Why We Need to Refrain From “Saving Dogs From the Shelter”

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It’s 5 o’oclock PM on a Saturday.
I’m tired. I’m haven’t eaten anything yet. I’ve been working at the shelter non-stop all day. I’m about to finally clock out and head home when someone walks in to surrender two dogs. Rocky and Pebbles are waiting in the car. Their owner got a promotion and is moving, and he “can’t bring them with him to his new place.” I take a deep breath, and continue to impound his dogs. After this, I get a phone call that a couple of our puppies are sick. They need fluids and medication until a doctor can see to them in the morning. So much for leaving on time. Oh, and I forgot to mention. Today was my 20th birthday.

I am not telling you this because I’m upset that I had to work at the shelter on my birthday. I love my job. I love working with the homeless or unwanted animals. It’s probably my second most favorite place to be, close behind home. I am telling you this to show you how completely dedicated I am to helping the 300+ stray animals who end up in our shelter staff’s care on a daily basis.

This may come as a shock to you, but I am not the only one on staff who skips through lunch to continue working. I am not the only staff member who works on a birthday. And I am certainly not the only one there who is completely dedicated to the stray animals in our care.

When I finally get home that day, and I logged onto my facebook, and saw a familiar face on my screen. It was a dog who had come into the shelter, not too long ago. I remember him because he didn’t look so good when he came in. We gave him a bath, put him on medication, and tried our best to make him as comfortable as possible. Blasted across this dog’s picture were the words, “Free at last! Saved from the shelter!”

Ouch.

A common phrase in rescue…. we’ve all said it before. But for some reason, I felt a sting when I saw it.

“Free at last. Saved from the shelter.”

I’m sorry….Saved from… what exactly? Free from…what exactly? 2 meals a day, play dates in the yard, and medical attention? A bed to sleep in, a clean kennel, and the opportunity to find a new home?

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Look. I know that our open intake shelter isn’t the ideal, “safe” place for any dog. We want to get them adopted or into rescue programs as quickly as we can move them through. Shoot. We just took in 800 animals in July. One month. Scary.

But the shelter is not a jail or a hellhole, and it shouldn’t be implied to the public as such… intentional or not. Animals can be saved and freed from lots of things: abusive homes, life on the streets, neglect. The animal shelter is a haven for the unwanted and neglected. Does every animal coming in make it out? Unfortunately, the numbers coming in are too large. Am I going to encourage you to swing by and casually drop off your personal pet there when they are no longer wanted? Of course not. But every animal who comes into the shelter is provided the very best care and attention possible.

If anything, when an animal is adopted or pulled by a rescue, another cage is opened. And another animal is able to fill that cage. And so… the shelter is able to do its job. It is able to “shelter.”

I do not believe that the common phrase is used to intentionally show ill-will toward the animal shelter and its employees. Or at least, I’d like to hope so. Like I said, every one involved in rescue has said this before. If it’s not “saved from the shelter,” it’s “busted out of jail” or some other sort of phrase.

Maybe I’m just being nit-picky. I’m sure I will get a lot of flack for this post. But the sting was there…and I’m sure it’s been there for other shelter employees as well.

There are alternative ways to express our excitement about adoption, without implying that the shelter is a place animals need to be “freed” from. Please, lets be considerate with our word choices.

In the mean time, here are a couple pictures of adoptable pit bulls from our shelter. They seem pretty durn happy to me, but you can be the judge of that 🙂

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Have a heart: aid in fighting against the most common canine heart disease in Louisiana

I was so excited to get my newest foster dog, Clementine. A 1 & 1/2 year old beauty, she was full of spunk and excitement to be out of the shelter. This girl always had a smile on her face, so one day when I got home from school and noticed she was acting very strange, I knew something was up.I checked her gums, which were very pale, and she soon lost control of her back legs – I mean…they were dragging the floor. I immediately rushed her to the closest vet clinic I could, where they ran blood test and x-rays. Clementine slowly came back to herself, but I soon learned that she had temporarily gone into heart shock. Why? Because at only one and a half years old – this girl’s entire right side of her young heart was full. of. worms.

