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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Conduct Unbecoming

I wanted to share with you one of the saddest things I have ever encountered. When I began my project years ago, I had thought the hardest thing about this would be knowing that the animals I would meet and make work about would die. My subjects have died and continue to do so, but what has me the most upset are the people.

In November of 2007, I gave my first interview for the project. I did interviews for the paper, radio and then the TV news arrived. The day I met with a local reporter, I had just lost my Grandmother. I remember how excited I was when the shelter had told me that the channel 10 out of Knoxville had contacted them and wanted to meet with me. It was scary since the project was still new- at that point I was still trying to find the best work and had a few drawings, a ton of photographs, and a trash bin full of rejected art. I had hoped to have a bigger and better body of work before I went in front of a camera, but I couldn't pass it up-- after all, it wasn't just about me and my work- it was about the dogs and cats in the shelter-- the interview could help save them. At the time I had lived an hour away from the shelter so I got up that day and cried over my Grandmother, got in the car with my few meager drawings and drove to the shelter. It was hard, talking about death and not being able to say anything about the loss in my family. I also hate being on camera, but I had to promote my work and more importantly I had to promote the animals.
This is a digital image I have created for my upcoming show. I do believe that this particular dog was either adopted or taken to a rescue. I print my photos and digital images in numbers of 52 to represent the 52 weeks a year that animals lose their lives due to not being adopted or rescued. 

At the same time I was meeting with channel 10, another news station got wind of the situation. Instead of coming to me about my work, they took the overcrowded shelter angle. I never met with them, instead I saw their report on t.v. and talked with the shelter staff about their experience afterwards. The other station had showed a story about a small town shelter dealing with overcrowding and at one point the reporter held up an elderly yorki mix and proclaimed that the dog would be killed. The shelter directed had told me later that the dog actually had a rescue to take it- but when asked if the dog could be killed she had said yes, since- until they leave through the front door- they do have that chance of being euthanized. She could have shown a number of healthy and wonderful animals that needed homes and explain how they would have made wonderful pets- but, she did not.

I went to work the next day and my coworkers all had seen the stories and it was exciting to be able to talk to them about it. I had such high hopes. There had been press and the world was told about the dogs and cats needing homes- they had been told about the urgency-- people knew and they could do something about it.

Feral Cat #1- a digital image taken from a photo from MDAS.  This cat was probably the most terrified animal I have met while doing the project- it was killed shortly after I took photos of it. I believe this image makes it look peaceful.. my goal in the digital work is not to capture their terror- but, to work to capture their beauty.
Due to my finances and distance from the shelter, I was not able to go back until a week later. When I walked into the shelter, I was smiling and excited to hear about all the adoptions that most certainly would have occurred due to all of the press. What I was met with was something I had never expected. The shelter had not been inundated with people whose eyes had been opened and had come in to save a life. Instead, the shelter was inundated with call after call from people who wanted to call them murderers and killers. They had people call to tell them not to kill the elderly yorki mix. No rescue groups came out of the woodwork to sweep in and take a van full to a no kill. Instead the shelter was fielding calls and dealing with angry people- they were not adopting- they were only yelling. I was told one man had driven over from Knoxville - an hour away- and he adopted two kittens- aside from that they said that they had more intake than they had seen in a long time and less adoptions.  They had a huge number of owner surrenders. I felt like someone had reached inside of my chest and had grabbed a hold my heart and squeezed the last bit of life out of me. I felt more sad over that than I had for every single dog and cat who had died- animals continued to die and all anyone seemed to want to do was yell.

Things are different now. I make work not just about the animals that die- my focus is just on the animals in the shelter. I go to Miami now for my subjects. However, there is the same problem. People go into a frenzy when an animal is killed- yet, there is no frenzy to adopt. Because I now post my work online, I follow the comments and stories about the ones I post- but also of the rescue community in general. Nothing upsets me more than when I post a dog and month later that dog is still there. No one came for it and very little is done until it is killed. When it dies people become angry (as we all should) and they point fingers and blame the shelter. They call the shelter workers murderers and killers. I am tired of the name calling.

