A Month to Be Thankful For

November was a good month for adoptions and learning experiences at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles. I’m  kicking myself for the lack of updates on this blog, but once you read this, you might forgive me a little. Here are five major things that happened this month:

BFAS11. There Was the NKLA Adoption Weekend

Early in the month (Nov. 9 & 10) we had an adoption weekend at La Brea Tar Pits. All NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles) coalition members were invited to bring cats and dogs (and a couple bunnies) up for adoption. We had groups like Angel City Pit Bulls, Kitten Rescue, Pug Nation, L.A. Animal Services and many, many more.

It was a huge event—Best Friends alone brought about 60 cats and even more dogs. I worked all weekend in the cat tent helping with adoptions. We (Best Friends) adopted out about 45 kittens and senior black cat Sabrina found a home! My proudest adoption was of two adult cats Haio and Harry, who had been living in our free roam room for a few months. They were both large white & tabby male cats, were both aged at about four years old, and both super chill (but weren’t related, even though they looked like they could be). For whatever reason, they kept being overlooked at our center. But that weekend I sent them home together! Now they live in a good home and have each other for company.

NKLA Adoption Weekend was exhausting, but very rewarding. The two-day event sent home almost 400 animals in total. The best part, though, was that L.A. Animal Services (comprised of six L.A. city shelters) went back with empty trucks! In the cat tent, they adopted out all but six of their cats (most of which were adults). Out of those six, four went back with rescues, and Best Friends took home two, which means all of their cats were saved from possible euthanasia.

What I learned from such a large event is that it doesn’t matter so much where people adopt their animals from (a small rescue, a large shelter, a no-kill), just that they adopt!

BFAS22. Dahlila Returned

I’ve mentioned Dahlila in a previous post and since then, she was transferred to our NKLA Adoption Center in West Los Angeles. However, she hadn’t been adopted out there was returned a few weeks ago because it was discovered that she needed a dental done (including a tooth extraction). While it was bitter-sweet to see her returned to our center, I was happy to keep her company once more.

She did come with us to the NKLA Adoption Weekend but had no interested parties. As we were closing up on the last day, what seemed like a very good match for her walked into the tent! But unfortunately, they hadn’t been anticipating adopting a cat and we had been closing up shop for a good 20 minutes. So even though I gave them mine and Dahlila’s info, they never followed up.

So Dahlila is still with us. The lead cat caregiver says (jokingly) that I’ve ruined Dahlila. Because since giving her so much cuddly attention, she now meows non-stop when someone is standing outside her cage (or when the cat caregiver is sitting at her desk)!

But what comes out of all of this, is that I think I’ve convinced everyone what an amazing cuddly cat she is despite her grumpy-sounding exterior. And now that she has had her dental and is completely healthy, I’m sure a new home is just around the corner.

In the meantime, more cuddles for me.

BFAS33. I Had a Love Affair with a Chihuahua

I’m definitely a cat person. I like dogs, but even after my love affair with a chihuahua named Mr. Ed, I’m definitely still a cat person. I used to say that chihuahuas weren’t even dogs (because of their size and yappiness). But in California, the shelters are knee-deep in chihuahuas and it’s given me a new perspective on the breed. For one, they can be really great dogs.

Mr. Ed has been at the shelter since before I started working there. He didn’t get a lot of looks in general, because he’s a middle-aged tan chihuahua. (There are dozens of them, so it’s hard to stand out.) He goes on a lot of mobile adoption events, but still hasn’t been taken. So I decided to do a sleepover with him at my apartment.

Mr. Ed is a great dog. He is very warm and loves to cuddle. I think he’s part chihuahua, part Mexican hairless, because his whole underside is completely bare. He sleeps under the covers at night. He is pretty quiet, and only barks if someone walks outside the window.

His only flaw is that even though he knows he shouldn’t pee inside, he has a small chihuahua bladder and has to go every three hours during the daytime. When he needs to pee, he has to pee; he can’t hold it very well. The one time he had an accident in my apartment (and the one time he peed in my car), he tried to cover it up (by drinking his pee), which means someone must have scolded him in the past. But someone who could pee pad train him, or has a doggie door for him to go outside, wouldn’t have a problem.

BFAS4Mr. Ed likes to go on walks. I took him for a three-mile hike, and he trotted along the whole way. He’s great on a leash. He is good with cats, in that he completely ignores them. Even when Smirnoff decided he’d had enough of Mr. Ed and attacked him, Mr. Ed didn’t fight back. (He was okay, just a couple small scratches.)

But I don’t have the ability to own a dog right now, and my cats get very jealous. I’ve learned that dogs, even super easy ones like Mr. Ed take up a lot of attention, which I normally give to my cats. And I don’t want to spoil my cats any less.