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Heartworms disease. If you’re from the northern United States, you may have never even heard of this disease, but if you’re from southern Louisiana… you know that heartworms here are out. of. control. The vast majority of animals housed by animal control test positive for this disease. My very own home town in Terrebonne Parish, LA is has highest number of heartworm positive dogs in the entire country. Why is it so bad down here? Well… in these swamp lands, as many of you may know, mosquitos are not scarce – in fact – they are a year round pain in the butt to each of us, including our companion animals. Heartworms are spread by these mosquitos…. with only one bite, they can transmit up to 7 larvae.

These larvae can mature into a worm in the blood vessels of the lungs and in the heart. Given enough time to advance, these worms can eventually block the flow of blood once their numbers increase, ultimately leading to heart failure. Most heartworm positive dogs display signs of exercise intolerance, coughing, and weight loss. If this disease is allowed to continue to advance in a dog, it will result in a very slow, and extremely painful death.

Fortunately, there are preventative medications which are very effective in fighting this disease! However, these medications must be administered monthly, and many dog owners are not familiar with the vital need to give their companion their heartworm medication.

Close to 100% of dogs who are not placed on heartworm prevention will test positive for this disease by age 2. Wait, did you read that right? Yes.. CLOSE TO 100%. So you can just about imagine the number of dogs who come into our southern Louisiana animal shelters who grew up under the care of an irresponsible pet owner having never taken heartworm medication. I don’t have the exact intake number of East Baton Rouge Animal Control (known as Companion Animal Alliance to many), but I can guarantee that the vast majority of our impounded dogs test positive for heartworms disease.

This disease is not a death sentence, by any meansBut unfortunately, having the tag “hw pos” on a kennel can make a dog a little harder to adopt out, and can be the cut off on a dog’s time when our shelters become too crowded.

Ummm.. soo what’s the good news? As widespread as heartworms are in southern, LA, its hard to find “good news” surrounding this topic. However, if this disease is caught early on enough, there are different treatment options. I will discuss the 2 most commonly used in shelter practice.

The first is the most economical. If a dog is a heartworms positive, he/she may be placed on monthly heartworm preventative, and eventually all the worms will died off. The issue with this type of treatment is that time needed to kill all of the worms in a dog’s heart can take anywhere from 3 months to 3+ years, depending on the case. By this time, worms may have already caused permanent damage to a dog’s heart. However, it is not as expensive ( roughly $5-$10 a month/dog) as our more reliable option 2…

Fast-kill treatment. The best analogy I can make for this type of treatment is that it is similar (using the term similar very lightly) to chemotherapy- in that very powerful injections are given to quickly kill off the worms in a dog’s heart. This treatment is very hard on a dog, but it is the quickest and most effective way of ridding the heart of these parasites. This treatment is also very expensive, averaging roughly $400-$500 a dog.

These Louisiana dogs have it rough. Our shelters are crowded, our euthanasia rates are high, and our funding is low. While we are making advancements in decreasing our euthanasia rates, heartworms are still ever present in our shelter. Clementine came into the shelter pregnant at only 1 & and a half, and this disease almost defeated her. She is only one of many, many dogs who deserve not only a second shot at life, but simply a state of good-health. Here are just a few faces of the thousands of dogs who have come into the shelter with heart worms.

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What can you do to help? 

Fortunately, an incredible donor stepped up to sponsor my girl, Clementine’s, heartworm treatment. She is now happy and healthy – free of heart worms!

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However, there is always there are tons of more dogs in need of help. There is an ever continuing need for funding to be able to give our high number of heartworm positive shelter dogs proper medical attention. We have established a donation site directed solely to the treatment of these sick and injured animals of East Baton Rouge Parish at Companion Animal Alliance. To help, please click on the link below in order to make a contribution. No donation is too small. The dogs and volunteers of Companion Animal Alliance thank you!

https://www.iphiview.com/braf/DonorDashboard/DonateToYourFund/tabid/119/dispatch/
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BSL: In the Dog House

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Mickey. That’s the name of my most recent foster dog from Companion Animal Alliance. This dog has the gentlest soul you will ever find, tolerating just about anything. He is housebroken, loves to cuddle with cats, and is about as out-going as a pet rock. Mickey is the perfect dog for any family, right? Wrong. Mickey is shunned by most because, unfortunately for him, he came into this world as an American Pitbull Terrier- the dog breed once on the covers of our country’s war posters as symbol of pride that is now shamed, and even banned in some areas.

