Be The Change

Paws for the Philippines: The Power of One

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You, right now, are needed.

By now we have all seen and heard about the devastation wrought in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan. The stories are almost too much to bear.

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If you’re wondering why the media hasn’t been more active covering the story than they have been, it’s because everyone is still trying to get there. It is BAD. Bad, bad, awful, nightmarish. My heart goes out to those many souls and I will, as always, make a donation to the Red Cross to help the human victims.

The plight of the animals, domestic and wildlife, will almost certainly be overshadowed by the massive human suffering, but make no mistake, they are in dire need as well and even less likely to get it. I view animal welfare in a disaster as one more necessary component of disaster relief, not something to do later or when all the other needs are met, but in conjunction with other efforts. This is why there are veterinarians and animal welfare organizations who are trained for these sorts of situations. As always, World Vets has stepped up to help our friends across the world. After speaking with our contacts in the Philippines, World Vets is sending a team with requested immediate supplies and is on their way now. Once they have arrive, World Vets has committed to continuing support as the needs evolve. This will not be a short-term mission.

I am asking for you, you reading this, to do one thing. One act of love to support the animals whose lives and stories may never make CNN, but whose suffering, we know because our friends there are living it, is intense. Help the people, please, of course, and then do one thing for the animals. Just one. Please consider donating, it’s tax deductible and this fund is earmarked entirely for typhoon relief.

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I am donating one: one day’s worth of salary. That will be my one. You may choose to donate one day’s Starbucks. Or one dog leash. One dollar. One thousand dollars. Or nothing, of course, but I hope you can find one act of love you are willing to put into action. World Vets can take a whole lotta ones and make ONE BIG IMPACT on the lives in the Philippines. I invite you all to be a part, and to make November 15th the day you commit to One Act of Love. What’s your One?

Please help me get the word out and do some good! I can’t do it without you!

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Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , ,

Pet Disaster Relief: How It Works (hint: don’t show up without calling first)

September is National Preparedness Month, according to FEMA. It’s easy to see why. A lot of bad things happen in Mother Nature this time of year; Colorado the latest in a long series of national disasters to catch the eye of the nation. Few images are as evocative as that of a stranded animal, confused, petrified, and facing an uncertain fate while we sit in front of the TV and wonder, is anyone going to help him? How does animal rescue work?

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Katrina

According to Kim Little, my Technical Animal Rescue trainer who taught me in Nicaragua last year, the craziest rescue he ever participated in was a massive pet pot bellied pig stranded in a flooded home during Hurricane Katrina. If you ever meet him someday, ask him about it. Kim’s a pro, active in professional rescue training for decades. The animal rescue component, however, is relatively new.

RescuedCatKatrinaMost anyone who has been active in animal rescue long enough will tell you Katrina was the game changer in disaster response, for many different reasons. It was a mess in general, as we all know, but the animal component was almost nil. People who refused to evacuate because they couldn’t take their pets later required rescue themselves, preferring to risk death than abandon their beloved companion.

A person I met last weekend at my SEMS/ICS disaster response training spoke of a story from Katrina, a little girl who had evacuated with her cat. The cat was with her, safe, and she was told by the bus driver that would take them to safety that pets were not allowed. They must put the carrier down and leave the cat, no, there was nowhere for it to go, and they needed to leave, now. He said he was haunted by the sound of her screams as her bus pulled away, leaving the cat alone in the parking lot as he scrambled to find help.

That was in 2005, and it was awful. In 2006, President Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act into law. In a really oversimplified statement, it officially makes pets part of the national disaster response framework. In order for this to really function the way it was intended, though, there needs to be a plan at the local, county, and state levels for pets as well.

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Emergency response trickles up. The National Guard is not called in for a small brush fire in San Diego. However, once that fire spreads beyond what the local fireman can handle, they request aid from the county, then on up to the state, then eventually in huge disasters, a federal level. In order to maintain order and safety in chaos, the manner in which these disasters are managed is consistent across the board: the Incident Command System. ICS provides a standardized response framework that functions the exact same way regardless of whether you’re dealing with a car accident on your street, or a 8.5 earthquake.

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It’s absolutely essential; communications breakdown in a rapidly changing situation can mean disaster. Because the system is standardized and the chain of command well defined, you can drop a fireman from Phoenix into Yosemite and he will know exactly what to do.

But is it the same for animal rescuers?

Pet Disaster Aid: The Government Part

As a vet, I can’t just show up to the flood line and ask if there’s a sick pet I can help. I would probably get myself killed standing around where the helicopter is supposed to land or something. This is why ICS is important, and why emergency management teams ask those who have not been trained not to “self deploy” in emergency situations. I’m minimally trained in disasters; my knowledge is pretty specific to pets. I tried to learn water rescue once; in the practice scenario, I killed myself and the victim I was supposed to be helping. My job became “stay on shore and make sure we have enough rope”, which is also essential and as it turns out something I was great at. To truly be helpful in these situations you need two things: a skill that is useful; knowledge of the command structure and who is going to be in charge of you.

