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Golden Years: How Pets Add Life to Senior Living

“My face may be white, but my heart is pure gold.  There is no shame in growing old.”  

A pet’s love knows no boundaries, and there are few discomforts that their companionship cannot ease.  While this holds true for all stages of life from children to seniors, in times of happiness and health, to times of loneliness and recovery, those who experience the greatest benefits may be the ones who need it most.     Like pet therapy for children and people with disabilities, animals also have a special power for spiritual healing and physical well-being in senior citizens.

The popularity of pet-friendly senior housing has grown tremendously, and with good reason.  According to A Place for Mom, the nation’s largest senior housing referral service, of  all the inquiries they receive more than 40 percent ask if pets are permitted.

seniorcatHaving a  pet offers seniors much-needed companionship in a time where they are likely to feel lonely or forgotten.  The stress of moving and surrendering some or all of their independence can be eased by the presence of an animal.  By nurturing a beloved pet, they are given mental stimulation, a sense of purpose, motivation to keep active, and may even be more likely to take better care of themselves.   The benefits are endless.

To take advantage of the power of pets, senior housing complexes have multiple ways of incorporating furry friends into the routine. Some allow their residents to have in-house pets (weight/species restrictions vary), while others have ‘community pets’ that have free roam of the place or hang in communal areas.  Even more communities employ visiting therapy animals to brighten up everyone’s day. Scientific studies have proven that just 15 minutes spent connecting with an animal can lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure and release serotonin.   Over time, these benefits can reduce depression and even prevent serious health complications such as heart disease and strokes.

So whether your loved one has a full-time furry companion, or just the ability to spend time with one on a regular basis, the benefits are outstanding.  Cooperation with the animal rescue community allows seniors and living centers various opportunities to take advantage  of this incredible bond.  Seniors for Seniors-type programs match senior citizens with a senior pet, and some even waive adoption fees.   For those who aren’t able to care for an animal full time, pets can be ‘shared’ among multiple residents.  Alternatively, seniors can foster through a local rescue organization and keep pets on a short-term basis, allowing them to save multiple lives through their own.  Some assisted living centers even have Pet Care Coordinators that share in the responsibilities and management of in-house pets.

If you are considering pets for yourself or a loved one who is in senior or assisted living, contact the organizations director or reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom.  For a list of pet-friendly senior and assisted living communities by state, go here.  Of course, the care of the animals is of the utmost importance for everyone involved, so speak with the appropriate representatives, depending on your situation.  If you someone you know is currently a pet guardian, consider including the animals in an estate plan or trust to ensure their long-term comfort and well-being is secured.

“Senior pets: their affection is timeless, their devotion is endless, and their love is forever.”

 

How to Introduce Cats

For families looking to add a new kitty to their ‘pride’ of felines it is important to know how to properly introduce them.  Improper introductions lead to increased stress and tension (for both the cats and humans), dramatic stand offs and hissing fits, and an overall destruction of household peace.

Fortunately, cats are resilient when it comes to learning to coexist with one another. Some cats love other cats, while others prefer to spend their time alone.  But more often than not they can live happily ever after in the same household, even if they are not best friends.  It is extremely rare that cats are so incompatible that they cannot live together- so you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic!   Just keep in mind, cats don’t like change, so you’ll need to be patient and give them an adequate adjustment period.

Bring Home the Newbie

The best course of action is to start the new addition in a separate room or closed-off area of the house.  This could be a spare bedroom, office, bathroom, laundry room, etc. For the first few weeks, the new cat will need their own litter box and food dishes (depending on the number of cats, you might want to keep the extra sets anyway).  Keeping the cats initially separated allows them to smell and hear one another, without the stress of a face-to-face confrontation.  Don’t worry- they will have no trouble sensing one another’s presence.

Be prepared for hissing, it is an expected reaction.   After a few days (though sometimes longer) the hissing through the door will begin to subside.  Your cats may become curious and paw underneath the door.  It’s a good idea to swap their bedding or toys so they can really get used to each other’s scents before officially ‘meeting.’  If they are still doing a lot of hissing and growling, feed the cats their favorite wet food on either side of the door.  They will start to associate being near one another with being fed- a positive first impression!

Face-to-Face

Once you’ve noticed that through-the-door interactions are becoming more relaxed, you can allow them to have supervised visits. These are most successful if done when both cats are likely to be calm, such as after a meal or post-play session.