Having fostered multiple bully breeds from our local animal shelter of East Baton Rouge Parish, I know first hand that the vast majority of these so called “bullies” have incredible temperaments, most of them just as well-behaved, if not better, than your average, beloved Golden Retriever. It breaks my heart when, at adoption events, mothers tell their children to “not pet that pit-bull”, while my Mickey would have greeted them with only love and affection. My personal favorite is when people are playing with him and say, “This is such a great dog. What kind is he?”, and then shudder at my response as if he has suddenly morphed into a vicious monster right in front of them. I encourage anyone who has not met a “bully” to take a trip to their local shelter, mine being Companion Animal Alliance, in order to formulate a first-hand opinion, rather than living in the façade that all pit-bulls are a danger to society.

Upon hearing the horror stories associated with “bully breeds”, many citizens develop a powerful disgust and fear of these dogs. Breed specific legislation (BSL), is the attempt to use laws to regulate and restrict dog ownership, focusing on banning a number of different breeds, mainly American Pit Bull Terriers- type dogs. In order to do this, breed specific legislation targets and eliminates specific breeds as a whole, using a system based simply on how similar a certain dog looks to a banned breed.  BSL has been discussed in many areas in Louisiana, such as my hometown of Terrebonne, LA, and has also already gone into effect in certain parishes, such as St. Mary’s parish. What supporters of BSL fail to recognize, however, is that dog attacks are the result of multiple factors, not breed culpability, and there are alternative and more effective ways to decrease the number of dog attacks and amount of dog fighting in an area rather than simply banning and discriminating against entire breeds.

If I were to live in a parish enforcing BSL, my Mickey would be taken from me simply because of his larger-than-most head and wide-set jawline. This is absurd. Many well-known organizations, such as the American Kennel Club and the Obama administration, have stated their disapproval of BSL, rather, supporting the enactment and enforcement of breed neutral, dangerous-dog laws that identify dangerous animals based on behavior. There are precautions all dog owners should take to lower the risk of one’s dog becoming aggressive, such as socialization, limiting territory, supervision around children (about 80% of fatal attacks occur when the child has been left unsupervised), and fencing one’s yard rather than tethering (chaining a dog which limits its movements and makes it significantly more likely to become aggressive). As an animal-science undergrad, this is basic “dog ownership 101” type information, that many owners fail to recognize, as it is not certain dog-breeds themselves that are dangerous, but rather, other adverse factors which create dangerous dogs. Unfortunately, there are no current regulations prohibiting tethering in East Baton Rouge Parish.

We must push for these stronger animal control laws, which could include leash laws, tethering- prohibiting laws, mandatory spay/neuter laws for animal shelters, increasing penalties for violations, and targeting habitually irresponsible dog owners. Mickey and all other “bully breeds” should not have to suffer for lack of responsible dog ownership in southern LA. No sensible person wants dog fighting and canine attacks to occur in areas close to home; however, discriminatory laws based on breed rather than temperament is unjust, and quite frankly, an ineffective way of dealing with the issue at hand. We must push for suggestions and regulations that pertain to all dogs, because dog attacks are the result of multiple factors, not just a simple breakdown of breed culpability!

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Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Daniel is a 2-year-old, 40 lb. dog who was pulled into foster care from Companion Animal Alliance (East Baton Rouge Animal Control). Unfortunately, prior to being picked up by animal control, Daniel had fallen victim to dog abuse, having been made a “bait dog”. With the help of the shelter staff and volunteers, he is on a steady road to recovery and a life of happiness.

Read Daniel’s story; he promises you won’t regret it!

I was just sitting in my animal science class, when my sister (an employee at East Baton Rouge Animal Control) leaned over to show me a picture of a recent dog that was brought in. Being an active shelter volunteer and foster, unfortunately, I have seen many animal cruelty cases. However, the dog pictured here was different from other cases I’d seen. You see, this dog was not any typical dog; this little guy had landed in the terrible position of being used as a “bait-dog”.

