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Friday, December 30, 2011

I went to the shelter today and made sure to take a bunch of photos of cats. I had seem some posts online from people who were upset about the lack of attention the cats get.. it's true, cats are not as often posted as the dogs. When looking at the overall numbers of those adopted versus those euthanized, the cats are not doing nearly as well as the dogs.. and since the dogs are not doing great.. well, that is a problem. 

I happen to love cats. I haven't had one in the house for some time and I probably won't for a long time. I was heartbroken after losing my own cats in the last couple of years so I just decided to not have a cat for a while- mine had lived to 18 and 20 years old.. they had been with me for so long so that it wasn't easy to just go adopt another. I did take in a foster last year.. I was so excited because she was a pregnant cat and I looked forward to helping her family have a chance. Things didn't go so well though. She got a URI and although I took her in and medicated the mom... the babies also got it. They were just too tiny to fight it and they were all lost.. so there I was again heartbroken over lost cats. The Mom cat did ok and went on to find a home. Now, I would love to have a cat- but, I'm afraid the wonder twins would "play" with a cat and hurt it. So.... I'm catless. 

What I do not understand is all of the people who trap feral cats. I just don't know why. Are they thinking they are helping them? Are they just mad? Frustrated with the cats? Vindictive? I just don't get it. I once had a neighbor who flipped out on me because he said my cat was peeing on his bushes. I saw he had set a trap out..even though I explained my cat was indoors. The funny thing was that he did finally find the cat that was peeing on his precious bushes- it was a bobcat. I wonder though do people trap cats because they are peeing on their bushes? If so do they honestly think their bushes are more important than a life? The only times I think a feral cat needs to be trapped is if it is going to be fixed and released.. or is vicious and attacking people or animals.. otherwise- why not leave them alone? Why not call a rescue group to come in and fix and release them? I just don't get it. 
Feral cat - I wanted to take the cage and run
So, at the shelter today, there were feral cats sitting in their cages .. poor cats that some person had decided that did not deserve life. Feral cats are not adopted out. They really can't be- they are wild. They are terrified and they would not make good pets and it would be dangerous to adopt them. A feral cat brought to a shelter is going to be a dead cat.. (unless a shelter has a special area to allow them to live out their lives such as the Best Friends sanctuary)... there is no hope for them. The cats I saw today had no hope. I doubt they are still alive.. especially with space needed for the influx of kittens that were dropped off today.. such a constant stream coming in.

Some things a camera cannot capture. My lens cannot capture the shaking and the crying. The orange cat above shook the entire time I was there. There was no way to comfort the poor thing.. it was not socialized, it was fearful, and it was not a cat that could be handled. So the entire time it was there it shook in fear. I bet it shook until its final breath. And why? Because a person decided that its life was not worth anything. It makes me want to kick someone.

But, before I make it seem like things are just beyond horrible and there is no hope - I also saw  good things happening today. I saw people looking to adopt and I even saw an adoption. I also saw that there was a group from the Humane Society who were pulling cats to take. That is great.. that is what needs to happen.. to see groups who can help alleviate the numbers at the city shelter, they are not only saving the cats that they took- but, they also are opening more cage space for all those kittens that keep pouring in the door. I know it is hard to find groups to take cats.. it can be really hard... so it was a big deal to see so many cats today that were going to be going to safety.

Humane Society workers choosing cats :) yippee! 
Other good things I saw where hard working people who took time from their own lives to volunteer and even one employee who came in on her day off to help me take pictures.  I also saw the photographer hard at work who comes in a few times a week to take fantastic studio photographs of the dogs and cats... they make a difference. The thing is that we can all so easily look at the negative and get so caught up in it until it consumes us and makes us feel hopeless... or, we could focus on the little things.. the little successes and make it known how important they are and how others can have the power to do seemingly small things to lead towards bigger changes. So, I could have left the shelter feeling hopeless and upset.. but, I chose not too.. I chose to focus on the little victories and to know that I am trying to do my part to make a change.. instead of just laying blame. I couldn't save the orange cat, but I can work to give a voice to those who otherwise may not have a chance.. that is what I can do.. what can you do?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughts While Waiting for Paint to Dry...

