Monday, March 26, 2012

That Bunny Bond

23 animals adopted in the last two weeks! How's that for sheltering success?

One kitten, a vivacious Tuxedo named Gromet, was first to find a home. He was followed by 16 adult cats! Congrats to Babear, Minnie, Abigail, Tyson, Sabrina, Faye, Astro, Pebbles, Loki, Greta, Cissy, Bea, Miss Kitty, Chocolate Chip and Elmo together, and … finally … SALTINE

This senior long-haired all-white beauty has been waiting months for a new home. As so often happens with long-term residents here, when it rains, it pours: Saltine suddenly had three interested parties all at once last week! One of the families drove here all the way from Massachusetts just to adopt her. Fortunately, their trip was not for nought: Saltine joined them for the long trip home.

Four dogs are new family members this week, too! Congrats to Terrier mix Oliver, Black Lab Shadow, Cocker Spaniel Squishy, and Lab-mix May.

Our featured adoptees this week? Good friends Penelope and Leonidas! Penny and Leo are one-year-old bunnies who were relinquished to us in late February because of a changing family situation. Penny, a black Rex-mix rabbit, and Leo, a gray American-mix rabbit, lived in the same home and got along well, but, we were told, were not necessarily bonded.

Penelope (L) and Leo (R)

Penny and Leo's owner called us at a time when we had no room for two more bunnies at the shelter--but was dealing with an emergency situation. So we turned to a woman who's fostered rabbits for us before: HSCC volunteer Nikki DeSarno, who also runs a chinchilla rescue named "Frodo's Friends Rescue"  from her home.

Nikki previously fostered speckled rabbits Oreo and Samoa for us, and did a wonderful job caring for them. She did just as well with Leo and Penny, who were shy and skittish when she took them in. She noticed that they loved to play, however: "They would entertain me by tossing toys and paper towel rolls all around the pen!" So she decided to use their playtime to help the pair develop confidence and trust in people. She sat with them in their playpen and pretended to ignore them at first. "After a while, curiosity kicked in and I would feel a little nuzzle on my foot or leg as they took turns sniffing me and running back to their tunnel," she said. By the time the two came back to the shelter, they were totally different rabbits. Leo was even outgoing, and ended up starring in one of our calendar shoots!

Leo in "Party Animals"

Penny and Leo are unlike our usual featured adoptees in that they didn't have an epic stay at the shelter; in fact, they were spoken for even before making their debut on the adoption floor. About a month into their foster care, Cara (our small animal coordinator), received a phone call from a woman who wanted to grant her daughter's birthday wish for a pet rabbit. They had been researching rabbit care for two years, she told Cara, and knew exactly what they wanted. Cara told her about Penelope and Leo, and the women wanted to meet them right away. Fortunately, space had opened up at the shelter, so in the bunnies came, and the woman decided on Penelope for her daughter that very afternoon.

The next day, however, Cara began to rethink splitting them up. It seemed each time we walked by their enclosure, the bunnies were grooming each other, lying smushed together side-by-side, or playing togther. Bonded bunnies will fail to thrive if separated, and Cara worried that these two had grown so close in foster care that they really ought to stay together. Nikki had noticed the same thing: most evenings when she came home from work, she'd find them snuggling together.

The mother returned with her daughter the next day, and Cara hoped to convince them to take both bunnies. But she didn't even have to try! In the first place, the daughter decided she was more intrigued by Leo than Penelope. In the second place, she noticed the rabbits' affection for each other immediately. At one point during the visit, Penelope began grooming Leo's ears. "Oh, they love each other, Mom!" the girl cried. It was an easy decision: the daughter would get double the bunny companionship she'd wished for! Leo and Penny went home with a very excited young lady on Saturday.

This is a wonderful story to feature because this family knew exactly what they were getting into. Unfortunately, many people who take on rabbits don't realize that they're actually quite high maintenance pets--or that a rabbit's lifespan is a good ten years!

Cara keeps an eye on, and has already begun to notice the multitude of ads that typically crop up this time of year for baby bunnies. Easter is prime time for bunny breeding, and shelters across the country are routinely slammed with rabbits from May through the summer. In fact, rabbits are the most frequently relinquished companion animals after cats and dogs.

Rabbits are highly intelligent animals that need lots of exercise and enrichment to thrive--we say at least one hour out of the cage a day, but more is ideal. Rabbits can also be clicker trained (we hope to capture video of that soon!) and litterbox trained. 

