Easter 2011

It is the time of year that brings back such fond memories of days gone by of Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts, and lots and lots of candy.  Now, it also brings back memories of ducks abandoned in parks, rabbits stuffed into boxes at dumpsters, and additional animals received at the shelter. 

Each year, we remind everyone that chicks, ducklings, and baby bunnies generally should not be given to children as Easter surprises.

Too many parents make the mistake of believing that rabbits, chicks, and ducklings make appropriate Easter gifts.  Young children oftentimes do not understand how fragile these little creatures are.  In an attempt to play or give affection, children can injure or kill the delicate babies.  Also, many of these animals may carry parasites.  Salmonella is a real danger to children, and can be transmitted from chicken or ducks to humans.

Baby animals are often acquired on impulse at Easter, without consideration of a lifelong commitment.  Rabbits, chickens and ducks have an average lifespan of 8-10 years.  The longest recorded lifespan of a chicken was 34 years!

All of these animals very quickly grow up. They have specific physical and behavioral needs, which a caring, responsible owner would want to fulfill.  A special diet and a carefully controlled environment are necessary for the wellbeing of the Easter pet.

Pet bunnies are being bred in increasing numbers by “rabbit mills” and breeders for the lucrative pet industry.  They are marketed as easy, low-maintenance pets who will sit quietly on a child’s lap, when in reality they are complex animals with unique traits and needs.

The novelty of a pet can quickly wear off, when the cute fuzzy bunny becomes a full-grown rabbit. Many of these animals are merely dumped in the woods and parks where they are easy prey for other animals and cruel people.  In a world where ninety percent of wild rabbits do not live to be a year old, the discarded domesticated rabbit has very little chance of survival.

Ducks and chickens do not fare well either.  We have found grown-up ducks forced to live in small bathtubs, and many domestic ducks have been abandoned by the river bank. Each year, we receive many adult chickens and roosters who are left to fend for themselves, causing problems in neighborhoods.

Just a reminder – it is against Virginia law to sell, raffle, or offer for sale chicks, ducklings, or other fowl under two months old in quantities of less than six.  Baby chickens and ducklings cannot be sold as single Easter pets.

If a family is truly prepared for the responsibility of a pet rabbit and have the facilities to meet the needs of the pet, we wish them many years of happiness together.  For those who are not prepared for such a responsibility, we suggest a non-living alternative, such as a stuffed animal.  A stuffed toy animal makes a great gift for children and does not require the long term expense and commitment of a living animal.

(Critter Corner is co-sponsored by the Register & Bee and Danville Area Humane Society.  Questions or comments should be e-mailed to dahsinc@yahoo.com.)

Drop-off Cages

One evening last week, the shelter manager, April, and board president, Lynn, and their spouses decided they would have a nice, relaxed dinner out after a long day at the shelter.  I went home, thinking I would have a quiet evening.

A few minutes after I had finished supper, police dispatch called to say that a dog had attacked another dog.  Since the animal control officer was not on duty then, the police asked for our assistance.  They were going to bring the dog that attacked to the shelter; the owner was taking the dog that had been attacked to a veterinary clinic.

I did not want to, but had no choice but to call April’s, cell phone.  Yes, I interrupted their nice dinner out, but then that seems to be a common occurrence for us.  She said she would go to the shelter as soon as they finished dinner.  The police were going to put the dog in one of our drop-off cages.

A very few minutes later, the police called to say that they had seen a very sick puppy on the porch of the house where the dog that had just attacked the other dog lived.  The owner of the puppy said that the puppy had parvo, and she was going to let it die overnight.  That, of course, is unacceptable.  The police impounded the puppy.  I had to make another call to April to tell her that the police were also bringing a very sick puppy to the shelter to be euthanized.

By this time, the waiter had given their dinners to the wrong table, so the staff members had not even eaten.  I assured April that it was going to take some time for the police to finish their work at the house, so a little amount of time would not matter.