Some of us were better at water rescue than others.

Some of us were better at water rescue than others.

During Hurricane Katrina, there was no one in the official government rescue effort tasked with helping animals. ASPCA and HSUS sent in large scale, well trained relief volunteers, and thank goodness they did because no one else was doing it. But without being part of the official effort, there’s no reimbursement from the government, and more importantly no official way to communicate with the other disaster responders on the ground who may have important information: for example, a person shows up at the Red Cross shelter with a dog; would they even know if/where the emergency shelter is? A fireman doing a swift water rescue on a person realizes the victim is with a horse; who do they call?

With PETS signed into law, states are now working to come up with a clear and well defined animal response plan that integrates into the other structures already in place. On a local level, that means working with animal control and local shelters to provide immediate sheltering and aid. As the situation escalates, larger groups come into play.

In my home state of California, the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps- of which I am a member- is the veterinary group that is mobilized on a state level- not until the governor declares a state of emergency. Colorado’s Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps functions similarly, and both are units of the National Medical Reserve Corps. Oversight groups such as PetAid Colorado and CARES in California are tasked with the bigger issue of figuring out how this all should also play out at the local level- all the people in charge before the governor gets involved. As well as pets, they are to come up with plans for all animals: livestock, zoos, farms…. you see how crazy this gets. MASSIVE task.

Private Disaster Aid: So Where is My Money Going?

So hang on, if there’s laws saying the government needs to plan to take care of animals, why are these other groups asking for money? Make no mistake, non-profits/NGOs still have a vital role to play here.

1. There are different type of disaster declarations and not every incident is eligible for state or federal aid. In smaller disasters, the first line of defense is the local community: your local SPCA, shelters, vets, and rescues. Their resources, as you know, are often strained. As a disaster gets larger in scope, their responsibilities only grow.

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Groups like American Humane Association provide invaluable support during disasters

2. An “official” government entity in charge may invite a nonprofit in to help. In Boulder, Animal Control was quickly overwhelmed at the flooding before them. They invited Code 3 Associates and American Humane Association’s Red Star rescue team, both exceptionally well trained animal rescue providers, in to help.

How Can I Help?

1. If you want to know who in Colorado needs help, BlogPaws- itself based in Colorado- has a great article listing local groups in action.

2. If you are a veterinary professional or someone with animal experience and you want to be on call for disasters, try searching “(name of your state) veterinary medical reserve corps”. The ASPCA also has an excellent list of disaster response training courses.

3. If you want to be better prepared for a disaster (and who doesn’t), check out this list of Animal Preparedness Tips from FEMA.

 

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , ,

Fear Me: Fear Free Practice and You

My resting blood pressure, I assure you, is completely normal. I have to state this fact again and again every time I wind up at the doctor’s office, when the nurse places the cuff and then pulls it off with a thoughtful wrinkle in her forehead. “It’s not normally 200/140!” I plead, hoping she doesn’t direct me to the closest ER. “I just get this way when I’m in the doctor’s office.” She nods, and we get on with our day. I have no idea why it happens, but apparently it’s A Thing. I blame it on the scale. I hate going to the doctor and avoid it as often as possible.

Sound familiar?

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It happens at the vet, too. “The cat’s temperature is 103.8,” the tech will say, shrugging. “I think. She was trying to bite me most of the time, so I didn’t get a heart rate.” White coat syndrome in pets can be so significant that some behavior experts counsel the veterinarian to leave the coat in the back room, so as to trick the pet into thinking you aren’t the dreaded vet. We accept this as a reality of practice, our years of blood sweat and tears in service of our love of animals being reduced to this: told, on a daily basis, “Ha ha! My dog hates you.”

“Fear is the most damaging thing a social species can experience.”

I was talking to Dr. Marty Becker the other day (I know, right? I am so excited to actually say that I am a person who talked to Marty Becker the other day) and he was sharing a conversation he had with Dr. Karen Overall about the effect of stress hormones on physical health. It’s not some theoretical thing; fear causes permanent change to the brain. It is damaging in a profound and terrible way.

I think of my mother, who had such horrible experiences at the dentist as a child that she refused to go back for years until the advent of sedation dentistry. I think of my own memories of childbirth and hospitals and how simply seeing the maternity ward from the side of the freeway gets my heart pumping. Fear is an awful feeling. And what we do to pets in the hospital can only be described in many cases as a terror inducing, fear of death experience. Slapping a cat on a cold exam table, sticking needles in their neck like a predator sinking their teeth into prey, staring at them through the bars of the cage. It can take them days or weeks to recover from the stress of a hospitalization, and as soon as they get put in the carrier for a follow up, it starts all over again. No wonder cat visits to the vet are so infrequent. And we are supposed to be their health champions.

