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Year of the Shelter Animal

ASPCA Animal Watch- Summer 1997


Year of the Shelter Animal

The first shelter animals cared for in the United States officially were given recognition in the mid-19th century, when organizations around the country modeled programs after Henry Bergh’s American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Often these animals were horses and livestock, though dogs certainly were not uncommon. In contrast, the majority of animals in today’s shelters are dogs and cats. Modern shelters also handle almost every other kind of animal known to mankind. Talk to shelter workers and you will hear stories of tarantulas, lions, snakes, pot-bellied pigs, iguanas, sugar gliders, goats, hedgehogs, alligators, rabbits, peregrine falcons, monkeys, wallabies, leopards, pigeons, turtles and even elephants. No matter the species, today’s shelter animal is truly any animal in need.

The one thing all shelter animals have in common is that they are no longer wanted or can no longer be cared for by their original owner. Animals come to shelters from many different sources, and the common perception that most are old or sick is simply untrue. Many are from unwanted litters. Some are stray, abandoned or lost. Others are seized by cruelty investigators or animal control officers from owners who were cruel or negligent. Some are brought in by police officers from drug raids. Some have bitten or attacked people or other animals. Still others are received because their owners have died or were hospitalized and could no longer care for their beloved pets. Some were purchased from a newspaper advertisement, a pet store or a breeder. Some were gifts from a friend. Still others were returned after being adopted from another animal shelter.

How can we reduce the number of animals in shelter? Is there more we can do to prevent the bonds between animals and owners from being broken? How many shelter animals are there? No one can say with certainty — yet. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), an organization comprised of 11 of the foremost animal organizations (including The ASPCA), is dedicated to finding answers to these questions and others. In1994, the NCPPSP conducted an intensive study at 12 animal shelters in 4 regions of the country to determine the reasons animals are relinquished to animal shelters. Pet behavioral problems was the most common reason given. Others were an owner moving, disputes with a landlord, too many animals in the household, old age or illness, cost of maintenance, allergies and requests for euthanasia due to an animal’s illness.

What happens to animals after they arrive at the shelter? Some are placed in new homes. Others are reunited with their owners. Some are held for long periods of time as evidence in a court case. Still others, such as orphaned birds and mammals, are released to freedom after rehabilitation. Sadly, many others are euthanized, often simply for lack of space. There just are not enough homes for all of them.

Animal shelters were born from the desire to prevent cruelty to animals. They were built to give refuge to homeless creatures, who so often are gentle, healthy, affectionate animals who make wonderful companions. You will read on the following pages just a smattering of the warm and joyous stories your fellow Animal Watch readers so generously shared with us in honor of The ASPCA’s “Year of the Shelter Animal.” Our editors greatly regretted having to choose only a few from the more than 100 submissions they received, every one passionate and profound. We urge you to join us in this celebration by cherishing your own animal. Be his or her best companion!

—Julie Morris, Vice President, ASPCA National Shelter Outreach

As a volunteer at the Cobb County (GA) Animal Shelter, I regularly help to staff remote adoptions on weekends. At the end of one day in May 1993, a single dog remained. She was a small, shy, 6-month-old shepherd/hound mix with ears nearly as long as her tail and a pair of front legs so malformed she bobbed up and down as she walked. The bones in one foreleg are twisted and fused…the other one has an enlarged “elbow” joint. To make matters worse, she was suffering through the onset of demodectic mange. I couldn’t bear the thought of her recuperating from amputation surgery alone and decided she would be “fostered,” but before I left the adoption site, I knew she would become a permanent member of the family. Thankfully, our veterinarian did not agree with the amputation diagnosis and Cinder (short for Cinderella) is living happily ever after. She flies through the backyard, though somewhat lopsided, with her brothers Blackjack and Gambler, and can outrun either of them to the back door when she hears the word
—J. Bennett, Smyrna, GA

My husband, who a year ago didn’t even like cats, knew what he wanted even before we got to the shelter — an all-black kitten. He found her quickly. I did the paperwork; he was afraid if he left her side someone else was sure to get her. I drove us home while the two of them got acquainted in the back seat… Samantha had found a place in his heart. She joined my cat, Rachel, and our household was complete.
—L. Nelson, Colorado Springs, CO