A short time passed, and my telephone rang again.  This time, a dog had been hit by a car on North Main Street and was badly injured.  The police were going to take that dog to the shelter, also.

By this time, I was feeling very bad about having to call April and Lynn again.  Their dinner had arrived, and all four of them agreed that the food was not the best, so they ate hurriedly.  April and Lynn said good-bye to their spouses, and drove to the shelter.  The drop-off cages were filled with the three dogs.  The aggressive dog was put into a run, and the other two dogs were euthanized.

The drop-off cages were busy that night, and actually remain busy after hours many days.  Sometimes, the police put stray, injured, or impounded animals in the cages.  Sometimes, members of the public find strays and put them in the cages.  At other times, owners put their animals into the cages, releasing them to us.   Unless we have a letter from an owner, specifically telling us that the animal was theirs, all animals in the drop-off cages are treated as strays.  That means that they have to be kept the stray times required by law.

Some shelters do not believe in having drop-off cages.  Those people believe that it makes it too easy for owners to not have any accountability for releasing animals to us. However, we have found them to be useful for people who find animals during the night.  Long-distance truck drivers and other night owls have found many strays on the highways, and without our drop-off cages, there would be no place for the animals to be safe.

About 12 years ago, we spent $5,000 building a cinderblock room for the drop-off cages to better protect the animals from the elements.  We still have phone numbers posted on the door, encouraging people to call us after-hours so an employee can be dispatched to take the animals into the shelter.

Hundreds of animals each year are put in the drop-off cages.  We have found hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs, along with the dogs and cats.

That “nice, relaxed” dinner on that particular night is actually repeated many times during the week.  We believe that the drop-off cages are another tool to help us help the animals.

Lifetime Commitment

In 1973, I moved to Utah for a brief time.  This was to be the first time of three times I moved to Utah.  I still had a few months before I turned 18, but I had graduated from high school a year early, and did not know exactly what I wanted to do.  So, I tried stretching my wings a bit.  It was a short-lived wing-stretching, since I could not find a job and returned home when I had spent all my meager savings. 

A few years ago, I found a letter that my dear father wrote to me during my 1973 adventure so far away from home.   I must have written to my parents, telling them I wanted to buy a puppy.  I remember going into a pet store and falling in love with some Lab puppies.  I lived in an apartment complex that did not allow pets, but my roommates and I thought we could probably sneak the puppy in.  I had no job, other than a very part-time one answering the phone for the local Red Cross office.

My father replied in his letter that when you have a pet, it is a commitment that lasts the lifetime of the pet.  He asked how I planned on feeding the puppy, when I could barely afford groceries for myself.  He said that since I was so young, had no full-time job, and lived in a place that did not allow pets, I really needed to re-think the wisdom of buying a puppy.

I find myself talking about his letter a lot when speaking with young students about adopting.  I tell them that, hopefully, the animal they have applied for will live 15-17 years, and they need to think about the changes they will probably go through during that time.  Hopefully, most of them will marry, have children, and find steady employment.  I always ask how they see this animal fitting into that picture.

We have learned through the years that all kinds of circumstances and situations can weaken the bond that pet owners have with their animals.  Some animals are relinquished to us when a child is born, some come to us when divorce happens, some come to us when a marriage happens,  and others come to us when the owner moves.  In these economic times, more animals are being relinquished because the owner simply cannot afford them.  Pets do not always meet the unrealistic expectations that owners have.

Please do not misunderstand – we are grateful when people bring their pets to us, because so many choose instead to dump them like trash.  There are some heart-wrenching decisions that sometimes have to be made when situations change.  However, our belief is that it is much better to carefully research and plan before bringing a pet into your home.

Acquiring a pet should never be made on impulse.  Adopting a pet is not like buying a pair of shoes or a toaster oven.   Animals are living breathing creatures that have both physical and emotional needs.  Dogs and cats will live between 12-18 years, other companion animals have varying life expectancies, and larger exotic birds can live 70-80 years.

