Trading Up

February 28, 2007

Two young girls said something to me this weekend that left me completely shocked and saddened. It made me realize the uphill battle shelters and animal advocates face.

Sunday at BARC, I brought a Shar Pei mix out of his kennel and into an outdoor run so he could be photographed. While standing there with the dog and another volunteer, two young girls came running up screaming “Brownie, Brownie, look, it’s Brownie!” At first, I was elated–they’d come to reclaim their lost dog. Then, the shock.

I asked the girls if this was their dog. They said yes, but they turned him in to BARC because he was too big. They said they wanted a smaller dog. They pointed down to another run where their parents were visiting with a Chihuahua. I could tell by their tone that they saw nothing wrong with this.

It’s not often I’m left speechless. This was one of those times.

I wanted to scream and yell and stomp around then walk down and slap the girls’ parents. Instead, I just stood there mute; shocked as hell that people–young girls–perceived this behavior as perfectly acceptable.

The fact that Brownie was alive and up for adoption was a miracle. Eighty-some-odd percent of animals coming into BARC never make it out. But by seeing Brownie, those girls’ view of dog recycling was reinforced. Hey, you don’t like your dog, you trade it in, the dog will get another home, you get the smaller dog you want–kind of like trading in a car. I don’t blame the girls. I blame their parents (hence the reference to the slap).

The need for humane education really hit home for me at that moment. It was just a few days before that I’d met with a Friends of BARC volunteer about helping with a poster contest to educate kids during Be Kind to Animals Week. I’m even more all over that now.


Ugh. This story is painful. I feel so badly for this woman and her poor, dear dog.

The director of BARC, Kent Robertson, admits that they failed in a number of areas. There are improvements being made at BARC, but it seems to be an uphill battle. It’s a typical City bureaucracy. And it has a long history of problems. I’ve talked to long-time volunteers who say it’s so much better today than it used to be.

I’m anxious to see BARC a whole lot better than it is today. Change can happen if people get involved. Just watching a sensational news report and then bitching about it won’t help.

Come out to BARC. Grab a leash and walk a dog. Bring your newspapers to line puppy and cat kennels. Donate towels, laundry soap, dog shampoo, canned puppy food, canned cat food, and milk replacement formula to Friends of BARC or Saving Animals.

Adopt a pet from BARC. Tell your friends to adopt a pet from BARC.

Abby Goes Home, Finally

February 26, 2007

It was a rough several days for Abby, the BARC dog I deemed as the first “one” I would try to save. She was adopted through a Petsmart adoption then returned because she appeared sick.

I was pissed that the adopters returned her. To me, adopting a dog means adopting it with the commitment to caring for it, too–even if you’d just brought her home. You don’t return a dog to the shelter like you’d a damaged item to a store. Anyway, Abby was back in the shelter and in the ward where the volunteers keep dogs who need extra care. The volunteer coordinator and I took turns visiting her during the week, trying to get her to eat, giving her meds.

The first day I saw her, I didn’t think she was going to make it. She was weak and had a far away look in her eyes. She didn’t want to eat or drink. I managed to get her to eat some canned food downed in chicken broth, but not enough food to keep her going. But gradually, she came around with the help of TLC, drugs, chicken soup, and McDonald’s hamburgers. She put on some weight and looked great.


I learned that the adopters planned to kennel her with their other dog while they went on vacation for a week. Well, since Abby appeared sick, the kennel wouldn’t take her and it was Sunday and they weren’t able to get her to the vet before they left on vacation. Apparently, the adopters had a long discussion with the head vet and wanted Abby as soon as they got back.  While BARC doesn’t hold dogs, this was a special case. The adopters were coming Sunday to pick her up.

On my way to BARC Sunday, I stopped by McD’s for sausage biscuits–a little going away present to Abby from me. I took her out of her kennel and we went on a long walk. She then snacked on the sausage biscuit while I brushed her. I had a cute dog bandanna that I put on her. She looked so happy!

Shortly after that, the adopters showed up. They were very excited to see her and take her home. While I’d initially negatively judged these folks, I instantly felt good about them. Abby seemed to feel pretty good about them, too.

Save them one at a time. This was a tough one, but it worked!

I’ve chosen my next “one.” She’s Clover, a cute little mix, maybe a Boxer. I’ve seen her every week that I’ve volunteered and every week I’m shocked she’s still there.