I have written a novel. It is in the process of editing before I submit it. To who I will submit it- I do not know yet. I figured, write first.. and figure it all out later. I suck at editing so it is taking forever. What I wrote about is a story that revolves around people who work at a "kill" shelter. It is something that has been on my mind a lot. From volunteering I learned a lot about the people who work in "no kill" and "kill" shelters and know that there is a hell of a lot of emotion and hard work that goes into both. As an artist, I have been able to stand back and watch instead of do and it has given me a lot to think about. What really struck me the most, was when I photographed the euthanasia and the director broke down in tears. I have talked about it before on here - but, I was so unprepared about what that does to a person and it still bothers me so much. In that instance, she was a vet who had left her practice and become the shelter director of a small, rural shelter that accepts all dogs and cats. That particular shelter had a high euthanasia rate, but was able to reduce it significantly due to their Rolling Rescue program. They were just receiving more animals than were being adopted, fostered, or taken to "no kills"... the transport program is the only thing that keeps many of the animals alive. It was that moment, in the euthanasia room, that inspired me to write a story... a fictional story, but one very much inspired by the truth... that was in late 2006.. and it took me until 2011 to do it.

Because of the writing.. and of course the art.. and my own personal interest, I have been obsessed with the world of shelters for some time now. I have followed many stories about good rescues and bad and I have watched groups work to make improvements in shelters and some who place blame. It is such an emotional issue. It is one that is easy to stand back and throw blame, but one that once you get your hands dirty you have a much better understanding of the truth. One thing that has been bothering me for sometime is the idea that some people have about shelter workers. I have seen such horrible things said about them- people call them murderers and say that they hope they go to hell. Horrible stuff. I even saw a group say that the workers at the Miami shelter "enjoyed killing". It is sick the things that I have read. I can honestly say that I have met several shelter people and not one has ever said they enjoyed killing or liked that part of their job. It wasn't just that one shelter director that I have seen become emotional .... I have seen intense emotion from many people who work at various shelters who are so overwhelmed and disturbed by that aspect of their job.

If people would just stop dumping their pets it would make the killing stop. If there were truly enough homes for them all it would end.. but, there is no end in site. Too many people fight against the simple fact that dogs and cats must be fixed- there are simply too many. People are still buying pets that come from backyard breeders and puppy mills. It is big business and there appear to be people who want to divert the attention of the need to stop the breeding and push the blame to the people who work in the open door shelters. The euthanasia is not the cause - the euthanasia is the effect caused by the affect of those protecting the breeding industry. We need to be careful about where we point our fingers.

As I have seen firsthand is that "no kill" shelters can exists successfully, but in order for them to be a success they cannot be open door. If they accept every dog and cat then they end up in the same boat as the "kill" shelters - a shelter full of animals with out enough people wanting them. It is a case of want that also adds to the problem. People want certain types of pets. People who want cute fluffy dogs will not be interested in the thousands of pit bulls and labs sitting in shelters right now. Too often, those people that have specific wants don't even bother with the shelter because there is such an over abundance of breeders out there spewing out popular dogs. The sad thing is that a simple search on Petfinder would let those people who want ..see that those same dogs and puppies are in shelters all across the country.. and often for a much lower adoption fee than a breeder charges. Some "No Kill" shelters understand the fact of the want and take in only those dogs or cats that are highly wanted.

I just felt like just getting those thoughts out here tonight.. doing this blog writing while I wait for paint to dry on some mixed media paintings I am doing ... using images of dogs that were never adopted... they were never taken by "no kills" or fosters.. they died.. and I know the person who had to make the decision to euthanize them.. and I know that she didn't take it lightly.. because I was there one day when that same decision was made on others.. and saw her cry.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas for the Adopted Dogs

I'm going to take a moment and talk about my own dogs and this holiday and to say thank you to some special people. All of my "Kids" are rescued in one form or another. For some reason, there are people who seem to think a shelter dog is a damaged dog. They are not. Often times, their being in the shelter simply had to do with people who didn't take the time to teach them how to live in our world. Sometimes people never teach their cute little puppies to go to the bathroom outside and then blow a gasket when they pee on the couch-- and end up dumping them. So many people get a puppy and then dump when they get big... it sucks. My dogs were all given up- wether by being tossed out of a truck on the highway, tossed away because they weren't worth the breeding anymore, or just abandoned in a shelter. I love them all..  the people who gave up on them really missed out.

