An Animal Shelter Manager’s Message

I saw this timely reminder on Facebook (shared through ARQ Foster page), that our pets are not for Christmas; they are forever.  When I went hunting for it, it took me ages to find, so I’m cross posting it here…  It is a very strong letter written by someone who lives this nightmare every day and it brought tears to my eyes.

Having saved two gorgeous little dogs from a puppy mill, both of whom have some weird arse idiosyncrasies as a result of their less than ideal early puppyhood, I can’t imagine life around here without them.  We shouldn’t buy our pets from unscrupulous breeders – we should adopt them.  We shouldn’t abandon our pets – we should re-home them if necessary.  Let’s not allow these overrun shelters, that have to euthanise, beautiful, perfectly healthy animals, become the norm.

“I am posting this (and it is long) because I think our society needs a huge wake-up call.

As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all – a view from the inside, if you will.

Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would change your mind about breeding and selling to people you don’t even know – that puppy you just sold will most likely end up in my shelter when it’s not a cute little puppy anymore.

How would you feel if you knew that there’s about a 90% chance that dog will never walk out of the shelter it is going to be dumped at – purebred or not! About 50% of all of the dogs that are “owner surrenders” or “strays” that come into my shelter are purebred dogs.

No shortage of excuses
The most common excuses I hear are:

We are moving and we can’t take our dog (or cat).
Really? Where are you moving to that doesn’t allow pets?

The dog got bigger than we thought it would.
How big did you think a German Shepherd would get?

We don’t have time for her.
Really? I work a 10-12 hour day and still have time for my 6 dogs!

She’s tearing up our yard.
How about bringing her inside, making her a part of your family?

They always tell me:
We just don’t want to have to stress about finding a place for her. We know she’ll get adopted – she’s a good dog. Odds are your pet won’t get adopted, and how stressful do you think being in a shelter is?

Well, let me tell you. Dead pet walking!

Your pet has 72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off, sometimes a little longer if the shelter isn’t full and your dog manages to stay completely healthy.
If it sniffles, it dies.

Your pet will be confined to a small run / kennel in a room with about 25 other barking or crying animals. It will have to relieve itself where it eats and sleeps. It will be depressed and it will cry constantly for the family that abandoned it.
If your pet is lucky, I will have enough volunteers that day to take him / her for a walk. If I don’t, your pet won’t get any attention besides having a bowl of food slid under the kennel door and the waste sprayed out of its pen with a high-powered hose.
If your dog is big, black or any of the “bully” breeds (pit bull, rottweiler, mastiff, etc) it was pretty much dead when you walked it through the front door. Those dogs just don’t get adopted.
If your dog doesn’t get adopted within its 72 hours and the shelter is full, it will be destroyed.

If the shelter isn’t full and your dog is good enough, and of a desirable enough breed, it may get a stay of execution, though not for long. Most pets get very kennel protective after about a week and are destroyed for showing aggression. Even the sweetest dogs will turn in this environment.
If your pet makes it over all of those hurdles, chances are it will get kennel cough or an upper respiratory infection and will be destroyed because shelters just don’t have the funds to pay for even a $100 treatment.

The grim reaper
Here’s a little euthanasia 101 for those of you that have never witnessed a perfectly healthy, scared animal being “put-down”.
First, your pet will be taken from its kennel on a leash. They always look like they think they are going for a walk – happy, wagging their tails. That is, until they get to “The Room”.

Every one of them freaks out and puts on the breaks when we get to the door. It must smell like death, or they can feel the sad souls that are left in there. It’s strange, but it happens with every one of them. Your dog or cat will be restrained, held down by 1 or 2 vet techs (depending on their size and how freaked out they are). A euthanasia tech or a vet will start the process. They find a vein in the front leg and inject a lethal dose of the “pink stuff”. Hopefully your pet doesn’t panic from being restrained and jerk it’s leg. I’ve seen the needles tear out of a leg and been covered with the resulting blood, and been deafened by the yelps and screams.

