Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Deeds -- Big and Small

Inside yesterday's Washington Post was an article detailing a heroic whale rescue. The young calf -- one of less than 400 remaining North Atlantic right whales -- became entangled in fishing lines off the coast of northern Florida during its annual migration along the Eastern seaboard. Folks from six Florida and Georgia institutions worked for three days to free the whale; Rescuers in three boats cut about 350 feet of fishing line that was trailing the whale. According to the article, they did not pull the fishing lines out of the whale's mouth because doing so could harm the animal. The rescue team determined later, from the air, that the whale was free of the line. The rescue was a success!

Shortly after reading the Washington Post article, I was involved in an animal rescue of my own. I am watching my friend's cat for a couple of days and expected it would be a simple task -- feed the cat, change her water, scoop the litter pan and play with her. I did not expect that I would have to catch a wild bird inside my friend's house, but that is exactly what I did.

I was getting ready to lock up when I heard a strange noise coming from a bedroomthe. There, pounding the window -- from the inside -- was a teeny, tiny frantic bird. "What is a bird doing here!" I made sure that the cat was not in the bedroom and closed the door. It was just me and the bird. I tried opening the window, but wasn't sure how it opened and I couldn't get it to budge. I tried throwing a blanket on the bird, but it was so little and so fast, it escaped. I did that several times. Then I got a box and tried to scoop the bird in the box, but it was too fast for the old scoop-bird-in-box trick.

Frustrated, I left the room, made sure the door was closed tight so the cat couldn't get in, and called Second Chance Wildlife Center (www.scwc.org). They know everything there is to know about urban wildlife. The person I spoke to advised me to leave crumbled cat food soaked in water and try again to trap the bird with a sheet or piece of cloth or call animal control and ask for help.

I decided to get a partner -- teamwork is always best -- and came back with my son, Max. We said hello to the cat and went to the bedroom. The bird was back on the window, trying desperately to flap its way through the glass. After several attempts of tossing a blanket and failing to catch the bird, we waited patiently while it settled back on the window. Finally, we were able to corner the bird and get him into the box.

We took the closed box into the backyard, set it on the ground and opened the lid. At first the bird didn't do anything. He seemed to be thinking "what should I do now" -- he'd spent so much time trying to get outside and now there he was. I tilted the box and the bird hopped out and burrowed in the ivy. I thought maybe after all that pounding he was hurt and we'd have to find him in the ground cover, scoop him up and take him to the Second Chance Wildlife Center. And then, he flew away. The rescue was a success!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wild Animals are Wild

An article in yesterday's Washington Post, On the Wings of Love, At Temple's Aviary, Problem Birds Find Feathered Friends, was another reminder that wild animals should be left in the wild. According to Mira Tweti, author of the book, Of Parrots and People, "they (birds) are never domesticated. They are wild animals". And, yet, people continue to buy birds -- wild animals, sometimes caught in their native lands, sometimes bred in captivity -- and expect them to be happy living in cages. The article told how the 35 resident birds living in a small building next to the Kunzang Palyul Choling Buddhist temple in Poolesville, Maryland cared for Jetrunma Ahkon Lhamo and others could not be kept by the people who purchased them. The birds -- African grey parrots, macaws, and cockatoos from Australia and the Pacific Islands -- developed destructive behaviors. Many were brought to the sanctuary because they developed self destructive behaviors -- pulling off their plumage, sometimes to the point of piercing their skin underneath. Others become aggressive biting people and other birds.

Kids can help the birds. Trading in Slingshots: HSI Teaches Youth to Protect Wild Birds in Nicaragua an article on the Humane Society of the United States' website,
http://www.hsus.org/about_us/humane_society_international_hsi/international_trade_policy_and_capacity_building/trading_slingshots_for_backpacks.html tells how children load rocks into a slingshot and take aim at a wild bird's nest. After the rock hits the nest, the mother bird is usually killed or injured, and the nest falls from the tree with the baby birds inside. The young birds who survive the fall will have their wings clipped and become someone's pets, forced to live in cages or remain confined to a house for the rest of their lives. A Humane Society International education program is partnering with the Foundation Friends of the Nicaraguan Zoo (FAZOONIC) to show students the impact of their actions and expose them to wildlife conservation efforts. At the end of a program, that lasted several month, a ceremony was held where each student lined up to throw a slingshot in the garbage in exchange for a backpack labeled, "I protect animals in my community."