My oldest 2 dogs are Matisse and Virgil Humperdink Rat Terrier Extraordinaire. They both have traveled all over with me and have been with me since babies. Every Christmas since they were little, I have gotten them presents. I have no human children, so I always get them as much as I can. They know what presents are. Many years I would get them new beds, and treats and toys and toys and toys.. and dog present Christmas present opening time was like a mad house. It was fun. It was messy and they would all play and destroy the toys and end up in a tired heap in the floor amongst piles of smiling stuffed Santas and stuffing plucked from toy reindeers.

This year, things have not really been going so well. For the first time since adopting Matisse (16 years ago), I didn't go out and spend a bunch on dog toys and wrap them up like I usually did. Things have been tough. Like so many people, I haven't been able to find full time work.. I make and sell art-- but the selling part is hard. I have had to cut back and this year -- well, I had to cut back to no Christmas presents for the dogs.. and, although I know they have no idea it was Christmas, I did. I was feeling pretty bummed. It actually was making me sadder than I ever imagined it would.

But then something happened....

An unexpected package arrived at my door. When I opened it I was like whoaaaaaa a box full of dog toys! Some friends of mine from miles and miles away had gotten together and made some handmade dog toys for my "kids"... coolest thing ever! It was so awesome to open that and I was like oh man now I don't have to break my 16 year dog present streak! I decided to wait until Christmas Eve and let dogs have them then..

The next day another.. a bigger box arrived at the front door. It was from my brother and I assumed he had gotten me something large for Christmas like a life sized statue of Tom Cruise...but, I decided to wait to open it also on Christmas Eve..

Well, its Christmas Eve and I opened that large package and my brother had sent me a nice necklace. the big part wasn't for me though...  It was for the dogs. It seems their Uncle had gone to the pet store and picked out every Christmas dog toy collection and wrapped them all up together.

So the dogs got to open their gifts and they didn't have to go a Christmas with no toys. Beula, who is the newest addition to my family, had her first Christmas with me.. when she came into the room and saw the massive pile of toys she just stood and stared for a moment. She picked something out and went to try and hide it... I told her it was ok, but she seemed suspicious of the whole thing. The other dogs were going to town because they knew.. they knew it was that magical time of year that they get a huge quantity of toys and that their next step would be to destroy them and leave a mound of stuffing in the living room. Next year, Beula will know and she won't take her toy and hide away. This may be her first Christmas.. her first pile of toys.. I don't know... she was one of those dogs who was adopted as a baby... and dumped when she got big. So now she is mine and tonight she is sound asleep after learning about cool things that arrive in surprise packages by the front door.  She learned about Christmas and good friends from far away and thoughtful family.

Virgil Humperdink Rat Terrier Extraordinaire is in awe over the large amount of Christmas toys.. he said he would have never gotten such gifts in the puppy mill he came from. 

Matisse is an expert now on Christmas toy time. He is pretty old now so he got to have a special toy time before the wonder twins were let loose. He hasn't really played for months.. but, he had a few moments and it made me so happy to see him have a little bit of time where he seemed young again. 

Bella is still pretty hesitant to go all nuts with the toys. This is her second Christmas with me and considering the condition she was in when I got her.. I bet this is probably her second Christmas ever. When I first got her, she didn't even seem to know what toys were. Her foster mother who took such good care of her, was one of the toy makers - so that makes the handmade toys extra special. you can see one up in the top left corner.. the one with the crazy eyes. 

Beula had her first Christmas here and took off with a stuffed Christmas tree to go and hide it. She didn't seem to understand that it was ok and that the big pile of toys was for her. Usually she loves the camera and I can't keep her out of the shot, but she was on the move here. She is Sylvia's sister and this is their first Christmas together. Sylvia set her straight though.. she showed her how it was done. 

Jillian Jones Appalachian Dog went crazy- like she does every year.. so crazy that this is probably the most focused pic I got of her. 