Digital image created from a dog from MDAS. I do not know the fate of this dog.  I work to remove their bars while not completely removing them. This is one where I have left much more of the bars/chainlink. When I take the photos, sometimes it is very hard to truly see the dogs and cats behind the cage walls- this is my way to better show them. 

 Recently, I had been called a cancer when I was questioning one group who was causing some confusion in their postings on facebook. It is all conduct unbecoming. If people spent half as much time figuring out ways to save the lives instead of going insane when they are lost- imagine how much progress could be made. I wish those involved in rescue would realize that by constantly putting out there such horrible words such as murder- they are pushing some people away from ever stepping foot into a shelter. After all, who wants to walk through the door of a place full of murderers? I wonder if that reporter had not held up that dog and proclaimed it was going to be killed... if people would have responded differently. Maybe.. maybe not. Words matter and to those outside of the rescue community who are looking to adopt will see those words. Do we want people to adopt in a panic merely to be able to save a life- or do we want people to adopt because they want a new member in their family?

We can all say the shelters are the ones killing the animals, because physically they are the ones who are giving the lethal dose. But, what about the lethal dose that is put upon a shelter when it comes to public perception? We should always be honest, but should we not want to promote that there are tons of happy and healthy animals in the shelter? By using such language and attacking those in the shelters- and people such as myself who are involved, it can turn off a public who might otherwise want to do the right thing by adopting. We need the public to adopt- not to be horrified- we don't need a knee jerk reaction - we need a way to bring more responsible people in and not scare them away from the shelters.
Snow and Flakes are two dogs who were abused and ended up at the shelter. At the time I write this- they are still in quarantine from the distemper outbreak. From what I understand, is that there is a rescue will take them once they are cleared. This digital image is one that I especially wanted to create since I had a hard time getting a decent photo of them. They were in the west wing- a more isolated part of the shelter- not as well traveled by adopters and the kennels have a tight chain link that is hard to work with in photography. 

I almost quit the project when I heard about the lack of adoptions and the huge number of people harassing them. But, there was that one man.. that one man who drove an hour to get there... and he adopted two kittens. He got it. He understood and knew action speaks louder than words... so, whoever that man is.. he is why I continue to do this.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I do get it

Once upon a time, I had a belief that as long as an animal made it alive out of a "kill" shelter, that was all that mattered. But, I know now that is a pretty ignorant belief. What I now believe is that all dogs and cats deserve not only to live- but, they deserve a home where they will be properly cared for. I believe that dogs and cats deserve to live out their lives uncaged and to get the proper medical care and proper nutrition they deserve. I believe that the animals that have been abandoned by society in shelters deserve real homes. They should never be put into situations which cause them pain and suffering. 
Dogs I met in the TN shelter. They had come from a hoarding situation from a person had at least 10- I believe there were more at the home. There were other dogs with poodle type coats that were in terrible need of grooming. The dogs were highly unsocialized and were terrified. Some wonderful people who did foster at the shelter came forward and were able to work with some of them. To my knowledge, these two were not so lucky. 

One of the best rescues I have ever worked with is a "no kill" shelter in Des Moines IA, called the Animal Lifeline. I believe in who they are and what they do. As far as a "no kill" shelter, they are a great example of a long standing group who provides the best care for their animals- they active in the community and do not take in more than they can handle. My mistake was thinking that they were all like this. I used to volunteer there to clean, walk, give meds, do public events ... a myriad of things. I was there because I saw a strong organization that bent over backwards to take care of their medically needy residents and provided beds and toys in every cage. They made sure the dogs were walked multiple times daily and all of the cats got to have some time out of their cages daily. The food that the animals were fed was not the cheap grocery store type. They believed in quality in all aspects of the care of their animals. That is what I knew to be how a no kill was run. I made the mistake of believing they were all run like that. 

Now, there are some major obstacles that shelters deal with and those are the facts that there is not an endless supply of money and adopters, but a seemingly endless supply of people dumping their pets. What this has done to the rescue community as a whole has driven a deep divide between those who are with the "kill" shelters and those with the "no kill" shelters. The thing is that people are looking at the obstacles with different understandings of the reality. 

