Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Your Neighbors at Kindness Court

Hello there!

Lots of good news this week, firstly for the Southern dogs who made the long journey to Vermont from Aiken, South Carolina three weeks ago. What a journey it was! After a 20-hour drive in a horse trailer, these 11 dogs were met in New Hampshire by Canine Supervisor Robyn Lane and dog trainer Holly Godfrey.  Robyn and Holly helped load the tuckered pooches into a big cargo van, and completed the four-hour homestretch to HSCC.

Seeing as the shelter in Aiken places only 5% of their dogs each year (to put things in perspective, they take in 5,000-6,000 dogs a year, compared to our 800 or so), we knew the dogs they sent would be highly adoptable. And they're proving just that! In fact, five of the dogs were adopted in one week: Blanche, Rose (both Terrier puppies), Carolina, Georgia (large-breed mix puppies) and Champ (Dachshund) stole hearts last week. And a sixth dog, Girl (Collie-Shepherd mix?), stole my own … formal adoption soon to come!   Lastly, we musn't forget Abby (Brittany Spaniel), a Vermont pooch who also found a loving home last week after a month's stay here.

Seven dogs out the door! Can the cats compete? Indeed they can … eight cats went home last week! Congrats to Nick, Luna, Brandy & Ginny, Riley, Goody (a stray found by his owner!), and … drum roll please: Thelma & Lightning! These two senior ladies were relinquished way back in September. Though wonderfully affectionate within their cages, they became intensely anxious when brought into a new space--which didn't show well to potential adopters. Add to that their senior status, the fact that they're black kitties (least likely to be adopted), and required special diets for urinary health … and you get lovely cats who sit in cages for five months. But, that's all over now! A totally smitten couple who'd spotted them on the web drove all the way from Cornwall to adopt them together. Thelma and Lightning reminded this couple of their previous kitty, and they just had to bring the girls home. That was a happy day for us.  

The featured animals this week must remain unnamed, because they belong to a highly confidential program that we offer here at the shelter. I want to make reference to them, however, because we just had a wonderfully positive, successful example of this program at work.

Many of you may not have heard of our Good Neighbor Program. The "GNP" was established as a resource for those in crisis situations: we provide temporary housing for pets while their people get back on their feet. We've boarded cats for a family whose house burned down. We'll take in pets while an owner recovers from illness or injury. Folks who are working with COTS (the Committee for Temporary Shelter) to actively amend a situation of homelessness can entrust their animals to us for the time being.

One of the most sensitive circumstances the program is designed for is domestic abuse. Many women (to generalize) will not leave abusive situations for fear the abuser will turn on the pets in their absence. Sadly, statistics show that this fear is credible. The American Humane Association reports that:
  • 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals. 
  • 68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals. 87% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women, and 75% in the presence of the children, to psychologically control and coerce them.
We work with Women Helping Battered Women to spread awareness about our Good Neighbor Program: we'll safeguard the pets while the human victim gets out of the house.

In a case of truly progressive legislation, the Vermont Protection Order 15 V.S.A. § 1103 ("Any family or household member may seek relief from abuse by another family or household member on behalf of him or herself or his or her children by filing a complaint under this chapter … ") was amended "to allow a court to include an order relating to the possession, care and control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held as a pet by either party or a minor child residing in the household in a domestic violence situation." One more step towards acknowledging animals as sentient individuals with an inborn right to well-being ...

We offer a two-week boarding period for GNP animals, after which the owner will hopefully be in a position to take them back--or may decide to relinquish them to us. While the animals are here, we treat them just as we would any of our animals: bring them up to date on vaccinations; give them appropriate medical attention as we see fit; spay or neuter them if they're intact. The latter is a non-negotiable condition of the animals' stay here. But we cover all costs. The animals stay free of charge.

As mentioned previously, we just witnessed the GNP working effectively for a family in crisis. It's gratifying to watch our shelter take on a deeper function in cases like these: we offer a sort of emotional shelter, as well, for those who are struggling. You can imagine what a relief it would be just to know that the animals are okay.

The family is okay now, too, and all are reunited. We just love happy endings!

That's the good news this week. See you again in March!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Frankly Amazing

Happy Monday!
Sorry to miss you all last week with an adoption update, but the good news is, we've got double the number of animals to report this week: 22 adoptions in total!

We had a small influx of kittens--perhaps the last little spurt before a spring inundation--and found homes for them all with the usual speed. Congrats to Chimi, Burrito, Waffle, Pancake, and Freddie!

One smallie went home: Yoda the guinea pig, who was the most personable pig we've seen in awhile.

I'm very happy to enumerate the long list of cats who may be watching early robins from their new window seats this very moment! Dee Dee, Clover, Bourbon, Emmy, Mickey, Shiloh, Zen and Donald didn't spend much time on the adoption floor at all. More good news: four seniors have finally gone home in the last two weeks! Yay for Lucky (here since October), Ruby, Peaches, and Dusty! What's more, Lucky's and Ruby's adoption fees were sponsored by two wonderful HSCC supporters who are invested in getting senior cats out of the shelter and into comfortable homes. Thanks to Terry Maxwell and her mother for making a difference in the lives of Lucky and Ruby!


