Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Exercise in Critical Thinking

On Friday evening I was reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and found a very interesting column by Jim Stingl. It was entitled A Tough Break in Some Tough Times and was about a woman named Barbara Smith who adopted a dog from the Wisconsin Humane Society. A few months later the Pomeranian was accidentally dropped, resulting in both front legs being broken. The owner discovered it would cost thousands of dollars for veterinary care. Not being able to afford that she surrendered the dog back to the Wisconsin Humane Society.

A few weeks later Smith contacted the Wisconsin Humane Society and wanted the dog back. The Humane Society had spent $4,000 for veterinary care at that point, and told the woman that she would have to reimburse the cost of medical care already spent, and also be able to cover future medical expenses. Not being able to afford the full amount, the woman offered to pay in installments - which the Humane Society refused. Stingl writes at the end of the article; "It's unfair, Smith said, that someone else will be able to purchase the dog but won't have to pay for its medical bills."

As an animal shelter employee this was obviously a very interesting column for me to read. I knew immediately what my opinion was, but I also thought this could be a very good educational tool.

Yesterday I visited Saratoga Elementary School in Waukesha for my weekly Monday after-school program with a group of about 15 children between grades 3 and 6. I read the article to them out loud, and without giving them my opinion I posed the question to the children: "Should Barbara Smith be given her dog back without paying for the medical expenses?"

I fully expected that they would identify with the pain of losing a pet and would side with Barabara Smith. Therefore I was floored when the first response given by Lexus was "no". She said that not everyone can have vet care for free, and this woman shouldn't either.

The next child I called on was Savannah. She said that the woman should only have to pay for half the expenses because it was an accident.

Shaylynn's opinion was that if you can't pay for surgery, then you can't care for the dog properly and the dog would be in pain and so the dog was better off at the Humane Society.

Sara felt that if she can't pay for these medical expenses then how will she be able to pay for other expenses the dog will have?

Tiara and Alexis both agreed that it wouldn't be fair to other pet owners who have to pay for their pets veterinary care if this woman got it for free. However Alexis also felt sorry for her because she's a single mom and can't afford to pay for it.

I was very proud of these kids for a number of reasons. They felt compassion for both the dog and the previous owner -- teaching compassion and empathy is a big part of what HAWS educational program attempts to accomplish. However they also realize that having a pet is a huge responsibility and that if you can't meet the responsibility the pet may be better off with someone who can provide for it.

I would like to think that my weekly visits to Saratoga have had a positive impact on these kids.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Animals and Art

Many years ago when I lived in a apartment with my two dogs I became friendly with the neighbor across the hall. We had a lot in common -- my bachelor's degree was in fine arts, and Kristin was an artist who also taught at the Wisconsin Lutheran College. I loved animals and Kristin had a zoo, made up of mostly birds. If I remember correctly at the time Kristin had a cage full of finches, two love-birds, two Amazon Parrots, a conure, a guinea pig and a variety of other animals which I no longer remember.

I moved out of that apartment when I bought my house eight and a half years ago, and Kristin purchased a house shortly thereafter. I now have 3 dogs. Kristin still has many of the same animals, with the addition of a dog, a rabbit and two cats. All these years we've kept in touch.

Today Kristin visited HAWS with students from her Wisconsin Lutheran College classes to paint HAWS animals. One of our rabbit volunteers had our rabbits and our guinea pig set up in our Activity Room in exercise pens. Most of the students opted to paint those animals, while others chose to sit in our kennel and paint the dogs.

This is a great opportunity -- the students get the experience of trying to paint a moving subject, and HAWS has an opportunity to educate young adults on what we do here.

The photo at the top is one of the students, Kirsten Huffman working, and to the right is a close-up of the watercolor she was working on.

Below is the water-color that art professor Kristin Gjerdset completed in just a few short minutes. Kristin is an amazing artist - with her subject matter focusing on nature and animals. Check out her website to see more of her work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Health Benefits of Animals

Back in September Rosemary Rossbach, Deputy Treasurer from the city of Brookfield called and asked if I would do a speech for a meeting in March of the Municiple Treasurer's Association of Wisconsin. The topic she was interested in was the health benefits of animals, and she'd contacted several other organizations who all declined to talk to her group about this topic. I think it's a fascinating topic, and I whole-heartedly agreed to do it.

After I hung up I had mixed feelings. Yes, it is a very fascinating topic -- but I really didn't know much about the science that has been done in this area. I had my work cut out for me because now I would have to actually research this topic for the speech. Luckily I had 6 months to find the information!