Though you probably won’t need to use it, keep a spray bottle handy in case of a serious fight (no need to spray for hisses, growling, or swatting).  Open the door and allow them to sniff.  Have a bag of treats ready to toss to both cats (remember, tasty rewards = positive first impressions!) If things are going well, allow them to keep exploring; if not, put the new cat back into the bedroom and try again later (keep up the feeding by the door technique).

Remember that hissing, standoffs, and paw swats are common- and they will get past this stage, but you need to be patient.  Some cats adjust in a matter of days, for others it will take weeks.  Don’t punish them for reacting; they need to adjust at their own pace, and punishments will only reinforce their fear that the new cat = negativity.

Over the course of the next few weeks, you should notice some progress.  It may be slow progress, at a baby-steps kind of pace, and there’s a good chance you’ll take a step or two backwards, but again, this is normal.   Allow your cats to eat from separate dishes and have their own sleeping area until they are comfortable sharing.  Continue feeding, offering treats, and playing with the cats when they are together.

More notes about adopting a new cat:  There are certain feline characteristics that determine who they are most compatible with.   Adoption volunteers can help you find that new addition that is most likely to be a good fit.  It usually depends on the personalities of your current pets and the household dynamic.  For example, do you have an older cat with a low energy level, or a younger cat who needs someone to roughhouse with?  Is your current cat dominant around other cats? Or perhaps they’ve never been around cats before?  These kinds of questions will help us to suggest candidates from among our cats that would be compatible with both the people and pets in your family.

Myth, Mysticism and Misconceptions About Black Cats

macbeth

MacBeth, an all black boy who was adopted in the summer of 2014, and has brought only good luck to his family!

Black cats are probably the most iconic feline.  Their mysticism permeates the beliefs and folklore of many cultures across the globe, and can be found in music, literature, even comic books.  Due to their association with witchcraft and the spiritual world, much of the folklore about black cats is ominous.  Although these beliefs have roots that are thousands of years old, some have lingered and continue to haunt- not us- but the black cats of today.

In America those that are superstitious tend to associate black cats with witches and bad omens.  In Greek mythology, there is a story about Galinthias who, in one story, is turned into a black cat before being sent to the underworld with Hecate, the Goddess of death and witchcraft, thus making black cats an omen of death.  A common superstition in India is that if a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck (many people think this superstition stems from the Americas, but it does not!).

It only gets worse in the Middle Ages when cats were closely associated with heretics (heretical groups prayed with, and sometimes to cats), and so leaders of the Catholic Church at the time spoke out against them.  In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII went as far as to declare that “the cat was the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.”  For many, this solidified the feline/devil connection without question.

During the Black Plague, people eagerly accepted this scapegoat and cats were rounded up and killed. Of course, we now know that the Black Plague was spread by fleas that thrived on rats, so killing the cats led to a sort of Bubonic boom as the rat population prospered.  The few people that did keep cats (sometimes doing so against the law), often did not fall victim to the Plague. It is possible that people were skeptical of their powers of immunity, thus strengthening the distrust of cats and their familiars.  We don’t know the exact number of cats that were murdered during this time, but the bones of 79 cats (whose remains were dated 13th century) were found in a well in England, suggesting mass killings.

Fast forward to the witch hunts in Europe and Salem, Massachusetts where many presumed witches simply took in or cared for stray cats, but the association with the devil was still lingering in the minds of many.  During this time, the belief that witches could transform into black cats to escape death also took hold.

YOUR LUCK HAS CHANGED

These are certainly the most negative anecdotes of black-cats superstitions throughout history, but they are not the only ones.  In fact, they might be outweighed by the positives ones: tales that see black cats as good luck are present in many, many cultures.   For example, in the United Kingdom, seeing a black cat means your luck will change for the better.  In Japan, this is especially true for single women, since black cats are thought to attract suitors. In Scotland,a black-cat visiting your porch is a sign that prosperity is in your future.  In Italy, a sneezing black cat is considered good luck.

THE MODERN BLACK CAT

For the most part, people have accepted these myths for what they are- nothing more than ancient superstitions.  Still, one  in ten people still believe black cats are unlucky.  If you ask me, its people that are bad luck for black cats, not the other way around.  Many adoption groups and shelter volunteers, including here at Pet Adoption Network, truly believe that black cats are more likely to have a long wait before being adopted.  National studies have proven that black and dark cats are more likely to be euthanized.

