Happy Friday! Weekend, here we come! Let's celebrate with an adoption spotlight.
In March of last year, a big, fluffy bear of a dog arrived at the shelter, and we promptly christened him 'Goliath'. He was the essential gentle giant of a dog - we all fell in love with him!
We don't know anything about Goliath's history, and we wish we could hear his background story. How did this sweetheart come to be wandering around the county, lost and alone? It just doesn’t make sense - he’s such a wonderful dog! Sadly, he wasn’t microchipped, and we may never know his background story.
We knew he might be a tougher dog to place, as not nearly as many folks have room for a fluffball this big. Goliath was with us for almost a month, and he was starting to feel very blue.
And then his lucky day arrived! A wonderful family came to visit Goliath, but they wanted to be sure he'd fit in perfectly, so they took the time to make a second visit with their dog Skuder for a meet-and-greet, and it went fantastic! We were so excited when Goliath went to his new home!
Our big boy is now named Fenway - a distinguished name for a very handsome doggo! His new brother Skuder is his best friend, and those are two SPOILED boys! A BIG thank you to Amber and Jackie for seeing the heart of gold under the shaggy coat.
But Goliath’s happy ending might not have happened. Amber and Jackie didn’t know for sure whether their dog Skuder would take well to a new arrival, and although Goliath liked most dogs he met it’s always nerve-wracking to introduce a new dog to your home, especially a big one. Amber and Jackie are very responsible, careful owners, and they took great care to do proper introductions.
On the first visit, they came alone and spent lots of time with the dogs, making sure Fenway was the perfect match they thought he would be. Then they made a second appointment to come back with Skuder. We loaded up Fenway and met at the local park for the two dogs to meet and enjoy a good walk together. They even got to play just a little! After this, they were able to take Fenway home and continue slowly and carefully introducing the two dogs, who today are the very best of friends.
If you aren’t sure how your dog would get along with a buddy, always feel free to take things slowly with an adoption. We are happy to do meet-and-greets, multiple times if needed. Slow, careful introductions in a neutral setting can make all the difference to starting a new friendship off on the right paw! We are so glad that Fenway's family took the time to bring Skuder over and arrange a meet-up between the two dogs. They weren't sure if it would work out, but they took the opportunity to give a very deserving dog a chance...and they couldn't imagine life without him now!
Happy Tails, Fenway! We are very proud of you!
Happy Friday dear friends! It’s time for an Adoption Spotlight!
So, who remembers Cricket?! This adorable little fluffball came into our shelter as a county stray. We don’t know her history, but she broke all of our hearts when she arrived one cold November day. Cricket had severe mange and was missing more than half of her thick black fur. She was covered in sores from scratching her itchy skin incessantly, and she was freezing! Despite already having a full shelter, this little one had nowhere to go and we couldn’t turn her away. She was brought in before open hours whilst we were still cleaning the shelter and we scooped her up in a towel and settled in a kitty kennel whilst we finished feeding and caring for the shelter pets, then it was straight into a medicated bath for our newest little girl! She was so pitiful but loved to be held. Before we were able to get a skin test to be sure whether or not her mange was contagious we would suit up in gloves, an overshirt, and an apron to snuggle her and put soothing ointment on her skin.
Over her first week at the shelter Cricket was of course on special medications from the vet for her skin but she also got lots of soothing baths and ointment applied several times a day. She was missing so much fur that she wore a little sweater 24/7 to keep her warm!
Cricket was only in the shelter for ten days...some of our wonderful supporters came in and simply fell in love! They couldn’t resist the sweet little pup who followed everyone around and sat on your feet the moment you stood still, who loved to be held and would go limp in your arms like a contented baby.
