In honor of friends recently adopting animals and for those rescue groups which tirelessly work to help animals in need, I’ve composed a short story that I hope readers of this blog will enjoy. For truly, I am grateful for pet rescue and adoption!
They came from Canada to meet their new family member. Husband and wife rented an RV and made a holiday of traveling with their young son from Calgary to Sheridan, Wyoming. I drove 160 miles to bring them their new baby: a young male Great Dane. The Canadian family immediately fell in love with the pup, and they thanked me enthusiastically for being part of the team that brought this rescue dog adoption to completion.
I've been part of pet rescue transport for more than five years. Great Danes, Bull Mastiffs, English Springer Spaniels, Boston Terriers – various breeds, various rescue organizations, various adopters, all with a common theme: a story woven with compassion, love, friendship, and gratitude.
The adopters are grateful, the rescue groups are grateful, and the dogs are grateful.
Her name was Jazmine, and she reached my waist simply standing on all fours. This Great Pyrenees was abandoned in a desert where she gave birth to twelve puppies. Each one survived, thanks to a mother's protective instinct, and her tenacity to find food for herself despite the odds waged against her and her youngsters: intense heat, lack of shelter, minimal water and food. Odds were that none would survive. The scars on Jazmine's face spoke volumes to her possessiveness and perseverance. Those claw and bite marks were likely garnered from encounters with raccoons, coyotes, and other predators of young pups. By the time mother dog and babies were discovered and brought into rescue, Jazmine's giant frame was whittled to nearly nothing. After medical treatment for she and the babes, each dog found a new home. I was Jazmine's transport for 200 of her 1,200-mile journey. Thankfulness for the Good Samaritan who found the mother and puppies and gratitude for the rescue group that provided not only medical treatment but also a foster home for them, I accepted the request to help transport Jazmine, the final dog in the canine family to be accepted into the caring arms of a permanent human family.
As we walked around a rest stop adjacent to the interstate, this giant dog, though possessive of her babies to keep them alive, displayed nothing but gentleness toward me. The pony-sized dog leaned her head against my thigh and gazed at me with wondering brown eyes. I caressed the top of her white head and hugged her against me. Gratitude for my small part in getting this formerly abandoned, sweet dog to her new home many miles away overwhelmed me and tears filled my eyes. I could sense Jazmine's thankfulness, too, in addition to her uncertainty. It was like she “knew” she was going home. And she did. A few months later I received a photo of Jazmine with her new family – a man, woman, and two children laughing and smiling in a grassy backyard, hugging their new companion ...and Jazmine with a doggie grin, licking a child's face as she joined in the joy.
To be part of such unions, to play a small role in saving companion animals' lives, to find true purpose in such endeavors – gratitude is one of the many emotions I experience. I receive thanks from all sides, from the rescuer and from the adopter as well as from the dog. But, it is I who is truly grateful to have a role in bringing lives together, in helping to forge a family, bringing four-footeds and two-footeds into a friendly, caring relationship that can last a lifetime.
Theo, a Boston Terrier, needed transport through my home state of Wyoming. His new family lived in Montana, and, like the family from Canada, this couple was willing to drive a fair distance to meet me and their new furry friend. We rendezvoused at the same location where I'd met up with the Canadian couple who adopted the Great Dane, a three-hour drive for me and a five-hour drive for the Montana adopters. Theo sat up straight in the passenger seat of my car, in anticipation and expectation. When we arrived at the tree-lined rest stop off the interstate, he placed his small paws on the car's dashboard, looking around as his little black and white body wiggled in excitement. His instinct seemed to inform him this is where he was meeting his new family. He let out a happy YIP and looked at me with black eyes before gazing out the windshield again and then also the passenger-side window. I took him out of the car for a short walk, and not long thereafter a SUV with Montana license plates pulled in behind my car. Theo watched intently as a pregnant woman and then a man about 30 years of age stepped from the vehicle. Theo stood on his hind legs, his front paws dancing with excitement. The couple laughed. The man bent down, raised Theo into his arms, and then he and his wife hugged their new furry family member. Prior to leaving for Montana with their adopted dog, the man and woman thanked me for being part of Theo coming into their lives. The small dog licked my hand before getting into the SUV with his new human family. The large smile stayed on my face during the three-hour drive back home.
Fairy-tale endings may not exist for all people or all pets, but for the rescue animals I transport, there is a happily-ever-after – love, comfort, dedication, family – and I’m grateful to be part of that ending.
