News and views of Chicago's animal rescue community and supporting businesses

Story time for Max

The little boy walked into the children’s room at the Great Lakes Rec Center to participate in the Words and Whiskers program – Love on a Leash’s latest children’s reading program. He hid behind his mom with his hoodie drawn, peaking out at the visitors to the base.

Max gears up for another reading program - this time at Great Lakes Naval Base.

Then, he saw Max. A big smile spread across his face and his eyes lit up. Soon, he was dumping his hoodie and the safety of his mom to sprawl on the floor with Max the cat. Two friends, reunited after several months.

It was the first night of the new program and our first guest was the same little boy that read us the great haunted house story at the library last fall around Halloween. With a twinkle in his eye and his own books in tow, we went off to the media room for reading time. I don’t know who was happier – our young reader or the fluffy purring kitty sprawled out next to him.

Several reading programs have cropped up around the country using animals. Since many kids have trouble reading out loud especially if they are struggling, the dogs and cats in the programs make a great audience. They just listen and enjoy the attention and scratch behind the ears. No judgment – no critique.

The program is apparently paying off for our little reader. He brought a copy of “Hop on Pop” and a story about a Moose. In the months since he last read to Max, there’s been a great improvement in his reading. On thing hasn’t changed, we still got great sound effects and descriptions of the pictures in the book as only a first grader could describe to his four-legged friend. I do have to say, I think it’s the best rendition of “Hop on Pop” I’ve ever heard.

After being involved in animal welfare for a few years, I’ve learned to really hate these lists. The American Kennel Club has put out its list of the top dogs based on registration statistics. The winners are Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Beagles, Golden Retrievers and the Yorkie.

Labs are America's favorite dogs - until they are no longer wanted. Adults like Edy may never find another home.

I have no qualms with the dogs or their popularity. In fact, Molson, my in-laws late Lab is one of the best dogs I’ve ever been around. The problem is our culture – the need to possess whatever item is hot – whether or not it’s a living, breathing being – and getting it as quickly as possible.

It’s that need to possess that ties this story with the other dog story in Chicago yesterday. Chicago Animal Care and Control put out an alert that they’ve taken in a large number of dogs recently – they are full. Because they are an open admission shelter, animals die when they are full so they are able to make room for more animals that come through their doors.

This Husky is another pure breed dumped at CACC who also needs a home.

The plea yesterday was for no kill shelters and rescues to come to CACC and rescue the animals to give them a second chance. Although many of the dogs will be mutts or pit bulls, you’d be surprised how many of the top five dogs from the list at the start of my post have been left behind. In fact, around 25 percent of the dogs in shelters are pure breeds.

You know the dog – the Lab, the Golden, the Beagle – that someone just had to have until they didn’t have to have it anymore. Many of these animals were purchased at a premium from a pet store or the Internet because people had to have a pure breed – until something else caught their attention. And this need to have it now fuels one of America’s most inhumane industries – the puppy mills.

Because people don’t want to wait or do their homework, they purchase dogs through newspaper ads and from pet stores. All of these dogs are mass-produced in commercial breeding operations known as puppy mills. Breeding dogs are kept in inhumane conditions and dogs are cross-bred with no concern for any genetic issues that may plague a particular breed or bloodline.

Fluffy is 16 years old and terrified of the shelter.

And consumers buy, buy, buy – until they can’t afford the vet bills or get tired of the responsibility or see something else they want more. Then, the dogs end up in a shelter or rescue – often it is death row because there are just so many wonderful homeless pets out there and not enough homes or shelters for them all.

Dogs of all sizes - like Pilot - just need a second chance.

If you are interested in any breed of dog, you really need to do you homework. Check out what that type of dog was bred to do and decide if that is behavior you can live with because it’s not going to change. Ask someone who’s lived with rat terriers, herding dogs, pugs or dachshunds…any pure breed. They all have their pros and cons. A lot of the Chicago breed rescues have monthly meet ups and they encourage people who are considering taking in that type of dog to come and learn about the beauty and blemishes of their favorite breed.

Then, do more homework. Check out shelters and rescues and ask as many questions as you can about a particular dog and the breed. You are not purchasing something that can be discarded or returned. You are bringing home a family member who loves and cares and wants nothing more than to be with you. When you get a pet, you are actually getting into a very long-term commitment – 12 to 20 years. That’s a long time – too long for a lot of people.