Cricket (now Maxi!) went home with Josh and Brianne in her little plaid coat, and she’s been spoiled rotten ever since! She has the sweetest doggie sister who she adores and gets to go on lots of adventures with her family. This is how they describe her - “She is the sweetest, funniest girl you’ll ever meet. She loves to nap and give you the best hugs! She still thinks she’s the size of a puppy, even though she’s 77 pounds. Her and her sister Bella love to play, especially in the mud. She also LOVES car rides and running with me! We couldn’t imagine our life without our baby girl and we are so thankful for you guys and all that you do for the animals in Madison County!”
However, it wasn’t just her name and her home that changed for this sweet girl. After a few weeks at home she started to grow her lovely thick black fur in and stopped itching altogether, and was so much happier. But the first time she came back for a visit, none of the staff recognized her. She had grown, yes, but it wasn’t just the 5 ½ months of growth that confused us. It wasn’t even her healthy, soft fur, so different from when she arrived at the shelter. You see, when Cricket came to us, we were SURE she was a little Newfoundland mix puppy. Positive. She had the great big paws, the droopy face, the teddy bear coat, and it sure looked like she would grow to be the enormous size of a Newfie!
But the ‘teenaged’ dog that visited our shelter fundraiser looked nothing like a Newfoundland! Maxi was tall, sleek, long-legged, with a short coat and lab ears. We were baffled! Now, Maxi’s family adore her just how she is, and they wouldn’t love her any less whatever her breed mix may be, but each time we meet we all laugh over how much a puppy can change on the journey to adulthood, and we share her story with many prospective adopters.
You see, often times adopters want to know the exact breed of a puppy they are interested in, and that’s ok. But whilst we understand their curiosity, the struggle for shelters and rescuers is that we often receive dogs and pups with no information as to their backgrounds, and in the case of puppies we don’t always get to meet mama, and seldom dad. We do our best to guess breed mixes based on size, behavioural traits, and physical clues such as coat, ears, and the general shape of the dog, but oftentimes our shelter dogs are mixed from so many sources that we can’t really tell what went into them! We can give a rough estimate as to how big we think they will get, but even that’s not certain.
So whenever you adopt, we will be honest and upfront. We will let you know what breeds we THINK you new dog has in their DNA, but we won’t make promises. We will encourage adopters to be open-minded, and to consider carefully the choice of puppy. If you need to know for sure that a dog won’t get over a certain size, we often encourage the choice of a full-grown, adult dog rather than a pup. And we will often tell you the story of the ‘Newfoundland mix’ pup who was nothing but!
We were right about one thing, though. That dog’s heart is 100% gold. And that’s what really matters.
Today’s Adoption Spotlight focuses on a very special girl who many of you will recognize - Sweetie! We know many of our supporters followed her story with sympathy and interest, and we are thrilled and proud to share her happy ending with you all!
Sweetie arrived at our shelter via City Animal Control, after being picked up running in the city. We don’t know how she got there, but we were horrified to see the shape she was in. Sweetie was utterly filthy, covered in ticks, exhausted, miserable, painfully thin...and worst of all, she was full of milk and evidently had puppies needing her. We put an appeal out on Facebook, and thanks to someone who has spotted her previously we were able to go on a rescue mission - several staff members came into the shelter on a Sunday night to team up and find those babies!
We took Sweetie (who by now was clean, de-ticked, and had a full belly and a chance to rest) along with us, with baskets and kennels to carry the puppies, blankets, and other supplies. We didn’t know for sure what we would find - how old would the pups be? How many were there? How long had they been alone (from mama, we guessed a day at the most) and would they still be safe - or alive?
We had hoped Sweetie might be able to guide us to her pups once we were in the general location, but once we arrived the poor girl withdrew into herself. She was terrified and did not want to be there, and simply lay down in the grass and refused to move. One person stayed with her while the rest of us searched possible hiding places by flashlight. Mosquitoes buzzed, odd cars sped by on the highway, and the coyotes howled in the surrounding woodland. An old vehicle stood in the grass, covered by a tarp...and a glance at the right moment showed a little flash of white fur! Scrambling over, we found a pile of squirmy, hungry pups, who quickly started to squeal when moved! Pulling them out and counting, we found nine babies, about ten days old, alive, and safe! Everyone was quickly loaded into the safety of the car, and we headed back to the shelter.