Chances are its not due to the ten percent of people who are superstitious about them, but rather to other factors like the fact that black cats are harder to get good photos of, they may be considered ‘boring’ or ‘plain’ by potential adopters, and simply get overlooked when the cat in the cage to their left is an orange tabby or Siamese mix.

BlackCats

Anyone who has ever been owned by a ‘mini-panther’ knows how wonderful they are, and that the stigma surrounding them is simply nonsense.  However, the fact remains: black cats need YOU to help dispel the myths, and find them the homes they deserve.  Share this info-graphic and check out our adoptables’ stories.

 

**At PAN we believe October should be a month for celebrating black cats, not for fear mongering… so unlike some organizations, we do not hold black cats back from adoption during the month of October.  Withholding black cats implies that any old witch can fly in on her broomstick and take home a cat from us.  On the contrary, we hold our adoption applicants to the same high standards any month of the year, for any cat.**

 

Rescue Pets Are Priceless, Not Free

You can’t put a price tag on saving an animal’s life, or on the relationship you have with them.   However, adopting one still requires you to dig out your checkbook.   Some people are surprised at the cost of a group’s adoption fee (or that there is a donation fee at all).  They expect it to be minimal because, after all, the pets aren’t ‘for sale’ anyway.    Unfortunately, rescue groups are non-profit, always on limited funds, and without donation fees from adopting families, we would go under in no time.

What Donation Fees Cover

Some potential adopters have the mindset that adopting an animal is basically doing us, the rescue group, a ‘favor’ and therefore we should be grateful, and not ask for fees.  Remember that in rescue no one is out to make a profit.  In most cases, we barely break even.   Adoption fees cover (barely) our basic costs, such as:  spay/neuter, vaccinations (first vaccines for kittens/puppies require multiple boosters), deworming and flea treatment, testing for diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats or heart-worm in dogs) as well as food and litter.   If you were to get these services done at a veterinary clinic, you’d be spending significantly more.  When adopting from a rescue group, you’re really getting a packaged deal and saving money in the long run.

Why No Pet Should be Free

Having adoption fees is important, aside from the fact that they cover a rescue’s expenses.  Most people won’t dole out that kind of cash unless they’ve been planning to adopt and have considered the weight of the commitment.  This deters ‘impulse’ adopters, and reminds people that being a pet guardian is a serious dedication- monetarily, emotionally, physically, and timely- and should not be done spur of the moment.  If someone has trouble affording the adoption fee, it might not be a good time for them to adopt.  Of course, you don’t need mountains of money to be a great, loving pet parent, but you do need to be realistic about the costs and be able to meet those requirements to keep the pet in good health for the rest of his or her life.

It is also worth mentioning, however unpleasant it is, that donation fees help prevent animal abusers from obtaining animals from rescue groups.  Usually (but not always) people who intend to abuse an animal will search for free ones- especially on Craiglist and from ‘free to good home’ ads in neighborhoods and bulletin boards.

Why Fees Can Vary by Rescue

If you’ve been browsing various shelters and rescues in your search for the perfect new addition, you might have noticed differences in the costs and what is covered.  This doesn’t mean that one group is better than another, just that each organization is in a different financial situation, and works on different scales.  Therefore, they adjust the fees to their needs.  For example, a large, county-wide shelter with in-staff veterinarians is typically able to have lower fees because they do higher volume adoptions, get donations that exceed their costs, and aren’t paying someone else for veterinary services.  They might have sponsors, and likely have a larger staff that includes a grant writer to get state and national grants.  Smaller, foster based organizations like Pet Adoption Network, have fewer volunteers, no paid staff, no physical facility.  Therefore, our fees may not always compete with other shelters.  However, you’re getting a great deal, in terms of savings, in either scenario along with a ‘priceless’ happy ending.

Two Cats are Better Than One!

Thana & Tarot sittin' in a tree!  These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home.  They were adopted together and couldn't be happier (or more spoiled!)  Photo Credit: T. Shparaga

Thana & Tarot sittin’ in a tree! These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home. They were adopted together and couldn’t be happier.

Just about everyone who adopts a cat says,  ‘Oh, I wish I could just take them all home!’ If only!   Very few people are in a position to care for a cluster of cats, but opting for a single kitten is not usually the best idea either.   If you are looking to adopt a kitten under 6 months old and you don’t already have another cat, you really should at least consider adopting a duo.

