Monday, August 3, 2015

The Dogs of IMR

While rescue can be very rewarding, there is one HUGE pitfall that all good rescues encounter: The Unadoptables. Here we also call them "Retirees". Simply put: If you operate a dog rescue, and you are not left with a bunch of these, you are either placing badly or not accepting the dogs who need you the most.

Gunther was our first of these. My friend, Lisa, asked me to pick him up from Crawford County Humane Society. I spent a day driving nearly to Indiana and back because we knew he had an eye injury that needed treatment. As it turned out, I wasn't able to treat it anyway because Gunther spent his first two weeks in rescue under my dining room table. He still has a scar.

You see, Gunther had been "rescued" by an elderly woman who thought that she was helping stray dogs by keeping them in a pen in her back yard. By the time her daughter came by and found out about her endeavors, there were 30 dogs of varying ages in that pen. Gunther, still under two years old, was hopelessly feral. He is now 12 years old and hates being touched. We drug him to trim his nails. Gunther requires a low allergen food, but little else. He knows the routine here and hates strangers coming into the house (he will try to bite them). Gunther also hates men in hats.

Sassy is an elderly Rat Terrier who came in a group of mill dogs when she was about two years old. I'll never forget the words of the rescuer who brought me two Rat Terriers. She pointed to the first, saying, "She's a sweetheart." Then she looked at Sassy and said, "That one is nuts."Sassy has been here ever since. No one can pet her or touch her. Much like Gunther,she will never adjust to a normal home. Sassy falls into the "Aren't puppymills wonderful?" category. She requires no special care - just food and compassion.

Canis Stumpus Tripodis
Canis Stumpus Tripodis was one of a large group of Yorkshire Terriers confiscated by a local humane society. Stumpy had a badly mangled left rear leg which had to be amputated. When I brought him home from the hospital, he promptly bit me. It has taken years for Stumpy to feel comfortable enough to allow some guests to pet him. He loves being outside and we often find h
Cha Cha
im in the backyard, laying in the grass or barking at passing cars. He might be adoptable to the right home, but he requires a pet door to a fenced yard and no kids. So far, the proper situation for Stumpy continues to elude us. He is a Retiree with an option.

Cha Cha is a Chug - part Chihuahua, part Pug. She was a confiscation by an area humane society. They asked us to take her because of her intense fear. When she came here at one year of age, she bit Kevin as he tried to get her out of the kennel. Never one to ignore a warning, I placed the whole kennel in our gated laundry room with Cha Cha in it. For several weeks, she came out only at night to eat, drink, and use the piddle pads. Each day I would look into her pet taxi and speak gently to her as she tried her best to blend into the plastic. I fed her, talked to her, began holding out my hand for her to sniff while keeping my face averted - if I looked at her, she was gone! It took months for her to accept me. When she finally decided to trust me, she had reached her limit of one worthy human being. Two years later, no one else can touch her. Cha Cha eats a costly low-allergen food. She has no other special requirements.

Roxie is a 10 year-old Pug belonging to a dear friend who had to move into supportive living. I offered to keep Roxie and bring her for visits. These visits mean the world to both of them. For those of you unfamiliar with supportive living facilities, they take the resident's income and leave them $90 a month for incidentals. Roxie eats a mix of Blue Buffalo kibble and canned food, and uses tacrolimus eye drop at a cost of $50 a month. We receive much thanks and appreciation, but no financial support for her.

Likewise, Khaleesi's owner went into long term care when Khaleesi was already 14 years old and blind from bilateral cataracts. Khaleesi, a tiny black poodle with one Grade IV luxating patella, had two dentals right away - her teeth were horrible. She is the sweetest little thing you could ever imagine, and she fit in so well here, I hadn't the heart to send her on to another rescue. Khaleesi is now 17 years old. She spends most of her time sleeping on a bed in the kitchen near the refrigerator. She gets the food she prefers (Pedigree Little Champions), and takes Flagyl and Metacam each morning. Every evening between 6:30 and 8:00pm, I can count on her rising to make her way down the hallway - it's time for her dinner (if I don't notice her right away, she will come and stand stoically next to my bed until I do). Khaleesi is the only dog here who eats twice a day. At her age, she gets whatever she wants. We will love her until she joins her Mama in Heaven. Her other expenses include grooming four times a year and intermittent vet visits for antibiotics (she is prone to upper respiratory infections).