They all don’t just “go to sleep” – sometimes they spasm for a while, gasp for air and defecate on themselves.
When it all ends, your pet’s corpse will be stacked like firewood in a large freezer in the back, with all of the other animals that were killed, waiting to be picked up like garbage.

What happens next? Cremated? Taken to the dump? Rendered into pet food? You’ll never know, and it probably won’t even cross your mind. It was just an animal, and you can always buy another one, right?

Liberty, freedom and justice for all
I hope that those of you that have read this are bawling your eyes out and can’t get the pictures out of your head. I do everyday on the way home from work. I hate my job, I hate that it exists and I hate that it will always be there unless people make some changes and realize that the lives you are affecting go much farther than the pets you dump at a shelter.

Between 9 and 11 MILLION animals die every year in shelters and only you can stop it. I do my best to save every life I can but rescues are always full, and there are more animals coming in everyday than there are homes.
My point to all of this is DON’T BREED OR BUY WHILE SHELTER PETS DIE!

Hate me if you want to – the truth hurts and reality is what it is.
I just hope I maybe changed one person’s mind about breeding their dog, taking their loving pet to a shelter, or buying a dog. I hope that someone will walk into my shelter and say “I saw this thing on Facebook and it made me want to adopt”.
That would make it all worth it.”

Author unknown

Alaska and Dixie sally forth!

I haven’t written about our little rescued puppy mill pups in quite a while now, which is rather odd considering how much joy and how many smiles they bring into the house on a daily basis… I guess I’ve been distracted by the surprising realization that what people really want to read about is sex toys, but I digress.  🙂

Dixie is Mutley Number One… she’s just passed her first birthday which we arbitrarily assigned to her as being 10/11/12, seeing that all we knew about her was she was approximately X months old when we got her!  Everyone needs a birthday, birthdays are important (feel free to read a little ‘fuck Christmas’ into that sentiment while you are at it!).  Every morning I get up and she comes to greet me by… laying flat on her back and waiting for a tummy rub.  Seriously.  She doesn’t jump up on my legs or anything (though she does this to many other people), she just wags her tail and immediately flops herself over waiting for a tummy rub.  Spoiled little girl… but obviously knows how to get what she wants! Dixie is just awesome to have around, she mostly moseys around the house and loves being near the humans… she will happily spend most of her day curled up in a sleepy little ball of soft white fluff on the couch beside you, if you let her.  For months we thought she had a really wirey coat and then summer came along and we gave her a clip – well, not really a clip, actually.  I needed new blades for my clippers, so I just grabbed a pair of scissors and gave her a stunning Meg Ryan hair cut… the tousled, ‘I just got out of bed’ look is what all the fashionable puppies are wearing this season!


But I eventually bought some new clipper blades, and now she is looking all neat and tidy while still slightly scruffy (I don’t like over grooming the hair around their faces, they start to stop looking like their naturally beautiful selves) and her coat is sooo soft.  Couple of little oddities in her behaviour lately – one in particular that has only just started.  She has been pacing along the wall in our media room looking at the ceiling… I think she has noticed the 16′ projector screen that hangs just below the ceiling, of course it’s been there all the time, but she has decided it is of concern lately, so she’s been pacing back and forth and occasionally growling at it, and then turns to me imploringly to ‘do something about it Mom!’  It’s so cute to watch her trying to figure it out.




Alaska puppy, who is sometimes called ‘Boof’, because this is the odd low noise she occasionally makes which passes for barking, is simply unrecognizable compared to the poor scared weird little girl that we picked up back in August.  She is 100% full of joy and beans it would seem… so much energy!  She’s quite the little mountain goat – I’ve never seen such an agile little dog.  She races around the house, giving Dixie her daily exercise, and jumps up on the furniture and gracefully leaps the great divide (for her, anyway!) between the couches to get to a new lap for cuddles.  She still prances annoying out of reach if you want to pick her up from a standing position, but as soon as you sit down, she comes rushing forward for affection and cuddles and well, tries to lick your nose off.  She actually got out of the house a couple of weeks ago and I immediately freaked out thinking, she will never come back if we call her – she won’t come to us when we call her in the house.  Luckily quick thinking saved the day.  I walked out where she could see me and sat down in the middle of the road and just like aways she ran straight over to me and jumped in my lap.  🙂  Gotta love using their little quirks to your advantage!

