Friday, March 30, 2012

RedRover Responders back in Jacksonville

RedRover Responders volunteers are back at it: helping to care for the nearly 700 cats rescued from a failed cat sanctuary in Florida. Eight volunteers travelled to Jacksonville to provide the daily care necessary to give these beleaguered cats a chance at better lives.

RedRover Responders volunteers like Chris Smock (pictured) provide emotional enrichment to sheltered animals.
This is the second time RedRover Responders volunteers stepped up for these cats. When they were initially rescued by the ASPCA at the request of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and Madison County Animal Control in late February, RedRover Responders volunteers helped to set up the temporary shelter, assisted in the initial vetting efforts and cared for the cats during their first week at the shelter. In the meantime, the animals need daily care, both physical and emotional.

Team Leader Andy Bass observed, “Since many of these criminal cases typically require sheltering for months, emotional enrichment becomes as important as daily care and medical treatment for the long-term care of our charges.” RedRover Responders volunteers help with this emotional enrichment simply by “being” with the cats in their kennels, making “kitty condos” out of carriers to give the cats somewhere to climb and perch upon, or delivering toys filled with catnip.

RedRover Responders volunteer Becky helps put together "kitty condos" to give cats a place to climb and perch.
The RedRover Responders program is committed to the success of large-scale cruelty cases. These cases cannot be brought unless there is a commitment care for the seized animals, often for weeks or months at a time. RedRover Responders volunteers will continue to be there for the animals, taking care of them physically and emotionally, to give them the chance they deserve.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Madison County Cats: Till We Meet Again...

Many thanks to Marcia Goodman, RedRover Responders volunteer and Communications Assistant, for writing this blog series on our deployment to Madison County, Florida. This is her final entry for this series.

This final entry in this blog series focuses on the wonderful RedRover Responders volunteers who deployed to Jacksonville, Florida. I wasn't able to interview all of them, but the ones I did speak with represented a good sample of our volunteers.

Rob and Julie preparing cages for the cats.

As is typical for RedRover Responders, we were a varied group of volunteers. This was the first deployment for Rob Sullenberger, an ex-marine who shares his home in Georgia with 11 dogs and 7 cats, and for Andrea Weisberger, a Jacksonville area local who has 21 cat companions and also cares for a feral colony of about 25 cats. Diane Dupont and Julie Rathbun have deployed together in the past and were roommates at this deployment. I've also deployed with Julie in the past. Newly retired Karin Evans, my roommate at this deployment, has previously traveled to the Dominican Republic and Thailand to help animals and looks forward to more international travel. Two Jacksonville-area volunteers, Monica Ross and Amy Mcmahon were runners for the medical department at this deployment. Rebecca Cox, a vet tech student with an eye toward possibly going to veterinary school, did homework for school at night after an 11-hour workday at the emergency shelter.

Diane carrying cats from the ASPCA rig into the temporary shelter.  

Most rewarding

To Andrea, most rewarding about this deployment was that she made a difference for the cats: being able to talk to them and provide positive human contact to make them feel more secure. Rob said that the large size of this deployment gave him insight into deployment operations through the interaction and dynamics of the different animal welfare groups working together. For Diane, who worked at a very similar deployment a few months earlier (the huge cat rescue in Gainesville, Florida), this Jacksonville deployment was an opportunity to apply the lessons she learned in Gainesville. Rebecca, who also volunteered at Gainesville, added that it's personally rewarding to make a difference for the cats she helped and also to be around "my kind of people" – that is, people who care about animals. Amy called this deployment an "amazing opportunity" as runner for the medical team, which "exceeded my every expectation." Karin appreciated how much was accomplished in such a short time and how great it was that everyone worked together effectively.

Andrea, on her birthday, suiting up to treat cats for ringworm.

Why deploy?

Diane deploys to animal rescues so she can make a difference, which she feels is (sadly) easy to do because the animals come from such horrid conditions. In a similar vein, Rebecca deploys because, although many people are sympathetic about what happens to animals, not many do something about it – and the animals need people who will help. Karin is thrilled that she has the time to deploy now that she's retired. She tried to retire once before, but the small business she created at that time blossomed; now she has sold the business and can devote much more time to helping animals in distress.