I'm grateful to be part of their happily-ever-after stories. And to have ones of my own.
Summer visitation at many national and state parks is in full swing. These places remain popular destinations for individuals and families. I recently returned from the Yellowstone National Park area, one of my favorite places in the U.S. Each year nearly four million people trek by automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, and RV through Yellowstone; many also hike the trails and visit the famous geyser basins, such as Norris and Old Faithful.
There are rules about pets when it comes to taking them in national, as well as state parks. Before embarking upon such a journey with your furry friend, review the pet policies.
National Parks and Pets
Pets are welcome in America’s national parks. However, there are some rules that travelers with pets should be aware of. Those include:
In addition to providing a wonderful respite for humans, America’s national parks are home for many species of wildlife; in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, for example, these include bears and bison. Pets running loose or hiking with owners in the backcountry can harm wildlife – or be harmed themselves. Therefore, the National Park Service, recognizing that many people travel with pets, accommodates our four-footed companions in certain areas while prohibiting them in others, for the safety of both pets and wildlife.
Speaking of accommodations, are there places inside the parks that allow people to stay with their pets other than the campgrounds? In some cases, yes. Hotel accommodations in Yellowstone, for example, are not pet-friendly, but a few of the cabin facilities inside the park do allow pets. Additionally, just outside the national parks’ boundaries are gateway communities in which many hotels can be found, and many of those are pet-friendly. Prepare in advance to review the communities’ lodging options and investigate ahead of time whether pets are welcome. Look and book in advance! There are many great resources for finding pet-friendly lodging, including GoPetFriendly.com and BringFido.com. Rover.com provides a listing of pet sitters in various communities, which can be a good option if you’re staying in a town near a national park and you want to take a day-trip for hikes, horseback riding or other activities that don’t accommodate pets.
Although the national parks have similar guidelines because they are federal entities, different parks may have different pet policies. To learn about the regulations in the park you’d like to visit, log onto the National Park Service’s website at www.nps.gov, find the park you’re interested in, and review that park’s pet particulars. You can also visit this Travel Channel site to read an article about national parks that are pet-friendly and those not as much so: https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/national-parks/photos/exploring-our-national-dog-parks.
State Parks and Pets
In June, I spent a week in Oregon visiting family and driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. I was pleasantly surprised to find two things: (1) many Oregon state parks have no (or minimal) entrance fees; and (2) pets are welcome at most Oregon state parks and beaches, including some trails. Therefore, I visited many of these places with my traveling companion, Jeremiah the Shih Tzu.
All states differ in their pet policies when it comes to visiting state parks. Wyoming, where I live, for example, allows dogs to be on leashes up to 10 feet in length (many other states limit the length to six feet). A person is also able to leave a pet unattended for an hour (although I personally would not do so).
So, know before you go! Visit the parks’ websites for the state (or national) park you want to visit before taking your pet on the trip.
May your adventures with your furry friend be enjoyable – happy traveling!
July is upon us -- half the year zipped by like an Indy 500 racer. With this new month comes enjoyable activities, like swimming, hiking, camping, picnics, travels, and playtime in the park. July also brings safety concerns, such as pests (think ticks and mosquitoes), rattlesnakes, heat exhaustion, and thunderstorms. And, this week, add fireworks to the list.
People and pets can be harmed by fireworks as well as from overheating and severe storms. Pets also become frightened, and many lost, due to the noise from fireworks. Extreme temperatures have plagued the United States already, and forecasts in various regions call for more intense heat -- and July has just began. The infographics below remind us pet parents to keep our beloved furry friends safe this season.
Read some great summer safety tips on Petfinder.com: https://www.petfinder.com/pet-care/summersafetytips/.
Also, here are links to two blog posts I wrote last year regarding pets and heat and pets and fireworks.
Have an enjoyable and safe 4th of July! And, remember: don't leave children or pets in cars this summer!
Kitten season – the time of year where animal shelters and rescues are inundated with litters of felines … and it’s going on now.
What will happen to all of these little ones, and the ones that will be born later this year and the ones born to those youngsters also not spayed? Will each one find a special home? Doubtful.
More than one million dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are euthanized in animal shelters annually, according to the ASPCA. Between strays (especially stray cats and kittens) which aren’t reclaimed by owners and animals that aren’t adopted (only about half of the animals that go into shelters are adopted, the ASPCA notes), sadly many animals, especially cats and kittens, lose their lives. That would be less so if more were spayed/neutered, and therefore, not contributing to the population and to the numbers needing to be adopted.
