A Dog Guy and South Bronx Cats

I am known as a “dog guy”, which I suppose I am. My passion is dogs, much of my experience is with dogs, I have 6 dogs in my small home in the South Bronx, and the bulk of my volunteering is with dogs. But in the past year or so I’ve been more involved with cats – mostly in their transport but increasingly also in their care. I still don’t know cats as well as I’d like (I just figured out “blinky eyes” the other day – thanks, UberFacts!) and unfortunately it’s very dangerous to have them in my current living space, as some of my dogs are extremely aggressive towards cats and will do anything to get to them.

I expected to get more involved in cats when I moved to my South Bronx neighborhood – I moved here with the desire to help with some TNR, knowing that there were cats on the streets here. I had no idea.

My area teems with cats. Many are what one might call “feral”, although that means something slightly different here than it does in many places: in an area with such high population density there are very few who seek to completely avoid human contact. Many have some socialization. There are also animals on the street who are former housecats, cats that are allowed to roam, and a good many who are social and provided for by groups of people but do not have an “owner”, per-se – they wander about freely and have a water dish provided by the friendly bodega owner, scraps to eat from the projects’ garbage area, a petting appointment with a neighborhood child every day promptly after school, but no home to call their own.

I have found the months I have been here overwhelming. The issue is substantial, the resources scant: as far as I can tell, there is no one doing TNR in this area. I have never seen an ear-tipped cat in the neighborhood. Assistance with TNR (like low-cost altering) is awkward and time-consuming in NYC even for hard-core rescuers; for the general public it is near impossible. Although an ASPCA van stops in the neighborhood about twice a month, they focus on owned animals; perhaps a curious choice when a tremendous amount of the cat intake to New York City’s Animal Care and Control (NYCACC) at this time of year are the offspring of outdoor, free-roaming cats, putting tremendous pressure on the resources of NYCACC. Spaying or neutering the housecat who lives in an apartment that they rarely if ever leave is typically good for the cat and helps with owner retention by controlling unwanted behaviors, but I think there’s a good argument to be made that the free-roaming cats are a much greater source of NYC shelter intake (especially during kitten season) and deserving of far more S/N focus and funding than they currently receive from the major non-profits.

I have been overwhelmed enough to not really know where to begin and pursue a few dead ends. Sometimes I’ve worked a bit around the edges – a few months ago 165054_584300774919735_1562664609_nI picked up and re-homed two friendly young kittens, one with a broken leg that needed treatment. Annie would have been hard to ignore, as she limped right up to me one day as I was taking out the trash and asked for help. But mostly, being not totally comfortable and preferring to stick to what I know, being overwhelmed, and not knowing how to begin… I tried my best to ignore it, which was wrong of me. That ends now.

A few nights ago as I pulled into a parking space outside my home a cat ran across the road in front of us – pretty typical for the neighborhood. While I did not see much unusual in the cat’s behavior my incredibly compassionate girlfriend did and followed the cat down the block, eventually convincing the frightened animal to come to her for petting. I did not want to take the cat but she insisted, so I went home to grab a carrier and we quickly stashed him. The slightly unusual gait her trained eye picked up on so quickly turned out to be burnt paws, likely from pavement roasted by the recent summer heat wave. She knew that he was social and hurt and needed help.

IMG_2237This is Rico. Rico is a long-haired orange tabby, about 8 months old and friendly and social as can be – and he’s now neutered, has had his shots, and is FIV and FeLV negative. The person fostering him reports “He’s amazing… trusting, loving, funny, vocal, craving attention. He curls right up and settles in, follows at your heels if you get up to walk away.” He is curious and unafraid of dogs – an outgoing and friendly guy!

Prior to that night I had successfully convinced her to walk away from another cat. Dega was not hurt but she was also in danger, as friendly and trusting as she was, lurking on a street corner in the South Bronx. The morning after picking up Rico I went looking for her and found her again hanging out on her favorite corner – this picture was shot moments after I scooped her up and plopped her on my dashboard. Dega is Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.47.00 PMa small, adorable, jet-black cat with the most expressive eyes. She is around one year old and now spayed, but she looks to have had at least one litter out on the street in her short life. She has her shots and is also FIV and FeLV negative. She is a quiet girl who is very affectionate with people once she (quickly!) warms up to them, and this skinny little girl loves her food! Her foster reports that she is “reserved but affectionate, flips over for belly rubs… purrs, kisses and cuddles.”