Excellent, excellent news for the dogs, too. Senior Shiba Inu Nicki went home on his second day of availability. Energizer Aussie Kya is likely chasing shadows in her own backyard today. And Lexi--the white pittie with a brown mask who arrived here in September--found her perfect match at last.

But that's not all. Senior Dane mix Frank is our featured adoptee today. And we couldn't be more grateful that he's finally out of a lonely kennel and in the constant love of his new family. 


Frank has changed hands a few times--which is not easy for a young dog, let alone an older guy. At 10 years old, Frank came to us in good spirits but poor body condition. A lanky, slightly smaller version of a Great Dane, Frank was much too skinny upon intake. The man who relinquished him had rescued him from what he felt was a neglectful situation at a friend's house--but had no initial intention of keeping him. Frank proved so great a dog, however, that he tried for several months, and managed to put 10 pounds of much-needed weight on him! But Frank simply wasn't a good fit for his lifestyle.

So Frank came to the shelter in early January. We fell for him immediately. He's a super social guy who enjoys hanging out in the company of people, but he's not a party dog. He just likes to chill.

Thanks to his great attitude and pleasant manners, Frank became available for adoption very quickly--within a couple of weeks. But he wasn't snatched up right away, like we'd predicted. And we found that while he was quite upbeat when visiting our administrative area, he grew increasingly depressed in the solitude of his kennel. Frank starting demonstrating typical "sep angst" (separation anxiety) behavior: heavy salivating, pacing, panting … eventually he stopped eating. For an already underweight dog like Frank to skip meals was highly worrisome. So we brought him up to spend the day with staff as often as we could, where he would happily regain his appetite.

Really, though, Frank needed a permanent home with folks who could spend a lot of time with him. He needed help ... fast. So we posted his story on Facebook.

That did the trick! A couple of people expressed interest in Frank and called about him. One woman, Joanne Dalpe, came by to meet him. For her, it was an easy, instant match, and while the details of her application were sorted out, she came by several times to spend time with Frank. In fact, one afternoon, she had him out for nearly two hours!

While it seemed obvious that Frank and Joanne were made for each other, Joanne did have one looming reservation: she and her husband have three cats--and as many of us know, it's easy disrupt the delicate balance of a multiple-cat household. Joanne was particularly concerned about one of the cats, Raffa, who is notoriously reserved. 

Joanne found Raffa seven years ago here at HSCC, and had picked her out specifically because this elusive kitty had squirreled herself away atop one of the catwalks in a communal room. True to form, Raffa spent the next seven years atop the kitchen cupboards in the Dalpes' home. She never came down, except when Joanne's husband removed her to the basement to use the litter box.

Wouldn't such a shy kitty find society even less appealing with a new, large dog in the home?

As Joanne fell increasingly in love with Frank, she decided she had to try. Arrangements were made for a foster-to-adopt situation: Frank would get a one-week trial run in the Dalpe household.

Last Saturday was decision day for the Dalpes, and we eagerly awaited an update on the situation. Turned out … things had worked out even better than anyone could have hoped for!

I just spoke with Joanne this afternoon, and when I asked about Frank's relationship with the cats, she told me about a truly amazing thing that's happening. First of all, Frank hasn't chased the cats at all--not once. He just ignores them. "There's been almost no hissing, even," Joanne said. But get this: Raffa--the timid, reclusive kitchen cupboard cat--has been coming down from her kitchen perch voluntarily. And going upstairs. To the Dalpes' bedroom. Where she spends the night sleeping with Joanne! Just the other morning, Joanne woke up to witness Raffa in the middle of the floor--circling Frank's bed and sniffing his toes! Joanne said, "The next thing we're going to see is Raffa cuddling up with Frank on his bed!"

Frank has somehow accomplished what neither person nor fellow cat could do: he's given Raffa a new sense of comfort within her own home. Perhaps it's Frank's infectious, laid-back attitude that Raffa can't resist. The dog who could not be alone is irresistibly intriguing to the cat who preferred solitude. Proof that opposites attract in the animal kingdom, too!

Joanne also shared that Frank is a frequent ferry commuter, journeying with her to work in Plattsburgh four days a week. The other days he spends with her husband at home. Frank also enjoys long walks in the company of dog and human friends. "You couldn't have found a better dog," the Dalpes' friends tell them.

Frank on the ferry

Seems like everybody got what he needed in this situation: Frank, the Dalpes, Raffa--all are finding gratifying, life-transforming companionship. This is the stuff adoption dreams are made of!

That's the good news this week, everyone.

Take care,

Monday, February 6, 2012

In Your Arms

Happy sunny afternoon!