Sadie is a 10 year old Pug whose owners took really crappy care of her, then dumped her on rescue with a belly full of cancer. We hope our vet was able to get it all, but fear of recurrence seems to be preventing Sadie from finding a home with anyone else. We did a dental and spay on Sadie, too. Our vet missed a small round lump over her thigh, which is likely a cyst, but may require removal. Sadie has really bad knees in her rear legs which causes diminished fecal continence. She gets a queasy tummy, so we give her a half a Pepcid each morning with her Metacam. She eats canned food in weight maintenance formula to keep her weight down. Sadie is a sweetheart who never complains, gets along with everyone, and enjoys barking at stuff in the back yard along with her buddies, Stumpy and Eddie.

Gertie is a 10 year old Pug who is mine by default. Gertie is blind and not housetrainable - 'nuff said. Gertie has the worst KCS I have ever encountered. We use tacrolimus, but are close to giving it up for artificial tears and Genteal Ointment for Severe Dry Eyes. She chose me, and made her choice clear by saying,"Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma" whenever she is separated from me by a door or a baby gate. It would have to be a pug angel to ever adopt her. I would only entrust her to someone I know personally. Gertie is due for another dental soon.

Friends and blog readers will be familiar with Calvin the Curmudgeon. Calvin came to rescue in a group of mill dogs at age nine. He is fecally incontinent and walks by swinging his back legs like two sticks. He frequently falls and still stands back and barks at folks he doesn't know. If he lives long enough, Calvin will need wheels. Calvin takes Metacam each morning for pain and needs another dental.

Nellie is hands-down the most loving dog I have ever encountered. She is also the most submissive. Nellie is a 45# hound mix with a long list of phobias: Loud noises, thunder, open spaces are a few of them. We keep sedatives and she needs them if it even looks like it might rain. Nellie hasn't a mean bone in her body, but her fear is her downfall. If we take her out the front door, she drops to the ground and army crawls. She submissive urinates when strangers pet her or when she is placed in a vehicle. As you might imagine, she does not show well. So far, nobody seems to have the kind of tenderness, patience and compassion to work through these fearful stages. In my home and yard, she behaves like any normal dog. I do not see much hope for adoption for Nellie. Her main expense are her Blue Buffalo and her sedatives.

 Last of all today is Eddie. Eddie is 10 years old. Despite his age, Eddie is adoptable. He's pretty healthy - just needs dental and tiny lumpectomy. He is scheduled for these procedures on August 18th. Then, we hope, Eddie will be going home.

We buy a bottle of Metacam every month, a bottle of tacrolimus, Genteal drops and ointment, 50# of kibble, two cases of Pedigree cans, about 50 bags of Pedigree LC, one box of The Honest Kitchen EVERY month. We stock amoxicilline, Flagyl, Clindamycin, meclizine, baby aspirin, triple antibiotic ointment, and more. We use gobs of paper towels, baby wipes and chewys.

We have a bunch of very tough-to-place dogs. But we feel they deserve to be cared for as well as we possibly can.

If you feel that way, too, please help.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Visit With Vi

Roxie and Vi, Christmas 2014
Instead of going straight to work this morning, I went a few miles past the office. You see, I don't usually have a passenger. Today, I had a pug named Roxie riding behind me in a car seat designed to keep a canine occupant at precisely window height. We were on our way to meet someone very special to both of us.

Roxie is an excellent passenger. She rides like a small, four-legged person, looking out the window. She's also a fashion diva - it's a playful surprise  to see what she'll be wearing each time we show up. Today, she wears a pink "I Love My Mommy" sleeveless t-shirt with a matching pink leash and harness. She knows exactly where we are headed. I can see her counting the minutes.