Karin providing daily care for the cats. 

Challenges as a RedRover Responders volunteer

The challenges faced by RedRover Responders volunteers differ from person to person. Karin says it's difficult to put a burden on the people she leaves at home to take care of her companion animals so that she can deploy. For Diane, it's not knowing what happens to the rescued animals after an emergency shelter closes. On this, her first deployment, Andrea was sorry that she wasn't able to work with the other RedRover Responders volunteers more; we were so dispersed throughout the shelter. Rebecca hopes that in future deployments, she'll be able to use the skills she's gaining as a vet tech student so she can help more and learn more.

Amy checking on cats who are next to go to medical.

How this deployment has been different

This was Rebecca's second deployment; her first was the major cat rescue in Gainesville. She said the first one was a very emotional experience for her because she had a hard time seeing beyond all the individual cats who were suffering. At this deployment, she's a little less sensitive in a good way: she feels better able to help large numbers of cats because she can see beyond each individual cat. Amy helped at Hurricane Katrina and noted that this deployment to Jacksonville was "luxurious" in comparison thanks to the supplies provided by PetSmart Charities, the indoor shelter with electricity and real bathrooms, and the great meals provided by the ASPCA. (Note: Amy lives locally and didn't even get to lodge with other volunteers at this deployment.) For Karin, this deployment was the biggest she's been on; there was a lot to get done in a short period of time. Similarly, seeing multiple organizations work together on this deployment was the major difference for Diane; there's been more diversity this time around, meeting lots of different people from different organizations.

Rebecca filling out a daily care sheet.
There you have it – nine volunteers with nine different stories, and yet the most important piece of each story is the same: we all share a passion to help animals in need. We were all in Jacksonville to help nearly 700 cats by supporting each other, as well as the staff and volunteers of other organizations, and bonding with one another as we did so. As always, I look forward to the next deployment when I'll be able to walk in on Day 1 and say to some volunteers, "Great to meet you!" and to other volunteers with delight, "Wow, I haven't seen you since...!!!"

Marcia donning Tyvek attire, a fashionable favorite among RedRover Responders volunteers. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Madison County Cats: Interview with Andy Bass

Marcia Goodman, RedRover Responders volunteer and Communications Assistant, interviews Andy Bass on the RedRover Responders deployment to Madison County, Florida. 

A RedRover volunteer since the mid-1990s, and often a RedRover Responders Team Leader, Andy Bass deployed to the emergency cat shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Bay Area Disaster Animal Response Team (DART), part of Florida’s State Animal Response Coalition. Because Andy is so much a part of RedRover and embodies RedRover’s values – working in cooperation with other people and other organizations to help animals – we are featuring him in this volunteer spotlight.

Andy  Bass and a puppy mill dog illustrate the human-animal bond.
Photo by RedRover Responders volunteer and Communications Assistant Tracy Clark. 
I met Andy for the first time during this deployment and almost immediately realized that he's a role model for RedRover Responders volunteers and an inspiration to people who are already volunteering or are considering it. I've been to a number of deployments with RedRover; yet, when I was teamed with Andy on one of the first days here, he taught me a lot in a very positive and supportive way. Andy has an abundance of talent, knowledge and experience, combined with teaching and mentoring skills, an outgoing personality, a bit of flamboyance and a deep, deep dedication to helping animals. I interviewed Andy at the end of a long day at the Jacksonville, Florida, cat emergency shelter.

Marcia: Tell me a little bit about your background. When did you first start helping animals?

Andy: When I was about 11 years old, a large German shepherd came upon me while I was playing outside. He was taller than me, and instead of either of us being scared, he sat down next to me. I took him home and asked my mother if we could keep him. She said we couldn't, but we could get the dog a good home by calling the animal shelter. Later that day, a woman from the animal shelter came by and took the dog with her.

I never heard about that dog again, but that made me aware that animal shelters find good homes for animals. Because of that experience, when I was in college and wanted a dog, I went to the animal shelter  and adopted a dog from them. I was aware that I could do more than go into a pet store and buy a dog.

Marcia: What got you into animal rescue?

