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

It’s me or the cat!

I was amazed when I was looking to adopt two cats twenty years ago at how much time one shelter spent asking me – “what happens to your cat if you get married?”

I thought it was a really stupid question. After all, if you get married, the cat comes with you. Right?

After all, who’d date a guy who didn’t like your cats (or dogs) in the first place? When I started volunteering at a shelter many years later I found out why they even ask the question. One of the reasons cats are returned to shelters is because a person gets married. Seriously?

Scarlett in her favorite perch atop the cat condo.

I’m from one of those families that always treated their pet as a member of the family. So, before any dating experiment went very far, I always got a good feel for how any guy felt about the cats.

During my dating days, I was amazed at the number of dates to be that claimed to have “no use for cats.”  I found that it was common for guys to say they had “no use for cats” because most of them had never really spent time with cats. I’d asked them if they’d ever had a cat, lived with a cat or had a bad experience with a cat. Usually, they’d respond no to all of the above.

In one case in particular, this guy made it to the second date. After making a total idiot out of himself on our date, he informed me that he was allergic to cats and I’d need to get rid of my cats immediately. That was our last date.

A few weeks later I started to talk to a potential suitor on the phone. He started off with the “no use for cats” line. I found out that he grew up in a house with dogs and never really spent anytime with any cats. What I also found out was that the dogs he grew up with were so much a part of the family, his family traveled with the family dog in a motor home long before there was such a thing as “dog-friendly” travel. The pet as part of the family…

When we finally started to date and he met the cats for the first time, he was greeted by Rhett the Wonder Cat jumping on his lap and going nose to nose with him. The two spent the rest of the evening hanging out and playing. So much for “no use for cats!”

During our dating years, one of his best customers got a divorce and lost his cats to the then ex-wife in the proceedings. Tom snagged his customer’s two cat condo and promptly delivered them to my place in the city. Rhett also dutifully stood by my front door the second he saw the jeep pull up. After all, Tom wasn’t my date, he was Rhett’s.

Eventually, Tom and I got married and we moved out to the suburbs. We have a berm in our backyard and lots of wildlife. As the house was being built, my husband to be was the one that was excited about all the wildlife the cats would be able to stalk (from inside). Our house included tons of windows for wildlife theater.

Although the cats and I had been a team for 10 years before we got married, someone had bonded with someone else  (Darth Cat).  I was out of the equation except for food. Both Rhett and Scarlett have since gone on to the rainbow bridge. And, even though we have two really great cats in the house, we still miss them.

And, I always have to smile when my husbands tells stories about “his” cat.  Too bad he had no use for cats.

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For my New Years resolution, I’d really like to see a ban on stupid people…and stupid legislation!

Anyone who knows me knows what is coming next. The world is filled with stupid people who go out and get pets – dogs, cats, ferrets, etc. – and then stupidity sets in. (Actually, stupidity was already festering.)

Here’s the deal. When you adopt, buy or acquire a pet, it’s your responsibility to not only care for and feed the pet, you must train them.  Let me say that more slowly for the idiot patrol – It – is – your – responsibility – to – properly – train – your pet.

Dogs of any size need to be trained!

Any dog can attack, but the damage done by a big powerful dog is so much worse than that done by a little dog (duh). Because of that, the big dogs get a very bad rap and lots of terrible publicity when some bad owner fails to  properly train and restrain their dogs and someone gets attacked.

On Monday, an unsuspecting jogger was attacked, mauled and critically injured by two unrestrained dogs on Chicago’s lake front. The dogs just happened to be 70 pound, unneutered, unrestrained pit bulls. They were shot and killed by police.

The dogs were unleashed (against city law), not licensed (against city law) and apparently trained for something other than being a family pet (if trained at all). For a day, there were rumblings of possible Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) – until cooler heads prevailed. Now there is talk of creating laws that are tougher on bad dog owners (not that bad dog owner follow the rules anyway).

I have a better idea, lets ban stupid people (oops, there goes the city council). Or, better yet…If they really want to put some teeth into some legislation, maybe they should write some laws that make it very tough on people who don’t train and restrain their pets. Let’s really make it painful financially (and otherwise) for people who own dogs that attack others (people, dogs, cats…)

Courtesy of Dolly the Pit Bull - Sweet or Scary???

