Thursday, January 24, 2013

The tale of two dogs (not a happy one)

EDITED 3/3/2015 since this post was written, the shelter in question has undergone many positive changes, including change in management, hiring of more staff, and better organizing in general. It's a much better shelter than it was back when this was written, and I am happy to work closely with them on a weekly basis.

I hesitated to write this story because it involves me being pissed off at the largest, most-well-functioning animal rescue in the region (not that that's saying much), and I don't want to do that. Let me make that clear up front: if you know which shelter I'm talking about, I actually do want you to donate/voluteer at it/support it. It is the best we have, and the people running it at least love animals.

But. It is far from a perfect organization. And this incident is something that keeps waking me up in the middle of the night. And if I don't write it down, no one else will know the stories of these two dogs.

It started with an email from a woman who's very active in the animal rescue community. Let's call her Beth. She volunteers for several rescues in the area, and often sends out pleas through the grapevine for "emergency cases". In this case, it was for a 8-month old mixed breed puppy and a 2 year old pit bull. They were both being surrendered from two separate abuse/neglectful homes and needed foster homes ASAP because the shelter (all four cages of it) was full. They had spent the night under the same roof (which becomes important later), but needed to be gone the next day.

One person offered to foster the pit bull, but only if it was vaccinated for parvo. Many people could foster a cute puppy, of course.

The next day was a busy day at the vet clinic. The kind of day where all the techs are running around like the proverbial decapitated chickens. Beth calls and asks for me. I happened to have a moment so I talked to her. "I'm driving over to pick up the dogs right now, but they say the puppy's sick," she said. "They said she's been throwing up and being really lethargic and won't eat." Uh oh. I told her it's probably parvo. She said she and another woman, we'll call her Sandy, could be there soon, could they bring them in. I said yes, we'd fit them in.

I should also mention that Sandy is on the board of directors for this shelter I still refuse to name.

I also happened to be the tech to help them when they arrived. The receptionist, warned about possible parvo, hurried them into a room to isolate them from other clients. Beth had named the pit bull, so let's call him Max. He was a big, galumpy sort of dog with a large head and out-going personality. He was a bit unsure about what was happening to him, but very friendly and happy to be around people, slurping at my hands instead of just sniffing them, and looking around at all the new sights with bright interest.

The puppy was lethargic, with that mopey, down look of one who just doesn't feel good. But her color and hydration was still good, surprisingly didn't have a fever, and she didn't yet have that "parvo smell", or the glassy-eyed look of a puppy in the process of dying from parvo.

I discussed different scenarios with them. That we needed to do a parvo test, but that it's possible she didn't have parvo, or if so, it may be a mild case and because she was a bit older, she might pull through quicker and easier than most.

Sandy asked if it was too early to test the pit bull. I explained he'd only been exposed to the puppy in the last 24 hours, so even if he had contracted the virus, it was far too soon for the test to work. I said, if it were my dog, I'd vaccinate him now, and then quarantine him for 7 days, he'd show symptoms by then and you could work from there. If he didn't catch the virus, he would already be vaccinated, and if he did start showing symptoms, well, you wouldn't really need a test to assume it was parvo (dogs will often test positive if they've been recently vaccinated).

They agreed to have the puppy parvo tested before making any other decisions. It was positive, of course. It's always positive. Around here, a puppy who comes in with those symptoms is almost always positive.

I wasn't in the room while the vet discussed this with them. I was running around the clinic doing other things. All I know is, the vet came out a few minutes later and told me they had decided to euthanize both dogs. Right now.

I didn't have time to think. Well, I had a little time to think: I thought, maybe I could... but no, I can't. My garage was full of cages of feral cats infected with ringworm, and I had no where else to quarantine a large dog or a sick puppy. I couldn't afford more medical expenses, as I still had hundreds of dollars to pay off from Jenga's surgery.

My mind was reeling with all of the things I couldn't do for these dogs. I didn't think to ask what Sandy hadn't done for them until days later. Then I got mad.