Our host is supposed to meet us in the lobby of Manor House but, when we arrive, she's no where in sight. Most of the residents of this supportive living facility love seeing pets come to visit, and we are stopped several times as we work our way down the hallway. One lady tells me all about her beautiful German Shepherd who died some years ago at the age of 14. Another had a black lab named Sassy who had been rehomed. Pets are not allowed to reside or even spend the night at Manor House, but day visits are permitted.

"There's my Roxie!" Vi is standing in the hallway chatting with another resident. "I was just on my way down to meet you." She introduces me to the other lady, telling me she is also a dog lover. "Come in, I want to show you something," she says, turning the key to her small apartment. "You've never been in here before, have you?"

"Sure I have, Vi," I answer, "Many times." A look of confusion appears momentarily, and I instantly regret my answer. Vi is painfully aware of the gaps in her memory. The last thing I want to do is upset her. "Your place is so pretty! I just love the way you have it decorated." The uncertainly disappears and the smile returns as she shows me a collection of pug pictures and figurines she has carefully arranged on her coffee table. I admire them - one of which Roxie and I gave her for her 83rd birthday - and pretend she has not shown me the same display every time I have visited.

I think back to the first time I met Vi. It was several years ago at the aging agency where I work as a counselor. I found her sharp wit and cheerful disposition engaging, and she quickly became a favorite client. But the thing that firmly united us was our love for pugs. Whenever Vi came to see me at the agency, she brought with her stories and pictures of her pug, Roxie, whom she clearly adored. She laughed as she talked about Roxie jumping on her lap as she read the paper, and showed me a picture of Roxie looking down at the print as if she were reading the headlines. She sometimes brought Roxie along with her. Roxie "lacked for nothing", in fact, she was seriously spoiled. When Roxie developed ongoing eye problems, she saw a vet often and also underwent surgery to save her sight. Vi would have done anything within her power for her Roxie. With help from her children, Vi and Roxie were able to remain independent for the first 10 years of Roxie's life.

Then Vi started forgetting things - just a little at first, then more frequently. The forgotten items gradually became bigger and more critical, from grocery items to bills and people's names. One day she came to see me for an appointment. 

"I've been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's Disease." she said characteristic aplomb. "My kids want me to sell the mobile home and go into assisted living. But I don't want to go anywhere without Roxie." At the mention of her pug, I saw the first shadow of worry flicker across her brow.

I had heard something about a recently enacted law that might prevent seniors from being forced to give up their pets. The next day, I consulted an animal welfare attorney I know. Would this law help Vi to keep her pug? "It doesn't apply to community living situations," was the response. I felt awful. Vi would be faced with giving up her beloved Roxie. It wasn't fair. I knew how desolate my life would be without my beloved dogs. It was bad enough that Vi was faced with losing the home she loved because of this awful disease. Asking her to lose Roxie as well was just too much. I had to do something. But what?

I saw no way to keep Vi and Roxie both safe and sharing the same space. But maybe there was something I could do to make the situation tolerable, if not perfect. I made Vi an offer to think about.

When Vi and her daughter came into my office one day and asked me if I would keep Roxie for her, I truthfully answered, "I wouldn't do it for anyone but you, Vi. What's one more pug at my crazy house?!"

So I became Roxie's "other mother". Roxie loves going to see Vi - she runs to her with kisses and a wagging tail. We always go on weekdays so we can get there early. On weekends, I like to sleep in. If we arrive too late, Vi has forgotten about us and is off somewhere else. I've learned to call the night before, and call again in the morning to announce that we're en route.

After work, I'm back at Manor House to retrieve our shared pug. I'm aware that persons with Alzheimer's forget things, but they always remember how they feel. Whenever I visit, I am careful to leave Vi feeling as happy as I possibly can. I pull the van into the circle drive, open the side door and greet both Vi and Roxie with a big smile.

"Did you two have a good day today?" I ask.
St Patrick's Day, 2015

"Oh, we had a wonderful day!" Vi answers excitedly. She tells me all about Wii bowling and Roxie eating cheerios and how everyone loved her shirt...I half-listen, laughing, because I so love her enthusiasm! Vi is such a special lady and has become so dear to me -  I feel lucky to be able to do this small thing for her.