I needed the help of the Internet once before when I took in Blanca on blind faith that I could place her and now, Internet, I need your help again. I cannot keep these two wonderful cats in my home due to the danger posed by my dogs, and my rescue resources are unable to take them at this time – but neither can I return two completely social and friendly cats to the street where they are in danger. I have them both in a foster currently, but I can’t keep them there for very long – if you’re looking to adopt a friendly, social, lovable young cat – drop me a line – soon!

Going forward obviously many cats from the streets here may not be easily re-homed, but it’s time to get started… I’m firing up the traps, because if they’re going to be roaming my neighborhood, at the very least they can be altered, immunized, and ear-tipped. No more can I ignore it because I find it foreign or intimidating or overwhelming. I can start here and now, with many thanks to my girlfriend for smacking me upside the head (you know, metaphorically speaking) and reminding me to pull my head out of the sand and focus on what I can do for the animal standing in front of me without reservation.

More to come on the cats of the South Bronx…

Rico Says: Right On!

Rico Says: Right On!

Posted in ASPCA, Cats, New York City, NYCACC | 4 Comments

Believe in Evolution

I recently got peripherally involved in a case where a person felt they had to give up their pets due to landlord pressure here in NYC (and before I begin, let me tell you that there is a happy ending to this story: all of the pets involved are alive and well). I don’t know the person, I don’t know (or want to know) their name, and I don’t know their story; what exactly they were being threatened with, what their financial situation was, how desperate they were.

But I do know how they reacted. And that is what I find… well, not curious. Not even surprising at this point but nonetheless a vivid illustration of what we fight on a daily basis.

This person’s reaction was to go to their veterinarian and request that all seven of their pets be killed, some of whom had been the person’s companions for ten years or more.

The staff at the veterinarian’s office would have none of it, and thank God for vets who will not take the blood money of killing a healthy animal. Instead they gave the person resources, guiding them to contact local rescue groups who could (and likely would have) helped them. But there’s no evidence from insiders at these rescue groups that they were contacted. Instead, the pets showed up a short time later at New York City Animal Care & Control (NYCACC).

I’m not sure what transpired there exactly but I take some comfort in that as flawed as NYCACC is I have never known them to perform “owner-requested euthanasia” – killing – of a healthy animal. Quickly the word got out in NYC rescue and the wheels started to turn, and within days (and with a little luck) a loosely-connected group had delivered them all to safety… but it’s that first reaction I find the most fascinating, the initial impulse: my pets are in danger, and therefore I must kill them.

Though many now find this attitude completely abhorrent it’s not hard to see where it’s come from, the roots of the impulse, when for years the party line from shelters was: death is good. Death is justified. Death is a sweet relief from suffering.

This attitude is now considered archaic enough by much of the general public that many shelters (though certainly not all…) hesitate to trumpet it publicly. These days it has a tendency to offend — although many still preach some version of it internally to themselves (and some days may even let a justification or two slip to the media), to convince themselves that they are still good people, to justify the blood on their hands. PETA is one of the few major animal welfare groups to still proudly fly the flag of death, proud to kill, proud to trumpet it daily: death is good. Death is kind. Death is justified. Death is a gift. Death is kindness.

Dog Walking Evolution Bumper-400x500If you are like I am and you believe that shelter pets have an inherent right to live then as flawed, as terrible at times as NYCACC is it is some small comfort to me that even they will not kill a healthy animal presented to them solely because it is what the owner wants. Even with all the killing done there there is still a line that is not crossed, there is still hope that they will evolve, because in that smallest of ways they are recognizing an animal’s inherent right to live. And so we fight on. We fight on until all of them are recognized – the sick, the elderly, the young, those thought to be “unwanted”, because we have no choice. Because as people – and there are more of us every day – who have concluded that an animal has an inherent right to not be dispatched simply for human convenience, that is what we must do. Because as leading communities throughout the US like Austin, Charlottesville and Reno show us with save rates over 90% and even higher, we know we can do better.

