Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why we do this

Submitted by EARS volunteer June Towler of Bradford, Ontario

"...and the cycle will continue."

That is how EARS volunteer Margaret Blackman finished yesterday's blog before she said sad farewells to the dogs and the rest of the volunteer crew. So the cycle goes on and I have been asked to continue the blog before I, too, go home.

Today was a very good day, with many wonderful people dropping by to offer their support either by dropping off much-needed supply donations, asking if they could volunteer to help with the animal caregiving, or even to apply to foster a dog. I think these good and kind people do not realize just how much it means to us to see them actually brave a snow storm to drive over to help. After caring for dogs who have endured such neglect, your heart just aches for them. It is like a ray of sunshine piercing through the doom and gloom of your emotions, reminding you that there is indeed hope and kindness out there, too.

Many people ask us how we can even do this, and why would we "waste" our vacation time to drive 6+ hours to work long days cleaning messy cages, feeding and caring for dogs who smell very bad and who are so scared they shy away from a human caress. Who can blame them for asking? Why would we want to see the awful and heartbreaking condition of these dogs?

But for me, these dogs have had their own version of Victory Day. They are loved and cared for now and everything that happens to them each day going forward is better and better. They will see, like we did today with kind people dropping in to help, that humans can be kind and loving too. Each day for them is brighter, and as most of them slowly come out of their terror and reach that milestone of being able to actually relax in your arms, for the trembling to subside if even for a brief minute, it is SO worth the effort to come here and volunteer. It never ceases to amaze any of us just how forgiving dogs can be -- that they can trust again.

So the day was spent much as it has been each day, with a schedule of feedings, cleanings, and all the other chores necessary to keep so many dogs comfortable and safe. Because many of the dogs have gone to foster homes, we were able to spend a bit more time cuddling the remaining ones and letting them play. Most don't know what a toy is for, and we have to teach them how to be dogs. An extraordinarily bright spot in the day was when we decided to open all the puppy crates in the puppy room and let all the healthy puppies play together. Watching them zing around, jumping over and on each other, grabbing toys, zooming all over the room with delight was an absolute highlight of a lifetime. It was one of those key moments where you realize "YES, THIS IS WHY I DO THIS!"

We got more of them clipped today too. Definitely not "haute couteur" haircuts but for many, their bodies are finally free of the restrictive and painful clumps of fecal matter, etc. entangled in their fur. For most, it was yet another fearful moment but the groomers were gentle and patient and got the job done.

We said goodbye to a few more of the volunteers and those great people will be missed, but we also welcomed some more new volunteers today, too. So the cycle indeed continues...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The cycle continues

Submitted by EARS volunteer Margaret Blackman of Oshawa, Ontario

There is a cycle to any deployment. First there is the adrenaline rush as you deploy, then the heartache as you see the destruction, or in this case, the terrible condition of the animals. Next comes the joyous moments as each animal makes their personal breakthroughs and we get to know the individual personalities of each one.

Today's cycle was the bittersweet one, as we started to say goodbye some of our charges as they left for their individual foster homes. It is a bit like sending your children off on their first day of school. Are they prepared? Have we helped them to develop enough skills in the short time they were in our care? Does this coat fit? Is this sweater warm enough for the ride?

Have we sent enough information for the foster home (such as the ones who will not eat from bowls yet)? Volunteers would see an empty cage and say, "Oh has XXX left yet? I didn't get to say goodbye." Several volunteers dashed out without coats to say good-bye as a crate was loaded into the waiting van. We knew they were in good hands with the young man who volunteered to drive them to the first handoff point (about 400km round trip).

The afternoon was easier with fewer cages to clean, but it was also more difficult; passing by the empty cages where XXX had wagged a tail at us this morning. Someone would say "Oh, I need to check if XXX ate today," then realize that dog was miles away.

It is the natural cycle of a deployment. We know this. We understand this. That does not mean that it is easy.

Today is my birthday. I did not say anything about it all day at the shelter. My celebration was watching each crate being loaded into vehicles, giving each one a new life. That is the best celebration of my birth and life that I could think of.

Old friendships have been renewed, new friendships have been made. Tomorrow I return home -- to my life and my waiting furry companions.

And the cycle will continue ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Live from Montreal ...!

See news coverage of the puppy mill response on CTV.

Day four at the shelter

Submitted by EARS volunteer Margaret Blackman of Oshawa, Ontario

Today was about one of the things UAN volunteers do best: care and comfort the animals. No vets, no groomers, no poking and prodding of furry bodies, just Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers and their charges. Feeding, cleaning and socialization were the watch words of today.

The atmosphere was different in the shelter. As we were having our morning briefing, you could hear the growing excitement from our canine charges. It was as if you could hear the word being passed down the rows of cages: "They're here! Food, water, clean cages!!" The tone of the barking had changed from fear and uncertainty to one of anticipation.

Word was spreading among the residents of Montreal in similar fashion. Two van loads of supplies pulled into the shelter parking lot just after lunch. UAN volunteers formed a chain in the parking lot and within 90 minutes, rows and rows of bleach, towels, newspapers and dog coats sat neatly arranged. One man who brought in a donation of blankets and bleach stood out. He was hurrying to work and just stuck his head in the door to hand off his contribution with the words, "My mom sent these, it's not much, but she wanted to help." All those contributions of "it's not much" now fill row after row of storage shelves. Who knew that bleach could say "I care?"

Blankets were handed out to all the animals yesterday. They had been placed in the back of the cages where the dogs felt the most secure. Today, one little fellow dragged his blanket to the front of his cage. He wanted a front-row seat to watch the action and coax some attention from passing UAN volunteers. Another little one has learned that if you soil your cage a bit at a time, people come and pet you more often.