A commitment to a pet involves a commitment of finances, time, and energy.  I am so grateful that my wise father gave me counsel that helped me make a decision that was in the best interest of the puppy – and me.

Adoption Center

Last year, we announced our plans to build an addition on to the existing shelter.  It will be an adoption center, and the animals accepted into the program will be kept until they are adopted or transferred to another shelter or group. 

The center will have ten additional dog runs, a puppy room, a cat colony room, a kitten colony room, a room for other small animals, office areas, and a room that will, in the future, become a spay/neuter room.  We will still be an open-admission shelter, which means that we will not turn away any animal.  That, in turn, means that we will still have to euthanize.  However, this adoption center will give us another way to help the animals that we know we can find homes for.

A local architect, Michael Maurakis, has drawn the plans for this expansion.  His plans were submitted to the city, and a couple of changes were requested.  Mr. Maurakis made those changes, and now we are waiting for final approval from the city.  When we receive this, we will open the bidding process.  If the bids are what we believe they will be, we will be able to begin building this exciting expansion.

When we began negotiating with the city in the early 1980s to take over operation of the shelter, the facility consisted of only nine dog runs and a small office area.  We paid for, and built, 28 additional dog runs, a small cat room, and small kitchen area.  In 1989, the State Veterinarian required the city to build a larger cat room, a treatment room, and dog and cat isolation areas.  The next expansion took place in 2007 when we built, and paid for, an additional 28 dog runs. 

In 1984, we only had one employee and relied heavily on volunteers to help clean and take care of the animals.  By 1989, it became apparent that we needed a shelter staff to be able to keep up with the rising number of animals.  We now have a shelter manager, assistant manager, a part-time secretary, and two part-time kennel attendants.  Other shelters throughout Virginia that receive even fewer animals that we do have staffs that are triple or in quadruple in numbers. 

As we contemplate the adoption center, we realize that we are going to need to rely on volunteers to “fill in the gaps.”  We have a strong core of people who come to the shelter to play with the cats and walk the dogs, and we are very grateful to them.  We hope that, eventually, volunteers will be willing to help us clean the adoption center areas. 

The E. Stuart James Grant Adoption Center will make a wonderful addition to this area, and we are thrilled with the plans for it. 

(Do you want to help with the adoption center?  We have lots of volunteer opportunities, including shelter volunteers and fundraising volunteers.  In order to volunteer at the shelter, you must attend a brief volunteer orientation.  The next one will be held on Wednesday, March 30th, at 4:00 at the shelter.)

$500 Reward

A reward of up to $500 is being offered for the return of a cat that escaped as he was being put in a van to be transported to a spay/neuter clinic.

The cat is black and gray and has a bobtail.  He is wearing a white paper collar with his name and his owner’s name on it.  He was last seen running through the pasture by the City of Danville animal shelter.  His owners say that he is a friendly cat and answers to the name Wildcat.

He may be in the Riverwalk area of Dan Daniel Park.

We urge any citizen who sees the cat to call 799-5306.  The reward will be given to the citizen who calls with information that leads to the capture of the cat, or to the person who safely captures the cat and brings him to the animal shelter.

Lost Pets

It simply is not true that a dog or cat will not wander from home.  We have a large notebook at the shelter that is filled with reports of lost dogs and cats.  More often than not, the owner claims someone must have stolen the animal because he/she always comes back home. 

However, a dog will sometimes just follow a scent his nose has picked up, sometimes they have been scared by other animals, and sometimes they just wander away.   Cats who are allowed outside can also become frightened by other animals or loud noises and run away in fear.  In addition, cats do get into car engines and are given a very dangerous ride to destinations far away.

There are many reasons why dogs and cats become strays.  The best line of defense is to provide a collar and identification information.  Even in areas that permit dogs to wander require a current city or county tag.