Would you foster them?” the shelter director asked nervously. As if I would say no. I was the executive director’s assistant and a foster care volunteer. Two 3-day-old puppies needed fostering. They were so small, and their eyes were still closed. They looked like big hamsters. Every night I woke up to bottle feed Amanda and Alex — every hour. But I loved it, especially how they held the bottle between their tiny paws. A month passed and I was sad; they would be adopted soon. Fostering is bittersweet — every waking hour is spent caring for them, loving them like they were your very own, and then they are gone. Later they got ringworm, which takes forever to heal. After three months, Amanda recovered and got adopted. Teary-eyed, I kissed her and said goodbye. Alex had stolen my heart, and I could not give him up. So, I adopted him. He is 2 years old now and named Teddy. I love him more than anything.
—J. Winston, Pembroke Pines, FL

I decided to send you not just a story, but a book for middle-grade readers about a shelter animal and the boy who tries and succeeds in making a difference in his life. Big, untrained and unwanted, Train doesn’t seem like a good candidate for a new home, but 10-year-old Calvin refuses to give up on him…

“Calvin opened one of the dog-training books. He read the first lesson on teaching a dog to come and his confidence soared. This was easy! Why, in no time, he and a well-behaved Train would be posing for a dog-book photo.”
—Mary Quattlebaum, Washington, DC, author of “The Magic Squad and the Dog of Great Potential” (Delacorte Press, 1997), and caretaker of eight gerbils and assorted fish.

On our last day in Barbados we spotted this handsome boy loping toward us on the beach — tail held high but noticeably limping. He had a cut on one ear and a bloody gash on his throat. We gave him water, food and lots of cuddles but then had to catch our plane. We couldn’t get him out of our minds, though, and called the hotel the next day. Sure enough, the beach attendants had seen the dog that morning. Two hours later he was at the RSPCA; we asked them to check him out and if everything was OK to keep him for us until we could have him sent to us (we were on assignment in London). They agreed. We named him Bajan, the native slang for Barbadians, sent him care packages, and checked weekly to be sure he was OK. Then one fine day, after a long flight, Bajan arrived safely! He has turned out to be a wonderful, calm, caring dog. He loves car rides, to go shopping, and all who meet him fall in love! On our next trip to Barbados, with Bajan’s consent, we arranged for the RSPCA to acquire a new van. It bears the inscription “BAJAN-MOBILE.”
—R. & D. Taylor, Rancho Mirage, CA

I was training new volunteers at the Sudbury, MA, Buddy Dog Humane Society that Saturday, when I turned the corner and found myself facing the puppy room. There, in the center pen, were the two most adorable, sturdy little boys I ever saw. My heart melted. They were sitting at attention, staring straight ahead — pleading for someone to come pet them. They were not jumping, wiggling, barking, crying — just watching as I approached. As I got closer, they started wiggling all over, and they spent five mintues kissing me. Well, that night my menagerie was increased by one. We were one big happy family, and I was so in love with this pup I couldn’t believe it. He is so gentle, obedient, and sweet. The next day, I was at Buddy Dog when a nice couple adopted the other pup. They named him Brother, and are as in love with him as I am with Bogey. Brother and Bogey attend obedience classes together, where they are star pupils. They are attentive, eager to please, and learn all their commands quickly. Brother’s owner and I meet once weekly for play time with the “boys.”
—J. Queijo, Framingham, MA

Squeaky arrived at the Animals in Distress shelter in Wilton, CT, last August after his owner had been evicted. Squeaky had diseased teeth and inverted eyelashes, which were irritating his corneas. As a volunteer, I had been struck by Squeaky’s friendly, affectionate personality; I took him home to recover and get his strength back between the two surgeries. Now he’s a happy and permanent member of the family, and companion to Fooper, my 14-year-old cat.
—J. Kantor, Westport, CT

