Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Princess – Our Miracle Dog

Today and Thursday we'll have posts for the I <3 Dogs Tour Week. Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! And remember, if you'd like a copy of Vet Tech Tales: Vol 1, just let me know in the comments or by email. I'll be happy to send you a FREE e-copy in the format of your choice.


Today's guest post is by Karen Hartman 

How do you choose just one animal as your favorite? Maybe it’s easy for others. But if you asked parents to choose a favorite child, I think many would balk, saying “Oh, we love Johnnie and Susie equally, just in different ways; we could never pick a favorite.” I feel the same way about animals (maybe because they are the closest things to children in my life). So instead, I’ll tell you about the first dog I had as an adult.

My husband, Tim, and I had recently married. He’d just received his military commission and moved to South Carolina, while I stayed in southwest Ohio for a couple of quarters to finish my graduate degree. That’s when Princess came into my life. 

She was about a year old when I adopted her – a happy little Sheltie who was eager to please. I was a couple of hours from family and didn’t have many friends in the area. Her companionship was a real blessing – it helped make the final months in Ohio fly by.

Princess and I joined Tim in SC, and she quickly acclimated to the new home and to having a man in the house. She was initially scared of Tim (she was always wary of men, especially tall, dark-haired men), but they soon became friends. Tim would come home from work and play with her, which she loved. She tore around the house, twirling in tight little Sheltie circles and jumping up on him, smiling and panting. This became a nightly ritual; I don’t know who had more fun, Tim or Princess!

She learned many tricks: sit, shake, lie down. Tim was in a basic training unit–working with drill sergeants and new recruits–so he was beyond proud when she learned to low-crawl, scooting along the carpet on her belly, like a soldier out in the field. You can imagine how many treats she earned for that trick.

Princess went everywhere with us – boating with our family, hiking in the caves, even walking along the beach when we were stationed in Hawaii. She was a true “Velcro dog” – always within a foot or two of Tim or me, no matter what we were doing. If I was in the kitchen cooking, she’d be right there, sniffing around, trying to find crumbs I had dropped on the floor. When Tim was working at his desk, she would lie on the carpet right by his feet, just enjoying resting beside him. We used to joke that if she were an Indian, her name would have been “Underfoot” – she was constantly that close!

She was there in the bad times, as well. I can remember her sitting beside me on the couch while I was upset about something that had happened that day. She would look into my eyes and listen to me as I talked; it was like she could understand every word. Tim would often share his frustrations with her, too. She was the best therapist we could ever have. 

When we were stationed near Chicago, Princess was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma. We found a great oncologist who was trying a new chemo protocol. He said it would give her at least another eight months, with good quality of life. We gave it a shot. She ended up living more than four years, albeit at a slower pace, ever playful and happy. They called her a miracle dog. And she was, in more ways than one. 

Princess with "Mom" (Karen)

Monday, February 27, 2012


This is an installment in the ongoing Vet Tech Tales series. These Tales are usually Friday features -- except when I forget to actually schedule one to appear on Friday. Oops.


It takes a special kind of person to work with animals. Having an affinity with them and loving them are prerequisites for a career with them, of course, but it doesn’t end there. My first paid day on the job had underscored the basic things that would be required of me if I were truly serious about continuing to be an animal care worker.

Only as the days turned into weeks and then into months did I fully come to understand that working with animals meant working for them too. Veterinary medicine at its core is a service industry, and one in which the balance between doing what’s best for an animal must always be weighed against what the owner wants, what they can afford and what they perceive to be the relationship between their family and their pet.

After just a few days on the job I considered myself an expert on pet owners. Clearly there were only three types: those who loved their pets and treated them like household members, those who neglected the animals in their care and those who outright abused them. At 17 – having grown up in a nice, middle-class neighborhood in the folds of a nice, middle-class family – it was easy to define neglect rather loosely. Any animal that wasn’t pampered and indulged was obviously being neglected. Why the majority of owners were even allowed to keep a pet was beyond my rose-colored judgment. At 17 and brimming with idealism, distinguishing levels of gray was a skill I’d yet to fully develop.