A cheer went up as one UAN volunteer entered the evening debriefing. Word had spread during the day that she had been able to coax one of the more critical dogs to finally eat. More and more name tags are appearing on cages as personalities come to life -- for possibly the first time in their lives. The dogs were very happy to settle into the business of living rather than simply existing. Today was a good day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A day at the spa

Submitted by Janell Matthies, UAN Emergency Services Manager

After yesterday’s marathon grooming session we can see an extraordinary difference in the dogs. Many who were sitting at the back of their cage huddled in a ball are now energetic and coming to the front of their cage out of curiosity. This small act of kindness has made a world to them. They are obviously so much more comfortable after loosing pounds of hair, grime, feces and dirt. All of the dogs are adjusting to the drastic changes in their life styles. Clean cages, fresh water and regular food … they are acclimating to their new schedule nicely. The barking is much less frantic and many of them have settled down nicely.

Today, in addition to the dogs' ongoing vet care, our EARS volunteers worked hard giving baths to those who were shaved down yesterday. The dogs' pleasure was so obvious! They luxuriated in their "spa day" and let the volunteers rub them and rinse them as much as they wanted. Each dog was immediately put into a sweater (which members of the local community so generously donated by the hundreds – we have at least two sweaters per dog at this point) to keep warm. They seemed to act rather proud in their new duds, and pranced around a bit before settling down in their cages.

After their dinner we decided to spoil them and gave each dog a blanket or soft towel for a bed. It seems like such a small detail, but to these dogs, it was the world. Many of them spent ten to fifteen minutes situating the towel, rolling around in it, getting under it and finally settling down. For the first time since they arrived, the dogs were ALL QUIET. Even the dogs we have nicknamed The River Dancers (tappity, tappity, happy, nervous feet – almost sounds like thunder) were calm and quiet, finally. This happened before we left the room, before we turned the lights off, before we were even done working with them. For the first time, hopefully secure in the knowledge that tomorrow they would be given food and fresh water, they were able to relax. The dogs gave us eye contact and a wag of the tail, but would not budge from their comfy new resting places. (Photo above courtesy HSUS)

That moment right there made all of the hard work, sore muscles, frozen feet, smelly clothes and aching back worth it. That single second alone, of seeing a dog who came to us so miserable a mere 48 hours earlier, so obviously comfortable and safe did it for me. We all gathered around the cages acknowledging the product of our hard work.

It’s always hard to leave the animals that I have been caring for. However, knowing the EARS volunteers will continue to do everything necessary, and even those things unnecessary, but so important, make it much easier to return home. I will miss these dogs, but am so confident they have a bright future in front of them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dogs, dogs everywhere...

Submitted by Janell Matthies, UAN Emergency Services Manager (pictured at top)

Yesterday was an incredible day. HSUS and HSI seized 93 dogs and 2 cats from the puppy mill. They made it back to the emergency shelter quickly despite around 12 centimeters of snow dumping on us.

We quickly got a plan together and UAN's Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers and others starting unloading the dogs. It seemed like they just kept coming and coming. The transport truck was huge, but the number of dogs coming out of it still seemed extraordinary. The smell coming from the dogs and permeating our clothes was breathtaking, and not in a good way. I can’t even imagine what the actual location smelled like. Some of the dogs were so matted they needed immediate grooming to relieve respiratory difficulties. In some cases, their front paws were matted to their chins so they were unable to stand or walk. I have never seen anything like it. Luckily we had two vets and a groomer on site to help these critical cases.

The investigations documentation and exams were completed in about six hours. It was like a military operation, everyone doing something and always moving. It was hectic and busy, but great to know these poor animals were finally, thankfully, out of the place that caused them to be in such bad condition. Each animal who came to the exam table seemed to be worse off than the one before ... and it seemed never-ending. It was so gratifying to give them at least a little bit of comfort, such as trimming claws that had grown back up into their paws or cutting away the mats around their eyes so they could see.

Many of the dogs are deformed in small ways. Funny nose, bent leg, other small things that actually can add to their charm, knowing they can still thrive and have a wonderful temperament. For the most part, we are still unable to determine their actual health condition due to the massive amounts of matting. Groomers are hard at work today getting the fur off the dogs so the vets can do a full examination. There are many eye infections, ear infections, grossly overgrown nails. I went in this morning with scissors to cut off some of the larger mats that were MAKING ME CRAZY.

The dogs were so good, so trusting and cooperative. Some people say that animals know we are trying to help them in times like this. I now wholeheartedly believe that. For these dogs to have such limited human contact, be kept in such horrid conditions, yet still be happy to see any of us, approaching the front of the cage and trying to jump into our arms, inspires me. What troopers these dogs are. Amazing.

There are a few we have determined are pregnant, many others who are on pregnancy watch and many, many more who have recently had pups. Only seven puppies were actually taken from the site. I assume most went out to pet shops in time for Christmas shopping.

I dreamed about dogs, dogs everywhere all night last night. Kind of feel like I didn’t sleep. I’m happy to be back at the shelter and to see how excited the dogs are with fresh water and a clean cage. They have adjusted incredibly well, which just goes to show how impressive these creatures are. Many of them want to play and snuggle. Some are doing the kennel crazy dance and we can’t wait to get clearance to get them out for some exercise.

Back to work to help groom dogs, clean cages, feed, water, snuggle or comfort the kids. More soon…

(Photos on this post are courtesy of HSUS)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anything but a winter wonderland

Submitted by Janell Matthies, UAN Emergency Services Manager

The crews shipped out this morning right on schedule. Humane Society International/Canada (HSI) and the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) packed into three vehicles and hit the road despite freezing temperatures and expected snowfall of 15km (~9 inches). Spirits are high and everyone was very encouraged to “go stop some suffering” as one responder put it as he walked out the door. The goal is to get the dogs back to the shelter and out of the cold as soon as possible. We have Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers, HSI personnel, two vets and groomers waiting to accept the animals and get them inside once they arrive.

This is an absolutely amazing experience to be able to work with all of these wonderful, talented and dedicated people. This will be the third seizure in the last few months in this area. CSPCA is hoping this gets the message out that puppy mills will no longer be tolerated in Quebec. The political impact of this specific seizure could be historical. I am so proud to be a part of this!