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For the next couple of days, I could not get this guy off of my mind. It hurt my heart just to think of the possible hell that the first couple years of his life had been. Dog fighters typically choose the most submissive and mild mannered dogs in order to use as “bait-dogs” for their fighting dogs to practice upon. These bait dogs are restrained in some manner so that they cannot fight back or hurt the prize fighting dogs.

This dog, as all other dogs (even the prize fighter dogs), lived his entire life only wanting to please the humans around him. He had grown up yearning for human affection, probably never being called a “good boy” or having never earned a belly rub. Rather, he was raised in absolute torment, left to wonder what had he done wrong to earn such punishments from his people.  How could this dog still have any ounce of trust in his heart after what had been done to him by humans? I wouldn’t. I knew it was a long shot, but I requested that the shelter behavior specialist give him a look over with a few temperament tests.

Upon hearing that he passed his temperament tests with humans, food, and other dogs, I knew this guy had a fight in his heart. I knew that he deserved a second chance to feel and to know the goodness in the world, in comparison to the living hell he had known his entire life.

With the support of the shelter team, and after much contemplation, I made the decision to pull him to foster. I knew the road ahead of me would be bumpy; it would require lots of patience and understanding as I introduced this dog to a lifestyle and world he’d never known.

On the way to Companion Animal Alliance, I decided upon the name Daniel, in reference to the biblical children’s story, “Daniel in the lion’s den”. In the story, upon being tossed into a lion den to be eaten, Daniel amazingly never loses his faith in the Lord. In the same way, this dog never lost his trust in humans, even after what he’d been put through. I knew I had to document his progress in order to share his story and raise awareness. Today Daniel is kicking butt and taking names. So read on! 

WEEK 1:

The day I brought Daniel home from the shelter is one I will never forget. The veterinary staff at the shelter cleaned his wounds (old and new) as best as they could and sent him home with medication in order to make him as comfortable as possible. On the ride home, the back seat of my car soon became covered with blood from his gashes, but I didn’t mind, because my face was being covered in tentative, but appreciative kisses.

It was at that moment that I knew I had made the right decision, and it was on this day that I learned more about forgiveness from this 36 lb., beat up dog than I had learned in my lifetime.

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The first few days were rough. Daniel was hesitant to show any type of emotion: pain, fear, happiness- nothing. It was very heartbreaking, unlike anything I’d ever seen. However, I was persistent in providing positive encouragement. When he’d give me little kisses, I would make a huge deal, telling him what a good boy he was and showing my excitement. Slowly, but surely, Daniel began to open up.Danny9Danny7

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WEEK 2: 

Daniel’s wounds are healing wonderfully, and he is slowly beginning to pack on weight. We take long walks every day, in order to become used to different sights and sounds. He loves to watch the squirrels climb in the trees, and appreciates pats on the head from passer-bys. Some people stare and give us funny looks (who wouldn’t? I’m walking a malnourished, scarred-up, dog), but that’s all right. It’s all part of the road to progress. Daniel is a grateful houseguest, never barking or potty-ing inside. He gives kisses to anyone he meets, as no one is a stranger to Danny. He enjoys snoozing and belly rubs, and has proven to be a very gentle soul.

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WEEK 3:

 Daniel is enjoying this beautiful weather almost as much as I am! Yesterday, we took a trip to play in the sunshine by the Mississippi River. Danny’s first attempt at fetch was a failure, as he has no clue of how to play. I would throw the ball, and he would sort of look at it, like “Ummm. Mom, aren’t you gonna go get it?” At least we got to take a cruise in the car, as Danny loves to ride with the windows down. We are still taking our daily long walks, now with other foster dog brothers and sisters. Danny loves to play with his dog friends, and is very tolerant of even the most “annoying” playmates. Dan has found a new love of looking out of the window and watching the cars pass by.

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WEEK 4:

Balls are for fetching anyway! That’s what I told Daniel the day he got neutered (he was finally healthy enough!) Although, Danny was not very excited about his cone head. Is that not the most pathetic look you’ve ever seen?