The dog’s owner in this case is using the excuse of “someone let them out.” The dogs are still his responsibility. If they had been properly socialized and trained, they never, ever would have attacked anyone (unless that is what they were trained to do). You can bet that if there’s a lawsuit, his homeowners insurance will hold him accountable in this case.

As the debate raged this past week on what to do, one thing became abundantly clear. People I know that walk dogs for a living and deal with dogs they know and dogs they don’t know in many situations all said the same thing.

They didn’t have any problems with the pit bulls they walk and encounter on walks – with the rotts or shepherds for that matter. They did have a lot of issues with stupid and irresponsible owners. The owners that let their dog run off-leash everywhere or those using a retractable leash with no control.

You’ve heard of distracted drivers, distracted, irresponsible dog owners are causing just as many problems in their community. Dog owners on walks texting and not keeping an eye on their leashless dog was a huge topic on social media. Lots of issues were occurring when dogs they walked were encountered by dogs they didn’t know who were out of control. Some of the worst offenders – Golden Retrievers, Labs, Rat Terriers and Pomeranians. Where are the articles about those dangerous breeds – wait, they aren’t dangerous…their owners are.

It will be interesting to see what new laws, if any are enacted and how they will be enforced. Since leash laws, licensing laws and other pet-related laws are already not being enforced…it’s likely not much will change. In the meantime, Chicago’s rescue community will continue to work hard to rescue and rehome all kinds of dogs, especially pit bulls. And, the next time BSL hits a discussion, lets hope its to ban stupid pet owners.

A cat’s tail…

What is the most euthanized animal in Chicago?

If you guessed a pit bull, you’d be wrong. The pit bull may be the most euthanized breed, but the house cat by far is the most euthanized animal. In 2008, over 9,600 cats were euthanized according to a recent story in the Chicago Tribune. In that one-year alone, over 2,000 more cats than dogs were put down here in Chicago.

9,600 cats. As a cat lover, I stopped reading and cried on the train into work. Because this whole thing is just so senseless. I’ve also learned from my research that this bad news pretty much follows cats all over the country.

Once upon a time, all three of these cats were left at animal control. Luckily, they were rescued by no kill shelters before landing a fabulous gig in our home.

Cats are the most popular pet in America – outnumber dogs by 15 million. However, they are more likely to be surrendered to a shelter than dogs and more than half as likely as dogs to get preventative veterinary care. Meanwhile, one of the fastest growing segments of the pet market is doggy day care (I think it’s a great business idea, but let’s not dump the family cat folks).

But this is just at tip of the iceberg. Last fall, I interviewed Kari Johnson from Tree House Humane Society on a TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) program they were conducting on the West side. An astounding 60-percent of the cats they trapped in the program were friendly strays. In other words, someone’s dumped pet. By midsummer, Tree House had also seen a record number of very sick and injured cats dumped on their doorsteps.

The good news for the friendly strays trapped by Tree House is that they end up in foster care until Tree House or another organization has room to take them in and find them a home. (That isn’t the case everywhere.)

Why is the number so high for cats? Many people don’t realize that the cute cuddly kitten they covet is a 15-20 year commitment. There is also a feeling among some people that cats, being well-known carnivores can also fend for themselves when they no longer want the responsibility to care for them. Some people take in a “free kitten to good home” and never get them spayed or neutered. They end up dumping a cat for having kittens or perpetually being in heat or dump an non-neutered male cat for spraying in the house and always being on the prowl.

It’s not just a financial issue. A woman once lived around the corner from me in Lake Forest in a multi-million dollar home. She dumped one cat at a shelter for spraying in her house (he’d never been fixed) and stopped speaking to me when I called her on the carpet for letting her non-neutered male cat roam free in the neighborhood.

I could go on – but it would be a real long blog post…So, I’ll make it many blog posts. During 2012, I’d like to designate Mondays as Meowing Mondays. It’s the day I get up on my own personal soapbox and discuss cat issues. I’ll hit the serious issues and also share some light stories about my own cats (and friends cats as well).

A New Year’s Tail

As I read the stories on Facebook the last few days about the end of the year rescues. I only need to look as far as the cat on my lap (swishing her tail across the laptop). Five years ago, Heartland Animal Shelter rescued around 20 adult cats from a suburban animal control shortly before the end of the year. The kitties were facing euthanasia if a rescue hadn’t come forward. Luckily for us, Heartland did.

