescue we work with, Unleashed, uses both types of fostering. Most dogs they take in from other shelters will be in foster for a period of 2 weeks. This is to make sure that only healthy, vaccinated dogs enter the shelter, for the protection of both the new dogs and the existing shelter dogs. Dogs receive their first round of shots before going to their foster, who can then monitor them closely for signs of any contagion or other health issues.

Fosters learn about a dog’s behavior, temperament, likes and dislikes, and generally help prepare the dog for its future home. Sometimes a dog will need a bit more time in home, or just wouldn’t adapt as well to the chaos of a shelter. Then a foster might keep the dog for a longer period of time, taking it to adoption events or one-on-one meetings with potential adopters until they find the dog’s forever home.

Many people ask how we can foster–aren’t we tempted to adopt them all? Yes and no. We love all our fosters, but not every dog that comes into our home would be the right fit for us long-term. And every dog that we help find a home for means one more life that can be saved later. To date, we have fostered 24 dogs (counting Tessa’s 8 babies). Of those, we have adopted two–Tonks and Ginny. (They call this “foster failing”–when you keep the dog you’re meant to just be fostering.) One other, Ghibli, developed a brain tumor, and we kept her until she had to be put down–the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. All the others were adopted, and are living their lives with wonderful families who love them very much. We’re fortunate to know some of the adopters personally, so we’ve been able to see follow-up pictures of many of our former fosters.

Fostering is a rewarding experience. It’s also great if you want a dog, but haven’t quite figured out what kind of dog you want, or can’t commit yet to having your own dog full-time. It’s the most fun way I can think of to save a life!

foster collage

Meet a few of our past fosters! Left: Juan hanging out with our Charlie. Middle: Google Barker and Giga Bite. Right: Tank (one of Tessa’s puppies)

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E is for Excuses

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--EMany people assume that shelter dogs are broken somehow. There must be a reason why they were dropped off there, after all. Maybe it’s because we want to assume the best about people. Sometimes it’s because so many of the “bully breeds” end up in shelters, and the stereotype of an aggressive dog prevails. The real reasons most dogs end up in a shelter might surprise you.

First, many dogs come in as strays. This doesn’t mean they were abandoned, or that they are feral (though a few are). Most simply got out of their home or fenced-in yard. If they don’t have tags on and aren’t microchipped, there’s no way to find their owners. (More on microchipping later in the month.)

The top reasons why people surrender animals are because they are moving, and are choosing to move somewhere that doesn’t allow pets (yes, it is a choice, because there are MANY options for pet-friendly housing in all price ranges, no matter where you live), or because they are having a baby. Other common reasons are allergies, or because the animal developed a health condition the owner couldn’t afford to treat, such as heartworms. (More on that later this month, too.)

Here are a few other excuses we’ve heard through our time in the rescue world:

  • The dog licked my baby’s feet and didn’t get along with our ferret (I kid you not: they thought foot-licking was a precursor to aggression–it isn’t–and thought a ferret was a safer pet than a dog to have around an infant.)
  • He barked
  • She didn’t bark enough (they wanted a guard dog, I guess)
  • She couldn’t go down the stairs very well (this was a 2-month old small-breed puppy)
  • He shed too much
  • It made messes in the house/wasn’t housebroken (also regarding a puppy)
  • He got carsick
  • Kept getting out of the yard/kennel/house
  • Got too big (large breed puppy)
  • Didn’t grow big enough (small breed puppy)
  • He hid under the couch and seemed scared (puppy returned to the shelter after 2 days in the home)
  • Too high-energy
  • Too mellow

Many of these excuses were heard from owners who had adopted dogs and then returned them to the shelter, usually just days after adopting them. The ones that break my heart are the dogs who get dropped off after years with a family simply because the family has gotten tired of taking care of them, or an elderly owner is put into a nursing home or passes away and there is no one willing to take care of them. Two of our recent fosters, Bella and Chico, came to the shelter that way. Their owner had passed away, and the adult children said they didn’t have space for two dogs. They were chihuahuas.

Owners who are not willing to bear the responsibility of pet ownership are the biggest reason animals are in shelters. Thankfully, most adopters truly love their new family members, and do everything possible to make the transition into their homes as smooth as possible. Do you have a rescue animal with an interesting back-story? Work with a shelter that has heard a whopper of an excuse? Share it with me in the comments!

Categories: Adoption | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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