Miss Clover Being Silly

Everyday, I read horrible, depressing stories about how people treat animals. Over time, it has made me lose faith in people.  But then some days, I’m pleasantly surprised. Saturday was one of those days.

My neighborhood association chose BARC as their charity to support this quarter. I contacted the coordinator to see how I could help–set up, transport stuff, whatever she needed. She seemed happy to have my help.

So the day came. I feared a low turnout. I showed up at the collection spot with a bunch of donations–I wanted to stage them so it appeared to be a good turnout no matter what. I discovered that my expectations were set too low.

People–my neighbors–came in droves with piles of newspapers, paper towels, old bath towels, pet shampoo, canned food, cash, everything you could think of. Two women pulled up in a pick-up and the entire bed was full of donations. At one point, there was a line of people waiting to drop off donations.

What topped off this perfect morning was that people asked how they could do more. If I wasn’t so busy sorting, stacking, greeting, and thanking, I think I would have cried.

Maybe people aren’t that bad after all.

Have I lost my mind?!

February 18, 2007

I just agreed to foster two puppies. I have no idea what I must have been thinking.

I received a call from a very nice woman at HOPE saying she was in kind of a desperate situation. She has two puppies that were seized by Ft. Bend County officials from a bad situation and desperately needed someone to foster them. And I agreed.

Twice I’ve fostered with HOPE. Both were good experiences. It’s a good organization that’s run by great people who really help animals and help their fosters. They also very thoroughly screen potential adopters, which is so important.

But puppies?! Don’t get me wrong, I love puppies. But they intimidate me. Puppies can be difficult and time consuming. Adult dogs are so much easier. I always question people who say they want a puppy–particularly if they’re not dog people. A puppy is like a baby. A puppy is a baby! I’ve adopted one puppy in my adult life (he’s now nine years old) and he tested every ounce of patience I had. He chewed, he whined, he peed. It took me months to housetrain him. But he’s really my angel dog now.

I wouldn’t have agreed to foster these two unless I was comfortable with it (or at least that’s what I say now!).

I pick them up tomorrow. Their mom was a yellow lab. These two are little black puffballs, about eight weeks old, both males. No names yet, so I’m going to have to come up with good ones; something worthy. 

Let the puppy adventure begin!

The Star Thrower

February 13, 2007

Sunday at BARC was rough. One of the first rules they teach you as a volunteer is not to try to break up a dog fight. Well, I managed to put two small dogs, one of unknown heritage and and one terrier mix, together for socialization. That backfired miserably. They were both aggressors and I managed to get a nick on my thumb and a big pinch on my thigh. I don’t know which dog grabbed me on the leg, but it didn’t get through my jeans. The spot just looks like a big blood blister surrounded by a bruise. Very attractive. A more experienced volunteer helped me separate them. Luckily, all of these dogs have their shots.

I also completed my first adoption. While I want to see as many dogs as possible get placed, I think I may be the wrong person to deal with potential adopters. It’s difficult for me because I want all dogs to have the life my dogs have. Anyway, the family I interviewed seemed like they were on the up and up, but I just got a bad feeling about it after the fact. It kept me up most of last night.

There was also a lot of political drama going on at BARC–as there is in any organization. What makes this drama more difficult is that it deals with the lives of dogs who need people to help them.

As I was wrapping up for the day, I was chatting to another volunteer and told her that I felt very overwhelmed that afternoon and was starting to wonder if I was making any difference at all. She asked me if I’d ever heard the story about the girl and the starfish. I hadn’t. After she told me the story, it was all I could do to hold back tears. It did help me realize that I had made a difference in the lives of some of the shelter dogs that day. That thought will help me to keep going back to volunteer at BARC.

Some background on the story–it is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley.

We’re Having a Puppy!

February 10, 2007

It’s surprising to me, but a major reason people give for turning their pets into shelters is because they’re having a baby.

Just for a laugh, take a look at “We’re Having a Puppy!”

My first day as a volunteer dog walker at BARC was a little overwhelming to say the least. I’ve volunteered at shelters before, but I don’t think I was fully prepared for this.

Apparently three members of the City staff who clean cages had called in sick. The smell was awful. There are four wards in the south kennel. Most of the dogs in this area have been deemed adoptable. There were so many dogs all dying to get out of their pens to potty or play or to just get out.

