Thursday, October 25, 2012

Understanding How Rescues Work

If you yourself volunteer with rescue or are close to those who do, you wonder how they can do it.  Initially people think more about how someone can subject themselves to such sadness on a daily basis.  So many dogs condemned to die, so many in great need.  If you talk to a rescuer, you will quickly learn that while those elements are trying and difficult, the most difficult aspect of rescue is dealing with the humans.  And no, not the humans who have left these animals in horrible circumstances.. Yes, it's the potential adopters.

I saw a post on Facebook not too long ago which asked, "Why is everyone in rescue crazy?"  Really? They commented on how it must be because they love animals and not people.  Like somehow rescue is meant to support and cater to people, not dogs.  Do it yourself for a year, and if you don't feel like it makes you crazy, then I stand corrected. And it's not the dogs.. it's comments from people like that.

A great percentage of those looking to adopt from a rescue are amazing people who "get it".  These are the people who drop off bags of dog food to the events they pass by, who donate money above and beyond adoption fees/donations, and who perhaps even foster themselves.  If adopting, they will enter it with great understanding and patience not only for the rescue, but for the potential of short to medium term challenges with their new dog.

Sadly, so much time is spent working with potential adopters who really give the rescue a hard time.  I think, bottom line, their shared sentiment is that because they are supporting rescue, the process should be easier, faster, and cheap.  After all, these dogs were perhaps going to die, right?  Why does it cost so much to adopt?  Why does it (sometimes) take so long?  Why do I have to sign a contract and feel "inspected"?  Aren't they better off with me anyway, regardless of all this vetting?  And now, the dog is sick.  I adopted him 2 weeks ago and those rescuers "should have known".. 

Rescues aren't used car salesman.  They are not salesman at all.  There is no profit to be had, no paycheck to receive, and no accolades from co-workers.  All they have is the burned image in their head of the dog when they first met them, and the reward of seeing their wagging tail walking away from them into the car of a new home.  That's it.

Why is the adoption fee/donation so high?  Many rescues have varying requested donations, and I think this can cause some confusion.  Some can ask for as little as $150 for a dog, while others can be upwards of $400.  Like all things, it is still a business, a non-profit business.  A rescue asking for less likely has less overhead.  Perhaps they cater to a smaller area, requiring less driving, thusly gas money expenditure, to rescue dogs.  Perhaps they do less medically with their dogs.  For the higher priced adoption donations, take a hard look at everything they are putting into it.  Do they rescue from out of state?  Do they cover more than core vaccines?  For giant/large breeds, did they pay for a gastropexy during spay/neuter? 

"You'd think if they are serious about saving dogs, they would have called me back by now".  "You think if they are serious about saving dogs, they would charge less."  "You think if they are serious about saving dogs, they wouldn't make me go through such a lengthy process".  I've heard it all before.  Believe me, they want those dogs in homes as fast as possible.  But without taking the proper time and attention, those dogs just come right back.  No words can explain the emotional devastation a rescuer feels when a dog is returned.  Where did they go wrong?  Why was it the wrong family?  NO answer is ever "we spent too much time trying to place them".. it will *always* be the contrary. 

I'm sure a rescuer has felt themselves, under the pressure of the comment about "why haven't they called me back yet", getting home from work and saying to themselves, "I haven't even gone to the bathroom yet today, and these people think I am taking too long".  Full time jobs, personal life, human family..  every spare moment spent trying to re-home dogs, and it often isn't fast enough or good enough.  Again, so many people *get it*, but unfortunately so many do not, and share such exhausting lack of patience which makes rescue much harder than it ever should have to be.  Once a woman came up to me and said "I left (her) 2 messages about adopting a dog and she never called me back.  Make sure you tell (her) that a dog could have been saved today."  She walked off triumphantly.. well, she really told me.  Did she even *see* how many dogs were at the adoption event?  And that 1 woman did it ALL, essentially? 

The adopter needs to understand how much the rescuer loves the dogs they save.  They *don't* have to be doing this.  Life, for them, would be much easier if they didn't rescue.  So when contemplating the adoption application, adoption contract, home visit, and all the other aspects, imagine if it were a human adoption;  I would seriously be cautious about rescues who do not take every special care to ensure the home is a perfect match.  The adopter should be able to walk away saying to themselves, "Wow, they really care where their dogs go".

A person once commented to me that they decided a reason they walked away from adopting from rescue was because they felt that they "didn't have their pick".  They really wanted to be able to say "I want that one", and leave with him or her.  There was no way to make them understand the process: that if 2 families want the same exact dog, (and both are great families!), the rescue will be forced to make a choice.  How else would it work?  They will select the family who they truly feel is the best match.  Feelings get hurt, people get turned off from rescue, but that is how it must be.

"I don't want a sick dog".  This is not only an excuse to not adopt from shelters and rescues, but also a complaint from those who have.  I have to say, lately, I have seen more sick pups who came from breeders.  And here is the thing:  it's not necessarily that the breeders did something wrong.. they are dogs and can get sick.  New adoptive families, travel, etc.  takes it's toll.  They are not unlike humans: how sick do we get when we are stressed out, not eating right, and confused?  Very.  I think on the whole, our dogs fair better than we would in the same situation.

People want their dogs "now" (and I can't blame them.. you fall in love so fast!) but.. we need to understand that many illnesses have "incubation periods".  Unless your rescue is determined to hang onto a dog for a few weeks or longer, you may adopt and see signs of upper respiratory disease, Parvo, or any number of illnesses a week or two into adoption.  It is difficult for a rescue to determine what vet bills they will pay for once the dog is no longer theirs.  Perhaps the dog *was* healthy, and the day after you adopted him or her, you recklessly took them to a place to socialize them without first addressing their vaccine status.  Who's to say where the pup got sick?  How long have you lived in your house?  Did you know that Parvo can *live* in the soil for a year?  Perhaps the tenant before you had a Parvo pup out back.  It really becomes the adopters job to understand animal health, and partner with their veterinarian to make wise choices.  In addition, I'm sure a rescue would love to be able to hold onto a dog for a month for this reason.. but they simply can't.  For each day that dog lingers in rescue or foster, I don't need to count the number of dogs dying, waiting for a spot to open up for them.

