Thursday, April 28, 2011

Long-Distance Adoption

My heart wants to be really proud of humanity for the concept of long-distance adoption.  Multiple people working together to expand the net of adoptability - moving pets across states to the perfect homes.  It's a real sign of advancement, right?

But everything is wrong with it.  I'm sorry, I want to, but I just don't think long-distance adoptions are a good idea.  And I've DONE it.  Hell, I still have Lanie.  She's a perfect example of what goes wrong with them.

#1:  Let's start with the concept of fluid adopters.  That's not a real term.  I just made it up.

What I mean by "fluid adopters" is the basic idea that a person can find a "perfect companion" in many different pets.  There are certainly picky adopters (I don't mean that in a negative way at all) who will go to five or six different shelters before finding the perfect dog/cat/bunny/other.  Those seem to be the exception, though.  Most people will go to shelter A, B, C, OR D and will find a Fluffy or Fido to complete their home.  With that in mind - an adoption at any one shelter takes an adoption away from the others.

There is obviously no animosity there - we are all in this to find animals homes, wherever they wind up.  Well, most of us are, anyways.  But what it means is that a person who adopts locally opens up a kennel for another needy animal in their community.  A person who adopts from a kill shelter takes an adoption from a no kill, and vice versa.  This is a prime reason for spontaneous adoptions from kill shelters - it's an immediate gratification of "saving" a life, despite hundreds of other animals being put down after close of business.  On the other hand, adopting from a no-kill keeps (theoretically) one more pet out of the euthanasia line to begin with.  There is no better option and this is a huge issue, but apply it to long distance adoptions:

Adopting from another city or state takes one adoption away from a local animal.

I personally feel that community is the best shot that shelters have at adopting out animals into responsible homes.  A good shelter is an active part of the fabric of the animal community - giving back education, services, and care.  If community is forsaken by adopters - reaching out to OTHER communities, we mesh together and it's more likely, imho, for animals to fall through the cracks right under our noses.  Like I mentioned before, though, we are all in this for the same reason, and a needy animal five states away is as valuable as one next door.  I don't think it's a bad thing - I just don't think it's a good one.

#2:  When you take responsibility for adopting out an animal, you take responsibility for its wellbeing after going to its new home.  On the other end, when you adopt an animal, you are taking direct responsibility for promising it a loving, safe, forever-home.  If you adopt long distance...

A shelter cannot:
  • Homecheck the adopter
  • Meet the adopter and verify they are credible, responsible, and who/what they claim to be
  • Perform followup visits and checks
  • Verify any future requirements for adoption have been met (like promised fixing/vet care)
  • Check the vet care, number, and temperaments of current pets
  • Check the household members and their knowledge of the adoption
  • Verify safety of the environment, including fencing and hazards
  • Verify the adopter has means of transport, for taking the animal to a vet
An adopter cannot:
  • Check the credibility of the shelter
  • Check the condition, health, temperament, and traits of the animal
  • Check that the shelter has not "played up" the friendliness or condition
  • Determine first if the animal's a good fit for that person, pets, or household
  • Ensure the shelter does not have practices the adopter doesn't condone or support, such as gassing
  • Meet other pets that may be a better fit, personality-wise
  • Note poor behaviors that could be deal breakers - barking, food aggression, dog aggression, skittishness, etc.
  • Easily return animal or seek help if become overwhelmed
In my opinion, all of these, on both sides, indicate a serious lack of foresight or care.  It tells me that a shelter is not as responsible as it could be, or cares more about getting adoption numbers up than where the dogs wind up.  If you don't think that's a big deal, read this (graphic).  ANYONE can adopt pets, and it's the responsibility of a shelter to make sure their animals go to good, qualified, responsible homes, as well as the responsibility of the adopter to make sure they are adopting the right animal for them and that their shelters are doing their jobs with care.  COMMUNITY can change poor adoption practices.

I realize that's harsh, and an across-the-board generalization, but it really is the responsibility of both parties that an adoption go smoothly.  It doesn't end with signing a paper - it's the before, during, and the long after.  You just can't do that long distance, not easily, anyways.  There are always exceptions, of course.

#3.  When any of those points above fall through, accidents can happen.  When we brought Lanie home she had kennel cough.  I made the stupid mistake of assuming that "vaccinated for Bordatella and Distemper/Parvo" meant that all the dogs there were kennel cough- and parvo-free.  I didn't think.  Those vaccines take weeks to work.  I later learned that EVERY DOG there had kennel cough.  She had been on medication that wasn't sent with her - an antibiotic.  I brought home a sick dog to my dog who had just had surgery.  That put everyone involved in danger and was extremely unwise.  I was very, very angry.  No one had told me - but I hadn't asked.

So who gets stuck with a vet bill for new medicine?  Whose animals were at risk because I didn't even meet the dog before tagging it and pulling it from the shelter?