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We will soon be able to start attending adoption events in hopes to finding Daniel’s forever home! We are in no rush, however, as Daniel has become very fond of his best friend and female look-a-like, Clementine. These two play all day, give kisses, and even cuddle. Yes, cuddle. I am amazed with how well Daniel plays with other dogs. He is so gentle, and ever so tolerant. While he does like to play, what Daniel seems to enjoy the most is just laying around his people. He is quick to curl up next to you and soak in a good ear rub. The appreciation is ever so visible in his eyes and body language.

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WEEK 5:

Sit command = check. Danny and I began taking a canine training course this week, and have been working on perfecting the “sit command.” As treat motivated as this little guy is, it did not take long until he knew that his behind needed to hit the floor for a snack to come his way. He now sits directly in front of me whenever I call him over… It’s insanely adorable. Look at that happy face! I am a proud momma.

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With all of this beautiful fall weather we’ve been having, we have been outside as much as possible, which is not much with my busy undergrad schedule. We invite a few friends to come play every now and then, and with a little help, Daniel has begun to understand the concept of fetching. However, he has no where near perfected this. His goofy side is beginning to show more as the days go on and his trust in humans builds. Last night, Daniel discovered for the first time that he had a tail… Talk about one of the funnier things I’ve seen in my life time.

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WEEK 7- or was it 8?

Time seems to be flying by! Daniel has already attended his 1st adoption event, and he was a doll. Usually, 1st time adoption event can be stressful on a dog, as there is so much excitement in this environment. Daniel melted the hearts of the public with his sweet demeanor, and snuck a few kisses in too!

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It’s not a secret that Louisiana has many die-hard football fans, so on Howl-o-ween, Daniel wanted to dress up as none other than an LSU tiger!

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While Dan’s goofy personality is continuing to bloom, it is still very evident that he loves to just chill with his human companions. With a ear scratch or belly rub, Daniel will curl up next to anyone! He is a wonderful cuddle-buddy, and I must admit, I cannot help but let him on my sofa with me (with my permission first, of course!)

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WEEKS 9 & 10

Daniel and Clementine decided to dress up after Halloween once the costumes went on sale. So. goofy. Dan dressed up as a cowardly…I mean fearless… lion. We try to play outside as much as possible when the Louisiana weather cooperates.These two have been wonderful together, and I am very confident that Daniel would be wonderful in a home with another doggy playmate.

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WEEKS 11 & 12

Dan is a superstar! Hurry and get his autograph now! The local Baton Rouge news station, WBRZ, interviewed Dan and I for a story covering dog fighting awareness in our areas. What an honor! Daniel is reaching out to help his other dog friends who have not been as lucky as he has in escaping a life involved in the terrible hobby of dog fighting. I am so proud of my little man. His video reached not only over 3,000 viewers in Louisiana, but also other areas of the world such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Wow. Here are a few pictures from the news story. *Daniel also has another interview coming up with LSU’s own TV station!*

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You can watch the whole video of Dan’s cover of WBRZ here: http://www.wbrz.com/news/animal-control-dog-fighting-big-in-baton-rouge/

Dan has mastered “sit”, “down”, and “stay. Toys used to be foreign objects to Daniel and today, he will play and through his toys around by himself (truly entertaining). He is truly a wonderful dog, and anyone would be lucky to have him as a family member. This special boy has continued to touch the hearts of many. He is still searching for his forever home.

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WEEK WHO KNOWS WHAT #

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I’ve been dreaming of/dreading the day I would take this picture. On the day I picked Daniel up, I knew he was going to be a hard one to let go of. I got the privilege of seeing his personality unfold into something beautiful–a goofy boy who loves squeaky toys and his girlfriend clementine, a boy who is scared of puppies but will chase a squirrel for days, a little man who is taking life and treats as they come, who loves to snuggle and chase his tail. Everyone who met Daniel fell in love with his sweet face and expressive satellite ears.

We all know a bit too much about the reality of what Daniel went through as a bait dog. This dog taught me that it doesn’t matter how ugly a past might be, the future is what you make of it.

I am so proud of the awesome dog he is, and will be with his new dad.

Happy tails my sweet boy!