As vets, we often blame clients for not caring enough about their pets. “Don’t you know,” we ask sagely, “how important these visits are?” And we shake our heads at the pet owners, blaming them for not having their priorities straight, for not wanting to spend the money on visits. We have done this for years, without ever looking at ourselves and wondering what part of the blame we shoulder ourselves for making the vet hospital pretty much the worst environment possible for pets. “Shelters are so stressful and sad,” we say, ignoring the PTSD we are inducing in the cat with a urinary catheter in the back who has nowhere to escape the prying eyes of the Husky across the room.

When I really started to think about it, I was mortified.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Some people get it. I worked with a technician who loved cats, like, in a self professed ‘cat lady’ sort of way. She was always sneaking into exam rooms to place a microwaved towel under a cat, or sprinkling catnip in their cage, making little hidey boxes out of recycled cardboard. It was tolerated. It should have been celebrated.

A lot of people in the profession, like that technician, are intuitively doing what they can to make things easier on pets. After hearing Dr. Margie Scherk lecture on this topic years ago,  I started keeping a yoga mat in the back for cats to sit on, on the table. Dr. Becker is taking it one step further: he wants vets to re-envision practice from the ground up, to change them from a vet-friendly hospital to a pet-friendly one. He calls it “Fear Free Practice,” and I love it.

When I was in school, veterinary behavior as a specialty was just getting off the ground. It was scoffed at. It’s not ‘real medicine’ was the prevailing attitude. They were wrong. It is, in my opinion, our biggest oversight as a profession. We blame backyard breeders and lack of affordable spay/neuter for pet overpopulation while neglecting to address behavior issues that eventually result in a pet being relinquished. We make the clinic so unpleasant people would rather let their pet suffer in pain at home than come see us and miss the chance for interventions that can save a life.  The consequences: less visits, more health issues, more behavior issues we never got the chance to address.

The veterinary community needs to do a better job, from start to finish, of addressing and incorporating behavior into practice.

Fear Free Practice: Real Life Implications

Anyone who has spoken to me in the past year or two knows I am passionate about encouraging our profession to take a more active role in maintaining a pet’s healthy role in the family. To me, preserving that relationship is just as important as maintaining a good weight. It is vital. As is, I think, this concept of fear-free practice.

While Dr. Becker and other like minded vets work on our colleagues, I encourage you to advocate for your pet’s mental well being at the clinic. Bring a mat or towel. Spray them with Feliway. Ask the vet to give your dog some of his favorite treats before jumping into the exam, or if they can take the heart rate while the cat stays in your lap. Making a visit less stressful doesn’t have to involve rebuilding the clinic from the ground up; it can start with these little steps. It’s a philosophy more than a set of prescriptives.

Has fear kept you and your pet from the vet? Had a vet that went out of their way to make you comfortable by embracing a fear free approach?

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Health, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: ,

Some wins feel extra awesome

When I decided to go to Otovalo, Ecuador for the latest World Vets trip, I knew it had a reputation for being one of the most busy trips. How that idea of being busy actually translates into bone numbing exhaustion is another story entirely.

Whether or not it was worth it depends on how you feel about what you have accomplished at the end of the day.

Located at approximately 8,000 feet up in the Andes, Otovalo has a long history as one of the most important crossroads in the range. Unlike the more tropical locations closer to sea level, the climate is unlike what you might expect when you hear “14 miles north of the equator.” It’s pretty cold, especially at night.

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Otovalo, Ecuador July 2013. Photo by Stephen Tanahashi.

The people who live there are kind and welcoming, and despite their limited access to such things as veterinary care do care deeply about both their pets and the large street dog population. It was this concern and love of animals that drove Dr. Olga, a local MD in Otovalo, to approach the city administrators and ask them to stop poisoning street dogs as a form of animal control. “If I can get a spay/neuter organization in several times a year,” she asked, “Will you stop poisoning dogs?” They said yes.

In conjunction with local rescue organization PAE-Ibarra, World Vets has been doing campaigns in Otovalo four times a year.

The campaign lasts three days. During the latter half, the residents are invited to bring in their pets for sterilization, lining up hours in advance for a slot. The first day and a half, however, is reserved for street dogs.

Most of the dogs are friendly, allowing themselves to be rounded up by PAE volunteers and brought to the clinic. Without a city shelter, the dogs are sterilized, treated for parasites, and then returned to the streets after recovery. Most of the dogs, surprisingly enough, seem to be in fair condition as well.

Most.

From my station in post-op recovery, I heard murmurs and gasps, followed by the extended hum of a pair of clippers. I looked over, to see what all of us agreed was the most matted dog any of us had seen in our entire lives. She was, quite simply, one entire, solid dredlock over her entire little body.

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She was shaved down to her skin until the clippers ran out of batteries, and then she underwent a spay. Over in recovery, one of the doctors who had a free moment patiently sat with her and cut away at the remaining mats on her feet and tail with scissors, doing his best to get her comfortable. We were all concerned that, although she was now clipped, she was now also going to be cold.