One additional note: This seizure is dedicated to former puppy mill dog Priscilla, who was rescued during a seizure in September. There are posters and photos of her all over the emergency shelter. She was a Chihuahua mix who weighed less than one pound and who was believed to be about three weeks old. Upon examination, it was determined she was closer to two months old, just incredibly tiny for her size. A local volunteer fell under her charms and became her foster mom. Priscilla ruled the house with her antics and everyone fell in love with her. Unfortunately, she had multiple medical issues from poor breeding and died a few weeks later. Priscilla had the spirit that encompasses so many of these animals that come from horrible situations -- despite everything, they turn around and learn to trust humans and learn to enjoy life thoroughly, even if it’s just for a short time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on the Hurricane Ike deployment

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte of Shawnee, Kansas (pictured below), after spending a week in Beaumont, Texas helping animal victims of Hurricane Ike

I just arrived home and decided to blog a bit before I go to bed. I’ve said before that no two deployments are alike and Beaumont is no exception to that rule. The initial team of five Emergency Animal rescue Service (EARS) volunteers got into Beaumont a week ago. The job definitely seemed more than a little overwhelming at first. The days all seem to run together when you are deployment, but to the best of my recollection, here is what the week looked like.

Day 1, Thursday, September 18: I arrived in Houston in the morning. The drive from Houston to Beaumont took a while because there was no electricity, which means no traffic lights. I arrived at the shelter mid-day. Four more EARS volunteers arrived later that afternoon and evening. The animal count at that time was approximately 250 and growing. It consisted of approximately 173 dogs, 66 cats, 2 swans, a horse, a group of guinea pigs and 2 ferrets. The shelter’s normal capacity is around 125. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was conducting rescues so an intake station and vet station were set up in the parking lot. The facility consists of a spay/neuter clinic in one building and the shelter in another building. Both buildings were bulging at the seams with animals and there were also cages placed on a covered area on the side of the building. We worked until dark, which became the standard practice as the week went on. There were no restaurants open, a handful of grocery stores open that allowed access to a few people at a time, and we had a 6 p.m. curfew to comply with. Meals and lodging the first night were basically non-existent. Some people elected to sleep in the animal shelter on the floor. Others stayed in their cars. We didn’t have time to pitch tents. There was a shower (ha, ha -- it was a garden hose thrown over a kennel with a blanket clipped to the door for privacy).

Day 2, Friday, September 19: We started bright and early in the morning. We had a couple more EARS volunteers come in during the day, but the work was still massive. We implemented the daily care logs that we have used in other deployments to help us track the feeding, walking and cleaning.

Day 3, Saturday, September 20: The weekend was busy with intakes and implementing EARS processes. The EARS volunteers were terrific! We had a team of people with diverse skill sets, which allowed us to divide tasks and attack the problem areas. One volunteer partnered with the staff vet to create a process to identify health problems and communicate them in a timely manner to the vet. We also undertook a major cleaning effort, which involved emptying out one room of approximately 30 dogs, then scrubbing and disinfecting the floor and walls. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, one dog tested positive for parvovirus, although he showed no symptoms. We were concerned that the test could be reading a false positive because the parvo vaccine was administered two days previously. UAN agreed to pay vet bill through the LifeLine Grant program, and we transferred the dog to Dowlen Vet Clinic to be monitored. We were able to reach out to a group called the Southern Baptist Convention, which started delivering lunches and dinners.

Day 4, Sunday, September 21: By Sunday we had 12 EARS volunteers with others arriving later in the day. There was a small shelter crew helping, but for the most part, the shelter staff had been given a week off to deal with their own personal losses. The animal count had increased to approximately 280 by that time. HSUS was no longer doing rescues, but we continued to intake a large number of animals. We speculated it was due to downed fences. Thanks to local volunteers we were able to keep our heads above water, although it still required we walk dogs after dark with flashlights. The Southern Baptist Convention was also able to work with a local church to get us one room for volunteers to sleep in and allowed us to all shower in their shower trailers each night.

Day 5, Monday, September 22: The processes that we put into place were finally beginning to pay off. We had gotten into a routine, but with only a few shelter staff, we had taken on even more duties. Again the local volunteers pulled us through with 19 people from the community volunteering. We maintained our number of EARS volunteers at 12. We were actually beginning to feel pretty good about things overall. BIG MISTAKE! It is always dangerous to begin to think you have things under control. We not only discovered that the shelter needed to transfer the animals out by September 27, but the disaster animal inventory database was inadvertently deleted and had to be recreated. UGH! By the way, little parvo pup still was not showing signs of parvo.

Day 6, Tuesday, September 23: The word was beginning to get out about the September 27 deadline. This generated a lot of activity at the shelter. We had 28 animals returned to their owners. It was not only great to see animals and owners reunite, but it also meant fewer cages to clean. YIPPEE! HSUS arrived on Wednesday to help the shelter staff create a plan for transferring animals out after the September 27 deadline. We had 14 EARS volunteers, but the local support was beginning to wane. The database was completed by a very persistent EARS volunteer. We were now able to determine that we had approximately 325 animals processed through the shelter after Ike. We also heard from Dowlen Vet Clinic that the parvo puppy did not have parvo and could be picked up. This news made my deployment. My replacement, Janell Matthies, arrived from California that evening.

Day 7, Wednesday, September 23: I picked up the parvo puppy first thing this morning. He will be shipped out with one of the EARS volunteers and her shelter will help find him a home. She will keep us updated on his adopted family.

Overall, this was a very difficult deployment, but a good one for me because I witnessed the most amazing commitment among our volunteers. They were working through lunches and walking dogs in the dark to make sure every dog was cared for. They were also sensitive to the shelter staff and worked closely with them to improve their skills. Many animals were labeled “aggressive,” but trained EARS volunteers were able to work with the animals to calm them.