We should be lining up daily to protect the animals in our community. What are you doing?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Heroic Rescue

Shark Attack!! Have you ever seen the movie Jaws? It was released when I was in middle school; I remember the music, where I was sitting in the theater (I saw it in Key West, Florida) and how I wouldn't go into the water for quite some after seeing the movie. Every little detail came back to me tonight when I read the blurb in Parade Magazine about how a man dove into the water off a pier in Islamorada, Florida to attack the shark that had snatched his dog!!!!
That's right the man attacked the shark.
The man punched the shark until it loosened it's bite. Jake, the rat terrier (little dog), suffered many puncture wounds, but nothing life threatening. Had Jake's guardian not acted instinctively and immediately, there would have been a much different ending -- Jake would have been lunch.

Jake's person, Greg LeNoir, is a real life hero. Some times heroes accomplish death-defying rescues like pulling little dogs from the steel jaws of five foot long sharks. Other times, they do things that are not quite so dramatic -- like cleaning kennels, feeding dogs and cats and telling them how special they are. I spent Christmas at home. but, many Washington Animal Rescue League staff members were at the shelter, cleaning dog dens and cat condos, telling Ziggy and Chrissie that they are definitely going to get another chance at forever homes and waving the string with the feather in front of Spanky's paw -- giving him just enough time to get it (He loves that game). The kennel staff made sure that each of the dogs and cats got a bowl of food, with a little extra, clean water and a comfy bed.

Thank you animal heroes near and far.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Reading

Here's what I'm reading during the winter break -- Listen! by Stephanie Tolan and The Leanin' Dog by K.A Nuzum. The story line in both novels focuses on girls who find stray dogs. So far, that's all I know. It is a universal story. Animals are abandoned, people want to take care of them. Several years ago Because of Winn Dixie was that girl finds dog book. It was, and rightly so, a huge success. Because of Winn Dixie is still one of my all-time favorite dog stories.

I can't, however, seem to find many books featuring abandoned cats. I wrote one nearly 20 years ago --William's Story. I have seen many abused, neglected and abandoned cats -- and their endings are typically not happy. I had trouble writing an ending for the book. I felt that I would not be telling the truth if I wrote a happy ending, where William finds a wonderful forever home. I also did not want to leave the reader sad and without hope by having something horrible happen to William. So, I left the ending up to the reader.

I am hoping that Listen! and The Leanin' Dog have happy endings. I'm also hoping that someone will recommend a good cat book or two so I can even out my holiday reading. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A fur Coat is Not Enough!

When I went outside at 8:00 a.m. this morning to get into my car it was 18 degrees. I was dressed in my warmest clothes, my heaviest coat, a long thick scarf and fleece mittens -- AND I WAS STILL FREEZING! It took forever for the car to warm up. It didn't really feel comfortable until I was just a couple of minutes away from the Washington Animal Rescue League. I mention what I was wearing and how cold I was because I often hear people say, "The cat has a fur coat, he's fine" or "the dog's wearing his winter coat, he doesn't feel the cold". Not true. They aren't fine and they absolutely do feel the cold.

My dog, Nigel, and I walk every morning. We walked very quickly this morning. He didn't seem to mind the freezing temperature -- but, he was only out for 15 minutes, not an hour and 15 minutes and surely not 8 hours and 15 minutes!!

This weather is brutal. Keep your animals inside and report any animal that left is outside to the Washington Humane Society, 202 723-5730. If you see a homeless person on the streets during this arctic blast, call 1-800-535-7252. Both numbers are answered 24 hours a day. If you are traveling and see an animal or person who needs help call information -411- and ask for the numbers of animal control or the local animal welfare agency and the hypothermia hotline. Help make the holidays warm and bright for all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where are the Cats in Hollywood?