An unspayed female cat and her offspring can contribute several thousand additional cats in a lifetime. Here are a few “cat facts” listed on Georgia’s Fayette Humane Society’s website:
Animal shelters and rescue organizations become overwhelmed with the number of kittens brought to them during “kitten season.” This makes for a very good reason to fix one’s pets/cats.
Many myths exist about spaying and neutering, and most are just that: myths. Here are some facts about pets that are fixed:
If you have concerns about the surgery and its effect on your pet (the animal does have to undergo anesthesia, discuss these with your vet. No one is more knowledgeable about surgical procedures and the pros and cons of spaying and neutering than your veterinarian.
To learn more about spaying and neutering myths and facts, visit
Lack of homes and pet overpopulation is a serious national, regional, state and community problem –so let’s fix the problem by fixing our pets – we can all help stop the “littering” problem and help our animal shelters and rescues better deal with “kitten season.”
Another way to help during kitten season? Adopt! With a few more days of June left, the month designated as Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat, you are likely to find a wonderful feline friend, whether kitten or adult cat – perhaps at for a discounted adoption fee. Visit your local animal shelter, humane society, or pet rescue organization, and add a purring, furry friend to your household!
“So far, we’ve done 72 cats and kittens and we still have 20 to 30 more to go,” explained the woman who sat across the table from me.
We shared coffee and conversation during my recent visit to Oregon for a family reunion. I learned about the all-volunteer pet rescue organization Hope 4 Paws – Grant County from two different people while visiting relatives in Prairie City, Oregon, and after garnering a contact phone number, I was now learning more about the group. With so many feral, unaltered cats in the community of John Day, this group had secured a grant as well as local donations and was working with an area veterinarian to spay and neuter cats in a mobile home park. Most of the felines were being fixed under a Trap-Neuter-Return program, while many kittens were being vaccinated and altered then adopted to loving families. This small group of people (less than 12 volunteers) made a commitment to their community and to the animals of that community to help animals in need. I left a small donation to help toward the next round of vaccinations and spay/neuter as well as two of my books to use as part of a future fundraising endeavor.
Commitment is critical to pet rescue. For the past 10 years in my state of residence, Wyoming, a pet rescue organization has committed to not just helping pets in need, but to saving lives of animals in the state’s kill-shelters. Black Dog Animal Rescue (BDAR) began saving dogs’ lives throughout the state, fostering them in volunteers’ homes, and adopting them to new loving families. During the past decade, the organization has grown, now also taking in cats, and instituting a partnership with a medium correctional facility to implement a program preparing dogs for adoption behavior and training program called P.A.C.K. – inmates work with the dogs on obedience and some agility training. A recent program graduate named Niffy, now christened Tiffy, was adopted by one of my friends.
Barb began looking for a dog a few months ago and asked me for advice on where to adopt. I gave her several suggestions, including BDAR. She was familiar with the organization from a family member living in Cheyenne, the community where BDAR is located, about a 3-hour drive from our town of Casper. Barb and her husband took a day to drive down after putting in an adoption application for this 2-year-old border collie cross they had seen on BDAR’s website. Barb was looking for a dog which would hike, run, and bike with her, and Niffy appealed to her due to the border collie’s nature of being energetic. She also considered putting the dog into an agility program, another activity for which border collies are skilled. Barb was impressed with both the dog and the organization.
“They were very knowledgeable and answered all of my questions,” she told me after adopting from BDAR. “It’s been a long time since I’ve adopted a dog. It was a pleasant and positive experience, and I’d recommend BDAR and do it again. And Tiffy – I just love her! She was shy the first few days but now she has learned the routine of the house. She is smart, she is affectionate, and she learns quickly. I’m excited to see how she does with agility.”
Why do I support animal rescue? For several reasons, including the fact pet rescue is necessary. With nearly seven million animals going into shelters across the country every year, and the many strays and community cat colonies with little to no medical needs met, rescues are critical to the health and welfare of both community animals and humans. All this takes commitment. Many times, as in the case of Oregon’s Hope 4 Paws, it’s a group of volunteers who make that commitment. BDAR began as an all-volunteer organization, but saving the lives of dogs and cats across an entire state is a huge, fulltime job. Therefore, the group now provides a small staff; but, they continue to rely upon volunteers to help, as most non-profit organizations do. The commitment of people to help animals in need inspires and awes me; therefore, I suppport these organizations who do this work.
