“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.
During the past month or two, I’ve honored people in my life who have had birthdays. Friends, colleagues, family – those milestones of years, experiences, and relationships are important, and therefore, should be recognized.
My husband's birthday is next month, and my birthday occurred on Sunday. My husband, dogs, and I took an outdoor adventure on Saturday (the nicest weather day of the weekend), traveling nearly 200 miles total to experience the spring migration of sandhill cranes through eastern Wyoming. We also visited Kindness Ranch, a livestock and pet sanctuary for former research animals. Both were grand experiences!
My husband and I don’t just celebrate people’s birthdays. Our springer/cocker mix Mary had her 12th birthday in early February. We celebrated with a cake – white with cream icing. This is a tradition in our household; it began more than 15 years ago with our blind springer, Sage. Greg started the tradition, deciding to purchase a dog-shaped cake to honor Sage’s birth. Such celebrations have been part of our life with canines in our home ever since.
We’ve also honored our pets by cooking or buying hamburger and feeding the treat to them, in particular our dogs. For the cats, tuna is the food of choice for their August birthdays.
Various websites provide ideas for celebrating our furry friends’ special day. Some of those thoughts include:
According to the UK’s Daily Mail, nearly 75 percent of pet owners celebrate their furry family member’s birthday. Do you? If so, how do you celebrate?
PersonalCreations.com provides a guide and some recipes on cakes that are edible for dogs and cats (the meat cake is thought to be best for cats; but, there are many varieties of special treats which pets can enjoy). Visit their website for ideas: https://www.personalcreations.com/blog/dog-cake-recipes. Writers for this site also give thought to what types of foods are NOT good for our animal pals, which is also important information. Check it out.
Happy Spring, and Happy Birthday to you and your pets!
Last week I wrote about loss of hearing and deafness in dogs. This week, we’ll explore the same afflictions in cats.
I have two cats. My husband and I adopted these sisters more than a decade ago. Always curious, they have brought us great joy. This summer they will be 13 years old and have slowed down since becoming seniors. I once had a cat who lived to be almost 19; in fact, cats 20 years and older are not uncommon. However, with age, just as with humans and canines, come health issues. One of those concerns is loss of hearing, even deafness.
Feline Hearing Loss
According to VetWest.com, an Australian veterinary clinic, hearing loss in older cats occurs “as a result of damage to the ear system and nerves. Normally sound waves vibrate the ear drum between the outer and middle ear. The tiny bones in the middle ear transfer the vibrations into nerve impulses within the inner ear. When any portion of this system is damaged hearing will be affected.”
According to veterinarians at Cornell University, there are a variety of reasons for loss of hearing in cats, in additional to aging. Those include: tumors, polyps, and other growths in the ear canal; hypothyroidism; medications, including antibiotics; infestations of yeast, bacteria, and ear mites; and household chemicals that are ingested or somehow seep into the ear. Additionally, hearing loss and deafness is hereditary, especially in white cats with blue eyes. In fact, researchers believe 65 to 85 percent of all-white cats with two blue eyes are born deaf, or at least become totally deaf as young kittens, and white cats with one blue eye generally have a 40 percent chance of being deaf.
How You and Your Cat Can Cope
As a cat owner, there are some things you can do to help both you and your cat adjust to hearing loss and deafness.
Learn more about deaf cats and how to help and communicate with them at these websites:
Living with a deaf or hard of hearing cat presents challenges, but nothing that a loving pet parent can’t handle. With plenty of patience and positive resources, including tips from your veterinarian, you and your feline friend can enjoy many happy years together.
February is known for two main things: Valentine’s Day and Hallmark Movie love-stories.
Love is a Hallmark movie… well, not for everyone, and certainly not for every companion animal. Pets are called companion animals for a reason – to provide companionship to people, to be devoted, loving, faithful… and they would be, if only we let them. Instead, many cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, even turtles and lizards are mistreated, neglected, and abused. Where is their Hallmark Valentine hero/heroine?
In truth, humans and animals share this one thing in common: rejection. The person you love and trusted abandons you, mistreats you, breaks your heart and spirit. Yet, many people and pets have another thing in common: resiliency. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, as they say, and carry on. That perseverance may take months, even years, but when we dig deep inside ourselves and we let others help and encourage us, we discover that fortitude and we move ahead to a brighter future.