There were a lot of great reunifications that we were able to experience over the past few days, but I think the best story is about our EARS volunteers. This was a group effort and every volunteer’s contribution was critical to the success of this deployment. It was the best team effort I’ve been a part of. One volunteer said he was having flashbacks to when he was in the military. I think that is a probably a pretty good analogy. When I left I felt like I had fought more than a few battles. Maybe we lost a few, but we definitely have a winning record. I feel so blessed to have had an opportunity to be a part of this effort with these amazing volunteers. Kudos to all!

My first deployment

Submitted by EARS volunteer Jennifer Muller of Houston (pictured below), about her recent deployment to help animals affected by Hurricane Ike, Beaumont, Texas

I intended to write this much sooner -- it is amazing how quickly your day-to-day life takes over the moment you return home from a deployment!

The morning after Hurricane Ike swept across our region, I realized that EARS would likely be called in to help. Once the flood waters began to subside, I walked through the neighborhood with my parents to survey the damage. What a mess. Huge trees were uprooted, some of which had unfortunately landed directly on homes. Several trees were now blocking major streets in our area and there wasn't a functioning street light to be found. People began to appear outside of their homes to clean up the debris that Ike left behind. Most of us were now without power and/or water.

The night before Ike made landfall, I packed up my pets, left my home and drove to my parents' house, which is also in Houston. The media had indicated that evacuation wasn't necessary for our area, so we decided to wait out the storm together...pets and all!

Two days after Ike's arrival, my blackberry began to receive e-mails again, one of which was from United Animal Nations (UAN) asking if I would be able to deploy with the Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) to Beaumont, Texas in an effort to help Ike evacuees and their pets. I spent two weekends in Beaumont and traveled home to Houston during the work week to keep up with my job responsibilites as an intellectual property paralegal.

I'll never forget my first day at the shelter. I remember so vividly hearing and seeing so many dogs and cats (and two swans??? I must admit that I never expected to see swans at this deployment!) waiting as patiently as possible for their turn to be cared for. I immediately felt overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, but luckly, EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte was there to greet me and help me to understand the process that was already underway. After a brief discussion with Karla, I was ready to get to work cleaning cages, walking dogs, etc. The animals were clearly appreciative of their time with the volunteers. It really was an amazing feeling to realize how much of a difference the volunteers were making in the daily lives of these animals.

My advice for new volunteers going on their first deployment? No matter how prepared you may be for your trip, know that the unexpected can and likely will happen! Pack some ear plugs in case you are in a room working with a lot of barking dogs. Oh, and bring an eye mask to help you sleep ... just in case you happen to be sleeping on the floor of a church gymnasium with its lights still on one evening!

I met and worked with some amazing people and animals in Beaumont. I can honestly say that volunteering with EARS was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and while I will never hope for another disaster such as Ike, I sincerely hope that I am invited to volunteer should disaster strike again.

Photos this post courtesy Jennifer Muller.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A bittersweet goodbye

Submitted by Marcel Marcotte, EARS Eastern Canada Regional Director, of Nova Scotia, Canada

It's the beginning of our last day here in Montreal. The folks from the CSPCA invited us to take part in a thank-you dinner last evening. It was bittersweet for a lot of our volunteers, knowing we made such a tremendous difference to all the animals involved in the two seizures, but still knowing that most of them still didn't have a forever home to go to. I struggled with this in Portland last year and I'm sure I'll have the same feelings today when I get on the plane to go home.

I will take this back to Nova Scotia with me though: We did make a huge difference to the lives of all the dogs rescued. I was completely overwhelmed by the care and compassion each and every one of my “red shirts” displayed to these puppy mill dogs in our care. I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a member of UAN, and to be associated with those who gave up time with their families and pets for these animals.

The UAN volunteers deserve a huge thank you from everyone. Because of our response they are seriously reviewing the puppy mill laws in Quebec. Alanna Divine, the CSPCA shelter president, spoke to us regarding the changes coming that will add additional enforcement powers regarding seized animals and when they are implemented they will make a huge difference in the outcomes for the animals involved.

To my "yellow tape team,” Carol, Tracie, Brenda, Milinda and Leslee thank you so much for taking on the leadership roles you had placed upon you. The way you worked with the animals and volunteers was amazing! To Leslee, who took on the role of Team Leader in the Agility Room, where most of the dogs and volunteers were gathered, you were magnificent, exhibiting patience and grace under fire. Always smiling, even when you were stressed. To all of my other fantastic volunteers, again I want to thank you for coming here to Montreal and making such a big difference to the lives of these animals!

I've been with UAN for less than 18 months and this was my third and fourth puppy mill event, having been to seizures in Parkersburg, West Virginia in August and Portland, Maine last year. Each one has it's own special place in my heart, but simply because of the large turnout of UAN volunteers, this one is my favorite so far. Safe trips home to each of you, and to my American friends, keep the Canadian funny money -- I may be calling for your help again sooner rather than later.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

From bad to good

Submitted by EARS volunteer Carol Hedlund of Bainbridge, New York

One of our "bad boys" happened to be a German Shepherd. His coat was horrific and unhealthy, which of course led to skin issues. So he had to be shaved down. The groomers brought in by the Montreal SPCA were amazing -- the pictures tell some of the story.

We have a few black dogs whose breed was a challenge to figure out. It was incredible to watch the transformation of matted fur into true standard poodles. It was frightening to think that dozens of dedicated animal welfare people were unable to figure out what breed they really were because of their condition. Each one, once shaved down, obviously felt better and looked like a poodle.

One of the most moving moments for me was involved one of these standard poodles who was one of our "bad boys." On Wednesday when he first arrived from the second puppy mill seizure, he was terrified and would growl at anyone and anything. It took many pieces of hot dog to coax him slowly out of his crate. Today he came willingly out of his crate (no need for hot dog bribes), put his paw up on my leg and wagged his tail.