Sylvia remembered and instead of just picking one, she just laid down on them all. She fell on love with one of the handmade toys and stowed it away in her kennel for later. Then she went back to one her Uncle had given her and worked to remove the stuffing.  It didn't take long for her to show her sister that they didn't even need to choose just one- that they could stuff 2 or 3 in their giant mouths.

Sir Nigel Longbottom is missing from these pictures due to naughtiness. He really only likes to play on his own anyway. He does not find it dignified to play tug a war with others. He likes alone time to play so he will have some tomorrow with me. He has an affinity for tennis balls that do not even fit in his chihuahua mouth.
Merry Christmas! Thank you John and the girls from IA.. the dogs thank you and I do to.. because I had a blast watching them... now I have to sweep though.. it looks like it snowed in here and I see pieces of Santa Clause tossed around the living room... it kind of looks like a cartoon murder took place in here. the dogs are happy though.. and quiet... except for the snoring.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why are they not chosen?

I have volunteered in shelters for many years. When I was a kid, my Dad would drive me to the Kiya Koda Humane Society in Indianola, IA where I would walk dogs and feed cats. It was a great experience and I, of course, fell in love with many of the animals I met. I remember one little bitty dog that I was helping to brush. Some people were there looking to adopt and I remember being in shock over how they didn't choose that little one. It was the most perfect dog in the world I thought. Years later, I went back to that same shelter as an adult and found my own perfect dog- Matisse.

One of the shelters I volunteered with later was the Animal Lifeline. They are a small no kill shelter in Des Moines, IA. I would go on a Friday night with a friend and we would walk dogs and clean cat cages and give meds. Back in those days, I had started college to become a vet.. I never did become a vet.. I came out an artist instead. The no kill shelter was great in that I knew every animal would be there the next time I went into work.. and if not, their absence was a good thing because it meant they had a home. That shelter specialized in injured and abused animals. I saw so many horrendous things. Animals beaten so badly they had to have limbs removed and bones set. I learned there what bait puppies were. At that shelter, I also saw time and again the horrendous aftermath of what puppy mills do to dogs... prolapsed uterus, rotten teeth, dogs that looked 10 that were only 2. I held warm packs to cats who were recovering from amputation and talked softly to dogs with litters who had been left behind in abandoned homes. It was a very good learning experience and it was there that I learned why heavy gloves should be used when handling a cat hoarder's victim. ouch. But, I always wondered how so many of the animals never left. They stayed and stayed. I kept wondering why did not anyone chose this one or that one.. they were so perfect... why were they not chosen? Some never were. They lived out their lives in that little shelter and those broke my heart the most, because I knew them. I knew how amazing they were and I just never could understand why they never were chosen.

Years later, after tons of non vet college, I volunteered at a small rural shelter in TN. The Newport shelter is were I began this whole project. When I began they had high euthanasia rates and were in the start of their rolling rescue program. Through the efforts of so many to send animals off to other no kills, their rates have declined. Many times though I wondered why the no kill rescues were not interested in one dog or another. I wondered why they wouldn't choose a hound I found particularly friendly or a beautiful mop of a dog that sat patiently in her kennel. That was a hard place to be. It was there that I photographed the euthanasia. I saw dogs and puppies die and it was the most horrible thing. The whole time I just didn't understand why not one of them were chosen? Why wasn't there someone out there who could have loved that red bone coonhound or given that pit mix puppy a chance? Why not them? Why couldn't they have been sent to safety or to a home? On one hand, I saw miracles there. I saw dogs sent to New York who ended up on national TV and living on Park Avenue, but I also saw dogs die because they weren't chosen. While there, I was able to do something amazing. I drove the rescue van up to New York with 30 something dogs and puppies to safety at no kills. I was elated and tired when I arrived, but when I walked into the massive warehouse of a building at the SPCA my heart sank a bit. It wasn't because they were not taken care of - they were well taken care of.. may people working there to save every life they could. What upset me was the sheer numbers. I don't know how many, but cage after cage. I don't know how many that were there were never going to be chosen to be adopted. I know I heard many wonderful stories about our TN dogs and how they were chosen. But, what about the rest? I still wonder if there are any there today still waiting that were there in 2006 when I went.