Social Growth Kitten-hood is a crucial time for development, just like infancy is for human babies.  Kittens learn from their mother, their siblings, their environment, and any other cats in the household.  They learn how to hunt, play, socialize, and communicate.  They figure out who is in charge, what is appropriate behavior, and how to perfect their motor skills and physical abilities.  In many situations, a mother is not always present, making time with their litter mates even more important. (Remember, cats are kittens, physically and mentally, throughout the first year or two of their life.)

Importance of Play Playtime is not just fun and games: there are lessons to be learned in every pounce, every stalk, every bite.  One of the most important lessons is that of the inhibited bite.   Wrestling and roughhousing with other cats helps kittens to learn an appropriate level of playtime aggression.   If a kitten bites too hard, the other cat is not going to tolerate it.  Over time, this will teach them how to gently ‘bite’ without any pressure, and also encourage them to play without their nails extended.

Single Kitten Syndrome When a kitten spends the first six months or so of his life alone, he won’t learn what is acceptable, and will often exhibit undesirable behaviors towards people and other cats.  ‘Single kitten syndrome,’  though not a medically diagnosable condition, is the term for such behavior. Of course, not all single kittens will turn out this way, just as not all only-children are spoiled and bratty, but it is commonly seen and best to be avoided. It seems a little counter-intuitive, but a kitten raised alone does not learn independence.  Rather, they are more likely to become overly dependent on a human, distraught during separations, and less able to deal with minor stressors.   Other behaviors associated with single-kittens include chasing and biting ankles, excessive neediness, boredom, and loneliness. Those last few are often coupled with destructive behaviors because, like kids, a kitten left alone for a few hours must find a way to keep himself occupied.  Here at Pet Adoption Network, we’ve heard it over and over again.

Still, someone might say, the kitten doesn’t need a playmate because I’m going to be her best friend; shower her with love and toys and lots of treats.  Isn’t that good enough?  Not really, because a human, no matter how much they offer, can never be a substitute for a feline companion or replicate behaviors crucial to teaching a kitten how to be a well-adjusted cat.

Cats are like potato chips ‘You can’t have just one!’  Have you heard that saying before?  Apparently, it holds true!  In 2012, of all the homes with cats in the United States, 55% of them were multi-cat households.    So, there’s a really good chance you’ll end up with another anyway, but its easier to do it all at once.  The longer a cat stays solo, the harder it is to introduce a second (it’s nearly always possible to do so,  it just takes much longer.)  Having a cat that is good with other cats is important in the unfortunate case that they ever need to be re-homed; it greatly increases their adoptability and makes their experience in a shelter environment less stressful.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt a pair is the sheer cuteness.  A kitten playing alone is pretty darn adorable, but two kittens playing and cuddling together?  Infinitely more adorable; its almost too much to handle.  Almost.

What about the expenses?  Aside from the initial costs of adoption fees (many groups, including Pet Adoption Network, offer discounts for adopting pairs), a second cat is not much more expensive or more work than one, and they can share many of the same supplies like toys, litter boxes, and food dishes.   Kittens separated from other members of their species at a very young age can develop a pathological fear of other animals. No one knows what the future holds for you and your cat. A well-rounded cat that is acclimated to other animals can only have an easier time in life- even going to the vet will be less stressful. 

If you really can’t handle or have more than one cat, that’s OK.   There is still someone perfect for you!  There are always cats that would prefer to be your one-and-only, and while they aren’t babies, they can be as young as 6 months and full of kitten spirit.  Any rescue group will help you find a cat that is a good match for your family and lifestyle, so please take their advice.  That way, you know the cat will be as happy as possible, and you will be, too.

And now, I’ll leave you with some more cuddling cuteness of Thana & Tarot.

 

Best Rescues of 2013 from Pet Adoption Network

As we prepare for another busy and rewarding year of rescue, it is inspiring to look back at the rescues of 2013.  
Here are some of the most memorable stories:

Clive and Callum 

Callum & Clive, full of love.

Callum & Clive, full of love.

These one-and-a-half year old brothers came to us from a horrific situation: a mentally ill person had kept them confined in small pet carriers from the time they were very young. He had found them as babies living outside, and thought he was doing the right thing by taking them in.  Unfortunately, these sweet tabbies spent over a year with barely enough room to turn around, let alone the room to play, chase things, or stretch.  Although their hind quarters were weakened from lack of exercise, their spirits were strong.  Callum, long haired and regal, was immediately excited to play with new things, like feather wands, but Clive, sweet and gentle but coy, was afraid of toys at first and took a bit of time to find his light-hearted side. Both are friendly loving despite their struggles, and have recovered physically and been adopted. Humane Law Enforcement officers, local animal control and Pet Adoption Network volunteers participated in this rescue.