The Late Great Rhett the Wonder Cat.

Earlier that year we had lost one of our two cats – Rhett the Wonder Cat – to kidney disease (and probably IBS). We’d been heartbroken and had made our tour of the shelters without finding any cat that we could consider a replacement for our late guy who thought he was a super hero cat.

Among the group of cats rescued from Schaumburg was an outgoing long-haired male cat and his very frightened calico sister. They arrived at the shelter with a case of Coccidia and eventually were put in neighboring cages in the cat room.

Five weeks later, we walked in the shelter. As we checked out the other kitties, one of the cats in the cage swatted at my husband’s head until he had his attention. They played and bonded and I looked at the profile I had pulled from Petfinder (yes, he already had my attention) and saw he was there with his sister.

We filled out the paperwork for the cat named Davis and Tom pointed out that we were only adding one cat…and off we went. By the time Heartland called us back a few days later, we had decided to find out how closely bonded this pair might be. We were replacing half of a bonded pair and we knew how important that connection was for a cat. We learned that while the male cat was outgoing, the female called Monroe was very frightened and only seemed to settle down when the two were together. We ended up adopting them both.

Scarlett and Ellie loved to hang out together.

Within days, they became Max and Ellie. The shy little calico was actually recovering from a broken heart after losing her family. She ended up bonding with our senior cat Scarlett and was very close to her in her final years. As she’s learned to trust us, she’s become very affectionate – almost annoyingly so.

And then there’s Max. He’s been dubbed the circus kitty for his antics and he pretty much has no fear. He’s also so laid back that he’s been certified as a therapy cat and visits the nursing home and participates in reading programs. I pull out the harness, he hops on my lap to get strapped in, and crawls in the carrier for his next adventure.

As we ring in the New Year, I always wonder why their family dumped them – was it the economy or some other reason. We’ll probably never know.

Max and his favorite toy.

Max and Ellie actually have become a bit of an inspiration. I eventually volunteered at Heartland for a couple of years before moving on to write about animal rescue for the Examiner. The Late Scarlett (10/23/10) and the Late Great Rhett the Wonder Cat (8/23/06) were my introduction to a no-kill shelter through Tree House Humane Society (over 20 years ago). However, Max and Ellie sparked the real passion.

I hope to write more about that passion in my blog now that we are in a new year. Since starting this blog, I’ve been tied up a lot writing for the Examiner and stopped posting.  I’m hoping to change that in 2012 – I may even have a pet bloggers group to cheer me on. Happy New Year!

You could set your watch by Scarlett.

At the same time each morning, she’d either be sitting next to my head in full throttle purr or she’d be letting out her long raspy meow on the top step of the cat stairs next to the bed – just a reminder that it was time to get up (AKA – breakfast time). She would be waiting next to my desk as I stopped in to check email after work each day and would climb on my lap the same time each night. The list goes on.

We lost Scarlett a year ago at the ripe old age of 19 1/2 and it took us awhile to get back into our regular routine. After all, she was no longer there to remind us it was that time of day to do whatever.

Meeeeoooow!

Ah…routine! So many pets, through no fault of their own lose their home in their golden years. Their owner may die or go into a nursing home or their family may lose their home. Or, they just get dumped for no reason at all (it’s my blog so I can say – stupid people). These animals not only deeply miss a family…their family…they miss their routine.

November is Adopt-a-Senior Pet Month and I’ve been working on a series of stories with rescues, adopters and people that have a lot of great new products and services for senior pets. The universal comment I get from rescuer and adopters is that the senior cats and dogs they’ve rescued, fostered or adopted have almost immediately settled into their family routines. In some cases, it’s been like that pet has always been a part of the family. They also tend to bond with their new family and catch onto the rules much more quickly than their younger counterparts.

We all love kittens and puppies and energetic young cats and dogs. But, let’s face it, those loveable fur balls have their own schedule and don’t care about your routine. Another thing I’ve learned is that there are many animals that are adopted as a puppy or a kitten and returned because the were destructive, not housebroken etc. In reality, the adopter never spent the time training and nurturing their latest acquisition.