This is one of the first dogs I took pictures of for project fifty-two. She was a beautiful pit- she was covered with scars and still sagging from feeding her litter. Not one person came to adopt her.. no "no kills" were interested in her because she was a pit bull. She was an amazing dog.. one of the friendliest dogs I have ever met. She died.. no one came for her.. and I was mad.. I am still mad. 
I never want a healthy animal to die in a shelter. In fact, that is why I do the work I do. I could make paintings of flowers and make a decent living off of my art, but I choose instead.. a subject that drains me financially and emotionally because I want the killing to stop. The problem with the divide with the "kill" and "no kill" sides is that they both appear to want to end the killing. But, like I said, the realities are different. Some believe that there needs to be a bigger push to get society as a whole to be more responsible since they are the ones dumping the animals - others see the shelter systems as the one at fault.  If all of the dogs and cats pulled from a "kill" shelter were put into safe and loving homes or put into a quality no kill like the one I had experience with - then I would firmly plant my feet onto the "no kill" side. But, I know better. I cannot see how the full blame can be put solely on the shoulders of the "kill" shelters. Do they need to do better- yes, of course,,, but I do not believe that change can come from fighting only one front. This is a multi pronged problem that not only includes the shelter system- but, the public... and even "no kill" rescues as well. 

The internet has given me a very nice ability to look into the world of rescue. I have learned that some dogs are pulled from MDAS and just left in boarding for - sometimes- months. It had never even occurred to me that boarding was being used in rescue for anything but a short term solution for issues like quarantine. Some rescues do not appear to have proper facilities - some are pulled- I think the dog is safe and then I see that same dog being posted online with someone begging for a foster. Some dogs had even ended up across the state in a rescue that had been shut down for fire code violations. There have been far too many news articles about rescues being shut down due to horrible conditions and too many stories about animals caught up in hoarding situations -- and far too many of those are operating under the guise of rescue. Some animals have even been rescued and sent to other rescues and adopters - sight unseen - in other parts of the country. (please note that, although I mention these bad examples- there are a myriad of good rescues out there who do proper home visits and have proper facilities, fosters, and funding in place prior to ever pulling an animal.. always please support good rescues)
This is a feral cat I met at the TN shelter. Feral cats are euthanized unless someone offers a farm or land where they can be fixed and released. Some sanctuaries take in feral cats- but, there are far too many cats though. Far too many die in the shelters- not enough adopters and "no kills" taking them to safety. I do not understand why more people are not adopting cats. I have read that at MDAS only 10% of the cats are adopted or taken to rescues... but, I do believe this number will be increasing. 

Currently, there is no real state oversight in Florida for rescue groups. No regular inspections and no requirements for them to provided ongoing data of animals in their care- including intake numbers, adoption numbers and numbers of those who have died in their care. I am surprised with the numerous news articles I have read about rescues gone wrong that there has not been more of a push for the oversight of them. Instead, Florida has introduced the Animal Rescue Act that would require that all "kill" shelters give all animals to rescues that are going to be euthanized if those are rescues willing to take them. Of course, it is clearly stated that they can refuse to do so to groups with criminal convictions or pending animal abuse or neglect charges. However, the proposal uses the word "may".. it does not say that they cannot- it says that they "may" refuse to give the animals to them- the word "may" used in legal documents is referring to the choice to act or not. This same word also is used in regards to requiring rescues to even disclose the information. Why in the world would someone have written this in such a way that a shelter can technically not choose to even ask for a disclosure from a rescue in regards to criminal behavior involving animal abuse? Technically, this means that a city shelter could legally not do a check and they could legally not refuse to give an animal to an abuser. In addition it also states that a shelter "may" require that the rescues give them monthly inspections and stats. So again- a shelter could technically choose to not do any inspections of the rescues that are taking their animals. On the flip side, a good shelter should take the time to do all inspections and checks on criminal behavior and this language would allow them the ability to request stats and do inspections- but, are all of them going to do that? Do they all have the manpower and frankly does ever shelter even care once the animal is out their doors? Some shelters may be poorly run in some areas - they could not even care enough to bother with any checks at all. Since rescue groups are not monitored and this legislation does not mandate it - technically, dogs and cats could be saved from euthanasia only to be sent to rescues who are not doing the best by the animals. 