Alaska 1

Recently however we have noticed that Alaska has been getting the shakes, and I don’t mean the ‘Oh I’m cold would you people PLEASE turn down the air con’ shakes, and I don’t mean the ‘Oh shit we are going to see the nice lady who takes my temperature up my butt’ shakes, or even the ‘Holy dooley, that is one big dog, keep him away from me’ shakes.  No, we noticed she had started shaking like a Parkinson’s sufferer all the time even when we were all just chilling out around the house.  I couldn’t tell if she was in any discomfort – she didn’t appear to be, and it didn’t appear to be situational or environmental.  She didn’t have any other symptoms of ill health (eating normally, pooping normally – ie: everywhere! 😉 ) and was otherwise her playful usual self… just shaking all the time.

So, I did what every responsible puppy lover does and consulted the Oracle (totally Googled that shit!) and came up with what looked like something called Generalized Tremor Syndrome… it’s a neurological condition.  Then I consulted all our good friends on the ARQ Angel Forum to see if any of the other puppy mill puppies – her cousins and siblings – had shown any signs of weird shaking.  Seems like there is plenty of fear trembling going on among this crew, but nothing like this.  And while I had the chance over the weekend in Canberra, I asked my friend Rob the Vet what he thought it might be (armed with handy video on my phone so I could show him her only symptom).  He says to me with a straight face – ‘I think she has Shaky White Dog Syndrome’… I thought he was making that shit up, but apparently that is another name for Idiomatic Shaking Syndrome (all these things are the same condition, I am now learning) which is a neurological/auto-immune condition, prevalent in – you guessed it – small white dog breeds, like Maltese and West Highland White Terriers.

Now Alaska is supposed to be predominantly Fox Terrier, and given her diminuitive stature, I would have thought that is about right… now however we are thinking she may have a lot of Maltese in there, though she is never going to be as large as your average Maltese.  So off to the vet with Alaska for a full exam yesterday.  Sharon the Vet really put Alaska through her paces, and our timid little girl passed all her neurological tests with flying colours… except that one where she needed to stop shaking for 60 seconds together!  So yep, our shaky white puppy has Shaky White Puppy Syndrome and we are going to put her on a small course of steroids to see if it helps – it can’t be fun spending every waking hour with the shakes, poor little thing.  At the moment she is happily curled up defending the tv remote controls…

Alaska 2

Alaska is home now.

Well, Alaska is no longer our foster charge.  There was a conversation in my house last night that went something like this:

“Some one has contacted ARQ and wants to meet Alaska next week to potentially adopt her.”
“What?!? You mean we are not keeping her?” :/

That’s right.  I’ve spent the last six weeks preparing myself for the day when Alaska had to go to her new home, and while allowing myself to become very fond of the gorgeous little girl, I have worked really hard not to get too attached.  But so much for that.

We have spent these last few weeks bringing the little girl out of her shell, one itty bitty step at a time and she’s made some enormous progress is her own quiet gentle little way – which when compared to her previous fearful, aggressive and bitey kind of way, is a really big deal!  Comparing her now to how she was when she came to us, is like looking at a totally different creature.  She’s still not running over to greet us when we come in the room, but she’s wagging her tail in excitement and you can tell she wants to.  She’s not soliciting affection from everyone around her, but she relaxes and stretches and makes herself all comfortable for a good tummy rub.  She won’t come to us when she’s called, but she will sit (extremely briefly – can’t let that bum hit the floor too long!) on command and accept treats.  She is still a long way from ‘acting like a dog’ and the puppy door may remain an overwhelming obstacle for many months to come… but she is the best little puppy farm puppy that she knows how to be for now, and gaining in confidence everyday.