There, in a warm, safe place, we slowly reintroduced Sweetie to her pups. She was incredibly stressed and unsure, but gradually settled down and was able to finally feed her babies. Our staff spent several hours gently cleaning the babies, who were filthy and covered in fleas, but by the end of the night we had three exhausted but very happy staff members (and one super volunteer who was a STAR all evening!) and a comfortable, contented mama dog nestled in warm, soft blankets, with food and water to hand, curled around nine little fat-bellied and sleeping pups.
Over the following weeks and days, we relieved an overworked Sweetie whenever we could - being sure she had plenty of high-quality, nutrient rich food as she gradually gained weight, giving her time to rest and relax away from the pups, and getting to know her. The pups doubled in weight with amazing rapidity - they were growing like weeds! Sweetie was very stressed at first, and it wasn’t until the pups got a little older and began the gradual weaning process that we got to see more of her personality emerge. She was a careful and protective mama bear who watched over her babies with an eagle eye, but we could see her profound relief when finally the babies were fully weaned and ready to go!
The babies (cute little heeler mixes), were named after vehicles in honor of their first ‘home’ under the old truck - Mazda, Mercedes, Honda, Bentley, BroncoBear, Ferrari, Ford, Lexus, and Nissan. Nissan, however, was given the honorary nickname of ‘Beacon’ - as it was his white coat (with just one black spot on his side) that shone in the flashlight’s beam and helped us to find them!
One of our amazing partner rescues took in the nine puppies and they quickly found amazing forever homes. Sweetie was enjoying some well-earned rest, and loving every minute of it! She finally relaxed completely, job done, and got to be the goofy, happy girl that had been waiting to shine all along. Sweetie loved treats (peanut butter was a huge hit!) playtime, and belly rubs, and received her spay surgery to be sure she wouldn’t have to ever be a mama again! After recovery, microchipping, and finishing up all her vaccines, miss Sweetie was ready to find her very own forever home.
Lots of people were passing by the unassuming little dog with the big, goofy ears, but when Santana saw our video of Sweetie daintily licking peanut butter from a spoon, she HAD to meet her! It was love at first sight - on both sides! We couldn’t be more thrilled - Sweetie got to go to a home with previous heeler experience (they are a VERY special breed and super smart!), lots of land to run and play on, and plenty of adventure! She loves to go for rides with her new mom and enjoys her life as a spoiled princess! She hasn’t lost her love of food and is perhaps a little chunky, but we say she’s earned it! Way to go, Sweetie! We are so proud of you!
We have recently begun posting weekly 'Adoption Spotlight' stories on our shelter Facebook page, sharing the ongoing 'happily ever after' tales of our shelter adoptees with you all. Due to the difficulty of fitting the entirety of these detailed stories into a simple Facebook post, we plan to start sharing longer versions here on our blog! So if you've seen an adoption spotlight and want to know a little more of what went on behind the scenes...this is the place to come!
On January second of 2018, we took a call from the local electric department. One of their technicians had been working at a property out in Madison County and had seen a burned-out trailer home, and scuttling around the house was a skinny, scared dog and her young puppies. He wasn’t sure how to help but contacted the shelter to see if there was anything we could do. While we were working to obtain the address and get permission from law enforcement to be on the property, we received several phone calls from concerned neighbors. It became apparent that these dogs had been alone for at least two weeks, and while neighbors had taken turns dropping off food no-one had been able to take the dogs in, so they were in urgent need of care. They had been all alone for some time before neighbors even spotted them, and were already extremely skinny. The January weather was brutal with overnight temperatures dropping well below zero - barely creeping above freezing even in the daytime. We were scared this rescue mission might prove futile - would the puppies even be alive? Hanging a ‘closed for emergency’ sign on the shelter door, our little team loaded up the old van with supplies (crates, dog food, treats, blankets, and leashes) and headed out into the country. The scene that greeted us was bleak. There were no dogs visible upon arrival, and the only shelter available was an old chicken house, which they had clearly been squeezing into at night.