So, if you are considering adding a pet to your home, consider adopting a senior or older cat or dog. Here’s a link to my latest feature showing some of the animals that just want a break and a family. Young at Heart Pet Rescue in suburban Chicago rescues only older cats and dogs and have many wonderful pets needing homes. Heartland Animal Shelter, Save-A-Pet and Anti-Cruelty Society also have many senior pets looking for families. And, Tree House Humane Society – the shelter that introduced me to Scarlett as a kitten – has lots and lots of senior kitties needing homes.

Doing the right thing

I love the Staples commercial on TV when the person confronted with a crisis just hits the “Easy” button and everything is great. In reality, it’s a different story.

PJ’s Pet Stores in Canada have been getting a lot of attention after announcing they’d stop selling pure breed puppies and kittens. From now on out, they will work with shelters and rescues on animal adoptions. Since the pure breeds come from puppy and kitten mills and more people are aware of the horrors of those businesses, you’d think moves like these would be simple for pet stores to make.

Dogs from a puppy mill.

Apparently, it is not.

In the Chicago-area, the war has been brewing between the store owners, who have no problem selling animals from puppy and kitten mills, and animal rights activists. The number of stores shut down by protests is on the rise with more of the worst offenders in the sites of the Puppy Mill Project. This organization works on educating the public about the horrors of puppy mills and working with merchants to stop the sale of puppies and kittens.

I’ve always been an animal lover and to me, the right thing to do is a true “no brainer.” Animal abuse is wrong and to abusively reproduce for profit should be criminal. One of my dearest friends has a dog rescued from a puppy mill and Reese is the face I picture whenever I discuss this issue.

There are pet stores that are doing the right thing and it is working. Dave Cozzolino owns Wilmette Pet Center. Although the store had sold puppies and kittens for years, Cozzolino had developed a relationship with North Suburban Adopt-A-Pet. The store would foster a cat for adoption and hold adoption fairs at the location.

When he took over as owner three years ago, he decided that he no longer wanted to sell puppies and kittens and wanted to work for more adoptions instead. He worked with Adopt-A-Pet to change over the cages in his store one by one to the rescue. He fosters the animals and the rescue handles the adoption. After a year, the move has been good for his business.

Animals that have been rescued by Adopt-A-Pet are now up for adoption at Wilmette Pet Center.

I interviewed him recently and a couple of things really struck me about Dave. First of all, he feels like many of us do – because there are so many homeless cats and dogs in the world, it’s just not right to sell so many puppies and kittens for profit. The other thing is his very strong sense of community.

Dave feels that if he is good to the community, they will be good to him as well. Along with Adopt-A-Pet, he works with Midwest Greyhound Adoption, the Midwest Labrador Retriever Rescue and has hosted events for other shelters and rescues. But in his Wilmette neighborhood, community is much more than that. He supports school groups and scouts and other local organizations. As long as he’s in business, he’ll be around to help out a lot of local folks.

Bonny from Adopt-A-Pet

Like most business owners, he is in the business to make a profit. But he also was genuinely concerned about who would support those organizations if his business wasn’t there any longer. So, he switched from selling to adopting – cage-by-cage – and worked to come up with new products and revenue streams with each change.

In the past year, his business is up and adoptions for Adopt-A-Pet are also up – especially the kittens. He reports he has lots of new customers who adopt from him and now shop there and from people who are now coming back in because he has stopped selling pure breeds and changed how he does business.

Kitten from Adopt-A-Pet

A few other small operations are also joining forces with rescues, shelters and even Chicago Animal Care and Control to help save lives and move Chicago a bit closer to being a no-kill city. We still have a long, long way to go.

He was the goofiest kitten I’d ever seen. His ears were way too large for his head. His body was scrawny. He had this enormous fluffy tail and his back legs worked faster than the front. So, he ran funny. When I first saw Rhett at the Tree House Humane Society nearly 20 years ago, it was hard to image that he “belonged” to the beautiful, puffy little kitten next to him in the cage. She was so purr-fectly proportioned – he was far from it.

The two kittens came home with me that day and today’s post is about the little kitten that got into loads of trouble. You see Rhett didn’t so much move into my Wrigleyville apartment as he invaded it. He climbed, attacked, bit and partied when everyone wanted to sleep. He got into so much trouble that first year, he answered to Booger – as in – “You little Booger!”