Then she hit a hard patch in recovery. I spent the next two hours helping her through that period, as she had a fairly hard time working her way through the anesthesia. Eventually I handed her to one of the local volunteers and asked her to just hold her and keep her warm and comfortable until the rest of the anesthesia wore off. We all felt just terrible for this little girl who had fought so hard at life.

I checked on her every few minutes, the volunteer patiently holding her for about three hours. And then I went over and she was awake, resting her head quietly on the woman who had nursed her so kindly.

“When should she get her dewormer?” asked the volunteer through a translator.

“Ideally tomorrow,” I said, “but since she’s a stray, we should probably do it now.”

She said something else, and the translator paused. Then she smiled.

“We can do it tomorrow,” she said. “This woman is adopting her.”

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And that is how Serena’s worst day ever became her best day ever.

And that is how I answer the question of whether the 12 hour workdays were worth it.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog Tagged: , , ,

Community

I grew up in a small New England town, surrounded by what by today’s standards would be considered ‘nosey’ neighbors. To this day I remember their names, the Kerrys and Kellys and Jeffreys and their parents who had no problems doling out discipline, dinner, and hugs in equal measure.

I’ve lived in many places since then. I can’t tell you what my neighbors’ names were; I’m not sure I knew it even then. When I was in vet school, a five year old boy down the street drowned in his pool. When a similar event happened in my childhood, the community swallowed the family up and kept them close during their grief. Contrast that to my later experience; this boy, who lived maybe 6 doors away, I read about in the paper. Community has, in a lot of places, simply eroded in the face of our transient lifestyle.

Or, perhaps, it’s just transformed. The address I call home may have changed many times over the years, but the community that has embraced me online has been a constant since I first started an online journal 11 years ago. I don’t think people have given up on community at all, so much as they have simply transcended geographical lines, giving us the freedom to define our own borders. Our world is simultaneously expanded tremendously and compacted intensely.

We all have a role to play in our community.

Wildfire

I almost didn’t make it to BlogPaws this year, for various reasons that aren’t all that interesting, but I was very fortunate that my friends at Purina were generous enough to sponsor my attendance and make it possible. I put names to faces and met new friends from AAHA as well as the leadership at pet360, both committed to the pet community. I caught up with old friends from BlogPaws past (and this time no one crashed the pool after hours.) I went home, happy and tired in equal measure.

Then a tornado hit Oklahoma.

Team Up For Oklahoma
“How can we help?” asked the BlogPaws leadership. And you know, we had some ideas.

Ideas are like wildfire. They can sputter and die on the ground, or, with enough kindling and wind, they can take the countryside by storm. As they have done in the past, BlogPaws mobilized the Blogger Disaster Response Network and supported the World Vets effort to send aid where it is needed most in the community. They planted the spark, and waited. And others joined in, AAHA and pet360 and all the individual community members so instrumental in spreading the idea through this, our amazing online community.

Disaster Response Recipients

Today is the last day of the World Vets fundraiser, and we are all so grateful for the support of this entire community in making it a success. Truly, we are a community that helps when it is needed.

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One of many pets in the midst of being reunited with their owners, thanks to tireless efforts from animal relief organizations. Photo: Boomer’s Animal Networking

World Vets has spoken with our members, our network, and the people at NARSC coordinating the national disaster response. We will be passing on 100% of the donations received in support of three tornado disaster response funds covering a wide variety of animal relief needs:

  1. Central Oklahoma Humane Society, one of the leading FEMA recommended local groups providing comprehensive support to displaced animals and getting them back to their owners;
  2. OSU Animal Relief Fund, providing veterinary care free of charge to the many injured animals both large and small;
  3. and Pampered Pets Veterinary Clinic Tornado Disaster Relief Fund, an AAHA member in Oklahoma who is donating needed supplies directly to affected individuals and smaller organizations in need.

We are tied not by our neighborhood borders but by something bigger. We are a global community. And I am so very proud to be a member of this wonderful group of people. Thank you everyone for your generous donations and your efforts to get the word out. It matters.

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Tinker was reunited with his owners at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society. Photo: Central Oklahoma Humane Society

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Disaster Response Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Helping Animals in Moore

Every animal disaster is a little different than the one before. The infrastructure may be fairly intact, or devastated. Local roads to receive supplies may or may not be accessible. The presence of local organizations and their willingness to help plays a major role in what constitutes an appropriate response. That is a field that is hard to navigate each and every time since the landscape is constantly changing from one disaster to another.

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What doesn’t change? Who needs help. Why we do it.

Everyone wants to help, and unfortunately scumlords are all too eager to put up fake fundraising scams. That doesn’t change, either.

Team Up For OklahomaYou all know I do work with World Vets and disaster relief; while we focus on international work we are always do what we can in domestic disasters as well. We are not sending a team to Oklahoma; it’s not necessary when so many other groups are present, willing, and able. That is not the need.

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World Vets is collaborating with BlogPaws, AAHA, our corporate supporters, and local organizations to send them supplies based on their needs now and in the coming weeks. Our goal is to provide direct support to local humane organizations and/or veterinary clinics in a meaningful way. If you want to contribute to the tornado relief fund, you can do so here.

