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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!).

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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!

Fostering is for Everyone! Yes, you!

As the rescue mantra goes, “If you can’t adopt, foster.”   For many animal rescue organizations, fostering is the most important thing a person can do to help find homes for homeless pets.   In many ways, it is better than adopting because you save more lives over the course of a year than if you adopted.  By adopting, I have saved 6 cats over a 10 year period.  Over the same time, I have saved hundreds of cat and kittens as a foster mom.

So why are rescue groups always short on foster homes?  Because most potential fosters use the excuse ‘Oh no, I could never foster because I’d never give them up, or I’d be too upset if I did.’   Other reasons include not having the space, or not wanting to upset current pets.  Often money and time are concerns as well.   This post will tell you why you can and should foster.

Foster homes are an essential part of the rescue community. Without them, many rescue groups are forced to turn away homeless pets.

Foster homes are an essential part of the rescue community. Without them, many rescue groups are forced to turn away homeless pets.

Don’t be sad, you’re saving lives!

Sure, saying goodbye the first few times will be tough: its likely you will shed some tears. Maybe you won’t even want to be there when she goes home, but then again, perhaps you’ll want to be the one to drive her there.  Everyone deals with it differently, but the bottom line is this:  if you decide not to foster because you ‘can’t handle’ the goodbyes, that pet may not have a chance.  She may spend the rest of her life on the street, be euthanized alone and afraid, or abandoned because there are not enough foster homes .

So be strong, and keep the goal in mind: save more lives!  Get more pets adopted!  Once you get going, you’ll be addicted to the happy endings.  Besides, the sadness only lasts a short time because before you know it, you’ll get another adorable foster  and you’ll fall in love all over again.

A Small Space in your Home = A Large space in your heart

For those of you who don’t think you have enough room to foster, think again.  Only a handful of hardcore rescuers live in mansions; the rest of us live in small to moderately sized homes, some even in apartments, and simply make do with what we have.  For a cat whose life is in jeopardy, the space in your heart is worth more than the space in your home.

Our rescue suggests using a small room such as a bathroom or laundry room, but we also supply large dog crates for fostering as well.   A litter of young kittens, a pair of juveniles, or a single adult will do just fine in a large crate; they need your love more than they need the run of your house.

Small rooms are often better for fostering because it forces the animals to get used to interaction and being held, whereas cats with a whole house can easily evade handling or hide for days on end.  Plus, crates or separate rooms keep the fosters away from your current pets, which will help to keep the peace if your pets aren’t too thrilled about your new hobby.

Finding family in a rescue group

Feeling comfortable with a rescue’s volunteers and leaders is important if you want to have a pleasant experience.  Ideally, they should be a kind of support group to help you through the early emotions, celebrate your happy endings, and be on your side when making tough decisions.  Most adoption groups allow fosters to be involved in the adoption process from start to finish, and I would encourage this.    This gives you the opportunity to get to know and feel comfortable with the family that is adopting your foster, and will make parting with them much easier.   Familiarize yourself with the group’s approval/screening process, too.   Any reputable organization will have one.

Both cat rescue groups I work with (Pet Adoption Network & Fur Friends in Need) give the foster family the final say on whether or not a pet goes home with a certain family.  After all, fosters know the animal the best, and will have the most worthy insight on whether or not potential adopters are a good match or not.   If you would rather not (or don’t have time) to be so deeply involved, find a group whose leadership and adoption process you trust.  You provide the caring, cuddling, playing (and cleaning, too); they’ll take care of the rest.

Fostering: Eternally rewarding

Freckles Gazing

Freckles is going to be just fine!  Keeping him happy and healthy while he awaits his new home.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting beside my foster, Freckles, a 1-year-old cow-print cat whose family loved him while he was a baby, but surrendered him as soon as he became a full grown cat.  Clearly, they didn’t understand the meaning of ‘furever.’  That happens.  Right now,  my role is to encourage Freckles to feel comfortable during the transition, help him to trust people again, and keep him happy and healthy until his real family comes along.  Basically, keep his spirits up, play with him, and love him when other people or circumstances have let him down.

He’s doing wonderfully: rubbing on my feet, crawling under my legs, and rolling over constantly.    It doesn’t get any better than knowing I’m part of the reason he is doing well, the reason he’s purring right now, the reason that his eyes- and mine- are filled with hope and happiness.

(UPDATE: Freckles was adopted in the fall of 2013 to a wonderful home that is a perfect match for him, definitely worth the wait!)