Even though I only took Mr. Ed home twice, he’s now a bit clingy towards me. So I know I can’t bring him home again since I can’t adopt him. It wouldn’t be fair (on him or my cats). But at least now I can tell any potential adopters everything they might want to know about Mr. Ed the chihuahua. And hopefully he will find a home soon!

Kitten Nursery4. I Learned to Appreciate Kittens More

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I’m a huge advocate for adult and senior cats. Not only are they amazing, loving animals, but it takes longer for them to get adopted than younger cats and kittens. It can be especially frustrating sometimes at my shelter, because we are in Southern California where kitten season basically never ends (cats breed year-round in this climate), and because my shelter (fortunately) has a kitten nursery where we can raise fragile bottle babies and under-aged kittens. It’s an amazing program, but it does mean that we consistently have kittens up for adoption and our adult cats can get overlooked.

However, I’ve spent a good deal of downtime in the kitten nursery, expanding my appreciation for the little ones. I met a feisty kitten named Elroy, who is so hilariously full of life, that everyone has fallen in love with him. (He is currently in a foster home, but I can’t wait for him to be back once he’s old enough, if the foster family doesn’t steal him away!)

It’s important to keep in mind, in America’s shelters, cats have it pretty bad overall, but the highest population of euthanized animals is actually under-aged kittens. Most shelters can’t take care of them unless someone is willing to take them home. Best Friends’ nursery program is unique, in that we’ve been able to save around 1,800 kittens this year alone that would have otherwise died.

Also, this month, I got to celebrate some of our longer-term kittens find homes: Carlos, Zabaglione, Jupiter, Peter Parker, Bilbo, Sammie, and others. (That’s how many kittens there are, that some of them get looked-over and don’t find homes for months! And, of course, triple in size in the meantime.)

So I’m now a little more forgiving of people who come into the shelter and decide on a kitten instead of an adult cat. Saving kittens is a huge part of becoming a no-kill shelter/city/nation.

Tabitha
Tabitha

5. Some Amazing Adult Adoptions Happened, Too

Being such a large facility, everything is on a much bigger scale. Which also means that long-term residents are generally much longer than at the smaller shelters/rescues. A couple of our cats had been with us for almost a year and a half, waiting for their new homes. (Some still are.) And while a couple of these cats are special needs, many of them are perfectly good cats that just get looked over for no good reason.

It’s important to pay extra attention to these cats and give them good socialization, in order to make them present better to adopters. It’s also important to find new ways to market the cats and have them stand out among the others.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with our lead cat caregiver, who had the idea to create stories for the longer-term cats (which they don’t do for all of their cats because of the sheer number and quick adoption rates for some of them). Apparently the shelter has done stories in the past, but not recently.

Knowing that the cat caregiver didn’t have time to make the stories herself, I took the initiative. I showed her a mock-up, and with her approval, made stories for our top five longest-term resident felines.

Killean
Killean

In the month of November, two of those cats were adopted: 8-year-old Mr. Big (who was adopted a year to the day of his being at Best Friends) and 3-year-old Killean (who had spent about half her life with us). We also adopted out an extremely overweight lady, Tabitha, who was in the top fifteen for longest residents. That same weekend, we adopted out a very sweet cat, Inti, who had come to us with bad ulcers in her eyes, that we treated over several months. Her medical past made her harder to adopt out, but she, like all of these cats, found truly amazing homes.

I don’t know if my stories made any difference, but it was extremely rewarding to be part of helping those kitties find homes. And even if any of these cats are returned to us, at least they will have had a chance to get away from the shelter. But hopefully they will have their new homes forever!

A New Month

November was my fourth month working at Best Friends, and the experiences and knowledge I have gained over that time is staggering. I was happy and comfortable in Boston and had my crazy cat ladies and all of my friends, but taking the leap and moving to Los Angeles was a great choice, and one that I’m very happy with.

I know I can make a difference out here, even if it’s one cat at a time, or even one little chihuahua.

And that is something I am thankful for.

Of Bombs and Foster Dogs

IMG_5724_smallerPeanuts was dropped at my apartment one evening by his regular foster mom, as she was going away and I had been called in as a foster–foster mom. He was from the Great Dog Rescue of New England, who is often in need of puppy fosters. (They rescue litters, among other dogs, from high-kill shelters in the south.) At five months old, Peanuts weighed around fifty pounds and reminded me of a slightly smaller version of my friend’s dog, Majic. Peanuts was a Beagle/Bull Terrier mix, but the resulting features resembled a Pit Bull at first glance, which was cause for one failed adoption as a puppy. He trembled in the living room of my apartment after his regular foster mom left, and I sat with him and a bag that held a few of his favorite toys. He gave a few licks and whined.