Taylor is still a puppy, but lost a home anyway and now needs a second chance.

Skip a puppy and go for a grown up. With the current economy, there are many adult dogs that have been trained and in a loving home and just want to get back into that routine – try that to start. Even better – try a senior dog.

If you do want a pure breed from a breeder keep in mind, good breeders not only care about the gene pool of the dogs they reproduce, they are very picky about who takes their puppies home. While you’re asking questions about bloodlines and if a dog will be good with kids or cats or other dogs, they are checking out your backyard, your neighborhood, your ability to pay for vet bills, your ability to handle a long-term commitment.

Unfortunately, people don’t want to wait, do their homework or really think it through. They decide they want a dog, they want it now and they want a pure breed puppy so it won’t “have the issues you get with a shelter dog.” So they purchase a dog from the paper, the Internet or go to their neighborhood pet store and end up with what they think is a pure breed with papers – but – it’s a dog mass-produced in a puppy mill.

Calvin also needs a second chance.

And when they find out how much work it is to have a puppy – that it needs to be trained, that it will produce more puppies if not fixed, that it gets sick and needs medical care – then they think about those issues. If the dog has health issues because of poor breeding standards – people think about it after they buy a pet.

Plenty of pitties like Domino also need a second chance.

That’s when they decide having a dog isn’t the best thing for them.  That is when they find out that dogs are not returnable. That is when CACC, the Animal Welfare League and any number of open admission shelters get the responsibility of the dog that people just had to have. That is when the plea goes out for help. And, that is when so many dogs get their death sentence because no one just “has to have” that dog anymore.

All of the dogs shown in this post were listed on the Facebook Page for Chicago Animal Care and Control’s Transfer team yesterday. They need a rescue, a foster home or better yet a true forever home.

Too many cats. . .

If you walk into any shelter that takes in cats, it doesn’t take long to notice how many cats are in their care. How many adult cats that once had a home, a family, a warm place to sleep to call their own. It is just overwhelming…

Sun Pacific is a senior cat found wandering the streets of Chicago. She is waiting at Tree House for her forever home.

Why are there so many kitties? The economy and aging population play a very small role in this. The sad answer to the question is this – although cats are America’s favorite pet, outnumbering dogs by 15 million (according to the AVMA), they are the most likely to be relinquished to animal shelters. Too many people don’t get that the cute little kitten could be a 15- to 20-year commitment and in our disposable society dump them and move on.

Here’s another staggering number for you. Tree House Humane Society is in the midst of a trap neuter return program in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. An astounding 65 percent of the cats they trapped last year are friendly strays – 65 percent. As they’ve canvassed the neighborhood, someone has usually been able to pinpoint where the cat used to live before being dumped by his or her family. Even the folks at PetSmart Charities that are providing the grant money for the program were shocked by that statistic.

Many TNR programs do just that – Trap, Neuter, Return. For Tree House, feral cats fall into the TNR part of the program, but strays do not. They are given a second chance and finding a permanent home. The organization took in 300 cats off the streets through its TNR efforts last year.

Yor came in through the TNR program at Tree House and is looking for a home.

Those 300 cats were fortunate to have been taken in by a no kill shelter that considers them “Tree House Cats” for life. That means they will live there until they find a home and will come back if the need to find another home. It also means that those cats didn’t end up at Chicago Animal Care and Control or another open admission shelter where adoption prospects are dim and where many adult cats especially don’t make it out. Tree House is working on building more partnerships with foster homes and boutique pet shops to help more kitties find homes.

My goal this year in this blog and in the Examiner has been to shed more light on the plight of cats in our community. As the cat lady of my neighborhood, I’ve failed on that front so far in 2012.

The dogs have taken over – with pit bull controversies, parvo and puppy mill stories – for the first few months. But, that is changing. Next week I’ll be focusing on a new suburban group that is working on FIV education/adoption and rehoming black cats. We’ll also look at TNR efforts in Lake County and update you on events in the city.

In the meantime, please forgive a typo or two on my blog – like may animal lovers I get all kinds of furry help when I write…and the cats never did too well in editing class. So, meow for now. The Blog is back and check out my stories next week on the Examiner.

I grew up with cats in the house. Throughout the years we had a variety of indoor-outdoor kitties that shared our bed and our love. I was sad each time one of them went on to the rainbow bridge. But, that didn’t really prepare me for the first time I had the life of a cat held in my hands as an adult.