Andy: When I met my life partner, she had a standard poodle and I had my corgi, and we started to foster standard poodles and corgis. We worked on that for about 10 years, taking in animals and then placing them. I became involved in what was then the only poodle rescue group in Florida, and then I helped found the Coastal Poodle Rescue.

When Hurricane Andrew hit, I got into disaster relief. Miami/Dade was devastated, and many people deserted the area. A number of them dumped their dogs onto highway off ramps in Broward County where I live. That's when I realized there's a need for people to get involved in rescue, foster, and rehabilitation of dogs.

Marcia: How did you get involved with RedRover?

Andy: RedRover Responders was then known as Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS). They were at Hurricane Andrew, and their practice after a disaster was to come back a couple of years later to offer training to prospective volunteers. EARS was about the only organized group working for animals in disasters back then. The rest of disaster services for animals were informal and very disorganized. Before I was involved with EARS, I remember being part of a care caravan bringing supplies to a disaster area. The car I was given overheated and I had to leave the caravan and make my own plan to get the supplies in my vehicle to people in need. After that experience, I realized that if I was going to respond to disasters, I had to get into an organization that knows what it's doing so I wouldn't be a victim. That's why I became active with RedRover.

Marcia: So you signed up with RedRover Responders?

Andy: Yes, I took their training in 1996. I wasn't deployed by them until 2004 because there weren't any disasters in our region during that time. When they did call, I went scurrying to find my red shirt and manual.

It was different back then. There was no PetSmart Charities to help with supplies, and each volunteer brought tools, supplies, dog food, anything we needed, and we headed to Bartow, Florida. We arrived in the middle of the night and pitched a tent. It turns out the incident commander on that deployment was a woman I'd gone to the EARS training with, and it was like old home week.

Andy  Bass prepares meals during our 2011 deployment to a puppy mill in Kentucky. Photo by Tracy Clark.

Marcia: Why do you volunteer for emergency rescues?

Andy: Because when we were in need, others helped us, and I knew how important it was to see teams of volunteers coming in from out of state. I knew I had to reciprocate. Helping others in their time of crisis was a way of showing how much I appreciated their help.

Marcia: Why didn’t you volunteer with the Red Cross given that they were the largest disaster relief agency?

Andy: There were already people doing the human side of things. RedRover Responders was like the Red Cross for animals, and I'm an animal person. I always have been. I was ready to create temporary emergency shelters for animals. I'd been kennel manager of an animal hospital, and I'd already been involved with producing large-scale outdoor music festivals. I could use what I'd learned and apply it to the responses. Each festival involved planning for months and running it for a few days; with a disaster, you plan for a few days and run it for months.

Marcia: I’m sure you've seen similarities and differences among deployments. Would you give us your sense of those?

Andy: The similarities among all the deployments are urgency, the need for care, and the need for compassion and protection of the animals who are our charges. Also similar are the volunteers eating junk food, getting little sleep, sharing the corners of barns with strangers who then become friends. Also, in all of them, we have opportunities to learn everything from animal handling to animal issues to just interacting with people and supporting each other and what it means to be on a well-functioning team.

The differences are vast. Every deployment is different and has its own unique challenges. We have to do the same thing every time, but we have to customize it to the location.

The types of deployments have inherent differences. At natural disasters, there's the knowledge that not only am I helping animals, but also the human victims. In a hoarding case, it's helping the animals and in an outlying way, helping the hoarder get his or her mental health. In puppy mill deployments, it's knowing about the “blossom factor,” which is what I call the dogs’ progress from the beginning of the rescue, when they stay in the back of their kennels, over time as they start coming to the front of the cage. We see them blossom and become the animals they're supposed to be. We see them walk on the grass for the first time in their lives. In dog fight deployments, we’re able to let the dogs experience that there are nice humans in the world, at least while under RedRover’s care. Even if they don’t make it because they’re trained fighters, we’re able to give them a gift of compassion at the end of their lives.

Marcia: What about this deployment?

Andy: I volunteered for this one, which is all cats, after Gainesville, which was also all cats, even though I'm "dog person" first and cat second. Both deployments have turned me into something of a cat expert. In Gainesville, they assigned me to what they called the "Fractious Room." I immediately changed the name to "Harmony Hut." After working there, I felt I gained knowledge, and here in Jacksonville, I was assigned to intake, and you know how hectic intake can be.