The end of a deployment is always an emotional time for everyone. Tonight we all joined together at the temporary shelter for the last time. Lots of food, laughs and tears. We all recognize the week that we've spent here is only the beginning for these dogs. The rest of their lives are guaranteed to be so much better than what they were forced to endure for the first days, months or years that have passed since their birth. Their appalling and gruesome living conditions are history.

It feels really good to know you made a difference and though saying good-bye is hard, I know we are leaving them in good hands to have amazing and happy lives.

Zipping along

Submitted by EARS volunteer Carol Hedlund of Bainbridge, New York

Our Saturday is much more crowded with local volunteers and some folks who will be back after we leave tomorrow. It was a great help and some of them were absolutely amazing. "Our guys" will be in good hands.

We have more veterinary help today and many of the dogs are now getting some medical attention that wasn't possible before. One of our Mastiffs had a wound on the tip of his tail and unfortunately began chewing on it. Looks like he'll need surgery to have some removed; he's not too pleased with his e-collar at the moment, but he's still a happy boy.

A gentleman named John showed up with zip ties and was promptly hugged by many of us (luckily we didn't scare him too much). A lot of our big dogs are escaping from their crates so they're getting "zipped in." One of our Great Danes had herself a picnic on a bag of food last night after escaping from her kennel. Luckily she's not bloating but we're watching her closely. One of our Bernese mountain dogs was discovered to have mites and lice, so he'll be looked after as well. ALL of the minor (though in normal life it might not seem normal) medical issues are being thoroughly addressed by the CSPCA.

The most amazing thing to watch is that our "bad boy" row is really coming around. Their tension level is dropping and they are more under control and a bit easier to handle. We had a scare yesterday afternoon with one of the little pups, only a few weeks old. Her belly started bloating and she didn't look well. Luckily a vet was in the building and took quick care of her.

Break's over, more later!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dogs and puppies everywhere

Submitted by EARS volunteer Carol Hedlund of Bainbridge, New York

Our week in Canada has definitely been a whirlwind. It's now Friday and we have just one full day left before we all have to leave our puppy mill dogs in the hands of the Montreal SPCA staff and volunteers. The future for so many of these hundreds of dogs is already being lined up by the SPCA's amazing staff person Jenn. She, with the help of many others, is constantly on the phone making arrangements for foster care with eventual adoption. There is a good chance that we'll be able to find new forever homes for them in the states.

The facility we're in used to be a training center for the SPCA. The "agility room," which is the largest room, is stacked and packed with crates with dogs from the second seizure. Then we have the "puppy room" with pups and now we've added adult dogs from seizure #1; the "side room" with dogs from seizure one; and the "big dog room," "big dog room 2" and the "bad boy room" with another row of "big dogs who aren't bad boys" -- all from seizure #2. And there is yet another room, the "nursery" with pups and moms with pups from seizure #2. And we can't forget the cats! Luckily the cats from seizure #1 were able to move over to the SPCA today, leaving behind the one cat from seizure #2. It's incredible to think how everyone has come together to deal with such a large number of dogs on top of the need to keep their care/needs separated. None of the dogs from the two different puppy mills are housed or cared for together. Wow, that's a lot to worry about! But we're doing it. And well.

When I compare the puppy mill experience to another type of disaster response, I don't feel like there is a big difference in the day-to-day work. The work is hard, you sweat a lot, you're exhausted, you have a purpose. The biggest difference is that I'm not sleeping in my car or a tent, or using a port-a-potty. We're in a hotel! AND the hotel has a starbucks. Wow.

UAN crosses U.S. border to help puppy mill dogs

On September 28, a team of United Animal Nations’ Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers began working with Humane Society International/Canada and the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) to care for 118 animals rescued from a puppy mill in Rawdon, Quebec.

Several days later, on October 1, four EARS volunteers accompanied HSI/Canada and CSPCA rescuers into a second puppy mill, removing more than 150 animals. The rescued dogs were promptly transported to the CSPCA emergency shelter where they will be checked by a team of veterinarians and given any necessary medical care.

When the CSPCA/HSI Canada rescue team arrived on the scene of the first puppy mill, the smell of ammonia made it difficult to breathe and almost overpowered them. In one of the rooms, music was playing at unbearably loud levels to drown out the noise of the dogs’ desperate barking. Many of the animals were housed in the dark basement. Ninety percent of the dogs were emaciated, with open sores and parasites, stacked in wire cages from floor to ceiling, some hidden behind closet doors in a house of horrors. Some of the cages even held the skeletons of dogs who had passed away weeks or months before, but had been left untouched.

"Though they have faced unthinkable cruelty for years, these resilient animals are already beginning to heal immensely under our care," said Marcel Marcotte, EARS Eastern Canada Regional Director. "Many of these animals had never before set foot on solid ground or been touched by a gentle human hand. It is so rewarding to be able to nurse them back to health."

Please support the Emergency Animal Rescue Service team in Montreal by making a donation to UAN’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Swan song

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Stacey Harris

Well, it is our last day here. Everyone, animals and volunteers is leaving today.

The day started with the newly trained staff taking out and feeding the animals. Julie and Phil's training paid off, all the animals were quickly taken care of. About 11:00, Houston Humane Society pulled in, and we all went to work. Once all the animals were loaded, we only had one more transport to complete.

Mary with The Humane Society of the United States was taking about 13 animals to Operation Kindness. So, one more van to load! We quickly got Mary's van loaded and she pulled away.

Next it was my turn to watch all the volunteers leave. It was kind of sad. You spend a short time with everyone, but you meet people you will never forget! You feel like you've been friends for a long time already.

After everyone left, I decided to take one more walk through the shelter. It was a very good, but strange feeling. When I arrived just a few days ago, we had a room full of cats, a quarantine room, a puppy room, the big dog room, the zen dog room, and two outside patios filled with dogs. When I walked through this afternoon, there was nothing but empty kennels, two clean patios and an empty zen room. I am very proud of what we accomplished!!