“It’s okay, Peanuts.”

He leaned into me and licked my hand.

I was only going to foster him for ten days. A convenient ten days, luckily, as the Monday was Patriot’s Day, giving me the day off work. After some anxiety from a roommate (who suddenly wished to revoke the permission he had given to foster a dog), I set about introducing Peanuts to the Alcohol Cats.

* * *
Smirnoff and Bacardi have done well with a dog before. But that dog weighs much less than 50 pounds, and is such a friendly dog that anytime Smirnoff or Bacardi got uncomfortable, he would simply walk away and give the cats their space. Peanuts had lived with a cat (and other dogs) in his foster home but was already nervous being somewhere he didn’t know.

At first, all animals kept a respectful distance. But then I made the mistake of turning away to make a phone call, and in those five seconds I moved, Peanuts followed me and walked too close to Bacardi. Bacardi flipped and whacked Peanuts on the nose, and Smirnoff began vocalizing while Peanuts tried to hide behind me. Strike one.

I borrowed a baby gate so that Peanuts could be free in a room but the cats could come and go as they pleased. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution. Smirnoff, ever-wary of his territory being invaded, kept a close eye on the canine. As Bacardi approached the gate, Peanuts went over to say hello. In an instant, the gate fell down, Bacardi panicked, and Peanuts was chased from the room by Smirnoff. The dog was so scared he peed on the floor. I separated them. Strike two.

Peanuts_Bacardi_smallWhile I was slightly touched that Smirnoff would so boldly rush to Bacardi’s defense (even when none was needed), having animals scared of each other wasn’t going to work. I was not going to allow a strike three; so I kept them apart. While the dog was loose, the cats were shut in my room. While the cats were out, Peanuts was in his crate. Normally, Smirnoff sleeps on my bed and Bacardi sleeps elsewhere in my room. But for the next nine nights, Peanuts sprawled himself on the bed, Bacardi slept in a smaller puppy crate in my room, and Smirnoff was banished to the living room.

Not ideal, but Peanuts refused to be anywhere other than next to me. As soon as I was home from work, he would follow me around the apartment. He’d climb onto the couch next to me. He would whine if I went to take a shower. I tried to keep my distance, making sure he had time resting in the crate while I sat nearby (and so the cats could come out), and keeping him busy with treat puzzles. Any attachment he had with me was going to be broken eventually, and while he was otherwise an extremely well-behaved puppy, I didn’t want to get too attached because I had to put my cats’ needs first.

I set out to ease the anxiety of the foster as much as possible. It would be stressful, of course, but it was only ten days. Ten very normal days.

* * *
Then the bombs went off.

I had the day off work, but I couldn’t go anywhere because of Peanuts. He was scared of public transportation, and while he eventually got used to taking the bus (after some initial fear), I didn’t feel it was worth it to try and get him used to the T, as he would most likely be adopted out to the suburbs.

So that afternoon we walked over to my boyfriend’s apartment and the three of us sat on the couch and watched a stand-up show. Peanuts was curled up with his favorite toy.

Then Jon’s roommate came home and told us about the Boston Marathon.

We turned off the show. The humor had left us.

We scanned social media until we knew our friends were all safe. That all the Animal Rescue League of Boston runners were safe. That Amy, an ARL volunteer who is also a nurse and was volunteering in medical tent A was safe.

We turned on the news. Then we turned it off.

I went to work the next day. And the day after. And the day after. And then the day after that, I woke up to a lock down and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. It was an unexpected day off work.

Watertown is several miles away, but we could hear the helicopters on their way. The occasional siren rushed by. Peanuts, being a dog—and in particular, a puppy—still needed to go out every few hours to relieve himself. Less than two miles away, an apartment was being searched.

We walked around the block. It was the same block I walked every day to go to work. The same block where children shouted on the playground, basketballs pounded the court, and cars revved up the hill. But now, everything was eerily silent. It felt different. I passed by a family who were also walking their dog and after the dogs met and we parted, I said “take care.” And the words felt heavy and serious.

Peanuts and I spent most of the day curled up on the sofa, switching between episodes of Arrested Development, and an Internet stream of someone’s police scanner. Bacardi occasionally came over and the animals gave each other a tentative sniff. Having Bacardi sleep in the same room as Peanuts (though confined from each other) was making a difference. He was no longer as suspicious of Peanuts, and they could be in the same room as each other once more. Smirnoff, not having those hours of rest in the dog’s company, still hissed when they got too close.

During all those hours of uncertainty, Peanuts never left my side. He never slept anywhere other than my bed, his body shoved as close to mine as possible. Sometimes with a paw across my chest. He was warm. He didn’t know the terrible things that had happened, but I knew he had kept me far away from them.