Freshly-cut Timothy hay is best for rabbits.
And let's face it: they're expensive pets. Rabbits need an unlimited supply of Timothy hay (not cheap) in their diets to prevent gastrointestinal stasis, or blockage in their digestive tracts. They also do best with a changing array of fresh veggies every single day. And don't forget the chew toys! Rabbits need to chew to keep their teeth a manageable length … and bored rabbits will chew destructively. Regular brushing and nail trims are also required.

A lot of this is relatively "new" information. I cringe to think of the life of the rabbit I had as a child, before I knew about daily exercise and training and toys and unlimited hay … The more we get to know our fellow creatures--the more intelligence and complexity we discover in them--the more we realize how few animals actually are "low maintenance pets." And isn't that intelligence and creativity the very reason we find these animals' companionship so fulfilling? More really is more when it comes to animal care.

Fortunately, it seems that Leo and Penelope will get all of the love and attention and enrichment they could possibly desire. And … they have each other :)

That's the good news this week!


Monday, March 12, 2012

All About the Connections

Hello everyone!

If you couldn't tell from our Facebook page, this week our minds have been completely dominated by our calendar shoot. Kelly Schulze of Mountain Dog Photography and her husband, Ian, worked like champs to shoot 9 pages of the calendar this week. The most complicated so far? Volunteer & Events Coordinator Shayla MacDowell's, which includes three local men and their companion animals (a lanky Great Dane, a dancing Aussie, and a clicker-trained Tuxedo cat). Most community based was Feline Supervisor Kayla Malzac's shot, which happened in the Burlington Subaru showroom (yes, they did move out every single car for us so Kelly could have the exact one she wanted in the exact place she wanted it!). And the Murphy's Law award goes to Small Animal Coordinator Cara Weymouth's shoot. We wanted to a motorcyle for the shot, and were willing to drive to Huntington for it. Of course, it snowed the night before. Which meant we were careening over icy, rutted dirt roads the next morning to get to the shoot. In the end, Kelly's husband Ian had to ferry all of us up the steep driveway to the location, and we were running 45 minutes behind. That left exactly 15 minutes for the shoot. As the snow fell and the wind blew, Cara stripped down to her mini-skirt and sleeveless shirt, and bravely perched upon the cold leather of the bike. Kelly attempted to start taking pictures, and at that moment, the battery to her flash became temperamental in the cold. Kelly was forced to remove the battery and warm it in her hand between each click of the shutter. Miraculously, she got an absolutely stunning shot. Wait until you see it!

In the meantime, however, I'd like to make our first calendar reveal! In honor of this week's warm weather and sunshine, attached is Canine Supervisor Robyn's Lane's photo :) Let us know what you think!

Robyn and her HSCC-adopted pup, Olive

On to the animals!

We had a great week, with 12 animals finding new homes. Cats Casey, Arfur, Aurie, Monqui, Dude, and Kit-Kit all went home. Dogs Beau (Rottie), Seuss (American Eskimo), Bruiser (Chihuahua mix), Whelan (Husky), and Eddie (pittie mix) found new loving families, too.  

And the featured adoptee this week? A teensy tiny little fancy mouse! Fancy by name and fancy by nature, Choo Choo the albino mouse caught a special someone's fancy last week!

If this were a Hitchcock film, we'd open with a shot of train tracks to symbolize connections. Choo Choo's story is one of lost connections, and her history as we know it literally begins on a train. I received a call last Monday from Amtrak … which was odd. "We have a mouse," the station manager told me. "Someone left it in a container in the bathroom on the train, and I don't know what to do with it. I can't keep it here. I'm thinking of letting it go in the field out back, but I think it's a pet, so I don't want to do that." I began to describe our process for taking in animals: making an appointment, possibly having to wait, etc--"No no, I can't keep it here," the station manager interrupted. "I've thought about feeding it to someone's snake, but I don't want to do that." I told him I'd pass his message on to Cara, and she'd be in touch very soon. "I need to get rid of this thing today," he said. "If I can't bring it in by tomorrow, I'm letting it go. I really don't want to do that."