After a brief tour and an overview of the guidelines, Barb, the volunteer-volunteer coordinator hooked me up with a special needs dog. Heidi was in a small portable pen out in the grass in the sun. She was maybe a Springer mix–liver and white and some tan coloring. Heidi had a neurological problem of some kind–possibly caused by distemper. Barb wanted me to spend some time with her and see how she reacted. I lifted Heidi out of her pen and put her on all fours. She immediately tipped over. I tried a few more times then she finally stood, a little wobbly, but she was on her feet. Once I got her going, she did pretty well. It was a joy to walk all around the campus with her. She seemed so happy. I spent about an hour with her–she walked, rested, drank, ate, and received a lot of love and praise from me. Afterward, I returned her to an area of the shelter for special cases.

The rest of my time was spent walking dogs, big and small, but mostly big. When their walk was over, I had to carry the majority of them back over the shelter threshold. They knew where they were going and they weren’t happy about it. Neither was I.

I left BARC that day covered with mud and hair and poop and whatever else. I was sad and felt overwhelmed–how can I help so many dogs?! How can anyone help so many dogs?!

I remembered something a woman I met at a UAN training course told me when I asked her how she coped volunteering at an animal shelter. She said “remember: one at a time.” She said if you look at the whole, it may appear impossible. That made perfect sense to me now. One person can save one dog. When that dog has been saved, go on to the next one. Don’t get overwhelmed by the situation.

I was excited to get back to BARC to volunteer the next weekend. I emailed Barb to let her know I was coming. I also asked about the “wobbly” dog, Heidi. I felt like Heidi was maybe my first “one.” I received an email back from Barb saying Heidi’s condition hadn’t improved and the very gentle, kind head vet had put her to sleep the day before. What a blow.

Despite the bad news, I was back at BARC the next weekend. I picked a whole row of dogs in the B ward to walk. It was fun. The runs were a little muddy and I ended up getting covered.  What a bunch of cool dogs! But there was one stand out. She was listed as a four year old Chow mix, but I’d guess she was a one or two year old Collie or Golden Retreiver mix. She was calm and sweet and a big snuggler. I called her Abby–at least that’s what I called her when Barb said give her a name–she’s going to be featured in the BARC Stars mass email. This is a photo of Abby.

Abby, another “one” I’m trying to save

I plan to go back to BARC to volunteer this weekend. I hope I don’t see Abby there. I hope she’s laying on a sofa snacking on treats and making someone very happy. Then I’ll have to help the next “one.”

Those Pedigree shelter dog commercials get me all choked up (but I’m kind of a sap, too).

But it does seem Pedigree (owned by Mars Incorporated–the candy people) is putting their money where their mouth is (or at least that’s their spin). I visited their web site and found some interesting offers. If you adopt a dog in 2007, Pedigree will give you a month of free dog food (mail in offer). Excellent offer. You can get a free Dogs Rule T-shirt through the mail with a qualifying purchase. There are also offers to help homeless dogs. Click on the black and yellow Pedigree Adoption Drive banner and they will donate $1 to American Humane.

The one I especially liked was if you donate a 22 lb. bag of dog food to a shelter (through Pedigree’s online store), they’ll match it. The bags are $9.99 each. You do have to select from a shelter on their list. There are a number of Houston-area shelters listed, including BARC (listed as City of Houston Animal).

Where should I begin?

February 8, 2007

I spent most of the day trying to decide if this whole blog thang is for me. I mean, who gives a crap what I might have to say? Will this be like so many other blogs–they start with a bang, then maybe a post or two every six months, if that? I think the turning point in my decision happened after I read the latest on Animal Attraction, Lisa Foronda’s old blog.

The post was bad news–BARC (Bureau of Animal Regulation & Care, Houston’s city pound) is packed to the gills with dogs needing homes. What was so disappointing is that huge amounts of info was missing from the article–Like where’s BARC? How can I contact them? What is the cost of adoptions? Where can I see photos of these animals? Who should I contact about sponsoring or fostering a dog? This blog is on a news web site which I assume is managed by journalists. Leaving out such important facts is just bad journalism. You can see by the comments to that post that there are people who want to help, but have a lot of questions.

I guess that’s where I think I should come in. I’m an animal lover and advocate. I give money to and volunteer with animal welfare organizations. I’ve just started volunteering with BARC. BARC, like most shelters, needs help in so many ways. Maybe I can provide some of the info people need to give shelter pets a second chance and to keep from having pets end up in shelters.

We’ll see how it goes.