I was 100 percent looking forward to coming here. I wanted to make it right for the cats, make good on the promises made to the cats, promises that weren’t kept. I also knew I’d be working with one of the best teams out there, with RedRover, ASPCA and Florida SARC.

Andy, with his signature grin, preparing food for the Madison County cats. Photo by Marcia Goodman. 
Marcia: Did you go to the Caboodle Ranch site for the rescue?

Andy: No. I've been offered opportunities to go out in the field in the past, and although I'm always happy to help in any way that I can, if I have a choice, I'd prefer to prepare the shelter hotel for our incoming guests to make sure we're ready. That's my best place.

Marcia: And, finally, what has been most rewarding about this particular deployment, and is there anything that's frustrated you?

Andy: The rewards are in knowing we're bringing quality of life to the animals, that they're going to a better place. Also, it's always exciting to see people I haven't seen for a while. It was a big treat the other day when, across the room, I saw someone who I last worked with in 2009, and I've seen other RedRover Responders as recently as the Joplin tornado and the Kentucky puppy mill deployments. We've become bosom buddies. As for frustration, it's that we have to be here in the first place. With natural disasters, we have no choice, but this is a person-made disaster, and that shouldn't be happening.

View Marcia's photos from this deployment by visiting the RedRover Facebook page.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Meet the Madison County Cats

Here is another blog entry from Marcia Goodman, RedRover Responders volunteer, Communications Assistant and talented photographer, on the RedRover Responders deployment to Madison County, Florida.

RedRover has been at the Jacksonville deployment during its first eight days. Developing a streamlined system for sheltering, feeding, examining and treating nearly 700 cats has taken almost all our time. We haven't had the socialization time with the cats we might have liked until the last day or two; we also haven’t been able to participate in naming them. Still, we’ve found moments here and there to give the kitties moments of attention and lovin' while feeding them and cleaning their cages.

Some of the cats are stand-outs for us. While leaning down to clean a cage in the B room, a cat jumped on Rebecca Cox’s back, and then the next day, jumped on Beth Gammie’s back when she leaned down.

Tightrope walkin' kitty.
Rob Sullenberger and Andy Bass discovered that one of the cats is a tightrope walker; he loves to walk along the top edge of his litter box with all 4 of his paws on the edge.

When I was on my knees cleaning a cage in the D room, a small cat ran over to me, jumped up on my chest, and nuzzled against my ear. Those moments were so sweet that I nabbed Rebecca Cox during that afternoon's break to come with me while I visited that cat again, this time with video camera in hand. Sure enough, as soon as I opened the door, that kitty ran up to me, jumped on my chest, and nuzzled against my ear. This little kitty has both FIV and feline leukemia. Guess who I would have loved to take home with me?!

And what about all the cats who've needed medical attention? They’ve all been getting it. As many as nine veterinarians plus support staff have been at the shelter at any one time. All the cats have been examined by one of the veterinary teams and are receiving appropriate treatment. Because there were some cases of ringworm, which is highly contagious, every cat at the shelter has been dipped in a lyme solution bath. Three of us from RedRover – Andrea, Beth and I – participated in the dipping process. Also, all of the cats with FIV, feline leukemia, or a combination of FIV and feline leukemia, have been housed separately to keep those conditions from spreading.

Visit our Facebook page to view more photos of the Madison County cats.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Madison County Cats: Interview with Beth Gammie

Thank you to Marcia Goodman, RedRover Responders volunteer and Communications Assistant, for keeping us updated on this deployment. Here, she reflects on Day 3 (March 1, 2012).

It was exciting this morning to find that many of the cats who arrived on Day 1 of the deployment have relaxed and started to become quite social. The volunteers are still so busy tending to the huge number of cats that we haven’t been able to socialize with them much, but today it was often hard for volunteers to clean some cages, because a number of the cats kept getting in our faces looking for attention and affection.

What an unusual deployment this has been so far! Usually at a deployment, by Days 3 and 4, daily care starts to get into a groove and the volunteers begin socializing with the rescued animals. However, cats have been arriving every day. For some cats, it’s Day 3; for the cats who arrived today, it’s Day 1.