As I was walking to my car to leave, I noticed the owner of the swans was back to load them up and drive away. It actually went much smoother than I anticipated. I wasn't really sure how you were supposed to load swans, but the owner stepped in and took care of it. After the swans left the property, I felt like my job was done, so I got in my car and headed home.

Puzzling over pit bulls

Yesterday we had another amazing day in Beaumont!! We got word late the previous night that the pit bull rescue group was coming earlier than expected. Not a problem for our group of EARS volunteers here: They were up and going at about 6:00 am to get these guys ready. The rescue group had told us that they only had room for 11 dogs.

Well, our puzzle-making team and Julie and Phil were determined that they could fit more than 11 dogs in that cargo van, and boy were they right. You should have seen Phil in the back of that van surrounded by crates, hauling dogs over the other crates and getting them all set up and ready for transport. Also, I never knew that puppy pee pads made good window shades. The volunteers were concerned that the animals would get too much sun through the windows, so we covered them with pee pads. It was pretty funny. 

By the time the van left, headed to Little Rock, Arkansas, they had 16 pit bulls and 1 chocolate Lab. Not really sure how we convinced them the Lab was a pit! Just kidding ... apparently they had some connections with a Lab rescue group was well.

Another really good thing happened. Anne, the shelter president, asked Julie and Phil if they could speak to the employees and train them on the cleaning and feeding process that they have been using. Julie and Phil reported back that the employees were pretty excited about implementing the new process.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Farewell at dawn

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Stacey Harris

Yesterday morning we started off at 5 a.m. -- yes, I said 5 a.m.! Atlanta Humane Society had pulled a huge transport bus, two cargo vans and an animal transport van in the night before and wanted to start loading animals at 6 a.m. I think we all thought this would be at least a half-day process, but we were ready!!! We got the dogs fed, walked, loaded and on the road by 9 a.m.

We also discovered that some of our volunteers have some pretty amazing puzzle-making skills. It was truly amazing how many dogs we were able to fit into those cargo vans. And now they are on their way to find new adoptive homes.

We are now down to 89 animals at the temporary shelter, which seems like a walk in the park. We have a pit bull rescue group coming tomorrow to take all the pits -- which of course makes me very happy since I am the pit lover.

Janell regretfully left behind Miss Fang today. But, no worries, Theresa has taken over her care, and we are all trying to find a better name for her!

Strange bedfellows

Sumbitted by EARS volunteer Roxanne Quinlan of Austin, Texas (pictured below with Ugly Betty)

We had a heartwarming amount of return to owners on Saturday! Not as many as we wanted, but more than we have seen before. The guinea pigs were whistling while they went home. A Chow Chow mix who was a "problem child" also went home. Any time you went near his run, he would warn you off. But when his human showed up, his tail never stopped wagging! A couple of black Labradors were reunited with their families, and a small Aussie puppy left licking his boy's face. We decided that one of EARS supplies required should be confetti, to throw in the air to celebrate.

One of the hardest things for me while on deployment is missing my own pets. Yesterday, I woke up smiling, snuggling my kitten. As I became more alert, I realized I really wasn't in my own bed... how did my cat get here? The clinic cat had figured out how to open the exam room door, and curled up on my air mattress with me. She and I were curled around each other, and I could feel her purrs all the way through my chest. I've slept better in the last two nights. I wake up and every morning, she has joined me.

My poor husband, I called him three days ago saying I had been "mugged" by a hyena. We have a cute little unclaimed female dog who has the non-contagious mange. Then last night, I found out she was heartworm positive. So it looks like I'm taking my "Ugly Betty" home. The plan is to get her looking good, over the heartworms, and then find her a forever home.

Let me tell you about the "shelter dogs." They are the dogs who live at the HSSET, or belong to employes and come to work with them. Shaka is a tan female great dane. She alerts us every time a male comes anywhere near the front office. Belle Star, a female Shepard mix, takes a while to warm up to people, but has been known to sneak up and sniff strangers' hands. Tiny, a small tan Lab mix, looks like a miniature of Shaka. Then there is Jo, a long-hair black collie/Lab mix, who has the run of the shelter and surrounding area. He makes a security round at least twice a day, stops and says "hello" to all the people he knows, and checks out any strangers. All in all, a very loving group of shelter mascots.

Back to filling out rabies and health certificates. Need to get the paperwork for tomorrows transport done (when 99 animals will be moved to other shelters and rescue groups)!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Feng Shui, animal style

Submitted by Janell Matthies of Sacramento, California, EARS leader on site

EARS volunteers Terry Atwater and Barb Giddo have transformed what was once referred to as the Auditorium into the Feng Shui room. They did something in there that has made this the most peaceful room in the shelter. Even more than the cat room, which is saying a lot. The lights are dim, the dogs all sit quietly watching them's very zen. We've been moving some of the more stressed out dogs into that room today and you can see an immediate effect. We have now renamed the room to the Feng Shui room.

After lunch today, we had some down time while the dogs were all napping and Julie and Phil decided to test one of the German Shepherds for search and rescue potential. She quickly caught on to what they wanted from her, responded enthusiastically and passed with flying colors. She just went out for her evening walk and is still nose to the ground....sniffing , sniffing, sniffing.

As you can see, our temporary resident swans are still swimming all day and very unbothered by all the dogs and commotion. I sit and watch them on my breaks and pretend like I'm at the spa. It almost works.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Suckers for the animals

Submitted by Janell Matthies of Sacramento, California, EARS leader on site

This morning started the same as the others. My roommates waking and cheerful at 6:20 a.m. Do they not realize this is the middle of the night for us Californians?! I rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep, but then images of the dogs (like Miss Fang, a three-pound Chihuahua who cowers in the corner and shows her teeth to anyone who comes near her cage) waiting to go for a walk and get breakfast started going through my mind. I'm such a sucker.