I learned the hard way.  My other dog is fine, but I'm still not happy.  It's taken me two months now and I STILL haven't gotten her adoption papers/records.  I'm obligated to get her spayed, but they haven't once called, emailed, or written to follow up that I have.  They don't care.  They gave a dog away for free to a person they'd never met or verified, not even asking if I had other pets at home.  They didn't ask anything.  Lanie could have been VERY screwed if the situation were even a little bit different, and if we hadn't maintained painfully strict quarantine, Penny could have been screwed, too.  There wasn't anything to do once we'd adopted her.

#4.  Huge transport plans.  Not everyone, in fact, almost no one, drives the several hours to pick up their pet from a long-distance adoption.  In my experience, big, elaborate transport paths are planned.  Person A picks up from the shelter and drops off with person B a couple of hours away, who hands the animal off to person C, and so on until they arrive at their final home.  That means that ONLY THE LAST PERSON sees the destination the dog is going to.  That last person is stuck with the moral responsibility (and the animal) should something be glaringly, or even subtly, wrong.  In addition, that animal is the adopter's responsibility from the second it leaves the doors of the shelter - that means if person A, B, C, or other loses the pet between transport, runs off with it, hands it to a fraudulent person, gets in an anccident, or otherwise endangers the animal - that's on the adopter.

You're taking in a pet for the rest of its life.  Isn't it worth it to ensure it gets home with you safely?  Do you know who those transporters ARE?  Are they using kennels and leashes or is the pet riding loose in the car?  Will they have the windows down?  Do they have AC/heat?  Are they passing off papers, too?  Are they someone you can trust to meet with safely?

However you look at it, adopting long distance is taking a chance, and it can be very sketchy.  Heck, if you need another example, the tripawd I recently helped get out of a kill shelter went from a young, healthy, perfectly friendly and great-shape dog from a caring owner to an underweight, dog-aggressive, over-bred dog with scars and poor breeding from a terrifying owner who later harassed the adopting shelter with nonstop requests for personal and contact details of her future home.  You can never go wrong being too careful.

So yes.  Long distance adoption just sits wrong with me.  I worry those dogs have a lesser chance of staying where they go, or remaining healthy and happy.  I think it's a poor recipe.  Might just be me, though.  I really, really want to love that people are working so hard at casting that wider net, but it just worries me.  A lot.


Monday, April 25, 2011

First Surgery

I got to perform my very first surgery today, when my precious pittie Penny did a number on one of her toys.  She'd gotten the torso ripped from the rope and was toting it around happily, staring down the cat, ducking back into her kennel, throwing it out again, snatching it back up, staring down the cat, ducking back into her kennel...when she found the part that squeaks.  I picked the poor thing up and performed an impromptu surgery:


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Time to Eat

Today I wanna talk about something that has been weighing on me, and making me less than I can be, for the past several years.  Something that weighs especially hard on every single person who works with animals, people, charities, anything that involves placing something else before yourself:


Stress and animal rescue go hand in hand.  Whether it's assisting in a surgery, admitting ER patients, or pulling animals (sometimes literally) from horrible situations.  Even if it's just taking a healthy, loveable foster into your home - it's a wonderful experience that can make your life a million times better, but it invariably brings in a little stress.  How you handle that stress determines how much you can help the animals you work with.

The classes for stress are stupid.  No one can tell you what will work best for you, but you have to find something.  Handling anxiety, depression, frustration, the nights full of tears, the lack of sleep, the cramming and testing, the sometimes endless searches for a good home, the millions of "no's..."  This should come first above all else.  Not just for you, for the people and animals you are trying to help.

Find a way, find something.

I hate complaining, but I'm going to, for the sake of anyone who comes here to read this.  This is what stress has done to me, what I have done to me by not placing myself at a high enough priority (don't worry, I'm fine, it's just important).  I have a ganglion cyst in both of my wrists, one so bad in my dominant hand that some nights I can't even type or do my job, forget about changing cages or (Jesus, this is the worst) walking a dog that pulls.  I think I have a small fracture in my left foot.  My back hurts so bad some days it's like a bolt of lightning frying down from the middle of my back to the bottom of my left butt cheek.  I completely lost vision in the focus portion of both of my eyes for about an hour a couple of weeks ago.  I barely get any sleep from the foster dog sharing a bedroom with us, and I have trouble focusing on anything.  I get sick all the time, but can't take off of work because the new guy isn't trained yet.  I get dizzy, I throw up all the time (no, not on purpose), when you stress, horrible, physical, REAL things happen to you.  Things that get decidedly in the way of taking excellent care of your pets, fosters, and responsibilities.

It is so easy to become overwhelmed.  I am lucky to have a man who helps me despite his own full plate, but it's not fair to either of us.  There is no food in my fridge, but my animals have never had empty food bowls.

That is NOT right.

It sounds noble, but it's fucking stupid.

