Yesterday I did a rescue transport for Pets Alive from New York City’s Animal Care and Control (hereafter referred to as ACC). These transports are always worthwhile, sometimes thrilling, sometimes upsetting. This was all three.
My first stop was in Manhattan for two cats. Pets Alive had left a message on the rescue hotline the night before, but when I walked in the door at 9:20 no one had listened to the rescue hotline yet, despite opening at 8am. One of the cats we had requested was already spoken for, but Princess was still available. We’re always happy when another group steps up to take an animal – we’ll choose another one and more get saved! All of the other cats on Manhattan’s kill list had rescue commitments, so we made arrangements to pull the only cat who had not had a commitment made for him – I would pick up Sam later at my second stop, in Brooklyn.
Because the rescue hotline hadn’t been checked yet, Princess wasn’t ready. No problem – I’m used to waiting. One of the things Princess needed was her FIV/FeLV test, which was odd. She had been in the shelter for four days and had two physical exams, but this most basic of tests hadn’t been done – it’s a simple test that only takes a few minutes to get the results for. Here’s why that’s important: FeLV (feline leukemia) is a virus that is quite transmissable and can be deadly. Common sense and common shelter practice is to test for it on INTAKE, before the cat is brought near other cats.
Princess had hit the kill list after only three days in the shelter for “major conditions”. Her medical notes note dental tartar and halitosis as well as slight eye gunk. I don’t consider any of those conditions major. She is further noted to have a URI (also not major and utterly routine at ACC) and to be around 8 years old.
I try not to take cats out of their cardboard carriers during transport; if they get spooked they can get away far too easily, so we did not open Princess’ box until we arrived at Pets Alive to discover what appeared to be a perfectly healthy cat. Despite being diagnosed with a URI on 2/27, on 2/29 she was not coughing or sneezing and had no discharge from the eyes or nose or noises while breathing. She is also nowhere near eight years old, the cat manager there ages her at less than a year. She is very friendly and affectionate!
Is this incompetence, or is this a deliberate mislabeling of a medical condition to send a cat to the kill list? To receive a large grant that helps them operate, the ACC had had to guarantee “Zero Healthy Deaths” since 2009. They can’t or won’t do that, so they frequently mislabel animals as having major medical conditions who have none. Is this another attempt at that? Is this even Princess’ medical record? I don’t know.
Getting Princess out took about an hour and a half of waiting. In that time very few people were in the waiting room. When your shelter takes an hour and a half to get one cat ready to go, that’s another problem. Hard to do any kind of volume that way.
After leaving Manhattan I headed for another NYCACC shelter, this one in Brooklyn. I now had four animals to pick up there, a cat and three dogs. This was a bit of a different situation as they only knew about one or two of them, so I knew it would take some time to get them all together. No problem.
The other cat I was picking up here was Sam. Sam had been the only cat on that night’s kill list without a rescue commitment, probably because he had a medical issue – he was not bearing weight on one leg. For this his medical classification was “severe conditions not contagious”. At Brooklyn I was told that they now knew more about his condition; he had a fracture in his front paw.Based on this information, instead of taking Sam back to Pets Alive I took him straight to Pets Alive’s excellent veterinarian, Dr. Furman of Monhagen Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Furman took x-rays of Sam’s leg and did a thorough examination of the leg. The x-rays showed no fracture, but he did find a small puncture wound, likely a cat bite wound, on Sam’s front paw. It was healing well. Sam has no further medical issues and definitely does not have a broken paw; in a few days he should be perfectly fine. He is also an utter sweetheart and was very well behaved for his exam. Again I ask: is this part of a larger agenda to lie about the medical conditions of animals to justify killing them, or is ACC simply completely incompetent?
On to the dogs!
Lincoln is an ADORABLE and very friendly Shih Tzu boy who instantly let me pick him up and carry him around. He’s only been in the shelter three days and there is almost no information in his listing at all. I have no idea why he’s been slated for killing. Let me tell you, New York City is nuts for small dogs and a small seven year old is likely to have many good years ahead of him. This is a dog I could take to an offsite adoption event at a Petco at 10am and have him adopted by lunch, a very sweet dog who should find a home very quickly. If you can’t adopt this dog out in New York, the only conclusion I can come to is that you’re not really trying.
Next up we have Tunechi, another small five year old Shih Tzu. Tunechi is completely blind, and I’m assuming that’s why he landed on the kill list after only two days in the shelter. ACC may consider blindness a medical flaw that justifies an animal’s death, but I and many other animal lovers do not. I have known many blind dogs who have been just fine – they learn their way around the space they live in very well. Dogs don’t mourn what they have lost in the way that humans do, for the most part they simply adapt and carry on about their lives. Tunechi turned out to be happiest when he was in someone’s lap, and he rode up to Pets Alive as a happy, calm, affectionate and very well behaved lap dog. He will be an awesome snuggle buddy for someone.
Finally we come to Robert. Robert is a very, very special dog. You see, Robert came into ACC on 2/26 after reportedly being hit by a car. He has no use of his hind limbs whatsoever due to damage to the spinal cord and lacerations on other areas of his body. Robert had x-rays done and got pain medication, but had nothing else for him done medically.
Before loading Robert into my car, they walked me back to the kennels to meet him. I think they didn’t believe that Pets Alive was committing to an animal injured this severely. I opened his kennel and squatted down to meet him, and it was obvious that Robert was in big trouble. His eyes were glassy and he was drooling; I couldn’t tell if he was dazed by the pain medication or if he was in shock – likely a bit of both. If anything, the haunting look on his face made me sure that we were doing the right thing. He was friendly and had no problem with me handling him or being carried, and we gently brought him out to the car and completed the paperwork.
Janet, Pets Alive’s medical liaison, called me in the car – she’d been looking over his records and wanted to talk to me as I’d now laid eyes on him. I told her I thought he needed a vet ASAP and she immediately made arrangements to bring him straight to Dr. Furman.
Spinal injuries are tricky. You have to address them as soon as you can – the more time elapses the less chance you have of correcting the problem. Dr. Furman’s exam showed that although Robert had no use of his hind legs at all, he DID have pain response, so there was some nerve function and thus some hope of improvement. Robert was immediately transferred to a specialty hospital and within 24 hours had x-rays, an MRI, and went into emergency surgery. Robert has a chance to be able to walk again. It will be some time before if we know if the surgery was a success and his recovery period will be long, but he has a chance.
Dr. Furman’s exam showed one other important thing. Robert was unable to urinate, having lost control of those muscles due to the damage to his spine. His bladder was so full it was in danger of rupturing. It’s likely that he didn’t urinate during his three days at ACC – and no one noticed. Had his bladder ruptured it would have caused extreme complications. It’s that whole competency thing again.
You can find out more about Robert in Kerry’s excellent blog about him. Such a sweet boy. The cost of his treatment and surgery is estimated to be between $8,000 – $10,000 and Pets Alive could certainly use your help to help Robert. There is a donate link on their homepage and you can add a note that it is for Robert’s care.
I’ll be back to transport more. I’m very happy to be a volunteer for an organization that saves animals like this and provides second chances for animals scheduled to die. But the basic level of medical competency at the ACC, which was never particularly good, seems to be dropping rapidly. I don’t know if animals are being misdiagnosed or deliberately mislabeled to justify their deaths and I don’t particularly care. It has to stop.