The movies have gone to the dogs this holiday season -- It started last month with the release of Bolt; Marley and Me, a movie based on a book, opens Christmas; and in mid-January Hotel for Dogs premiers nationwide. Hollywood hounds have always been wildly popular -- there's Benji, Beethoven, Turner and Hooch, Air Bud, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Old Yeller and lots more, including my favorite, Because of Winn Dixie (another movie created from a good book). And, if you go way back there's Lassie and Rin Tin Tin -- both dogs starred in many movies, books, comic books, and were immortalized on metal lunch boxes way back when.

Where are the cat flicks? Okay, Garfield had a couple of decent hits, but most cats have been relegated to supporting roles -- the cat in Stuart Little, what was his name? Are cats not featured in films because they refuse to take orders from demanding directors? Surely, their stories are every bit as good as dog stories.

Cat lovers, Tinseltown is calling. It is time for those of us who live with cats, love cats, and understand cats start writing. Then, maybe next holiday season, films will include --

  • Lightening (a super hero cat who saves the planet)
  • Merl and Me (based on my cat Merl, who is always in trouble)
  • Resort for Cats (an upscale vacation hot spot where cats go to escape their boring, everyday lives.) See Bruce, Merl and Micky below rehearsing for starring roles

Friday, December 19, 2008

Giving to All Creatures -- Great & Small

Gift giving figures prominently this time of year. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or Winter Solstice, you are probably planning on buying or making a gift for someone and probably hoping that someone does the same for you.

Did you know that from Thanksgiving until December 23rd , many, many generous people bring lots of fun toys, yummy treats and healthy food to the Washington Animal Rescue League for the animals? Pet stores throughout the D.C. area have big boxes labeled Paws for Presents where shoppers can drop off something they purchased for someone else's dog or cat. The Paws for Presents gifts are sorted and distributed to folks who take good care of their animals, but may not always have the resources to buy a squeaky toy or box of biscuits. Some folks love their animals very much,; however, at times, buying pet food is tough. The League keeps lists of people who have requested help with providing comfy beds for their aging cats and food for their best 4-pawed buddies.

We are grateful to everyone who helps us help our many friends and neighbors. For people like Angela, Presents for Paws is a holiday dream come true. Angela has arthritis so badly that she can barely move her fingers. She also has a little dog, Beau, whom she adores. What she doesn’t have, especially toward the end of the month, is money. Sometimes, she tells us, she has had to go to bed hungry so that Beau can eat. It may be surprising to many of us, but people like Angela are not rare. Nearly every day, someone like her comes to our Medical Center for low-cost care for their animals. This time of year, we like to do a little extra for them.

You can do a little extra for your dogs and cats, too. There are many gifts that you can provide that are easy to give and do not cost a dime.


  • Walk your dog every day (it might be best to take your dog and mom or dad).
  • Brush or pet your dog when you are watching TV.
  • Make sure that your dog has plenty of clean water at all times.
  • When you are reading a book, read to your dog -- your dog likes the sound of your voice.
  • Give your dog something special -- a little peanut butter on a piece of banana or carrot is one of my dog's favorite treats. NO CHOCOLATE though, chocolate is deadly to dogs.
  • Keep your cat's litter box clean. Cats are fastidious animals -- they don't like to use an already soiled box.
  • Brush your cat every day with a brush made just for cats.
  • Make a toy for your cat. Put a ping pong ball or busy ball (plastic ball with a bell inside) inside an empty tissue box. Tilt the box so the ball makes a noise. You will have an instant cat game!
  • Make sure your cat has plenty of fresh water. Some cats even like to drink water from the bathroom or kitchen faucets. Milk is NOT good for cats.
There are hundreds of ways to show your dog or cat that they are special every single day. The holidays are a nice time to do something a little extra for all animals. The League is happy to provide Paws for Presents and I am looking forward to taking my dog, Nigel, for long walks in the woods during this busy holiday time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What Would You Do?