We’ve been in contact with the national organizations most involved in disaster response coordination to get the contact information for the groups most in need of support. If you would like to donate directly to one of them, here’s the links:

Oklahoma City Animal Shelter

Central Oklahoma Humane Society

Moore Animal Services

Thank you all for your support of our community!

 

Filed: Be The Change, Blog Tagged: , ,

Don’t Fitch the Homeless

I’ve never bought a piece of Abercrombie and Fitch clothing in my life, so to say I’m not going to in the future wasn’t a big loss for me. I’m with everyone else who was disgusted with CEO Mike Jeffries’ recent statement about their painfully shallow approach to marketing:

“Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people,” he said. “We don’t market to anyone other than that.” And so on and so forth we only sell small sizes and hire models etc.

The reaction has been, unsurprisingly, not so positive for good old Jeffries. One man, in an attempt to damage Abercrombie’s reputation as much as possible, decided he would take them on with a YouTube stunt called “Abercrombie and Fitch get an attitude readjustment #Fitchthehomeless.” Having read all the “You GO GREG!” responses on the net, I checked it out. It was a video of a guy sticking it to Jeffries by giving Abercrombie & Fitch clothing away to homeless people.

I felt immediately uneasy.

These aren’t props, they are people

One of my first experiences working with the homeless was at Loyola Marymount University, volunteering at a soup kitchen in Venice called Bread and Roses. (I was shocked the first day to discover Martin Sheen, standing elbow deep in suds in the kitchen. He volunteered every Tuesday I was there, though you wouldn’t know it since he never advertised that fact.)

I loved talking to the men, women and children who were there. Many of them; most, really, weren’t up for chitchat, but those who wanted a conversation were a breath of fresh air from the silliness I was surrounded by at a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles. It’s a whole different world. It’s humbling.

Later on, at Davis, I learned of a student-run clinic called Mercer Clinic, which provided veterinary care for the homeless of Sacramento. Professors and local veterinarians donated their time alongside veterinary students to provide the dogs and cats with vaccinations and spay/neuter, free of charge. Without the rabies vaccine, the dogs could be confiscated. We provided the vaccine, but also required the sterilization.

People would walk for miles to come to the clinic, waiting patiently out in the cold and occasional rain, sometimes for hours. They were happy to volunteer their stories; women whose dogs protected them from assault on the streets, veterans whose small kittens were their best and only friends in life. “This one’s ^!@hole,” said a man with the salty humor you get used to pretty quickly. “And this one’s $@#%head.” The veterinarian that day laughed, gave the cats their vaccines, and watched as the man loaded them gently onto the pile of clothing that constituted his life’s possessions in his shopping cart.

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Real cool kids recognize the value in keeping this going.

I learned basic exam room skills. I learned preventive care. And I learned, by example, compassion. It was the first time I really understood how much of a lifeline a pet can be, and how important my responsibility is to protect that. Many people I met there were more conscientious, more careful with their pets, than some of the wealthiest people I’ve since met over the years.

It was there, with the people our society has cast out, that I learned what it means to respect another human’s dignity.

And this is why that video bothers me, the use of the homeless as a gag, berating a man for his attempt to devalue a group of people by doing the exact same thing to another group. “Ha, if he thinks his clothes on THOSE people are bad, wait till he gets a load of his clothes on THESE GUYS!”

#VetTheHomeless

Mercer Clinic helped me be a better veterinarian and a better human, as it has done for other Davis veterinary students for 20 years. It is now in danger of closing down, and they have one month to raise $40,000 to get a new facility lined up.

I’ve long ago given up on being a cool kid; those labels ceased to be interesting to me a long time ago. But I’m fine being thought of as a compassionate one. I ask anyone who was annoyed by Jeffries’ remarks to resist the urge to respond by throwing his clothing at homeless people on video, and instead show him how stupid and irrelevant he is by supporting something that might really make a difference.

Mercer Clinic has helped so many clients, pets, and future veterinarians. Now I’m off to BlogPaws and about to speak to people about what making a difference really means in life. I’d love for you to help me spread the word and help me #VetTheHomeless instead.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Musings Tagged: , ,

Be Kind to Animal People Week

May 5-11 is the American Humane Association’s Be Kind to Animals Week.

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Hopefully, we’re kind to animals every week, but it’s good to have a reminder every now and then, and maybe a reason to go out of your way to do that thing you’ve been putting off. In last year’s post I listed 5 ways to go about this, such as the shelter drive-by (still love this idea! I’m due for another trip!)

But for today’s post, I would like to discuss something that’s been nagging at the back of my brain for a long time. It has to do with some pretty strong divides in the animal community.

On one side, the rescue community.

On the other, the breeder/fancy community.

The blame game can and does get nasty, sometimes. And that breaks my heart.