Without commitment from staff members and volunteers, where would the animals, and the communities, be? I’m so grateful to these and all the animal rescue organizations for what they do, and I will continue supporting pet rescue groups in various ways as long as I live.
How about you? What can you do to help pet rescue groups in your area? For ideas, visit these websites:
Her golden eyes beckoned me, like a sultry look from Brigitte Bardot. I cautiously approached. She extended a slender front paw between the bars of the cage, as if to shake hands – certainly to vie for my attention. Her round face and lavish, orange and white fur gave her the appearance of royalty. “You’re a princess,” I murmured as I softly stroked her outstretched leg. I then reached between the cage slates to scratch between her ears and under her chin. The diminutive cat responded with a low purr and a subdued ‘mew.” She didn’t belong behind those bars, so I paid her bail and took her home. Her previous owners gave her the name “Ama.” No one knew what it meant or had ever heard such a moniker. A unique name for a princess-like cat. Loving and quiet, Ama settled into her new life with grace and tranquility. Her best friend became a cocker spaniel named Sam, whom I had adopted from the same shelter a year previous. They often cuddled together on the couch by the fireplace. Sam and Ama shared a composed camaraderie, rarely, if ever, spatting over space, food, or attention. If Garfield and Odie had never quarreled, Ama and Sam could have been their stand-ins.
So starts a short story I wrote a few years ago about this sleek, amber-eyed kitty I adopted in 1990; the tale is part of my book Tail Tales. I mentioned Ama in last week’s blog, and since June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, I wanted to talk more about cat adoption and other programs which help cats – and how we can get involved.
Why do cats make great companions? Here are a few reasons:
Ama and I shared life for more than 15 years; she passed in 2006 at nearly 19 years of age. Both she and our mutual dog friend Sam came from the Bozeman, Montana humane society, adoptions that strengthened my resolve to always provide a home for rescued pets.
Every year, more than three million cats enter animal shelters across America. Many are stray, and sadly, only about 5% are reunited with their owners; nearly 1 million cats that come into shelters are killed due to lack of reclaiming strays and lack of cats adopted. This month shelters and rescues around the United States promote cat adoption and reuniting with owners since June is designated as Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month. In addition to the strays and the owner relinquishments, this time of year is known as “kitten season,” when pet adoption organizations become overwhelmed with mamma cats and their babies. Spaying and neutering are critical to keeping cat populations down. Additionally, the numerous community cat situations (also known as feral cats, those living in cities, suburbs, and rural areas on their own) adding to that feline overpopulation, the need for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs is rampant.
There are several ways we can help:
By helping organizations and programs that help cats, you are helping kitties in need – and making special friends in the process.
I reached my hand between the slots of the cage bars. I knew I shouldn’t, but her amber eyes beckoned. She rubbed her small, round, reddish head against my fist. Her dainty purring, barely audible, captured my heart, and she came home with me later that day.
Her name was Ama – a strange moniker, but one she kept for the next 16 years we shared. The year was 1991; the place was the Bozeman, Montana Humane Society. Ama and I experienced five moves in the years between adoption and her passing at nearly 19. Through it all, she remained a friendly feline princess, her luxurious long orange and white coat and her delicate Ragdoll breed features giving her that royal appearance. During the many seasons we shared the household, having Ama in my life during times of stress helped calmed me, providing a quiet, nonjudgmental companionship that helped through the eddies of life.
There are many joys and benefits of living with a cat. Studies show pet owners generally lead healthier lives and have less stress. Here are a few benefits of living with a cat:
June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month. Rescue organizations often promote this special month with special adoption rates on cats and kittens. Find your princess (or prince) of a cat at your local shelter or rescue group this month and enjoy the joys of living with a cat – just like I did with Ama.
The water rushed down the street and the sidewalk. The third round of thunderstorms rolled through town, overflowing the neighborhood’s draining system and clogging areas with debris. Sidewalks formed mud piles and car tires stopped rocks and branches. I observed all this from my front porch as hail cascaded from the sky and rain drenched the community.
Every year floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, snowstorms and other natural disasters hit towns and cities in the U.S. and around the world. Hurricane season officially begins June 1 yet over the Memorial Day weekend communities along the Gulf Coast prepared for a significant tropical storm – about the same time I watched a potential flash flood hit my community in Wyoming. As I stood on my front porch Sunday evening watching water rush like a raging river, I pondered if my family and I, with an entourage of four pets, could safely leave our home if needed.