Bright-eyed Burlew (and his sisters, Chalice and Ambrosia) are all still looking for their furever families!

Bright-eyed Burlew (and his sister, Chalice) are all still looking for their furever families!

Burlew  A 9-week old copper-eyed, orange and white tabby named Burlew, and his siblings, were eating from a dumpster in Ciffwood Beach.  They were all captured in humane traps and taken in to one of our foster homes.  After a week or so, it was clear that Burlew had come down with a terrible virus – he stopped eating and would vomit immediately if force fed.  He quickly wasted away to nothing but bones and was extremely dehydrated. A trip to the vet confirmed our suspicions: there was no cure, no panacea for his condition.  His only chance was intense and round-the-clock supportive care to keep his body strong enough to fight this off.  His dedicated (and experienced) foster family gave him subcutaneous fluids three times a day to  stave off dehydration and force fed him in tiny amounts every hour or so to keep him from starving, in addition to administering antibiotics by injection.  Despite all the needles and discomfort, Burlew remained high-spirited and affectionate- a real survivor.  After more than a week of refusing food, he finally took a few tentative licks of wet food.  Everyone was overjoyed; this was the start of his recovery. Strong and healthy for months now, Burlew is still waiting for his forever home and someone to share a pillow with at night. (UPDATE: Burlew was adopted in February!)

Sunfish

This is what a silly, sweet Sunfish looks like!

This is what a silly, sweet Sunfish looks like!

In one of the areas where we do trap-neuter-return (TNR), there was a single elusive kitten that we were unable to catch.  For weeks we tried to trap or net her, but we could never get close enough to her because she had a really good hiding spot: an abandoned sailboat stored upside down  that was too heavy to lift or move by hand, and set on the ground in a way that made it extremely difficult to reach the cavity where she was hiding.  It’s likely that she was born in this very spot.  Finally- when she was old enough to start enjoying wet food, and we were exhausted from failed attempts- we lured her out and into a trap.  Success! And so the kitten was named Sunfish to remind her- and us- of her unique, nautical beginnings.

 

Always has his eyes on the sky!

Always has his eyes on the sky!

Teak  One March night, a Keansburg resident noticed a beautiful tabby cat high up in a tree- who would not (and likely could not) come down on his own.  After being turned down by the local fire department, the woman hired a tree-cutting service to rescue him!  Some PAN volunteers lived in the neighborhood and had gotten involved, and this is how the high-flying cat was brought into foster care with P.A.N that night, and named ‘Teak.’  His new adoptive family, including two sweet children, decided to rename him Tarzan. So appropriate and so adorable for this branch-swinging feline!

Doc & Flashlight 

Getting life-saving fluid therapy, too weak to move.  Then, after a full recovery.

Getting life-saving fluid therapy, too weak to move. Then, after a full recovery.

These two 3-month old tuxedos were found in a cardboard box in Red Bank on the hottest and most humid day of 2013. They were suffering from heat exhaustion, starvation and dehydration. They were lying in their own waste and circled by flies. We rushed them to one of our foster homes and discovered that the female was too weak to even stand, and her body temperature had dropped dangerously low (a sign that she was losing her battle for life). We gradually warmed her and then hooked her up to a bag of fluids. After she was treated, the male got his turn with the lifesaving fluids. Once they were properly hydrated, we offered these weak little souls some puréed food and they ate desperately. It had obviously been a good while since their last meal. It was another 24 hours before the female could get her legs under her, but within a few days the pair had their strength back and were putting on weight and starting to play. In spite of the fact that they were obviously mistreated and abandoned by humans, Doc and Flashlight, now about 8 months old, couldn’t be more cheerful and lovable (not to mention cute). They are both lap cats, and get along great with other cats and dogs, too! They are still waiting for a forever home. They do not need to be placed as a pair, as they will make new friends where ever they go.

Blaine

This past fall, during one of our usual Saturday adoption days, a man stopped in and asked if we would help him find a loving home for the 8-10 week old orange tabby he had been fostering for about two weeks.  Of course we said yes, and then we heard this baby’s incredible rescue: the man and a friend had been driving on route 35 one evening and saw something hovering on the top of the cement median.  They safely pulled over and ran out- it was indeed a kitten, a fiery orange tabby with one of the most boisterous, dare-devilish personalities Brave Blainewe’d ever seen. We thought Blaine, after the stunt artist, would be a fitting name.  What an incredible story! We won’t ever know how or why Blaine got to the median, but we are grateful that everyone worked together to save him.  He found a home the very first day he was shown at Petsmart.