I used to believe wholeheartedly in the Animal Rescue Act. However, I was mistaken when I first read it- I didn't really catch onto the word "may". When I first read it I thought that it was all mandated - but, I want to thank No Kill Nation for opening my eyes to unenforceable mandates. Recently I had asked them about their opposition to the proposal regarding changes in the way the city of Miami runs its shelter. One of the things I was loving about that proposal was, what I thought, was enforceable mandates regarding the very same thing that I am having problems with in the Animal Rescue Act. I had loved the part about the rescue registry and how they needed to be contacted of impending euthanasia- but, in regards to the oversight of those rescues it uses the word "may"- just as the Animal Rescue Act. Now No Kill Nation has asked everyone to oppose the legislation that Miami has proposed - and when I asked why- they simply stated that is did not have enforceable mandates. Yes, the word "may" provides discretion. Just as in the Animal Rescue Act the word "may" provides discretion regarding a pretty huge issue involving the future safety of the animals. So I want to thank them for making me realize that,  what I thought was a magnificent proposal, is really just something that does not fully protect the animals. I am not sure who wrote it- but, I can't imagine why a person would not make something iron clad into the bill that would prevent the animals from going from one danger to another. 
This is the first dog I posted on facebook in attempt to help her. She received a huge response - someone adopted her- but, quickly changed their mind because she was sick. It became a bit of a three ring circus- from what I understand she did finally find a home and is safe. You can read some of what took place here. ttps:// that is only one thread - there were others. I am grateful for those that helped her- but, I almost never posted another picture after this. 

If it passes- great- but, I hope that someone will immediately begin to work on protections for the animals that create laws to license and inspect rescues. I am tired of reading stories of animals stuck in hoarding situations that are forced to live in cages their entire lives. I am sick of reading about rescues who are shut down due to not caring properly for the animals in their care. I am beyond upset about reading that animals are having to be re saved and being put right back into the system. 

I want to read about shelters and rescues working together to save lives. I looked for a long time at a worthy cause that does this very thing- so that I could give them a percentage of my sales in an upcoming show. I have found that- it is a transport program right out of MDAS. They take dogs- and now cats- to no kill rescues in other cities and states. I have been assured that the no kills are looked into that they are doing the transport to. Many lives have been saved through this.. I'll talk more about transports on another blog.. this one has gotten too long... and I just needed to defend myself- because I do get it. 
I did not get the intake number on this dog- this dog, I believe, was adopted or taken to rescue from MDAS. This is one of my new digital pieces. 

Monday, January 9, 2012


 Shelters should and will always have a need to exist. They need to be there for times when a person truly has nowhere to go.  A person who has passed away and has no family or friends to take their pets needs a refuge for their beloved pets. Stray dogs and cats need a place to go so that they can be reclaimed by their owners or adopted out to more responsible people. Sometimes a person finds themselves homeless and must make a terrible decision to leave their pet because they have nowhere to go. Natural disasters happen and there needs to be a place for pets to be safe while things get put back in order. Shelters do have a purpose, but the problem is that people use them less like their intended purpose and more like a trash can for their unwanted pets. 

Every time I see someone drop an animal off, I am upset. It could be that someone has run into an incredibly hard situation and has had to let go of a beloved member of their family. However, too many times it is not that at all. In just the last two visits that I made to the shelter I saw two people leaving their elderly dogs because they were "just too old". I find those the worst. I cannot imagine taking my elderly dog, that has stood loyally by my side for years, to the shelter. What are they thinking? Why in the world do they think it is someone else's responsibility to take care of their aged dog? Do they think their pet would be better off? If that is their thinking- they are so far from the truth... so very far. Their pet will end up being placed in an unfamiliar cage in a place where they know no one. Their dog or cat will probably shake and cry, they may stop eating.. they might even get sick and some even just die in their cages. If they are lucky, someone will adopt them, but the chance of that is slim. The competition is fierce in there- most people want a baby or one with several years left in them. More than likely, that dog or cat that they left at the shelter will die by a lethal injection and leave the shelter in a plastic bag. If the shelter is a no kill- depending on the shelter- they may spend their last days in a cage, in a kennel with many other dogs and cats who may also spend their entire lives in a cage- waiting. And the thing that rips me up the most about the elderly pets- is that they do wait. They wait at their cage doors, because they believe with every ounce of their being that the person that betrayed them will return for them. I have seen it so many times.. and it never becomes less painful to see. The people who do this to their pets are some of the most heartless people in the world. 