We all need to be prepared to evacuate our homes in times of emergency. Here are five tips to handling a natural disaster situation:
Creating, and having on hand, a disaster preparedness kit can help a crisis run a bit smoother. Both the federal government’s Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the ASPCA offer more tips on caring for your pets during an emergency. Visit these websites for further information and to help you create a disaster plan and an emergency preparedness kit.
Here is a great infographic from www.poochingaround.co.uk. It's been created to make owners aware of what they should pack in a bag for their dogs just in case of an emergency situation like a natural disaster. Take a look at the list of items and let us know if you agree with what's on the list and if there is anything else you would include?
America’s Memorial Day arrives on Monday, May 28. This is a time to remember the sacrifice of the country’s military men and women, those who gave the ultimate – their very lives. Over the course of time, more than 600,000 service men and women have died during times of war, including more than 2,200 in Afghanistan, more than 58,000 in the Vietnam War, nearly 37,000 in Korea, and more than 530,000 during World Wars 1 and 2. In addition to military personnel, civilians were also killed during these conflicts.
Animals have been, and still are, used during wartime. Horses and dogs have primarily served, and plentiful numbers of them have lost their lives. Other animal species, including pigeons, dolphins, camels, and mules have also served during wartime. Some carried messages, some carried humans – all have worked, and continue to work, in service to their country’s forces. They are often the unsung heroes of war. The U.S. War Dog Memorial, located in New Jersey, was originally established in 2006 to honor dogs and their handlers of the Vietnam War. However, it’s become the symbol of dogs who have served, and continue to serve, the U.S. military in all conflicts. Some states, including Tennessee and Colorado, also have, or plan to have, a war dog memorial.
Times of war are not the only time that animals serve and are looked upon as heroes. There are plenty of incidents in which dogs, cats, and other animals have saved humans. For example, Kahn, a Doberman who had only been with his adopted family for a few days, saved a toddler from a snake, and Pudding, a rescued cat, who saved his owner experiencing a diabetic seizure. Animals save people from drowning, from intruders, and from illness and accidents. Many do these heroic acts at the cost of their own lives, including K9 police dogs and military service dogs.
As we take time during Memorial Day weekend, especially on the day itself, to remember the people who gave their lives for our country and our freedoms (and the freedoms of others), let us also remember the numerous animal who also have given their lives in service. Whether in the military, on police forces, or living in homes with human families, these animals showcase devotion, loyalty, love, and friendship – character traits of noble and beloved animal heroes.
The American Humane Association presents the Hero Dog Award later this year. Visit their website to learn more about the dogs up for the award in 2018; you can cast your vote before July 11, 2018: http://herodogawards.org/vote/.
Earlier this month, a day was dedicated to pets with special needs, also known as “specially-abled” pets. Once termed “disabled,” that label infused “not able,” and though pets that are blind, deaf, three-legged, diabetic, etc. may require additional care and patience, these animals are first and foremost dogs and cats, just like any other.
I lived with a blind dog for more than a decade. Her name was Sage, and she taught me many valuable life lessons. In fact, my authorship sprouted because of her. We visited schools, libraries, and bookstores, and she inspired many others with her abilities despite her disability. Other specially-abled pets do the same – they are amazing in how they adapt to their limitations. For example, given the opportunity to have a K-9 cart, pets with immobile back legs race around in play and fun just like an animal with all four functioning legs. I’ve even seen dogs with short front legs adapt to using their hind legs for propulsion, much like a kangaroo.
Their courage, perseverance, joy, and adaptability are inspiring. Sadly, many blind, deaf, two-legged and other specially-abled pets are euthanized because they are perceived as less adoptable; many consider it “more humane” to kill them. Do we perceive the same of people who are blind, deaf, or in wheelchairs?
A wonderful blog post at Pets for Patriots discusses the beauty and joy, as well as some of the challenges, of having a special needs pet. Here’s a link to the post – I hope you’ll take time to read the encouraging words and view photos of some veterans who have specially-abled pets sharing their lives. https://petsforpatriots.org/understanding-the-special-in-special-needs-pets/
Don’t be afraid to adopt a dog or cat with special needs. Not only will you likely be saving a life, but your own life will be enriched by the presence of these loving, fun animals who know no difference between themselves and other pets. Watch this delightful video of a blind and deaf puppy named Piglet, who has learned commands through touch and plays energetically with his canine siblings:
Below is a photo of Sage, my blind dog, navigating stairs. Blind, yes, capable, yes, inspiring, yes!
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.