Balthazar  Balthazar (who goes by many names, including Mr. Big and now Charlie) is a big, black, long-haired cat who was found living in a feral colony.  His appearance- ragged, scarred, beat up- had MrBigCollageearned him a reputation in the neighborhood as a tough and mean street-cat, but after he was captured and was recovering from his neutering surgery and his wounds, we discovered he was far from a tough guy.  Instead, he was a sweet and gentle giant who was most likely dumped there and was not fit for living such a tough life.  After some time and lots of TLC, his true look- gorgeous and regal- finally surfaced.  Balthazar had a wise, wizardlike sense about him, like he had seen more things than we could ever know.  Now he is living the luxurious life, one of sunbeams and comforters and windowsills.  His new mommy sends us regular photo updates on Facebook (which makes us happier than you could ever know!).

Importance of Word Choice in Animal Rescue

Language is possibly the most important tool of human interaction.   As the primary way of communicating, it can become casual, second nature; something we don’t give much thought to doing because it comes so freely.  But word choice is crucial and can change the whole meaning of a sentence and, more importantly, how a person receives it.

What are your words implying?

What are your words implying?
From Best Friends Animal Society’s campaign.

In this post, we’re going to analyze connotation: (the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes) behind common rescue-related phrases.   Linguist Keith Allan, PhD of Edinburgh explains connotation as being ‘effects that arise from encyclopaedic knowledge’  and ‘from experiences, beliefs, and prejudices about the contexts in which the expression is typically used.’  In his peer-reviewed article The Pragmatics of Connotation Allan said that to identify a connotation of a term ‘is to identify the community attitudes towards it.’

In rescue, our entire mission focuses on changing how our communities see animals and how they treat them, so our messages should be strong, consistent, and send the right message.   Let’s look at a few of these terms and expressions.

Adoption vs. ‘For Sale’ or ‘To buy’

This is probably the most important as far as word choice, as it sets the tone for the everything that revolves around the rescue movement.   Many people come up to me during Adoption Days at Petsmart and say,  “Are these for sale?”   My response is always  ‘No, these kitties are not for sale, they are up for adoption to good homes.’  Although many of these people do, in fact, realize that the cats are rescued, it is important that we don’t allow people to talk about them as though they are products.

‘For Sale’ implies there is inventory; products to be bought and sold for profit.  Animals are not either of these things, but of course breeders and pet stores do treat them as such.  If we don’t create a definitive line between the rescue of animals and the sale of animals, our movement is weakened.   The difference needs to be clear: animals are sentient beings that are to be ‘adopted’ into forever families, not bought.

Make it official! Many adoption groups include congratulatory 'Adoption Certificates' to make the adoption official.

Make it official! Many rescue groups include congratulatory ‘Adoption Certificates’ to officially welcome the new family member into their forever home.

Cost vs. Donation

This goes along with the previous one.  ‘Cost’ typically indicates a markup on a product where profit is to be made, which is far from the truth.  Explain the adoption ‘cost’ as a donation fee or adoption donation.  It may also be helpful to briefly explain what the donation covers and what it goes towards.  For example, I usually explain it like this:  ‘The adoption donation for this cat is $100, which covers her spay surgery, vaccinations and FIV/FeLV testing.  It also helps us to care for the nearly 60 other cats and kittens that are currently in our care.’  This makes people more receptive and defers from the idea that anyone is ‘profiting’ from rescue.

Euthanize vs. Kill

Euthanasia: ‘the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.’

Everyone is familiar with this definition, yet it is used, almost always without question, to describe the murder of three to four million companion animals each year in the U.S alone.  This is a euphemism that helps distance humans from the guilt and involvement of these deaths, and anyone who supports rescue should avoid the term.  (Please note I am not referring to the decision to euthanize a suffering animal companion when they are ill or elderly.)

The 'Declaration of the No kill Movement' requires that we discontinue using words that mislead the public, including 'euthanize' and 'putting them to sleep' which downplay the gravity of ending life and make the task of killing easier

The ‘Declaration of the No kill Movement’ requires that we discontinue using words that mislead the public, including ‘euthanize’ and ‘putting them to sleep’ which downplay the gravity of ending life and make the task of killing easier

Animals that enter shelters because they are stray, abandon, surrendered or otherwise unwanted are not put to death as a mercy killing.  It is murder, no two ways about it.  I don’t mean to say that people who work at kill shelters are horrible people who are responsible for the killings.   In truth, the guilt and the responsibility to end the killing is shared by entire communities.   To call it euthanasia only encourages people to feel better about it; its a hard truth, of course, but if people think of these deaths are merciful- and the euphemism encourages this- they aren’t going to feel compelled to do much about it.