I stopped for the coffee in a box that I promised the volunteers and got to the shelter to see everyone already busy at work -- cleaning cages, feeding and walking dogs. When I walked into Miss Fang's room, she cowered, growled then saw it was me. She started the whole-body wag and approached the front of the cage. I got her out to snuggle and took her for her walk. Some of the others saw her and commented on how cute she is. Miss Fang responded by glaring at them, then hid her head under my arm. And I always thought I was a big-dog girl.

Big news! The German Shepherd dubbed Sarge by EARS volunteers Julie and Phil (Castenada of Topeka, Kansas) went home just now with his mom. Brandi Furr (staff with the Humane Society of Southeast Texas) had mixed emotions as she handed him over to his very, very happy mom. This is the dog who was obviously very fearful and stressed when he first arrived.

Julie, Phil and Brandi all felt an instant connection to him. Phil and Julie worked with Sarge, using their extraordinary animal-handling skills and experience and passed on their techniques to Brandi who took over his care and handling. They were best buds for the past few days and could be seen playing with the other dogs and getting lots of attention from each other.

When we brought Sarge (real name Taaka) to his mom, he jumped all over her, then turned around and sat on her feet. We all agreed he was telling her he had been so worried about her and was back with her to take care of things. It was a great reunion. (Taaka is pictured here with Janell, his mom and Barndi)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Helping animals after Ike

It appears that the 2008 disaster season will never end. Just two weeks after Hurricane Gustav displaced thousands of people and pets in Louisiana, Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on the Texas coast. On September 18, United Animal Nations began deploying a team of Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers to Beaumont, Texas to help shelter dogs, cats and other pets displaced by the large and damaging Ike.

More than 30 EARS volunteers from across the Gulf Coast have already deployed to the Humane Society of Southeast Texas in Beaumont to care for more than 200 animals who were rescued from flooded communities until they can be reunited with their families or transferred to other facilities for long-term sheltering. Wah Wong, pictured above, of Houston was one of the first EARS volunteers to arrive in Beaumont and said that the animals "are all very sweet and loving despite the traumas of their experiences ..."

As of Saturday, the shelter had 150 dogs, 82 cats, 7 guinea pigs, 2 swans, 2 ferrets, 1 horse and 1 fish. Pictured here with EARS volunteer Lyle Varnes and a Humane Society of the United States representative is an emaciated, four-month-old pony who was rescued.

EARS volunteers are doing their very best to care the animals despite living and working in primitive conditions. For example, the shelter has electricity and running water, but no showers, beds or cots. Someone jerry-rigged a shower in one of the dog kennels, but on last report a sweet bull mastiff was living in it. A group from a local church has been donating home-made food to the EARS crew and providing sleeping and showering arrangements.

Please check back periodically for more photos and updates. You can also support our efforts in Beaumont by donating to our Disaster Relief Fund.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saying our goodbyes...

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte

Well I'm back in Cedar Rapids. I intended to update the blog sooner, but things have been very busy here. Why would I expect any different? It is 6 a.m. on Saturday. Today is our last day. At least I think it is Saturday ... it's funny how you lose track of all sense of time when you are deployed.

I got back to Cedar Rapids on Monday. Terri Atwater came with me from Kansas. We were shocked at what we found. Walking through the Equine Building (where the owned and rescued animals had been kept) were row after row of empty stalls. Apparently the day before we got there, two shelters came and took several of the remaining dogs. It is mostly kitty city now.

It is amazing that almost 1,200 animals were processed through Cedar Rapids in just over a month. Anyone who was here in the beginning would be astonished at the difference. It is like a different deployment. By the way, several people who were here at the beginning have been here this week. In addition to Terri, Janet Hoover, Cynthia Brandes, Paige Grossman and Amy Greene have all returned. It's like a reunion!

On Wednesday, we began adoptions with the remaining animals. What an experience! We had approximately 19 adoptions each day on Wednesday and Thursday. All the dogs were adopted by the end of the day on Thursday. This was quite a feat because most of the remaining dogs were big dogs.

The last dog to go was the black cocker spaniel that several of the EARS volunteers had gotten attached to. Some of you may remember him. He has a growth on his left eye and when he came in he was so matted he had to be shaved. He is such a sweet boy that you could not help but fall in love with him if you spent any time with him at all. Unfortunately no one was willing to that. They would look at him and walk away. It seemed like his heart would break a little more each time that happened, but I know it was really my own heart that was breaking. Finally, toward the end of the day on Thursday, a mother came in with her two little boys, ages 11 and 7. It was love at first sight for dog and boys. It's funny how the kids looked past his growth and warts and only saw a wonderful loving pet. There were more than a few tears in the eyes of all when the family left the shelter.

Yesterday the Equine Building was shut down. All animals are now in the Tippie Building or Animal Health Technology. EARS volunteers are now the cat ladies in Tippie. At the beginning of the day we were caring for about 65 cats. By the end of the day I'm estimating that number was down to approximately 35. I didn't get final numbers, but I'm guessing we had about 10 adoptions and then a transport from DeKalb, Illinois that took 20 cats at the end of the day.

Today is the final day of our deployment. We've come a long way since the beginning. We are all tired, but there is definitely a sense of satisfaction knowing we helped get almost 1,200 animals return home or get into new homes and shelters.

Adoptions galore!

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte

On Wednesday, the animals who were remaining at the temporary shelter in Cedar Rapids were made available for adoption. We did a brisk business all day!

Here are some photos and their descriptions, from top to bottom:

This little kitty is hilarious to watch. He can fall asleep anywhere, even in his litter box. At least this time he is lying down. Yesterday he was sleeping sitting straight up in his litter box.

Gray kitty was a favorite of the volunteers. He has a lot of energy and personality. He wasn't available for adoption on day one because he was recovering from some health issues. The first day he was adoptable, he was quickly whisked away by the happy woman.