If the worst happens and your dog or cat is missing, contact all animal shelters within a 50-mile radius.  It may be very helpful to make copies of a recent picture and take them to the shelters.  Sometimes, owners describe an animal and the person hearing the description gets a different picture in their mind.  We suggest that, even though you may have filed a lost report, that you call every couple of days.  Coming to the shelter is always a good idea.  Recently, we had a stray dog brought to us that we considered a puggle (beagle/pug mix).  The owners did file a lost report, but they called him a dachshund mix.  Fortunately, they came to the shelter to look at the dogs, and they were able to be reunited with their friend.

Walk or drive through your neighborhood several times each day, and ask mailmen, delivery people, and anyone you see if they have seen your pet. 

Most veterinary clinics will allow notices about lost pets to be placed on a bulletin board.  Other community bulletin boards are available.  Place advertisements in local newspapers and with radio stations (WBTM and WAKG have free “pet patrol” notices.)  Include a lot of information about your pet, including age, sex, size, breed, and color.  You may want to note any special markings or characteristics.  It is sometimes wise to leave out one identifying feature so if someone calls claiming to have found your pet, you would be able to spot calls from people who merely seek a monetary reward.

A reward for finding a returning a lost animal is always a good idea, and should be included on all notices and advertisements.

When we receive a lost report, we put the information into a notebook.  That information stays in the book for 30 days; if the animal has not been found within that time frame, they may call again and we will extend the notice for another 30 days.

Life as a stray animal is not pleasant, and owners need to be diligent in doing everything they can to search for their pet and bring them safely home.

Cat Stories

A couple of weeks ago, the board president, Lynn, called me a little after 6:00 one morning.  While on his way to work at Goodyear, he saw a dark cat walking in the shoulder of the bypass, and wanted to alert us so we would look for her later that morning.  We did not see her.

About five days later, Lynn and I were on our way to check up on a couple of cruelty complaints, and, as we passed an area with rocks on the side of a ditch, we both thought we saw something dark sitting on a rock.  Lynn said this was near the area where he saw the dark cat.  We turned around as soon as we could, and pulled over. There was a very pretty tortoiseshell cat sitting on a rock.  I always hold my breath and say a prayer in situations like this, because often the animals are scared and run away.  However, as Lynn got out of the car and approached the cat, she came running to him, meowing loudly.  He had opened a can of cat food, and held that in one hand as he picked up the cat with his other. 

She never stopped meowing as she started gulping down the food.  We took her back to the shelter, and found that she was emaciated, cold, weak, and very, very friendly.

We will never know how she came to be walking down the highway, then sitting on a rock, and we will always wonder if someone just discarded her like a piece of trash.

The next day, we had another situation with another stray cat.  This one, sadly, had died near a dumpster where we had been trapping several cats over the course of many days.  When the employee called to say that she had found a cat body, I instructed her to bring the body back so we could see if we could find out what caused the cat’s death.  I thought we would need to have a necropsy performed.  However, the cause of death was apparent, and it was not a pleasant one. 

Stuck in the back of the cat’s mouth was a huge seed pod with burs on it.  The expression on the cat’s face was not peaceful, but was one of suffering.

I will now be brief and frank.  Sometimes, we are criticized for our adoption policy that all cats adopted from us must be kept strictly inside.  The criticism stings, but we actually also know that we are doing the right thing.  Those two cats’ stories join with thousands of other stories each year to let us know that we have to protect them.  If all we need to bear in order to help cats is a little criticism, then so be it.

Cold Weather Tips

Cold weather tips for pet owners

  • Check outdoor water bowls frequently to make sure they haven’t frozen over.
  • The chemicals and salt used to melt ice can burn paws and the tongues used to clean them. Make sure to thoroughly towel off dogs after a walk.
  • Pets should be kept inside when it gets cold, but if that’s not an option make sure they have adequate shelter outside, preferably off the cold ground.
  • Cats can sometimes crawl into warm engine blocks during frigid weather. If you park your car outside, make sure to bang on the hood before turning the key.
  • Consider buying a sweater for smaller and shorthaired dogs to keep them warm on walks.