Owner vs. Guardian

The term ‘owner’ implies that animals are property; belongings rather than feeling creatures that are part of a family.  It may be a subtle connotation, but there nonetheless, and sustains the concept that when humans are done with an animals, they can disown or dispose of ‘it’ like an old television or vehicle: leave it behind, pass it off to any willing taker, dump it at a shelter to make it someone else’s problem.

Guardian, on the other hand, suggests that we are their caretakers, protectors, sentinels for their well being.  Our job is not to own like property or control our companion animals, but to shower them with love and affection, tend to their needs, and look out for their interests for as long as they are with us.   Changing this one term has the potential to create a new level of ethics when it comes to our furred/feathered/scaled family members.

Declawing: Routine Procedure or Cruel Amputation

Declawing is slowly getting the terrible reputation it deserves, but many people still think it is acceptable because veterinarians offer it as a service.   Even though some veterinarians will do it, it is far from a routine or ethical ‘procedure’ and is in fact extremely painful with many adverse affects, some that last for the cat’s life.   In actuality, declawing is the amputation of the first digits of the paws, like cutting off the first joints on your fingers and toes.  It is a mutilation.  What’s worse, it is done because people care more about their furniture’s appearance than the well being of their cats.

It is important that when we discuss this topic with the public, we don’t speak of it lightly.  It is not done in the best interest of the cats, like a spay/neuter surgery, and is nothing short of cruelty.

Wild or Feral

Wild or ‘feral’ cats and strays are two different things (see here), but when talking about feral/wild cats, feral is the ideal term.  ‘Wild’ implies that they are relatives of wild species, when they are actually the descendants of domesticated house cats.   They have become unsociable, but are not a different species than those we keep as companions.  I also try to incorporate the phrase ‘community cats’ when talking about feral colonies because it suggests- rightfully so- that feral cats are not the problem or responsibility of a single feeder or property owner, but of the community as a whole.   For more feral cat terms, visit Alley Cat Allies’s ‘Speaking of Cats’ page.

If you have thoughts or experiences on this or a related topic, please share in the comments!

Making the Match: Opting to Adopt Your New Pet

For most families, adopting a pet is a big deal.   Whether you’ve had pets before, or this is your child’s first furry sibling,  it is important that you find the pet that will be the ‘perfect puzzle piece’ you family is looking for.

Why Adoption keeps Your interest at heart

Of the 23.5 million people who will bring a new cat or dog into their home this year, nearly 17 million of them are undecided as to where they will obtain the animal.  Adoption and rescue organizations are the best way to go because they are not trying to sell you a fun, new product with cute accessories like a pet store will; they’re trying to help you find a new family member.

Maybe you’re a little iffy about a rescue organization; many people are.  However, these concerns are usually based on misconceptions and stereotypes about adoption, such as:

  • Assuming history of rescue pets is always a mystery and that makes them somehow less good of a pet
  • Hoping to avoid behavioral problems (that they assume are baggage of all rescued pets, both cats and dogs)
  • Thinking that getting a young pet will create a stronger bond
  • Wanting a specific age/breed, etc. and thinking rescues only have mutts or pitt bulls

While some of these are true in a few cases, the basis of these excuses for buying animals are not only inaccurate, but may also stand in between your family finding the right match, and of course

People just want an animal that will be an easy addition and ‘fit’ with their home.  When it comes down to it, breeders and pet store owners want to sell you a product; a living commodity.  Rescues and adoption groups want to introduce you to the furry love you’ve never known; to a creature that becomes a lifelong member of the family.

Let’s  explore these myths with the help of a local rescue, Castle of Dreams, based in Keyport, New Jersey.

The role of history, bonding, and behaviors

Truth: “With the dogs we take into rescue, most times we do know some history,” explained Pam Frasco, Vice President of Castle of Dreams Animal Rescue, which was established in 2003.  The group’s work focuses on mostly puppies, pregnant , and other abandoned dogs who would otherwise have been euthanized.

“We really get to know and work with the dogs on a personal level.   A thorough understanding the animals’ current needs, loves, personality, and temperament is significantly more important than knowing the exact history, and that’s what rescues will give you.”