I am sitting in my warm, comfortable office dreading going outside. It is raining. It is that cold winter rain that would be a blizzard if it was snow. But it is not snow, it i's rain. And, when you run, even to the car from the shelter, you get really, really wet and cold. It's miserable.

Lots of animals don't have warm, comfortable offices or houses to stay in. They are outside -- no matter the weather, rain, snow, heat. And, these are not wild animals. I am talking about cats and dogs. Some of them have been abandoned and don't have homes; others are left outside in yards while the people who are responsible for the animals are warm and cozy inside.

Cats and dogs are really, really smart. There are many ways that they communicate. Unfortunately for them, however, they do not speak with words that humans can understand. They cannot punch numbers into a cell phone and call for help. They cannot scream out to passersby, "I am cold and wet. I do not want to be left alone in this yard!". They have no control over their situations; on a dismal, rainy day -- like today -- they are left outside wet and cold.

Can you help? You may not be able to offer the animal a home, or even move him to some place dry and warm. But, you can get help. Know which animal welfare agency in your community is responsible for investigating animal abuse and neglect. Keep that agency's phone number handy. When you see an animal who needs help, call that number or ask an adult to call and report the situation for you.

Be prepared. Have as much information as possible. Is the animal you are reporting a dog? What color is the dog? How big is the dog? Where is the dog, in the front of the house, the backyard, or side-yard? Is the dog tied up or can he move freely around the yard? Is there a dog house in the yard? If so, is it raised off the ground to prevent drafts, is there a flap covering the doorway that will let the dog in and keep the wind out? Do you have the exact address where the dog is located? Can you identify a cross street or landmark that will help the officer find the location qickly? Do you know the name of the person who should be caring for the dog? The more information you have, the faster the dog can get help. Be a private eye for animals.

Each and everyone of us can make a difference. Use this space to let others know what you have done to help animals.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Puppies and Kittens are Cute, But.........

Puppies and kittens are impossible to resist. Few people can look at a litter of squirmy, pudgy puppies and not squeak, "aaah". Try walking by the adoption windows in the League's main lobby and not be drawn to the kittens playing, bathing, sleeping or doing anything kitten-like. It is impossible.

Kittens and puppies are cute. They are adorable. The are sooooooooooooooooo precious. And, they grow up. FAST. A cute, adorable, precious 8 week old kitten will morph into a gangly teenager in 4 months, and mature into a full-fledged adult by her first birthday! Those cuddly puppies can be little terrors. Until they are totally housebroken, expect regular accidents. And, don't leave a backpack on the floor unattended -- that is just a BIG chew toy to a curious pup.

I am not saying that puppies and kittens are bad. I'm just saying that they grow up fast and before they do, they are really, really needy and can be more destructive than an annoying little brother!

And, did you know that lots of those cute kittens and puppies are cast-off and left at animal shelters when they are no longer cute and cuddly? We have rooms full of really great adult dogs and cats just waiting for their forever homes. People leave them at shelters saying things like, "I didn't know he would grow to be so big," or "I really only wanted a kitten, not a cat". Can you imagine?

The great thing about adopting a full-grown cat or dog is that you know just exactly who you are getting -- no surprises. The big shepherd is done growing, no second guessing how big he'll be. And that pretty calico cat is not running up your leg; she is calm and friendly and really loves sitting on you lap.

Sometimes shelters get litters of kittens or puppies and get the mom cat or dog, too. Do you see a reoccurring theme here? DISPOSABLE SOCIETY! The Play Station is old, get Play Station 2! The dog and her puppies are a lot of work, get rid of them all. The kitten grew into a cat -- trade her in for a smaller model. One by one the kittens or puppies go home, and the mother cats and dogs stay, waiting patiently for someone to finally say "I really want to adopt an adult".