Some people adopt a pet and have no idea what they are getting into. They may find that they have failed at house training and they just give up and take their pet the shelter. On some levels, I have a bit more sympathy for them.. not because they were right to dump their pet- but, because they had failed at trying to teach their pet to live in the human world. I know I have had a hell of time teaching pets of
 mine to become housebroken and to not climb up the curtains. Those people are the ones that I think may still have a chance. They are the people that shelters should be focusing on as people who can be educated. If a person dumps their pet due to housebreaking issues, what if they could be part of a second chance program where the shelter works with trainers who can help to educate the people? If there are programs in place to work with people then I wonder how many pets could be saved. I do see programs in some shelters to offer free training and education and I think that can make a huge difference. Not all people will be responsible enough to follow through- those I do not have an ounce of sympathy for- they are lazy and irresponsible and their pet may end up dead because of their actions. One of the worst things that a person can do is take in a puppy- not train it- allow behavior issues to become a part of it and then dump it on the shelter. Those people need to be held responsible for their inaction in their duties- but, they are not. My hope is that with the various programs being implemented in shelters that there will be enough people to be responsible and avoid or change the behaviors of their pets.. those that do should be very proud of themselves.

Some people adopt or buy a cute puppy or kitten and then, once it gets big, they dump it. Every year, a few months after Christmas there are dogs and cats dumped because they were a present that grew. Often times, they keep them just long enough to have them through the cutest, smallest, and most adoptable phase of their life before dumping them. Sometimes, there are even people that do it over and over again. I wish there was a way to just stop them. But, there is not. Those are people that I think need to be called in to watch their pet die when no one adopts it and they need to be told to their face that their pet died because of them. This is why pets do not make good gifts. They should never be brought into the home on a whim and there needs to be a large amount of research done as to what needs to be done to properly care for them. Breeders and pet shops are far to eager to allow just anyone to take their babies - after all, if they turned irresponsible people away it would affect their income. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told by someone who had bought from a breeder that they were told their dog would not get too big.. yes, labs do get big. Sometimes, people have been convinced to buy multiple puppies so they won't be lonely. They are not educated properly.. not at all. Far too few breeders are looking out for the best interest of their litters. There are some, and those are the ones who will put into a contract that the dog or cat needs to be returned to them. Even shelters don't do a good enough job on educating people who adopt puppies.... some are very good at it. But, others are not and I wonder of only taking an adopter aside and sitting down with them to give them resources and talking with them about what it really takes would lessen the number of returns. But, then again.. shelters are so overrun I think they are just happy as hell to see any adoption.

Some people, no matter what kind of education or resources are given to them will always fail their pets. There is too much abuse happening and not enough prosecuting of the abusers- too many lax laws and not enough tracking of the animal abusers. This might just appear to be an issue for the pets, but there are many cases where people who abuse animals go on to abuse people. Why not stop them in their tracks the minute they starve a dog or beat a cat? Why must we wait until they do something against a human? It seems society would be better served to keep abuse of humans down if only they would start with the abuse of animals. Some people refuse to spay and neuter their animals and constantly are adding the the massive overpopulation issues we have with dogs and cats in this country. There are others who are too lazy to even vaccinate their pets and then dump sick animals in shelters - not only giving a death sentence to their pet, but to every single animal they come in contact with. I have no sympathy for them.. I save my sympathy for their victims.

So basically, shelters need to exist- there are legitimate reasons why shelters need to be. People are abusing the service. They have discovered that shelters will take on their messes. They have put down their responsibility and placed it upon the shoulders of the shelter workers. luckily for the dogs and cats who are victim to the those people, there are people who are working for them and fighting for them. But, it is a losing battle until things change. Either "kill" shelters will be forced to continue to kill millions each year due to space, illness and budgets.. or "no kills" will be forced to house animals that may or may not ever find homes- how much can they truly take on? How long can they keep it up? I see articles all the time about overflowing shelters and lack of funds.. it doesn't matter what side of the fence people are on about what kind of shelter is better- what matters is that society is irresponsible- ignorant and sometimes downright callous in their care of their pets.