The Big Bammers! He was the BEST! At about 12 weeks old, he “made biscuits” (kneading) in his cage at the Nebraska Humane Society. And he smiled. How could I resist? This was 1979. I fought red tape to adopt, as my apartment had a “no pet” policy. This 15-pounder was dramatically grateful, affectionate and loyal…. He ruled our building, which housed eight cats. Bammers adopted a baby brother, Okie, in 1980. By 1986, Bammers needed biannual dental work and was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1994. Diet management gave us two more years of quality time, but in 1996 we found pancreatic cancer. I was forced to say goodbye to my 16-year-old boy. Never have I had a heavier heart. I still had my precious Okie, but my soul mate was gone. I buried him in his favorite basket. A family friend made a special wooden box for him, and we laid him to rest at the family farm. I couldn’t sleep and I mourned deeply. Back at the Humane Society, I selected Snoopy and Mr. Woodstock. Though my Bammers could never be replaced, he would love knowing it required two to fill his space.
—B. Perry, Omaha, NE

When I was 1 year old, my parents brought home a kitten they named Snookums. He was in a shelter and needed a home. The cat adopted me as his trusted friend. He slept on my bed every night. I was the only one he’d accept medication from without a struggle. He developed into a 16-pound, handsome cat… In 1944 I graduated from high school into World War II. Before going overseas, the last thing I did was to say goodbye to my family and to my cat. He was 17, and I knew the future for both of us was uncertain… Two years later I returned. As I started up the front walk, I saw him resting in the sun on the front porch. He sat up, blinked a few times and then hobbled down the steps as fast as he could. My mother’s first glimpse of me was when I was on my knees, patting the old cat who was rolling over and over and purring so loudly she said she could hear him way up at the front door. My homecoming was not greeted with a parade and brass bands, but I was well satisfied. Snookums lived another two years and died at age 21. He has been gone 49 years now, but I still miss him.
—Reverend J. W. Hosmer, Southington, CT

It had been barely three weeks since I’d lost my Emma dear to cancer when I got a call from my supervisor at The Marin Humane Society where I teach dog training. “I know you’re still grieving,” she said, “…but a 6-month old Aussie has just been surrendered, and I think you should take a look.” I was totally in love in less than five minutes. “Too much to handle,” was the reason for surrender, puzzling me, for she seemed exceptionally calm. A few weeks later I discovered why. This dog was suffering from severe bilateral hip dysplasia that was just beginning to show in her movements; the pain kept her from being very active. Five months and several thousand dollars later, that calm, sweet puppy is known, very affectionately, as The Zoreh Monster. When I just think of her bright eyes and ready-for-anything demeanor I break into a big grin. The people who gave her up will never know what a great dog they missed out on. I can’t imagine life without Zoreh!
—J. Dudley, Forest Knolls, CA

We adopted our two American Shorthair cats from the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, NJ. We were volunteering there for about two months when we met Marble and Bandit. They were brothers, 1-month-old, and each had severe infections in their eyes; Bandit in his right eye and Marble in his left. The shelter veterinarian did all she could to save their eyes. Unfortunately, the infections were too bad and she had to remove the eyes. Working at the shelter we were able to see the uncomfortable reaction of people who came in to adopt kittens. We were afraid no one would adopt one-eyed kittens. To our great fortune, no one did, and we adopted them October 1, 1994. The hair has completely grown over the area where each eye was. They function remarkably well. They run, jump and play as “normal” cats should. Marble and Bandit are wonderful, loving babies we wouldn’t trade the world for.
—K. & J. Smith, Asheville, NC

At 7, nearly toothless, unneutered, with assorted medical problems, he seemed unadoptable — to most. Yet the moment we saw Simon it was evident that despite neglect and abandonment, he’d also learned to love and trust. Reflected in those soulful eyes are the hopes of all forgotten animals and their extraordinary ability to love and trust again.
— C. Leinbach, Wyomissing, PA