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cats are Happiest Indoors

Cats love the heat. On a hot summer day my cats can be found sleeping on the window sill. On these chilly days, particularly the damp dreary ones, the cats find spots close to heat vents. If it were up to the them, they would crank the heat up to 85 degrees or more. My cats -- Gladys, Micky, Merl and Bruce are inside-only cats. None of them started out that way. Each had a hard life before coming to live with me. Three of them, I know, lived outside. Bruce was found in an abandoned apartment, but his former life is a whole other story -- I will write about him later.

Gladys had been chased up a telephone pole by a dog. It was reported that kids turned their dog loose on Gladys and she ran for safety. Days later, claws still clenching the pole, she was rescued by a D.C. Animal Control Office -- that was almost 17 years ago!

Micky, a plump orange tabby, was on his own for awhile. When he was rescued on a very cold January day in 2002, the pads on his paws were chapped and cracked. He was so happy to be in the shelter, he marched and purred nonstop. When we brought him home he went from bed to sofa to bed.
Merl and his brother were found outside. Both cats were very sick. They went to a foster home until they were well enough to be adopted into new homes. Merl is the pretty brown tabby who makes himself very comfortable on the window sill and on the bed!

Although we know the cats spent time outside in their former lives, none of them has any desire to go outside now. Cats do not like the cold. And, cats left out in the cold will go to great lengths to find warmth. They will crawl up in the engines of cars that have been recently turned off. Unfortunately, sometimes they are still there when the driver starts the engine back up -- being mutilated by a fan belt is a horrible death. Cats crawl into storm drains, and burrow down wherever they can find a warm spot.
An inside cat is a safe, happy cat. If you have a cat, where are your cat's favorite places to hang out? For Merl, the best place in the house is where there is a person, a heating vent and a stream of sunshine!

Friday, December 12, 2008

It Takes a Village to Run the League

I am often amazed at how smoothly the Washington Animal Rescue League's shelter and medical center operate. Nearly 200 dogs and cats are housed at the League at any given time. Some of the animals have special needs, all require the very best of care.

Our 57 person staff works around the clock to make sure that the animals are fed, watered, groomed and exercised. In addition to staff, nearly 400 VOLUNTEERS spend their time walking, training, and playing with the dogs and interacting with the cats. Volunteers show up on rainy, nasty days and on holidays, when most people are home with family and friends. They know each of the animals by name. They share information about particular animals with potential adopters and celebrate each and every new home.

In addition to giving their time, volunteers often donate things to the League. Volunteers bring bags of treats for the dogs and toys and beds for the cats. They show up with new collars and sweaters for the dogs and brushes and combs for the cats. Recently, Frank, a loyal League volunteer brought me a book, May I Pet Your Dog by Stephanie Calmenson and Jan Ormerod. It is a fun, instructional book narrated by Harry, a very knowledgeable and lovable dog. I highly recommend this book and added it to the list of picture books that I enjoy sharing.

The ever-growing picture book reading list is on this page. Please share with me your favorite dog and cat books. My list is just a beginning. And, if you have a chance to visit the League, you will recognize our wonderful volunteers by the shirts they wear -- don't hesitate to thank them for all they do!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Washington Animal Rescue League operates an adoption center with many, many wonderful cats and dogs waiting for new forever homes. We work hard to match animals with people, so that all concerned -- people and animals -- are happy. Sometimes that does not happen.

A co-worker told me that one of our cats was "returned" today. I went to see the cat -- an adorable young brown tabby with a cottony white belly. The cat looked good to me -- he did not shrink in the wash, his size looked to be right and he chased a toy the way a cat should. Was it that the people didn't like him? I returned a pair of boots to Macy's and pair of pants to Target because neither was quite right -- but returning a cat? Adopting an animal should be a careful, well-planned decision. A cat or dog becomes a family member the moment the adopter signs the contract.

I'm glad the people brought the cat back to the League where he will be loved and cared for until a real forever home can be found. That was the right thing to do once they decided that they did not want to keep him forever. But, what makes someone think they want to live with a cat, go through the process of choosing an animal only to change their mind after everything is already said and done and the cat has already moved in and is at home? I return mistaken clothing purchases to clothing stores but my animals are mine -- -- forever.