Wedge lost his battle with parvo on Saturday.

Rhett the Wonder Cat was 15 when he came down with what appeared to be a bladder infection in April. He recovered but  started to present symptoms again in July. We made many trips to the vet getting few answers until we finally switched vets and were referred to Vet Specialty in Buffalo Grove. By the time we brought him in, it was too late. They couldn’t save him. When I called my husband from Vet Specialty to let him know how much it would cost if we tried to save him – he said – “I don’t want to know, do what you can.”

Fast forward to three years later, Rhett’s sister Scarlett had just had a good check up the previous week when she started to vomit on Sunday. She could keep nothing down. I rushed her to the vet Monday morning and they ran a series of tests. Her blood pressure was through the roof. Her heartbeat, very irregular, they gave her fluids started working on a diagnosis and sent her home with me.

Solo is also battling Parvo.

When I went to pick her up from the vet that night, they told me it was very likely Scarlett, at 18, wouldn’t make it through the night. (Her vet bill was also very high.) Her best bet was to go home with me and be loved and cared for like I always cared for her…If she made it, we would take it day by day. Our girl pulled through and each day ate more and more. She was diagnosed with Inflamed Bowel Syndrome and put on a range of medications for that and high blood pressure. She not only made it through the night, but lasted for another year and five days before her body gave out at 19 1/2.

When Rhett died, I was heartbroken. But, I felt so much worse because he was my baby, my rescue and I felt deep down that I should have gone to a different vet much earlier – I trusted the guy we were with. One of my friends took me aside many months later to remind me the loving, spoiled life I gave this once homeless kitten. It made me feel a bit better – on some days.

When we rescue an animal, we take them in, love them, and do what we can to give them a long healthy life. I’m thinking a lot about Rhett and Scarlett the past week as I pray hard everyday for a group of dogs I’ve never met fighting parvo at Animal Care Center in Chicago.

A wonderful group of rescuers – Trio Animal Foundation and Project Rescue – took responsibility for these dogs. Now, as they face overwhelming vet bills, they are doing what they can day after day to try right by these puppies. I can’t image what it’s like to be in their shoes but I get where this dedication comes from – they rescued these dogs, they are doing what they can.

TAF has seen the worst of what humans can do to animals and worked to rescue and rehabilitate pets no one else would go to bat for. We all should have someone like that in our corner.

The sad part about this story is that Antlers puppies were almost home – they’d been rescued, loved and were about to be put up for adoption. When TAF got the bad news about the Parvo last week, they did what I did, told the vet to work to save them and then went on overdrive trying to find the funding to help. They knew what the costs were, they’d just save several other dogs from parvo as well.

Here’s what you can do – keep praying. Modern veterinary medicine is wonderful, but I’ll never underestimate the power of prayer. Donate – there’s a chipin set up to help the puppies. Stop by the fundraiser – There is a fundraiser for TAF at Franklin Tap on Wednesday. Here’s the link to the details and my story.

Note – Army, the little dog in the last photo, died Tuesday afternoon.  Solo is still hanging on.

I was baking Christmas cookies with my nieces – aged 16-18 – and the discussion of dogs and puppies came up. My in-laws are considering adding a dog to the family, the first since their beloved lab died six years ago. This time around they are well aware of some allergies in the family and are looking for non-shedding dogs, which haven’t been bugging the allergies of the three people in the house that suffer from them.

My youngest nieces has her heart set on a golden-doodle – while her mom and I have been talking rescue. Then she said it – “I found some stores and internet sites where the dogs are on sale.”

Before I could go into puppy mill overdrive her older cousin commented – “if you had googled puppy mills like I told you two years ago, we’d not be having this conversation.”

Dogs in puppy mills - courtesy of The Puppy Mill Project..

I was so proud. Especially since I’d just recently become involved with the Puppy Mill Project and hadn’t even started to talk about puppy mills with them. We did a quick lesson on how to use the site for the Puppy Mill Project, the Amish  and their connection to puppy mills and the dogs at Lambs Farm (puppy mill dogs as well).

In my circle of friends, we all know where the puppies in the window come from. However, my circle is very full with people in the animal rescue community. That isn’t the case for the rest of America. According to the Puppy Mill Project, an estimated 75 percent Americans are not aware of the puppy mill/internet/pet shop connection.