That seed planted long ago, the idea of death as kindness, is in itself a dying attitude – the last gasps of a failed philosophy as our brightest and most creative shelters explore what is actually possible. Don’t give in. Never give in. Because it can be done here too. Because you recognize that the person in that example simply did not have the right to make that choice for their healthy companion animals, and that is a sprouting oak of a new normal, of a new era, here in NYC and elsewhere. It is inevitable because we will make it so.

Join us.

Posted in New York City, NYCACC, Shelter Stuff | 1 Comment

Some Days, It’s The Little Things

It’s not an Anthony Weiner post, I swear!

I had occasion today to visit New York City Animal Care and Control in Manhattan for the first time in a while. The three “full service” (as opposed to intake-only) locations keep the same hours of 8am to 8pm daily, but adoptions are done only between the hours of noon and 7pm.

When picking up animals I typically try to arrive in the morning, giving me time to transport prior to my evening employment. Something I saw today and have seen with alarming frequency was more adopters, having had the unfortunate luck to arrive at 10am, be told that the adoptions floor was not open… and so they left.

It took NYCACC 17 years to be convinced that adoptions were important enough to create a whole department devoted to their facilitation, and that department is supposedly now up and running. Funding is up. Excuses should be in short supply.

Open-up-Versus-Closed-Source-SoftwareIf your shelter is open for business, if you’re fully staffed, if you’re doing intake, then you need to be doing adoptions too. The people are coming. They want to adopt. Make that minor alteration in your scheduling – you can dip into some of the savings from not having a medical director for the last three years – and save some lives. This is the low-hanging fruit, one of the easiest things you can possibly do to get your adoption numbers up – which I think you have a keen interest in doing.

For extra credit… well, I understand the logic of closing the adoptions floor an hour before shelter closing. I get it. You want to give people the time they need to make the right choice, time to check the application, time to do the paperwork. But for extra credit, maybe don’t advertise it, but when someone walks in at 7:15 and wants to adopt… see if there is someone who will stay behind, make a little extra OT, and make it happen. They can easily be paid out of that extra adoption fee you wouldn’t otherwise have had, and you’ll save a life.

Because I assure you that when the puppy shop opens at 9 and closes at 5, they do not turn away a customer at 9:15 or 4:45. Don’t make that your potential adopters’ next stop.

Posted in NYCACC, Shelter Stuff | 1 Comment

Scott Stringer Under Fire; Spitzer Enters NYC Comptroller Race

I’ve written here repeatedly about Scott Stringer, who authored a document usually referred to just as the “Stringer Report” which has done more than anything I can think of to raise awareness among the political class in New York City about exactly how much trouble our shelters are in. The mayoral candidates are all expected to be familiar with it, City Council members have all taken notice.

Stringer is a guy I would like to see as mayor, because the mayor has ultimate power over animal control operation in NYC. A mayor created the current system; to change it without the active support of the mayor would be impossible, and a mayor committed to changing it could ram it through.

And so I was disappointed when Scott Stringer switched his focus to competing in the NYC Comptroller’s race, but it was a smart political move on his part, and he was widely expected to win the powerful position where he would be a formidable ally in the fight to reform NYC’s shelters.

As of today there is a new contender in the comptroller’s race: Former “Love Gov” Eliot Spitzer announced his entrance via an article in the New York Times. Even given his messy fall from grace I would expect him to poll well based on the strength of his name recognition alone, and he undoubtedly still has access to much of the powerful team of political advisors and fundraisers that helped him win the New York governorship. I expect him to be a serious contender. [UPDATE: Spitzer has announced that his campaign will be self-financed from his personal wealth.]

Headshot_Nov2011_verticalI wasn’t paying much attention to the comptroller race up until now because it looked like a cakewalk for Scott Stringer. That does no longer seem to be the case. Support him, vote for him, donate to the Stringer campaign if you can. He’s a guy we need to be in higher office in NYC right now.