And … she’s not going anywhere!

adopt in alaskaAlaska on hearing that she has been adopted… she’s so cool calm and collected!  🙂


Happiness is a warm puppy…

… said someone famous, whose name escapes me at the moment.


And that is what I am looking at right now.  A warm happy puppy.  Of course, she’s always been physically warm, but Alaska is increasingly ‘warming up’ to us in lots of little ways that are just melting everyone who meets her.  She’s still timid and shy and incredibly vulnerable and won’t come to us when called.  And she is still prancing about with a conflicted look in her eye when offered treats as she wrestles with her desire to come forward but her inclination to stay back.  But she’s not flinching from us anymore.  She’s not bitting or snapping or growling at anyone out of sheer terror and fear.  She’s coming out of her crate and investigating the world (well, my kitchen and living room etc… but it’s her whole world at the moment!).  She’s starting to play with Dixie instead of cowering from her exuberance.  She’s having running dreams instead of whimpering in her sleep.  She’s licking our hands and feet and even barked in excitement a few times!  Tail wagging isn’t just for special occasions anymore, it’s for everyday excitement.  She’s She’s letting other people pat her and is even sitting happily in the laps of strangers, accepting their gentle and tender affections… something this little girl was literally incapable of doing just a few short weeks ago.


I’m so proud of her.  We had a small social gathering here on Saturday night and she went from lap to lap to lap.  Taking a little treat from each new cuddler and settling in for lots of affection and attention.  Two of our guests were arguing over who was going to get to adopt her – though they have large dogs that would overwhelm little one in a heart beat, so I’m not so sure that’d be a great idea!  I’ve also had my Mum saying she wants to take her home, but I’ll believe her when she puts her money where her mouth is.  And another friend too has fallen for her timid and (now) very gentle ways.  I even think Dixie is going to miss her cuddle buddy when she finds an adoptive family!


Today we went to the vet for the C5 booster and I admit I was trepidacious about the excursion.  She might be letting us pet her, but she isn’t comfortable having her feet touched.  She is allowing us to cuddle her and keep her near, but she’s getting a couple of needles, and a physical once over and oh my! … Going to get her temperature taken!  I was really apprehensive that any requirement to restrain her in any way was going to set us back to seeing her lash out and bite someone – namely me or the veterinarian.  Last thing I wanted was to see her exhibit any of the behaviours we have been working so hard to encourage her to cease.  I put her in her crate and got ready to head for our first trip to the car since she got here and she started to whimper, and run about and tremble in fear. Oh no.  Puppy dilemma… keep her in the crate (and potentially destroy her only safe haven) or transport her without it and see how she goes?  I opted for wrapping her in a favourite blue towel that smells like home, putting her on the lead for the first time in ages, and held her firmly and comforted her all the way to the vet.  She still trembled the whole trip, but we made it without any more panicky whimpering.



Turns out I was worried for naught.  We went to the vet – and Alaska now weighs in at a whopping 3.1kgs!  😛  She has a healthy doggy temperature, good appetite, good knees, good eyes, but other than a retained canine tooth, which could prove problematic down the track, and the ridiculously accelerated heart rate of a puppy who is really really scared… she got a clean bill of health.  Next came the shots.  I was worried about having to hold her still for the Vet, but as it turns out a little distraction with some puppy treats and some soothing sounds and cuddles and it was all over in a flash.  Go girl!

I had a chat with the vet about the behavioural issues that she USED to display (that’s our girl), and got told that she will probably always be very timid and shy.  That from here, she’s still at a point where she could go backwards, so we need to keep doing what we are doing and lots of careful attention to remind her that the peoples are not here to hurt her but that they are here to love and adore her!