I adopted the love of my life, MoJo Maholo Simba Engel, four years ago from the MaxFund. As a volunteer, I received their newsletter and read about this sweet tabby who’d been tossed in a dumpster and brought to the shelter. From this horrid experience, he was blinded. We’ll deal with additional health problems, chronic conditions, for the rest of his life… MoJo has to take antibiotics nearly every day. He is such a sweetheart about it, never fighting me during what I know is a procedure he’d rather live without. I must say, my little guy is in great shape! His energy is boundless and his yearly check-ups have brought only good news. I love to take him out for a walk — yes, we conquer the terrain around my condo whenever the weather permits. I put MoJo on a leash and we’re greeted by amazed residents who can’t believe a cat can be trained to walk on a leash. Walk? Goodness! Sometimes we even run. Having MoJo in my life is a true blessing and one I recognize every day. He faces life with courage and a never-ending cheerful disposition.
—M. Engel, Aurora, CO

I got Rudy from the local animal shelter when she was roughly 3-months-old. She was my first dog and I was a very proud mother. I sent out birth announcements to family and friends with her picture enclosed. I was the perfect combination of a new mother and grandmother — constantly taking pictures of her, bragging about her to all my co-workers and spoiling her rotten. But she deserved it. Rudy was faithful and loyal. She was always following me, wanting to know where I was going and what I was doing. Who’s the mother here? For only $60, I received a beautiful, happy, intelligent dog from the animal shelter. What a small price to pay for bringing so much joy into my life. Now that Rudy has died, there is an emptiness in my life that can’t be filled. This is testament to how much I loved her, but also to the depth of a human-animal relationship.
—K. Williams, Winston-Salem, NC

As my gaze moved around the cages, I felt two pairs of eyes watching from one cage; both cats eager to be held, sweet and soft. I went home and thought a lot. At 65, with no immediate family, I decided these two little fellows and I needed each other, so I went back to “claim” them. Frosty (the tabby) and Koko (the gray) are a great pair, who love to play, tussle, groom each other — and EAT!
—G. Erb, Gainesville, FL

I got Barkley from the Orlando Humane Society a month after my husband died. She was a 9-month-old shepherd mix and very affectionate, and the first dog I’ve raised alone… I celebrate her birthday on Thanksgiving, for what a blessing she is! She’s 9 now, a little slower, but a wonderful watchdog and devoted companion. I am so grateful to have been able to rescue her.
—K. Andrews, Winter Springs, FL

We named her Ruby after a blind, wise old Native American in a book we both had read. And Ruby was indeed wise, communicative and deeply loving, beyond my wildest dreams. Caring for her through a number of illnesses and surgeries made us so much more sensitive to the plight of creatures everywhere, both domesticated and wild. I think we’ve become more accepting and loving in general, because of Ruby.
—C.S. Van Cott, Park Forest, IL

Panda joined us after a visit to the SPCA in Garner, NC, in June 1992. A shy little black-and-white puppy with two big, black eyes, she captured our hearts. Panda was part of a family of abandoned puppies who were brought in. We suspect she is a mix of Greyhound and Border collie. Five years and 70 pounds later, Panda is an absolutely wonderful companion and we feel very fortunate to have her. Her shyness quickly changed to friendliness — she truly enjoys being around people. There are many things we love about Panda, including her gentle disposition, her intelligence and patience, how she greets us at the door when we come home and lays at our feet wherever we are in the house. We consider Panda an important member of our family. She brings us much joy and serenity. Simply put: Panda makes life better.
—L. & J. Beta, Suwanee, GA

I named her Amazing Grace even though she seemed to lack almost every canine social skill, and on her first day home proceeded to thoroughly trash my apartment. That night I turned off the light and climbed into bed. Like a frightened child, she immediately pounced on the bed, shoving her head under my arm until I lifted the covers for her, after which she curled into a ball next to my body and sighed. My fate was sealed. Gracie spent the next 17 years irritating almost everyone I knew, including roommates and two successive husbands. I loved her desperately even as she destroyed my record collection, opened my refrigerator, buried Thanksgiving turkey in my couch, jumped through the second story window of my summer rental and tried to start my car. In spite of her misdeeds, she returned my affection a million times over with humor and her very own brand of “grace.” —M. Keller, Yorktown Heights, NY