For animals as well as us, that brighter future involves compassionate, kind people. When you watch a Hallmark movie, friends surround the broken-hearted, hurt individual, encouraging them to be open to love again. And, surprise, surprise, s/he comes along! That can be true for pets as well. Rescues, SPCAs, Humane Societies, and others step forward to lift pets’ spirits, saving their lives from abuse and neglect, and then prepare them for adoption. But, there needs to be more adopters, more heroes and heroines to help the light shine more deeply into the spirits of those animals cast-away, those treated not just poorly, but many times cruelly.
Can you be an animal’s Hallmark Valentine this year?
Five years ago, my husband and I adopted a springer/cocker mix named Mary. She wasn’t abused or neglected; in fact, she was deeply cared for by her previous owner. Sadly, that person died, and Mary needed a new loving family. Greg and I answered the call, and we have been her Valentine ever since! She is devoted to us and she has also impacted others, serving sometimes as a library read-to-the-dog companion, nestled among a group of children and giving them affection as well as courage. Her stories which I’ve written take kids on adventures and teach them lessons like kindness, friendship, and joy. I love sharing Mary with others and teaching them the value of adoption.
Then, there’s Jeremiah, whom we adopted last fall. He came from a puppy mill, serving as a stud for three years. He lost 28 teeth due to poor nutrition and came to us from a rescue still timid and uncertain about living in a house. Now, five months later, he realizes kindness and compassion can come from human beings, and he’s settled in well, with Mary as his best friend. He walks proudly on a leash, dashes through our fenced-in backyard with joy, and cuddles next to me on the couch with thankfulness on his face. His Valentine’s Day gift this year is a warm home and caring people (plus a canine BFF!)
Even if we, as a man or woman, have been rejected by human love, there’s a way to share our love. Numerous animals – dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, and others – are waiting for their special Valentine. Nearly 1.5 million dogs and cats die in kill-shelters every year, and more than 10,000 animal mill facilities confine creatures (especially dogs and cats) simply for the act of breeding. They lack socialization and medical care. Several rescues, such as National Mill Dog Rescue and Hearts United for Animals, take in these animals and care for them while searching for loving, permanent homes for them to call their own, i.e., for their special Valentine.
Find your four-footed Valentine this month, knowing that creature will be devoted to you for its life, and then make some popcorn and sit on the couch together while enjoying some Hallmark movies!
NOTE: The Hallmark Channel features several films in which animals play important roles. Check out titles such as Like Cats and Dogs; Love at First Bark; Walking the Dog; and Eat, Play, Love -- some of these are scheduled this month and others in March. Enjoy, and especially enjoy your furry Valentine!
Do you know you can change a pet’s life? Wednesday, January 24, is designated Change a Pet’s Life Day, and you can help do that.
Change a Pet’s Life Day started in 2009 to draw attention to the many homeless pets and to encourage adoption, bring awareness to animal welfare issues, and, for many, to establish a time to celebrate shelter/rescue workers and volunteers, who make a difference in the lives of homeless animals every day. All of us can do something to positively change the lives of animals. One of those ways, and an important one, is to adopt.
Every year, millions of animals are brought into animal shelters and rescues. Although adoption rates have increased during the past two decades, there are still about 50 percent that are not. Therefore, as a society, we still have a long way to go and improvements to make regarding pet adoption.
However, for some, adoption isn’t always possible. If that is you, what are other ways you can change a pet’s life? Here are a few ideas:
If you do decide to adopt another pet, it’s important to choose the animal that’s right for your lifestyle. Learn about the variety of dog and cat breeds, including their personalities and needs, from these sources:
American Kennel Club -- http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/?_ga=2.126130569.505065269.1516415304-2085044977.1514578697
Dogtime -- http://dogtime.com/dog-breeds/profiles
Jen’s Reviews -- https://www.jenreviews.com/dog-breeds/
Cattime -- http://cattime.com/cat-breeds
Purina -- https://www.purina.com/cats/cat-breeds
Petfinder -- https://www.petfinder.com/cat-breeds/
What will you do this week to change a pet’s life?
This is not the only special pet day this week, this month, or this year. There are many special pet holidays, including yesterday’s National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. For a run-down of the rest of 2018’s special days honoring animals, visit this site: https://www.dogtipper.com/fun/pet-holidays.
October is drawing to a close, and that means Halloween is on the horizon. While most kids, and many adults, enjoy this time of year, our pets can become agitated, frightened, even lost.