So a successful visit to the Vet was had by all, and by the time we left, one vet, one receptionist and one lady-in-the-waiting-room-with-a-staffy had all fallen in love with shy little Alaska.  We then came home for a well earned rest… where she has promptly stayed for most of the day!
PS:  I think it was Charles Schultz… will have to look that up.  🙂

proud pup

Puppy Mill Puppy: Update

One of my favourite words in the English language is ‘defenestrate / defenestration / defenestrating’… the act of throwing a thing, especially a person, out of a window!  Latin – ‘de’ meaning ‘from’; ‘fenestr’ meaning ‘a window’ – awesome word, fabulously vivid concept.  But I’ve no sooner started writing and already and I’ve digressed from my purpose, because all I was wondering is if there is an equally vibrant word to describe the ‘coming out of one’s shell’?  Because that is what we are seeing here with out little foster charge, Alaska.

And my, oh my, is it an extremely slow coming out of one’s shell that we are watching.  She’s progressing at about the same rate as the pitch drop experiment at UQ I reckon.  Which is why I’ve been keeping notes… this way if I notice the little things, they look like leaps and bounds when we refer back to how she was at the beginning.

Friday, August 23rd 2013 at 9:43pm
Alaska has had a good couple of days, it’s been a week since we had any snappish behaviour from her and she stole one of my shoes and took it off to her crate with her!  I know it sounds like no big deal (and even something that you might normally get cross with a puppy about), but it meant that she had come out of the bathroom, gone down the hallway (about 5m), crossed the kitchen (another 6m), traversed the lounge room (a huge 7m of open space), past the entry hall (2m more) and into the master bedroom to find a shoe and steal away with it back to the bathroom!  Huge day of exploring for the gorgeous little girl.  I was so proud that she had ventured out of her comfort zone (read: crate) and gone looking for treasures to take back with her.  We have since seen many socks end up in the crate too.  Yay for Alaska!  Sally forth and explore little miss, there’s no need to be so shy!

hiding puppy mill puppy

Sunday, August 25th 2013 at 11:20pm
I’ve been away all weekend on a course, so Alaska has been hanging out with Mr K and the Small Child.  She’s had a relaxing time hanging out in the study at Mr K’s feet and sitting on a pillow in the sun, and just hanging out with boys.  She’s getting less and less frightening of everyone and, while she is still flinching at our hands, she is getting used to being picked up and handled.  She and Dixie are forming an uneasy friendship.  Dixie is getting used to the fact that she isn’t missing out on treats that Alaska gets, that they are evenly shared out and Alaska is less frightened when Dixie gets exuberant and wants to play.  Big kudos all round for moose and squirrel… (terrier and terrier sounded kinda boring).


Tuesday, August 27th 2013 at 6:30pm
The gorgeous little girl has been coming out of her room to investigate the yummy smells at dinner time when I’m in the kitchen.  For her efforts she’s been rewarded with some tidbits of mince meat and some diced lamb over the last two nights.  She seems to come shyly around the island bench and stands back trying to vocalize that she’s interested.  I’ve heard her growl and snarl but never heard her bark yet… but this is different, it’s a kind of… “I’m over here, I don’t know what you have or what you are doing but I’m interested, so don’t ignore me, please!” noise.  It’s a very cute, unusual sound for a dog to make and it it reminds me of the noises that the red, bald Futurama character with the crab claws for hands makes – like a wobbly uncertain wibble noise. 🙂  I’ve made sure to keep giving her treats directly from my hand which causes her all sorts of angst… she wants the treat but doesn’t want to get close enough to get touched/caught so she prances and dance lightly around on her feet making this noise until she works up the courage to come close enough to get the treat.  As the days go by we are getting less dithering at a safe distance and more ‘advance, retreat, advance some more’ type of movement before she comes in to steal her treat away as swiftly as she can.

