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.