So when Ms. Crane walked in with carrier in hand and a hint of panic in her eyes, I knew only neglect could turn the once-pristine face of her tiny Persian kitten into the hairless, scabby-looking mess it was now. I prepared myself to be outraged, as indignation rather than empathy seemed the easier emotion to conjure.

On closer inspection, once I’d pulled the purring ball of fluff out of the carrier, I saw it wasn’t so much the entire face affected but maybe just the muzzle. And maybe only around the top of the kitten’s nose and across her upper lips.

The ginger-colored kitten purred in my hands while Dr. Norris eyed the lesions. “How long has she been losing hair?” he asked.

Ms. Crane hesitated. When she did answer, she wouldn’t meet the vet’s eyes. “Maybe a week?”

Aha! Guilt and hedging. My suspicions were confirmed.

Dr. Norris flipped off the exam room lights and shined an ultraviolet Wood’s lamp onto the kitten’s face. A few of the hairs surrounding the lesions fluoresced with a tell-tale green glow. “Yep, what I suspected. Ringworm. I’d like to do a culture to be sure, though.”

Ms. Crane shook her head. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

I shuddered. Not only had Ms. Crane waited a week – a week! – to bring her kitten in, she wasn’t going to let Norris confirm the diagnosis.

Gripping the kitten under her forelegs, I swung her out at arms’ length as Norris flipped the lights back on. The kitten’s back feet dangled in mid-air as its purr-motor throttled into high gear. To its delight, I jounced it a bit, and even Ms. Crane cracked a smile as the kitten danced in the air above the exam table.

Such a sweet and funny kitten deserved far better than the life of neglect it seemed destined for.

“Do you have children or other pets at home?” Norris asked. “You probably know ringworm is transmissible to humans and other animals.”

Ms. Crane nodded. “I have a 6-year-old daughter. She and Bonnie are inseparable.”

“Well, they’re going to need to be separated for a while.”

“A little late for that.” Ms. Crane’s voice sounded tired and flat. “I told her not to handle Bonnie so much. It’s my fault really; she’s too young to know any better.”

“Just because she’s been exposed doesn’t mean your daughter will get ringworm,” Dr. Norris pointed out. “But you’ll want to consult with your pediatrician to be sure.”

“That’s just it.” Ms. Crane’s expression twisted to match her rueful sigh. “There was an outbreak of it at my daughter’s school. I’m pretty sure she’s the one who gave it to the kitten. I wanted to bring Bonnie in earlier, but my mother-in-law broke her ankle last week and we’ve been helping out at her house, and I knew the ringworm wasn’t life-threatening, and we’ve all been exposed already anyway, and, well, poor Bonnie just got pushed down the list.” She threw the still air-dancing kitten another half-smile.

I lowered Bonnie to the exam table and she immediately pounced on a stray pen cap that spun out of her claws and across the cold laminate. Grudgingly I had to concede the kitten didn’t appear to be overly suffering as I flicked the pen cap back toward her and she batted it back to me. Bonnie was a happy, well-adjusted kitten with a little girl at home who apparently adored her. The only thing standing between Bonnie and her visit to the vet was a list of other priorities.

Sometimes kittens come third.

And sometimes, as in Bonnie’s case, it’s okay for kittens to come third. Just as it’s sometimes okay for children to come third. Or for the rest of the family to come third. When life is full of priorities, dispassionate triage is often necessary. Hard decisions and delays aren’t the hallmarks of neglect. Prolonged indifference is.   

It wasn’t long after Bonnie that I saw my first case of true neglect. That’s when the ground beneath my 17-year-old idealism shifted, creating new continental formations that readjusted my thinking forever.