Here are a few safety tips to help your pets during the next few weeks:
If you decide to dress up your pet for Halloween and have the time to create a costume, here’s a link to a cute DIY strawberry costume, complete with instructions: https://www.berries.com/blog/strawberry-costume-diy#dog.
I once dressed Cody, my cocker spaniel, as a fireman – I thought he looked cute, but he didn’t seem very impressed with the idea!
For additional Halloween pet safety tips, visit http://www.petmd.com/dog/seasonal/evr_multi_halloween_safety_tips.
May you, your children, and your pets enjoy a safe, stress-free Halloween!
They conduct search and rescue. They serve in the military. They lead the blind and alert the hard-of-hearing. They comfort people in crisis, visit the hospitalized and those in hospice care; they even provide a soothing balm for us, their guardians. They survive abuse and neglect to become someone’s beloved pets. They are animal heroes!
Images of the dogs searching for the trapped and injured on 9/11 and during last week’s earthquake in Mexico resonate in our hearts and souls. From fires in homes and cresting ocean waves to hospital rooms and school bullying problems, dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs and other animals provide rescue, comfort, security, and therapy to many humans, their own as well as strangers. From the military veteran suffering from PTSD or physical disability to the child lost in the woods or the trapped earthquake victim, animals respond to the needs of people as they fulfill their roles of service, comfort or search and rescue. They are K-9 officers protecting communities and military service dogs sniffing out bombs and bad guys.
Every fall, the American Humane Association partners with the Hallmark Channel to present The Hero Dog Awards. From a service dog named Roselle who guided her blind owner and others out of a building during 911 to an abused pit bull named Hooch, canines have been celebrated for their heroic story for more than five years – and their stories tug at the heartstrings!
This year’s Hero Dog Award winner’s story is no different. American Humane recently announced the 2017 winner: a one-eared pit bull named Abigail. A dog-fighting survivor who was rescued after nearly being euthanized, Abigail is a “spokesdog” for dog-fighting rescues and for forgiveness and second chances. She’s also a fashionista, thanks to her human-mom who dresses her in scarves and headbands to help cover some of her scars. Many nominated Hero Dogs have overcome the odds of abuse or neglect.
Cats are also known to be heroes. Last year the BBC reported on several cat heroes, including one that detected cancer in her special human and another who came to the rescue of the young boys he lives with.
Hero animals – whether they do incredible feats of bravery or are simply the companions of the household, they all deserve to be called the Heroes of Our Hearts!
In just a few short weeks, my two cats, Murphy and Bailey, will turn 12 years of age. They are sisters, even though they look nothing alike. My husband and I adopted them when they were about 10 weeks old, being born of a feral mother who allowed herself to be taken into a friend’s home a few days prior to giving birth; it was like Mamma knew she needed to be somewhere safe to protect her newborns. Everyone received a new home, and on August 1, our two girls will become even more “senior” at the ripe age of 12.
Prior to Murphy and Bailey coming into our lives, my husband and I had a long-haired orange and white cat which I brought into our marriage. This cat, Ama, was also a rescued kitty; I adopted her from the Bozeman (Montana) Humane Society in 1990, and she lived until she was more than 18 years of age.
Cats often live to middle-to-late teens, and even some to age 20 and beyond. In fact, the oldest cat known is Crème Puff, who lived to be more than 38 years of age. Senior cats require extra-care. For example, they often can’t groom themselves as well as when they were younger, especially the long-haired variety. Experts recommend frequently brushing your older cat. Thankfully, my girls were brushed while they were very young, and therefore, they are used to it and they enjoy it. In fact, they know the word “brush,” and come running when I call their names and add the word “brush.”
Other care one needs to take with senior cats include:
Diseases common to senior kitties include renal failure, diabetes, cancer, and overactive thyroid. Many pet experts recommend twice-yearly visits to the vet since cats are good at hiding pain and can’t tell you if they’re feeling sick or where it hurts.
Caring for a senior cat can take extra time in your day, extra expense in your budget, and extra love and compassion. But, your feline friend deserves all the “extras” you provide, for s/he has provided you the companionship and devotion you longed for, whether you’ve had your cat from kittenhood, as my two girls, or adopted at an older age, as was my Ama. Each cat has blessed my life, and I’m thankful to have enjoyed so many years with each of them!
For more information on caring for senior cats, visit this website: https://www.petfinder.com/cats/cat-care/senior-cat/.
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.