I’m discovering it’s awful hard to chastize a puppy for toilet training purposes, when you’re doing your absolute best to let her know that people aren’t to be feared and trying hard to gain her confidence.  We don’t want her learning bad habits, but we don’t want to be rousing on her and making her more fearful of us either – bit of a catch 22 that one.  So tonight, she when peed in the hallway, I didn’t get cross at her at… all the Small Child thought it was adorable that she peed a love heart.  :S


Wednesday, August 28th at 8:35pm.
I’m writing this with a cute little Alaska holed up in my jumper!  That’s right, not only has she become okay with sitting in our laps and having cuddles and pats for extended periods, tonight, she was wrapped up in my jumper and stayed close and happy for the length of two Suits episodes!  Gorgeous little thing seems to be not only getting used to being close to people, but to enjoy being close and is starting to show signs of enjoying having us around.  We have seen more and more tail wagging going on when she is excited – mostly this is from a safe distance when we are playing and cuddling with Dixie.  She moves a ‘safe’ perimeter and watches us playing with Dixie, making the same “don’t forget about me” noises that she makes in the kitchen for treats but still not sure enough of herself to come in close and just get herself some cuddles too.  She’s much more relaxed being handled and petted now compared to even this time last week. I’m really pleased that she is coming along, though it is still disheartening to see that as soon as she is left to her own recognisance she retreats to her crate post haste.  But bundled into the jumper – she sure was cosy and happy and is definitely getting used to us and is much less fearful than she was.  🙂   Slowly but surely.


Thursday, 29th August 2013 at 9:03pm
We have had a fabulous day!  Amazingly Alaska has finally started following me around the house and interested in what I am doing.  She’s keen to see what’s happening in the kitchen and has been happily sitting beside me in the living room while I work on the laptop.  She’s even been trying to nudge Dixie out of the way a bit so she can get the closer spot next to me, which is awesome.  I’ve seen more tail wagging today than I’ve seen all week and tonight, she let me roll her onto her back for about 20 mins for a big tummy rub!  I never thought we’d get to proper relaxed tummy rubs so quickly after the way she has been acting, but it was awesome.  She was even relaxed enough to stretch back her head and not be still looking around warily.  We loved it.  We had a nice visit with my Mum and Alaska was very shy of her at first but warmed to her readily after the initial reluctance.

After that we have spent the afternoon having cuddles and coming to take treats from my hands … still with the dancing routine, but she’s getting braver every day.  This evening I went into the study and saw that she had jumped up onto a chair and made herself comfortable.  Which is so awesome… she was just curled up on the chair having a rest there instead of in her crate!  🙂  So here is a pic I took this evening where she is starting to look like the little puppy that I think she could be… her posture is changing entirely – she’s more upright and not cringing or trying to blend into the furniture or the walls, and she’s finally showing us that she is starting to come out of her shell (totally promise she won’t go out a window!).


Futher update:  Friday, 30th August 2013, at 11:20pm
Alaska has had a great day today.  She has been coming readily to hand for yummy puppy kangaroo treats – still some dancing about with uncertainty before closing in, but definitely gaining in confidence. She and I spent several hours throughout the day cuddling and hanging out… she is getting used to being handled more and more every day.  I’ve seen heaps of tail wagging and she’s starting to show more and more curiosity in the things around her.  I’ve collected four socks out of her crate today… she’s venturing further and further when no one is watching which is awesome.  I’m hoping that trend continues until she is running about underfoot all the time just like Dixie does.  At one point today, I had to grab her around the middle to stop her from escaping and instead of turning on me with teeth bared like she would have a couple of weeks ago, she just froze and waited warily to see what was going to happen – which was lots of cuddles and tummy rubs so she was all good with that.  🙂

Tonight I had both puppies on the floor with me and some treats and I was making Dixie ‘sit’ or ‘drop’ for her treats.. and Alaska who I thought wouldn’t get much by way of training when we can’t handle her readily, was watching Dixie and TWICE actually ‘sat’ on command for a treat!  She sat down extremely briefly so she could make a quick get away if needs be, but I’m taking it!  I can’t believe how exciting these little things are, but when I compare them to how she was when she arrived – we are certainly making improvements every day.

Saturday, 31st August 2013 at 7:03am
I’ve just gotten up and grabbed a cuppa and a quiet Alaska has come out to greet me with tail wagging!  She actually chose to jump up on the couch beside me and was licking at my hands.  Then when I went to give her a bit of a scratch behind the ears… she slowly rolled half over so I could give her a belly rub.  I’m so proud of the little girl.  She’s still got a long way to go… but just look at how far she has come already!