"Why do rescues demand contractually that the dog be surrendered back to them, if I decide I no longer want them?"  People feel inconvenienced.  And if not, others just feel ashamed or embarrassed and would really prefer to drop them to a shelter.  Understand how heart-breaking this is.  That rescue did *so much* so ensure that dog *didn't* end up in a shelter.  They trusted you when you said you could love them forever, and then they get a call from a shelter that one of their rescues was dropped off.  Don't allow this contractual obligation to turn you away from rescue: If you are concerned about it, you probably shouldn't be adopting.

Rescues, like women, "all stick together".  Do not be surprised if you find yourself a little "black listed" if you adopted from a rescue, surrendered, and try to adopt from another rescue.  If rescues had their way, there would be a physical "black list" they all could share to ensure they could all partner to ensure that no one ever gave that person a dog again. 

All rescues have different ideas about how to run their business.  You will likely encounter variations in their protocols that reflect the morals and goals of those running it.  The ultimate goal is always the same: save the dog, and find a great home that will keep them forever.  Some may cover less medically, some may take longer to place, and some may be harder to get a hold of.  But, why the rush?  A dog is forever.  Take your time, shop all your rescues and shelters.  Understand how expensive saving a dog's life is, and all the emotional involvement those involved have. 

Before you fall in love, ask the volunteer about the process.  If something doesn't sit right with you, ask them why.  Adopting from rescues and shelters is the only sensible thing to do, and everyone knows it.  Take your time, and understand that the goal is to not have to keep saving the same dog over and over again.  Rescue wants to do it right the first time, and they will take the time needed to do so, the contracts accordingly, and ask you for enough donation to ensure they can save the next dog.  It's really that simple.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Dog Licks Their Paws!

Many owners think nothing of the fact that their dog seems to lick and chew on their feet a lot.  I've heard owners say they assumed their dog was merely grooming, and didn't give it more thought than that.

Cats groom themselves, but dogs do not... *not* in the sense that would explain away licking away at paws or other areas of their body.  We naturally see our dogs affectionately lick on their friends, but offering grooming and licks to a buddy is different than the focus they give to their own bodies. 

Your veterinarian may ask you about licking or chewing, and they do this because it isn't typically a normal behavior.  Dogs who pay this kind of attention to their paws are likely suffering from some kind of allergy, and their paws are itchy.  With excessive licking, they may become raw and irritated, and will likely "bronze".  Bronzing is easy to see in our white dogs, because their fur turns to the color of tea.  Their saliva causes these changes, and if they stop licking (are cured of the source of the itch), the bronzing will go away.

Seeing bronzing is a sure sign of excessive licking, whether it be around their mouths, their paws, or their abdomen.  If you do not notice your dog licking much, he or she may be doing it more when you are not home and if you notice discoloration of fur like this, have your vet talk to you about ruling out allergies.

In addition to this unwanted attention to their paws, if you notice itchy ears or reoccurring ear infections, allergies are a likely culprit.  (Keeping in mind there are *many* things which can irritate our dogs ears, such as baths, excessive hair in the canal, and swimming, to name a few). The only *real* way to determine if it's an allergy is to have a DVM do allergy testing.  It's just like how they do it in humans, where a patch of fur is shaved and irritants are injected under the skin to isolate what they are allergic to.  Not all general practice DVMs may do this, but they can refer you to a dermatologist.

Some of the most common allergens for dogs are dust, fleas, grass, pollen, and certain proteins they are consuming in their foods.  Based on my experience and conversations with veterinarians, some dogs who never had a particular allergic reaction to, say, cow, can develop one after a couple of years eating the same protein.  Your vet may recommend trying a new protein (anything else.. fish, chicken, etc.) for *no less* than 2 months to see if you see an improvement.  (Keep in mind that buffalo and cow are essentially the same protein). Switching for less than 2 months won't give their body enough time to respond.  If you do this, WATCH YOUR SNACKS..  make sure the correct protein is also within your snacks, not just their main meals.

While some dogs have an allergic reaction to vaccines, this *won't* be why you see this licking.  If you dog is allergic to vaccine, symptoms of that will show up the day of the injection and present, most commonly, as a swollen face.  (Anything other than being tired following a vaccine should be cause for concern and you should call your vet immediately).  

Our pups spend their entire lives on their feet!  We need to take any possible discomfort very seriously, whether it be allergens or even overgrown toe nails.  Always be cognisant of the surfaces they are walking on, especially in extreme cold and heat.  With winter coming, beware of salt placed on slippery surfaces, as this can irritate their feet as well.  In the winter, dogs are also more prone to pad injuries, because the ground is covered in leaves or snow, hiding lawn edgings and other potentially harmful items.

That being said, if you notice your dog licking or chewing, exam their paws.  Be sure to look closely between all their "toes", and ensure no nails are overgrown and rubbing into their pads.  If you have ruled out injury or irritation from a foreign object, take them into the vet.  It won't GO AWAY without a change in diet or reduction of allergens, and will likely grow worse and more irritated and possibly infected.  Dogs can be placed on medications to help manage allergies, just like us.

As with all things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and putting off addressing even things which seem minor save us a lot of money in the long run, not to mention the comfort of our best friends which is always paramount to anything else.