 There needs to be changes in the community since they are the ones who are causing the problem. I firmly believe that there should be mandatory spay an neuter laws and that spays and neuters should be free. As a taxpayer, I would much rather have my money go to fixing cats to prevent future ones than to go to house the many litters of unwanted kittens who may end up just being killed or warehoused- using tax payer money. Puppy mills need to be stopped and breeders need to have more oversight. Hoarders of animals need to be stopped and instead of getting sympathy need to be made to never own animals again- too many times they contribute to mass influxes of animals when they are busted. No kill shelters need more oversight as well and there needs to be more partnerships between them and the city shelters. People who use rescue animals for their own monetary gain need to be punished severely and all abusers should have much harsher punishments. Education of those adopting and buying pets should have mandatory education and anyone who brings in an elderly pet to be dumped needs to called when their pet is about to be killed and to be told exactly how much that animal missed them. Shelters should exist for those times when they need to be there-- we need to stop allowing them to be used as dumping grounds for all of the people that should know better-- and often do.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Distemper, anger, and why the hell this is so hard

I make art about animal shelter animals. I know when I go in to the shelter, that the photos I take of the dog and cats may very well be the last image of them to ever show that they ever existed. I chose a subject matter that is one of the hardest things I could have ever chosen. Some people paint beautiful paintings of flowers- I make art about animals that are most likely going to die.

When I go in in the shelter, I take hundreds of pictures in hopes that I get a good few ones. Then, I go home and try to quickly go through the massive numbers of photos - edit them and post them online. I figure that since I have chosen the subject matter of shelter dogs/cats for my art- I have an obligation to use those photos to attempt to help them... the art used to come first, until I got on Facebook and discovered the cross posters and rescue groups... the images were always about a memory- now, they can act as that- but, they can also work as a tool to save a life. Sometimes I find that people respond very strongly to an image I post.. and it helps to find them a home or a safe place in a no kill rescue. Those photos will not go on to serve as memories of the dogs/cats- they will serve as victories. To be able to use my work to help those who I photograph is something that makes the heavy subject matter bearable to me.

At the shelter I began in I photographed the euthanasia. I remember the dogs well. I remember how much I really loved one of them, but I could not stop it... I could only use my camera to capture it .. to show the world how wrong we are for what we do. That day was hard, but I went in knowing what the outcome would be .. I knew there was no hope, I was able to take a deep breath and do my job.. I knew that what was happening was not due to my own actions- I was simply an observer. When I got home that night, friends wanted me to go out .. I didn't want to.. I went and climbed in bed and thought about what I saw.. it was bad.. I stayed in bed for a long time.

But now, I have hope when I take the photos. I am not able to go to the shelter as often as I would like, but when I do, I post what I can. There is at least a hope that what I am doing might, in some small part, help change the outcome. For the first time in this work, I feel like something I do can make a change.. no matter how small.. and infrequent.. my actions can affect what happens to them. So over the last week or so, I have had the opportunity to help make changes. I have had to drive to Miami 3 times in that short period and I have been able to take hundreds more pictures than I have before. I have been able to go back in after taking a photo of a dog- or cat and be able to try again.. take a better photo. I have been able to see dogs that were scared of me the first visit- now come up to their kennel door and say hello. I have been able to watch as the photos I posted have been shared on Facebook and have had reactions and actions ....and I have been able to follow the stories of some of them who have been saved. It had all left me wishing I were closer.. and able to go much more often.

Today though, I took a huge hit. The shelter has a distemper outbreak. If you are unfamiliar with distemper, it is a pretty horrific and contagious disease and can leave those that survive with lasting issues. Although the disease is horrific, the most horrific thing about it is that there is a vaccine- and if people had only vaccinated their dogs- there would be no outbreak. The shelter can vaccinate every dog that comes through their door- but, it takes time to work.. and all it takes is one irresponsible person to dump their sick, unvaccinated pet there.