Vi is a little teary as she tells Roxie goodbye. Once again, I wish Roxie could stay with the mom who loves her. Pets are allowed in many assisted living facilities, but those are the expensive ones at $2000 a month or more. Supportive living facilities like Manor House, that admit people without a lot of money,  never allow them to bring their pets. I remind myself that this is the next best thing. "Give me a kiss", she implores, and Roxie offers an exhausted lick in her general direction.Vi gives her a generous smooch in return. 

"I love you both!" she exclaims as we hug.

"We love you, too, Vi," I answer."Don't forget to call me. We'll set up a day for our next visit." I'll call her, of course. I give Vi my cell number every week, and every week she asks for it again.

As we pull away, I look in the rear view mirror. I see Vi happily chatting with a young woman at the entrance doors. Behind me, Roxie dozes in her car seat, sleepy from all the attention. 

As for me, I am already planning what outfit Roxie will wear for her next visit.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Death of a Rescuer

Sandie Konopelski & Friend
On Friday, April 25th, while I was working my regular job as a Resource Specialist at Age Smart Community Resources in Shiloh, Illinois, Sandie Konopelski was climbing across train tracks wearing a pair of "bite gloves" in pursuit of an opossum who had ventured out onto the tracks.

I did not know Sandie, had never met her. She was a different kind of rescuer. Sandie had devoted the last 20 years of her life to wildlife rescue and rehab, while I had devoted about the same portion of my life to rescuing and rehoming dogs. Sandie was two years older than me, and lived there in Shiloh, where I was working that morning.

Later that day, I heard the news that a woman had been struck and killed by a westbound Metrolink train. It had happened between 8:00am and 8:20am. Details are sketchy. Metro has not released any information on who placed the call for assistance to the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline of Missouri and Illinois, but it's reasonable to think it was a Metro employee, since they regularly called the hotline for assistance with wildlife on the train tracks. Sandie responded, as she had numerous times before. How she ended up in the path of an oncoming train that day, no one seems to know.

I put the incident aside, thinking no more about it. That is, until Jenny came into the agency for her appointment.

Jenny was a neat little gray-headed senior with a cafe au lait complexion and a friendly manner. She laughed a lot. I liked her immediately. She sat in the chair beside my desk and looked up at a picture I keep on the wall. It is a Winter depiction of a young woman with her arms wrapped around a red pit bull. The dogs eyes are closed. You can feel the love between them.

"What a beautiful painting", she said. "Is it someone you know?"

I explained that the young woman in the picture was a rehab staffer from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.The dog was one of Michael Vick's pit bulls.

"Did you hear about the woman killed on the Metrolink tracks in Swansea?" she asked. "I don't know for sure, but I'm afraid that was my Sandie." He voice faded and her countenance was sad."I don't know for sure. But I've called her cell phone several times. She hasn't answered."

She went on to explain that her house backed up to a wooded area."I call her all the time," Jenny continued. "She always comes out. Once, I found a sick raccoon in my back yard. She couldn't save that one. It had distemper. I've found rabbits and opossums...even a coyote pup!"

I interjected that I also did rescue, but with dogs. "I have loved animals ever since I was a child," she smiled. "Once when I called, Miss Sandie told me she was at church, but she'd be out right after. And she always called me back to let me know what happened to the animals she came and got. She always came whenever I called her." Her warm brown eyes misted over. "Who will I call now?"

I had no easy answer for her. I was beginning to realize what a huge hole "Miss Sandie" had left in her wake. I gave Jenny my cell number and told her to call me. "I'm not a wildlife rescuer," I said, "but I'll find someone who is. I'll help you in a pinch." 

When Jenny left, I understood much more than I had before about the woman who had been struck and killed while struggling to save an animal. Jenny was just the tip of the iceberg. How many more were wondering what to do, who to call now? I felt personally robbed of this amazing rescuer who had lived and rescued in my own backyard, yet I never knew it.

I felt a pang of sadness for the loss of a compassionate, wise and skilled rescuer. There are so few...