We had an uncharacteristically low number of adoptions last week, but are grateful for them nonetheless!

Tuxedo kitty Handsome found a new home. Handsome was a stray, and the family who scooped him off the street came in just to visit with him several times before he found his forever family. Nell, a shy, rather rotund girl also went home--after just a few days on the adoption floor!

We're immensely excited about the adoption of black cat Stout--an affable Tom with a linebacker's physique who was growing increasingly restless in his cage. After two months of religiously providing him with exercise outside of his cage, we're glad he now has plenty of room to roam and be his Tom self all day long.


One dog went home last week: Prince. Prince is a Lab/Newfie mix who wandered Riverside Avenue for months and months and months--evading concerned community members and even Burlington Animal Control--before our humane investigator lured him into a huge live trap with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dog rescuers know that KFC is always your best bet when it comes to catching a dog (sans bones, of course)! Prince had a wonderful journey here--from a skittish guy with no trust or confidence, to a loveable charmer who delights in a good snuggle.

Our featured animal this week is not an adoptee, but a "Return To Owner." Howard's story is testament to the conscientious dedication of our lost cat coordinator, Amanda Sorrell.

None of you would know Howard, who never made it out of isolation while he was here. It all started just two weeks ago, on a day we were closed, when one of our staff witnessed a car pulling up to the shelter, and the driver depositing a cat carrier in the parking lot. Apparently the driver yelled out the window of the car that she was delivering a stray, and then drove off. (While we're grateful that our community takes initiative to help strays, incidents like this put a kink in the works, because our system is set up for appointments only.) Thereby, we met Howard. 

Howard is a long-haired Tuxedo cat with big, sleepy yellow eyes. He was a nice enough guy during his medical check-in, but had a runny nose and gurgly breathing--likely indicators of an upper respiratory infection. And so into an isolation room Howard went.

Enter lost cat extraordinaire, Amanda. Amanda's professional motto is, "If it were my cat or dog missing, I'd want someone going the extra mile to find him!" And so that's exactly what she does. We keep a log book here of lost cat reports, and strongly encourage the public to report their missing cats to us. After taking down key information about the cat in question, we offer advice on how best to proceed, and make follow-up calls every couple of weeks to see if there's been any progress. Finally, we check each stray that comes in against all of our reports. But Amanda goes even further than that. After leaving work every evening, she heads home, logs onto craigslist.com, and reads through each new lost animal posting. That's how she found Howard's people.

Last Wednesday, Amanda burst into our administrative area, where our shelter management team was meeting, held up the craigslist posting she'd printed out, and said, "Isn't that Howard?" 
Indeed it was! Amanda replied to the anonymous email on the ad. On Friday, a woman came into the shelter to fill out a missing cat report for her kitty, Bear. As a member of our adoption staff took down the information, she heard a few bells going off in her head. "Wait a minute … this is Howard!" she said. Indeed--Howard's mom had not seen Amanda's email yet, but had fortunately come in anyway. Howard/Bear went home with her then and there, and the reunion was a joyous one. Just goes to show that it's useful to cover as many bases as possible when it comes to locating missing pets!

Other essential tips: remember to provide a photo, as well as details about any distinctive features! We had a kitty here dubbed "Ike" who'd been brought in as a stray. Cats don't get much more distinctive-looking than Ike, who was white with two black spots on his nose that looked like flared nostrils. His mom had filled out a report for him as soon as he'd gone missing--and that could have been enough to reunite them. But unfortunately, she didn't provide a photo or mention his funny nose when we asked about distinctive markings. So Ike spent three months at the shelter until Amanda was finally given a photo for his report. Of course, it became immediately evident at that point that Ike had had a home to go to all along!

The most touching story of a lost cat being found belongs to Einstein. Einstein is a 13-year-old declawed male kitty who came to us in terrible shape. His coat was a wreck, he was wobbly and half-starved, and all of the fur on his front paws was missing. You can imagine how especially difficult the stray life is for kitties who have no claws. As our med supervisor checked Einstein in, we had little hope that this cat could even make it through his shelter experience--but reserved any further judgment until our visiting veterinarian could see him.

The woman who brought Einstein to us created a "Found" poster for him with a notification that he was at HSCC. Fortunately, Einstein's family saw the poster and came here looking for him. He'd been missing for months, and was the special companion of a son who had tragically passed.  I was in the room when staff set Einstein's carrier down on the table in front of mother and son and opened the door. The mother took one look at the forlorn kitty and burst into tears. He was nearly unrecognizable. It was a sad case, but thank goodness Einstein's family found him at that pivotal point. We hope he has fully recovered and is living comfortably again.

Perhaps the worst feeling to accompany a pet gone missing is helplessness. Our mission is to help the families of missing pets feel as empowered as possible by providing multiple avenues of recourse. And with Amanda at the helm of our lost cat program, the temporarily bereft can rest assured that someone is going the extra mile to restore their beloved companion to them again.