Of course, you have to feed your animals, period.  But you have to feed you, too.  You should never go to the store and come home with bags of pet food but no people food.  Ever.  EAT SOMETHING.  Go rework your budget.  If you can't afford to feed both you and the pet, ASK FOR HELP.

I am not ever, ever, EVER saying you should let an animal go hungry, EVER.  But if you can't afford to feed the both of you, you should look for another person to help you take care of the animals.  Talk to other people in rescue.  Talk to your coworkers.  Everyone in these kinds of positions is going through or has gone through exactly that, and might be able to lend a hand.  We're all bleeding hearts.  We all have to take care of ourselves.

If you don't you aren't much use to the animals.  Sleep 8 hours a night, eat 2000 calories a day, and ask for help when you need it.

This message brought to you by a chick who needs to change her entire lifestyle before it kills her.


P.S. - This book rocks, and is free online:  Biology of the Laboratory Mouse

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kitteh Balls

Good news!  I got all A's this semester.  Sweet!

In other news, the kittens I've been fostering are finally about to reach that magic number - 12 weeks old.  I have about a million people lined up to adopt them (such is the way with kittens), but they can't go nowhere until they've had their down-theres fixed up.

So when can you neuter a kitten?

Or spay, if you have a lady kitten.  Which I do not.

That depends on who you ask.  Given my major, I should probably have some strong opinion that I can forcefully defend, but I don't.  My opinion is - when they're big enough.  Your vet can give you an idea, but I would recommend not waiting until 6 months or later like some clinics do.  I do have one opinion I'll defend to the grave, though - never, ever, ever, EVER adopt out an animal that isn't fixed.

But they paid a deposit for fixing?  Nope.
But I know them really well?  Nope.
But they promised to do it in 30 days or I could take it back?  NOPE.

Fix them as soon as they're 3 pounds, or the fastest your vet feels comfortable putting them under anesthesia.  Then and only then can they go to their new homes.

Even if you're giving the cat to your mother, get it fixed first.  It's not a matter of trust (okay sometimes it is), it's just the plain fact that shit happens.

What if Senor Fluffypants gets out?  What if Madam Fuzzbutt gets her first heat, and new owners can't afford the more expensive spay?  Things happen, and if you're going to spend that much time rescuing, raising, and vetting the kittens, might as well take one more thing off your mind and their "still needs ____" list.  Otherwise you might wind up with a whole new litter of unloved kittens waking you up every two hours and needing even more vet visits in a few months.  Cats multiply, shit happens.

Plus, for boy kitties, the surgery is really easy.  Look what I found!  (Caution:  Includes real photographs of the surgery)  Slideshow came from this page.

And, because I have no intention of being kitteh-sexist here, a very thorough and in-depth pictoral walkthrough of a spay.  (Caution:  Yes it's still real surgery pictures)

Both pages have links to similar information for dog procedures, so if you aren't too squeamish, take a look around.  Cool stuff!

Batman hogging the food, and Chewy being particularly nonplussed about it.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rodent Dentistry!

It's no surprise that I have dentistry on the brain - I had two weeks of lessons on it recently.  Not that two weeks is a tremendously long time to spend on teeth, in fact, I feel like I barely scratched the surface!

Just today, though, another cool questioner happened to ask me about mouse teeth.  I know some basics - like how the molars don't grow more once they are formed but the front teeth continue to grow for the rest of rodent lives.  I know some of the basic things that can go wrong, like overgrowth, abscesses, malocclusion, etc.  I don't know when baby mice get their teeth, though, and the question that's really driving me crazy is whether or not rodents get milk teeth (deciduous teeth).  I hate when not only do I not know, but I also can't find.  I'm sure if I keep hunting I'll uncover the answer eventually.

I did find the answer to when infant mice get their teeth, though, even if I don't know if they're permanent or not.  This paper mentions that lab mice showed dentin (the bony layer beneath the enamel) formation at 1-2 days after birth and enamel formation 3 or more days after birth.  The rest of the toothy development seems to have taken place in utero.  That's interesting!!  If you've ever seen a day old mouse pup you probably weren't particularly worried about getting bit (except by mom!), but early mouse development was always something that struck me as very interesting.  Well, mice in general, actually.

(Lorena Cupcake)

Anyhoo, still don't know about the milk teeth.  I'll find it sooner or later.  I should definitely be cramming for my finals, though!

In other news, my fiance and I thought we were getting a buncha land this summer but it fell through, so we're still looking for a new house with some acreage.  As soon as we achieve that we can hopefully get started on some meat/egg chickens and then...*drumroll please*...DAIRY GOATS!  And fiber goats!  I like goats.  Then I will have even more cool animal stuff to talk about!  :)

There's more other-news about that tripawd I posted up a little while back, but it's fairly unpleasant (she's fine, don't worry) so I'll save that for another day.  :)

Later gators!