To our relief and amazement, the mama dog - a beautiful red and tan Doberman, old, skinny, and exhausted - finally came into view, trailed by two of her pups. Our hearts sank for the missing third puppy, as we searched every available hiding place to no avail. You can imagine our relief when, as we loaded the rest of the family into the van, a little brown female came running out of the woods, ears flapping. “Wait for me!” she seemed to say! On the way back to the shelter the pups snuggled down into the puppy pads lining their crate as though they were the warmest, softest thing in the world and fell straight asleep. Grateful mama Blaisey put her head into my hand for the whole ride back to the shelter, with ''Thank you, human.'' shining from her tired eyes.
This crazy rescue mission was followed up by hours of bathing, washing black soot from the dogs’s coats - they had evidently been snuggling in the smouldering remains of the house seeking some warmth, and maybe looking for traces of food.
Mama dog and pups also received a full check-in, including an exam, vaccines, dewormer, flea and tick prevention, and over the next few days we gradually increased their food intake to get them back up to a healthy weight. They had huge appetites and were thrilled with their cozy beds (we let the puppies share a kennel and gave mama a well-earned break with a kennel of her own). In a nod to the tragedy that they had survived, we named mama dog ‘Blaisey’ (Blaze for short!), the two black males ‘Sooty’ and ‘Charcoal’, and the little brown female ‘Ember’.
Blaisey was older and had some ongoing health concerns, and our wonderful friends at Doberman rescue took her in, but her pups stayed with us and after check-ups and lots of TLC became available for adoption!
Sweet Ember was the first to leave, and when she visited us a couple of months ago we were stunned by what a beautiful girl she had grown into! Ember’s family knew she wanted a buddy to play with and now that she was well and truly settled in they were looking to add a doggy sibling to their family. They didn’t find the right match that day, but we were all impressed by how well Ember played with the other dogs at the shelter. She was a little nervous to be back in that environment - did she remember being there before? - but greeted us shyly. We were thrilled for the opportunity to visit with Ember and her family and see just how healthy and happy she looked. Ember’s shining coat and bright eyes were such a change from the scared, filthy little pup that ran from the woods that freezing January day.
We wanted to share our latest Ember update with you all - she now has a doggy sibling whom she adores! She loves her human kiddos too and is so gentle and kind to them all. She's a spoiled girl who loves the couch and knows just how pretty she is!
Ember's life started out really badly, and were it not for several good Samaritans who dropped off food for her and came to us for help, she would never have made it. We are so grateful we were able to help this family and that we made it there in time, and we are thrilled to see the updates from Ember's new, spoiled life! What a contrast between her first Christmas; abandoned, alone, slowly starving, and her second; loved, warm, snuggling on the couch with her forever family and a full belly. Way to go, Ember!!!
It's only thanks to you, our supporters, that this kind of lifesaving work can happen. We want to thank you for your love for the animals of Madison county, and we appreciate your continued help as we move into a new year! Each rescue mission comes with a cost - the cost of food, supplies, medical necessities, veterinary care, staff to do this work, and when the pets are ready, spay or neuter surgery to prevent more unwanted pups - these are just a few of the things your donations provide. Electricity to keep the shelter cozy in winter and cool in summer. Cots to give our cats and dogs comfortable sleeping places off the floor - for many of them, this is a brand-new luxury. Blankets, toys, treats...and lots of disinfectant and cleaning supplies to keep everything squeaky clean! There’s no way any of this would be possible without you. Thank you, dear supporters, from the bottom of our hearts!
And a huge thank you goes out to sweet Ember’s family for choosing to adopt and save a life!