Posted in New York City, Politics, Scott Stringer | 1 Comment

Hidden Gems: Holly at Pets Alive Westchester

I meet some amazing dogs whom I’m really fortunate to get to know. One of them at Pets Alive Westchester is Holly.

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Everyone loves Holly. Holly loves everyone. She is such a people dog – devoted, loyal, friendly, happy, goofy. And she’s been at Pets Alive Westchester for nearly ten years – an unbelievable amount of time for such a wonderful animal.

Holly was born around the year 2002 and entered the facility, then known as the Elmsford Animal Shelter, in 2003. She was brought by a woman in New York City who had found her on the street but could not keep her because she had too many pets. Holly quickly showed herself to be a total sweetheart. She never caused problems. She was well behaved. Her behavioral reports were and are stellar – an active, friendly, playful goofball who loves everyone she meets, including kids. She gets along with some dogs, mostly ones that like active play and roughhousing – she loves to play.

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In 2008 Holly went home to the only home she has known in the past decade, but she stayed only 4 months. When the man who had adopted her brought her back he asked them to make a special note.

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Holly was brought back because she had been diagnosed with a condition called megaesophagus, where the muscles of the esophagus lose their tone and are no longer able to propel food and drink into the stomach. I’m not sure how much her adopter explored her condition or tried to help her, unfortunately those details are not recorded.

What we do know is that her condition has been managed since 2008 – and it’s not very difficult. Holly eats sitting upright in a special chair called a Bailey chair, which she is quite used to. After she is fed she needs to sit upright for a few minutes, then be calm for a little while to give her food time to settle. That’s it. Helping Holly live normally takes nothing more than a few extra minutes a day. Her condition is not expected to shorten her life, she handles it with grace, and in no way does it make her anything other than a wonderful, incredible, loving dog – and one who deserves a great home as much as any dog I’ve ever met, one that she will be a wonderful presence in.

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A decade is more than enough – Holly is too fantastic an animal to spend another night in a kennel! Come meet her. She’ll make you laugh. She’ll charm you. And she’ll love you forever.

Posted in Dogs, Pets Alive Westchester | 1 Comment

Marketing Moobs

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I’m not quite sure what the target demographic is here.

Posted in Fun Pictures, Shelter Stuff | 1 Comment

NYC Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blasio Puts His Commitments In Writing: Too Little, Too Late?

One of the things that has frustrated me about candidate de Blasio has been his unwillingness to make firm commitments in writing: until recently his website was full of very general platitudes but no specific nuts-and-bolts of his platform positions.

Finally there is a comprehensive policy document on the website with some animal related policy details at the very end, on page 68 – and a firm commitment in writing to “improving” NYC Animal Care and Control, but seemingly in a similar mode to what we have now: as an “an independent non-profit with policy controlled by the city”, a structure with an 18 year track record of failure. I’m still not sure that the last Mayoral hope for ACC’s animals understands the problem.

tumblr_inline_mfohlhSOlE1rscf2jde Blasio’s policy details may be too little, too late: while people were clamoring for actual policy positions and he was trying to figure out what they were, Anthony Weiner jumped into the race and, as the phrase goes, sucked all of the air out of the room. In the most recent two polls de Blasio is running a rather distant fourth behind Christine Quinn, Weiner, and Bill Thompson. Of the likely eventual winners, neither Quinn nor Weiner show any signs of being a change agent for the shelter animals of NYC.

Posted in New York City, Politics | 1 Comment

The Media Fabricates a Dog Attack Out Of Thin Air

People who hate pit bulls – the Merritt Cliftons, the Colleen Lynns – love to treat media “pit bull attack” stories as the gospel truth, where every reporter is a canine behavior expert capable of ID’ing any given breed based on a vague description and supplying lurid details about each “attack”.

So when I saw the news yesterday about a Rhode Island woman who had ordered her “pit bulls” to attack a reporter at her home, I didn’t put much stock in it. Then, this morning, it became a national story – and this is how the media fabricates a “pit bull” attack out of nothing at all.

So this “pit bull attack” – featured nationally, on FOX News, is nothing more than two very playful dogs who would really like this reporter to throw the stick/microphone she’s carrying so that they can fetch it – and despite that she reacts in the dumbest way humanly possible (Pssst! Scared? Be a tree – just like kids do!), she gets away. Having been on the receiving end of actual dog attacks, let me tell you – they don’t look or sound anything like that.