Rescue pets: Their hearts may have been broken, but not their spirits

Truth: The majority of rescued pets have over-the-top personalities: affectionate, loving, playful, loyal.   One of the top reasons animals are given up is  because the owner is ‘moving,’ not due of behavior problems.    For those that do have some kind of behavioral struggle, it is often the fault of the owner, and can be retrained with proper care and nurturing.  Take Michael Vick’s pit-bulls for example: rewarded for aggressive behavior; neglected, tortured, and treated like inanimate objects.  Yet all the surviving dogs were evaluated as gentle and affectionate.  Each of them found forever homes and have shown that their true selves are lovable, huggable, mushes.  Everyone is a story of inspiration and second chances.

With love and nurturing, a 'troubled' animals true personality comes out.

One of Vick’s dogs, after her rescue. With love and nurturing, a ‘troubled’ animals true personality comes out.

Behavioral obstacles are not exclusive to rescue dogs, and in fact can be cultivated in pet store and breeder environments.

Castle of Dreams have taken dogs  from pet stores because they got too old and lost their ‘puppy’ look, and the store wouldn’t sell something that wasn’t baby.   “They were scared,  not socialized, had been kept in a crate for 24 hours and therefore not potty trained,” explained Frasco, who would not specify the pet store.  “These are precursors for behavioral problems, and simply because the a pet store’s top priority is money.”

A good rescue organization will let you get to know the dogs on a personal level, in order to find the one that best suits your needs and desires.   “Rescue dogs, and their potential adopters, have an advantage over breeder and pet store dogs because during our fostering, socializing, and training, we can identify and begin working on certain issues.  If there is a behavioral problem we are already working through that with them,  and will let the adopter know  all about it.  If an adopter does not want to deal with issues,  we can find them a dog that suites them because we know the dogs.

Rescues and shelters only have old mutts or pitt bulls, not puppies or purebreds

Truth: Not that we have anything against old mutts or pitt bulls, but this statement is a total fallacy! Rescue groups constantly have puppies up for adoption.  Many of them are ‘pulled’ from a kill shelter (the term ‘pull’ refers to the last minute saving of an animal that is scheduled to be euthanized).  Castle of Dreams is one of them.  “We work a lot with puppies and their mothers that were to be killed.  We also pull pregnant moms, and their babies are born in our foster homes where they are  constantly nurtured and socialized unlike in a breeding situation.”

Rescued comes in baby and purebreds too!  From Castle of Dream's Petfinder listing

Rescues comes in baby and purebreds too! From Castle of Dream’s Petfinder listing

If you’re looking for a specific breed, you can easily rescue one- approximately 25% of all pets in shelters and rescues are purebredPetfinder’s adoptable pet list makes it easy by allowing you to search by breed, plus, there are hundreds of breed-specific rescues (for every breed from Teacup and Miniatures to Boxers and Bulldogs, to Spaniels, Setters, and Retrievers.)  At the time this post was written, Castle of Dreams had Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, and Yorkies, and Poodles up for adoption.  Many are babies or young, while a few are adults or seniors.

Breeders/pet stores care for the animals and want what’s best for both them and us.

Truth: To a rescuer, each animal is seen as an individual with a one-of-a-kind personality, unique likes and dislikes, and distinctive expressions.  To a breeder or pet store owner, they are seen as products that will fill their pockets.  They might sound sweet and caring, but keep in mind, they wouldn’t sell any puppies if they didn’t.  Just like a car dealer, they’re trying to make a sale.

Making the Match:  Why adoption keeps your interest at heart

A rescue volunteer is motivated only by the desire to save or improve the life of a homeless animal; there is no profit or commission to influence them.  That means a rescue organization is going to do everything possible to make sure you and your new pet are a wonderful match.  This includes disclosing their temperament and obstacles, if any.   “If a behavioral problem exists, you can bet we are already working through that with them,” said Frasco,  “and we will let the adopter know about it.  If an adopter does not want to deal with issues,  we can find them a dog that suites them because we know the dogs.”

The bottom line is this: if the adopting family isn’t happy, the animal won’t be either, so you can trust a rescue to make the match and be honest about it.   Someone who profits from breeding doesn’t really care what happens to your family or the animal once you hand over the cash, where as rescue groups want it to be a lifelong companionship.  So trust me when I say that adoption keeps your interest- and that of the animal- at the very heart of the mission of matchmaking.