Next Tale: "Collared" -- why there really are some people who should never be allowed to have animals.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Accidental Rescue Org: Holifield Science Learning Center

Making a difference in the life of a dog or cat or horse isn't easy work for any rescue group, but how much more difficult is it to garner support for animals that can't muster a soulful expression or that trigger the natural flight instinct in would-be benefactors?

When the Holifield Science Learning Center -- part of the Independent School District in Plano, Texas -- opened the doors of its Living Materials Center in 1989, its mission statement wasn't to function as a rescue org for unwanted animals. However, with nearby zoos and rescues overwhelmed, it quickly became the go-to spot for surrendering reptiles that had grown too big for their habitats or simply grown out of favor.

Now I've always loved lizards, especially big lizards. So when I decided a vegetarian iguana would fit my lifestyle, my sister-in-law pointed me to Holifield as a possibility for picking up a rescue. When I learned that a large percentage of iguanas are given up because they quickly outgrow the 30- or 55-gallon aquarium they're originally -- and inevitably -- kept in, I knew my first iguana would not be a baby and that I'd have to build a suitable habitat before even looking at adoptees. Only when the 4-foot wide by 7-foot long by 6-foot high cage was ready did I head over to Holifield to see who was available.

What surprised me most was the eclectic nature of homeless reptiles that wound up in the comfy habitats occupying a large backroom in the main learning center. Aside from a variety of colorful lizards, there were corn snakes and boas and even a small alligator! There were about a dozen iguanas waiting to be rehomed. A couple of the males were heavy-boned, heavy-jowled and obviously very strong. The largest of the males would have been especially impressive if he'd still had his tail intact. In fact, three of the iguanas were missing tails, probably due to trauma. Iguanas have a special defensive mechanism that allows their tails to break easily away from their bodies at need; the tails may or may not grow back depending on where the tail breaks, age of the iguana, and other factors.


While I was trying to decide which of the igs snoozing on branches in their cage would come home with me, one of the animal care workers brought in three carriers with another six iguanas that had been abandoned that morning. Whatever dent I thought my rescue was going to make in the number of homeless lizards at Holifield, it was clear that dent wasn't going to be large.

In the end, I chose a two-year-old juvenile, probably female, who appeared healthy and energetic.

There was no adoption fee. Possibly for a smaller, more desirable lizard there would have been. I left as generous a donation as I could, put the lizard in a box in my car trunk and brought her home. That was almost 9 years ago, and Fafnir is with me still.

There are so many people engaged in and efforts around rescue work for dogs and cats and equines -- even for Big Cats and elephants -- that it's sometimes easy to forget that mammals aren't the only creatures being neglected, abused or simply abandoned when they're no longer convenient to have around. I'm forever grateful that the good folk at the Holifield Science Learning Center not only provide an up-close-and-natural animal experience for school-age children, but that they also care enough to provide shelter for the reptiles surrendered to them and then to look for good homes for their rescues on the other side. Because without them, I wouldn't have this adorable face to greet me every morning:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Favorite Animal Organization: NVSR

Guest post by Karen Hartman 

Ladybug, Periwinkle, Paisley & Sassy Pohnert pose for a holiday picture.
I haven’t dealt with many rescue organizations. Probably because the first one I ran across was so great that I didn’t look any further. That rescue is Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue (NVSR). It’s the most amazing group of caring, organized, and active rescue volunteers. These people have an incredible passion for Shetland Sheepdogs (also known as Shelties). This special combination of love and energy has helped rescue and rehome more than 900 Shelties since 1999.

I stumbled onto the NVSR website a few years ago and was really impressed! This site has all kinds of useful material, from general information on Shelties to details about adoption and rehoming. One page even features the Shelties that are ready for new homes, describing their age, size, and temperament and posting a picture or two of each dog.