If you live in the Chicago-area, here is a very short version of a list of places not to purchase your puppies –

  • Lamb’s Farm
  • PetLand
  • Happiness is Pets
  • Furry Babies
  • Puppies R Us
  • Go here for the full list.

There are three pet stores that I know of that used to sell dogs and have now moved to adoption through various partnerships. Wilmette Pet Center made the move over a year ago with the help of Adopt-a-Pet. Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston worked with the Puppy Mill Project(TPMP) and Chicago Animal Care and Control to set up an adoption program.

Chip was rescued by Annie's Little Angles and Dog Patch for adoption through Dog Patch.

In November, it was Naperville’s oldest pet store – Dog Patch Pet and Feed – that made the move with help from TPMP. Annie’s Little Angle’s Rescue has been working with Dog Patch to pull dogs from Death row at CACC (Dog Patch already had a relationship with a Wisconsin Shelter for cats).

So far, all three stores have found many new customers since making the move to adopt instead. And, dogs and cats are now being saved from death row.

In the meantime, animal advocates will continue to protest and get the word out about puppy mills. Go here for an article on the efforts of the Puppy Mill Projects Cari Meyers (and vote for her at this site each day).

Just a little cat-itude…

My best friend has abandoned me…gone over to the darkside…given me the cold paw.

Yesterday was kitty dental day and we loaded up Max and Ellie bright and early to drop them off at the vet. Max sensed it was not a normal field trip (like therapy cat day) and actually went under the bed. I eventually corralled them in the carriers and hit the road for the vet.

Ellie hates to go to the vet. I know that is typical for a cat. But, when her first family abandoned her, the animal control was a vets office and I think she kinda wonders if I’m leaving her for good when we go. So, she sang all the way there.

When they came home later in the day, it was payback time. First, Ellie hid from everyone. Then, she’d run up to me like it was going to be lap time – stop short – give me a look and then go away. She totally skipped lap time during my designated lap hour last night and went to hang out with my husband.

At bedtime, she started to curl up next to me like all was forgiven – then a little light went on in her head – oh  yeah, I’m still mad at you – and she switched sides of the bed.

I thought all was forgiven this morning….but I was wrong. She did breakfast and then promptly hid in the center of the cat condo. A little birdie told me she came out as soon as she heard the garage door go up.

The late Scarlett used to make me pay for an hour our two after any trip to the vet.  However, the cat that really had it down to an art was Smokey Jo – the cat I had growing up. When I would go away to college, she’d make me pay for a good 2-3 days every time I’d come home. I’d need a week-long break at least before she’d begin to act like all is forgiven.

I just need to figure out which spirit she’s channeling and I’ll know how to react.

Sorry to miss the Meow Monday blog post – see what I was up against 🙂

Isis on the mend…

She was an animal story in Chicago that drew a lot of attention.

Isis the dog was abandoned by her family on the cold Chicago streets when they moved and the new landlord didn’t allow dogs. Then, neighborhood kids beat her, police were called and she was taken in by animal control.

Isis had been a faithful, loving companion for 10 years and this is what she got. The dog’s former owner, Lashon Parks, was charged last month with animal cruelty and failure to comply with an animal owner’s duties, both misdemeanors charges.

The story got a lot of attention and lots of families stepped forward offering to adopt or foster the sweet senior dog. She’s stayed in the care of Chicago Animal Care and Control and has recovered quite well. Cherie Travis of CACC says Isis will soon be ready to go up for adoption. She will get the happy ending she truly deserved, but didn’t get from her original family.

While the flood of potential adopters comes forward for this one dog, what about all the others?

Isis will soon be ready for adoption from CACC.

Over 7,000 dogs are put down in Chicago each year (and a more astounding 9,600 cats)! Many of these animals are also abused and all are abandoned. What about them?

As the people line up for consideration for this one dog, it would be great if they walked through the pavilion and tried to rescue one or more of the other souls at CACC – dog or cat. There are so many seniors just like Isis that have been abandoned by their family when they hit their golden years. There are so many and just not enough adopters walking through the doors.

The numbers would be much worse if not for Chicago’s awesome rescue community – a record number of dogs and cats were pulled last year from CACC. At Animal Welfare League, another large contingent was also saved through transfers and adoption.

I’m so happy that things worked out for Isis…but let’s not forget about the other animals left behind.

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