Now I find myself going to the Miami Dade Animal Services in Miami Florida. I was drawn to them due to the massive numbers they take in and the high numbers that never make it out to safety. When I started, I just went in to take my pics to use in my art and did not announce my visits or talk with anyone. One trip changed that in that I caught an especially sad image of a dog. I was terrified she would never be seen because she was so scared. I knew no one would see her the way I did. I knew no one would choose her.. so I put her picture online. It helped. She did find a home. So now, when I go, I try to go through the pictures as quickly as I can because I know their time is limited.. just too many coming in constantly. I post those the images that come out really well and/or those dogs who connected with me or that I think just needed that extra help. I miss so many though, but I try. I post them on Facebook and people share them and it seems to have helped some. Not all though. Still, no matter how many times they are shared and no matter how many eyes fall upon that dog or no matter how many people meet the dog it is still not chosen. I find it heartbreaking to read that a dog I had hopes for has been euthanized. It happens all the time. Why could not someone have just chosen that dog or that puppy? Why couldn't a no kill have chosen that one? Below is the picture of one such dog. Her name was Brown Eyes. She waited for someone to take her. She had her picture circulated online. She attended an adoption event.. and none of it worked... no one chose her.. and she died.

The sad thing is that no matter wether a dog or a cat is in a kill or a no kill shelter.. if they are never chosen they either are left to live their entire life in a cage or they have their life ended too soon. There is nothing wrong with the unchosen other than no one wanted to or could take them away and give them a life. I will never know why one is chosen over another. It is hard.. when you go to adopt it can be overwhelming in the shelter.. there are so many. That is the problem though. There are too many. Until we, as a society, stop breeding our pets and start adopting there will be millions unchosen every year. You may hear numbers quoted as to how many millions are killed each year in shelters.. think about how those numbers can be lessened if only we choose to do the right thing and adopt and not breed our pets. Also keep in mind that while millions die in shelters over not begin chosen .. millions more languish in cages waiting to be chosen year after year. If you find yourself wanting a pet.. adopting is the way to go. You not only get to choose a fantastic new member for your family, but you also get to choose to save a life.. and that is a pretty cool choice to make.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I have been wanting to make videos about the shelter animals for sometime now. This is just my first one using the photos from the last visit. Please pass it on... I am hoping that if people can just see the great animals that are waiting at the shelters.. then they will adopt.. or foster.. or volunteer.. or give... or simply work to educate others. We have a big problem, too many animals die in out shelters every year because of societies inaction to save them and the rampant irresponsibility that exists. Please, fix your pets.. don't buy them - adopt. We, as a society, have the ability to stop the millions from being killed yearly. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I went back to the shelter in Miami to take more photos. I had not been for a long time. A very long time. It just costs so much to go there since I am about 2 hours away. I decided that when I sold my last photo that it was a sign that I needed to go back.. so I did. The day that I was there they had over 400 animals. I had wanted to take photos of every one of them. However, I never got any cat photos and I thought I had all the dogs (aside from those in quarantine)... but on my way home I realized that I missed a few. Ugh. I have a lot of photos. A lot... more than I have ever taken before. It is hard to take the photos in the shelter.. I have bars and chain link to deal with.. the dogs are scared.. they are excited and they don't just sit and stay still for me. So many times I can take tons of pictures and only 1 or 2 are decent.

When I was there though, it was cool because I got to photo some of the dogs outside in the play area. I  just let them run around and play and worked to capture them in a more natural way. I only got a few that way - the shelter is very busy and the volunteers and workers who help me with taking them out were awesome!

So .. here are a few of the photos.. taken at Miami Dade Animal Service on Dec. 4 2011. If you are interested in any of them or know someone who is please contact them at 7401 NW 74 St Miami, FL 33166 phone #305-884-1101. Their website is

Please keep in mind I am not an employee of the shelter.. just an artist with a camera so if you have questions about the dogs please contact the shelter. Also- please note- although I do want the photos shared to help save their lives, the photos are all copyrighted. I do not give permission to use them in advertising, sales, reproductions, etc. I post them now simply to help save the dogs.. the photos are my work.. so please do not steal my work.