We have three wonderful dogs from the Orlando Humane Society. We had been at the shelter donating supplies when we noticed Dixie following one of the volunteers. My husband said she looked familiar; he remembered her one blue and one brown eye. We had indeed seen her six months before — this was her second time at the Humane Society. Her owners said she was not housebroken, jumped fences and dug up the yard. To top it off, she is at least part pit bull. No one would take her, so we did. She was 1-1/2 years old. All claims about her were false. She is the most affectionate dog we have ever met. She was very fearful of women and very skittish, but we are proud to say she has come a long way. She is now 5 years old and a happy part of our family.
—S. & M. Larson, Nashville, TN

As soon as I walked in, a filthy and sickly little kitten jumped down from a platform inside the caged enclosure, stretched, sat down and looked up at me. I told the lady that he “wasn’t what I had in mind” and I started to leave. He reached his little paw through the cage and began waving and yelling at me. I gave in and asked to hold him for just a minute. He purred, kneaded my coat sleeve, and made himself comfortable. Of course, I couldn’t leave him there. He was a very sick kitten, but since he was so adamant for me to take him home I spent the time and expense to help him out. He’s been a loyal and wonderful friend for 11-1/2 years now. Zucker still waits by the window as I drive up, greets me at the door and reaches out for me when he wants my attention. Couldn’t ask for much more than that.
—R. Foley, Kettering, OH

We have adopted 12 dogs in the last 10 years. The most recent three are from the Pomona Valley Humane Society. Taffy, a 3-year-old Bearded Collie, was featured in our local newspaper as Pet of the Week in April 1995. We knew by her expression in the picture that she belonged in our home. We weren’t wrong. She is extremely intelligent and very much in tune with our feelings. Jessica, a 2-year-old retriever/shepherd mix, was the most depressed looking dog in the shelter the day of our visit to find a watch dog. We felt so sorry for her and knew that she deserved a better life. She is such a loving, playful girl, but turned out to be afraid of her own shadow. So much for a watch dog! Our newest is Honey, a 3-year-old adopted in Februrary, 1997. She is a gorgeous rust-colored Terrier mix who looks like a little wolf. She came to us afraid of anyone and is turning into a cuddle bug. Along with our five other dogs, these three return more love and affection to us than we could possibly give to them. Our lives would be so empty without them.
—C. & T. Hallquest, Chino, CA

May I introduce “Sir Ted” — better know to his many friends as Teddy? He came from the Westbrook Animal Refuge (Portland, ME) to share my home, studio and life. I went to the Refuge after my 17-year-old Buffy was put to sleep. She had used up all nine lives and used them well. We are so fortunate to be able to go to these shelters not just to offer the animals a comfortable, loving home but to enrich our own lives with their presence.
—M. Wynn, Yarmouth, ME

As a volunteer at the Animal Care Society in Louisville, KY, I hear many stories about the animals coming to us to be placed for adoption. One of the most dramatic is the story of Spunky, a 5-month-old beagle, who had had a leg broken by a car and, through neglect, the leg had become frostbitten and had to be amputated. When Spunky arrived at A.C.S., he was little more than skin and bones, very weak, with little appetite. To complicate matters, he developed a high fever from infection, and we were afraid that we would lose him. There was something about this little dog which completely won over anyone who came in contact with him at the shelter. And, during this time, our shelter administrator took Spunky under her wing, taking him home each night for special care and bringing him back to work the next morning, where he slept in a place of honor in the office, petted and fussed over by everyone. Spunky did recover, and about six weeks ago he became a loving and much-loved member of our family, “brother” to our two dogs, Max and Lady, and our cat, Clementine. He is very active — runs, plays, jumps up on “his” chair — and seems to thoroughly enjoy life. He certainly has lived up to his name!
—S. Lane, La Grange, KY

Judy came from The ASPCA and Maxine from a street corner in the Bronx. They will never qualify for a fancy dog show, but Judy and Maxine are my top dogs. Four years ago we were walking when I was hit by a van. Both dogs sat by my side, waiting for me to get up. Maxine licked the blood from the cut on my head. When the dogs were taken away by a neighbor, they whined and whimpered. For weeks I remained in a stupor, only responding (often incorrectly) when hospital personnel spoke to me. But when Judy and Maxine visited, I recognized them and called their names —quite remarkable, considering I didn’t know my own name or what happened to me. Judy and Maxine are good company…. They ride on my scooter, pull my wheelchair and give me a reason to get up in the morning.
—D. White, Gainesville, FL

From Shelter to Stardom

“It’s hard to make a living as a clown in this country,” says Johnny Peers, Muttville Comix founder, now with the Big Apple Circus. But in 1974, Peers (below) adopted Freckles, a beagle mix who became his first partner. Since then, Peers and partner Peggy O’Neill have rescued 22 dogs from U.S. and European shelters and made them award-winning circus stars.