So now, I have no idea if the dogs I have posted and seen so many people working so hard to save.. will make it out. Already, there were 18 dogs euthanized because of it.. the shelter is closed down for owner surrenders and adopters while they work to contain it. I know there were dogs there that were set to be saved today, but now.. are in quarantine.. if they survive the outbreak- they have a safe place to go.. but, will they survive? I don't know.

What is killing me the most.. what is just killing me.. is that there were two dogs that I had posted pictures of online.. I wanted so badly for them to be seen.. they are named Snow and Flakes and were in the west wing of the shelter- an area so much less traveled by potential adopters and not as easy a place to find for those unfamiliar with the shelter. So, when I saw them.. I wanted to try and help them. They reminded me of some dogs that I had met in the TN shelter years ago who had come from a hoarder.. and the minute I saw them they really just got to me. I took several photos of them.. but, it was the worst time of day.. the sun was going down and when I got home, I was not happy with my work- but I worked with what I had.. and I posted their pictures and crossed my fingers and hoped. After posting them, I read that they had been abused and that one had an imbedded collar.. it just made me want them to be saved just that much more. People responded.. they saw the photos-- they had learned about their history from other people working them online.. and then the dogs got sick.. they got a URI.. a cold.. and people worked harder and harder to share them online and just as I thought they would be euthanized it appeared that there were people who were actually going to save them. What is killing me about this that I was at the shelter yesterday.. and they had the driver who was supposed to pick them up yesterday .. and they were not able to do it.. if I had only known.. if I had known.. I was right there.. I could have got them... and today, they are in quarantine with over 200 others and I have no idea if they will make it out.

 This outbreak never should have happened. It happens in shelters all over the country from time to time. The most horrible thing about it all is that it was totally preventable. All dogs should be vaccinated and the person or people who failed to do so are the cause of the dogs dying. Was it the person who let their dog run in the streets to be picked up? Was it the person who let their dog breed and then dumped her and her multiple puppies there? Was it the person who decided that their dog was too old so they dumped it at a  shelter that has so few adopters that more dogs end up dying than being adopted each year? Who was the irresponsible person that not only failed their own pet by allowing it to end up at the shelter, but also caused not only their own dogs death but the deaths of many others? Who was it that cared so little that they didn't take the time to get a simple vaccine? Who the hell was it that is causing the deaths of the dogs that I wanted to badly to help save? I honestly am more disgusted by the actions of this person than I am of the day I watched the euthanasia.

All of the pictures on this post are dogs that I photographed on my last visit. Will they survive? I do not know.. I don't. I should be excited now.. I have a show coming up.. and this was probably the last visit I was going to make before the show.. now I am completely heartbroken.. completely.. because when I have that show I won't be able to tell so many stories of how the sad dog behind bars in the photo found a wonderful home.. no, I will have to tell them that the sad dog behind the bars died.. because someone didn't bother to vaccinate their dog. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

a deadly sneeze

I was at the Miami Dade Animal Services again yesterday. I usually don't visit so often- but, I had the misfortune of buying a car from Car Max about a week ago and they keep messing up with fixing some issues with it. I try to keep things in perspective and have decided to not blow a fuse over the fact that I made a 4 hour round trip yesterday to pick up my car .. only to be told that the part was not even in.. so much for the "it'll be done by 4 p.m." .. so yeah, I have decided that it is just the universe forcing me to go to the shelter again.. because the dogs have a cold.
Peter was healthy when I took his picture, but I have read that he now has a URI.

One terrible part of shelter life for dogs- and cats, is that they are often times subjected to germs. Just as we might pick up a cold when we are out at the mall or grocery store ...touching things other people have touched and breathing air others have coughed in.. the animals in shelters also have the same problem. It sucks. URI, or upper respiratory infections are a very common problem with animals housed in groups. Especially when there is an open admission shelter (one that takes in all dogs and cats and does not turn any away) there is more of a chance for the URIs and other infectious problems to be passed on. I have also seen URIs in no kill shelters with selective intake, so it is not unique to large city shelters.. it happens everywhere and is not limited to shelters- pet shops, groomers.. it can be spread anywhere- which is why, if you ever board your pet they should require a vaccine to prevent it while in their care.