I did not know Sandie Konopelski. But damn, I sure wish I had.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wrinkles, Now & Then

Wrinkles, 2015

As so often happens, it was a friend and former adopter who alerted me to a senior pug needing rescue. He was, through no fault of his own, in a risky situation. Jen B picked him up and met I met her in St Louis to retrieve him. His story, as I understood it, is all second-hand:

I was told Wrinkles had been saved by a good Samaritan, and that his original family had planned to euthanize him. I never heard why they decided they couldn't be bothered with him after nearly 12 years. The person who took Wrinkles already had a full house and could not keep him, so she started looking for an appropriate home for him.

Wrinkles is a pound overweight, needs his shots updated and a dental, but is otherwise healthy. Like most owner-surrenders whose families abandon them, he was not thrilled at the conditions at my rescue house. Clearly, he had never seen so many dogs in one place. Wrinkles ran out my back door and as far away from all of us as he could get, which is to say, he was in a corner against the far fence. He made himself as inconspicuous as he could. Wrinkles stood there, visibly shaking. He would not eat. He would not drink. He would not come near me or any of the rescue dogs. His eyes darted about nervously as if to say, "Where are my parents? What is this place and why am I here?", followed by an emphatic "HOME...TAKE ME HOME!"

Though my heart ached for him, I knew the best course of action was to leave him alone and let him calm down. It was a beautiful day and Wrinkles was safe, so I went back inside and began trying to piece together what I could of his history..

Wrinkles came with a folder containing his medical history, The first thing I saw on opening
Wrinkles, 2004
it was a grainy xeroxed photo of a pug puppy with adorable airplane ears. Wrinkles' vet had taken it on his first visit and never changed it. Seeing that photo - realizing his family had bought Wrinkles as a very young pup - was a shock. For me, that would be tantamount to giving away a child. In December of this year, Wrinkles will be 12y/o. What kind of people get rid of a dog they raised from a puppy in his last few years of life? I could only imagine the emotional trauma. No wonder Wrinkles wanted nothing to do with us.

I left him alone that first night, although we did make him come inside to sleep. The next morning, back out the door went Wrinkles, and as far away from us as possible. He would not be tempted by even the most delectable morsels - chicken, tried-and-true arsenal. Nor would he allow himself to be caught, or even approached by me. As darkness encroached, I enlisted the aid of my brother, Mark, to catch Wrinkles. Mark came from one side, I from the other. As I came close enough to touch him, I commanded "Sit!" several times with the accompanying hand gesture. Wrinkles sat, but he still looked at me as if I were coming to kill and eat him. Instead, I gently lifted him and sat him on my bed.

Wrinkles had pain-filled eyes that made only the briefest contact. Not physical pain, but the despair of abandonment - of having your whole world evaporate in an instant. He was deeply sad, and I was sad for him. Every muscle in his little body seemed coiled and ready to spring. Slowly, I began to massage his head and neck. I brushed the loose fur away. I concentrated hard on sending gentle, calming energy through my fingertips. I tried to explain.

"What they did to you", I whispered, "was horrible. You did nothing to deserve this. You're a good pug." Some of the tension faded. "I know you have feelings. I care about your feelings. I promise, no one here will hurt you. I won't let anyone hurt you again." I kept speaking in a soft, low voice. He did not understand the words, but he did understand. After a long while, Wrinkles laid his head down and went to sleep. He slept on a corner of my bed that night, a privilege, I'd been told, he was not allowed by his original family.

The next morning, Wrinkles went outside and came right to me when I called - no more cowering in the corner. He ate some canned food for me.When my brother worked outside that day, Wrinkles followed him. His tail was raised and curled. When I came home from work, he stood with the other pugs. He was a full-fledged pack member. I was so proud of him. Even after nearly 20 years of rescue, it amazes me that a senior dog can be so resilient. Despite the most grievous insult from the family he had loved, somehow he found the courage to begin to trust again. 

Wrinkles has been with us almost four days now. He's doing better and better. Every day a little bit better. I think we have reached a state of understanding.

But the family who bought that precious little pug puppy, raised him for nearly 12 years then dumped him like a piece of old furniture?

Some things I will never understand.