Despite controversy over animals in entertainment, dog acts today are getting good reviews. One reason why is that many top performing dogs are shelter rescues.

Madcap Mutts® is another troupe of performing ex-shelter dogs. Owned and trained by Tom Brackney and his wife Bonnie Moore, the troupe has performed since 1991 in Broadway’s Will Rodgers Follies, and at schools and humane societies. What “star qualities” do Brackney and Peers look for in a shelter dog? Energy, agility and a sturdy, athletic build are key. Sometimes the very thing that causes an owner to give up on a dog is just what Brackney or Peers need. Mini, for example, is a Schnauzer mix who bounces straight up in the air. This led her owners to deposit her at a Minnesota shelter, where Brackney and Moore found her.

“Any dog can be a good dog,” says Johnny Peers. “All you have to do is just let them be your best friend.”

—Tracy Basile



If your pet becomes lost…

Animals may be smart, but it’s your job to keep them indoors or supervised closely when outdoors to prevent them from becoming lost. Unfortunately, even the most careful pet owner can lose a pet. Cats and dogs move fast, and a momentary distraction, negligent visitor or accident can mean a missing pet.

A collar and tag are needed, but these can be lost or removed, so we recommend double identification, with tattooing or microchipping. You also should have some good photos to give to shelter staff or use on a lost-and-found poster. If your pet becomes lost, don’t give up. How carefully you search and how resourceful and persistent you are can determine your success. First, start looking immediately!

• Search potential hiding places — under cars, in shrubbery. In cold weather, bang car hoods to rouse cats.
• Canvass your neighborhood, on foot, by car, day and night.
• Tell friends, neighbors, babysitters, mail carriers, etc. Show photos of the pet.
• Visit local shelters in person — a phone call isn’t enough. Check all cages, recovery and isolation wards, bulletin boards and incoming animal areas.
• Then go back again! Shelters must hold strays for a certain amount of time (it varies by location), so find out what the law is in your area.
• Post notices in every outlet you can think of. Offer a reward without mentioning the amount.
• Whistle and call to your pet. He or she may be injured or frightened and unable to reach you. Hearing your voice might encourage an “answer.”
• Advertise in all local newspapers, and stay abreast of “found” ads.
• When you find your pet, immediately ID him or her — TWICE! Don’t let the same mistake happen again!

—Julie Morris

The Heat in Houston

Texas heated up early this summer, as concerned citizens in the Houston area waged a vigorous campaign to oppose pound seizure. Mandated sale of shelter animals to medical researchers has been banned for several years in Houston itself, but was officially sanctioned in surrounding Harris County on March 19, 1996, when the County Commission approved a contract for the Harris County Animal Shelter to sell dogs to Baylor University, the University of Texas, Texas A & M and the University of Houston for use in surgical practice and research experimentation. As if to appease opponents, only animals “unfit for adoption” would be used and experiments would take place under anesthesia, with humane euthanasia to follow. In 1996, 791 Harris County shelter animals met this fate.

With the annual contract up for a vote to renew in April 1997, Joseph Feduccia, a lost-pet advocate, coordinated help from local and animal activists. Victory came on April 1, when the Commission voted 3 to 2 to ban pound seizure across the county. Then, shockingly, one Commissioner, Judge Robert Eckels, asked to revisit the issue, and on May 20 changed his vote, thereby reinstating the seizure law, this time for a three-year period.

Feduccia, who vows to rally all the support needed to again ban pound seizure in all of Harris County, comments, “Animal rights isn’t the only issue here. This is also about families, about the fate of beloved lost companions.”

© 1997 ASPCA

Animal Watch – Summer 1997

Courtesy of

424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804


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