So, for the volunteers, it’s hard to figure out what day of the deployment this is; it’s almost like a suspension of time.

I was chatting about this phenomenon this evening with Beth Gammie, Emergency Services Manager for RedRover, and our chat turned into something of an interview. I’ll devote the remainder of this blog entry to sharing part of that conversation.

Beth Gammie, RedRover Emergency Services Manager, coordinates with Shannon from the IFAW team.

I first met Beth before she joined the RedRover staff, when she was a RedRover Responders (then EARS) volunteer and we were both deployed to a response in Arizona. In addition to the regular deployment work, Beth and I shared the responsibilities of Communications Assistant, both writing the blog and taking photos. We developed a great working relationship and had a lot of fun too, and I was delighted when Beth became RedRover’s Emergency Services Manager.

Marcia: What was your first thought when RedRover was asked to be part of this deployment?

Beth: That it’s Florida and cats . . . again [referring to the RedRover deployment in Gainesville, Florida, alongside the Humane Society of the United States, when nearly 700 cats were rescued from a “sanctuary”]. Many of the same volunteers from different organizations are here, and it’s like old home week. We learned a ton from sheltering 700 cats in Gainesville.

Marcia:  So far, what’s been the best part of this deployment for you?

Beth: I could not be prouder of the RedRover Responders volunteers, and that’s among the best parts. The ASPCA knows that RedRover volunteers are of the highest quality, having a great work ethic. When people see the RedRover red shirts, they know they can count on us and not have to think about whether the job will get done; they know it will no matter how stressful the conditions.

The ASPCA gives me compliments about our volunteers all the time. That’s not my doing, but I’m very proud of it. And just this afternoon, an official with the Bay Area Diasaster Animal Response Team (“DART”) told me that she loves RedRover volunteers – their skill, their attitude, their commitment. When she sees a red shirt, she knows the calibre is up here [Beth points high up] and that’s gold.

Marcia: The volunteers have had a number of sudden changes to our assignments during this deployment.

Beth: Yes, and the flexibility of the RedRover Responders volunteers is also very special to me. Volunteers may be tasked to clean a particular area and then be interrupted to assemble crates because more cats were trapped and will soon arrive at the shelter. Every single RedRover Responders volunteer I've ever met takes these changes in stride. It never fails to inspire me.

Marcia:  What do you think is different about RedRover from other organizations for the volunteers?

Beth: I think one of the reasons RedRover is so successful is that we tap into our volunteer pool to do a lot more than other organizations allow. When I was a volunteer, I wrote the blog and took photographs and videos just like you’re doing now. Typically, organizations don’t let volunteers do that type of work. RedRover is eager to benefit from the talents and ingenuity of its volunteers, and the volunteers really appreciate the opportunity to help and excel at what they do.

Marcia: Let’s talk about the cats who were rescued.

Beth: It’s remarkable that we’ve been able to give hopeful futures to so many cats. That’s why we’re here. It’s really satisfying to see the cats who arrived on the first day getting settled in. You can see them starting to groom themselves and perking up. We’re looking forward to being able to spend more time with them.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Madison County Cats: Rainy Days

Thank you to Marcia Goodman, RedRover Responders volunteer and Communications Assistant, for keeping us updated on this deployment.

As RedRover Responders volunteers were completing the late afternoon feeding today of the nearly 700 cats at the emergency shelter, we were a little apprehensive. We'd already had pouring rain, and the threat of severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch were part of the weather forecast on this day that saw much destruction from tornadoes in the South.

At the same time, we were doing a happy dance that the cats were safe and dry. If they had not been rescued, these neglected cats would have been drenched in their outdoor setting and potentially in harm’s way. Instead, they are all safe, dry, fed and watered.

They are also increasingly coming out of their shells. The volunteers are still working very long hours just to provide care to all these cats, but we’ve been able to socialize a bit with the more social cats as we’re doing feedings and cleanings. Many of them greet us as we approach their cages. They rub against our legs, head butt us as we put their food down, and even climb onto us. Unfortunately, a number of the cats are sick, but now they’re seeing veterinarians and are being treated for their illnesses.

We work every day from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., but each day flies by, and it's completely rewarding.