I’ve seen many posts- some from very well placed people in the dog community- arguing that until all dogs find homes, no dog should be allowed to breed. I disagree. It’s gotten so bad that many people I know are scared to admit on their blogs that they purchased their dog from a respected breeder because they don’t want to have people tell them how they’ve just killed a shelter dog.

I’ve also seen posts from some in the breeder community insinuating that the animal rescue community = animal rights activists who want to eventually eliminate all pet ownership. Ingrid Newkirk does not get to define what animal welfare means. Most animal rescue people I know are a lot like breeders I know- their lives revolve around the animals they love.

Why do we allow ourselves to be defined by the extremes? I think the vast majority of people fall somewhere squarely in the middle of these extremes, with many crossing over; people who have both rescues and purchased purebreds. There are good reasons for both and very different aims.

With rare exceptions, we want the same thing: finding pets a lifelong home with the right family who values them.

It’s unfortunate that the game-changing people doing innovative work in the no-kill movement are so often dismissed as people with their heads in the clouds by those who confuse the animal welfare movement with animal rights.

It’s also unfortunate that the people who work tirelessly to keep their breed healthy, who grill potential owners up one side and down the other to make sure this is the right home, take the blame for all the irresponsible backyard breeders and for-profit puppy mills as the cause of so many ills by those who refuse to differentiate the many ways one might purchase a pet.

We have so much to learn from each other based on our own experiences. Being open minded has put me at a table with AKC leadership at a dog show one day, and sitting with Mike Arms the next learning about the way effective marketing saves lives.

So this is what I ask of you this week, because it really will improve the lives of animals: Be Kind to Animal Lovers, no matter what kind of animal lover they are. I know you will probably never agree on whether someone is a pet parent or a pet owner. I get it. As a vet, I see posts from both groups complaining about how clueless we are. But even if you don’t agree on some things or most things, you may gain a new perspective.

When it comes to making animals’ lives better, we are all in this together.

I’d love for the comment section to be your list of people with a strong voice that you admire. Hopefully I can find some new people to learn from. :)

Filed: Be The Change, Blog Tagged:

Apollo Chaplin Wishes you a Happy Hairball Awareness Day

If there’s one thing that’s harder to get a good picture of than a black dog, it’s a black cat. At least Kekoa was easily bribed. Apollo- well, let’s just say this was an all-hands on deck sort of mission.

For National Hairball Awareness Day- which is today, by the by- we were invited by Furminator to participate in their Cats with Moustaches Campaign. The concept was simple: Furminate your cat (cakewalk), glue the hair onto a cardboard moustache (Messy, but elementary), then get a photograph of said cat posing just right with the moustache in front of their face (Level 23 Difficulty), and oh yes the cat and the moustache are monochromatic and the lighting in the house is bad (Pick up the ring, go into Mordor).

This is why we wound up with this picture:

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Because without Photoshop, this wasn’t going to happen.

Apollo’s opinion of the matter was somewhere along the lines of, “You will pay for this.” Those of you who follow me on Facebook saw my frantic post about the best pet urine removers this week? I’m convinced that’s payback. And this, my friends, is why he’s so rarely on the blog. He’s antisocial.

Brody, on the other hand, noticed a camera and treats and happily posed free of charge for 15 shots with Apollo’s fur huffed to his face. He liked it.

To see what the other 11 brave cat writers came up with for this campaign, check them out on People Pets. In return for these photos, Furminator generously donated 25 Furminator tools to a shelter of our choice for each participant, so it was worth every second. :)

 

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Photography Tagged: , ,

Run Towards

I take the emergency exit row on a plane whenever I can get it. Who doesn’t, right? When the attendants come around and ask if you are willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency, I nod, but think to myself “My job ends once that door’s open then I’m outta here.” I’d like to think I would stick around and help carry out the elderly or infirm, but there is a deep and guilty part of me that thinks I wouldn’t. I would run away.

Running away is an easy way to deal with life. I run when I can because when the exit door’s open, it’s much easier than sticking around; trying to help, trying to change, trying to make things better. Easiest to leave and start over, when there’s a choice. And all I have to say to that is, I am not a good example of humanity and I know this.

When the horrific events of Boston unfolded today, I watched in dismay as did the rest of the world. Hours of “Who? Why?” over and over, 15 second Vine videos of the blast, screaming people running away. I turned it off after a bit. I, too, ran away. What were they going to say that made sense? Would someone step forward and say, “I did this, and this is why,” and that would somehow explain it? It was a horrific evil act regardless of the perpetrator’s identity or reasoning, and so I took a break from the nonstop onslaught of smoky images.

But I turned it back on later, to see if there was any new news. I saw that an eight year old died, a child the same age as my own, one who was likely there cheering on a loved one on a happy Patriot’s Day. And I held my head and turned away, but something in the images starting to come forward changed my mind, despite the despair, despite the urge to run from reality.

mrrogers

In the seconds after the blast, while confused runners and spectators were fleeing, I saw the first responders sprinting towards the victims. Knowing a second explosion had just hit and unsure if more explosions were coming, still, they ran towards those who needed them. I know a lot of these ‘Massholes’, as they call themselves. I grew up as one. I still drive like one. Massholes run towards.