The phone rings. Someone says, “Hi! What kind of dog is the brown dog that you just posted on Facebook?”
And naturally, we respond, “We think it’s a Labrador or Catahoula or….?”
We have this conversation or at least one along the same lines over and over. In most cases, it really doesn’t matter; people are just curious. But in other circumstances, the answer can be the difference between the life and death for a dog.
A study from the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida has shown that expert assessments are unreliable. We already knew this to be true, but findings are far reaching and affect everything from apartments to insurance companies. We know visual breed identification is unreliable at best, what can we do about it?
We take measures to try to identify dogs by methods other than breed identification. We typically agree on a couple things like calling the dog a brown dog or it’s a small dog. It’s an American Shelter Dog.
Looks can be deceiving.
What do you think? Here is the link to the DNA Survey.
Thank you for reading.
Shonna Harvey, Director
Although this is a few days late for National Cat Health Month, we wanted to spotlight a growing concern for cats in our area, and what we can do to help.
Our Director, Shonna was speaking to Dr. Chris at the Huntsville Vet Clinic this week, and learned that they have already seen two cats suffering from Cytauxzoonosis, more commonly known as ‘Bobcat Fever’, which makes this the earliest in the year they have dealt with this problem.
Cytaux is a tick-borne illness affecting felines, spread primarily by Lone Star Ticks. Bobcats are the ‘host’ animal, and carry the disease. A tick will bite the affected Bobcat, and then carry the infection to domestic cats. Cytauxzoonosis is a horrible, painful disease with a sudden onset, and a cat can go from seemingly healthy to death’s door within 24 hours. Until very recently there were almost no survivors amongst domestic cats infected with the disease. Recent strides in veterinary medicine have pushed the survival rates up, and now, if the illness is caught early enough and treatment commenced immediately, a healthy cat can have an almost 60% chance of pulling through.
Bobcat Fever is present throughout a number of states with high tick populations but is on the rise at an alarming rate here in our own Madison County. The last two or three years have seen a steady increase of cases, while numbers remain low in nearby areas, such as Fayetteville and Rogers. Heavily wooded, rural areas see the most cases, where wild animals carry large numbers of ticks.
The first signs of illness are typically extreme lethargy and a disinterest in eating and drinking. The cat’s temperature will soar, sometimes as high as 106f, and often the cat will hide away. Another sign that we have personally noticed in affected cats is that their eyes will seem half-closed, slanted, and slightly puffy.
If you think your cat may have contracted Bobcat Fever, it is imperative to get them to a vet as quickly as possible so that treatment (which usually consists of strong antibiotics, pain management, and fluid administration) can begin immediately. If a cat is too sick to pull through they deserve a chance to be humanely euthanized, as death from Bobcat Fever is extremely painful.
All this can be very scary, and the obvious question is - how can I keep this from happening to my cat? The best answer is to avoid exposure to tick bites as much as possible. Indoor cats are obviously much less likely to contract the disease (although they can be brought into contact with ticks by another pet), and outdoor cats in wooded or rural areas are most at risk.
It is ESSENTIAL to use a good, high-quality tick prevention, especially throughout months when ticks are active. Frontline Plus and PetArmor Plus are two options, but our personal favourite is a 30-day topical product named ‘Catego’, which is new to the market but seems very effective in not only killing ticks AFTER they bite the pet but in REPELLING ticks to stop bites before they happen. This is the only product that repels ticks.
It is also helpful to treat yards and, if possible, surrounding areas with a pet-safe tick prevention product, and of course it is important to treat all other pets.
As a shelter we want to help by educating local cat owners about the disease, providing flea and tick medications to those in need whenever we are able, and by taking stray cats in need of care into our shelter and helping to spay and neuter. It takes a village to save our pets, and we are deeply grateful to all the donors, sponsors, rescuers, and volunteers that enable us to move forward with this work. If you see a cat in need, don’t hesitate to contact us, and if you would like advice or more information please feel free to call us.