It may look as if Rhett's relaxing - it's just a ploy to plot his next move.

Each time he got into trouble, he looked at me with his silly little look and purred so loudly that I though a Harley was speeding through my apartment. I talked to my vet and behavioral people at Tree House. Still, the little booger kept reeking havoc in my life. They say in the cat books that male kittens settle down after they are neutered – not Rhett.  Kittens with a buddy get into less trouble – not Rhett.  My kitten was too busy getting into trouble to read any book.  I eventually had a roommate move in with a little male cat – Tin-Tin – and once the two of them started re-enacting the WWF – Rhett settled down a tad.

There was another strange thing about this cat. His first birthday came and went and he kept growing. The vet said he could have some Maine Coon in him and that would explain the continued growth spurt. When he finally stopped growing, he had developed into one of the most handsome cats I’d ever seen.

Rhett as a handsome adult cat.

His head and ears finally matched and the tail complimented his body – he also ran like a normal cat. He still didn’t act like one.

When the cats and I moved into our Edgewater condo, something strange happened each day. I’d leave the house in the morning and the throw rug would be in front of the door. At night, it would be under the front window or in the kitchen. The mystery was finally solved one weekend. Rhett and Scarlett would take turns running down the hall and jumping on the rug – it would slide a few feet – they’d repeat until they hit a wall. So, this cat rode a magic carpet, jumped furniture in a single bound, and worked hard to keep us safe from invisible invaders. Just call him Rhett the Wonder Cat.

Rhett felt that company came to see only him and would jump on anyone’s lap, especially those who he sensed didn’t like cats. When my husband-to-be and I first started dating, Rhett jumped up on Tom’s lap, put his paws on his shoulders and sniffed him out nose to nose. Tom, who wasn’t a cat person at that time, asked if this was normal behavior for a cat. Of course it wasn’t, but this wasn’t a normal cat.

From then on, the boys were inseparable. They wrestled and played games and when Tom’s Jeep pulled up in front of my condo, Rhett was waiting for his buddy to arrive. When we got married and the cats moved with us to a house on the North Shore, he started to shadow Tom’s every move. Yes,  Darth Cat had gone over to the Dark Side.  Tom taught Rhett how to sit and shake hands and Rhett taught Tom how to turn on the water in the sink in the master bath at 3 am by knocking items off the counter and into the sink.

Rhett was all wet after drinking out of the sink.

Rhett loved life and loved most company. But, he didn’t like little boys – even when they grew up into teenagers. He’d growl and hiss and dive under the bed with the nephews came to visit. At an early age, they all joked about the “mean, scary” cat and wisely  left him alone. Since Tom isn’t overly fond of children, it gave them both another reason to bond.

At one point, my sister-in-law came to feed Rhett and Scarlett when we were out-of-town and called me in a panic. Rhett had met her in the hallway and let out a cougar scream before going into hiding. She didn’t know what set him off because she’d left the boys at home.

Well, kind of.

She was eight months pregnant at the time with my future godson Anthony – Rhett must have sensed that there was a little boy in the house and wanted everyone to know that wasn’t fine with him.

Eventually, the senior years took over and Rhett slowed down, jumped less and ceased to get into much trouble. During the summer five years ago, he lost his appetite and eventually ended up in the emergency room. In the middle of the night his true closest friend Scarlett, let out the saddest howl. When the phone rang, we learned his time was almost over.  He died five years ago today at the age of 15  and the house was too quiet for the longest time.  After being called so many nicknames through the years, he has just one title now he’s gone off to the Rainbow Bridge – the Late, Great Rhett the Wonder Cat!

Rhett and Scarlett relaxing in the bathroom

Tom and I had both loved and lost pets growing up. Nothing was as difficult as losing our first true rescue as adults. It took us a long time to recover and when we did, we ended up with another bonded pair and a cat just as goofy as our Rhett (much more on those cats in future posts).  In recent years, I’ve also been active in the animal rescue community helping with public relations, community outreach and education. While volunteering, I learned the craziest thing – people actually return cats for all the reasons I listed above. Seriously!

You know what, the thought never once crossed my mind. To this day, I just can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the late, great Rhett the Wonder Cat! As the little nephews say – R-I-P little buddy!

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