I saw marathoners, who had planned this event for months and months, robbed in a moment of this happy journey, leave the course and continue running, towards the hospital to donate blood. Elite athletes are often accused of being selfish to the point of narcissism in their quest for glory. They, too, ran towards.

I saw other marathoners, paused on the roadside with their shirts off, tearing them into pieces to apply tourniquets to the victims. The one time I ran a marathon I couldn’t even remember my name by mile 23 and here they were, at the end, applying first aid knee to knee with spectators. All labels gone, just humans in the thick of things, compelled to run towards.

You may think you have your life on track and then without warning, reason, or explanation, it can derail in a second’s time, and until it happens, you have no idea of what kind of person you will be. And while there will always be crazy people and awful psychopaths and run of the mill jerks, I’m reminded of the fact that the reason we consider them sociopaths and villains is because most of us, yes, the vast majority of us, even those we don’t like or agree with most of the time, are good and want to support our fellow man, not drown him.

Not one of those people stopped to ask a victim, Romney or Obama?

Do you feed raw food or kibble?

Did you rescue your dog or buy a purebred?

Perspective is a precious gift we can find in the most wretched of circumstances. And on this day, I hope that if I ever find myself faced with a choice, I choose to run towards my fellow man.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Heroes Tagged:

Spay Day, that Golden study everyone’s talking about, and why I still happily remove testicles.

Today’s the day- 2013 Annual World Spay Day! I have to tell you, it doesn’t tickle the old joy centers quite the way, say, Ben and Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Cone Day does, but it’s here and I’m glad it exists.

Now, two things to note before I give my thoughts:

1. Although it’s called “Spay Day”, the event encompasses both spay and neuter. Nobody’s trying to leave the fellas out, I think it just rolls off the tongue better this way.

2. Yes, I know it’s a Humane Society of the United States initiative and that is making at least five of you raise your eyebrows. That being said, I do think it’s important to recognize and support good initiatives no matter where they originate, and this is one. Lots of other organizations, such as PetSmart Charities, Petfinder, and the ASPCA, agree enough to be an official part of the event.

This question of whether to spay and neuter has become somewhat controversial as of late. And to that I say, let’s talk about it. Politely, please. As long as it took me to perfect my gentle tissue handling skills I really take issue with being accused of ripping uteri out of unwitting pets willy-nilly for no good reason.

I Spay

I am a spay/neuter advocate. Anyone who has worked even a little in a shelter environment becomes one really fast- because when you are faced with the reality:

Of 10,000 faces.

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No, wait, that’s not 10,000.

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No, wait. That’s not 10,000 either. THIS is 10,000:

walle 10,000

10,000 faces A DAY euthanized in US shelters, makes it hard to argue against anything that will help reduce those numbers. Which is why I will support low cost spay/neuter clinics, even if it cuts into my own professional workload (though it never seemed to, even in my lower income area of practice.)

My clinic referred people all the time; our surgery protocol was absolutely top notch, but it came with an appropriate pricetag. Given the choice between a subsidized clinic down the road or no surgery at all, we knew what was the right thing to do. Money’s tight these days. I get that. I am glad there are resources around for those who need it.

Spay Day has an event locator for people to find local Spay Day events. As an example, here’s an event from my neck of the woods: $10 to fix any pet whose owners reside in a particular school district. I can’t compete with that, but truth be told, I probably never was in the running for most of the business to begin with. Whatever the outcome, one less litter in the Sweetwater shelter is OK by me.

But gonads are good! Don’t you deny it!

But WAIT! I know what you’re going to say. You are an educated, informed pet owner and you know all about the research showing that sex hormones do have health benefits and spaying and neutering may not always be 100% a positive thing. You’ve pored over the latest Golden Retriever neutering and cancer study (I did too. Putting 2 Goldens down in 6 months is not a fun thing.) And you ask:

Why must I be forced into this surgery for my pet? Why is no one admitting that testicles and ovaries have a purpose and are best left attached to the animal from whence they sprouted?

To this I say: I agree.

And to that I add: Will you at least concede, being an educated, informed pet owner, the sad truth that many, many people are not? And while I can say with utter sincerity that I believe you are not letting your pet run amuk impregnating the neighborhood, your less conscientious streetmates are?

We need to look at the conversation on two different levels: Individual health and population health.

I believe individual owners should have the right to decide when and if their pets are spayed and neutered. It’s my job to help you evaluate the risk/benefit analysis and decide for yourself what is right for you, what the consequences of that choices might be, and how to proceed. Should you make an informed decision not to spay and neuter, I will support you. I know you people exist. I’ve met you. However:

I also believe that from a population standpoint, in the absence of an owner who makes that level of commitment to understanding the complexity of the issue- or any issue regarding their dog, really- the default recommendation should be: spay and neuter. If you got your cryptorchid puppy off Craigslist and waited three months to bring him in for his first parvo vaccine, I’m going to recommend neutering him. If you are a local news personality and you Tweet me asking me whether you should buy a dog with an umbilical hernia if you intend to breed her….not that that happened…OK, it just happened…but do you see what I mean? There are a lot of people out there making, as I explain it to my children, “poor decisions.”