For obvious reasons, shelter data is essential to the no-kill movement. How do you know the scope of the problem that needs to be solved if shelters don’t publish or make available? Essential information includes the number of animals entering the system; the number of animals who died while in the shelter’s care; the number of animals killed, along with for the reasons they were killed; and the number of animals returned to their family, adopted to a new home or placed with a rescue organization.
The number of animals being killed in shelters each day is now more accurately marked at slightly over 4,100 — down from the 5,500 per day— or 1.5 million annually.
We are committed to ending the killing, and we know that you are as well. The only animals euthanized at our shelter during 2017, were animals that did NOT sustain a quality life or presented a danger to humans, due to aggression (one dog). There were two litters of kittens that passed away shortly after birth. We are proud to be a no-kill shelter.
Year End Results for 2017:
460 total, animal intakes
442 total, live outcomes
22 total, all other outcomes (died or euthanized)
289 total, canine intakes
285 total canine live outcomes
3 total canine all other outcomes
171 total, feline intakes
157 total, feline live outcomes
19 total feline all other outcomes
A video from a few of our moments in 2017. https://youtu.be/tE-mPf3dN40
A nursing mother dog, dragging her emaciated body on paws torn and bleeding to the closest humans to beg help for her pups, born and raised alone in a barn.
A weak and starving kitten, wracked with infection, losing his eyesight, freezing in the cold and rain.
Litter after litter of pups and kittens - ‘oopsie’ litters from overwhelmed families, helpless babies abandoned in boxes on the pavement or dropped one at a time at different homes stretched over miles of county road, left to fend for themselves or to die.
A tiny dog dropped over an eight-foot chain-link fence in the dead of night.
Illnesses, injuries, abandonment...crisis follows crisis in a ceaseless flow. Midnight calls, racing to the shelter, trekking across fields to find a lost pet, sitting up til midnight with a birthing cat, driving through the wee hours to send dogs to a better life...picking up the broken pieces of animal lives shattered by careless humans.
This is the life of the shelter worker. Day after day, unbelieveable and hard, and many tears are shed.
What keeps us going? What pulls us back into this crazy world to lose our hearts again and again?
The first snuggle from a dog who is learning to trust. The look of wonder in their eyes as they snuggle into a warm bed with a full belly...maybe for the first time ever.
The hiss and snarl of a feral kitten melting into a rumbling purr.
The shining joy on the faces of a family as they adopt a pet for the first...or the fourth...time.
Healed bodies, fat bellies, wriggling pups with quick little tongues and wagging tails.
Because now -
The mama dog, Laci, is safe and warm, puppies weaned and wounds healed, loved and secure with a wonderful family.
The sick kitten, Graham, one-eyed, fat, and spunky, is bringing joy and light to the life of a lonely older lady.
The little dog dropped over the fence, Bubbles, is spoiled rotten along with her doggie siblings, riding to work each day with her owner and claiming the couch at night.
The work goes on, but it fills our hearts with joy to look back over the year gone by and reflect on lives saved, and new hope.
For while we certainly butt up against some of the worst of human nature, we also get to see some of the best. We have volunteers that get out of bed at 2am to drive hours in the dark to send dogs to new homes. We have those who show up faithfully week after week to hold and comfort cats, to get dogs out of the shelter for walks and playtime. Other folks provide food, toys, supplies and funds to keep the shelter going.
Foster families open their homes to those in need of a little extra care and the comfort of a home - sometimes for a few days, sometimes for weeks. Bottle moms get up night after night to feed tiny orphan kittens by hand. Some people spread the word, raise awareness, share pictures of pets looking for a home over and over and cry tears of joy when they finally see the happy adoption update.
This Christmas, we are grateful to everyone who plays a part in helping us save lives. No gift is too small, no time given is without meaning. This Christmas, we look back with joy on all the dogs and cats we lost our hearts to this year, and we smile to know that they are safe, warm and loved for the holidays. Because, when all is said and done, love is the greatest gift of all. And love, you know, makes the shelter world go round.