I don't know for sure, but I highly doubt she called anyone after the diagnoses was given. Sure, most people wouldn't agree to foster a parvo-puppy and give it SQ fluids three to four times a day, plus daily anti-nausea and antibiotic injections... but she didn't even call around. She certainly didn't try Facebook or any other social media. She didn't call other board members and ask, hey, could we maybe set up a quarentine cage in the corner or in the bathroom or something at the shelter for the healthy dog? It's only for 7 days, after all. Or, hey, let's call around to different vet hospitals and find one that will give us a deal on hospitalizing this puppy, because she's readily treatable and will be quickly adopted once she's better. Or maybe there's even a vet tech at one of the hospitals who would foster her at home. Or, hey, we're at a vet right now, maybe if I ask real nice they'll let us keep them both here for just the rest of the day so we can have some time to make phone calls. Maybe there's another shelter/rescue we could transport her to... maybe...maybe...

Instead a board memeber on the largest, most-well-organized shelter in the WHOLE REGION,  decided that it wasn't worth the time or money for either of these dogs and made a quick decision. And, I'm sure, was thinking how awful the previous owners were for putting her in such a position, and, wow funding is low because the damn public won't donate enough, and if only the PUBLIC would vaccinate and yadda yadda... I know she thought these things because I've seen the posts that this shelter makes on Facebook. I've seen the quotes in newspaper articles. It's very blamey: you damn people need to start being responsible and vaccinating your pets, and spay/neuter and stop abusing them/ letting them roam/ etc. and also you need to give us more money, otherwise we can't fix up the shelter, also you need to adopt this puppy/kitten or we'll have to kill it. It's YOUR fault when anything bad happens, but WE are the martyrs, WE make all the hard decisions, look at US being such heroes in the face of an ocean of neglect, abuse, and indifference.

I went into that room and held the puppy while the vet killed it, then I held the pit bull, who thought that was just fine sat there wagging his tail and gave me a few more licks on the hand while Beth petted his head and sobbed and told him she was sorry, so sorry that his life had been so short and full of pain. And when his body relaxed on the floor I burst into tears (and I never cry at euthanasias), thinking, why the hell is this happening, why are we killing a healthy, friendly dog who we supposedly just "rescued"? What the hell was the point?

And then the vet left the room and it was just us three women, all sobbing, and two dead dogs that I later had the pleasure of throwing into the dumpster.

Fucking fantastic.

I don't feel like blaming the former owners for this one. It certainly doesn't make me want to help this shelter anymore. All this makes me want to do is move away. Back to civilization, where the shelter system functions and the buildings have quarantine cages and huge, well-functioning networks of foster homes and private rescues and communication with them works well. Where it's well-organized, well-oiled machine, and there's clarity of vision and policies that are clear, and in writing and available for the public to see, along with financial information and animal intake/adoption statistics. Where there are donation collection jars in every store in town, and well-publisized fundraising events (where donators are never guilt-tripped into paying up) every month, and there are low-income spay/neuter/vaccs clinics put on by the shelter.

See, I use to live in THAT community. And guess what, THAT shelter got the majority of its funding from donations as well, AND took in THOUSANDS of animals yearly, and adopted out over 90% of them, AND was also the open admission city and county "pound".

 So, I don't want to hear that conditions are so "different" here on this side of the state that that sort of animal rescue community isn't possible. It very much is, and it starts with leadership that is willing to put its foot down and refuse to give up on a healthy, friendly dog because it may have been exposed to a treatable disease.

(This is a graphic the shelter posted not that long ago. Obviously the irony is lost on them.)

1 comment:

Luisa said...

F*ck. I'm heartsick for you and your coworkers and of course for the two dogs. I don't know what "shelter" was involved in this, but I'll make a donation to my own local shelter in honor of those two dogs and the people who comforted them and cried over them. I'm so sorry this happened.