I finally managed to convince him to wait for Cara's call, and fortunately, we were able to get the mouse in that day. For all of this brusqueness and threats, it was clear that the station manager really cared for the tiny white puff with pink eyes. He'd taken care of her at the station for 10 days, waiting to see if her owner would return for her. He could have gotten rid of her in many different ways--but he truly didn't want to do that. He delivered the mouse to us in the container she'd been found in: a Tupperware with holes punched in the lid and a bit of paper on the bottom.

Cara named the mouse Choo Choo, and we sighed when we thought about how long it would take to find her a home. Rats and mice tend to sit at the shelter for a long time. Cara related her worry to one of our Animal Care staff, Christina, and … a connection was made!

Christina is a self-described "rat and mouse person." She's owned two rats and over 100 mice (yes, you read that right)! But she happened to be mouse free at that moment, and decided she could make room in her home for the little two-inch being.

In the meantime, we purchased a lovely mouse habitat for Choo Choo, with tunnels and a wheel. And it was soon obvious that this mouse had never had such a grand house. She delightedly ran through the tunnels, gave the wheel a spin, and rearranged all of her bedding. "Each morning we'd set her habitat up nicely after cleaning it," Cara said, "And she'd immediately go about putting it just the way she wanted it."

Yes, Choo Choo is very particular. And Christina could sense that. So, the day she decided to take Choo Choo home, she went right out with her husband and bought an all-pink habitat that this fancy girl--renamed Chewy--could call her own. It has pink tunnels, a pink wheel, a pink food dish … As soon as Christina put Chewy inside, the mouse made herself right at home. Cara's last image of Chewy is of her picking up her nice soft bedding in her two little pink hands, and fluffing it with flair!

The little mouse may have missed her connection on the train. But it seems fate was taking her to an even better stop. 

That's the good news week!

Happy sunshine,


Monday, March 5, 2012

Little Life, Big Life

Happy March!

With 11 adoptions to report this week, March really has come in like a lion around here!

Our sleepy-eyed white bunny, Preston, was adopted this week. We may try to bring him back for our calendar shoot (Preston's people--if you're reading this--could we borrow him for a morning?).

Seven cats were adopted! Congratulations to Mia, Charlie (the Snowshoe), Muffin, Abigail, Dudley, Nathan, and Lawrence.

As for dogs, Aussie mix Kya will chase shadows at the dog park from now on. Southern Dachshund Hero has officially become a resident of Vermont, and gentle Shepherd-Lab mix Asa also found a new home.

Our featured adoptee this week went home a long time ago. But we recently had cause to revisit his story, and I've had a fantastic update from his family about the progress he's made.

Topaz was one of the 59 Labs rescued from the puppy mill/hoarding situation we helped bust back in July. We tend to talk about this case quite a lot, because for most of the five HSCC staff people who were involved, this was a first-time experience. And it's not the sort of experience you quickly forget.

To spare those who already know the story, I won't go into too much detail. But in brief, Bakersfield, Vermont resident Karen Maple had been breeding puppies in her backyard for a number of years and advertising them in local newspapers. The police had been fielding complaints about her operation for almost as long; but without strong evidence to obtain a search warrant, nothing could be done.

It was a child--a 15-year-old girl--of incredible courage and conviction who proved the dogs' guardian angel. Sallie Wilson had befriended Karen Maple's daughter, and began spending time at the Maple home. Upon witnessing the conditions the dogs were living in, she knew the situation was wrong, and decided something must be done. So she started to secretly take notes. She drew a chart depicting where each dog lived on the property, as well as the animals' names, history, body conditions--whatever she could glean from the Maple daughter. And then, knowingly sacrficing her friendship for the sake of these dogs (in my adolescent experience, friendship was everything), she turned her handwritten research into the Town Clerk. Who passed it on to the police. Who called in the Humane Society of the United States. Who contacted HSCC, Green Mountain Animal Defenders, and other local people and organizations who could help.