“Pit bull attack?” Hardly. “Friendly dogs try to play with dumbass?” Yep.

Posted in Fun Videos | 4 Comments

One of Those Dogs: Charlie Angel

Returns are a fact of life for rescues, as difficult as they can be. A responsible rescue commits to the animals they take in for life and acts as the backup for them should they ever be in need or in danger. This is as it should be; but there are those returns that break your heart. Meet Charlie.

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Charlie was adopted as just a young pup back in 2011 and he’s now between two and three years old. His family obviously raised him right – he loves all people, he loves kids, he loves to play, he loves other dogs. He is obedient and knows commands. On his return questionnaire his family had absolutely nothing but praise for Charlie, not a bad thing to say about him. But they have another child on the way and they’re concerned that with multiple children in the house that they won’t have enough time for him – plus they’re nervous because there will now be multiple kids in the house, and Charlie is one of Those Dogs.

When Charlie was a very young pup it was probably difficult to tell what breed he was. Now that he’s mature he has the look of some sort of pit bull type mix. I couldn’t tell you if he was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix or an American Staffordshire Terrier mix or an American Pit Bull Terrier mix or multiple combinations thereof or none of them at all – no one can tell just by looking – and I don’t think it matters a whit. All dogs are individuals and deserve to be judged as such, and with Charlie we know what we’ve got: a wonderful, loving, friendly family dog.

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One thing Charlie Angel does not like is kennels. He’s been around people and kids his entire life; he likes to play with dogs and people and be in the middle of everything. Being isolated in a concrete run and surrounded by strange and excited barking dogs in the kennel frightens him and he spends his days stressed out and running back and forth, looking for his people. At Pets Alive Westchester they recognized that living in a kennel would be bad for Charlie so he spends his days behind the front desk, playing with other dogs and meeting and greeting the staff, volunteers and visitors to the lobby.

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After about a month back at PAW we thought Charlie was out: a woman met him and fell in love with him. It’s so easy to fall for that outgoing personality of his. On the day he was to be picked up she backed out of the adoption. Her family had announced that they would no longer come to see her if she harbored one of Those Dogs in her home.

I know there’s a home out there for Charlie. He’s young and healthy and friendly and perfect. I know there’s a family with kids that he will love and play with and snuggle and protect for his whole life. And I know that there is someone who will take every opportunity to teach the people around them how loyal and loving and perfect one of Those Dogs can be, even though that can sometimes be difficult, and some people don’t understand. Because Charlie is spectacular, and he deserves it.

Please come meet Charlie. There’s no earthly reason for this dog to wait another day to meet the people who will love him forever.

Update 6/8/13

This afternoon one of Those Dogs was adopted by some of Those People. Congratulations to you all, and thanks to everyone who shared his story! Have a great life, Charlie!

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Posted in Dogs, Pets Alive Westchester, Shelter Stuff | 6 Comments

A Huge Success From Maddie’s Fund and the Mayor’s Alliance

I posted something similar on my Facebook page but I wanted this to be here as well, public and searchable.

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve had differences with Maddie’s Fund and the Mayor’s Alliance – but rarely, if ever, do I have issues with adoption drives! This past weekend Pets Alive and Pets Alive Westchester Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 4.48.45 PMparticipated in an adoption event sponsored by Maddie’s and administrated locally through the Mayor’s Alliance that resulted in approximately 214 animals going into homes just from those two organizations, many of whom had been pulled from shelter kill lists. In the New York City area more than 50 rescue groups participated and more than 1600 animals were adopted, meaning that Pets Alive was responsible for around 1/8th of their New York area total – an amazing accomplishment! Nationwide the promotion resulted in more than 6500 animals finding new homes. I am profoundly grateful to them for creating, financing, producing, and supporting this event and greatly look forward to participating in it next year. It was a truly wonderful and worthy event.

Posted in Maddie's Fund, Mayor's Alliance, New York City, Pets Alive, Pets Alive Westchester | Leave a comment