Toby is just one of the wonderful NVSR Shelties looking for a forever home.
Reading the Sheltie descriptions, it’s plain to see just how much the NVSR volunteers care about finding those dogs forever homes. And they put that passion to work, participating in a variety of local events to raise awareness, interact with the community, and find potential foster and adopter families—events like the Richmond Pet Expo, the Scottish Walk in Old Town Alexandria, and the Reston Pet Fiesta, to name a few.  The volunteers often bring their own Shelties to these events, as well as ones that are ready for adoption, so people can spend some time with the Shelties and see if it is the right breed for them. 

Shelties and their families at the Scottish Christmas Walk.
NVSR booth and Shelties at the Richmond Pet Expo.
NVSR will take in any Sheltie in need regardless of age, except those with histories of repeated, unprovoked biting. The rescue doesn’t have a shelter, so all Shelties stay in volunteers' homes and receive veterinary care and necessary resocialization until they are placed in a loving home. For the remainder of the adopted dogs' lives, NVSR stays in touch with the adoptive families.

The rescue even has Hospice Care and Permanent Foster Dog programs for dogs that are difficult to place due to age or illness. And NVSR supports efforts to reduce pet overpopulation; all of its Shelties are spayed or neutered prior to adoption or, if not yet at a safe age to be neutered, placed on a spay/neuter contract at the time of adoption.

Puppies Simon, Alvin, and Theodore will be ready for adoption soon.
If you are interested in learning more about or donating to NVSR, sign up for the e-newsletter, Sheltie Spin, or join them on Facebook!

Anneka checks out a recent copy of Sheltie Spin.

Karen Hartman, Sheltie-lover and volunteer for NVSR, is the proud parent of a little Sheltie named Buttercup.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Revving Back Up!

Poor neglected blog! But that's all about to change. The Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog is participating in a 2-month blog tour celebrating rescues, rescue groups and friends of rescues -- and it starts this week!

We'll have a guest post tomorrow from a long-time friend/first-time guest poster; a second blog-tour-related post on Thursday from me; and yes, finally, the Vet Tech Tales Friday feature starts back up this Friday, with a few additional catch-up Tales that will be posted over the next few weeks on Wednesdays as well.

I <3 Dogs Blog Tour is hosted by the small but dedicated Pawsibilities Are Endless rescue organization. You've read a number of guest posts here by one of their principals, Landra Graf. There will be prizes and challenges and lots of awareness-building over the coming weeks. In fact, Animal Junkie is sponsoring a donation match where you can turn even a $1 donation for some very deserving dogs into $2.

And for anyone who would like a free copy of Vet Tech Tales: Volume 1 - The Early Years, just leave a comment on any post between now and the end of the blog tour, specify whether you'd like a Kindle-compatible copy or a PDF, leave your email addy (use a format like "yourname at ISP dot com" to keep the spambots at bay!) or email me at phoenixsullivan at yahoo dot com if you'd rather not publicize your email at all, and I'll send you a copy asap.

If you don't have a blog but you'd like to tell others about a favorite rescue org or discuss any of the other tour themes, I'll be happy to post your contribution right here! All I need is the text in either an email or a Word doc (I have Word 2010 for the PC). We love pictures, too -- just attach those separately. If you send them as jpgs or pngs, I can do all the resizing and compression needed, so no worries there.

Here are the weekly themes:
  • Week 1 (2/20-2/26) - Favorite animal organization/rescue
  • Week 2 (2/27-3/4) - Favorite pet story (Tell us about your favorite pet! Doesn’t have to be a dog)
  • Week 3 (3/5-3/11) - Favorite animal-related book, movie, song, etc.
  • Week 4 (3/12-3/18) - What you know about dog rescues/organizations
  • Week 5 (3/19-3/25) - The gorgeous, the active, and the unique. Tell us your favorite dog breed.
  • Week 6 (3/26-4/1) - Favorite Dog/Pet Stores in your area.
  • Week 7 (4/2-4/8) - Favorite dog parks and dog-friendly attractions in your area.
  • Week 8 (4/9-4/15) - If I had a dream… What would you do for rescue dogs if you could?