I found a wonderful source for information about studies involving animals and people. The Delta Society is an organization that promotes the human animal bond. They have abstracts of many studies done on how animals benefit the health of humans.

Interacting with animals can lower our blood pressure, reduce our cholesterol levels and relieve our anxiety and stress -- there's science to back all this up!

While I was doing my research I also found some very fascinating ways that animals are used to help people. The Bark magazine had an article on their website that was originally printed in the May/June 2007 issue called "Dogs in the Courtroom" about how service dogs are being used in the prosecutor's offices in the state of Washington. These dogs are instrumental in helping the victims of crime deal with the very stressful and scary process of having the relive their horrendous ordeals during the investigation of the crimes committed against them, and having to testify against those who hurt them.

Many times the victims are children who had been sexually abused, kidnapped or assaulted. With a dog present these children find it easier to discuss what has happened to them since the dog offers emotional support.

I also hit You Tube in my efforts to get information on this topic. I found many wonderful videos as examples of how animals help humans. One of the most compelling is a 5 part video called Effects of Animal Assisted Therapy on Autism which documents how a 5 year old boy named Zachary made tremendous improvement with his therapy after a dog named Henry was brought into the therapy sessions.

Most of the time when I speak to the public it's on topics that I know like the back of my hand and could do in my sleep -- so I have to admit I was nervous earlier this morning at the prospect of giving a speech on a topic I wasn't quite as familiar with. But the group I was speaking to was wonderful and were very interested in what I had to say. And because it was a topic that I truly enjoyed researching and learning about, my nerves just melted away.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kids INC

A few weeks ago I received a call from Jason Husslein from the Menomonee Falls, WI Community Education and Recreation department. Menomonee Falls has a before and after school program for children in kindergarten through 5th grades called Kids Inc. Two of the schools, Ben Franklin Elementary and Riverside Elementary had chosen HAWS as their community service project.

The kids collected items that HAWS has on our Wish List and Jason asked me to come and talk to them and take the items back with me to HAWS. The photo is of the kids from Ben Franklin Elementary with a sign they made for me, and HAWS adoptable dogs Wayne and Winnie. (Wayne has since found a home!)

I was simply amazed by how much the kids were able to collect -- as you can see in the photo below it almost completely filled the back of my Subaru Forester!

I can attest to the fact that overall todays children aren't as selfish as many people think. I get calls all the time from scout troops, schools and church groups and parents who tell me their kids would like to help HAWS out in some way.

Children have sold lemonaide and donated the proceeds, collected items from our wish list, asked that donations for HAWS be purchased in lieu of birthday gifts, and come to HAWS to donate their time. It gives me tremendous hope for future generations!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No Such Thing as a Free Kitten!

One of the questions I hear from both kids and adults is "How much are your kittens." Often times they are aghast when I say our kitten adoption fee is $105.00, and tell me that they can get a free kitten from the farm they drive past -- they see signs all the time!

The truth of the matter is that there isn't any such thing as a free pet; unless you're talking about a pet rock. Our pets are living, breathing things with on-going needs. To fulfill those needs we the owners have to spend money.

All of HAWS cats and kittens are spayed and neutered prior to going to their new homes, and the operation is included in the $105.00 adoption fee. If you've ever had a female cat go into heat or a male cat spray in your house you will agree that this is a necessary operation for a pet cat.

A microchip is also included in the adoption fee. If you are unfamiliar with them, a microchip is a small rice sized computer chip implanted between the shoulder blades of an animal under the skin. It's basically an electronic form of ID that can be scanned and the animal traced back to the owner if the animal is ever lost. We get many cats here at HAWS that don't have any form of ID, and are never returned to their owners. A microchip is almost fail-safe and a great way to increase the chances of getting a lost pet back.

Additionally our kittens are de-wormed and get their first round of shots. If they are here at 12 weeks of age we give them their second round of shots.

I contacted a local veterinary clinic and asked for some of their prices. They charge between $190.00 and $365.00 for sterilization of a cat. They will implant a microchip for $39.99.

While we would want you to take your newly adopted HAWS kitten to the vet shortly after adoption to ensure your new family member was healthy, and you would incur costs because of that visit, you would save at least $124.99 by paying HAWS $105.00 adoption fee (the low end of the sterilization fee, plus the microchip fee at the vet minus HAWS adoption fee).

The cost of feeling good about adopting from HAWS and helping us save lives: PRICELESS!