Merry Christmas to you all, from everyone at the shelter - four-legged and two-legged alike!
When it comes to a badly injured or unpredictably aggressive animal, even a “no kill” shelter has to call it quits. Zoie, a young 82-pound Rottweiler, was both of the above. By the time she arrived at Paws and Claws Pet Shelter she’d been through numerous homes, tossed out of all of them due to her cat-killing and chicken-massacring ways. At some point in her young life she had been hit by a car, as x-rays revealed a badly healed rear leg lacking the cartilage necessary to keep bone from rubbing against bone. All that could be done was to put her on anti-inflammatory drugs for life.
Still, it was hoped that the right home could be found for such a dog, and for many weeks the staff tried to find her one. The trouble was, she might ignore or suddenly try to attack another animal through the chain link fence that separates the runs. Zoie’s fate was sealed over the weekend, when she managed to escape from her kennel and launched herself at a Shelter worker carrying a dog that was recovering from its second knee surgery. (Fortunately, neither one was injured.) Now, sadly, there was nothing left to try.
This is the third time a dog has been euthanized at the shelter in 2017. The “no kill” mandate is taken very seriously, but sometimes there is no other option. The first was an elderly black Lab with a head tumor and huge, open sores, all filled with hundreds of deeply embedded maggots. More recently, Animal Control brought in a young Labrador-whippet with a broken back. Surgery was not possible. In both cases euthanizing was necessary to relive the dogs’ suffering.
Zoie was different because, to outward appearances, she was young and healthy. True, she was certainly in chronic pain from the leg injury, but the main problem lay with her unpredictability. One minute she’d be indifferent to another dog outside her kennel; the next, she was lunging frantically against the mesh, trying to fight it. Such behavior made her impossible to adopt out.
The difficult decision was made to have Zoie put down. The staff gathered around her, saying their good-byes, then Jasmine, the Animal Care Manager, and Jennifer, the Kennel Tech, took Zoie to the vet’s office. To keep Zoie from seeing and possibly attacking other dogs, the two women took her into a secluded corridor and knelt on the floor beside her, offering treats and gentle comfort while they waited.
Finally, the vet arrived with a syringe filled with Telazol, a pre-anesthetic to make Zoie groggy. “We never want to euthanize a dog that’s awake,” said Jasmine. “Because,” Jennifer explained, “the animal is frightened and anxious, and the last thing to stop is the heart.” Within minutes Zoie was deeply relaxed, her head cradled in Jasmine’s lap, while Jennifer gently stroked the dog’s flank and paws. “There hasn’t been a single time that I haven’t second-guessed this,” Jasmine admitted, fighting back tears, as the vet and his assistant returned with a second syringe.
Slowly, the bright pink medicine was injected into a vein. All four humans knelt on the floor as the big dog took four deep breaths, then was silent. The vet examined Zoie’s pupils for dilation, felt for a pulse, and listened for a heartbeat. “I don’t hear anything,” he said finally, removing his stethoscope. She was gone.
Jasmine removed Zoie’s bright purple leash and the women placed the big body in a heavy plastic bag, to join other bodies in the vet’s freezer. At last Jasmine and Jennifer did not have to hold back their tears. Does it ever get any easier? “No,” said Jasmine. “If it does, you need to get out.” Jennifer, a veteran of many years of working in a veterinary office, was adamant: “It shouldn’t be easy.”
These women have taken care of Zoie from the day she arrived at the Shelter, bathed and fed and worked with her, in the hope that she would find a permanent home. Now they have stayed beside her until the end, holding, comforting, and speaking lovingly to her through the entire ordeal. They continued to murmur gently to her, long after she stopped breathing.
“Good dog. Good dog.”