This is a local volunteer who worked with EARS volunteers a couple of days. She said that after working with us, she "grew a bigger heart" and had to come back and adopt a cat. She picked out this black kitten but he was not available for adoption right away. The day he became available, she was at the shelter first thing in the morning to pick him up.

This was a wonderful match! The young lady in this picture was in a wheelchair. Her family had other animals, but none really took to her so she was looking for one to call her own. This little kitty fell asleep right away as she held him. The two of them were very happy to find each other.

This was the last dog to be adopted. He is a black cocker spaniel, approximately 10 years old. He is a wonderfully sweet dog. He would get so excited whenever anyone came to visit his kennel. The problem is that he has a large growth on his lower left eyelid and no one was willing to take a chance on him. It was very sad to see people walk away from him time after time. Finally a family came in with two little boys, ages 11 and 7. The boys loved the dog and were able to look past his ugly eye. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure they even saw the growth. After the adoption was final and they were walking away from the shelter everyone was is tears. It was definitely the highlight of our day...maybe even our week. This is why we do what we do. It doesn't get any better than this!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It takes a city

Submitted by EARS volunteer Suzy Hiskey of Littleton, Colorado (pictured)

The people in Cedar Rapids are amazing. I find it interesting how I am such great friends with people whose names I don’t know. I am thankful for the droves of community members who come in every day to help care for the pets. Some come in because they are lucky and want to do something to help. Some come in because they lost something and are thankful for the shelter. All come in because they care about the animals.

The visiting families are so grateful for the care we give the dogs and cats, and we are thrilled when a pet gets a visitor or gets to go home. One EARS volunteer told me, “You get choked up over the interaction between the pets and their families. For instance, one woman came in with her three kids to see their St. Bernard. It’s great to see the family interact, and the pets love it. A few dogs are so withdrawn, but come alive when they see the owners. It takes a volunteer 10 minutes to get the leash on, but then the owner comes in and dog is jumping up on her - the personality switches. It’s too bad they can’t be with their owners.”

I work side by side with the local volunteers. One man volunteering at the shelter said he lost everything in the flood except his cat. Despite his loss, he took time to come help others. They are so thankful for everything the shelter does for the community, and they only see part of it.

The EARS volunteers work from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day regardless of the day of the week. They take 15 minute lunch breaks, handle fearful and enthusiastic animals, search carefully for any sign of illness, feed hundreds of animals, cry over the sadness of a pet whose owner is still not found, and cry with joy over the reunion of a dog or cat with his family. And they take vacation or unpaid leave from work and ask their families to make sacrifices to do all of this.

Even the community members who do not come into the shelter are gracious and caring. An EARS volunteer named Ellen told me about a man she met out in a neighborhood. During the flooding, he met up with another man who had a boat parked in his garage. They found fishing nets and went up and down the flooded streets to save everything that was alive. The two men pulled two cats, dogs, a ferret, raccoons, possums, squirrels and two people out of the water. He said “everything has a right to have a chance to live.” He released the wild animals and brought the others to animal control. Ellen was struck by how matter-of-fact and humble this man was about his deeds. She was also amazed at how happy he was that only the first floor of his home was destroyed. Even during clean up, this man was concerned about his neighbor’s cat, which they’ve been unable to catch so far. Ellen, who also volunteered during Hurricane Katrina, lamented, “It’s common that pets are hard to catch after a disaster.”

You meet amazing animals too. I met the cutest dog who loves to jump up on people. I greeted her and did a 30-second “off,” "sit" and "shake" lesson. She was all over "shake" since all she wanted was for her front feet to be up on me! About 15 minutes later, here she comes again dragging a different volunteer. When she arrived the volunteer said, "She wanted to come up and greet you." It was almost like she was saying, "Come on, meet my new friend!" The dog started to jump up, but remembered that she needed to sit to get my attention. She sat immediately and offered her paw. How smart!

Now that I am home, a snippet of a conversation, a familiar-looking face, or a news story on TV reminds me of the friends I made and things I experienced. I plan to share the stories and remember the charity and resilience of the pets and people of Cedar Rapids!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

EARS goes prime time!

Today Fox 7 News in Austin, Texas, aired an amazing segment on EARS Regional Director Stacey Harris and her recent deployment to Cedar Rapids. The piece featured an extensive interview with Stacey, footage and photos taken at the shelter, and images of the flooding and devastation in Cedar Rapids.

Please take a moment to watch this touching news segment on the Fox 7 News Web site.

Rascal and Koda: Iowa's Mutt and Jeff

Yesterday we received the great news from Cedar Rapids that EARS volunteer favorites Rascal and Koda -- a rambunctious but lovable pair of dogs -- went home with their owner! Many volunteers grew attached to this unlikely duo, and hardly an eye was dry in the shelter when they said their final goodbyes.

Koda the Saint Bernard was known for howling every time Rascal was out of his sight, and Rascal the Shih Tzu always seemed to be full of energy.

EARS volunteer Carl Gerlach of Wisconsin reported the following true story that epitomizes Koda and Rascal and their endearing relationship:

"One afternoon I used Koda and Rascal as my training pups, all to the chagrin of an older gentlemen named Bob. Bob agreed to go into the stall and leash them. He successfully entered the stall only to be greeted by Koda with his paws on Bob's shoulders. At the same time Rascal was jumping up and down wanting attention from Bob. (The two guys are very jealous of each other when it comes to human attention.) All the while Bob is trying to get a leash on Koda, Rascal is biting at Koda's privates. Koda swats Rascal out of the way and rolls on his back giving Bob kisses. At this point Bob is tied up in leashes and looks slightly bewildered. Six of us watching him outside the stall holler: 'Hey Bob, do you need any help?' He very quickly replies, 'Nope, I have this under control.' We all couldn't help but laugh at the site of this gentleman wrestling with these two sweet pups."

Thank you Carl, Bob and all the EARS volunteers for taking such great care of Koda and Rascal until they could return home!