Troy was feeling good and playing when I met him, but I have just read that he also has the URI now. 

The URI can actually be a number of things that actually cause it- but generally, when it happens the animals cough, sneeze, become lethargic and act just like we do when we are hit with a bad cold. They are miserable.. just think how you felt the last time you were up all night coughing. I adopted a puppy from the shelter more than a year ago. She had been infected and once I had her home, she quickly became sick. I had my dogs inoculated, but they also became sick. (that is why it is always recommended to quarantine new pets) Now, the URI is usually totally treatable and if a dog- or cat is healthy they should generally be able to go through a course of medication and be fine. In my case, I treated Sylvia and my dogs and it took several days- but everyone was and is still fine. Now, there are times when the URI is too much for an animal. A while back, I fostered a pregnant cat and right before she gave birth, the germs she had picked up at the shelter hit her. She was medicated, her newly born babies were medicated- but they were all lost- they were just too little and not able to fight it. So, just like colds in people, it is important to keep the sick away from he healthy because the young, old, and weak do have a harder time getting through it.

The problem with a URI in a shelter such as the Miami shelter is that people are continually bringing animals in... they bring them in sick and that spreads-- they bring them in healthy and they become sick.. there are so many animals running through that shelter. So many. When I first decided to begin to go over there.. it was because I had read they had taken in over 30,000 animals in 2010. I know it was over 30,000 - but, based on that number it averages to 82 animals a day. So when you are dealing with such numbers and there are not nearly that many adopted and saved daily- there becomes an issue of room and of how to keep the healthy - healthy.

So back to the trip to Miami.. I went back yesterday and it was so upsetting. Some of the dogs that I had taken photos of only a couple of days prior were now sick. The shelter is trying to keep those dogs separate from the others, but today I learned that healthy dogs I met only yesterday are now sick. It is not fair. It just makes me so mad. I do know they are trying. The shelter is also dealing with freezing nights which makes this even harder to deal with. The dogs were brought to the interiors and that just makes it harder to control it all.
These are two dogs that I had taken photos of only a few days ago. I have since learned they are sick, unless at the last second.. a rescue or adopter stepped forward.. they will be euthanized. From what I have read, it appears they were abused dogs.. they never had much of a chance. 

I am angry and upset with it all. I had gone in hoping that maybe the pictures I took could help save a life. But, I am seeing that many are still there- and they are getting sick. Two dogs that I had taken photos of on December 30th will lose their lives either tonight or in the morning because they are now sick.. there is no one coming for them... and the shelter has to keep allowing people to bring in their pets so that there is not adequate room to keep and properly treat the sick dogs and to also keep the healthy ones healthy.

It is a crappy situation. I don't like it.. but, I am not mad at the shelter.. I am mad at society. Every time I am there I see people coming in and dumping their pets. Some are very rude and mean to the employees-- and sometimes even to me thinking I work there.. which I do not. People bring their dogs and cats in because they are old and don't want to deal with them.. they bring them in when they allow them to breed and realize now that they have 10 dogs instead of 1 - they don't want to deal with them anymore... yesterday, someone brought in a tiny chihuahua puppy because they couldn't deal with it... everyday.. every excuse.. and everyday people bring in perfectly healthy pets- that, due to their  irresponsibility will have a slight chance of being adopted or rescued- but have a higher chance to become sick.. to become depressed ..and to eventually to die.

This is all heartbreaking .. it all is. But, I knew it would be when I began.. after all, that is what my work was meant to be about.. a way to give a voice to the abandoned dogs and cats.. and to remember those that were tossed aside. Below are some mixed media paintings that I finished 30 minutes before the start of the new year. They are all images of dogs from the TN shelter.. and they all did not make it out... and these paintings may be the only things that allow them to be remembered. And the really sad thing is that I will need to make more.. because of the dogs and cats who don't make it out today.. because they caught a cold and not enough people are willing or able to home or rescue a dog with a cold.

Used Trashed Pit - 4" x 12" acrylic, pen, paper, photo, fur on canvas
A Hoarder's Dogs- 4" x 12" acrylic, pen, paper, photo, fur on canvas
Old Hound Trashed- 12" x 4" acrylic, pen, paper, photo, fur on canvas