Friday, September 27, 2013

Does He Bite?

Dog owners are very used to this question, commonly asked by people who want to pet, but perhaps aren't used to dogs or have maybe had bad interactions with dogs in their past.  Usually most pet owners will respond with a "No, he's very friendly!"  However, the truth of the matter is that any dog will bite if they feel they have no choice to defend themselves. 

I read a recent news story out of Connecticut about a horse that bit a child.  A mid-level Appellate Court has ruled that the horse belongs to "a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious".  This ruling came as a result of the owner's testimony that while he didn't know of any prior situation where the horse had ever bitten anyone, "Scuppy was no different than other horses that would bite if a finger was put in front of him".

The ruling saddens me for many reasons.  First of all, it shows a severe lack of education in animal behavior.  Animals are not people, and should not be expected to behave as such.  When I'm asked by children in HAWS education programs if an animal bites, I've sometimes said "Anything with teeth CAN bite", and then I'll go on to explain that if the animal feels threatened, or if the interactions are inappropriate an animal can bite.  That's why it's very important to understand an animal's natural behavior and show respect in your interactions.

Secondly, if the standard of determining if a species is vicious is that they have a tendency to bite if presented with a finger, we have many other species that can be added to that list.  Guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and rats will many times bite if a finger is placed in front of their faces.  

The bite by this particular horse sounds as though it was serious (the child was bit on the cheek and tissue was removed), however this type of bite is a very rare occurrence between equines and people.  If we start to move towards zero tolerance of animal to human injury, our society will be left without being able to have pets of any kind.  And if we used that same standard towards ourselves, we ourselves would be deemed a vicious species. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Caring for Cosmo

"I couldn't work there, I'd want to take them all home".    Those of us who work or volunteer at an animal shelter here this comment constantly.  Truthfully most of us find it very easy to not "take them all home" because we know our personal limits, and because we know we are making a difference with the work we do.  Seeing an animal go to their new home also makes our jobs very rewarding.

One situation that makes an animal tug at our heartstrings are those animals whose stay is longer than it should be.   Any length of time in a shelter is stressful to an animal.  They have to deal with noise, constant activity, being handled by different people every day, and a constant stream of members of the public walking past their cages.  Those with a stay that extends past a few weeks have it even more difficult, and those who end up calling a shelter their home for months on end come close to breaking our hearts.

Cosmo was one such dog.  A nine year old pit bull mixed with Dalmatian, Cosmo came to HAWS at the end of March because his owner was no longer in a position to be able to care for him. 

It's difficult to place pit bull mixes because of their reputation and because it can be difficult to find affordable home owners or renters insurance. 

It's difficult to place geriatric animals because people generally want younger animals they can enjoy for many years; adopters worry about losing a pet only a few years after it's come home with them, the expenses a geriatric animal can incur, and because adopters many times want younger animals because they are perceived as being able to fit better in their homes and are more playful.

A geriatric pit bull mix is a perfect storm of difficult placement, and that proved true for Cosmo.  Despite the fact that he is an affectionate, calm, loving dog and has a fun loving personality, it seemed that people couldn't get over his age and breed.  Cosmo lived at HAWS for over 5 and a half months. 

During this time every department at HAWS contributed towards making his stay comfortable and low stress, and/or helped promote him as a wonderful, adoptable animal. 

Cosmo is known for enjoying a comfortable bed. Our kennel staff made sure that Cosmo always had a very large, plush dog bed in his kennel.  Many times Cosmo could be seen completely relaxed laying upside down on his bed snoozing away. 

Our adoption staff often welcomed him to share the front office.  This way Cosmo got additional attention, had a break from the stress of the kennel, and was more visible to members of the public. 

Our mobile adoption staff took Cosmo out on the road with them.  He visited a few nursing homes, and went on other mobile adoption events.   This helped to promote Cosmo to people who may not have visited HAWS or our website. 

The behavior department's Mod Squad volunteers worked with Cosmo on a regular basis.  Through training he became a better behaved and more adoptable dog.  Working his brain also helped him deal better with the stress of the shelter environment. Our regular dog walkers made sure he was exercised several times a day. 

Our communications department went above and beyond to promote Cosmo on Facebook, Twitter and used him several times as HAWS Pet of the Week. 

The education department had students do some dog training with him during the school year, and had the camp kids play, bathe and walk him during the summer.  This helped him remain social to children and gave him a way to alleviate some of his stress. 

Our SNIP clinic veterinary staff cleaned his teeth and extracted a cracked tooth.  They also removed a growth off of his leg and gave him a complete physical before he went to his new home. 

The fact that all of our staff and many of our volunteers worked hard on Cosmo's behalf is what allowed him to live at HAWS successfully and eventually find his real home.  While this may not be the case for all of our animals since most of our adoptable animals go home within a few weeks of arrival, it is evidence that HAWS cares about our residents. 

Cosmo finally went home earlier this week to a family with two other dogs.   The report from the family said that he's doing great, is getting along with the other dogs, and is a pleasure.  The photo they sent shows Cosmo lounging on a comfortable dog bed.  Some things never change.