 
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Nowhere is the benefit of spay/neuter more apparent to me than in Granada, where World Vets started performing the surgeries half a decade ago. You might have walked through there in 2002 and marveled that the stray dogs all seemed so young and vibrant, but here’s the truth: that’s because they usually died, starving or in pain, by age 4.

Those people who live there will tell you, with awe in their voices, how much healthier the overall animal population is. How much nicer it is to walk down the street and not see a dead starved dog in a ditch. Those of you educated enough to appreciate the benefits of an intact pet are certainly educated enough to appreciate in the big picture, that might not apply. If not, come on down to Granada and I’ll show you a TVT.

You can’t evaluate the necessity of spay/neuter campaigns in a vacuum; so to sum up, here you go:

TLDR: If you choose not to spay or neuter your dog because you’re responsible and educated enough to have decided that is right for you, I’m here for you. And while I will support you in that I hope you will also acknowledge that for millions of animals out there, spay/neuter IS the best choice, so do me a solid and don’t undermine my efforts to alleviate significant suffering in spheres outside your own. Deal? Group hug.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , ,

Inspiration in Action

When you hear the word “veterinarian”, there’s a pretty standard picture that jumps into most people’s heads. The woman or man in a white coat, stethoscope around their neck, patting a dog who’s perched on a metal exam table. Maybe, if you work with large animals, the vet is standing outside, in coveralls. But the idea is the same- vets go to work and serve the medical needs of clients and their pets. And that is a wonderful thing. It is what most of us do.

But the amazing thing about our profession, about people who choose to go into veterinary medicine, is this desire to take in the bigger picture and ask ourselves, what more can we be doing? What needs are out there that we can help fulfill?

Vets are, if you didn’t know, really good at that too. I knew a good percentage of the field indulged an altruistic streak here and there, but I didn’t know just how big it was until I started looking. Those vets tend to be pretty modest about advertising the work they are doing- a flaw, in my view. So I’m going to talk about some of them today.

The Heska Corporation is a provider of veterinary supplies; if you work in the field you’re probably familiar with some of their products. As a way to give back to the community they launched the Inspiration in Action contest to help veterinarians with a really cool idea to get it off the ground, because as I can tell you firsthand, we are a group with amazing ideas but we seem to fall flat when it comes to fundraising. In the first year of the competition, World Vets came in second place, winning seed money that helped the organization become what it is today.

This year, I was invited to attend the awards ceremony honoring this year’s winners as a World Vets representative. What a great way to start the day, by being reminded of the many good deeds out there and my field’s commitment to stepping up and volunteering in the world to make it a better place.

Grand Prize: Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation

The $25,000 top award was accepted by Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP. As you can tell by the number of titles after his name, Dr. Bellows is incredibly accomplished. As a world expert in veterinary dentistry, no one would blame him for just trying to stay on top of his game and fulfilling the many expectations of a field expert.

Yet here he is, volunteering his time to help the mission “to provide life improving advanced veterinary dental care and treatment to exotic animals located in US (and in the future, overseas) captive animal facilities and animal sanctuaries, which are under funded and/or understaffed from a veterinary perspective.” Volunteers travel all over the country to cash-strapped sanctuaries to provide state of the art dental care they never would be able to afford on their own. Dr. Bellows is just one of the many veterinarians and veterinary staff who make this work possible.

I know from my time with Lions, Tigers, and Bears that the vast majority of the animals entering their sanctuary need extensive dental work, fixing problems both painful and debilitating. PEI VDF is helping these forgotten animals live longer and pain free.

Second Place: Kindred Canines in Motion

Service animals make life better for persons with disabilities in more ways we can ever truly comprehend. But who helps these animals live their lives in their best health? Oftentimes the act of taking the service animal to the vet can be a challenging obstacle for the housebound, the elderly, or the disabled. Inspired by a family member’s own experience, Dr. Joyce Gerardi has created a mobile veterinary clinic to address this vital need. The $10,000 second place prize will help her accomplish this mission.

Third Place: Navajo Nation Veterinary Shuttle

With the $5,000 award money, the Christian Veterinary Mission’s Navajo Nation Veterinary Shuttle will provide veterinary services to the underserved (or should we say unserved) areas of the Navajo Nation. For the last 10 years, teams of veterinarians and students have travelled to what volunteer Dr. Page Waters describes as “a different world.” In one of the most inspiring moments of the award ceremony, Dr. Waters showed a picture of a young Navajo woman who has been observing the mission trips since she was a child, and is now a veterinary student at Tufts.

Told you my profession was cool. Thank you to my colleagues for remembering what it’s all about and to Heska, for helping ensure these projects continue.

 

Filed: Be The Change, Blog Tagged: , , ,
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