On Tuesday, July 26 the police made a surprise visit to the Maple household, where they found Karen Maple at home. She resisted arrest and attacked an officer, so they removed her from the scene. At that point, we animal welfare folks (who were waiting nearby until the property was secured) were called in to assess the situation. What we found was worse than many of us could have imagined. Over 70 dogs lived in absolute filth--as did the Maple family. Dogs were packed into tiny holding cells in dark sheds with no daylight or air circulation. Dogs lived in pens outside with no shelter, ankle deep in wet mud and feces. Dogs roamed in and out of the decaying house. A dozen dogs were locked into a tiny, airless back room inside the house. Three litters of puppies--very young--scrabbled around in plastic kiddy pools, their coats sticky with urine. Over-taxed mother dogs roamed from pool to pool, nursing whomever cried. None of the dogs had access to clean water or food. Most of the dogs were shockingly underweight, and suffered from eye problems. Some had other unattended medical issues going on, as well.
We were indelibly tattooed with the stench of the place, and our eyes burned with the ammonia-saturated air. We were able to remove 59 of the dogs according to the stipulations of the search warrant, which precluded dogs who seemed to be in reasonable health. We deeply regret having left 14 dogs behind.  

(You can watch the HSUS' video of the rescue here.)

The rescued Labs were taken to an emergency shelter (a gorgeous horse barn with 30 empty stalls) in southern Vermont. There, an army of volunteers--overseen by Joanne Bourbeau, the Northeastern Regional Director of State Affairs for Vermont and New Hampshire for the HSUS--tended to the dogs for two months. Joanne recently told us that the price tag for that care--even with volunteer workers--was $60,000. In late September, Karen finally relinquished ownership of the seized dogs, and they were dispersed among several shelters and rescue organizations in Vermont. We received eight of the dogs.

Topaz was among our eight. A one-year-old lanky yellow Lab, he exhibited the same drastic undersocialization of his fellows. He was so terrified of stairs, for instance, that staff had to do an incredible amount of cheerleading just to get him to attempt a step at a time. And house training? Forget it. These dogs had received less than the bare minimum of care for most of their lives. In general, he was very hesitant to interact with people at all when he first arrived at our shelter.

Topaz was adopted in late November by a wonderful couple named Rob and Lori, who changed his name to a masculine "Tazz." Tazz couldn't have found a home more committed to his needs as a puppy mill case. By the time the couple enrolled Tazz in our training classes here at the shelter last January, he was an entirely different dog: outgoing, happy, confident, brave. The trainer, Holly, reports that Tazz picked things up very quickly, and seemed to greatly enjoy learning among fellow canine students. One of the first friends he made in class was a Great Pyrenees, who, Holly says, is very selective about his friends!

Tazz was such a good student that he was often called on to demonstrate new skills for the other dogs and their people. He was especially good at sit, stay, and coming when called.

Rob said that when Tazz first came home, he was terrified of the basement, which is at the bottom of a long staircase. Now, Tazz leads the way down! In fact, this timid, shrinking dog has become a real go-getter. He's fearless when it comes to chasing a ball, Rob says, crashing through brush into the unknown. 

He's also very well-mannered in public. Rob and Lori have no problems when they take him into stores. From a dog who knew nothing of the world outside of four dark walls and a filthy floor, to a dog who embraces new experiences with happy anticipation of good things to come … it's like he's trying to make up for lost time!  

On Wednesday, Feburary 22, HSCC CEO & President Tom Ayres, our Board Chair Helyn Kerr, and I traveled to Montpelier for Humane Lobby Day. Joanne Bourbeau had organized this day as a platform for the general public to urge the Vermont legislature to support a few bills on the table that seek more humane treatment of animals. Among them is a puppy merchant bill that would better regulate breeders who have a certain number of sexually intact dogs. Such legislation would prevent any future cases like the Bakersfield mill from developing. One of the most rewarding aspects of this day occurred at an afternoon press conference, when Tom tearfully presented Sallie Wilson--who was in attendance with her mother--with a Humane Hero Award for her bravery. She thanked her mother for supporting and encouraging her through weak moments in her fortitude. As camera bulbs flashed, the press threw questions at her, and Senators and Representatives shook her hand, we were duly impressed by Sallie's remarkable composure and poise.

Left to right: Joanne, Sallie, Tom, Mrs. Wilson

Karen Maple will be prosecuted on at least 59 counts of animal cruelty later this month. We hope the trial will result in a relinquishment of the remaining Labs--who have since birthed more puppies. When that time comes, we'll help in whatever way we can.

In a case so long in reaching resolution, we're grateful to see resolution in the lives of individual dogs, such as Tazz's. All of the dogs have been adopted, by the way.

We thank this family for taking in a hurt being and refusing to see the damage as irreparable. Far from living life as a broken rescue dog, Tazz has proven that only his former living situation was broken. He is entirely whole.

That's the good news this week!

Until next,