There’s no point in what-ifs, of course.

* * *
The next day, when Friday evening’s successful capture had lifted some anxiety; when my own anxiety from animals not getting along was finally settling; when I knew Peanuts would be back with his regular foster mom soon, I went to the ARL for my usual adoption shift.

Amy was there. I was at the shelter early. She asked if I would go for a walk with her, and we spent the next ten minutes figuring out which dogs to take with us and laughing as we tried to put oversized jackets on these two small, pudgy dogs.

Copley

We walked along Berkeley Street with Max and Lassie trotting ahead. We didn’t say much, but I knew where we were headed. When we reached Boylston Street, a crowd stood along the barrier. On our side, the sidewalks shuffled like usual. On the other side, it was empty. Turned over trash cans hadn’t been picked up. The road that is usually one of the busiest in the city, one that I had walked down hundreds of times as a college student and after, both sober and drunk, both happy and sad, both while in a hurry and at my leisure, had nothing. No one was there except the occasional figure in a white plastic suit.

Amy and I paused at the gate. In front of the dozens of sneakers and flags and posters stood three white crosses with three names written. There were therapy dogs there, and people stopped to pet Max and Lassie. The dogs were a welcome sight, and they stood there calm and friendly even in a crowd.

It all felt different, yet the same. The past nine days, my life had been a jumble of things; nothing in its rightful place. But everything was tied together: the dogs, the city, the people surrounding us. And just as I’d experienced so many times at the animal shelter, this moment held a realization that human beings are capable of both so much hate and so much love. And that moments of love and hate are often found together.

* * *
That same day, Peanuts was adopted. I found out when I got home from the shelter. His new mom was coming to my apartment to pick him up that evening, a day before the foster was supposed to end. Suddenly, I was collecting Peanuts’ things, collapsing his crate, taking him out for one final walk around the block.

The adopters came upstairs, and attached the leash they had brought to Peanuts’ collar. Seeing the couple and Peanuts together, they seemed like the perfect fit. They were from the suburbs but had a very down-to-earth feel. They had a Massachusetts accent. I told them that other than a little separation anxiety, he was the perfect dog. The husband, who hadn’t met Peanuts yet, seemed pleased.

“He loves to go for long walks, but doesn’t demand it,” I said. “He’ll walk as long or as short as you want to.”

I handed them his toys in a bag, and the remainder of his food.

I gave him one last pet and showed them out.

* * *
And just like that, it was over. The alcohol cats settled back into their usual routine.

That was that.

IMG_5721_smaller

The ASPCA Challenge: It’s All About Adoption

The Challenge
Every summer, cats and dogs flock to the shelters. Unspayed cats are having their litters of kittens and stray animals have no need to hide from the winter chill. In the shelter world, we are now in “kitten season.” This lasts until late August or early September, which means that all summer long, every cage in every animal shelter is full.

Summer adoption programs are essential for helping animals get in and out of shelter doors. This year, the Animal Rescue League of Boston is participating in the ASPCA Rachel Ray $100K Challenge. For the 50 participating animal shelters across the United States, the goal is to adopt out more cats and dogs than were adopted out during the same time last year. The Challenge began on June 1, and ends August 31.

Not only is the Challenge important because it helps save lives and motivates shelters to increase adoptions, but important grant money will be awarded at the end of the Challenge:

In 2013, 50 shelters will save even more lives, with winners earning $600,000 in prize grants, including a $100,000 grand prize for the shelter that increases lives saved the most.

http://challenge.aspcapro.org/about-2013-challenge

As all animal shelters (and all non-profits) know, grant money can make or break essential programs that will help increase adoptions year-round.

Liz and Lobo
Photo by Amy E.

ARL On the Go
I got to spend the afternoon with Lobo, a Cocker Spaniel (who has since been adopted!). He is such a sweet boy, who was surrendered to us when his previous owners were forced to give him up by their landlord. He was so gentle during the event, and climbed up into the MAT to spend time with the cats, and even gave a young kitten a tongue bath!

We ended up adopting out two kittens, a 6-month-old Chihuahua mix, and Lobo was put on hold (meaning his adopters needed to return for final paperwork). I went into Petco and bought new toys  to spoil the Alcohol Cats (I couldn’t help it). And we were able to spread the word about our participation in the ASPCA Challenge to a new town!

This Summer, Think Adoption
If you’re considering adding a new furry friend to your home, summer is a great time to adopt! Not only are you saving one life, but you are providing another cage for an animal in need who might not otherwise get the chance for a new life.

These next few months, the ARL will be trying to save 1200 lives in 12 weeks! Be sure to follow our journey on the ARL Facebook page, and the ARL website!