Sweet Holidays for Candy

In November, an owner released a three month-old female dachshund to the Danville Area Humane Society because the dog’s back legs had been injured in a fall and the dog was paralyzed. 

We took the puppy to three veterinary clinics for tests and opinions, and all of the veterinarians agreed that the dog had a remote chance of regaining use of her legs.  In addition, we were warned that she would always be susceptible to bladder infections.  However, we were also told that she would make an ideal candidate to use a doggie wheelchair.

Dr. and Mrs. Don Cairns lost their beloved Golden Retriever, Katie, last year, and they established the Katie Fund in her memory to help with situations like this.  Pattie Cairns serves on the board of directors of the Danville Area Humane Society, and when the little dachshund, nicknamed Scooter, was introduced at the board meeting in November, she agreed that purchasing a wheelchair would be an ideal use of a portion of the Katie Fund.

Scooter was featured in a pet spotlight on both Star News and WSET 13, and Dick Patterson of Halifax County donated a doggie wheelchair to be used until a new one could be obtained.

We knew that a special home had to be found for this special needs dog.  Lynn Shelton, the board president, remembered that his neighbor in the Blairs community had had a paralyzed dog in the past, and told her about this dachshund.  Mrs. Bash visited Scooter at the shelter, and applied to adopt her.

Scooter left the shelter week before last to go to her new home.  She has been re-named Candy, and now has her brand-new wheelchair.

Candy’s story is a wonderful holiday story that teaches us lessons of generosity, resilience, and second chances.  We are grateful to everyone who played a part in Candy’s happy ending.

A Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

My name is Buddy, and I am an Umbrella cockatoo who has lived at the Danville animal shelter for almost four years.

I have heard sometimes people can tell you their wishes and you can make miracles happen. I hope you also help animals, too, because there are many animals in this area that need your help. Some will be very cold, hungry, thirsty and scared on Christmas Eve.

I have simple wishes this year. This year, please make all the human hearts kind and all the human hands gentle. If you could do that, people would not abandon their pets in the country, kittens would not be tortured and all the sad animals would be happy. The animal shelters could close their doors forever.

 However, Santa, as you go into every home throughout the country, will you tell people about the animals? They need to know that it is a bad thing to be an unwanted or abused animal. If they know about the sadness, they can help.

 Please leave the message of kindness in every home. Spread the word for me about spaying and neutering and responsible pet ownership. Help people know animals are gift to them and even though humans have been given dominion over the animals, that means stewardship over — not dominance over.

Let them know that humans can make miracles happen by working together. Please, Santa, that is our only chance for happiness.

I wrote you a letter last Christmas, Santa, and I really think you may have read it yourself because lots of good things have happened. Were you the one responsible for the anti-tethering ordinance being passed in Danville? I also bet that you had a hand in helping plans for the no-kill adoption center to move forward. Thank you, Santa.

As you fly over this area, will you pick up the unwanted animals? Do you have room in your sleigh for the ones who are being abused, and the ones who so desperately need to be treated kindly? I’ve heard you and Mrs. Claus have a huge home with a nice fireplace. All the animals will gather round you in front of the fire, and they’ll be very good friends.

Santa, I have learned many things while living at the shelter. One thing I’ve learned is that you have many, many helpers who delight in helping animals. I’ve also learned that animals also know how to give gifts — gifts of loyalty, love, and devotion.

Well, Santa, I’ll be in my usual place on Christmas Eve. I’m the big white bird who will be looking at you through the window of the animal shelter. I’ll wave my wing at you as you pass overhead, and I hope I see lots and lots of animals in the sleigh with you.

Dean is the director of the Danville Area Humane Society.

Critter Corner is co-sponsored by the Register & Bee and the Danville Area Humane Society. Questions or comments should be directed to Critter Corner, P.O. Box 3352, Danville, VA 24543 or e-mailed to dahsinc@yahoo.com.