The comment was made at a workshop for non-profits to improve their networking, media or fund-raising skills. One by one we went around the room, introducing ourselves and our organizations. “I’m ___, and I’m with Paws and Claws Pet Shelter, in Huntsville, Arkansas. We’re a no-kill facility that finds homes for homeless animals.”
The next person to introduce herself paused as she adjusted her bracelets with perfectly manicured fingertips. “It’s nice that you take care of pets,” she said sweetly, “but what you do is easy. Anyone can find homes for cute puppies and kittens. My organization runs programs for developmentally disabled adults, and that is truly difficult.”
This wasn’t a one-time remark. Everyone who works in animal rescue has been condescended to by those who think we spend our time cuddling puppies and cooing over kittens. Running a shelter, people reason, isn’t real work, given the non-stop adorableness. The trouble was, this woman’s condescending remarks came at the end of an unusually difficult week. The staff had had to deal with problems brought to them by the public: an emaciated cat that died giving birth, an injured dog whose deep lacerations were filled with writhing maggots, and a litter of kittens left on the doorstep in the night, tightly sealed inside a plastic tote that had no air holes.
But good things also happen here – it’s what makes bad days bearable. No two days, no two sad stories – or even two happy adoptions – are alike.
The purpose of this blog is to tell the story of what goes on at Paws and Claws Pet Shelter on a regular basis. The staff is made up of Shelter Director Shonna Harvey, a veteran of over twenty years working in the field of animal rescue, and employees Jasmine Hill, Vanessa Taylor and Jennifer Bolinger. Asked why they do what they do – because there are certainly easier, cleaner and less stressful jobs – each one pauses. “I can’t not do this work,” Harvey says finally. “It’s who I am.” Jasmine Hill, the Animal Care Manager, says she never expected to become so deeply involved in shelter work but, “Once you start, it’s not something you can walk away from.” Taylor, who previously worked with preschool-aged children, as well as in Eldercare, echoes Harvey’s description of such work being a calling. “I feel called to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” says Taylor, who serves as Office Manager and Kennel Tech. Jenn Bolinger, also a Kennel Tech who spent years working in a veterinary office, says she wants to make a difference in animals’ lives, giving them help, support, safety and the second chance they deserve.
In addition to this staff, Paws and Claws has a large, unpaid supporting cast that includes the women who run a Thrift Cottage that raises money for the Shelter, a Board of Directors tasked with fund-raising, and a long list of volunteers. These volunteers run a monthly bingo fund-raiser, walk dogs and tame feral kittens, drive dogs to transports headed to other shelters, foster animals in their homes when the shelter is at capacity (which it almost always is) and serve in a many other areas. There are also approved rescue partners (no-kill shelters and rescues around the country who take our animals) as well as loyal local supporters and donors. Some days it really does take a village.
It wasn’t always this way. Less than four years ago Paws and Claws had one of the highest euthanasia rates in the reporting area (74 percent), but became a no-kill shelter when hiring Harvey. This amounts to more than having a policy of not killing dogs and cats to make room for more dogs and cats. With only eight dog kennels, one small room housing cats and kittens, and an even smaller quarantine room, there simply isn’t space for the volume of animals awaiting adoption. This means sending dogs to other no-kill shelters and breed-specific rescues across the country, and holding spay/neuter clinics in an attempt to decrease the tsunami of canines and felines pouring into the Shelter.
“We all feel personally responsible for every animal that needs us,” Harvey says of her staff and volunteers. “It hurts deeply when we’re told by someone, ‘I don’t have time to help this animal – I’ll just kill it.’”
In future blogs we plan to tell you about the goings on at Paws and Claws Pet Shelter, through stories about the animals we serve, and the people who adopt them. The accounts will be true, and honest, and we’ll try to strike a balance between gritty reality and the pleasures of kitten-cuddling.
Though unsigned, this blog reflects the beliefs and stories of everyone associated with the Shelter, and may be written at various times by staff, volunteers or board members.